The Blue Jays currently have a huge lead on the Defensive Runs Saved leaderboard. They’re currently at 77 Runs Saved, 30 runs clear of the Brewers for the most in MLB.
The Blue Jays have three positions in which they’ve excelled this season. One is catcher, where Alejandro Kirk ranks 2nd overall with 13 Runs Saved. Another is third base, where Matt Chapman ranks 3rd with 11.
Then there is center field.
The Blue Jays have accrued 26 Runs Saved in center field this season. The next-closest team is the Royals with 13, half of Toronto’s total.
Teammates Kevin Kiermaier and Daulton Varsho are tied for the center field lead with 13 Runs Saved. In other words, the Blue Jays have two center fielders with more Runs Saved than all but one other MLB team. Varsho’s numbers are particularly impressive given that he’s played about half as many innings there as Kiermaier has.
How does something like this happen?
Kiermaier and Varsho are both great at chasing fly balls.
Kevin Kiermaier is…
THE. OUTLAW. pic.twitter.com/l4jgOV8PVe
— Toronto Blue Jays (@BlueJays) April 11, 2023
WHAT A CATCH BY VARSHO. 😤
Daulton makes a beautiful jumping catch up against the wall in center field. pic.twitter.com/6m9sqrTcm5
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) May 28, 2023
Kiermaier ranks No. 1 in MLB’s jump stat, which analyzes how much ground each outfielder covers in the first 3 seconds that a batted ball is in the air. Varsho ranks 20th out of roughly 100 qualified outfielders.
That is most evident when we do a team-by-team comparison of how each team does at catching balls that our batted-ball evaluation system classifies as “deep.” Blue Jays center fielders are alright at catching balls classified as “shallow” and “medium.”
But they are elite at catching the deep ball, at taking away potential extra-base hits.
There have been 133 balls hit against the Blue Jays this season that were classified as “deep” in which the center fielder had a >0 chance to make the catch.
Based on the out probabilities of each of those balls, the center fielder was expected to catch 106 of them. Blue Jays center fielders beat that by 16. They caught 122, for a catch rate of nearly 92%. Going 122-for-133 on plays rather than 106-for-133 meant that they beat their expected out rate by 12 percentage points.
Only one other team’s center fielders came close to that. The Phillies via Brandon Marsh and rookie standout Johan Rojas bested their expected catch rate by a little less than 9 percentage points.
Individually, Kiermaier has converted 74-of-82 (90%), 10 catches above expectations. Varsho is 47-of-50 (94%), beating his expected catch total by 6.
In sum, the Blue Jays totaled about 12.6 Runs Saved on deep balls this season. They almost outpaced every other team’s total Runs Saved with just their Runs Saved on deep balls.
Here’s one other perspective on the 122 out of 133 that shows the gap between the Blue Jays and an average team.
|Blue Jays CF
|Average of Other Teams
This is not the only area in which Blue Jays center fielders rate as best in MLB. They’re also tops in Outfield Arm Runs Saved, which combines a fielder’s success at holding runners on base hits and potential sacrifice flies with how often they’ve thrown a runner out without the help of a relay man. Toronto has 5 Outfield Arm Runs Saved thanks to throws like these.
HIGHLIGHT: Daulton Varsho's strong throw
Daulton Varsho makes a strong throw from center field, nabbing Alex Kirilloff for the last out of the bottom of the 4th inning
— Blue Jays PBP (@BlueJaysPBP) May 28, 2023
that’s the Blue Jays’ fastest-tracked OF assist under Statcast (2015)
by the way, Kevin Kiermaier has the mark for the Rays in that span, too, with 3 at 100.6 mph pic.twitter.com/SG3Wws3E3U
— Sarah Langs (@SlangsOnSports) May 23, 2023
But it is the deep-ball differentiation that most separates them from the rest of the sport.
Lastly, to put the Blue Jays’ center field success into historical perspective, their combined 26 Runs Saved rank 8th most since DRS was first tracked in 2003. The 2015 Rays set the standard for positional excellence with 37 Runs Saved. That team had a familiar center fielder, none other than a younger Kiermaier.