OAKLAND — A's middle infielders Jed Lowrie and Marcus Semien are primarily known for their bats, but they have both made great strides defensively this season.
Lowrie has only committed three errors all year and leads Major League second basemen with a .994 fielding percentage. Semien ranks third among American League shortstops in both defensive WAR and defensive runs saved.
“Both guys have been real consistent for us,” said manager Bob Melvin. “Couple that with the two corner guys, it's made our defense 180 degrees better than it was a couple years ago, and even last year.”
Semien in particular has made staggering improvements. Last season, he had a defensive WAR of -0.4, with -9 defensive runs saved, both third-worst among AL shortstops. This year, he has flipped the script, ranking third-best with a 1.9 dWAR and 9 DRS. He is also second among all AL players in the latest SABR Defensive Index rankings, behind only Matt Chapman.
“I feel like I've improved,” Semien said. “I'm throwing the ball better. ... The corner guys make it easier on me -- Chapman's range and [Matt] Olson's length and athleticism. It's kind of a combination of all of that.”
Added Melvin: “Now he's like a good umpire. You don't even notice him. He's just making all the plays.”
Lowrie has been just as impressive, rating third among AL second basemen in the SABR Defensive Index rankings. While he doesn't have the greatest range, he uses positioning and anticipation to make just about every play within his reach.
“I take a lot of pride in [my defense],” Lowrie said. “I try to be a well-rounded player. ... I've always focused on [the first step], because my raw range isn't what other guys' is in the big leagues. I've relied on anticipation and first step.”
“He's an All-Star for a reason,” added Melvin. “A lot of the All-Star qualities he brings to the table include the defensive part.”
Lowrie and Semien have quietly become one of the top middle infield tandems in the league. They have turned 70 double plays together this season, the most of any combination in the AL.
“We have a good rapport,” Lowrie said. “We're on the same page most of the time and I think we have a good sense of what the other guy is thinking.”
“He's very fundamentally sound,” Semien said of Lowrie. “Really smart, positioning is good. He's been doing it for a long time.”
Lowrie and Semien have helped the A's significantly upgrade their overall defense from last season. After finishing last in MLB with 121 errors in 2017, Oakland has cut that number to 81 this year, 17th in the league. That improved defense has been a major part of the A's surprising success in 2018.