Whether you go by metrics or your own viewing experiences, the White Sox defense was more or less putrid in 2015.
Consider it a microcosm of the team's larger fortunes. The defense wasn't supposed to be as bad as it was, but shaky play from the White Sox' best defenders compounded the problems caused by the players who were expected to struggle. The outfield's problems were particularly acute in this regard. With Melky Cabrera and Avisail Garcia plodding in the corners, the integrity of the outfield alignment couldn't handle Adam Eaton taking a step back (and not just on balls that fell in front of him).
Yet despite these problems that persisted throughout the season, the Sox made a number of memorable catches that indicated they were capable of better. It's probably because the Sox had a deeper bench of athletes in the corners, especially once Trayce Thompson received the call and stuck around.
Sifting through White Sox highlights on MLB.com, I found nine catches by outfielders that stood out for one reason or another. If I included every similar catch, the list would probably run 20 long, so I limited it to the one that has that je ne sais quoi.
No. 9: The backup plan works
Leury Garcia has a long MLB career waiting for him if he can figure out how to make contact. He hadn't played much center field before coming to the White Sox, and yet here he is, entering as a defensive replacement in the 10th inning after substitutions took Trayce Thompson out of the game and running down a drive with two outs to keep the game tied.
No. 8: What the Shuck?
Normally, this would be a catch I wouldn't include, as J.B. Shuck's diving catch was more the result of underestimating the flight of the ball and/or poor communication. Neither Shuck nor Adam Eaton pursued the ball with 100-percent intensity at first, and Shuck had to resort to makeup speed once he realized just how far the ball was carrying.
Two things set this catch apart from the normal bad-route diving catch, though.
- It was a fine catch.
- He made lipreading easy afterward.
No. 7: Cabrera at the wall
FanGraphs calls Cabrera only a mild improvement over Dayan Viciedo in left field by UZR. Baseball-Reference.com uses Defensive Runs Saved, and it's a much bigger fan. I tend to lean toward the latter metric, if only because Cabrera made a number of catches on the warning track that used to elude Dayan Viciedo more often than not.
This one defines the disparity better than the others. Cabrera isn't particularly swift, nor does he take a particularly elegant route to the ball, but he still has his bearings by the time he gets to the wall to calmly adjust and time his leap to rob Preston Tucker of a potential homer. It's likely at least a triple if Viciedo's in left.
No. 6: Levers!
We've seen more dramatic catches in right field at Yankee Stadium. Brent Lillibridge made two of them on consecutive plays after all. But this one's fun because Thompson really showed the benefits of being an outfielder who is both fast and tall.
No. 5: 99.1 percent efficiency
Because Statcast is in its nascent stages, we don't have a firm way to contextualize its route efficiency metric. That said, this one looked good by the eye test, especially since Shuck didn't have to leave his feet to run it down. Sure enough, Statcast liked it plenty, as did Erik Johnson:
No. 4: Trayce lays out
Given a year full of too-long starts, it would've been fitting if Jeff Samardzija closed out his year by giving up a lead in the seventh inning on his 110th pitch. Instead, Thompson preserved the lead by taking away extra bases with this full-extension effort.
No. 3: The horizonal Dewayne Wise
On Chris Sale's record-breaking night, Shuck helped turn it into a victory by running back on Dixon Machado's drive, catching it with a diving effort, then hanging onto it after the impact with the ground jarred the ball loose.
No. 2: Happy Independence Day
We already covered this one in the best games post. The funny thing about this catch, though, is that Garcia robbed two other home runs with similar efforts. That was enough to constitute a trend, and so after being shocked that he could save a game with a catch like this, we ended up disappointed when he couldn't hang onto another wall ball to bail out David Robertson in September.
No. 1: Good Eaton in Kansas City
Earlier in this game, Lorenzo Cain took runs off the board by flagging down Adam LaRoche's deep drive and crashing into the wall. Eaton then one-upped him with this Jim Edmonds-like grab to save one run in the fifth.
Eaton was a Gold Glove finalist in 2014. Cain should have been, but he got lost in the shuffle from splitting time between center and right field. At the time of this catch, it looked like a potential showcase showdown for the award between two candidates for 2015's hardware. But as the Royals distanced themselves from the White Sox, so Cain separated himself from Eaton.