Who Are the Best and Worst Defensive Teams So Far?

April 26, 2014

It is too early in the season to draw definitive conclusions about teams in any respect. Twenty or so games have the Red Sox in last place in the AL East and the Brewers in first place in the NL Central. Perhaps those results will hold true for the entire season, but a lot of the conclusions you might draw after the first month will seem ridiculous by the time August rolls around.

That said, it is interesting to see some of the early leaders and trailers in team defense, especially since many of them were not on those same lists for the 2013 season. Last year featured some truly outstanding defensive teams, notably the Royals and Diamondbacks who saved 93 and 90 runs, respectively. The Royals are close to the top five in the early going this year, falling one run short of the list. In contrast, the Diamondbacks have fallen off dramatically.

First, here are the top five defensive teams so far:

Best Defensive Teams as of April 25, 2014
Team Runs Saved
Atlanta Braves 22
Colorado Rockies 20
Los Angeles Angels 15
San Francisco Giants 14
New York Mets 10


The Braves are the early defensive frontrunners, although Andrelton Simmons has not been the primary factor, as you might expect. Instead, Braves outfielders have combined for 19 of their 22 Runs Saved, in large part because of Jason Heyward, who leads baseball with 10 DRS. In addition, the Upton brothers have combined to save the team seven runs after costing them four in 2013.

In second place, the Rockies have been a two-man show defensively. Troy Tulowitzki has been typically excellent, saving the team seven runs so far at shortstop. Meanwhile, Charlie Blackmon has seven Runs Saved of his own, and is just as hot offensively to start the season. The Angels, Giants, and Mets round out the top five.

Now, here are the bottom five defensive teams:

Worst Defensive Teams as of April 25, 2014
Team Runs Saved
Cleveland Indians -23
Detroit Tigers -19
Minnesota Twins -17
Oakland Athletics -9
Arizona Diamondbacks -9


On the other end of the spectrum, the Indians, Tigers, and Twins have separated themselves from the rest of the teams in baseball with their poor defensive play. The early injury to Michael Bourn was particularly hard on the Indians as replacement center fielders Nyjer Morgan and Michael Brantley have combined to cost the team nine runs. With Bourn back, expect the Indians to rebound.

Earlier in the offseason, Baseball Info Solutions projected the Tigers to be one of the better defensive teams in baseball this season. That would have been quite a turnaround from 2013, when they had the second lowest Runs Saved total in the AL. Unfortunately, early injuries to Jose Iglesias and Andy Dirks cost them two of their best defensive players, and their minus-19 DRS total reflects those losses.

The Twins don’t have any particular player among the worst defenders in baseball to date. However, they have a lot of players who’ve been below average. In fact, they do not have a single outfielder, pitcher, or catcher who has been better than neutral. The Athletics and Diamondbacks—whose defensive collapse is one of their many issues so far this season—round out the bottom five.


COMMENTS (7 Comments, most recent shown first)

I seriously question the accuracy of any article that doesn't include the Nationals as one of the five worst defensive teams of April 2014. I think their third basemen are in double digits for errors already, and that's with Ryan "Sax-Knoblauch" Zimmerman on the DL.
4:39 PM Apr 28th
CWright- I agree with your opinion regarding not taking the amount of runs saved as gospel. Another issue is that defensive stats are for the most part not park adjusted. What I like about defensive win shares is that it is a conservative measure of the effect of defense.

That being said, I follow and watch the Tigers. Torii Hunter has really been that bad this year.
11:15 AM Apr 28th
I guess we can call the "Twins Way" of playing definitively over. They are still sticking to the pitch-to-contact philosophy tough.
1:26 PM Apr 27th
The worst individual position so far is Detroit RF at 10 runs below average, with most of this attributable to Torii Hunter (-8), specifically Hunter's plus/minus rating. Is he getting old suddenly or just a small sample?
11:58 AM Apr 27th
Understand that extrapolating from a small sample routinely creates unusual magnitudes. By the end of 2014 the range between the top and bottom teams is not going to be 324 of these defined runs, which is what it projects to be in this small sample. It is probably going to be around 200, as it was at the end of the 2013 season.

That being said, I actually agree with your basic sentiment. I have doubts about the best modern team defense being able to save around 100 runs in a season relative to the league average. Can that really synthesize into the whole given all the things that the defense has little chance to impact on -- the homers, walks, strikeouts, and all the base advancements and hits in play that no fielder could realistically prevent?

I'm not making a definitive statement here, but I am saying that I have doubts. That remaining gray area does not seem large enough, in my perception, to generate that magnitude of difference from the league average. I suspect the methodology is allowing a sizable chunk of what is chance -- luck -- to be attributed as defensive value.

Make no mistake, I value the defensive accounting taking place and rely on it "directionally" in making many assessments, but at this stage in the evolution of fielding metrics I personally do not take the magnitudes at face value.
9:38 AM Apr 27th
Whoops, made a dumb mistake there. Really dumb. The point I was trying to make was that the Indians would be allowing 2.56 total runs per game if they had the Braves defense, and the Braves defense has apparently dropped the team's runs allowed by 38 percent. That's what I find hard to believe.
6:36 PM Apr 26th
So with an average defense, the Braves would be allowing 1.56 total runs per nine innings? I don't know about that.
6:30 PM Apr 26th
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