Photo: Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire

Orioles shortstop Gunnar Henderson is halfway to a 10-WAR season (Baseball-Reference version), which is important because the last shortstop to have one was Alex Rodriguez in 2000 and the last before that was Cal Ripken Jr. for Henderson’s Orioles in both 1984 and 1991.

Henderson’s WAR being that high at this point in the season is partly a credit to his defense. He ranks tied for 2nd among shortstops with 6 Defensive Runs Saved. He’s contributed 1.1 Defensive Wins Above Replacement to that 5.0 overall, one of 15 players this season whose value on defense is at least 1 WAR.

Tuesday night, Henderson will play his 160th career game at shortstop. He has 16 career Runs Saved there. In the last 2 seasons he ranks tied for 4th in Runs Saved at the position even though he ranks 21st in innings played there.

Moreover, there’s such a nice aesthetic to Henderson’s defensive game. Even though Henderson has made his share of mistakes this season, he’s got such a good look to the way he makes plays.

What makes him so good


What separates Henderson from other shortstops is how well he handles balls hit to his right. That often means a ball hit in the 56 hole, ones that require him to throw either while moving away from first base or for him to plant and throw from the outfield grass.


When your broadcasters are describing your plays as “ridiculous” and “insane” that’s usually a pretty good sign. Even 78-year-old Jim Palmer, who has seen past Orioles Gold Glove shortstops Luis Aparicio, Mark Belanger, Ripken, and J.J. Hardy, joins in on the hype.

There are a handful of guys of whom you could say that they are among the best in baseball at making those types of plays. Henderson is definitely one of them.

This season Henderson has made 70 plays on balls hit to his right in 112 opportunities*.

* Opportunities are balls on which he has a >0% probability to record an out.

If we combine the out probabilities of those batted balls, an average shortstop would be expected to make 62 plays on those balls. 

He’s thus 8 plays better than the average shortstop on balls hit to his right (+8 in our version of Outs Above Average). That’s best in MLB and it remains the best even when we look at it on a per-play basis. The only other shortstop who is more than 4 plays above average is Elly De La Cruz (+7).

The Orioles are also maximizing Henderson’s value by giving him the best chance to make a play. Our Defensive Runs Saved separates the elements of each batted ball to isolate the value of positioning. They’ve received 7 runs of positioning credit for Henderson, matching the most that any team has received for any player this season. 

Here’s a good example of the combination of positioning and skill producing an out, this on a ball hit to his left. 


A ball up the middle like this has a 34% out probability for Henderson if we don’t know where he’s positioned. That jumps to 60% knowing the Orioles put him where they did. And it’s up to Henderson’s range and throwing ability to get that from a 60% play to a 100% out, which he did.

Much was made of Henderson’s size when he came up to the majors. He’s 6-foot-3, maybe 6-foot-4 and he’s been using that to his advantage since he came through the minor leagues


“It helps with range being a little bit taller,” Henderson told us when we interviewed him in 2022 before his recall to the Orioles. “A shorter person might have a quicker first step but length helps a lot.”

Playing big allows him to put up big numbers on defense.


I don’t know that I’d deify Henderson and rate him as the best defensive shortstop in the game just yet. He hasn’t been as good on balls to his left as he was last season and his numbers on turning double plays are a little off. He has 17 Misplays and Errors as tracked by our Video Scouts. That’s a total and rate that is a little higher than some other elite defensive shortstops like Ezequiel Tovar and Anthony Volpe this season and it’s not tracking to the career norms of someone like Miguel Rojas, who is consistently good. That’s why Henderson at 6 Runs Saved and not 10 or more right now.

But nonetheless he’s really, really good and just to be talking about 10 WAR about 70 games into the season is a big deal. If he’s getting there, defense is going to have something to do with it.

Most Defensive Runs Saved – 2024 Season

Player Team Runs Saved
Masyn Winn Cardinals 7
Gunnar Henderson Orioles 6
Zach Neto Angels 6
Orlando Arcia Braves 6
Brayan Rocchio Guardians 6
Ezequiel Tovar Rockies 6