BY MARK SIMON
With Opening Day approaching, we wanted to preview the 2023 season from a defensive perspective. So to be fair to all 30 teams, we’ve got a stat-driven theme or story to watch for each team. We’ll do the AL teams this week, the NL next week.
Angels – The Angels have a good defensive group for use at the end of games in catcher Max Stassi (one of the best pitch framers in MLB), infielder Gio Urshela, and outfielder Brett Phillips (as good as it gets on a per-inning basis in right field). The question becomes whether they’ll have enough leads at the end of games to make a full-scale deployment of those defensive resources relevant.
Astros – The Astros led MLB in Defensive Runs Saved from their outfielders last season and should again be up among the leaders in 2023. With shifts out of the picture, we’re curious how the infield will fare, particularly on the right side with 36-year-old first baseman José Abreu and (currently injured) second baseman José Altuve. The latter ranked last in Runs Saved by a second baseman last season.
Athletics – If Nick Allen can hit enough to stay in the lineup look out. He might be a dark horse for a Fielding Bible Award. He saved 6 Runs in ~500 innings at shortstop in 2022.
Blue Jays – If every “if” goes their way, the Blue Jays could have the best defensive team in MLB. Those “ifs” center around second baseman Whit Merrifield, third baseman Matt Chapman, and center fielder Kevin Kiermaier. If each can defy age and play to the capabilities of their past Fielding Bible Award-winning seasons, Toronto will have highlight shows on defense almost every night.
Guardians – The Guardians could also be the best defensive team in baseball. They return two 2022 Fielding Bible Award winners in left fielder Steven Kwan and center fielder Myles Straw, and a runner-up, second baseman Andrés Giménez.
Mariners – We previously wrote about Julio Rodríguez and how he’s shown the potential to be a great defender, so long as he doesn’t overtax his body (he ranked 6th in sliding, diving, and jumping catches for outfielders in 2022). We look forward to seeing what he looks like in 2023
Orioles – Just how good are Adley Rutschman and Gunnar Henderson? Rutschman ranked second among catchers in Defensive Runs Saved in 2022 and easily led catchers in DRS after the All-Star Break. He could be a Fielding Bible Award winner for years to come. Henderson could play shortstop or third base. His minor league numbers indicate he’s a better fit at third.
Rangers – Can the Rangers provide the defensive support needed behind a starting rotation that has been remade from 1-to-5 the last two years? The Rangers should be solid at second base (Marcus Semien), right field (Adolis García) and catcher (Jonah Heim) but have regulars who rate below average at first base (Nathaniel Lowe) and shortstop (Corey Seager).
Rays – Left fielder Randy Arozarena was an impactful defender as a rookie in 2021 (7 Runs Saved), less so in 2022 (-4). Do any vibes from his play in the World Baseball Classic carry over to Tampa Bay for 2023?
Red Sox – Andrea Arcidipane nailed it on the latest SIS Baseball Podcast – Adam Duvall playing center field full time at age 34, with half his games in Fenway Park, will be an interesting challenge. To his credit, Duvall has 4 Runs Saved in ~600 career innings in center, so the move could turn out alright.
Royals – Bobby Witt Jr. ranked last among shortstops in Runs Saved last season. Will he make the adjustments needed in Year 2 or is a position switch to third base in his future?
Tigers – Javier Báez’s defense disappointed big time in what was a miserable season for the Tigers. His -4 Runs Saved at shortstop were a career worst. Is he capable of returning to the form he had in 2020 and 2021, when he combined for 9 Runs Saved there?
Twins – We have to ask, right? How healthy is Carlos Correa and is he capable of returning to the level of play that netted him a Fielding Bible Award and a Platinum Glove in 2021? Correa had potential deals with the Giants and Mets snuffed by injury concerns. We’ll see how he holds up with Minnesota.
White Sox – New manager Pedro Grifol has promised better attention to detail all around in 2023. So we’re looking for that on the defensive end. The White Sox need it. They ranked T-26th in Defensive Runs Saved last season and didn’t get positive Runs Saved from any position on the field. They’ll shift some parts around, with Andrew Vaughn moving to first base full-time and Elvis Andrus playing second base for the first time as an MLB player.
Yankees – What can they do for an encore? The Yankees led MLB in Runs Saved in 2022 and it wasn’t close. They return almost the same position player roster that they had last season, so they should still be very good. No team has led the majors in Runs Saved in back-to-back seasons.