The defensive jewels of 2021 in MLB

Diving catches, perfect shots – great defensive plays are capable of generating unrivaled excitement. So as we take a look back at 2021, here are 15 of the best jewels on defense, aided by Statcast’s tracking technology.

Mookie Betts ends the game with a catch, April 17
Probability: 10%

We know that Betts is one of the best outfielders in baseball. This catch was spectacular even for him. With two outs in the bottom of the ninth against rival Padres on April 17, Tommy Pham hit the ball into center field, a short hit that the Dodgers center patrolman sprinted to capture. Betts reached out and caught it with the palm of his glove for the third and final out of the game. The probability that he would catch that hit was only 10% – Betts needed to cover 52 feet of ground in just 3.3 seconds to make the play, achieving a jump that was +8.6 feet above average.

Caught at speed by Kevin Kiermaier, May 25
Probability: 10%, required distance of 106 feet at a sprint speed of 30.5 feet / second

Kiermaier runs like a deer in the outfield, and this time he had to cover quite a bit of ground to make an incredible catch against the Royals at Tropicana Field. Andrew Benintendi hit a ball deep into the gap between left-center field, and the Rays patrolman mounted his horse, reaching a sprint speed of 30.5 ft / sec on his dash to the fence (any speed above 30 is considered elite). Kiermaier needed to cover 106 feet in 5.1 seconds to the fence to catch the hit, when his probability of making the play was just 10%.

Pair of 5-star plays by Kike Hernández, July 11
Probability: 5% and 10%

Hernandez relied on a pair of impressive leaps to make two stellar plays in center field in back-to-back innings for the Red Sox in this game against the Phillies at Fenway Park. A five-star catch means the probability of making it was 25% or less, according to Statcast. In the first of them, the Puerto Rican dived to a hit by JT Realmuto and got the double kill; his chance of catching that connection was just 5%, based on the 66 feet of distance he needed to travel in 3.7 seconds. an inning later, Kike stole from Andrew McCutchen with another dive shot going the opposite direction; the probability of making this play was 10%, since he needed to cover 57 feet in 3.5 seconds. The Puerto Rican jump was +9.7 feet above average in the first catch and +8.0 feet above average in the second.

Kyle Tucker’s 5-star catch in the World Series, Nov. 2
Probability: 25%

With the Astros facing elimination in Game 6 of the World Series, Tucker started the game with a 5-star catch in right field. Puerto Rican Eddie Rosario, the first hitter of the game, hit a line drive to right field at Minute Maid Park, and Tucker hit him despite having a mere 25% chance. The tall patrol car needed to cover 43 feet in 3.2 seconds. It was the toughest play of the 2021 postseason based on probability, and the catch became even more important for all that was at stake.

Hunter Renfroe launches a missile at the plate, June 9
Shot Speed: 98.0 mph

Renfroe has one of the strongest arms for an outfielder in the Big Top, and the Patirrojos patrolman scored an assist from the toughest outfield of the season on June 9 against the Astros. Renfroe fired a 98.0 mph shot toward the plate at Fenway Park to prevent Alex Bregman from scoring in the first inning. Bregman also got legs into the play – his sprint speed of 28.5 ft / sec far exceeded his season average of 25.6 ft / sec (MLB’s average sprint speed, for reference, is 27 ft / sec) .

Ronald Acuña Jr. throws a strike to third base, June 20
Shot Speed: 97.3 mph

Just behind Renfroe’s shot was it from right field to third base by Venezuelan Acuña, just in time to catch Pete Alonso, who tried to get from first to third base on a Dom Smith single. Alonso would have come safely to the waiting room had it not been for Acuña’s powerful shot at 97.3 mph and the help of third baseman Austin Riley to slyly touch the runner.

Joey Gallo saves the game with an incredible shot, May 13
Shot Speed: 97.3 mph

Just as powerful as Acuña’s shot and in a much more pressing situation – Gallo made what would have been a sacrifice fly to sentence the Astros’ game into a double-play to end the episode. Houston had the bases loaded, one out and the speedy Chas McCormick at third base when Myles Straw hit a 243-foot fly ball into right field. Gallo made the catch and, with McCormick executing the stomp and sprinting at 29.9 ft / sec, he made a perfect shot at the plate at a speed of 97.3 mph.

Kevin Kiermaier keeps ALDS Game 4 tied, Oct.11
Shot Speed: 90.0 mph

The Rays ranger had the most difficult assist of this postseason, and his shot to third base came in a great moment. Tampa Bay was on the brink of elimination in Game 4 at Fenway Park and had just reacted to even the match at the start of the eighth. With one out at the close of the same chapter, Alex Verdugo tried to score the lead run with a stomp and ran from third base on a Hunter Renfroe fly ball. But, although Kiermaier had a momentum that took him away from the anteroom after catching the ball, his launch was precise and the Cuban Yandy Díaz made the perfect touch for the game to come tied in the ninth inning.

Brett Gardner’s landslide near the wall, April 10
127 feet of ground covered, sprint speed of 29.5 feet / second

Gardner was on the left meadow at Tropicana Field when Brett Phillips hit the wall between left and center field. At 37, the Bombers veteran showed he still has speed left by covering 127 feet to get to the ball. Gardner reached a near-elite sprint speed of 29.5 ft / sec and made the catch by sliding into the warning strip, converting a throw that had a 30% chance.

Dylan Moore caught on foul ground, July 9
126 feet of distance traveled

Moore ran more than 100 feet to make this catch – like an infielder. Seattle’s second baseman was positioned in the middle of the infield when Venezuelan Angels infielder Luis Rengifo hit a fly ball to the right prairie line. Moore hit foul territory with a sprint speed of 28.6 ft / sec, catching up with first baseman Ty France and outfielder Jake Bauers. The ball was in the air for 5.6 seconds. France needed to cover 93 feet… Bauers 125 feet… Moore 126 feet. The latter was the one that slid down to make an impressive setting.

Gio Urshela goes into the cave, October 3
125 feet of distance traveled

It was Game 162, and the Yankees would secure one of the AL Wild Cards with a win. They faced rivals (and division champions) Rays at Yankee Stadium and the game was tied 0-0 in the sixth inning. Austin Meadows hit a fly ball to the third base line, and that’s where the Colombian made one of the best catches of the year by an infielder. Urshela, who was the only infielder on the left side of the field, had 6.1 seconds to cover the 125 feet from his position to the Rays’ cave, where he made an excellent catch – and then flew up the dugout stairs, but still secured the ball.

Willy Adames caught on the hill, October 9
111 feet of distance traveled

This is another catch where an infielder covers a lot of ground, but this time it was in the playoffs. In Game 2 of the SDLN against the Braves in Milwaukee, the Brewers shortstop traveled 111 feet in 5.8 seconds on an Ozzie Albies fly to the third base line before diving into foul territory on the canvas.

Fernando Tatis Jr.’s cannon as a cutter, July 6
Shot Speed: 95.8 mph, 0.62 second exchange

This may have been an infielder’s shot of the year. With the Padres facing the Nationals at Petco Park, the Dominican, acting as a cutter, took a shot to the plate to remove his compatriot Starlin Castro, who was trying to score from first base on a double by Brazilian Yan Gomes. After catching Jurickson Profar’s pitch, Tatis spun and landed a 95.8 mph strike at the plate, all in just 0.62 seconds… impressive.

Jorge Alfaro’s cannon behind the plate, July 30
Shot Speed: 90.5 mph

The Colombian has always had one of the most powerful arms in catching, and he showed it on this play. This was the strongest shot to retire a runner in a robbery attempt – over 90 mph. And it wasn’t just a cannon, it was perfectly accurate. Venezuelan Marlins shortstop Miguel Rojas caught the shot off the pad and Tyler Wade, despite his 28.8 ft / s sprint speed, was retired.

JT Realmuto’s Burst Shot, April 29
Shot Speed: 88.9 mph, 0.65 second exchange

Let’s finish with another great throw from a catcher. Few masks throw the ball to second base like Realmuto does, and this play is the best example. The fastest shot to remove an attempted steal runner other than Alfaro’s was Realmuto’s 88.9 mph shot in less than two-thirds of a second to surprise Cardinals shortstop Edmundo Sosa, who tried to rip off the pad with a sprint speed of 29.3 feet / second.


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The defensive jewels of 2021 in MLB