By Mark Simon
The Dodgers are poised to not just dominate the NL West again, but to dominate all of baseball in defensive performance.
The Dodgers lead MLB with 62 Defensive Runs Saved. The next-closest team entering Thursday is the Astros with 45. What’s impressive about the Dodgers is that they’ve done this after they let standout catcher Yasmani Grandal leave as a free agent, traded Yasiel Puig to the Reds, and got negative defensive value out of free agent signee A.J. Pollock before Pollock got hurt. Others have stepped up and stood out.
Bellinger a Defensive MVP
The departure of Puig cleared a full-time spot in right field for Cody Bellinger. Bellinger has delivered as both a hitter and a fielder.
Bellinger has saved 11 runs as a right fielder. His 12 runs saved overall lead the majors. Those include four Outfield Arm Runs Saved, which is tied for the most in the majors. Only 4-of-21 baserunners have taken an extra base on hits against him. He also gained value from a home run-robbing catch against Brewers star Christian Yelich.
This is the first time that Bellinger has played right field full time in the majors. He played most of 2017 and 2018 at first base, though he got just over 300 innings in left field in 2017 and nearly 500 innings in center field last season.
Alex Verdugo: Defensive Rookie of the Year?
Alex Verdugo came to the major leagues with a reputation for having a solid bat. But his defense has stood out too. Verdugo has saved 10 runs split between the three outfield positions. He’s thrown out a runner trying to advance without the help of a cutoff man at each of the three outfield positions.
Shifting and infield success go hand in hand
The Dodgers are getting solid value from their infield defense, particularly at second base and shortstop, where Kiké Hernández and Corey Seager have saved five and four runs, respectively. Seager has previously saved as many as 10 runs in a season, so his performance isn’t a surprise. Hernández has been a good defender at other positions. This is the most playing time he’s gotten at second base in his career. He’s made the most of it.
The Dodgers are also on pace to increase their defensive shifting by almost 55 percent from last season. The likely reason for this: it’s working well for them. The Dodgers have 18 Shift Runs Saved. Only the Astros (21) have more.
Opposing hitters have a .214 batting average when hitting a groundball or short line drive against the Dodgers when they play three defenders on the pull side of second base (a full shift), 20 points below the MLB average. They hit .163 when the Dodgers play a partial shift, meaning they play two infielders on each side but move at least two significantly from their usual position. That’s 107 points below MLB average.
Looking for why Hyun-Jin Ryu has been so good? Only 8-of-70 batters have reached when hitting a groundball against him. In his case, the Dodgers have been great defensively with him on the mound both when shifting and when playing straight up.
The most Defensive Runs Saved in a season by a team is 157 set by the Diamondbacks last season. The way the Dodgers are playing they look like they’ll pose a threat to that mark. But more importantly, it may help them win their first World Series since 1988.
Most Defensive Runs Saved (2019)