We’ve heard and read a lot of references to Defensive Runs Saved in the first couple of weeks and that’s great. We appreciate our data being consumed.
But looking at Defensive Runs Saved numbers now is kind of like looking at a hitter who is 15-for-45 or a team that is 9-6 to start the year. You hope it means something, and if the track record is good, you think it’s going to mean something, but you can’t attach much certainty to it.
Nonetheless, the small sample size does give you at least a small indication of what did happen and from that, we can make a few observations.
In the meantime, here’s a look at some of the top teams in the stat so far.
The Diamondbacks have been gobbling up ground balls and bunts at the highest rate of any team, 80.4% (the season leader usually ends up at 77-78%). Let’s not forget that they have two Fielding Bible Award winners out there in first baseman Christian Walker and shortstop Nick Ahmed and fellow shortstop Geraldo Perdomo is off to a good start.
But it’s not just that.
Arizona has not just run rampant on the bases (18-of-20 in stolen base attempts), it has shut down the opposing running game. Gabriel Moreno hasn’t hit, but he’s thrown out 4-of-7 attempted basestealers.
A couple of things have happened here. For one, catcher William Contreras looks a lot better than he did the last two seasons, when he combined for -6 Strike Zone Runs Saved (our framing metric). He’s been stealing strikes very well so far.
Seen multiple articles about Brewers C William Contreras improving his pitch framing in 2023
Definitely something to watch
He totaled -6 Strike Zone Runs Saved the last 2 seasons (our framing stat)
But look at some calls he's gotten this year pic.twitter.com/vSQeHw2azZ
— SIS_Baseball (@sis_baseball) April 17, 2023
For another, the Brewers outfielders – specifically Joey Wiemer, Garrett Mitchell, and Christian Yelich – have made some nifty catches. Wiemer in particular has 5 Good Fielding Plays, 3 on catches, 2 on throws.
Before the season started, we noted that the Blue Jays had an abundance of defensive talent, albeit aging defensive talent.
Center fielder Kevin Kiermaier was one of those guys. He’s looked pretty spry, as has a younger guy, outfielder Daulton Varsho.
And Vladimir Guerrero has shown that his improvements last season are no fluke.
There’s not a lot of flash or pizazz out there. The Twins have the fewest Good Fielding Plays in MLB. But they also have the lowest opponents’ batting average on balls in play.
Twins outfielders have the best out rate on fly balls and line drives in MLB. They’ve caught what they’re supposed to and maybe a couple that they weren’t supposed to.
Additionally, catcher Christian Vazquez came with a sterling defensive reputation and he hasn’t disappointed. Twins pitchers have a 2.20 ERA and a nearly 5-to-1 strikeout to walk ratio with Vazquez catching.
Defensive Runs Saved didn’t rate Francisco Lindor well last season, largely attributing that to how he fared when the Mets used a defensive shift.
This year, with full shifts (3 infielders on the pull side of second base) abolished and the Mets using partial shifts (2 infielders moved distinctly from straight-up positioning) less often than they used any shift last season, Lindor has thrived. He’s made a host of good plays on ground balls and line drives.
The Mets have turned grounders and bunts into outs at an 80.3% rate, which ranks 3rd in MLB, a smidge behind the Diamondbacks and Yankees.
Speaking of ground ball defense, the Yankees are off to a great start after finishing second in ground ball and bunt out rate last season. As noted above, they rank second this year as well. Anthony Volpe has had a few bumps but has handled shortstop alright so far.
At the corners, Anthony Rizzo has played his usual solid first base and displaced and maligned shortstop Isiah Kiner-Falefa has slid back to third base to fill in for Josh Donaldson’s injury without issue.
If you had Teoscar Hernández as the Mariners’ best defensive player before the season started, congratulations. He’s never finished with a positive season in Defensive Runs Saved but is off to a great start this year and is basically the reason why we’re even acknowledging Seattle here. He’s already got an MLB-best 7 Good Fielding Plays (he totaled 10 last season) and has 3 assists without the cutoff man.
As Mariners broadcaster Dave Sims says here, “Well done!”
You’d like to believe that this is the start of a defensive renaissance for him but, as we noted it the beginning of the piece, it’s way too early to determine if that’s the case.