Washington Nationals: From The Worst To Best Defense In The NL

Trea Turner #7 of the Washington Nationals in position during a baseball game against the New York Mets at Nationals Park on September 27, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)
Trea Turner #7 of the Washington Nationals in position during a baseball game against the New York Mets at Nationals Park on September 27, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images) /
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Don’t look now, but Washington is boasting the best defense in the NL.

A year ago the Washington Nationals were plagued by the league’s worst defense. During the 2020 shortened season, they finished dead last in Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) and Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) with -45 and -16.5 respectively. Part of the problem was Trea Turner and Victor Robles forgetting how to play defense.

In 2019, Robles burst onto the scene, recording 12 outfield assists with 25 DRS. After finishing as a Gold Glove finalist for centerfield, Robles bulked up in the outfield. The extra muscle cost the youngster his notable speed, leading to his fall off. He finished 2020 with one outfield assist and -4 DRS.

Turner posted 14 DRS during his first five seasons in the league before finishing with -5 in 2020. However, his UZR somewhat improved, going from -7.0 in 2019 to -2.8. Turner committed nine errors and was well on his way to pass his career-high of 13.

Fast forward to this season and while the Nationals have struggled, their defense has been a bright spot. They lead the league in DRS with 22 and are fifth in UZR with 4.4.

A major turnaround to the defense is due to the National’s abilities to make plays. A year after finishing dead last out of all NL shortstops in DRS, Trea Turner (5) currently leads the pack. Josh Bell (2), Ryan Zimmerman (2), and Victor Robles (3), are all tied for second in the NL in DRS at their respective positions. Starlin Castro (3) and Kyle Schwarber (1) are both tied for third.

Victor Robles looks like his 2019 self, patrolling center with ease and making impressive diving catches. Trea Turner is proving 2020 was an anomaly, posting a 1.8 UZR and increasing his range at short.

Josh Bell and Kyle Schwarber, who are both known for being porous defensively, have been anything but. Bell continues to impress by picking balls out of the dirt, while Schwarber has flashed his cannon in left. He already has two outfield assists.

Starlin Castro’s return has played a key part in the defense’s 180. He missed the second half of the season due to a broken wrist, leading to Luis Garcia being thrust into the field. Garcia was overwhelmed at second, further hurting the team’s defense. Castro is back and manning the hot corner, a position he is learning on the fly. Despite only ever playing third in one other season, Castro has been sharp, vacuuming up balls in his vicinity.

In 2020, runners ran all over when Gomes was behind the plate, only throwing out four runners in 22 attempts. This year, the veteran has vastly improved, throwing out six runners in 13 attempts.

It has been a team effort to completely revamp the defense and the results have been extraordinary. It is yet to be seen if this is a mirage or not, but for the time being, it has been a sight to behold.

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