Who Are the Best and Worst Defensive Teams So Far?

May 14, 2013

More than a month into the season, the overall defensive picture is starting to take shape. Teams have only played a fifth of their total schedules, but the best and worst defensive teams have already separated by 59 Runs Saved, a total that separates them by approximately six wins.

Last season, the Braves and Blue Jays outpaced the other teams with 70 Runs Saved a piece. After a month, only the Braves have rejoined the top-five, and 11 of their 17 Runs Saved are from defensive phenom Andrelton Simmons, who leads baseball.

Here are the best defensive teams so far this season:

Best team defenses through May 13, 2013
Team Runs Saved
Arizona Diamondbacks 32
Texas Rangers 18
Atlanta Braves 17
Milwaukee Brewers 16
Cincinnati Reds 14
Pittsburgh Pirates 14


Lost in a controversial offseason in which they traded away Justin Upton, the Diamondbacks upgraded their defense and look like the best in baseball in that department. At 32 Runs Saved, they are already 8 Runs Saved past their total for all of 2012. Free agent acquisition Cody Ross and prospect A.J. Pollock lead their tremendous outfield that has saved 25 runs itself.

The Brewers and Pirates come in fourth and tied-fifth on the shoulders of a few defensive standouts. For Milwaukee, they are Norichika Aoki and Carlos Gomez. Our shallow/medium/deep Plus/Minus splits suggest that the Brewers’ outfielders have positioned themselves deeper than most teams, and it is really making a positive impact. For Pittsburgh, Starling Marte has saved an estimated seven runs in left field and looks like a breakout player both offensively and defensively.

Here are the worst defensive teams in the early-going:

Worst team defenses through May 13, 2013
Team Runs Saved
Los Angeles Angels -27
Oakland Athletics -26
St. Louis Cardinals -12
San Diego Padres -11
Chicago White Sox -11


Oakland saved an estimated 16 runs in 2012, but they are off to a terrible defensive start this season. Josh Reddick has just 2 Runs Saved after 22 in 2012, and defensive liabilities at shortstop, second base, and pitcher have pulled them to near the bottom of the league.

The division-rival Angels have been even worse defensively to start the season, but unlike in Oakland, they have not hit and pitched their way around it. With Texas looking strong in every facet, the Angels are going to need better from Mike Trout, Peter Bourjos, and Josh Hamilton, who have combined to cost the Angels an estimated eight runs this season.

Like the Angels, the Cardinals have seen early-season defensive struggles in their outfield. Matt Holliday hits well enough that you can forgive him for costing St. Louis an early three runs. The White Sox, in contrast, have seen little offensive production from Adam Dunn and Paul Konerko, who have combined to cost them six runs at first base.


COMMENTS (7 Comments, most recent shown first)

I heard Whitey Herzog say he thought one of the reasons that Cardinals have been so successful this season was their defense. But Whitey hit into an all-Cuban triple play so I don't know if we can take him seriously. I do know the Cardinals four regular starting infielders have a grand total combined of four errors (one apiece) at the one-third mark of the season. (OMG he brought up errors at a Sabermetric site!)
8:47 PM Jun 4th
How does team defense matchup with team age?

The angels are pretty old.
8:16 PM May 18th
So, talking of defense, can someone explain Nationals' 3B Ryan Zimmerman to me? As far as I can tell he always gets to every ball that he should--and then some--but way too often he throws the ball away.​
4:01 PM May 15th
This is John's, I assume. I din' write it.
11:32 PM May 14th
Interesting that positioning deep is better; I always assumed that playing shallow was the way to go.​
6:27 PM May 14th
The Cardinals have given up the fewest runs in the National League by a pretty healthy margin. It's hard to believe they're doing that with the worst defense in the NL, although I guess it's possible.​
5:30 PM May 14th
Was this written by John Dewan, not Bill James who's currently credited as the author? Interesting in either case.
5:25 PM May 14th
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