Defending the Defense in Baseball

James WerdermanContributor IMarch 17, 2008


Everybody loves an amazing defensive play in baseball. Whether it's scaling the wall to rob a player of a home run, a high speed, full extension diving catch, or a behind the back flip to turn two.

Defensive plays can change the face of a game.

Since 2001, with the exception of the 2004 Red Sox, every team that has gone on to win the World Series was ranked in the top five in both fielding percentage and errors committed.

Despite that fact, many people don't talk about defense in baseball playing a major part in a team’s success.

Trying to win games while giving a team more than 27 outs is not an easy task. An error at a critical moment can spark a rally, keep an inning alive, and lose a game.

Having a field full of solid defenders can drastically increase a teams odds of winning baseball games.  I'm not just talking about the flashy defenders;  I am talking about players that consistently make the play.

When thinking about defensive stars in today's game, names like Jim Edmonds, Andrew Jones, Scott Rolen, and Torii Hunter come to mind.

But, who is the best at each position?  I will rank the top three starters at each position as well as the three worst starters.   How many of your favorite players will be on the list?


                                            TOP DEFENDERS


1. KEVIN YOUKILIS- Youkilis had a monster year in 2007, setting an MLB record for first basemen by not committing an error in 130 straight games.  Overall, it has been 160 games since he committed an error (also an MLB record).

2. DERREK LEE- Lee has always been regarded as one of the best in the business and his three Gold Gloves in the last five years gives good reason as to why.

3. TODD HELTON- A three-time Gold Glove winner, Helton has been a standout defensive star his entire career. Posting a .999 fielding percentage in 2007, he has shown no signs of slowing down.



1. PLACIDO POLANCO- Polanco has been a shining star in Detroit, going errorless in 683 chances in 2007.  He is a consistent performer on the field and the centerpiece of Detroit's defense.

2. MARK ELLIS- Ellis is one of the most underrated defenders in the league.  He performs day in and day out.  He may not make the flashiest plays around, but there is no denying his ability to be a brick wall at second.

3. ORLANDO HUDSON- Hudson, a winner of three Gold Gloves, is a true joy to watch. He combines natural quickness, sound fundamentals, and unwavering heart to transform himself into baseball's version of a magician, making base hits disappear all year long.



1. DEREK JETER- What can you say?  The Yankees' captain has been nothing if not remarkable during his tenure at shortstop.  The subject of various amazing replays, a three-time Gold Glove winner, and a defensive genius, Mr. November is a model for the position.

2. ORLANDO CABRERA- Cabrera has been very good for a very long time.  He won his first Gold Glove in 2001 and won another one this past season.  His most valuable asset as a defender is his lightning quick reflexes

 3. OMAR VIZQUEL- Vizquel is another player that has been holding down his position for a long time.  An 11 time gold glove winner, including 9 in a row from 1993-2001, he is second only to the great Ozzie Smith among shortstops.



1. SCOTT ROLEN- Rolen is the household name when talking about defensive infielders. His jaw dropping plays have made him a human highlight reel.  He is a seven-time Gold Glover, and although injuries has slowed his offense, his defense is still top notch.

2. DAVID WRIGHT- Not too far behind Rolen is David Wright.  He is a pleasure to watch play and makes plays the average third baseman go to bed and dream about making.  The 25-year-old won his first Gold Glove in 2007.

3. ERIC CHAVEZ- Chavez is one of those players you can count on game in and game out.  A winner of six straight Gold Gloves from 2001-2006, Chavez acted like a vacuum at third base, sucking up ground balls and line drives, while having an absolute cannon of an arm.



1. GREG MADDUX- No surprise here.  Maddux is the best defensive pitcher in the history of the league.  He is the proud recipient of a record 17 Gold Gloves.  Maddux has always prided himself in solid defense and there truly is no better.

2. KENNY ROGERS- Rogers is a five-time Gold Glove awarded pitcher, and his defensive play can be described using one word: heart.  'The Gambler' has always made the extra effort to make the play.  With the exception of Maddux, he is the greatest defensive pitcher of his generation.

3. MIKE MUSSINA- "Moose" is one heck of a defender.   Winning six Gold Gloves from 1996-2003, Mussina has always been a consistent defender, even when his pitching wasn't as solid. 



1. IVAN RODRIGUEZ- Pudge is a 13-time Gold Glove catcher, and for good reason.  He never seems to make a mistake behind the plate and has an absolute cannon of an arm, which he used to throw out over 44 percent of base stealer's in the last three seasons.

2. YADIER MOLINA- Molina is the most feared catcher in the league for opposing baserunners.  In 2007, he gunned down 54.7 percent of people trying to test his arm, and although he didn't have enough opportunities (50) to qualify for the official league leaders, it shows that not too many people have the gall to run against him.

3. DAVID ROSS- Not too many people realize the value Ross has as a catcher.  Better known for his powerful swing, Ross is more than just a formidable catcher.  He threw out 41 perecent of potential thieves, while committing only five errors all season.



1. ICHIRO SUZUKI- A Gold Glove winner the past seven seasons, Ichiro has blessed us with grace and dominance in center field from the day he stepped onto a MLB field April 2, 2001.  He is the only player in the majors that can say he wins a Gold Glove every year, literally.

2. JIM EDMONDS- Sure, people say he is washed up.  They say he has lost a step.  I am sure they must be referring to his offense.  Edmonds is the greatest defensive outfielder of our generation.  He has made some of the most memorable catches in the history of the game.  Nobody can deny his heart in center.

3. ANDRUW JONES- Jones has set the bar high in terms of a standard for defensive outfielders.  He has won a Gold Glove every year since 1998, totaling 11 Gold Gloves. His speed and vision match his determination, giving him the tools to make any catch possible.



                                              WORST DEFENDERS



1. PRINCE FIELDER- Prince's middle name should be "is not a good."  Watching him bat is a treat.  Watching him play first base not so much.  I can't help but think he looks lost at times playing the position his distant father manned for so many years.  No starting first baseman has had as many errors or as low a fielding percentage over the last two seasons.

2. CONOR JACKSON- Jackson has helped boost the Arizona franchise and is a bright young player for them.  But he has a long way to go to become an effective defender. Jackson's problem is his glove.  Not only is he prone to dropping balls hit to him, but also balls thrown to him.

3. RYAN HOWARD- Howard's shoddy defense has been kept in the shadow of his ridiculous offense.  Howard's problem isn't his ability.  His problem is his laziness. He doesn't see plays through, is slow to react, and he looks like he is always thinking about his next at bat.



1. IAN KINSLER- Kinsler has the worst fielding percentage and error total among second basemen over the past two seasons.  Kinsler doesn't seem to have to natural abilities, such as quick reflexes, to play the position at a high level.  With some work, he could definitely improve.  However, he will never be a premier defender.

2. JEFF KENT- Kent does a lot of things to help his club win games, making big defensive plays is not one of them.  Kent has been around for a long time and his defense has never really improved.  He is always around the bottom of the league in errors committed and fielding percentage.

3. CHASE UTLEY- Utley is another one of the Phillies whose overall stellar performance keeps people from taking too much notice of his lackluster defense.  His 43 errors over the past three seasons are no laughing matter.  If he can improve upon his defense, he could become one of the best second basemen ever.



1. HANLEY RAMIREZ- Ramirez is still young.  That's a good thing, because he needs all the time he can get to help improve his defensive ability. Now that Carlos Guillen is playing first base, Ramirez holds the title of worst defensive shortstop around.  His 50 errors over the last two seasons is a frightening total.

2. FELIPE LOPEZ- His 65 Errors over the past three seasons is worst in the bigs. Lopez makes a lot of difficult plays, but his inability to make the easy ones leaves him with the title of a bad defender.  If Lopez could work on his fundamentals, he could become an average defender.

3. DAVID ECKSTEIN- Yes, the little guy tries.  Yes, he has a heart the size of of lion. But, no, he isn't a good defender.  Not even close.  His arm is so weak, he has to throw his entire body into his throws.  He doesn't have good range and tends to overplay balls.



1. MIGUEL CABRERA- Cabrera is a great overall contributor to his team.  He is young, has the passion to win, and has a great attitude.  However, he needs to work on his defense.  His problems on defense stem from his lack of quickness and arm strength. 

2. EDWIN ENCARNACION- Encarnacion has improved his offensive numbers, but his fielding has remained stale.  He is, statistically, the worst fielding starting third baseman in the game.  His error totals and fielding efficiency are horrible.

3. KEVIN KOUZMANOFF- Kouzmanoff has been a major contributor to the Padres.  He has come up clutch in key situations.  However, his defense is an embarrassment.  He lacks the big game moments and drops some easy balls.  He does have the heart to improve and I expect him to.



1. JOSE CONTRERAS- Jose Contreras has the worst fielding percentage of any pitcher in baseball over the last two seasons.  He seems to try to protect himself more than he tries to catch balls, and he is always late covering the bag.

2. DONTRELLE WILLIS- Willis has had more errors than any other pitcher in the last three seasons.  To put things in perspective, Willis has had more errors in the last three seasons than Maddux has had in his last nine.

3. SCOTT KAZMIR- Kazmir has never been a good defender, but in 2007, he posted his lowest fielding percentage since his rookie year.   Kazmir is not one of those pitcher's who doesn't try, he just plain and simple not that skilled.



1. BRIAN McCANN- McCann is the type of catcher who could entice David Ortiz to attempt a stolen base.  Committing 13 errors doesn't help his cause either.  Only two catchers committed more errors last season.

2. JASON KENDALL- Jason Kendall is worse than McCann throwing out base runners, gunning down just over 15 percent.  He committed nine errors last year and hasn't shown any signs of improving.

3. YORVIT TORREABLA- Torreabla was a key piece in the Rockies' ride to the World Series last year.  His defense, however, was not one of those helpful attributes he brought to the table.  Throwing out a pathetic 19 percent of base runners committed seven errors.



1. PAT BURRELL- Burrell is nothing short of an embarrassment in left field.  He posted a pathetic .948 fielding percentage in 2007 while committing 10 errors.  Burrell is slow and flat footed in the outfield and needs to improve his reads on deep fly balls.

2. JEREMY HERMIDIA- Hermidia is a solid overall player, but his defense is horrible.  He has the speed to get to most balls.  However, the routes he takes to get to the balls are sometimes questionable.  He makes a lot of mistakes and his nine errors last season if proof of it.

3. MANNY RAMIREZ- If it weren't for Big Papi, Manny would undoubtedly be a designated hitter.  He is a notoriously bad defender.  Although he has made some improvements on his error total, errors aren't what make him a less than stellar defender.  He has been accused of being lazy and not giving it his all on every play.


So, there is my list of the best and of the worst.  I hope you enjoyed reading my article. I look forward to reading your comments and any input you have.