Since his promotion to majors, and really since he broke out in the minors last year, there hasn’t been much doubt about Miguel Andujar’s hitting ability. Sure, he could stand to draw more walks, but his high contact profile with power has compensated for a lack of free passes thus far. The downside has been his work in the field, though that’s not easily discernible to the naked eye. From what I’ve watched, he has seemed adequate defensively. But I’m not a scout, and watching on TV doesn’t provide much insight to things like reaction time anyway. The truth of the matter is that defensive metrics and scouts indicate that Andujar has grades poorly in the field.
Statistically, there’s a consensus on Andujar’s glovework. Whether it’s UZR, DRS, or FRAA, all three defensive metrics loathe the rookie’s performance. Andujar’s UZR and UZR/150 are by far the worst for a third baseman in the league. If he keeps it up (down?), Andujar’s UZR/150 would be the third-worst since the stat has been tracked for third basemen. Only Ryan Braun and Mark Reynolds have put together uglier performances at the position. At -10 DRS and -4.9 FRAA, Miggy is also at or near the bottom of the rung in 2018.
Don’t like advanced defensive metrics? I get it, especially given the sample size and their complex nature. Turning to Inside Edge field data, which is a bit simpler to understand, is where we get a confirmation that the more complicated metrics are on to something. There are six categories of plays that Inside Edge evaluates, each based on percentage likelihood of making a play on the batted ball:
- Impossible (0%)
- Remote (1-10%)
- Unlikely (10-40%)
- About Even (40-60%)
- Likely (60-90%)
- Almost Certain / Certain (90-100%)
When it comes to “Almost Certain / Certain”, perhaps better coined as a routine play, Andujar actually stacks up pretty well. He’s converted 97 percent of those opportunities, which is seventh-best of 21 qualified third basemen. Interestingly enough, there were internal concerns about Andujar’s consistency with routine plays prior to the season:
“[Yankees’ Infield Coordinator Carlos] Mendoza added that making “routine plays” consistently has been Andujar’s issue.”
Nonetheless, it seems like he’s been just fine in that aspect. Rather, it’s that he hasn’t offered much on anything other than easy plays. Stepping down to the next bin, we find that Andujar has made “Likely” plays only 58 percent of the time. The only two third baseman with worse marks in this category are Christian Villanueva and Colin Moran. It gets worse from there. This year, Andujar hasn’t made a single play considered “About Even”, “Unlikely”, “Remote”, or “Impossible”. It’s hard to blame anyone for failing to make a play on most of these opportunities, but we should hope for at least a few conversions on plays in the 40 to 60 percent likelihood. Granted, the sample sizes are small in these more difficult classifications, but it is concerning that Andujar has struggled to go beyond the basics.
On a positive note, Andujar doesn’t make many errors on balls that he is able to field. His four errors (three fielding, one throwing) are another indication that he doesn’t have much difficulty converting the routine plays. That said, the entire baseball world knows that errors aren’t a good way to evaluate defense because they can’t depict any given player’s range. Based on the aforementioned metrics, it sure seems like Andujar’s range is lackluster.
On the scouting side, it seems that Andujar has the potential to be an asset defensively, metrics be damned. From BP’s Top 10 Yankees prospects, the prospect team noted some positives:
“Andujar has all of the physical attributes necessary to play third, including a plus arm and solid range.”
Raw tools to play the position? Check. However:
“The plus arm strength plays down because it isn’t paired with stellar accuracy. His hands aren’t great, and he doesn’t always make the best of choices on how to play the ball at third, which has led the Yankees to talk about exposing him to other positions, most likely first base.”
I think the key point to glean here is that Andujar doesn’t always make the best decision on how to play balls hit his way. That’s likely hurting his range, and potentially is an explanation for why the Inside Edge evaluation isn’t good.
Another thing to mention is that in theory, this Yankees team has the ability to hide Andujar to some extent. For one, the always excellent Didi Gregorius can make up for some of the trouble Andujar has. Positioning and shifting can alleviate Andujar’s shortage of range. Finally, the Yankees’ pitching staff has the second highest strikeout percentage in baseball, which means fewer balls in play to worry about.
For as exciting of a hitter as Andujar has been, figuring out how to at least become adequate at the hot corner would make a huge difference in his upside. If he continues to defend at this level, or even slightly better, he might never be more than a two-win player. That’s not a bad thing! But, if he figures out how to maximize his athleticism, the Yankees could have another all-star caliber player. At just 23 years of age, there’s no reason to lose hope on Andujar’s fielding just yet. Improvements need to come at some point in the future, but it’s not a problem in need of resolution immediately as long as he keeps raking.
Photo credit: Noah K. Murray / USA TODAY Sports