Who has been the most impressive defensive rookie in 2021?

Rays shortstop Taylor Walls has made a good case for himself in the first 36 games of his MLB career.

Walls’ 9 Defensive Runs Saved rank second among rookies to Padres’ utility man Ha-seong Kim’s 11, but Walls has reached that total in 124 fewer innings. He also ranks second to Isiah Kiner-Falefa in Runs Saved by a shortstop this season.

Walls has been good whether he’s had to go to his left or right to make a play, converting 5 plays more than expected in each direction.

Early on he’s been particularly good at the low percentage play on balls hit to his left, like this one, which is his highest-valued play of the season (0.66 Runs Saved)

Walls has converted 9-of-29 plays on balls that were hit to his left and had a 1% to 50% chance of being an out. By our calculations, he was expected to record outs on only 5 of those 29 balls.

Here’s one more that was worth almost 0.6 runs.

And then this one, which started a double play. That’s something Walls has done very well too. He’s converted 16 of 18 DP opportunities, which adds a Run Saved to his ledger.

The Rays have done no wrong no matter who they’ve put at shortstop this season. Walls has 9 of their 16 Runs Saved at the position this season. Willy Adames had 3 before he was traded. Joey Wendle and Wander Franco have recorded 2 each.

Franco very much represents the future there and for good reason but the Rays have moved him around. In three days since the All-Star Break he’s played one game at shortstop, one at second base, and one at third base.

Though Walls hasn’t hit well yet, it seems clear that the Rays recognize the value of having his glove in the lineup.

Most DRS By A Shortstop

Name Team DRS
Isiah Kiner-Falefa Rangers 11
Taylor Walls Rays 9
Kevin Newman Pirates 8
J.P. Crawford Mariners 8