Best Defensive Players of the Decade (Part III)

March 13, 2013

In Parts I and II of our "Best Defensive Players of the Decade" series we looked at infielders. Let’s take a look at outfielders now. We use Defensive Runs Saved as our criteria. For outfielders, we evaluate range using our Plus/Minus System. We add in throwing arm effectiveness by looking at both how often they throw out runners as well as how often they prevent runners from advancing. Finally, we measure many other factors such as missing the cut-off man, playing a ball off of the wall, saving a double by cutting off a ball in the gap, etc, in the Good Plays/Misplays component of Runs Saved.

Starting in left field, here are the five best left fielders of the last 10 years according to Defensive Runs Saved:

Left Field
Most Defensive Runs Saved, 2003-2012
Player Innings DRS DRS/1000
Carl Crawford 10,662 68 6
Brett Gardner 2,295 50 22
Alex Gordon 3,220 47 15
Reed Johnson 3,176 45 14
Coco Crisp 1,973 27 14


Before he arrived in Boston, Carl Crawford was always an excellent defender. He had the speed, if not the arm, of a top-end center fielder, which really stands out against his competition in left field. Left field is where managers often try to hide some offense-first players. Still, Crawford reached the top spot with 68 Runs Saved because of longevity. He’s played more than 10,000 innings in left field since 2003, which is more than three times as much as any of the other four players on the list.

Based on his rate of 22 Defensive Runs Saved per 1,000 innings, Brett Gardner can make a strong claim to the title of best defensive left fielder in baseball. Alex Gordon is a little different than the other players on this list. He has good range, but his biggest strength is his throwing arm. He gets over 50 percent of his Runs Saved with his arm. By comparison, Brett Gardner has a good arm, but only about 25 percent of his defensive prowess is due to his arm.

Next, here are the five best center fielders of the last 10 years:

Center Field
Most Defensive Runs Saved, 2003-2012
Player Innings DRS DRS/1000
Michael Bourn 6,280 66 11
Andruw Jones 7,327 61 8
Austin Jackson 3,704 47 13
Carlos Gomez 4,207 42 10
Franklin Gutierrez 3,875 42 11


Andruw Jones is a victim of the time frame. He had already established himself as an all-time great center fielder in seven seasons before we introduced Defensive Runs Saved. It is a testament to his greatness that he still managed to reach second place on the list in what was much of the twilight of his career. Giving the timing, Michael Bourn is pretty clearly the best defensive center fielder of the decade. His rate numbers are comparable to the other elite defenders like Austin Jackson and Franklin Gutierrez, and he has been productive for more seasons.

Finally, here are the five best right fielders:

Right Field
Most Defensive Runs Saved, 2003-2012
Player Innings DRS DRS/1000
Ichiro Suzuki 11,119 85 8
Alex Rios 7,374 76 10
Jeff Francoeur 9,824 56 6
Jason Heyward 3,524 50 14
Richard Hidalgo 3,060 45 15


This one was probably a pretty easy guess for you. Ichiro Suzuki’s great catch and throw highlights are equaled by his consistency, which earned him three Fielding Bible Awards. The amazing thing is that, as great as Ichiro has been, he did not come to major league baseball until he was 27 years old. It’s possible that we may have missed his defensive peak. As a point of comparison, Jason Heyward, the reigning Fielding Bible Award winner in right field, has already accumulated 50 Runs Saved, and he is still just 23 years old.

Our holistic Defensive Runs Saved metric is made up of several runs saved components. Two primary components of Defensive Runs Saved include the Plus/Minus System, which evaluates the range of fielders at every position except for catcher, and Good Fielding Plays and Defensive Misplays. Defensive Runs Saved for outfielders also includes Outfield Arms Runs Saved.


COMMENTS (4 Comments, most recent shown first)

Bring back Matt Murton!
1:22 PM Mar 16th
9:37 PM Mar 14th
Writing about baseball statistics is dry. That was what James so different, he had just enough humor thrown in to keep things fun.
2:49 PM Mar 14th
I like these lists of great defenders. I really don't watch that much baseball anymore. This makes me want to - to see what makes each of these guys so special. This series of articles is kind of dry. It would liven it up if it were carried a little bit further - Alex Gordon has a great arm. OK, that's good to know. Can you supply some more detail? Some anecdotes? How many he cut down, maybe even who he cut down?
1:13 PM Mar 14th
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