Photos by Mark Goldman and Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire

Dodgers starter James Paxton will enter his next start later this week with a 2.58 ERA despite 24 walks and only 22 strikeouts in 38 1/3 innings. His FIP is nearly 5.

The two things we’d usually point to in this case are defense and luck as the factors keeping Paxton’s ERA down. But in this instance, there’s something else at work: the Dodgers’ defensive positioning.

Paxton has gotten the most support from that this season, 4.5 Defensive Runs Saved from positioning by our count. The actual skill of his defensive players at turning batted balls into outs has been worth a combined 0 Runs Saved.

That’s not to say that there haven’t been excellent defensive plays behind Paxton. There have been. But in the aggregate, positioning has been more valuable behind him than playmaking.

The Dodgers lead MLB with 13 Runs Saved combined from their infield and outfield positioning, one run ahead of the Mariners. Other teams doing well in that stat are the Padres, Guardians, Cardinals, and Blue Jays.  You can find the numbers for every team at

What does league-leading positioning both behind a pitcher and for a team actually look like?

Take this hard liner to right field by Fernando Tatis Jr. in the 3rd inning of Paxton’s last start last Saturday. The batted ball characteristics of where the ball was hit and how hard it was hit give it a high hit probability in our system.

But Pages was positioned just right by the Dodgers’ defense such that he had to move only 25 feet to be waiting for the ball when it arrived. Not knowing where Pages was positioned, that ball had a 43% catch probability in our system. But knowing where Pages was, the out probability jumped to 88%.

The 45% gap from 43% to 88% represents the value of defensive positioning in plays saved, which we then convert to a Runs Saved value. 

Pages’ positioning has been a boon to Paxton wherever Pages has been. Four of the top five boosts in a player’s out probability that have come from defensive positioning with Paxton on the mound have been on balls that were caught by Pages.

Here’s another example and if you watch this clip, you’ll hear Joe Davis note a reference to Pages’ positioning.

Just to show you one non-Pages example, here’s another good one, with Gavin Lux stationed in the right spot to handle Wilmer Flores’ grounder up the middle. This positioning turned a ball with a 30% out probability into one with a 66% out probability.

Paxton’s defensive positioning support is a little out of line with his teammates.

There have been 14 instances of a fielder having a 20% or better increase in out probability due to positioning for Paxton and only 5 instances of a 20% or larger decrease due to positioning.

How does that compare to his mound mates?

Plays With Increase/Decrease in Out Probability From Defensive Positioning

2024 Season (Among Dodgers with most IP)

Plays with 20% Increase Plays With 20% Decrease
James Paxton 14 5
Yoshinobu Yamamoto 10 9
Tyler Glasnow 9 9
Ryan Yarbrough 10 4
Gavin Stone* 8 11

* Not including Stone’s start on Tuesday.

In sum, we weren’t looking to be anything other than descriptive here. We’re not going to use this in some sort of predictive fashion. For now, your biggest takeaway can be that, for at least a few starts, the Dodgers have done a nice job supporting Paxton defensively. Just not in the way we’d typically describe it.