How this Ranger became an elite defender

September 25th, 2022

This story was excerpted from Kennedi Landry’s Rangers Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

ARLINGTON -- It’s been no secret that Marcus Semien was not always a great defender.

He’s openly admitted that, noting his 35 errors committed as a shortstop in 2015 and another 21 in ‘16 with the A’s. But Ron Washington helped turn him into a more complete player as his series of infield drills transformed Semien into an elite fielder.

“Ron Washington is the most influential baseball man in my life,” Semien said when he signed with the Rangers in December. “It was mostly defense and defensive shifts. I think the point in time I met Wash, I wasn't in a competent mindset defensively. When I left that season and got into the next season, I was closer to the middle infielder I am today.”

The middle infielder that he is today may still be underrated, despite being an elite defender at both shortstop and second base since 2018, while consistently getting better each year.

It’s been a year since Semien transitioned across the diamond in Toronto to make room for the Blue Jays’ young star shortstop, Bo Bichette. But Semien is admittedly still learning how to be an elite everyday second baseman -- now paired with Corey Seager as his double-play partner -- even after winning the American League Gold Glove Award at the position in 2021.

“It's still something I'm working to get better at,” Semien said. “I feel good with the progress I've made since last year, but I still don't think I've been faced with every challenge at second base. It's gonna take more and more years. I just want to try to perfect it.”

While maybe not to the level of perfection he would like, Semien ranks seventh among qualified second basemen in Statcast’s Outs Above Average (seven) metric, while FanGraphs’ Defensive Runs Saved (11) has him ranked second.

He may be ranked even higher in both if he didn’t struggle to get a feel for things earlier in the season. Semien admits that he got off to a slow start on both sides of the ball, as he worked to get used to a new team, new teammates and still a relatively new position.

“He’s a super athlete,” said Rangers third-base coach and infield coordinator Corey Ragsdale. “The adjustment for him is probably -- I don't wanna say easy, because it’s never easy, but easier for him than most. What we've seen in the last three, four months has been like showing who he is, and the type of player he really is.

“To his credit, it was every day [he worked]. He knew what he needed to do and he continued to do it. And it’s not that he was bad early on or anything like that. But he's been exceptional in the last three or four months. It's been exciting to watch.”

Since midseason, Semien has made it look easy -- from making routine plays to jumping and diving in every direction to save runs or hits. The one thing he’s struggled with, along with Seager, has been the double-play efficiency, which Semien said will be a focus for him this offseason.

“Yeah, I mean, for me, it's not always about errors,” Semien said. “It's about what balls you can get to and what plays you're making that the rest of the league doesn't. I think that's where the analytics have gone. It used to be just fielding percentage, now it's both. Do you make every play that you're supposed to make? And do you make plays that other people don't? That's kind of the difference maker.”

So has Semien done enough to win his second consecutive Gold Glove? Maybe not, but he’s shown in the second half of the season why he won one before.

“I think as of late [he’s done enough],” interim manager Tony Beasley said. “Early on, not so much. But he’s shown why he won a Gold Glove. I think you've seen ample enough defensive prowess to understand that. But Marcus would be the first one to tell you that his defense, especially earlier on and up to halfway through the season, was not where he wanted it to be. I don't know that he'll be in a Gold Glove conversation this year. But I think he would tell you himself that he wants to get better defensively.”