Who Will Be The Best Defenders in 2014?

March 11, 2014

For the last few years, Baseball Info Solutions has produced defensive projections for the ensuing season. The projections are determined using each player's three-year Defensive Runs Saved totals and prorating them over the number of defensive innings we expect him to play in 2014. So let's take a look at who the projections think will be the top defenders at each position and the top team overall this year.

Here are the projected leaders in Defensive Runs Saved by position:

Position Player Projected Runs Saved
P Mark Buehrle, Blue Jays 6
R.A. Dickey, Blue Jays
C Welington Castillo, Cubs 9
1B Adrian Gonzalez, Dodgers 10
2B Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox 12
3B Manny Machado, Orioles 21
Nolan Arenado, Rockies
SS Andrelton Simmons, Braves 32
LF Alex Gordon, Royals 17
CF Carlos Gomez, Brewers 19
RF Gerardo Parra, Diamondbacks 16
Shane Victorino, Red Sox

Last year, four of these players surpassed what had previously been the single-season high for a player since we started measuring DRS over 10 years ago – Andrelton Simmons (41), Gerardo Parra (41), Carlos Gomez (38), and Manny Machado (35) – so it is no surprise to see them show up here. Simmons, in particular, is noteworthy. He saved the Braves an estimated 19 runs in a little more than a third of a season in 2012 and 41 runs in 2013. It is very possible that the 32 DRS that he is projected for this year is conservative. In fact, the Braves are clearly betting on his defense, as they gave him a $58 million guaranteed contract despite Simmons having less than two full years of service time.

Interestingly, there are three ties this year. At pitcher, the Blue Jays are blessed with two of the best defenders in baseball. Mark Buehrle and R.A. Dickey have both consistently been at the top of the leaderboard for pitchers every year. In 2013, Buehrle actually recorded his lowest DRS total in a decade (four Runs Saved), enough of a drop for Dickey to steal the Fielding Bible Award away from him after an impressive four-year run. However, with a bit of a bounce back, this should be an interesting intra-squad competition in 2014.

At third base, both Machado and Nolan Arenado were revelations last year. While Machado finished with 35 runs saved to Arenado's 30, the two of them were on the same pace, as Arenado did not actually start playing in the big leagues until the end of the first month of the season. If Machado is able to make a full recovery from offseason knee surgery, these two could provide us with a tremendous defensive rivalry year-in and year-out.

And in right field, Parra and Shane Victorino both enjoyed their first campaign spent primarily at that position, having finished one-two in DRS out there in 2013. Both are projected to have another excellent season this year, though some of the other young stalwarts at the position, like Jason Heyward and Josh Reddick, may have something to say about who actually comes out on top.

Here are the top teams according to the defensive projections:

Team Projected Runs Saved
Kansas City Royals 54
Arizona Diamondbacks 41
Atlanta Braves 27
Detroit Tigers 26
Baltimore Orioles 25

The Royals had the best team defense in 2013 as measured by DRS. They have made great strides over the last few years after having been the worst in the league back in 2010. They have solid defenders at most positions, but their outfield in particular is very strong with Alex Gordon in LF (two-time Fielding Bible Award winner), Lorenzo Cain in CF, and Norichika Aoki in RF.

The Tigers were horrible defensively in 2013, losing 63 runs over the course of the season. The biggest reason they are going to be much better this year is addition by subtraction. Subtract Fielder’s 13 runs lost at first base by moving to Texas, and subtract Cabrera’s 18 runs lost at third base by moving over to his better defensive position, first base, and you get vast improvement. Now add in Ian Kinsler at second base, a return to form defensively from Torii Hunter, and a full season from Jose Igelsias at shortstop, and the Tigers go from one of the worst to one of the best defensive teams in baseball in one season.

 
 

COMMENTS (1 Comment)

Edward
John,

No argument against the "Portside Cannon" Gerardo Parra, but how on Earth did the math put Shane Victorino ahead of Jason Heyward in right?

Sure, Shane had a great season in right field, but the two seasons prior to that he only saved 2 and 3 runs in center--so the three year average isn't a straight three year average. (Heyward's three-year average DRS: 17. Victorino's: 9.67.)

Does the system assume that any center fielder moving to right field suddenly saves 14 more runs than he used to?

And I realize that Heyward's innings projected for right field this year may be low thanks to the broken jaw and ailing appendix from last season, but the guy still saved 16 runs in 104 games last year. 84 of those games were in right field, but the other 20 were as the starting center fielder, where he performed at least as well in a small sample size as Victorino did in 2011 and 2012. (For some visual aid on this last point, check out the new MLB advanced media video advertising the defensive tracking.)

So where does Victorino come from, John?

9:06 AM Mar 12th
 
 
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