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And Now, the Worst Team Defenses

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Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

It’s tough not to pick on the Cardinals these days. Last season, they won 93 games and took the NL Central title with a team that combined strong offense, exceptional defense — long a St. Louis tradition — and good pitching; it was their 15th straight season above .500 and fourth in a row reaching the postseason. This year, however, they’ve spent time as the NL’s worst team, and while they’re now merely the third-worst, at 33-46 they’re going nowhere and impressing nobody.

A big and perhaps undersold part of the Cardinals’ problem is the collapse of their vaunted defense, which has often featured five players — first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, third baseman Nolan Arenado, outfielder Tyler O’Neill, and multiposition regulars Brendan Donovan and Tommy Edman — who won Gold Gloves in either 2021 or ’22. Manager Oli Marmol has been tasked with shoehorning hot-hitting youngsters Nolan Gorman and Jordan Walker into the lineup at comparatively unfamiliar positions, as both are blocked by Arenado at third base, their primary position in the minors, and between injuries and offensive issues, lately Edman has been patrolling center field instead of the middle infield. Backing a pitching staff that doesn’t miss enough bats — their 21.1% strikeout rate is the majors’ fifth-worst — it’s all collapsed into an unhappy mess.

Given that context it’s less than surprising that the Cardinals show up as one of the majors’ worst defensive teams using the methodology I rolled out on Thursday to illustrate the best. For that exercise, I sought to find a consensus from among several major defensive metrics, namely Defensive Runs Saved, Ultimate Zone Rating, and Statcast’s Runs Prevented (which I’m calling Runs Above Average because their site and ours use the abbreviation RAA) as well as our catcher framing metric (hereafter abbreviated as FRM, as on our stat pages), and Statcast’s catching metrics for framing, blocking, and throwing (which I’ve combine into the abbreviation CRAA). Each of those has different methodologies, and they 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, and the catching numbers are set off in their own categories rather than included in UZR and RAA. I’ve accounted for the varying spreads, which range from 86 runs in DRS (from 42 to -44) to 25.6 runs in FRM (from 13.8 to -11.8), by using standard deviation scores (z-scores), which measure how many standard deviations each team is from the league average in each category.

I don’t proclaim this to be a bulletproof methodology so much as a reasonable way to spoon through the alphabet soup of defensive metrics. Still, we should generally… slurp?… with caution because even one full season of a single metric may not be enough to get to a player’s underlying skill level, to say nothing of a few hundred innings scattered through half a season. Throughout this piece (as with the last one), I’ll make reference to a fielder’s OAA, DRS, and UZR, and the numbers not only may not match up but may have differing signs, a situation that many people find frustrating. To return to an example I used on Thursday for Rangers second baseman Marcus Semien, his 6 DRS and 5 RAA are contrasted by his 0.8 UZR, but to these eyes, it’s not a matter of which one is “right” so much as it is understanding that he shows up somewhere along the spectrum from slightly above average to solidly above average; with half a season of data, defense is just not as easy to pinpoint as a player’s offensive performance.

Here are the rankings, followed by a couple hundred words about each of the worst teams.

Team Defense Standard Deviation Scores

Team DRS-Z UZR-Z FRM-Z RAA-Z Statc-Z Total2 ▾
Nationals -1.36 -0.64 -1.66 -0.36 -3.74 -7.77
Athletics -2.28 0.01 -1.85 -0.93 -1.17 -6.22
Red Sox -1.07 0.15 -0.97 -2.08 -0.31 -4.29
Cardinals -1.41 -0.90 -0.72 -0.70 0.03 -3.70
Reds -0.93 -0.15 -0.45 -1.16 -0.31 -3.01
Phillies -1.12 -0.22 -0.89 -0.24 -0.49 -2.97
White Sox -1.46 -0.56 0.47 -0.82 -0.14 -2.50
Royals -1.12 -0.34 -0.52 1.02 -0.83 -1.80
Angels 0.42 -0.05 -0.67 -0.13 -0.83 -1.26
Twins 0.66 -0.65 0.32 -1.50 0.03 -1.15
Rockies 0.37 0.28 -0.88 -1.62 0.71 -1.13
Mets -0.83 -0.76 0.98 -0.47 0.37 -0.72
Marlins -0.35 -0.42 0.85 -0.82 0.20 -0.54
Tigers 0.22 -1.80 0.76 0.33 0.37 -0.12
Astros 0.13 0.89 -1.24 0.79 -0.66 -0.09
Rays 1.14 0.21 -1.18 0.79 -1.00 -0.04
Dodgers -0.11 0.31 0.13 -0.02 -0.14 0.17
Cubs 0.18 -0.63 -0.03 0.79 0.20 0.50
Mariners 0.46 -0.89 -0.19 1.36 0.03 0.78
Orioles 0.22 1.28 0.11 -1.16 0.37 0.82
Braves 0.51 -1.74 1.18 -0.59 1.74 1.11
Guardians 0.27 0.23 0.38 0.33 0.20 1.41
Giants 0.18 -0.43 0.82 1.02 0.54 2.13
Diamondbacks 0.85 1.30 -0.85 0.67 0.20 2.17
Yankees 0.80 -0.98 1.78 0.33 1.06 2.98
Pirates -0.21 -0.71 2.17 0.10 1.74 3.09
Padres 0.80 1.73 -0.69 2.05 -0.66 3.23
Blue Jays 1.86 1.67 0.83 0.33 0.71 5.40
Rangers 1.86 1.37 0.63 1.13 1.23 6.22
Brewers 1.33 2.44 1.40 1.59 0.54 7.30

Based on defensive data through June 27. FRM = FanGraphs catcher framing runs. StatC = Statcast catcher framing, blocking, and throwing runs.

As noted, the tables are based on data through June 27, as I wanted to stick with a single point in time for the rankings. That said, the individual values cited below may reflect the one or two games played since then. You can see the actual run values for all but the Statcast catching metrics here, and if you want further background on the difference between these measures, our library is a good place to start but by no means the final word.


The blockbuster trades that involved Max Scherzer, Trea Turner, and Juan Soto netted some promising talent, but that’s not to say it has panned out as planned on the defensive side. CJ Abrams’ -7 RAA is the second-lowest mark of any shortstop, and while his -0.5 UZR and 1 DRS suggest things may not be that bad, last year’s metrics were’t so hot either. The real disappointment and driver of this bottom ranking, however, is the catching. Keibert Ruiz was one of the key pieces in the Scherzer/Turner return, but his play behind the plate has been pretty lousy. His -8.9 FRM ranks dead last, and he’s one run away from completing a clean sweep within the Statcast defensive categories, ranking last with -11 framing runs and -6 throwing runs but “only” second-to-last with -2 blocking runs; meanwhile, his -9 DRS is tied for third-worst. Backup Riley Adams is in the red as far as framing goes, too, and all told, the team’s -22 CRAA is 15 runs worse an any other team. Their -3.74 z-score in this category is the largest in either direction in this whole exercise.

Speaking of 2021 deadline acquisitions, right fielder Lane Thomas (acquired for Jon Lester) has been subpar (-4 RAA, -2.7 UZR, -2 DRS), but he’s hardly the worst offender in the outfield. That dubious title belongs to center fielder Victor Robles, who has cratered relative to last year’s numbers (from 12 to -10 in DRS, 5 to -3 in RAA, and 4.3 to -4.9 in UZR) in just 303 innings; to be fair, he’s now on his second stint on the injured list due to back spasms, which may be a factor. On a positive note, Alex Call has been pretty good in center and left (6 RAA, 5 DRS, -2.0 UZR), and Jeimer Candelario has been strong at third base (5 RAA, 3.8 UZR, 3 DRS) and will likely be a highly-sought rental in next month’s trade talks.


What did you expect given their decrepitude? This ranking is driven mainly by the Athletics’ major league-worst -44 DRS. Center fielder Esteury Ruiz’s -17 DRS and -7.6 UZR both rank as the majors’ lowest marks at any single position, though it’s worth noting those numbers are contrasted by his 0 OAA. Catcher Shea Langeliers has the third-lowest DRS (-12) as well as the second-lowest FRM (-8.5), and backup Carlos Pérez isn’t helping in the latter department (-3.5 FRM). The team’s shortstops have combined for -15 DRS and -6 RAA, and individually, both shortstop Aledmys Díaz and second baseman Tony Kemp have some eye-watering DRS marks (-8 and -7, respectively), though they’re each within a few runs of average via OAA and UZR. Adding injury to insult, their best defensive performance, from right fielder Ramón Laureano (8 DRS and 5 RAA), is now offset by his recent loss due to a right hand fracture, suffered when he was hit by a pitch earlier this month.

Red Sox

A 1-7 skid has knocked the Sox below .500 (40-42), not that they looked like a juggernaut to begin with. With Xander Bogaerts gone to San Diego and Trevor Story likely out until August due to an internal brace procedure on his elbow, the team tried to get by with Enrique Hernández at shortstop, but the going was rough (-7 RAA, -5 DRS, -4.2 UZR), and earlier this month manager Alex Cora said that he’d play more second base and center field going forward. Since then, Pablo Reyes and David Hamilton have gotten the reps at short. The team already switched gears at second base, where Enmanuel Valdez struggled; Christian Arroyo’s gotten most of the time there lately, and he’s been solid, much better than his time in the outfield. Elsewhere in the infield, first baseman Triston Casas‘ glove work has been questionable (-5 DRS, -4 RAA, 0.5 UZR), offsetting his offensive improvement after a slow start; Justin Turner has done well in his limited time at the position, which he hadn’t played since 2016, but his injury-prone nature prevents him from making that his regular gig.

As for the outfield, Fenway Park’s Green Monster is a unique challenge, so it’s tough to ding newcomer Masataka Yoshida too hard, but the numbers aren’t pretty (-7 DRS, -4 RAA, -0.9 UZR). Fourth outfielder Rob Refsnyder has done a commendably average job in his time there and across the other two positions as well. In right, Alex Verdugo has been very good (7 DRS, 5.6 UZR, 2 RAA).


Perhaps the most shocking or at least unsettling thing about the Cardinals’ defense is the sudden decline of the 32-year-old Arenado, a 10-time Gold Glove winner; he’s fallen from 19 DRS to -3, 13.0 UZR to -0.9, and from 11 RAA to -2. Given that he’s missed games due to neck stiffness and back tightness, one wonders if he’s been playing through some larger issues, though it’s worth noting that at least on the offensive side, he’s heated up after a slow start. At second base, Gorman’s been right around average in his 256.2 innings, but Donvoan and Edman have combined for -6 DRS and -3.0 UZR there in 411.1 innings. Edman was stellar while moving around last year, producing 18 DRS, 15 RAA, and 8.7 UZR spread across various positions (mostly shortstop and second), but he’s fallen to 3 RAA, 1 UZR, and -2 DRS.

Meanwhile, Walker has been downright brutal in the outfield corners, accumulating -10 DRS, -6 RAA, and -5.0 UZR in just 310.1 innings; as I noted earlier this week, even in the midst of his 17-game hitting streak — not to be confused with his season-opening one — his defensive woes have knocked him down to replacement level. With Gorman now more than playable at second, Walker should be DHing regularly.

As for the catching, which was the source of an embarrassing debacle earlier this season, Willson Contreras has been subpar. His framing has been nothing to write home about (-3.0 FRM), but the Cardinals knew what they were getting there; of greater concern is that his -4 DRS represents a career low, but that still doesn’t mean they should be playing the weak-hitting Andrew Knizner instead.


With a 17-5 run that has rocketed them into first place in the NL Central, it’s an exciting time for the Reds, though run prevention really hasn’t been their forte; even during this hot streak, they’re allowing 5.1 runs per game. Their infield defense has been a weak spot; they’re in the, uh, red according to DRS at all four positions (-2 at first, -4 at second, -6 at shortstop, -7 at third base), and according to RAA at all but third base. To be fair, the unit is in flux with the return of first baseman Joey Votto, the arrivals of prospects Matt McLain and Elly De La Cruz, and the need to find a place for Spencer Steer given his offense. McClain has played mainly shortstop with a bit of second base, Cruz mainly third base with a bit of shortstop, and Steer third and first with a bit of left field. At the very least, the days of the Reds playing Kevin Newman and Jose Barrero at short — where they’ve combined for -9 DRS, -5 RAA, and -4.1 UZR — are largely if not entirely behind them. Center field has been something of a sore spot, with four players including Barrero and Nick Senzel combining for -7 DRS, -5.8 UZR, and -1 RAA, though TJ Friedl has stabilized the position. Going forward, I’d expect some improvement here, but probably some growing pains as well.


By now you know the story well. The Phillies made it all the way to the World Series last year after overcoming not only a slow start but a defense that featured two DH-caliber corner outfielders in Kyle Schwarber and Nick Castellanos, as well as a brutal left side of the infield in Alec Bohm and Bryson Stott; as a team, they ranked 29th in RAA and 25th in DRS. The signing of free agent shortstop Trea Turner and the shift of Stott to second base was supposed to provide an upgrade, but here they are again.

In left field, Schwarber has the majors’ lowest RAA (-12) and second-lowest DRS (-16) at any single position. In right, Castellanos — who by his own description has worked on improving his focus in the field — has nonetheless put up -7 UZR, -3 DRS, and -2 RAA, which at best represents incremental improvement. Likewise for Bohm, who has split his time at the infield corners due to the season-ending ACL tear of first baseman Rhys Hoskins. Bohm is sharing time with Kody Clemens at first and Edmundo Sosa at third; between the two spots, he has -6 DRS, -2 RAA, and 0.7 UZR. At least Stott has improved with the move (3 DRS, 3 RAA, 1.2 UZR), and center field, anchored by Brandon Marsh with contributions from Cristian Pache and Dalton Guthrie, has been a plus, with the trio combining for 8 DRS, 8 RAA, and 6.7 UZR, though the Phillies traded Guthrie to the Giants last week.

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