A Look at the Defenses of the Postseason Teams

Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Extremes in defense were on display as the Wild Card round kicked off on Tuesday afternoon. In the Rangers-Rays opener, Texas left fielder Evan Carter laid out for a great catch of an Isaac Paredes line drive in the first inning, starter Jordan Montgomery dove to make an impressive snag of Jose Siri’s popped-up bunt in the second, and Josh Jung made a nice grab on Manuel Margot’s soft liner in the seventh. On the other side, Siri’s day from hell continued as he missed catching Corey Seager’s wall-banging double in the fifth, then deflected and briefly lost control of a Seager bloop before airmailing it over third base in the sixth, costing the Rays a run. And misery loves company — his Rays teammates made three additional errors in their 4-0 loss.

Meanwhile in Minnesota, center fielder Michael A. Taylor made a pair of exceptional catches, and Carlos Correa saved a run in the fourth by fielding a dribbler that had gone under third baseman Jorge Polanco’s glove, making a sidearm throw home while on the run to keep Bo Bichette from scoring.

And that was just one afternoon! After a day in which great plays and mistakes helped push four teams to within one loss of elimination, it feels worth revisiting my two-part series from late June, highlighting the best and worst team defenses based on the alphabet soup of advanced metrics.

I set out to look at team defense by aggregating a handful of the major defensive metrics, namely Defensive Runs Saved, Ultimate Zone Rating, our catcher framing metric (hereafter abbreviated as FRM, as it is on our stat pages), and Statcast’s Runs Prevented (which I’ll call Runs Above Average because their site and ours use the abbreviation RAA) and catching metrics for framing, blocking, and throwing (which I’ll combine into the abbreviation CRAA, and abbreviate individually as StatF, StatB, and StatT). Those metrics reflect differing methodologies and produce varying spreads in runs from top to bottom 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 RAAs, for example, catching numbers are set off in their own categories rather than included in UZR and RAA, and DRSs tend to produce the most extreme ratings. I’ve accounted for the varying spreads from top to bottom, which range from 162 runs in DRS (from 82 to -80) to 44 runs in CRAA (from 16 to -28), by using standard deviation scores (z-scores), which measure how many standard deviations each team is from the major league average in each category.

This isn’t a bulletproof methodology so much as a good point of entry into a broad topic. By this method, the Rangers rate as the majors’ third-best defensive team, behind the Brewers and Blue Jays, while the Rays were below average, and rate among the weakest defenses still playing in October. Below are the rankings, which you can sort by any of the columns; you can see the actual run values for all but the Statcast catching metrics here (the Statcast catching aggregates for individuals are here, but there’s no team page for them):

Team Defense Standard Deviation Scores
Team DRS-Z UZR-Z FRM-Z RAA-Z CRAA-Z Total
Brewers 1.59 1.92 1.56 2.08 1.11 8.26
Blue Jays 2.03 1.45 0.87 0.73 0.92 6.00
Rangers 0.72 1.31 0.80 0.91 1.61 5.35
Diamondbacks 0.94 1.65 -0.81 1.53 0.32 3.64
Orioles 0.69 1.41 0.45 -0.62 0.62 2.55
Pirates -0.09 -1.08 1.97 0.06 1.51 2.37
Yankees 0.44 -0.53 1.53 0.12 0.72 2.27
Giants -0.73 -0.85 1.50 0.61 1.61 2.13
Padres 0.91 1.28 -0.70 1.22 -0.67 2.04
Guardians 0.44 0.33 0.21 0.91 0.02 1.91
Dodgers 1.39 0.37 0.28 -0.01 -0.27 1.76
Cubs 0.80 0.09 -0.20 0.79 0.22 1.70
Mariners 0.08 -0.16 0.24 1.16 0.02 1.34
Braves 0.19 -0.99 0.79 -0.68 1.41 0.72
Rockies 0.33 1.74 -1.14 -0.19 -0.08 0.67
Royals -0.71 0.62 -0.48 1.22 -0.57 0.08
Twins 0.66 -0.32 0.49 -0.50 -0.27 0.06
Tigers 0.38 -1.50 0.40 -0.31 0.82 -0.21
Rays 0.44 0.13 -0.55 0.12 -0.47 -0.34
Mets -0.93 -0.60 1.24 -0.74 0.62 -0.41
Astros 0.16 0.61 -1.40 0.48 -1.56 -1.71
Marlins -0.45 -0.64 0.45 -1.35 0.02 -1.98
White Sox -1.88 -0.95 0.41 -0.86 0.32 -2.97
Cardinals -0.43 -0.89 -1.38 -0.44 -0.77 -3.90
Red Sox -0.73 0.05 -0.58 -2.52 -0.27 -4.06
Angels -0.29 -1.14 -0.93 -0.86 -0.87 -4.09
Phillies -1.01 -0.93 -1.21 -0.31 -1.07 -4.53
Nationals -1.10 -0.62 -1.46 0.12 -2.75 -5.81
Reds -1.35 -0.88 -1.18 -1.72 -1.17 -6.30
Athletics -2.49 -0.86 -1.18 -0.93 -1.07 -6.53
FRM = FanGraphs catcher framing runs. CRAA = Statcast catcher framing, blocking, and throwing runs.

Whaddaya know? The top five teams by this methodology are all in the playoffs, though below that, the relationship is pretty loose. The bottom 10 teams in the rankings include three postseason participants, while the middle 10 include the other four. Eight of the 12 playoff teams are above average by this method (though one just barely), and the average score for the 12 October teams is 1.64.

What follows are some highlights and lowlights regarding each team, expressed in run values rather than z-scores. I’m well aware of how noisy a single season of defensive metrics can be, particularly when the sample is only a few hundred innings, so I’m trying to generalize here without pointing out every single outlier — though some of them are worth peeping if only for conversational purposes. I’ve also tried to note where players unlikely to factor into the postseason have had an outsized effect on the numbers.

Brewers

The Brew Crew dominated our advanced statistics leaderboard, leading the majors with 34 RAA and 39.2 UZR, ranking second with 66 DRS and 20.2 FRM, and fifth with 11 runs via CRAA, all of which helped the team prevent a major league-low 3.99 runs per game. Newcomer William Contreras ranked fourth in the majors with 14.1 FRM, second baseman Brice Turang and shortstop Willy Adames were both very good, and Carlos Santana was a nice late-season addition at first base. The outfield led the majors in both DRS and UZR, and no matter who played center field — Joey Wiemer, Sal Frelick, Garrett Mitchell (not active for the WCS), or Blake Perkins — they were generally exceptional.

Blue Jays

The Jays led the majors with 82 DRS, with center fielders Kevin Kiermaier and Daulton Varsho each totaling 18 (the latter in just 462.1 innings), catcher Alejandro Kirk 17, third baseman Matt Chapman 11, and Varsho another 11 in left field. Kirk’s strong framing numbers aside, Statcast and UZR weren’t nearly as keen on the team, though the aforementioned center fielders combined for 21 RAA. Right fielder George Springer and shortstop Bo Bichette were both generally above average, but second base (Whit Merrifield, Cavan Biggio and others) was something of a weak spot, and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. was a mess by both RAA (a big league-worst -10) and DRS (-6).

Rangers

Second baseman Marcus Semien, the only past Gold Glove winner of the bunch, was the defensive star, with 16 DRS, 10 RAA, and 5.8 UZR, but he had plenty of help. Right fielder Adolis García’s elite throwing arm powered him to strong ratings in DRS (7) and UZR (6.8). Shortstop Corey Seager, utilityman Josh Smith, and catcher Jonah Heim all had at least 5 DRS, with Heim ranking fourth in the majors with 13 CRAA as well, driven by strong framing numbers. Center fielder Leody Taveras was above-average in all three metrics, and Josh Jung was very good by UZR and RAA.

Diamondbacks

Negative framing numbers for Gabriel Moreno and his backups — a combined -10.4 FRM and -8 StatF — created a bit of a gulf between the Diamondbacks, who were otherwise well above average across the board, and the top three teams. Moreno had 20 DRS and 8 CRAA thanks to his blocking and throwing, so it’s not like Arizona’s catching was all bad. First baseman Christian Walker led the majors with 9 RAA and ranked second with 9 DRS, while left fielder Lourdes Gurriel Jr. was second in both DRS and UZR (14 and 9.5, respectively), and center fielder Alek Thomas was 3–5 runs above average across the board.

Orioles

Likely AL Rookie of the Year Gunnar Henderson was exceptional in roughly equal time at shortstop and third base, combining for 14 DRS and 12.3 UZR, though he was just average according to RAA. Indeed, while the team fared well via DRS and UZR, they were below average according to RAA, with second baseman Adam Frazier (-11) and third baseman Ramón Urías (-7) scoring particularly badly there but closer to average or even above it by the other two. Their outfield defense was generally a plus, with Cedric Mullins and Austin Hays both at 7 DRS, with 6 RAA for the former and 6.6 UZR for the latter, plus average work by the third metric; Anthony Santander was closer to average, though Aaron Hicks was decidedly subpar across the board including his time with the Yankees. Adley Rutschman was well above average in framing (6.8 FRM, 5 StatF) but about average by other measures.

Dodgers

The Dodgers were third in the majors with 59 DRS, led by shortstop Miguel Rojas (12), catcher Will Smith (12), multipositional MVP candidate Mookie Betts (10, including 7 at second base and 3 in right field), and left fielder David Peralta (7). Other metrics weren’t nearly as high on them, and even DRS disliked Freddie Freeman (-8) — how could anyone dislike Freddie Freeman? — though he was a couple runs above average by other metrics. The team’s outfield defense ranked among the top half-dozen across the board, with center fielder James Outman‘s 8 RAA the shiniest number; he showed great in-season improvement at the position. Weighing their ranking down is middling framing by Smith and backup Austin Barnes, Max Muncy‘s rough showing at the hot corner (-7.7 UZR, -5 RAA, -3 DRS), and since-demoted second baseman Miguel Vargas’s work afield.

Braves

Their offense was elite, but their defense was below average save for the catching, where Sean Murphy was strong across the board (13 CRAA, 8 DRS, 6.8 FRM) and Travis d’Arnaud was solid. Shortstop Orlando Arcia put up a couple of ugly numbers (-6.3 UZR, -6 DRS) and second baseman Ozzie Albies had one (-7 RAA), though other metrics saw them as average-ish. As with the Dodgers, the team’s totals in the big three are weighed down by an absent player, in this case shortstop Vaughn Grissom. Across the board, the numbers really didn’t love the otherwise spectacular Ronald Acuña Jr. (-8 RAA, -3.3 UZR, -3 DRS), a significant factor in his leaving the door ajar in the NL MVP race.

Twins

The closest to average of the teams here in the aggregate, the Twins did well in DRS and framing (Christian Vázquez had 7.9 FRM and 4 Statcast) but were slightly subpar in the rest. Michael A. Taylor, who put up double-digit defensive valuations in his two years in Kansas City, did not rate as high here (7 RAA, 5 DRS, 2.8 UZR), but as he showed on Tuesday, he can absolutely go get it. Carlos Correa was slightly in the red across the board for the first time in his career, possibly due to playing through a bout of plantar fasciitis. Nobody was glaringly bad anywhere by multiple metrics, though in small samples Kyle Farmer at shortstop, Jose Miranda at third base, and Donovan Solano at first — none of which are likely to be regular occurrences this October — weren’t great by at least one measure.

Rays

They could not possibly have been as bad as they looked on Tuesday, but shortstop Wander Franco, their best defender by far, is on administrative leave, and replacement Taylor Walls (who made one of the team’s four errors on Tuesday) is merely solid. On the other side of the coin, Brandon Lowe rated as their worst defensive infielder but he’s out as well, though rookie Curtis Mead’s scouting grades (30 PV/35 FV) don’t inspire confidence. Jose Siri was much better defensively than he showed on Tuesday (9 RAA, 2.8 UZR, 0 DRS), though the outfield is otherwise a mixed bag, with Manuel Margot and Randy Arozarena each slightly below average in two metrics, and Josh Lowe and Luke Raley slightly above in two. René Pinto, who made a throwing error on Tuesday, rates as a much better defender than the since-outrighted Francisco Mejía.

Astros

For as much as the team loves his work with pitchers, Martín Maldonado‘s defensive numbers (-10 DRS, -15 FRM, -16 CRAA) were absolutely brutal, but the rest nets out around average, not that there aren’t extremes. Their center fielders (Jake Meyers, Chas McCormick, and Mauricio Dubón) were exceptional, and shortstop Jeremy Peña and third baseman Alex Bregman were generally above average, but Jose Altuve’s DRS was in double-digit negative territory for the second year in a row (-13) despite missing the season’s first seven weeks; his other metrics weren’t so extreme.

Marlins

Catcher Nick Fortes was a plus (6 DRS, 5.8 FRM, 4 CRAA), but otherwise the Marlins grade out as a slightly below average defensive team. Jazz Chisholm Jr. was rough in his first year in center field (-9 DRS, -3.5 UZR, 4 RAA), Bryan De La Cruz was even worse in left (-9 DRS, -7 RAA, -2.2 UZR), and Jorge Soler is best appreciated without a glove. Their shortstops (Jon Berti and Joey Wendle) were pretty good, and their third basemen (Jake Burger and Berti) acceptable, a big improvement upon the since-traded Jean Segura.

Phillies

We’ve been talking about the Phillies’ wretched defense since they signed Kyle Schwarber and Nick Castellanos in March 2022, and neither of them is getting better. Schwarber’s -20 DRS and -17 RAA in left field and Castellanos’ -13.3 UZR in right were the worst in their respective metrics at any position, and both fared badly in the other ones. Shortstop Trea Turner and third baseman Alec Bohm were both brutal by DRS (-10 and -9, respectively) but within a few runs above average via the other numbers. Catcher J.T. Realmuto was the majors’ third-worst framer by both FRM (-12.4) and StatF (-12). Thankfully, second baseman Bryson Stott was exceptional across the board (12 RAA, 7 DRS, 4.9 UZR), and center fielder Johan Rojas put up a ridiculous 14 DRS in just 392 innings in center field while making a good showing by other metrics. Speaking of smaller samples, Bryce Harper was basically average across the board in 303 innings at first base, a completely new position for him — and one that has opened up the DH slot for Schwarbe to occupy with much greater frequency lately.





Brooklyn-based Jay Jaffe is a senior writer for FanGraphs, the author of The Cooperstown Casebook (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017) and the creator of the JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) metric for Hall of Fame analysis. He founded the Futility Infielder website (2001), was a columnist for Baseball Prospectus (2005-2012) and a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated (2012-2018). He has been a recurring guest on MLB Network and a member of the BBWAA since 2011, and a Hall of Fame voter since 2021. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe... and BlueSky @jayjaffe.bsky.social.

17 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
hglmanmember
7 months ago

The metsics are serious under counting intangibles, like Altuve’s fake-out catch attempts on popups.

Ivan_Grushenkomember
7 months ago
Reply to  hglman

Probably not Altuve but maybe Maldonado and Rutschman. “Intangibles” are things that no has yet figured out how to measure. Cardinals believe rightly or wrongly Molina was worth a lot to the pitching staff.

Last edited 7 months ago by Ivan_Grushenko
baubo
7 months ago
Reply to  Ivan_Grushenko

Maldonado before this year have actually done pretty well in defensive metrics. As in always above average to great. He’s always considered a negative player despite that, because he can’t hit to save his life. But at least before this year, he was considered a plus behind the plate.

This year his defensive metrics took an absolute nose dive though. So I would say the drop off here is very real even if Dusty will continue to play him everyday despite there being a backup young catcher with a 127 wRC+ and playing average defense.

Ivan_Grushenkomember
7 months ago
Reply to  baubo

True, but I don’t think Dusty would continue to play him if the pitchers didn’t also prefer it. Yes he may be banking more on something not yet measured than when the metrics were also positive

bosoxforlifemember
7 months ago
Reply to  Ivan_Grushenko

Your comment seems to be the proper response. What the pitchers say and ask for carries more weight than what some computer tries to convey.

RonnieDobbs
7 months ago
Reply to  baubo

The chance that he went from great to bad as a player that has made a career out of being a plus defender is zero. This is more like proof that defensive metrics are garbage. Offensively players get lucky and unlucky but that is not how defense works.

bosoxforlifemember
7 months ago
Reply to  Ivan_Grushenko

The evidence seems to support the belief that Yadi was exactly what the Cardinals knew he was, and that was so much more than just a great catcher. The complete collapse of virtually every pitcher, except Montgomery and he has been much better with the Rangers, is telling those with an open mind that maybe there is something to a lot of these “intangibles” that a great catcher brings to the stadium every day. Further support comes from the clear and obvious situation in Baltimore where the Orioles have not been swept in a series since the day Adley Rutschman played his first game. Whether it was Yogi or Campy, Bench or Fisk, Posey or Molina the teams with these stalwarts were consistent powers for long periods.

RonnieDobbs
7 months ago
Reply to  Ivan_Grushenko

lol how would you ever measure intangibles? The idea that the metrics are currently accurate yet also lacking is logically not sound.

RonnieDobbs
7 months ago
Reply to  hglman

I will one up you. Defensive metrics are all worthless.
You have goofs playing all over the field which used to be something that never happened. Defensive metrics were the pathway to de-valuing good defensive play and ultimately ushered in the era of terrible defenders playing out of position.