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Were we duped about Chirinos’ defense?

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MLB: Oakland Athletics at Houston Astros Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Upon the signing of Robinson Chirinos, most saw an aging backstop with a decent amount of pop in his bat that was notoriously bad on defense. But this year, and obviously we’re talking a very small sample size, he has been actually very good.

Here were some of the exerts on Chirinos’ defense from his signing:

MLBTradeRumors from his signing:

“That said, Chirinos doesn’t come with a strong defensive reputation. He’s thrown out 25 percent of opposing base thieves in his career but saw that mark fall to just 10 percent last season, and while he grades out well in terms of blocking pitches in the dirt, Baseball Prospectus has routinely graded him as a below-average framer — never more so than in 2018.”

MLB: Oakland Athletics at Texas Rangers Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

CBSSports:

That’s why it’s a little surprising to see the Astros link up with Chirinos, arguably one of the worst defensive backstops in baseball. According to Baseball Prospectus, Chirinos’ mitt cost the Texas Rangers 11 runs in 2018. For his career, he’s sacrificed more than 20 runs. Most of that damage comes via poor framing, as he’s consistently been below-average in that regard. He doesn’t make up for it with good pop times or strong goalie-work, either.

MLB: Texas Rangers at Baltimore Orioles Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

Then you guys may have heard that AJ Hinch spent time to personally instruct Chirinos, particularly defensively. (Link needed) There are stories like this all the time, and 99.9% of the “best shape of my life” stories turn into nothing. And Houston Chronicle also noted that he got some advice from Brent Strom (is there anyone he can’t work magic on) and bullpen catcher Michael Collins on a way to change/shorten his throwing motion.

Chirinos showed up in Spring Training and threw out 3 in 7 attempts runners in Spring Training. Easy enough to discount, as Spring Training has all sorts of wackiness that occurs.

But then Spring Training ended and something magical happened, his defensive has continued. He currently ranks positively in Fangraphs overall defensive stat for only the second time ever in his career. He already has caught 2 potential base stealers, and made a very heads up play the other day to grab a swinging bunt and throw to second, then point out the runner had not moved to get the double play.

So I started looking a little deeper. Statcast records the pop-times and he has tied or beat his all-time best. Even with that said, he comes in ranking at #50 in pop time, #38 in Arm, and #57 in Exchange. For comparison, he ranks better in arm, tied in exchange, and ahead of McCann in pop times.

Truthfully, the biggest knock against Chirinos has always been his framing. I was concerned to do too much research on his framing as I started to think that he may be a primary contributor to some of the terrible calls we have received from umpires recently. But the magic continued:

Fangraphs has him rated at 0.4 in Framing so far (-15.6 last year). A ranking that ties him for 7th best with Francisco Cervelli and one spot ahead of Yasmani Grandal. (JT Realmuto is the best at 0.9, Gary Sanchez is the worst at -1.6)

Baseball Prospectus echo’d those sentiments, with him coming in positive 0.1 in Framing Runs (good for 17th overall of 65), and 0.1 in FRAA_Adj, better than our defensive specialist Martin Maldonado from last year.

MLB: Oakland Athletics at Houston Astros Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Conclusion

So it’s tough to make any meaningful conclusions with such a short sample size. My conclusion is that he’s surprised me. He seems to have acclimated well to the Astros, and has made notable progress by all metrics that I can see.

It’s great to see defensive progress that matches my eye test. I’m excited to have Chirinos on the team and think he may surprise some people this year!

Poll

Have you been surprised at how good Chirinos’ defense has been?

This poll is closed

  • 82%
    Yes
    (307 votes)
  • 4%
    No
    (16 votes)
  • 13%
    Meh
    (50 votes)
373 votes total Vote Now