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John Dewan's Stat of the Week

Trey Lipscomb Makes A Good First Impression

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Early this season baseball fans are celebrating big starts at the plate from Mookie Betts, Juan Soto, and Bobby Witt Jr.

But what about recognizing a good start in the field?

It’s an oft-said baseballism that when you're newly in a game, the ball finds you. The ball has found Nationals third baseman Trey Lipscomb a lot. In his first 3 major league games, Lipscomb has already handled 15 chances cleanly.

That's busy for a third baseman. Ke'Bryan Hayes led the position in range factor last season. He had a few three-game stretches last season like the one Lipscomb just did, but his range factor last season was an average of just under 3 chances per game.

Now you may ask why we're bringing up an unknown rookie on a 1-3 team that may finish at the bottom of the NL East this season. Fair question.

It’s easy to get excited by the superduperstars and the hyped rookies, like Jackson Chourio and Wyatt Langford. But part of the fun of baseball is about the under-the-radar guys who might catch some people by surprise.

And while maybe Lipscomb won’t be Hayes or Nolan Arenado in the field, he could still be someone you'll want to watch. Reds broadcaster and Hall of Famer Barry Larkin was impressed and said so during during the telecasts of the last 2 games of the Reds-Nationals series. Larkin’s a 3-time Gold Glove winner, so when he says a player has been “impressive,” we listen.

We talked to Lipscomb last year after he won a minor league Gold Glove at third base in a season in which he played every infield position. He was among the Nationals' final cuts after hitting .400 in spring training but was almost immediately recalled when Nick Senzel suffered an injury that required an IL stint.

Lipscomb made a couple of nifty plays on ground balls, getting an initiation in the first inning of his first game at third base on a Christian Encarnacion-Strand grounder that took a high hop. Lipscomb handled it well and got the out.

Lipscomb’s best play by Runs Saved was also against Encarnacion-Strand, one that he turned into a 5-4-3 double play. That play was worth nearly 3/4 of a Run Saved by itself.

Lipscomb and Encarnacion-Strand had quite the batter-fielder relationship for a couple of days, with Lipscomb retiring Encarnacion-Strand 5 times.

Lipscomb said in our interview that he wanted to be a fielder who dominated the routine plays. He had his share in his first 3 games and looked comfortable.

But there were a couple of interesting challenges. On one play Lipscomb made, against Bryan Reynolds of the Pirates, he chose not to throw home in a situation in which he may have had a play at the plate. For those unaware, that decision is factored into Lipscomb’s Defensive Runs Saved. He gets a credit for retiring Reynolds at first base but also loses some run value within his Runs Saved for what we call “Giving Away a Lead Runner” in our cataloging of Defensive Misplays.

Lipscomb also was unable to make a play on a hard-hit ball down the third base line. However, by diving and reaching the ball, Lipscomb held Santiago Espinal to a single rather than a double.

Lipscomb got penalized within Defensive Runs Saved for not making the play on Espinal, but he gets a chunk of that run value back because he recorded a “Keeping The Ball In The Infield” in our tracking of more than 30 types of Good Fielding Plays.

All in all, Lipscomb got through his first 3 days in the major leagues pretty well. He experienced a variety of plays and handled them. He wasn’t perfect but he made a strong impression.

“The game of baseball is not about perfection,” Lipscomb said in our offseason conversation. “But if you can be as physically sound and mentally sound on defense as you can, it can help you a lot.”

So far so good. Let’s see if he can keep it up.

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