By MARK SIMON
The Cardinals seem to be the clearcut best defensive team in baseball entering 2022. They return all five of the players who won Gold Gloves on last year’s team, including Fielding Bible Award winners Paul Goldschmidt and Tyler O’Neill.
Six of their players finished in the Top 20 in the NL in the SABR Defensive Index, which combines many defensive metrics (including Defensive Runs Saved) into one number, in 2021. The Cardinals’ defense should carry them a long way.
But what’s harder to assess is this:
Who is the second-best defensive team in baseball?
When we posed that question to Ken Rosenthal on the new episode of The SIS Baseball Podcast, his first response was the Dodgers, which makes sense.
The Dodgers’ top defender is Mookie Betts, who ranked first or second in Defensive Runs Saved in right field in each season from 2016 to 2020 before slipping out of the top 10 in 2021 in what was an injury-impacted season.
The Dodgers also play multiple other players with good defensive track records including centerfielder Cody Bellinger, first baseman Freddie Freeman, shortstop Trea Turner, and part-time catcher Austin Barnes. Gavin Lux is also slated to see a considerable amount of time at second base, where he’s totaled 13 Runs Saved in a little over 500 innings (not even a half-season).
Much like the Cardinals, the Dodgers don’t have any significant defensive holes. This is a product of the defensive versatility on their roster, with players like Chris Taylor, who played at least eight games at six different positions in 2021.
Ken’s other response was the Rays, who could have the best defensive outfield in baseball, with center fielder Kevin Kiermaier flanked by Randy Arozarena and Manuel Margot in the corners. Those three were the primary starters for a group that ranked third among outfields in Defensive Runs Saved last season.
Whether the Rays rank as a good or great defensive team could depend on just how good shortstop Wander Franco is. Franco had 6 Runs Saved in 63 games at that position in 2021. If he plays every day in 2022 and racks up Runs Saved at a similar pace, Tampa Bay’s defense should be impressive.
Other contenders for consideration among MLB’s elite defensive teams include:
The Braves, who now have three-time Fielding Bible Award winner Matt Olson at first base. Each of their other regular infielders – Ozzie Albies, Dansby Swanson, Austin Riley – has at least one standout season under their belt. The Braves also have two outfielders with super-strong arms in Adam Duvall and Eddie Rosario.
The Marlins, who finished seventh in Defensive Runs Saved last season and added three solid defensive players, Jacob Stallings, Joey Wendle, and Avisail Garcia. Stallings in particular will shore up a weakness at catcher. He led the position in Runs Saved in 2021.
And there are a bunch of teams that could be near the top. If Matt Chapman and George Springer are healthy and if Bo Bichette can improve his throwing, the Blue Jays can put a pretty good group on the field. If Bobby Witt Jr. plays well at shortstop or third base and Whit Merrifield handles right field a little better than he has in the past, the Royals are formidable.
And the Red Sox have three very good outfielders in Kiké Hernández, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Alex Verdugo. Their question mark is in the infield with Rafael Devers, Xander Bogaerts, and Bobby Dalbec.
Who do you think are the best defensive teams in baseball? Tweet at @SIS_Baseball and let us know.
You can check out the rest of our 2022 season preview conversation with Ken Rosenthal and Braves coach Eric Young Sr. here.