Well you read the interview with the above-average middle infielder about defense, how about from an outfielder? Tony Gwynn Jr. is unfortunately out for the rest of the season due to a broken hand, but I got the chance to interview him a couple of weeks ago when the Padres visited the Los Angeles. I promised this would be up on Friday but I left for a brief vacation and when your hotel looks out on the ocean, it’s hard to stay focused on a computer screen.
Anyway, without further ado:
Dingers: Are you familiar with UZR or range factors?
Tony Gwynn Jr.: I’m a little familiar with it. Over the last five or six years, it’s become a big evaluation tool for front offices. I’m familiar with the term, I’m not familiar with how it works.
Has the Padres’ front office brought it up to you?
No, but I hear about it when [the Padres beat reporters] bring it up.
As far as range goes, you’re one of the best centerfielders in the game right now. Pretty cool, right? [Ed. note: Gwynn isn’t liked by Total Zone, which considers him average, but is LOVED by UZR and UZR/150. Looking at his in- and out-of-zone numbers, it’s pretty remarkable.]
Yeah. [laughs] That’s what I want to be defensively.
So what would you say is the most important part about range? Getting to the ball quickly? Getting a good read?
It’s a combination of everything. The situation dictates what’s going to be most important. Getting reads off the bat are really important. As an outfielder, I need to get to the ball as fast as possible–as direct as possible–as I can. I think a lot of people who aren’t really into baseball don’t understand keeping guys to minimal bases. You get a guy who hits a ball to the gap, it’s gonna be an automatic double. You want to keep him from going to third.
As far as seeing the ball off the bat, being in a good position so that you can see the ball in the zone and off the bat and use your instincts and get a good jump is important. I know for me, I’m not the fastest guy by any means. I rely on my instincts and getting a good jump is important for that.
About positioning, is there any time you have to move somewhere because an infield position player is blocking you?
Yeah. Our [First Base Coach] Rich Renteria does a great job putting us into position. Sometimes he’ll move us depending on which side of the rubber the pitcher is on; we’ll have to move just a little bit so we can get a better read on the ball in the zone. 99% of the time, we don’t really need to run far because Renteria puts us in good spots.
Does he point to where you should be from the dugout?
I don’t know if you see this on TV, but we have those report cards in our back pocket.
Yeah, they look like report cards and you keep them in your back pocket?
Yeah. That pretty much tells you where you need to be. Sometimes if a guy is going against [that positioning], it’ll take a few games in a row for Rick to say “OK, let’s make an adjustment here.” ‘Cause a lot of times, guys are gonna hit balls. You can’t defend everything. You can’t defend the whole outfield. Sometimes you have to accept that. On occasions when we can be moved, it’s OK. [Rick] will signal where to move myself or somebody else. But for the most part, where he puts us on the card is where we’re gonna play.
What about other things like throwing arm or other sorts of factors?
For me, I don’t have the strongest arm, but I feel I’m pretty accurate. For me to maximize myself and my defense, I have to put my body in a good position to get the best throw off. Sometimes that’ll determine if I’m going to throw somebody out or not.
[With a guy on first and the ball hit to me], I’ll give the guy third to maintain the double play. There’s so many different things to playing outfield besides getting the ball and throwing it in. Stuff like that. It becomes a thinking man’s game.
You’re right handed. So if the ball comes up on your left side, do you roll up onto the left side a little further so you can pick it up and have it ready to throw with your body?
It depends. Sometimes, for me, getting to the ball as soon as possible and spinning [around to make the throw], I’ll be able to get more on my throw than trying get around it and get my body in that exact alignment. Sometimes the spin move is a better choice.
How many balls have you been able to field out of a comfortable zone for you? Were there ones that you caught you were like “Wow, I’m amazed I caught that?”
Sometimes. I can surprise myself. There was that one in Pittsburgh a couple of weeks ago. The ball was up and I was playing a step on the second base-side. When it came off the bat, it knuckled at first and it hooked to the right. I had to be able to get my feet in a good position where I could change directions or make a dive.
Any time an outfielder dives, he’s taking a risk. If I could get to a ball standing up, I’d rather do that. It’s easiest to go side to side. If you’re going back, the back-up might not be there.
And that’s it! Stay tuned later this week, I have another interview with the very defensive coach Gwynn mentions, Rick Renteria