Arcia's defense key to Brewers' infield shifts

March 13th, 2019

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Brewers shortstop Orlando Arcia is the first to admit that he’s far from a finished product and there is still a lot of ground to cover in terms of his development.

But ask Brewers manager Craig Counsell about his young shortstop, and he’ll say it’s precisely the infielder’s coverage that makes him so valuable.

“This is one of the stories that didn't get covered a lot last year, and I was surprised that it didn't get covered more -- how much Orlando moved around during the game, and how unique that was,” Counsell said. “How we decided to do that once we had Travis [Shaw] and [Mike] Moustakas in the fold. He's moving around -- he's not a shortstop, if that makes sense. He's playing where the ball's most likely to get hit in the infield.”

Within the division, the Brewers' infield shifts, particularly up the middle, were more pronounced than those of the Cubs and Cardinals in 2018, which means Milwaukee's shortstops and second basemen often found themselves farther out of position than their NL Central counterparts.

And with the bulk of the playing time at shortstop going to Arcia last season, he had to be able to cover a large area on the left side of the infield, both to his right into the hole between short and third, and to his left up the middle.

“I’ve had a lot of guidance from people with experience and [infield coach] Carlos Subero that’s helped me get better,” Arcia said in Spanish. “They reminded me to focus on each pitch, each batter and never lose focus on the game. That was probably the biggest help for me last season on the defensive side.”

In terms of average distance away from his average center point on the field, Arcia had the seventh-largest figure among Major League shortstops, at 21.4 feet. Overall, he had 15 errors in 412 chances with the Brewers last season.

“Let's use his defensive skills to the max. Let's try him where the ball's most likely to be hit. Or the ball has a chance to be hit and the plays are challenging,” Counsell said. “We make Orlando do the hard things, because that's what he's really good at.”

The counterpoint is that Arcia’s Defensive Runs Saved -- the advance statistic that quantifies a player's entire defensive performance by attempting to measure how many runs a defender saves -- is four and modest at best. But that number doesn’t mean much to Counsell and means even less to Arcia.

“That doesn't measure the value,” the manager said. “It just doesn't. I think the fact that we're moving him around so much is making it difficult to grade.”

So far, Arcia has committed one error in his first eight Cactus League games. At the plate, he has six hits in his first 24 at-bats.

“I feel like I’m having a good Spring Training, working hard every day to get better and do what I can to have good results during the regular season,” Arcia said. “I’ve always said that baseball is full of ups and downs, and if you don’t have a strong mind, you won’t be able to make it.”

Arcia was definitely tested last year. He was demoted to the Minor Leagues. He finished the regular season with the game of his career, four hits against the Cubs in Game 163, and he went on to rack up 11 hits, including three home runs, in the postseason. Arcia also played a month of Winter Ball in Venezuela.

“I have 2 1/2, almost three years here, and I’m not a veteran at all,” he said. “You have guys with a lot more experience than me. Me? I’m still learning about this game.”