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The Best and Worst Defensive Players So Far This Season

August 18, 2017

Thus far during the 2017 season, Mookie Betts sits atop the Defensive Runs Saved leaderboard, saving 28 runs in right field for the Boston Red Sox.

2017 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) Leaders
Player Primary Pos DRS
Mookie Betts RF 28
Andrelton Simmons SS 23
Byron Buxton CF 21
Nolan Arenado 3B 18
Jedd Gyorko 3B 17
Jason Heyward RF 17
Martin Maldonado C 17

It has been an encore performance for Betts as he led all of Major League Baseball by saving 32 runs in 2016. This figure was seven runs ahead of the next ranked player from last season, Kevin Kiermaier. Given that Kiermaier was able to save 26 runs in 2016 and 42 runs in 2015 (the most by any player in a given season since Baseball Info Solutions began tracking the data in 2003), the 2017 season had the potential to be a defensive showdown for the ages between these two AL East outfield glove wizards. Alas it was not to be, as similar to the 2016 season Kiermaier has missed significant time this year due to injury (hip fracture). In contrast to Kiermaier, Betts has been healthy all season and is on pace to improve on his stellar 2016 defensive performance.

So far during the 2017 season, Betts has proven well-suited to covering Fenway Park’s tricky right field as he ranks first in the major leagues in the range and positioning component of DRS with 24 runs saved. In particular, Betts excels on sinking line drives and short fly balls hit to shallow right field. On these types of batted balls to short right field, Betts has made 18 plays above average.

Here are the worst defensive players so far this season:

2017 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) Trailers
Player Primary Pos DRS
Denard Span CF -23
Asdrubal Cabrera SS -19
Jose Reyes SS -16
Melky Cabrera LF -14
Xander Bogaerts SS -13
Nick Castellanos 3B -13
Jonathan Lucroy C -13
Daniel Murphy 2B -13

Unfortunately for the San Francisco Giants, Denard Span has been the worst defensive player thus far during 2017. This season marks Span’s third consecutive season of costing his team at least seven runs in center field (-10 DRS in 2015 and -7 DRS in 2016). As injuries and age continue to take a toll on Span, the Giants may be best served moving him to a corner outfield spot and bringing in a more adequate defensive center fielder. Two New York Mets infielders (Asdrubal Cabrera and Jose Reyes) rank right behind Span in subpar defensive performance in 2017. Although the Mets’ starting rotation has performed below expectations this season due to injury and ineffectiveness, the inability of Cabrera and Reyes to convert batted balls into outs has done Mets pitching no favors.


COMMENTS (9 Comments, most recent shown first)

Hi Mr Dewan, when evaluating defense and defensive metrics, how much do you trust systems before the arrival of UZR and Plus/Minus, lets call them methods based on number of plays made? Thanks
11:04 PM Aug 25th
Tom: thank you for that. I didn't realize there was a listing that included the results of both systems in a single page. Conclusion: rating defense is almost as hard as playing it.

It's interesting: just eyeballing it, 3B seems to be the position at which the results differ most significantly. (Well, catcher, but nobody knows how to rate catchers except pitchers.) Next might be CF. If I had time and ambition I'd run coefficients of correlation on the DRS and UZR columns to quantify the degrees of difference.

Jack: DRS likes Benintendi, UZR not so much. Both have Bradley a bit above average at best (which surprises me). Both love Mookie Betts, and what's not to love?

Speaking of catchers, UZR doesn't seem to be nearly as down on Lucroy as DRS (see Dewan's earlier article), rating him about average.

Mark Twain: “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”
12:37 PM Aug 20th
Gyorko? Maybe it's time to revisit whatever system this is.
8:20 PM Aug 19th
......and BTW if that's the case (I agree that it could well be, probably is), Sale's 'actual' excellence isn't quite as good as it appears, even if most of the usual sophisticated indicators are taken into account.
4:49 PM Aug 19th
Would be interested in the numbers for Jackie Bradley, Jr. and Andrew Benintendi -- does DRS see all three Boston outfielders as above average? On eyeball test alone, Bradley, Betts, and Beninteni are all excellent fielders who cover a lot of ground, and Mookie and JBJ have tremendous arms. They certainly are in the running as MLB's best current defensive outfield.
4:37 PM Aug 19th
The surprise to me is Jedd Gyorko. Is it just that he is so much better at third than anywhere else on the diamond? Does anyone seriously believe that he's in a class with Nolan Arenado? Fangraphs, in any case, shows him as average. Is DRS seeing something no one else is--or is it seeing something that isn't there?
6:56 AM Aug 19th
Lucroy is the name that jumps out at me. According to DRS, he's gone from 24 runs above average in 2014, the best defensive catcher in the majors, to fourteen runs below average in YTD 2017, apparently the worst defensive catcher in the majors.
1:09 PM Aug 18th
Names that stick out to me:

Xander Bogearts -- Isn't he better than that? (I'm not insisting, just musing.) :-)
I've thought he was.

And especially:
Melky Cabrera, pursuant to what we discussed under the 3000 hit article.
The stated probability for him to reach 3000 depends absolutely on his remaining a regular for several more years. If his defense is already down to that level (actually I'd be surprised if it already is)....
12:45 PM Aug 18th
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