When fans, analysts, and experts alike begin to determine a player's value, defense is often second nature. It doesn't jump off the back of a baseball card like Albert Pujols' home run totals, Ryan Howard's RBI totals, or Jose Reyes' stolen bases. However, defense is a crucial part of the game of baseball. It makes great offensive players elite, and players who lack the offensive wherewithall a positive outlook on their game.
So, how do you go about ranking the best defensive players in baseball?
It's no simple task. First, you must take into consideration that not every player plays the same position. A second baseman, for example, must make all the routine plays with ease, and provide good range to both his left and right side, and have the cunning to make up one half of a double play combination. An outfielder, on the other hand, must have a bevy of tools at his disposal, including range, skill with the glove, athleticism, and a strong arm. How do you rate one over the other?
A second challenge is the number of SABRmetric statistics that the baseball world has to offer, or more directly, their inaccuracy. For example, Juan Pierre's Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) is one of the best in the game, but the man has no arm and couldn't throw out a runner if his life depended on it. Combined with any normal statistics, like fielding percentage and errors, and it is hard to get an accurate measure, so those have been taken with a grain of salt.
Finally, the recipient of the Gold Glove Award will have absolutely no measure on a player's positioning in the rankings. While it shows that a player has earned respect for his defense, the Gold Glove Award is voted on by a number of different players and coaches, and does not provide an accurate measure of a player's defense. I think Derek Jeter, while a great defensive shortstop, winning the award this year over Elvis Andrus is a perfect example.
So how were the rankings calculated? I took into consideration a number of different things. For the first and maybe last time, stats did not play a large role in my rankings. While I looked at and evaluated things like fielding percentage, UZR, runs saved, and errors, I found that defense is hard to put on the back of a baseball card. One of the things that played a large part in my ranking was longevity. I didn't exclude any young defensive wizards like Andrus, but veterans got a big thumbs up. I also looked at a player's "tools," so arm strength and range were also big factors.
So, without any more of a drawn out explanation, here are the 30 greatest defensive players in the MLB today.
*Thought about the rankings some, and made a few changes. Thanks for the feedback BR community! As always, your opinions matter to me the most!