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Which Teams Have Gotten The Most Value From Their Defense?

March 31, 2020
On last week’s edition of The SIS Baseball Podcast, special guest Rob Arthur discussed a study he had done for Baseball Prospectus on how much teams value defense.
This led to another question we were curious about: Which teams have gotten the most value out of their defense?

We decided to look at which teams have saved the most runs defensively in the last seven seasons. That time period represents the timeframe for which our new PART system covers, allowing for a true apples-to-apples comparison.

In that time, one team stands well above the rest. The Diamondbacks have saved 395 runs with their defense, easily the most in the majors.

They’ve finished first or second in Defensive Runs Saved four times in that span: in 2013, 2015, 2018, and 2019.

Their players have won nine Fielding Bible Awards (not including Zack Greinke’s 2019 award, as he started the season with the Diamondbacks, but finished with the Astros). Catcher Jeff Mathis, first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, shortstop Nick Ahmed, and outfielders Ender Inciarte and David Peralta all claimed that honor at least once. Ahmed leads the Diamondbacks with 76 Runs Saved in that time, which ranks second among shortstops (Andrelton Simmons has 174 split between the Braves and Angels).

The Diamondbacks infield saved 221 runs, combining positioning and player performance. That edged out the Rockies (210) for the most in MLB by an infield.

The closest team to the Diamondbacks overall is the Dodgers, who have saved 307 runs since 2013, 88 fewer than Arizona. They were the most skilled team at the corner infield slots, saving a combined 106 runs at first and third base. Much of the Dodgers success has come recently. They led the majors in Defensive Runs Saved in 2019 and ranked tied for third in 2017.

The Dodgers also distinguish themselves in that they don’t have a player dominating the list. The total is a collective effort, paced by 52 Runs Saved from catcher Yasmani Grandal and 40 from first baseman Adrian Gonzalez. Sixteen Dodgers have at least 10 Runs Saved in that span.

Rounding out the top three is the Rays, and that’s interesting given the way in which they've been so good.

In one respect, it’s been a matter of positioning over performance. The Rays lead MLB with 136 Runs Saved from their infield positioning. Their infielders actually combined to cost the team 59 runs, though, with most of that coming from their range (on groundballs, line drives, and popups) and throwing.

The big boost for the Rays comes from their outfield, which has saved 186 runs since 2013, second to the Red Sox (234). Center fielder Kevin Kiermaier is responsible for 125 of those, the most of any outfielder in that time.

If you wish to see the full leaderboard with all 30 teams broken down by position and unit (infield/outfield), click here.

Most Defensive Runs Saved By Team Since 2013

Team DRS
Diamondbacks 395
Dodgers 307
Rays 232
Astros 214
Brewers 192


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