Using Advanced Stats To Determine The Best 2014 MLB Defensive Players

Jason Heyward
Dale Zanine USA TODAY Sports

Chicago White Sox broadcaster, Ken Harrelson (a.k.a “The Hawk), can be heard constantly reminding his viewers of the first rule of baseball: “You have to catch the baseball.” It is a universally held belief that glove work is just as important as scoring runs and attaining outs, but while sluggers and flamethrowers get all the glory, many of the best defensive players are taken for granted. It’s even been joked about that when Gold Glove Awards are handed out, if one player’s defensive work doesn’t stand out, the voters will use offensive statistics to help them make a final decision. So we now take this time to focus on the best of the best on defense based on Felipe’s Ultimate Baseball Advanced Rankings (or FUBAR for short). The goal is not only to praise the best-known players, but also shed some light on the lesser known players that are making an impact in this wild and crazy 2014 Major League Baseball season. And we will periodically be updating these rankings as the season winds down to the end.

Be sure to check out our list of best hitters of 2014.

DEFENSE Using the average total of two advanced defensive metrics, Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) and Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR), we come up with a figure to help determine the best gloves on the field. To qualify for these rankings, players must have played in a minimum of 650 innings. Per FUBAR, the best defensive player, regardless of position is Jason Heyward. Best defensive infielder is Zack Cozart. Before we get to the best at each position, now would be a good time to acknowledge some of the best in each defensive aspect of the game by using advanced statistics. First, here are the best in DRS:

  • Most Efficient Catcher Against the Run: Russell Martin (per Stolen Base Runs Saved or rSB).
  • Best Double-Play Duo: Jonathan Schoop and J.J. Hardy (per Double Plays Runs Saved or rGDP)
  • Best Outfield Arm: Leonys Martin and, of course, Yoenis Cespedes are tied for the top spot in this category (per Outfield Arms Runs Saved or rARM)
  • Highest “Good Fielding Plays” Rating: Jonathan Lucroy (per Good Fielding Plays Runs Saved or rGFP)
  • Best Plus/Minus Rating: Jason Heyward (rPM)
  • Best DRS: Once again, it’s Jason Heyward.

Now, on the UZR side, let’s take a closer look at how these metrics rate the best individual fielders in 2014.

  • Best Outfield Arm: Alex Gordon (per Outfield Arm Runs or ARM)
  • Best Double-Play Duo: Once again, the Baltimore Orioles reign supreme in this category with Schoop and Hardy, but it’s worth nothing that Gordon Beckham and Alexei Ramirez are in second (per Double-Play Runs or DPR)
  • Best Range: Big surprise, it’s Jason Heyward (per Range Runs or RngR)
  • Best at Minimizing Errors: Troy Tulowitzki (per Error Runs or ErrR)
  • Best UZR: Alex Gordon

These are oversimplified explanations for complex equations and processes, but for the most part, when one thinks of defense in 2014, the names mentioned easily personify good fielding in 2014.

All-Defensive Team Here are the best defensive players at each position:

  • Catcher: Salvador Perez–Could be argued that he has been the most fun catcher to watch all season long. No other backstop comes close in terms of defensive prowess.
  • First Base: Adrian Gonzalez–Though not putting up the numbers on offense, he is still one of the best defenders at his position.
  • Second Base: Dustin Pedroia–The Boston Red Sox are going nowhere this season, but Pedroia continues to come to work and give full effort.
  • Shortstop: Zack Cozart–Might be a wreck at the plate, but on the field, he’s proven his worth up the middle.
  • Third Base: Josh Donaldson–More known for his power bat, Donaldson is no slouch at the hot corner
  • Left Field: Alex Gordon–Long regarded as a phenom for his potential hitting prowess, Gordon, the former highly touted third baseman, has made himself a home at left field.
  • Center Field: Jackie Bradley Jr–In a close race at center, Bradley beats out Juan Lagares of the New York Mets.
  • Right Field: Jason Heyward–No surprise here as Heyward has all but cemented a Gold Glove Award for 2014 and as mentioned in our 2014 Hitters’ Capsule, his defense alone is good enough to garner some MVP votes.

All stats courtesy of

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