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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Patrolling center field, Brenton Doyle is Rockies’ save leader



Colorado Rockies center fielder Brenton Doyle making a catch last season, when he became the first rookie outfielder to win a National League Gold Glove, an award that dates to 1957. (thednvr.com)

By Tyler Kepner / The Athletic


The tour is on again for Brenton Doyle, an encore after so many stirring performances last season that there ought to be a T-shirt listing all the venues: Boston, Tampa Bay, San Francisco …


“And that was just me,” said Austin Gomber, a Colorado Rockies pitcher, still amazed this spring at how often Doyle saved him in center field last summer. “I know he made another catch in the right-center field gap in St. Louis that was unbelievable. There’s a reason he won the Gold Glove.”


Doyle, 25, is like an indie band with a cult following that just hit it big. It’s hard to get noticed when your team finishes 41 games out of first place, as the Rockies did last season while enduring a franchise-worst 59-103 record. But when it was time to recognize defensive excellence, Doyle was impossible to miss.


The Gold Glove winners are determined by sabermetric data and votes from managers and coaches.


“With all the data and the metrics that are out there now, he was far and away the winner,” Rockies manager Bud Black said. “And based on the data, what we see in person, what we see on TV when we’re watching games and highlights — with Doyle, it was clear cut. Best center fielder in the game.”


Doyle hit only .203 last season, with a .250 on-base percentage and 10 home runs. But he also stole 22 bases, flashing the speed that helped make him the first rookie outfielder to win a National League Gold Glove, an award that dates to 1957.


Doyle said he was eager to display the trophy in his home office with the others he has won, at Shepherd University in West Virginia and Class A Spokane. He has been a natural in center since he outgrew shortstop at Kettle Run High School in Nolesville, Virginia.


“My freshman to sophomore year, I probably grew from 5-9 to 6-2, and then I grew 1 more inch from sophomore to junior year,” Doyle said. “You see a lot of tall shortstops — Corey Seager’s as big as me, and he plays short — but I come from a pretty small town, and in high school, they wanted the bigger guys in the outfield. So that’s where I moved, and it worked for the best.”


It worked so well last season that Doyle essentially broke the metrics. In the first 20 seasons that Sports Info Solutions tracked defensive runs saved (2003 to 2022), no Rockies center fielder ever amassed more than six in a year — then Doyle had 19. FanGraphs gave him an Ultimate Zone Rating of 24.5, nearly three times better than the next-best center fielder, the Toronto Blue Jays’ Daulton Varsho (9.2).


But folks don’t think about numbers when they watch Doyle work. Even a guy such as Charlie Blackmon, who has logged more than 5,000 innings at center for the Rockies, is awestruck.


“You watch him and you start taking note of how many plays where, just off the bat, you’re like, ‘Oh, that’s 100% a double if it stays in the park’ — and then it turns into an out,” Blackmon said. “He’s not taking away singles. These are run-scoring, extra-base hits he’s taking away. It’s really impactful.”


Last spring, Doyle said, Blackmon reminded him never to coast at Coors Field, where balls tend to stay airborne longer than you’d think. But really, Blackmon said, there was nothing he could teach a player with Doyle’s instincts and attitude.


“The thing about great defenders is that they want to make plays, so he’s not afraid to dive, and he doesn’t shy from the wall,” Black said. “You cross your fingers when you see outfielders crash into a wall; you’re always saying, ‘Get up, get up.’ But that’s how they’re wired.”


When he was a boy, Doyle said, he would tag along to his sister’s tennis practice and scramble around the court, snaring balls with his bare hands. These days, it’s best to leave him alone during batting practice.


“A lot of guys can take shagging BP as time to just hang out, relax and wait till it’s your turn to hit, but I take those reps very seriously,” Doyle said. “And the pitchers here know that, too. Whenever there’s a ball hit near center field, they get out of the way because they know I’m going full speed to catch it.”


Rockies pitchers had little margin for error last season, with an MLB-high 5.67 ERA, so they were especially grateful for Doyle. Gomber, a fly-ball pitcher, was the beneficiary of his superhero catches at Fenway Park and Tropicana Field, and a double play in San Francisco that cut down the go-ahead run at the plate.


There’s a reason, perhaps, that Doyle’s best plays came away from the Rockies’ mile-high home. For outfielders, Coors Field is like New York City: If you can make it there, you’ll make it anywhere.


“If you can handle Coors Field, it just makes your game so much better because you go to these other outfields and it seems like they’re half the size,” he said.


Doyle did make his mark at home: In a September game against Toronto, he held Davis Schneider at third with a throw measured at 105.7 mph, the hardest ever by an outfielder in nine seasons of Trackman data.


“On that ball, Vlad Guerrero Jr. hit it deep enough that the runner normally would take off at third,” Doyle said. “He took a couple of hard steps and shut it down pretty immediately. So, I mean, it’s cool, but at the same time, I still like my putouts. I don’t want ’em to be too passive against me.”


It’s too late for that. The secret is out on Doyle, and in his field — like another — there’s only one level higher than gold: platinum.


Feats of strength


For hitters, a confrontation with Seattle’s Logan Gilbert is one of the most stressful in the game.


“He’s got like 7 1/2 feet of extension,” the Mariners’ designated hitter, Mitch Garver, said accurately this spring. “That gives you less time to react, so you’re recognizing pitches and shapes a little bit later than normal. It means the ball is closer to you, so you don’t have time to get your ‘A’ swing off. A lot of times you’re taking a defensive swing.”


Gilbert is 6-foot-6, and his average stride is a full foot longer. That ranks in the 99th percentile of major league pitchers, a level only one other starter, the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Tyler Glasnow, reached last season. Gilbert averaged 95.7 mph with his fastball last season — ninth among qualified pitchers — and the hitter perceives the pitch as even harder than that.


“I don’t consciously try to do it,” said Gilbert, who had 189 strikeouts and just 36 walks last season, while going 13-7 with a 3.73 ERA. “I wasn’t aware of how far out it was until towards the end of college. I think it’s a product of some of the things I do train, but I’m not necessarily training the extension.


“I’m training using my legs correctly and the way my arm unravels at release, and I think that kind of translates into extension. That’s kind of the last piece. I guess it naturally happens, but I think of it like dominoes almost in a row, hitting each other. I train the first two or three dominoes, which leads to that actually happening.”


One thing he does consciously try to do, Gilbert said, is reach as far as he can with his hand.


“Everything works way better when my hand’s out front,” he said.

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