Photo: Chris Leduc/Icon Sportswire


With Opening Day approaching, we wanted to preview the 2023 season from a defensive perspective. So to be fair to all 30 teams, we’ve got a stat-driven theme or story to watch for each team. We’ll do the AL teams this week, the NL next week.

Angels – The Angels ranked 19th in Defensive Runs Saved last season and didn’t make any significant improvements on the defensive side. Mike Trout hasn’t been moved off center field but Mickey Moniak fared well there when Trout was out, so it’s worth wondering if anything could happen on that front in 2024. For now, Trout is in center field and Moniak is in right field.


Astros – The Astros finished 17th in Defensive Runs Saved last season but have the capability to be better than that, given a roster of players with good track records (Kyle Tucker, Chas McCormick, Jake Meyers, Alex Bregman). The thing to watch will be a potential trouble spot, the right side of their infield, in particular José Altuve, who has totaled a positional-worst -28 Runs Saved over the last 2 seasons.


Athletics – The A’s best defensive player is shortstop Nick Allen, who has saved 9 Runs in a little over 1,300 innings at the position the last 2 seasons. If his bat keeps him on the field, he’s Oakland’s best shot at a Fielding Bible Award.


Blue Jays – The Jays are basically running it back from last season, when they led the majors in Runs Saved. The only exception is third base where Isiah Kiner-Falefa is slated to be the primary replacement for Matt Chapman. IKF has a very good history at the position so if he plays (likely contingent on how he hits), the drop-off at that position might be very small and the Blue Jays could again contend to be the top defensive team.


Guardians – The Guardians have 3 outfielders who are capable of winning a Fielding Bible Award. Left fielder Steven Kwan already has two. Myles Straw came close. And Ramón Laureano has a great history in right field in a little more than a season’s worth of innings. The Guardians, in the eyes of some, are MLB’s top defensive team entering the season.


Mariners – The Mariners have a couple of players who have contended for or won Gold Gloves in the past but didn’t put up the best defensive numbers last season. We’re referring to first baseman Ty France and shortstop J.P. Crawford. For the Mariners to contend, it would help if they excelled at their respective spots.


Orioles – The Orioles ranked tied for 6th in Defensive Runs Saved last season because they were basically average or better at every position. They’re capable of matching that with their current roster particularly because they have 2 defensive standouts, Ramón Urias and Jorge Mateo who can come in late in games if needed for youngsters Jordan Westburg at third base and top prospect Jackson Holliday at second base.


Rangers – After looking great in the 2023 postseason, making several highlight-reel plays, Josh Jung could step up a level defensively. He may become one of the game’s elite defenders in 2024.


Rays – Rays shortstops tied for the MLB lead with 19 Runs Saved last season. With Wander Franco in significant legal trouble and Taylor Walls injured, will new acquisition José Caballero perform at a high level? Caballero looked the part at both middle infield spots last season and he seems like a good fit on a team that typically maximizes the talent of its roster.


Red Sox  There’s a lot to watch throughout the Red Sox outfield. They’ll have a new player standing in front of the Green Monster in left fielder Tyler O’Neill, who won the Fielding Bible Award at that position in 2020 and 2021. Rookie Ceddanne Rafaela will be the center fielder. Jarren Duran, who played mostly center field and left field the last two seasons, will now try right field. It will be interesting to see how all three mesh in Fenway Park.


Royals – Bobby Witt Jr. was one of the most improved defensive players in MLB in 2023. Is he capable of making the jump to being one of the top shortstops by Defensive Runs Saved?


Tigers – Tigers third basemen combined to have the worst Runs Saved total of any infield position. The addition of Gio Urshela should make things considerably better there. And we’ll see how things shake out with rookies Parker Meadows and Colt Keith and how well they fare at center field and second base.


Twins – After a year away from center field, Byron Buxton is going to return to playing the position in 2024. When healthy, Buxton is as good as it gets in center field. But his injury history is a concern. The Twins are ready for potential issues though with Manuel Margot available to back up at multiple spots.


White Sox  The White Sox ranked 29th in Runs Saved last season, so they have nowhere to go but up. Their weakest spots included right field, where for now they have newcomer Dominic Fletcher, and shortstop, which will be manned by Paul DeJong. They’ll also have a new catching tandem in Martín Maldonado and Max Stassi. Maldonado has something to prove after a career-worst -10 Runs Saved in 2023.


Yankees – The Yankees’ outfield Runs Saved numbers last season were among the worst in MLB. How will that change in 2024? They’ve got two new acquisitions to acclimate in Alex Verdugo (typically a good defender) and Juan Soto (typically not as good), and they’re giving Aaron Judge another try in center field, where he’s rated basically as average in the past.