PL Best in Baseball: Defense

Ranking the 5 best defenses in baseball.

We’re back with another installment of Best in Baseball.

Pitcher List has been analyzing which teams will have the most success this season, and recently, we’ve looked at the best infields and outfields. Today, we’ll be breaking down the best defensive teams in the league: those who field the ball well, make solid plays, and avoid costly errors.

With that in mind, here are the top five defensive threats this season:


1. Cleveland Guardians 


The Guardians have used their lack of power hitting as an opportunity to focus on playing a small ball style of game. This gave them mixed success last year, finishing with a 76-86 record. This year, under new managerial leadership from Stephen Vogt, the team still has some offensive questions surrounding them. When it’s unclear if a team will be able to regularly contribute solid offense, it makes sense to beef up the defense. Cleveland has one of the most solid second basemen in the league in Andrés Giménez. He consistently ranked one of the best in fielding stats last year and is looking to continue his high level of play this season. Catchers Bo Naylor and newly signed Austin Hedges look to man the backstop and bring their combination of youth and experience. While it’s still unclear who may get the nod at shortstop, both Brayan Rocchio and Gabriel Arias have demonstrated their arm strength and glove capabilities at the position. José Tena and Angel Martínez have also put their names in the hat for the shortstop position as they’ve both contributed to the offense the Guardians have been seeking from their position players. In the outfield, Cleveland has some sharp gloves in left fielder Steven Kwan and center fielder Myles Straw. Kwan’s a two-time Gold Glove winner and both he and Straw finished last season at 18 outs above average (OAA). When Cleveland puts all of their defensive pieces together, they’re a serious threat in terms of making solid plays and getting outs. The question looming for the Guardians this year is whether they will be able to make the most of their strong defense and generate the offense they need to win games.


2. Chicago Cubs


The Cubs notably have Dansby Swanson playing Gold Glove-caliber defense at shortstop, but he’s not the only defensive weapon they possess. Second baseman Nico Hoerner won a Gold Glove last year and has proven he’s an intelligent fielder who can turn plays others might not be able to capitalize on. The Cubs re-signed outfielder Cody Bellinger to a three-year $80 million contract this off-season. Bellinger has been utilized both in the outfield and at first base, and his versatility is part of what makes him valuable to the team. If Bellinger is at first, the Cubs may likely place Pete Crow-Armstrong at center. The young outfielder has already shown off his defensive abilities in the minors and is looking for the opportunity to prove he has major-league talent. Nick Madrigal is currently dealing with a hamstring strain and may start the season on the IL. If he can get (and stay) healthy, he gives the Cubs a good defensive option for third base. Chicago is bolstered by Swanson and Hoerner, but their versatility and options mean they have the ability to stay defensively solid as the wear and tear of the season progresses.


3. Arizona Diamondbacks


The Diamondbacks are coming off a solid post-season push and are looking to be a playoff-relevant team again. Having the lowest amount of errors in the MLB last year, Arizona will want to build off of their success. Catcher Gabriel Moreno has made a name for himself with his strong arm and elite defensive plays. Combine his skills with All-Star and NL Rookie of the Year Corbin Carroll in the outfield, Alek Thomas, Christian Walker, and new third baseman Eugenio Suárez from Seattle, and you’ve got a team with a lot of skill and play-making ability. Their middle-infield isn’t quite as strong as teams like the Cubs or Guardians. Second baseman Ketel Marte and shortstop Geraldo Perdomo have at times been inconsistent fielders. What bodes promising for Arizona is that infield prospect Jordan Lawlar has shown strong potential as a defensively skilled player and could be ready to move up into the shortstop position this year. If Arizona can continue to develop their young players fielding skills, they’re certainly a formidable threat.


4. Texas Rangers


The defending World Series champions will look to maintain their dominance this season. Returning catcher Jonah Heim is arguably one of the best in the game defensively. The Gold Glover is joined by another pivotal returning teammate Marcus Semien. The elite second baseman was expected to man the infield with Josh Jung at third, Nathaniel Lowe at first, and Corey Seager at shortstop. Jung, Lowe, and Seager have all experienced injuries during spring training. Jung is entering his first full season in the majors having played 20 games last year. He suffered a calf strain but is expected to be back in the lineup by the end of spring training. Lowe is dealing with a strained oblique and is expected to be out for several weeks and will likely miss the start of the season. Seager had hernia surgery on January 30th and his return date is still unknown. As these players all contribute to the defensive capabilities of the team, it’s questionable how Texas’ infield will fare for the time being. The Gold Glove outfielder Adolis García is also an obvious defensive advantage who can help younger players like Evan Carter and Wyatt Langford solidify their defensive game.


5. New York Yankees


The Yankees want to build off of rookie shortstop Anthony Volpe’s Gold Glove season. Having a healthy Anthony Rizzo this year at first will be a significant defensive upgrade for the team. The team’s outfield struggled significantly last year, but with the notable additions of Juan Soto and Alex Verdugo, things will look quite different this year. Soto doesn’t have the most solid defensive metrics, but he will be playing the shallow right field of Yankee Stadium which should give him a boost. Verdugo, who improved defensively last year will look to keep trending positively. Aaron Judge and Jasson Domínguez are major players when healthy and both will likely man center field throughout the season. Having Jose Trevino back at catcher will give the Yankees a solid backstop presence and newcomer Austin Wells looks to bring his defensive skills and strong arm to the majors this season. If the Yankees play players in position this season and can avoid injuries, they should see significant improvements in their defensive capabilities.


Honorable Mentions:


The Colorado Rockies have a couple of solid fielders in shortstop Ezequiel Tovar and outfielder Brenton Doyle. It’s questionable how much playing time Doyle will get, as he’ll be expected to be able to contribute consistent offense to stay in the lineup. The Rockies have several arms that could potentially get hot defensively in Nolan Jones, Jacob Stallings, and Ryan McMahon. The Baltimore Orioles are a very real threat in the AL East this season with multiple young talents. AL Rookie of the Year Gunnar Henderson and elite catcher Adley Rutschman will look to have strong defensive performances again this year. Baltimore has plenty of skilled prospects who could see time in the lineup like Samuel Basallo, Jackson Holliday, and Coby Mayo. The Toronto Blue Jays are another team that has some solid defensive options. Having picked up utility man Isiah Kiner-Falefa from the Yankees, the Jays now have an option they can move around the infield and outfield as needed. Their outfield is greatly helped by Kevin Kiermaier and Daulton Varsho who have been exceptionally good at their position playing. And finally, the Atlanta Braves are another team looking to lock things down defensively. With outfielder Michael Harris II and catcher Sean Murphy leading by example, the team has the potential to be strong defensively if they can get some support from their infielders.

Photos by Adobe Stock 

Graphic by Carlos Leano

Madison Hutchinson

Madison is a passionate NY area sports fan with a knack for insightful analysis and compelling storytelling. She brings insight to her writing and a commitment to honest and engaging content.

2 responses to “PL Best in Baseball: Defense”

  1. Rob Weddig says:

    Weren’t the Brewers 1st or 2nd in defensive runs saved last year? I figured they’d be in the top 5 for this article. They switched out first base, but otherwise the defense should be at least as good as it was last year. They didn’t even get honorable mention here.

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