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Inciarte's elite defense backed by Statcast data

Braves center fielder leads MLB with 47 combined 5-star, 4-star outs past 2 seasons
MLB.com @mlbbowman

ATLANTA -- As Andruw Jones faces the possibility of not garnering enough votes to remain on the Hall of Fame ballot beyond this year, his advocates have questioned how this could happen to a 10-time Gold Glove Award winner who has been widely described as one of the best defensive outfielders in baseball history.

Unfortunately for Jones, he played in an era that does not allow for the possibility of quantifying arguments about exactly how he stacked up against Willie Mays and others who have earned the right to be considered in any discussion about the greatest outfielders of all time.

ATLANTA -- As Andruw Jones faces the possibility of not garnering enough votes to remain on the Hall of Fame ballot beyond this year, his advocates have questioned how this could happen to a 10-time Gold Glove Award winner who has been widely described as one of the best defensive outfielders in baseball history.

Unfortunately for Jones, he played in an era that does not allow for the possibility of quantifying arguments about exactly how he stacked up against Willie Mays and others who have earned the right to be considered in any discussion about the greatest outfielders of all time.

Ender Inciarte might never have Hall of Fame credentials that equal those possessed by Jones, whose resume includes 434 home runs. But courtesy of the growing list of defensive metrics supplied by Statcast™, the current Braves center fielder will at least be able to have a better feel for exactly how he stacks up against his contemporaries and future Gold Glovers.

There's no doubt that a keen set of eyes can differentiate an average defender from an elite one. But wouldn't it have been cool to have had Statcast™ in place to better understand how Jones, Ken Griffey Jr. and Jim Edmonds compared and contrasted as they experienced their respective primes around the same time?

Over the past two seasons, Statcast™ has given Inciarte, Cincinnati's Billy Hamilton, Minnesota's Byron Buxton, Boston's Mookie Betts and the current crop of great defensive outfielders a better idea of just how much ground they successfully defend in relation to each other.

By factoring in the exact start position on the field for each fielder and the hang time of each batted ball, Statcast™'s Catch Probability leaderboard allows us to get a feel for how rare or easy an out might have been in comparison to results of similar batted balls. It can be argued that the difficulty of completing a diving catch might be the same for Inciarte and Matt Kemp. But the age-old eye test is enough to realize most average outfielders would likely not have to dive to record some of the outs Kemp made while sliding across the grass.

A 5-star play is awarded to any outfielder who creates an out on a ball hit with a Catch Probability of 0-25 percent. A 4-star play covers catch probabilities ranging from 26-50 percent and a 3-star play covers those ranging from 51-75 percent.

Video: NYM@ATL: Statcast™ measures Inciarte's five-star grab

Inciarte leads all Major League outfielders with the 18 5-star outs he has recorded over the past two seasons (11 in 2016 and seven in '17). Hamilton ranks second with 14 in that span.

If combining 5-star and 4-star outs, Inciarte once again leads the way with a total of 47 such plays over the past two seasons. Those immediately behind him are Betts (42), Buxton (41) and Hamilton (39).

Statcast™'s baserunning metric to record Sprint Speed says Buxton leads all MLB players with 30.2 feet covered per second and Hamilton ranks second with 30.1 feet per second. Inciarte ranks 175th (sixth among last year's Braves) with 27.2 feet per second.

Baserunning speed and outfield speed are not identical, but it goes without saying that Hamilton would win any foot race against Inciarte, whose defensive prowess is a credit to his great instincts, which include the ability to quickly react to the direction of a ball hit to the outfield.

It should also be noted that Hamilton spent some time this season flanked by Adam Duvall, who has totaled 30 5-star and 4-star plays over the past two seasons. Inciarte has had the opportunity to make more great plays, as he has spent portions of the past two seasons flanked by Kemp and Nick Markakis, who together combined to make 12 5-star and 4-star plays over the past two seasons.

Statcast™ also recently introduced Outs Above Average, which measures the cumulative effect of all individual Catch Probability plays credited or debited to an outfielder. For example, if a fielder records an out on a ball with a 25 percent Catch Probability, the play gets +.75. A player who does not make the play gets -.25.

Buxton led all MLB outfielders with 25 OAA last year and Inciarte ranked second with 19. Betts and White Sox center fielder Adam Engel tied with 16 and the Royals' Lorenzo Cain ranked fifth with 15.

Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.

Atlanta Braves, Ender Inciarte