Maybe David Bote’s defense in 2019 wasn’t as bad as some metrics suggested. According to Statcast’s new infield defense leaderboard, Bote actually had a good season.
Going into 2019, Bote’s defense was considered a strength because of an admirable pre-game routine and Gold-Glove-level DRS and UZR scores (13.4 UZR/150). Last season, however, Bote’s DRS and UZR dropped far below league average (-4.7 UZR/150), indicating reduced range in addition to the more obvious botched routine plays.
But Statcast tells us Bote’s defensive value ranked better than 72% of qualified infielders last season. And as a third baseman, which isn’t even his natural position, he was still better than half of the league. So why does Statcast like Bote while UZR doesn’t?
Though he had poor neutral fielding performance, Statcast shows that Bote can snag grounders to his left and right better than most infielders. So while he essentially sucked at plays directly at him, Bote made the challenging plays and thus graded out higher that if that performance was reversed.
We can illustrate Bote’s strong lateral defensive value in the figure below. Notice that zones towards the left and right of third base are red, but zones centered at third base are blue. The big blue box at third base shows that Bote was below average when the ball was hit directly at him, which is probably in part why UZR and Statcast differ in their valuations his defensive acumen.
Compare Bote’s 2019 performance above to his 2018 figure below. See how the big blue box now is used to be red? This shows that Bote was better on grounders hit directly to him in 2018, which shows that he does indeed have the ability to not mess up the easy plays.
My big takeaway is that Statcast thinks Bote is not just a capable defender, but a well-above-average one. Once he limits some of the routine errors, whether as a function of more regular playing time or just by reverting to normal, he has the potential to rate as one of the league’s better defenders.