HOUSTON -- As we brace ourselves for Game 1 of the 2021 World Series, let's reflect on the coaching prowess of Ron Washington. The Braves third-base coach has been getting lots of attention this postseason for his aggressive sends on crucial base-running plays that have aided the Braves efforts in making their first World Series this millennium.
But Washington doubles as their infield coach, and he's long been known as a bit of an infielder whisperer. A guru. His pre-game drills are legendary to those in the know and he's widely known as one of the most skilled fungo bat users on the planet. All the elements of an amazing infield coach are there.
"No one in the game knows how to prepare infielders better than Wash," said a long-time scout.
There's no better time than now to give the man his due. After all, he managed the Rangers from 2007-14 but has yet to get another managerial job since. Perhaps this run is what gets him, say, the Padres job after the World Series. He certainly deserves another chance.
In the past, Washington has done things like teach Marcus Semien how to become an above-average defensive shortstop with the A's. Semien had 0.1 defensive WAR in 2015 at the position and by 2018, thanks in large part to Washington's coaching in 2015 and 2016, it was 2.2. There are myriad examples of Washington molding infielders into great defenders.
This current Braves infield is stellar.
Freddie Freeman is as good as they come at first, smoothly digging errant throws and picking short hops on a regular basis. In Statcast's "outs above average" -- a strong defensive metric that combines range and skill -- Freeman was fifth in baseball among first basemen.
Second baseman Ozzie Albies is fifth in defensive WAR and rates out well in other advanced metrics such as outs above average. Sure-handed shortstop Dansby Swanson doesn't have as much range, but he rarely commits errors. Among full-time third basemen, Austin Riley led in defensive runs saved.
In defensive efficiency -- an excellent team stat that is simply the percentage of balls put in play that result in outs -- the Braves ranked fourth in all of baseball this season, and they kept getting better as the season progressed under the tutelage of Washington.
Prior to Game 1, I was able to get an up-close glimpse of Washington working with the infielders. Here he is running Riley through short-hop drills.
And here's the bare-handed version with Albies
Washington -- who has been on Atlanta's staff since 2017 -- went through both sets of these drills with every infielder on the roster and was talking them through it the entire time. Getting that kind of devoted teaching the night of Game 1 of the World Series tells you all you need to know about the preparation Washington does with his infielders. These guys doing this so much before every single game means the reps during the game are natural. Just an easy backhand without even a second thought. It becomes second nature.
We're all looking forward to an excellent series. When you se something like an Albies back-hand on a great defensive play in Game 1 or at any point in the series, think back to these drills Washington was running. The infield guru is on top of his game and deserves another shot at manager.