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Who is the Best Defensive Team Entering 2020?

July 24, 2020
The best defensive team in baseball entering the 2020 season seems clearcut.
The Los Angeles Dodgers finished the 2019 season with an MLB-leading 126 Defensive Runs Saved. They kept the core of their position-player group almost completely intact other than swapping out Alex Verdugo for one of the game’s top defensive players, Mookie Betts.

As we noted in The Fielding Bible – Volume V¸ the strength of the Dodgers defense is rooted in its versatility. The flexibility will come into play in the outfield when Cody Bellinger moves to center field. Bellinger tied for the MLB lead in Runs Saved in right field in 2019. In just under 700 career innings in center field, he’s saved 11 runs. Joc Pederson showed he could play both corner outfield spots well, saving six runs in left field and six runs in right.

On the infield, Max Muncy totaled 12 Runs Saved split between first base, second base and third base last season. Kiké Hernández had 13 Runs Saved at second base, but also totaled more than 300 innings split between first base, shortstop, third base, and all three outfield spots.

Another area of strength is at catcher where Will Smith and Austin Barnes combined for 10 Runs Saved between them last season. Both rate as above-average pitch framers, helping net an already strong pitching staff more called strikes than expected.

The Dodgers also have two players with good defensive histories coming off down seasons. Justin Turner’s run of five straight seasons with a positive Runs Saved total at third base ended in 2019 when he cost the Dodgers three runs there. He’ll get a chance to bounce back in this shortened season. A.J. Pollock cost the Dodgers nine runs in center field in 2019 but now likely can be slotted in as a DH. Bellinger’s move to center allows that position to go from weakness to strength.

As for Betts, he’s saved 93 runs in right field over the last four seasons. That’s more than double the next-closest player, Aaron Judge, who has 45. He’s added value with his arm, as his 12 Outfield Arm Runs Saved in that time trail only Judge’s 14 among right fielders. He’s also totaled five home run robberies in the last four seasons. Only three outfielders have more.

Betts' acquisition gives the Dodgers an abundance of defensive riches, likely for a long time to come.

For more on the best defensive teams in baseball and a 2020 season preview, check out the newest episode of The Sports Info Solutions Baseball Podcast with special guests Jon Sciambi and Chris Singleton of ESPN.



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