On June 18 the Dodgers lost to the Giants, 7-3, completing a three-game Giants’ sweep in which the Dodgers were outscored 29-8 and gave up at least 7 runs in every game.
Each of the last 2 games featured an array of misplays and errors. There were offline or wasted throws, missed line drives, bobbled ground balls, and multiple failures to catch throws.
At that point in the season the Dodgers were a not-very-Dodgers like 39-33.
Since that day, the Dodgers have looked a lot more like the Dodgers you thought you knew, going 44-16. And they’ve had something of a defensive reset.
The Dodgers totaled -5 Defensive Runs Saved and ranked 21st in that stat at the All-Star Break. But since the Break, they rank No. 1 with 43 Runs Saved. They’re now 4th overall.
Most Defensive Runs Saved – 2023 Season
What’s been so good about the Dodgers defense this season?
Left Side of the Infield
When the Dodgers traded for Miguel Rojas in January, they knew they were getting a top defensive player. And though Rojas hasn’t hit, he’s more than met defensive expectations with plays like this one. He ranks 4th among shortstops in Defensive Runs Saved with 11 and he has the most Runs Saved of any Dodgers player since their hot streak started on June 20 with 7.
Defense gets off to a bit of a different start today thanks to Miguel Rojas. pic.twitter.com/TLDeLruvz4
— Chad Moriyama (@ChadMoriyama) May 8, 2023
Additionally since returning from injury on June 27, Max Muncy has looked more like the third baseman he was in 2022 when he saved seven runs in a little more than a half-season’s worth of games. He’s saved 4 runs there since his return. He was at -2 at third base prior to that.
Mookie Betts isn’t going to win a Fielding Bible Award in right field this season but he’s in-play for our multi-position honor.
In 2023 Betts has split time between right field, second base and shortstop. He’s handled second base particularly well, netting 6 Runs Saved in 50 games. And keep in mind that he was replacing Miguel Vargas, who was at -3 Runs Saved there.
— SportsNet LA (@SportsNetLA) August 30, 2023
The Dodgers are one of the best teams in baseball at turning balls hit in the air into outs. Among a crowded field of teams they rank in the Top 5 in that stat both overall and specific to balls hit to the outfield.
Through June 18, they ranked 11th in an efficiency stat that measures their catch rate (how often they’ve caught balls). Since then, they’re No. 2 in MLB and they’ve increased their out rate by more than 4 percentage points.
An increase of that much on the roughly 800 balls hit in the air represents about 34 more catches than they would have made if they were performing at their pre-June 20 level.
Out Rate on Balls Hit In the Air
|Through June 18
|Through June 20
|Out Rate (Balls Hit to OF)
With Betts being shuffled between right field and the infield, the success of the Dodgers outfield defense this season is more of a collective effort than one player carrying the load. For example, three-time Fielding Bible Award winner Jason Heyward has saved 4 runs in 68 games in right field (though he’s -2 in a brief amount of time in center. Another past Fielding Bible winner David Peralta has manned left field without issue, saving 4 runs.
And more recently, James Outman has lived up to his last name. He has 3 Runs Saved playing center field exclusively in August. He was -3 there prior to that.
James Outman robs Fernando Tatis Jr. with a catch at the wall!! 👀
— FOX Sports: MLB (@MLBONFOX) August 5, 2023
Putting Players In The Right Place
When we say collective effort, that includes the team’s coaching staff too. Our Defensive Runs Saved splits up credit between a player’s skill and how well or poorly he’s positioned.
The Dodgers have 21 Positioning Runs Saved combining the team’s infield and outfield alignments. Here are a couple of instances (here and here)in which the team got significant positioning credit for putting their fielders in position to best use their skills.
What Will Smith has done the last three years with both his bat and his glove is impressive. Smith is in line for his 3rd straight season with an OPS+ of 120 and at least 5 Defensive Runs Saved behind the plate.
Smith currently ranks tied for 5th among catchers with 8 Runs Saved (which would be his best season total yet) helped by above-average pitch-framing stats. The Dodgers are 58-29 when he starts at catcher, 25-20 when he doesn’t
A Tale of 2 Pitchers
Just like the Dodgers knew what they were getting in Miguel Rojas, they knew what they were getting in Noah Syndergaard. And when they traded Syndergaard, who has never been able to thwart a running game, they got rid of a pitcher who was bringing down the team’s Runs Saved total. He was at -4 for them. They’ve also since dealt oft-used reliever Phil Bickford and his -3.
But one guy who hasn’t gone anywhere is Clayton Kershaw, who has 4 Runs Saved, giving him potentially his best defensive season since 2015.
Give the Dodgers credit for consistency. Presuming these numbers hold up, they’ll rank in the Top 10 in Defensive Runs Saved for the 8th straight season. They’ve ranked in the Top 6 in 6 of the last 7 years. Defensive excellence continues to be a staple for them year-in and year-out. This year, it just took them a little while to get to that point.