Help! 3 Playoff Contenders Have Defensive Challenges
By MARK SIMON
As Friday’s trade deadline approaches, there are three contending teams in the bottom 10 in MLB in Defensive Runs Saved. The Phillies, Yankees, and White Sox all seem to be playing for 2021, so it seems a worthwhile exercise to check out where their needs lie.
MLB Rank in Defensive Runs Saved: Last
The Phillies enter Wednesday within 3 ½ games of the Mets in the NL East. Recent reports indicate ownership’s willingness to go for the division and make big moves to do so.
It would behoove them to acquire a shortstop and third baseman, not just because Didi Gregorius and Alec Bohm haven’t hit well this season. They haven’t fielded well either.
Shortstop defense has cost the Phillies 17 runs. Third base defense has cost them 13. Those are worst-in-MLB numbers at both spots. You could make a good case that no team would benefit more from trading for Javier Baez (or Trevor Story) and Kris Bryant than the Phillies would.
Those two positions aren’t the only problematic ones but the Phillies are locked in at both catcher (J.T. Realmuto, -4 Runs Saved) and left field (Andrew McCutchen, -7) given that both are mainstays and have hit more than enough such that they aren’t budging in the lineup.
MLB Rank in Defensive Runs Saved: 25th
The Yankees trail the Athletics by 2 ½ games for the second Wild Card spot, close enough for them to at least consider being a buyer.
Their defense isn’t quite as problematic as the Phillies, but it has notable holes up the middle.
Shortstop Gleyber Torres, who saved 5 runs at second base as a rookie in 2018, has never come close to matching that at either infield spot. His defense has cost the Yankees 6 runs at shortstop.
Neither Rougned Odor nor normally reliable infielder DJ LeMahieu have put up good numbers at second base. Each has cost the Yankees 3 runs there and Tyler Wade has cost them 4.
The Yankees have one good defensive catcher in Kyle Higashioka. But Gary Sánchez plays the most there and he’s at -5 Runs Saved. This could be the third straight season that he finishes with a negative Defensive Runs Saved total.
Getting an outfielder would also fill a need as someone like Starling Marte could slot into center field, allowing Brett Gardner to play left field more often. Though Gardner is currently at -3 Runs Saved in left, his track record indicates that he’s likely the best defensive option ahead of Miguel Andujar and injured outfielder Clint Frazier (who has cost the Yankees 6 runs with his defense in left field).
Defensive Runs Saved Rank: 22nd
The White Sox might be able to get around most of their defensive deficiencies without having to make a deal. Two of their key defenders, center fielder Luis Robert and catcher Yasmani Grandal are recovering from injury. Robert is in Triple-A getting ready to come off the injured list. His injury was a hip injury. Grandal is recovering from a torn tendon in his knee.
Still, there are fillable spots. Grandal’s backup, Zack Collins, hasn’t had a good time of it this year. He ranks last among catchers in Runs Saved at -14 and the stats indicate he’s not a good pitch framer or pitch blocker.
And at second base, the White Sox have tried Nick Madrigal, Leury García, and Danny Mendick, but the three have combined for -10 Runs Saved and Madrigal is out for the season with a hamstring injury.
If the White Sox can convince the Blue Jays that they’re out of the race (a hard sell), perhaps there’s a match for converted shortstop Marcus Semien, who is not only hitting like a superstar (.870 OPS) but fielding like one as well. He leads second basemen in Runs Saved with 11. More realistic might be a deal with a division rival, like the Tigers, for Jonathan Schoop, who is also having a great offensive season and has three years with at least 10 Runs Saved at second base to his credit.
Such a move wouldn’t just improve their defense. It might put the White Sox at the front of the line among AL teams to go to the World Series.
MLB Contenders Defensive Runs Saved Ranks