The Best Team Defenses Thus Far

Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

The Guardians rate as one of baseball’s bigger surprises. After finishing 76-86 last year — their worst record since 2012 — they’ve rebounded to go 57-33 thus far, and entered Wednesday with the AL’s best record. Their offense is much more potent than it was last year, and despite losing ace Shane Bieber for the season due to Tommy John surgery, they rank second in the league in run prevention at 3.87 runs per game.

While Cleveland’s staff owns the AL’s second-highest strikeout rate (24.2%), a good amount of credit for the team’s run prevention belongs to its defense. By my evaluation of a handful of the major defensive metrics — Defensive Runs Saved, Ultimate Zone Rating, Statcast’s Fielding Run Value (FRV), and our catcher framing metric (hereafter abbreviated as FRM, as it is on our stat pages) — the Guardians rate as the majors’ second-best defensive team thus far this season. The Yankees, who spent much of the first half atop the AL East before a 5-16 slide knocked them into second place, are the only team ahead of them.

On an individual level, even a full season of data isn’t enough to get the clearest picture of a player’s defense, and it’s not at all surprising that a 600-inning sample produces divergent values across the major metrics. After all, they’re based on differing methodologies that produce varying spreads in runs from top to bottom, spreads that owe something to what they don’t measure, as well as how much regression is built into their systems. Pitchers don’t have UZRs or FRVs, catchers don’t have UZRs, and DRS tends to produce the most extreme ratings. Still, within this aggregation I do think we get enough signal at this point in the season to make it worth checking in; I don’t proclaim this to be a bulletproof methodology so much as a good point of entry into a broad topic.

Zooming in on the Guardians, they have three players who are at least two runs above average in DRS, UZR, and FRV, namely left fielder Steven Kwan, shortstop Brayan Rocchio, and right fielder Ramón Laureano (who’s now a Brave). As if it weren’t enough that Kwan is in the midst of an offensive breakout — he leads the AL with a .363 batting average and is fourth with a 172 wRC+ — the two-time Gold Glove winner is third among all left fielders in both DRS and FRV (8 and 5, respectively) despite missing about four weeks due to a left hamstring strain. Rocchio, a rookie, has hit for just an 85 wRC+ but ranks third among all shortstops in both DRS and UZR (6 and 3.6, respectively), a vast improvement from last year’s performance by the since-traded Amed Rosario. Laureano, who struggled at the plate, was released in late May; his replacement in right field, Will Brennan (who’s currently on the injured list with rib cage inflammation), is the team’s worst defender by the metrics (-5 DRS, -2.8 UZR, -2 FRV). Can’t win ’em all.

The team does have one more stellar fielder, second baseman Andrés Giménez, a two-time Gold Glove winner. He’s fourth at the position with 9 DRS and tied for third with 6 FRV, though he’s only average-ish (0.3 runs) in UZR — a spread that typically offers a good example of what we see in viewing half a season through the lens of multiple metrics. Given Giménez’s data for this year and the previous ones (including last year’s exceptional 23 DRS, 14 FRV, and 6.8 UZR), the safer interpretation is that he shows up somewhere along the spectrum from slightly above average to significantly above average, if no longer elite.

The Guardians also have a strong defensive tandem behind the plate in Bo Naylor and Austin Hedges. They’re excellent in framing and around average in blocking and throwing; Naylor’s caught stealing percentage has improved from 12% last year to 26% this year. Together the pair accounts for 12 DRS, 11 FRV, and 6.8 FRM. Super-duper utilityman David Fry, who’s played 22 games at catcher while also taking reps at all four corners, is solid defensively while providing some much-needed offense — so much that he hit his way onto the AL All-Star team.

A bit more about the methodology is in order. To account for all the bits in the alphabet soup, I aggregated the aforementioned metrics, adjusting for the varying spreads in run values by using standard deviation scores (z-scores), which measure how many standard deviations each team is from the league average in each category. As a change from past editions of this exercise, I’ve broken out catching DRS from the rest of a team’s DRS (as I had previously done with Statcast’s metrics), thus creating three catcher scores that pair with three scores for the other fielders. These catcher ratings were then weighted at one-half the value of the non-catcher scores, which improved the correlation with run prevention.

The spreads in runs for the six categories:

Defensive Metrics Run Value Ranges

Metric Split Max Min
DRS_non-C Non-Catchers 46 -39
DRS_C Catchers 14 -13
UZR Non-Catchers 14.8 -20.4
FRM Catchers 6.7 -4.6
FRV_non-C Non-Catchers 25 -27
FRV_C Catchers 11 -8

All statistics through July 7.

Here’s how the rankings look, top to bottom; you can see the actual run values for all but the DRS and FRV catcher breakouts here. I’ve highlighted each category’s leaders and trailers, which helps to illustrate where the metrics agree — all three systems concur regarding the three best sets of catchers, and the White Sox are unsurprisingly among the worst in everything — and disagree.

Team Defense Standard Deviation Scores

Team DRS_nonC-z DRS_C-z UZR-z FRM-z FRV_nonC-z FRV_C-z Tot
Yankees 0.60 2.24 1.20 2.29 1.28 2.06 6.38
Guardians 1.36 1.76 0.76 2.09 0.60 1.87 5.57
Blue Jays 1.83 0.96 0.67 0.82 1.43 1.32 5.48
Royals 1.26 1.12 1.39 -0.41 1.28 0.76 4.67
Rangers 1.17 0.00 1.01 1.03 1.89 -0.34 4.41
Diamondbacks -0.16 0.32 1.64 -0.17 0.98 0.21 2.63
Orioles 0.74 0.00 1.46 -0.51 0.83 -0.90 2.32
Dodgers 1.02 0.16 0.88 0.45 -0.16 0.02 2.06
Rockies -0.21 0.32 1.47 0.07 0.29 0.58 2.04
Braves 1.02 0.16 0.17 0.31 0.22 0.58 1.94
Brewers 1.50 -1.12 -0.03 -0.54 1.51 -0.90 1.70
Tigers -0.45 1.44 -0.28 1.40 -0.39 1.87 1.25
Mariners 0.22 1.12 -0.59 1.20 -0.39 1.32 1.06
Giants -0.45 0.96 0.05 0.17 0.07 0.39 0.43
Cardinals 0.60 -0.64 0.41 -0.07 -0.31 -0.16 0.26
Twins -0.68 0.64 -1.13 0.99 0.75 0.58 0.04
Astros -0.16 -0.80 0.87 -0.34 0.37 -1.08 -0.03
Phillies 0.31 -0.16 -0.64 -1.26 0.67 -0.16 -0.45
Red Sox 0.55 0.00 -0.30 -0.41 -0.62 -0.90 -1.02
Rays -0.97 0.32 -0.94 0.89 -0.09 0.21 -1.29
Padres -0.02 -1.44 0.27 -1.26 -0.09 -1.27 -1.82
Pirates -0.68 -0.32 0.03 0.00 -1.23 -0.16 -2.11
Angels 0.12 0.16 -0.66 -0.68 -1.45 -0.90 -2.70
Cubs -0.30 -0.80 -0.63 -1.37 -0.24 -1.08 -2.80
Mets -1.06 -1.12 -1.09 -0.54 -0.77 0.21 -3.65
Reds -1.16 -0.80 -1.16 -0.85 -0.62 -0.34 -3.93
Nationals -0.92 -0.96 -0.21 -1.57 -1.23 -1.27 -4.26
Athletics -1.44 -1.12 -0.72 0.00 -1.45 -1.08 -4.72
Marlins -1.44 -0.32 -2.28 -0.34 -1.07 0.02 -5.11
White Sox -2.20 -2.08 -1.61 -1.40 -2.06 -1.45 -8.34

All statistics through July 7. Yellow = top-three ranking in category (including ties). Blue = bottom-three ranking in category (including ties).

What follows is a closer look at the other teams in the top six by this rating. I’ll have a companion article covering the bottom-ranked teams in my next installment.


Despite their recent slide, the Yankees own the AL’s third-best record (55-38), and spent much of the first half atop the AL East. They built what at one point was the league’s best record without Gerrit Cole, as the reigning AL Cy Young winner missed the first two and a half months of the season due to nerve inflammation in his right elbow. A big part of that was the pitching of fireballer Luis Gil and the more contact-oriented Nestor Cortes and Clarke Schmidt (who’s now sidelined by a lat strain), all of whom were aided by a defense that rates as the best by this methodology.

Like the Guardians, the Yankees have a top-notch catching tandem in Jose Trevino (a 2022 Gold Glove winner) and Austin Wells, who have split the catching chores right down the middle. (They entered Monday within two innings of each other.) Both have 7 DRS, with Trevino rated better by the two framing metrics and Statcast’s blocking metric, but worse at throwing; the Red Sox stole a whopping nine bases against him on June 16, but his 21% caught stealing rate is only two points below league average. (Wells is right at average.) The net cost of the catchers’ deficiency in throwing out base thieves comes out to just -3 runs.

Given the lopsided nature of the Yankees’ offense these days — Aaron Judge, Juan Soto, newcomer Ben Rice, the now-injured Giancarlo Stanton, and Trevino are their only regular hitters with a wRC+ above 100 — you might infer that the Yankees have prioritized defense over offense, and that’s at least the case when it comes to their two defensive standouts, shortstop Anthony Volpe and left fielder Alex Verdugo. Volpe’s 94 wRC+ won’t make anyone forget Derek Jeter, but his 8 FRV is second among all shortstops, and he’s above average in DRS (3) and UZR (1.8) as well. Verdugo’s 98 wRC+ is light for a corner outfielder (a career-long problem), but his fly-chasing skills are welcome in spacious Yankee Stadium, and he scores well on all three metrics (5 DRS, 3.2 UZR, 3 FRV). Judge and Soto are both average or better in all three. That’s no small task for the former given that he’s playing center field regularly these days, and it’s a welcome turnaround for the latter, who has put in the work to improve after a bad defensive showing in San Diego last year.

Statcast really loves the team in general, as 11 of the Yankees’ 13 players with at least 100 innings at a position are above average, and the lowest (third baseman Oswaldo Cabrera) grades out at -2 FRV but much better via the other metrics. Their only player at the 100-inning cutoff with negative ratings in two of the three metrics is Gleyber Torres, who has accompanied his grim 85 wRC+ with -4 DRS and -1.5 UZR. As the Yankees cast about for infield upgrades in advance of the upcoming trade deadline, swapping out defense for offense would make some sense.

Blue Jays

After consecutive AL Wild Card berths and three straight seasons with at least 89 wins, the Blue Jays rate as one of the year’s disappointing teams. They rank among the league’s five worst in both scoring and run prevention, but nonetheless, they’ve got fielders that can go get it. Their non-catchers rank among the top three in both DRS and FRV, and their catchers scored well, too.

Leading the way is the outfield, which leads the majors in both DRS (27) and FRV (21). Daulton Varsho’s 12 DRS and 8 FRV both lead all left fielders, and Varsho and four-time Gold Glove winner Kevin Kiermaier are tied for fourth with 7 DRS in center as well. (Kiermaier’s 6 FRV is tied for eighth.) Right fielder George Springer is in the top 10 in both categories as well. Unfortunately, the outfielders’ collective 81 wRC+ is weighing down the team’s offense, particularly Kiermaier’s 49 wRC+; left fielder Davis Schneider’s 100 wRC+ is tops among that group. That Varsho’s 1.8 WAR ranks second on the team despite his ugly .197/.282/.391 (91 wRC+) slash line is symptomatic of the problem.

Ahead of Varsho with 2.0 WAR is the versatile Isiah Kiner-Falefa, who is not only hitting for a career-best 117 wRC+ but has totaled 11 DRS, 5.0 UZR, and 2 FRV in 290 innings at third base, 246 2/3 at second, and 105 at shortstop. Catcher Alejandro Kirk has been strong across the board (7 FRV, 6 DRS, 3.4 UZR) to barely offset his 73 wRC+; Danny Jansen, with whom he shares the job, has accompanied average defense with a 100 wRC+, so their combined 2.0 WAR at the position is pretty respectable. Similar to the Yankees, 14 of the 16 players with at least 100 innings at a position (including the aforementioned IKF and Varsho at multiple spots) are in the black in terms of FRV, with Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (-4 at first base) and Ernie Clement (-2 at third base) the exceptions.


If the Guardians are a positive surprise, the Royals are even more of one, as their 49-43 record gives them a shot at their first winning season and first playoff appearance since their 2015 championship. They didn’t crack the top three in any of the categories, but they are third overall in DRS (including catchers) behind Toronto and Cleveland, and fourth in both FRV (including catchers) and UZR; their infield ranks among the top three in all three metrics. DRS and UZR particularly seem to love this team; at the 100-inning cutoff, everybody but catcher Salvador Perez (-1 DRS) and right fielder Hunter Renfroe (-0.5 UZR) are average or better in their respective metrics.

The standout, not surprisingly, is Bobby Witt Jr., whose 10 FRV leads all shortstops; he’s tied for fifth with 5 DRS as well. Center fielder Kyle Isbel (5 FRV, 4 DRS, 2.3 UZR) has been excellent. Their second basemen (mainly Michael Massey, Adam Frazier, and Nick Loftin) have combined for 8 DRS, 3 FRV, and 3.0 UZR. Catching-wise, Freddy Fermin’s 8 DRS is an outlier for what are otherwise more or less average ratings; even Perez, whose career framing work is so poor (-116.7 FRM, including -41.2 over the past three) that it will keep him off my Hall of Fame ballot someday, comes in at just -1.2 FRM in his 439 innings behind the plate.


The defending world champions have scuffled to a 44-48 record despite outscoring opponents by 14 runs; they’re an AL-high four wins below their Pythagenpat-projected record, and two below their BaseRuns-projected record. They had one of the majors’ best defenses last year, and they’ve done well in that department again.

Their infield leads the majors in both DRS (30) and FRV (21), and the biggest standout has once again been second baseman Marcus Semien, whose 10 FRV is best at the position and whose 11 DRS is tied for second. Ezequiel Duran totaled 9 DRS and 5 FRV while seeing time at all four infield spots and both outfield corners (though just one inning in right) before he was optioned to Triple-A in late June. Duran, Josh Smith, Davis Wendzel, and Jonathan Ornelas have combined for 13 DRS, 6 FRV, and 2.8 UZR to offset the loss of third baseman Josh Jung, who’s been limited to just four games due to a right wrist injury. Shortstop Corey Seager (4 DRS, 1 FRV, 0.2 UZR) has been solid, and likewise for the catchers (Jonah Heim and backup Andrew Knizner). The outfield has been in the upper third of the majors in all three metrics, though right fielder Adolis García is average or worse in all three after a very strong 2023, and center fielder Leody Taveras has one of the widest gulfs of any fielder between his DRS (-6) and FRV (4).


This season hasn’t gone well for the defending NL champions, as they’re 45-47. They recently won six out of nine, but the three losses were gutting, as they surrendered the lead in the final inning each time, twice via walk-offs and once in extra innings. While the Diamondbacks rank second in the NL in scoring, they’re third worst in run prevention, but part of that is because their pitching staff has allowed the second-highest home run rate in the senior circuit. Their defense has generally been good, though a couple issues do stand out.

On the positive side, Ketel Marte’s 11 DRS is tied with Semien for second among second basemen; his 2.4 UZR is second as well, and his 6 FRV is tied for fourth. First baseman Christian Walker’s 7 FRV and 3.1 UZR are tops at the position, his 6 DRS tied for second. Starting catcher Gabriel Moreno has been strong (5 DRS, 3 FRV, 1.4 FRM), though backup Tucker Barnhart, who’s gotten about one-third of the playing time, is about two runs below average in all three metrics.

On the other hand, their shortstops — Kevin Newman, Geraldo Perdomo, and Blaze Alexander — have combined for -8 DRS and -4 FRV, though that’s mostly a product of the since-demoted Alexander’s struggles while Perdomo was sidelined for 10 weeks due to surgery for a torn right meniscus. Corbin Carroll, who has tumbled to a 77 wRC+ in the follow-up to his NL Rookie of the Year-winning campaign, has played mostly center field; his -7 DRS is ominous, though contrasted by more positive metrics (1.1 UZR, 1 FRV).

While I could certainly say more about each of these teams and the next ones in the rankings, I’ll keep my powder dry for my look at the worst defenses, with an emphasis on the bad ones on contenders.

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