As spring training gets rolling, twitter is heaven for any baseball junkie that loves watching the elite players in the game PRACTICE. We get small glimpses of pre game BP and even some early work during the season thanks to MLB Network’s ballpark cam, but the clamoring for anything baseball in mid-february allows us unparalleled access to watch these guys on the backfields laying the foundation for the brilliance we see on display all season. This in itself is worth it’s own post, but we will shelve that for another day in favor of a look at a more specific skill on display in this practice setting.
Nolan Arenado is, in my opinion, the elite defender in baseball (6 straight gold gloves is decent evidence) and we here in Colorado are fortunate enough to get to watch him on a nightly basis. A video of Nolan fielding a ground ball came across my feed the other day and before I show you the actual play, here was my reaction.
While the length of time may be slightly exaggerated, I have found myself looking back at this video frequently over the last couple of days and I can’t help but think that this single ground ball encapsulates all of the pieces that make Nolan the elite defender in baseball. So without further ado here is the aforementioned play.
Pretty pleasing to the eye, am I right?? Here are the pieces of this play that really stand out to me as foundational evidence of his defensive brilliance.
As you can see, Nolan immediately makes the decision to go get the ball. At a difficult position like third base indecision is especially killer, but anywhere on the field the ability to expect the baseball, create good timing of your prep steps and landing, get an instant read, and make the correct move to the baseball are key to making plays. You can see all of these on display here.
Nolan realizes here that he is not going to be able to get the long or the short hop if he stays on his current course and square to the baseball. About halfway through his break to the ball you can see him start to turn his body as he continues to attack, which is evidence of this realization and his way of setting himself up to make the necessary adjustment.
Nolan’s ability to make this decision mid play is a tribute to his adjustability, something that I have written about before. The move he makes here allows him to lengthen the hop by giving his glove the ability to work back away from the baseball, turning it from what would surely have been an impossible tweener into a longer and more manageable hop. Keeping his body square to the ball wouldn’t have allowed for the creation of this space, and the hop would have had it’s way with him. This adjustability is a huge separator between the elite fielders and the rest.
In addition to Nolan’s ability to create a longer hop with his body, the maintenance of his glove positioning allows his to secure the ball. You notice how as his arm works up, the fingers of his glove stay vertical keeping the angles the same and giving the baseball maximum surface area. This is critical when having to make plays on different types of hops in different lanes of the body.
The athleticism here is clearly on display, and Nolan’s understanding of his momentum is what makes this play look so pretty. There were a few twitter comments on this video denouncing the spin as unnecessary, but because of the move he makes to create space for the hop, his momentum is shifted back towards the third base line. The spin is just him staying in rhythm with his momentum and allowing it to get him realigned in the direction he needs to go towards first base. You can also see that Nolan immediately gets the ball to the center of his body in order to prepare for the throw.
As Nolan makes this spin, you can see that his eyes immediately pick up his target as his body gets fully turned back around. This vision allows him to recalibrate his body in the right direction as he prepares to throw. Having a clear look at the direction he will throw allows him to take a second, gather himself and make a strong throw across the diamond.
One more time for good measure!