Posted by John Dewan on April 22, 2016
As we inch closer to the second month of the season, defensive performance has begun taking form across the league. Several unexpected teams have flashed some leather in the early going, which has helped propel them to the top of their respective divisions.
|Best Defensive Teams as of April 22|
|Los Angeles Dodgers||16|
|St. Louis Cardinals||15|
After snatching Jason Heyward, a back-to-back Fielding Bible Award winner, away from their division rival this offseason, the Cubs have opened the season on fire defensively, posting a league-leading 17 runs saved to date. The outfield duo of Heyward and Dexter Fowler has saved the Cubs four runs apiece, helping the team establish an early 3.5-game lead in the NL Central.
Despite losing Heyward to the Cubbies this winter, the Cardinals have still managed the third-highest runs saved total in baseball. In Heyward’s absence, Stephen Piscotty has emerged as the driving force of run prevention in St. Louis. Piscotty is tied for first in the majors with six runs saved over 116.1 innings this season compared to the five runs he cost them in 537.2 innings last year.
Due to his excellent range and positioning, Yasiel Puig has saved three runs for the Dodgers in right. It’ll be interesting to see how often baserunners test his cannon of an arm, as his arm strength has saved 11 runs more than average over his career. Yasmani Grandal has been stellar behind the plate, preventing another three runs for the Dodgers.
Here are five teams that got off to a not-so-hot start defensively.
|Worst Defensive Teams as of April 22|
|New York Mets||-13|
|San Francisco Giants||-8|
|New York Yankees||-7|
The majority of the Braves' runs lost, 19 of 20 to be exact, have come at the expense of their atrocious infield defense, battery mates included. The repercussions of shipping the best defensive infielder in baseball to the Angels are starting to show as Erick Aybar—Andrelton Simmons' replacement—has cost the team four runs so far at short. Aside from the troubles in the middle infield, both Adonis Garcia and A.J. Pierzynski rank among the worst defenders in baseball. Garcia has burned the Braves for five runs at third, while Pierzynski is tied for the league’s worst runs saved behind the dish at -3.
It was quite unexpected to see the Mets and Giants crack the list of DRS trailers after posting 13 and 44 runs saved respectively last season. In New York, David Wright’s range and positioning has been a problem at third to the tune of -6 runs, Neil Walker has -4 runs saved at second, and Curtis Granderson has cost them 3 runs in right field.
The Giants boasted the league’s best defensive infield in 2015 with positive runs saved outputs from Buster Posey, Brandon Belt, and Joe Panik. Thus far this year all three have put up negative values. Posey, who saved 17 runs for the Giants behind the dish last year, is tied for a league-worst -3 at the catcher position this April. On the right side of the infield, Belt has been worth -2 runs and Panik has -1.
Keep in mind that these are early returns, and defenders can perform very well or very poorly in small sample sizes early in the season and then settle in to their true skill level as the season moves forward.