It’s been a while, but Who Did It Best? is coming back with a vengeance. For those of you who haven’t read this column before, the idea is to pick a particular defensive feat and then rank every play in which that feat was accomplished based on degree of difficulty and aesthetic value. When I say every play, I mean every play I can get highlights for, and even then this isn’t exhaustive as there are always an infinite amount of honourable mentions.
In the past, I’ve covered defensive themes such as climbing the Skydome wall, throws on the fly, and throws from the seat of their pants. I drew the inspiration for this week’s edition from the bottomless wellspring of joy that is Adrian Beltre. Here’s the clip from this April.
The distance from third base to first base is approximately 127.28 feet, or almost 40 meters. For perspective, that is a full two feet longer than the height of the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro (including its pedestal). That is equal to the apex height of the tsunami that devastated Japan in 2011. You can factor in the first baseman’s stretch, but the fact remains that the very best Major League third basemen have the ability to throw accurate missiles over 40 meters on the fly regardless of the direction of their momentum. And, as we’ll see, they also have the ability to make it look casual.
The only rule for a play to qualify here is that the ball must have been released by the third baseman with both feet in foul territory. OK. Here are my favourite throws across the diamond from outside the left foul line.
*Quick note: “Remote Play Success Rate” is Inside Edge data on the percentage of plays that are classified as being made 1-10% of the time. N.B. This data only goes back to 2012, and if a player fielded another position I excluded that data, i.e. Machado playing SS.
7. Juan Uribe picks and throws to rob Hunter Pence
Remote Play Success Rate: 0%
Few players in baseball hustle down the line like Hunter Pence. In fact, if I had to pick a player whose style was diametrically opposed to Pence’s, it would probably be Uribe. The 37-year-old Dominican has aged like fine wine at the hot corner, turning in his best defensive seasons by UZR in 2013-2014. His range has always impressed me for his size, but his real strength is his impossibly soft hands. Sure the throw was on the fly, on the money, and in plenty of time to beat out the speedy Pence. But look at how he nonchalantly wanders over and times his pick so that he barely has to reach with his glove at all.
6. Alex Rodriguez channels his inner Jetes on Ruben Tejada
Remote Play Success Rate: 0%
Classic Jeter. Except from way, way, way farther. A-Rod takes off on one foot on the edge of the infield dirt and spins just enough to catch a glimpse of first base before throwing Ruben Tejada out on the fly. It’s an incredibly graceful play for a 37-year-old, and is a reminder that big league defenders know exactly where each base is without needing to look.
5. Adrian Beltre sidearms for an unbelievable out
Remote Play Success Rate: 6.7%
I promise this list isn’t only wily old veteran third basemen, but I had to put him on this list somewhere. From my own highlight watching, Adrian Beltre makes throws from foul territory more often than any third baseman. He does it literally all the time. This play got extra points for the sheer beauty of Beltre’s unique sidearm throwing style that seems to give him unlimited distance and accuracy. Nobody else in the league throws quite like him.
Hmm? What’s that, Jesus Sucre?
Yeah, that’s what I thought.
4. Nolan Arenado lays out to rob Scott Van Slyke
Remote Play Success Rate: 10.5%
When I just said that from what I could tell, no 3B in baseball made throws from foul territory as often as Beltre, well… I’m not so sure anymore. Arenado is actually a lot like Beltre in many ways. Both throw sidearm, pull pretty much all of their home runs, and have been good since Day 1 of their careers.
This ball is scalded off the bat of Van Slyke, and it’s so low to the ground that when I saw this I thought Arenado’s only play was to smother the ball and prevent extra bases. Instead, his perfectly-timed dive catches the ball on a bounce that’s just high enough and he’s able to make the play. I love that Arenado is so confident in his arm strength that he takes the time to set his feet fully before making his throw.
3b. Nice to meet you Albert, my name is Manny
Remote Play Success Rate: 10.8%
How he gets this much on the throw I will never understand. Pearce makes a phenomenal stretch about two feet out of the right foul line to catch the ball. If first base was two rows deep into the seats I’m pretty sure Manny could’ve made this play with the same casual ease.
This highlight looks like A-Rod’s jump throw, but you can tell Machado’s arm strength is far superior because he hardly has to push off with his right leg to generate enough power for this 45-50 ft. laser beam. Pujols isn’t a fast runner by any measure, but this play wasn’t even close. Look at Pujols slide halfheartedly into first like he doesn’t even know what to do with himself.
3a. It’s Machado, M-A-C-H-A-D-O, Machado
I ranked this 3a for two reasons. One, I couldn’t really decide between the two, but ended up giving the slight edge to this play. Two, this happened the very next day after 3a happened. Machado went to bed thinking about how dank he is at defence, and then realized that he hasn’t really shown people just how dank he really is. Poor Albert Pujols.
After nonchalantly snowconing the ball in his glove on a nasty hop, Machado takes a good long look at it before letting fly one of the sickest throws across the diamond I have ever seen. And it’s right on the money. That’s unnatural confidence for a 21-year-old, which is how old he was when he did this, and which is how old I currently am as I spend an hour eating Triscuits and making GIFs of baseball highlights indoors on a beautiful sunny day.
2. Manny Machado has everything under control
You’ve probably seen this before. If you haven’t, take a few minutes to watch it as many times as you need.
I counted nine strides in total going off this slowed down GIF. Four to get to the foul line, then five more deep into foul territory. Even accounting for the fact that this is Manny Machado, this play probably happens 0.01% of the time. So thank god we live in this universe and not a parallel one.
The recovery, the range, the throw. It’s all impossible but real. This one could’ve been #1, and #1 could’ve been #2. If you feel that way that’s understandable and you should vote for this play in the poll at the end of the post.
1. Brooks Robinson is a goddamn legend
I wasn’t alive to see Brooks Robinson play, but this play is one of the many reasons he’s pretty much the unquestioned best defensive third baseman of all-time. Baltimore sure knows how to pick them. Here’s a slowed down clip of the play. Watch how quickly that arm whips around, like it’s defying the fact that I slow-mo’d this GIF. Brooks Robinson doesn’t give a shit about GIFs.
A few things came together on this play to cement it as one of the most legendary baseball highlights. First, it happened during the 1970 World Series, in which Robinson hit .429 with a ridiculous 1.238 OPS took home the World Series MVP. Second, where he gloves this ball: He has one foot in foul territory and is a step away from the outfield grass. Third, his momentum is taking him in the complete opposite direction of first base, yet he still manages to get off a bullet relying only on his arm strength. His entire body – torso to legs – is straight as a board when the ball leaves his hand.
After Baltimore won the World Series in five games, Reds Manager Sparky Anderson said, “I’m beginning to see Brooks in my sleep. If I dropped this paper plate, he’d pick it up on one hop and throw me out at first.”
OK. Time to get your opinion. Who did it best?
Here are a few other standouts I came across. Make sure to comment if you think I missed any important plays.
Panda gets Ryan Braun
Longoria lobs it to nab Nick Castellanos
Nick Castellanos throws out Alexei Ramirez