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MLB's Top Defensive Players

April 3, 2021
Opening Day is Thursday and it’s exciting to be a baseball fan as the 2021 MLB season begins. Of course, it’s always a good time to be a fan of great defense.

Let’s look ahead to 2021 by assessing who the top defender is at each position heading into the season. We’ll do that by sharing the leader in Defensive Runs Saved over the last three seasons.

Most Defensive Runs Saved
By Position (2018-2020)

Position Name Team DRS
1B Matt Olson Athletics 23
2B Kolten Wong Brewers 35
SS Nick Ahmed Diamondbacks 48
3B Matt Chapman Athletics 53
LF Adam Duvall Marlins 20
CF Lorenzo Cain Brewers 40
RF Mookie Betts Dodgers 47
C Roberto Pérez Indians 40
P Zack Greinke Astros 14

The infield corners are (not surprisingly) headed by Matt Olson and Matt Chapman of the Athletics. Olson has won three straight Fielding Bible Awards at first base. Chapman won in 2018 and 2019 and is the leader in Runs Saved among all players over the last three seasons.

Like Olson, Kolten Wong has won three straight Fielding Bible Awards, his coming at second base. He’s part of a Brewers team that made significant moves to bolster its defense this offseason, adding Wong and Jackie Bradley Jr.

Nick Ahmed of the Diamondbacks is the leader at shortstop, though there are plenty of good options at that position, most notably Javier Báez, who might be the leader had he played shortstop as often as Ahmed has these last three seasons. To his credit, Ahmed is as steady as they come. He won a Fielding Bible Award in 2019.

That Lorenzo Cain of the Brewers is the three-year leader in center field is extremely impressive given that Cain played only five games in 2020 before opting out. Cain still comes out ahead of Kevin Kiermaier, with those two well ahead of the rest of the field.

Mookie Betts’ debut season with the Dodgers included a World Series title, a runner-up for NL MVP, and his fourth Fielding Bible Award in the last five seasons. Betts excels at both getting to balls and making throws, essentially giving the Dodgers a second outfielder with center field-like skill.

Left field is a position where teams tend to use a lot of players and it’s unusual for a player to post a high Runs Saved total. The three-year left field leader is Adam Duvall, now of the Marlins, who edges out Brett Gardner of the Yankees. Duvall will move to right field this season, which will allow him to better utilize his strong arm.

Behind the plate, Roberto Pérez does a lot of good work for his pitchers, as he ranks among the top catchers in both pitch framing and pitch blocking. He’s won the last two Fielding Bible Awards. The catcher who ranks second to Pérez in that time is his backup, Austin Hedges, with 30 Runs Saved.

Even at age 37, Zack Greinke still seems to be in great athletic form. Greinke placed second in the voting for the 2020 Fielding Bible Award behind Max Fried. Greinke won the award in 2018 and 2019.

A reminder that you can follow defensive stats all season by checking out We look forward to following and sharing our baseball discoveries with you.


COMMENTS (2 Comments, most recent shown first)

Ah, never mind. I see that 14 runs saved is Greinke's three year, 2018-2020, total.
1:41 PM Apr 5th
I usually believe DRS' estimates, but I'm calling bull manure this time.

In 2020, Zach Greinke had 16 fielding chances resulting in zero errors, 3 double plays, 4 other assists after I subtract out the double plays, and 9 putouts. Perfect! But how can that possibly be estimated to produce 14 defensive runs saved compared to the average MLB pitcher? 14 DRS from 16 fielding chances seems like the wrong ratio to me. The average MLB pitcher would still have caught some of those balls, and the liners that a pitcher doesn't catch are likely to only be singles, hits that don't have an extraordinarily high run value.

I realize that there is a nearly zero percentage chance that the author of this article reads the comments here are BJOL, but I still wanted to write.
1:11 PM Apr 5th
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