Scoring runs and not allowing runs is the name of the game. Score more, allow less, win more. We tend to focus on the "sexy statistics" like HR, RBI, ERA, SO, and other measures of hitters and pitchers. The area of the game that we tend to ignore statistically is defense. Sure we cared when Starlin Castro seemed to misplay every ground ball that was hit at him or when it looks like Miguel Montero may never throw out a baserunner again, but errors tend to be the only real statistic that are tracked religiously by baseball fans.
In this article I am going to look at how the Cubs stack up in a couple of other defensive categories: Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) and Defensive Runs Above Average (DEF). Before I get started, I understand that defensive statistics are never completely accurate and that different people will interpret these numbers in different ways. All in all, I hope you enjoy.
Innings by Position
First, I combined all of the fielding data for players who have played multiple positions in the infield or outfield (ex. Jason Heyward playing CF and RF = OF; Javier Baez playing 1B, 2B, SS, and 3B = INF). I only included players who had over 100 IP played in the infield, outfield, or catching, so people like Jeimer Candelario (-0.7 DEF at 3B) and Travis Wood (+0.1 DEF in LF) were not included in the analysis. Below is a graph showing how many innings each player has played at each area of the field. (Notice: Kris Bryant, Ben Zobrist, and Willson Contreras each are listed twice.)
Defensive Runs Saved (DRS)
- I chose to use DRS instead of Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) to measure runs above or below average by fielders. It is used to make a fairly general assessment of a player's defensive ability. One thing to note about Defensive Runs Saved is that it does not take shifts and positioning into consideration.
- Gold Glove Caliber = +15
- Great = +10
- Above Average = +5
- Average = 0
- Below Average = -5
- Poor = -10
- Awful = -15
- With no surprise, Addison Russell, Jason Heyward, and Javier Baez are far and above the best Cubs defenders when it comes to defensive runs saved. Russell has been reliable at shortstop all season long, and Joe Maddon has continually moved Baez around to where the ball is most likely going to be hit. Russell is tied for the league lead with sixteen runs saved at shortstop with the Giants shortstop, Brandon Crawford. Jason Heyward has saved eleven runs in right field and four runs in center field. Javier Baez has saved eleven runs at second base, three runs at short stop, and one run at third base. As many of you may expect, Miguel Montero currently ranks in the "poor" category for Defensive Runs Saved at -9 even as a part time player.
- As a team the Cubs have saved 68 runs total. The next closest team is the Houston Astros with 57 runs scored, and the next closest National League team is the San Francisco Giants with 46 runs saved.
Defensive Runs Above Average (DEF)
- This statistic measures how valuable a player is to their team defensively, compared to the league average. Fangraphs estimates that between 9-10 runs of DEF is equal to one win of value. This statistic does a great job allowing fans to compare the defensive impact that a player makes no matter which position they play. Defensive Runs Above Average are derived from the Defensive Runs Saved that I touched on earlier in the article (DEF = Fielding Runs Above Average + positional adjustment).
- Excellent = +20
- Great = +12
- Above Average = +4
- Average = 0
- Below Average = -4
- Poor = -12
- Awful = -20
- Javier Baez and Jason Heyward are not ranked quite as highly as Addison Russell when it comes to DEF. Russell's been worth nearly two wins above replacement solely based on his defense prowess at shortstop. His 17.5 score is fifth best in the entire MLB and second among shortstops (Francisco Lindor, 22.1). One interesting thing to note here is Anthony Rizzo's rank. He has a below average DEF of -6.4 so far this year even though he seems to be pretty reliable at first base.
- The Cubs are second behind the Kansas City Royals in Defensive Runs Above Average this season. They have a score of 54.1, and the Royals are currently at 62.2. A large reason for the Royals success in this category is the solid play of catcher Salvador Perez (15.3, best catcher in baseball).
The Cubs have been good in all three phases of the game. Sometimes we forget how important defense is to having a successful ball club, but the numbers reinforce that the Cubs are an elite defensive club. Addison Russell, Jason Heyward, and Javier Baez lead the team on the defensive side and have played a big role in the team's success in 2016.
The defensive statistics used in this article were collected before Tuesday night's game vs. the Brewers.