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A Defensive Look For Team USA

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You might have noticed that over the last couple of years we’ve transitioned our thinking on Stat of the Week to make it largely based around defensive excellence.

We consider that our beat here. Some people cover teams. We cover a way to play. As such, we think of things with defensive excellence first in mind.

That brings us to the World Baseball Classic and with defensive excellence at the forefront, we wondered what Team USA’s position player roster would look like if defense was the primary priority.

For the purposes of this exercise, we’ll presume that players that could have played for the United States but who are playing with other countries chose to stay on those teams. Our choices may differ from yours and that’s fine. There are lots of ways to do this. These are our selections.

Catcher – Adley Rutschman was so good in his debut season, finishing second to Jose Trevino in Defensive Runs Saved. The latter won the 2022 Fielding Bible Award. We’re taking both of them along with 2021 Fielding Bible Award winner Jacob Stallings.

First Base – Christian Walker would undoubtedly make the team. He won the Fielding Bible Award at the position last year and he’s the leader in Defensive Runs Saved at the position since 2020. Walker’s backup would be a tough call. We’d lean to three-time Fielding Bible Award winner Matt Olson, who ranks third in Runs Saved at the position over the last three seasons behind Walker and Lewin Díaz.

Second Base – 2022 Fielding Bible Multi-Position Award winner Tommy Edman chose to play for Korea and Brendan Rodgers is injured, so that makes a tough call a little easier. We’ll take Marcus Semien, who’s someone who has been very good at second base the last two seasons (most Runs Saved in MLB in that time) and offers additional defensive flexibility because he can play shortstop.

Shortstop – We can garner some more positional flexibility with our pick here, Taylor Walls. Walls, who also plays second base and third base, ranks second to Carlos Correa in Runs Saved at shortstop the last two seasons, though he’s played less than half as many innings as Correa has in that time.

Third Base – The actual Team USA took six infielders, so we’ll take six as well. That means our squad has room for both Ke’Bryan Hayes and Nolan Arenado. This one is clearcut. They rank 1-2 in Defensive Runs Saved at the position over the last three seasons.

Outfield – Team USA took six outfielders, so we’ll match that. Mookie Betts, who has won five Fielding Bible Awards, is our No. 1 choice. Michael A. Taylor, who won a Fielding Bible Award in 2021 and leads center fielders in Runs Saved over the last three seasons, is next on our list.

It gets harder after that as we ponder whether to reward outstanding performance accumulated in short periods of time. We’ll do that by adding Byron Buxton and Brett Phillips to the squad.

Buxton is second to Taylor in Runs Saved since 2020 even playing 1,000 fewer innings than Taylor has. Phillips has 17 Runs Saved in just over 600 innings in right field the last two seasons, which is too good to pass up. Plus, we know he’d bring the fun.

Steven Kwan was deemed ineligible to play for Japan or China (read more about it here) in the actual WBC. But we’d welcome the 2022 Fielding Bible Award winner for left field on our team. He led the position in Runs Saved last season.

The last slot is a tough one. Apologies to Kevin Kiermaier, Daulton Varsho, Joey Gallo, and a lot of other worthy options. We’re going to give it to Kyle Tucker, who leads right fielders in Defensive Runs Saved the last two seasons.

Here's our full roster. We think they'd be pretty good.

CAdley Rutschman
CJose Trevino
CJacob Stallings
1BChristian Walker
1BMatt Olson
2BMarcus Semien
SSTaylor Walls
3BKe’Bryan Hayes
3BNolan Arenado
LFSteven Kwan
CFMichael A. Taylor
CFByron Buxton
RFMookie Betts
RFKyle Tucker
OFBrett Phillips

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