The MLB hot stove is warming up as free agency begins. It’s a market led by Shohei Ohtani and is top-heavy in starting pitching.
But what of our favorite topic, defense? Who are the best defensive players currently available in free agency?
Below is a list of the 5 free agents who recorded the most Defensive Runs Saved in 2023. We’ll go through them one by one and spotlight some other defensive standouts.
Most Defensive Runs Saved in 2023 – Among Current MLB Free Agents
|Lourdes Gurriel Jr.||LF||14|
Three-time Fielding Bible Award winner, center fielder Kevin Kiermaier heads the list. Kiermaier won the Award this past season. His 18 Runs Saved ranked tied for second behind Brenton Doyle for the MLB lead. The 2023 season was a prove-it year for Kiermaier, who will be 34 years old a few weeks into the 2024 season. He’s an old man by center field standards but in 2023 posted his best WAR (3.9) in the last 6 years.
Lourdes Gurriel Jr. finished 3rd in the Fielding Bible Award voting last season and his 14 Runs Saved helped him total a career-high 3.0 WAR in helping the Diamondbacks reach the World Series. Gurriel is known for an arm that deters baserunner advancement. His 5 Outfield Arm Runs Saved ranked tied for 2nd among left fielders.
Matt Chapman won the AL Gold Glove award at 3rd base and finished 3rd in the voting for the Fielding Bible Award. His track record at 3rd base as both hitter and fielder is strong and he figures to net a big contract this offseason in a market light at his position.
Carlos Santana upped his defensive game considerably at age 37, leading all 1st basemen with 11 Runs Saved in 2023. Santana isn’t just a DH option, even at his age. He ranked 2nd among those at the position in Good Fielding Plays ending up on highlight reels more often than you might think.
Austin Hedges may not get a big-money contract but – at least for now with robot umps still a minimum of a year away- he brings value as one of the game’s best pitch framers. He tied for the major league lead in our pitch-framing stat, Strike Zone Runs Saved, in 2023.
Besides these 5 players, prominent free agents with a degree of defensive excellence to their game include:
Michael A. Taylor leads all center fielders in Runs Saved over the last 3 seasons. He led the position with 19 in both 2021 and 2022 with the Royals before totaling 5 Runs Saved in 2023 with the Twins.
Jason Heyward finished with 5 Runs Saved in right field in a part-time role with the Dodgers last season. He might not be the best fit in center field any more and he may not rack up Runs Saved like he did in his younger days but he’s still a stellar defender. Heyward is the overall right field leader in Defensive Runs Saved since their first season of tracking, 2003.
Joey Wendle is another player along the lines of Hedges, who is limited in offensive contributions but can still be of value in the field. From 2021 to 2023 Wendle has played the equivalent of a little more than one MLB season at shortstop and totaled 18 Runs Saved. He’s also proven to be of similar value when he plays second base, where he amassed 26 Runs Saved between 2018 and 2022.
And don’t forget about Jung-hoo Lee, who is making the jump from KBO to MLB. Lee saved 9 runs in a 2023 shortened by injury, the most of any KBO center fielder. KBO players are judged using an MLB out probability basis so it stands to reason that Lee can hold his own there in the majors.
One more name to bring up and that’s Cody Bellinger. Bellinger has totaled -4 Runs Saved in center field the last 3 seasons. But he could be a standout right fielder, as he tallied 18 Runs Saved in winning the Fielding Bible Award there (along with the multi-position Award) in 2019. He also had a solid 5 Runs Saved in part-time duty at first base last season.