As many Washington Nationals fans know, All-Stars Juan Soto and Josh Bell were sent to the San Diego Padres at the trade deadline last season for a package of young prospects. It was a risky move that put Mike Rizzo on the hot seat in the eyes of some fans, but it was necessary. Two of the five prospects acquired are on track to make the team out of Spring Training and take over a starting spot at their respective positions. One of them is young, speedy, starting shortstop, CJ Abrams. Abrams will undoubtedly be an impact player in the lineup, but to fully appreciate what he brings to the table you must understand the value he provides on the defensive side.
Prior to the trade, majority of the innings at shortstop were divided between Alcides Escobar and Luis Garcia. With Escobar being a non-factor, theoretically Garcia is the only other option. In 503.1 innings at shortstop in 2022, Luis Garcia made 13 errors.
In an age full of advanced metrics for every facet of the game, it isn’t fair to judge players strictly on error count. However, when you inspect further into Garcia’s numbers at shortstop his case for the position only gets weaker.
Fangraphs describes Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) as a way of calculating “how many runs better or worse that a player has been relative to the average player at his position”. It’s also a considerably simple metric that is still deemed “advanced”. Garcia had -17 DRS at shortstop last season with the Nationals – by Fangraphs’ standards that would fall under the “Awful” tier.
In the case of Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) and Outs Above Average (OAA), it’s more of the same for Garcia. The good news is that his efficiency increased dramatically at second base. In 285.2 innings at the position last season Garcia tallied 3 DRS, a nearly above average mark. His UZR jumped from -6.6 to 0.7 and his OAA increased by 14 to positive 1. Even in the basic error category, Garcia collected only 3 at second. 2022 proved that Luis Garcia is a second baseman, and with CJ Abrams now manning shortstop that realization came at the perfect time.
Abrams’ defensive metrics were a little all over the place in 2022, but so was he. Before coming to Washington, he spent time at second base, right field, and centerfield. Focusing on his numbers at the shortstop position, he hovered around average for almost every stat. In 618.2 innings with both the Padres and Nationals, Abrams had 13 errors, -5 DRS, -8 OAA, and a UZR good enough for third in the league among shortstops with at least 600 innings at 6.8. While these aren’t entirely indicative of the defender he was scouted to be, there are two things to remember: this was his first season at the highest level, and these are miles better than anyone else who played the position in 2022.
Anyone who watched Abrams in his first few games with the Nationals remembers that he had some jitters. Of the errors he made with the club, eight came on a throw, including one in his first game. Not only is he battle tested now, but he’s also had time to catch his breath and regroup from a busy 2022.
A new rule being implemented this season is the defensive shift ban meaning that infielders can no longer set up according to a hitter’s tendencies. With the revelation of Luis Garcia’s comfortability at second base and CJ Abrams proving to be an overall upgrade at shortstop, this 22-year-old middle infield duo is going to be an exciting and meaningful change defensively in 2023.