In the fifth inning of Eduardo Rodriguez’s start against the Guardians on April 18, Josh Naylor hit a bolt to right field that looked like it was going to be a go-ahead home run. But Matt Vierling raced back, leapt, reached over the wall as he banged into the fence, and made the catch.

Rodriguez ended up pitching eight scoreless innings in a 1-0 Tigers win. He’s been one of the best pitchers in baseball this season, pitching to a 1.57 ERA, and his team’s defense has been a huge reason why.

Vierling’s catch is one of 11 times that the Tigers defense recorded what we call a “Good Fielding Play” behind Rodriguez this season. The Tigers outfield has turned 83% of balls hit in the air against Rodriguez into outs this season, the 3rd-highest rate in MLB.

But it’s not just those plays. Besides the homer-robbing catch, other highlights have included a couple of base-hit takeaways by second baseman Jonathan Schoop, and a couple of throw-outs on the bases in an early start vs the Blue Jays.

Only one pitcher has had his defense record more Good Fielding Plays behind him this season. Ryan Feltner of the Rockies has had 13. Jake Woodford of the Cardinals also has had 11. Clarke Schmidt (Yankees), Corbin Burnes (Brewers), Anthony DeSclafani (Giants), and David Peterson (Mets) have all had 9 behind them.

In looking at how good defense has impacted other pitchers, we can turn our attention to Guardians starter Shane Bieber. Whether through positioning or playmaking, the Guardians defense has been solid behind him in 2023. Bieber has a 3.62 FIP but a 2.61 ERA.

The plays made aren’t nearly as flashy as the ones behind Rodriguez, though here’s a Good Fielding Play by Myles Straw. Most of them are just “nice plays” like this one by Amed Rosario.

He’s well at the front of the line in this stat. The Guardans have saved 10 runs for him with their batted ball defense.

Dustin May (Dodgers), Marcus Stroman (Cubs), Yonny Chirinos (Rays), Kyle Freeland (Rockies), and Yusei Kikuchi (Blue Jays) have all had their teams record 6 Runs Saved on batted balls behind them.

This isn’t to say that the success of Rodriguez and Bieber this season is undeserved or that it won’t last throughout the season. It’s just to point out that there are lots of factors in play that make a pitcher successful. Rodriguez and Bieber should be first in line to tell you how important defense can be.