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The Best and Worst Defensive Teams in 2012

December 21, 2012

First and most important of all, many blessings to you and your families in this most joyous of seasons.

Back in May, we took a look at team defense a couple of months into the season. Then, the Blue Jays and Rockies were, respectively, the best and worst defensive teams in baseball at that point. They held those positions through the end of the season. Otherwise, there has been a fair bit of shuffling. Let’s take a look at the ranking of teams defensively for the full 2012 season.

Here are the best defensive teams from last season:

The best defensive teams in 2012
Team Defensive Runs Saved
Toronto Blue Jays 70
Atlanta Braves 70
Los Angeles Angels 55
Boston Red Sox 50
Cincinnati Reds 38

The five best defensive teams found several different ways to make it on the list. The Toronto Blue Jays and Boston Red Sox played excellent infield defense. For the Blue Jays this included 20 Defensive Runs Saved by Brett Lawrie at third base and 14 by Yunel Escobar at shortstop. The Red Sox benefited from 14 runs saved by Mike Aviles at shortstop, 11 by Dustin Pedroia at second base, and 16 by Adrian Gonzalez at first base.

The Braves and the Angels played excellent outfield defense. The Braves saw a combined 55 Defensive Runs Saved from Martin Prado, Michael Bourn, and Jason Heyward—each of them either first or second at their position in baseball—while the Angels saved 32 of their 55 total runs in center field because of Mike Trout and Peter Bourjos.

The Reds had the best defensive pitching staff. Reds pitchers saved the team 23 runs defensively, which was seven runs better than the Diamondbacks, the closest team to them.

In 2012, we changed the way we account for defensive shifts, giving credit to teams rather than individuals. Here are the teams that gained the most from shifts:

Most runs saved by shifts in 2012
Team Shifts Runs Saved
Toronto Blue Jays 12
Tampa Bay Rays 10
Cleveland Indians 8
Baltimore Orioles 8
Boston Red Sox 7

The defensive shift is more popular in the American League, especially in the East, where four of the top five top teams reside. Some of that is specific to players. The Indians played in a division with Adam Dunn and Prince Fielder, and the Blue Jays, Rays, Orioles, and Red Sox used a lot of defensive shifts against Carlos Pena, David Ortiz, and Mark Teixeira. Those five hitters were the most heavily shifted players in baseball. Still, there are players on every team that should be shifted, and certain teams are taking advantage more than others.

Here are the worst defensive teams from last season:

The worst defensive teams in 2012
Team Defensive Runs Saved
Colorado Rockies -87
Houston Astros -66
Miami Marlins -47
Cleveland Indians -43
New York Mets -42

The Rockies' defense cost the team 87 runs, the most in baseball by a good margin. They were especially poor on the left side of the infield without a healthy Troy Tulowitzki. A collection of players including Jordan Pacheco, Chris Nelson, and Josh Rutledge combined to cost the Rockies 56 runs at third base and shortstop. Despite their good use of shifts, the Indians were the only American League team in the bottom five.

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