The Best MLB Defender at Every Position for the 2021 Season

Brandon Scott@@brandonkscottFeatured Columnist ISeptember 20, 2021

The Best MLB Defender at Every Position for the 2021 Season

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    Joe Puetz/Associated Press

    It's refreshing this season not to worry about statistical anomalies in baseball.

    There had never been a 60-game season in the history of MLB, so it was difficult to know what to make of the performances.

    With the game closer to being back to normal, we can safely evaluate the best defenders in the league.

    We start the list with a couple of older players who are still showing the younger ones how to field their position.

Pitcher: Zack Greinke, Houston Astros

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    Reed Hoffmann/Associated Press

    Even at age 37, there still is not a pitcher who fields his position better than the six-time Gold Glove Award winner Greinke.

    Part of this is because Greinke takes so much pride in it. Greinke is first to tell you he considers himself as much of an athlete as he does a pitcher, so much that he has a friendly rivalry going with teammate Lance McCullers Jr. on who's more athletic.

    McCullers, 27, told me a few weeks ago he's clearly the better athlete because he's 10 years younger. But age hasn't stopped Greinke from playing elite defense.

    Just to get a sense for Greinke's enthusiasm as a fifth infielder, consider that he has helped turn six double plays this season, more than any other pitcher.  

    Honorable Mention: Adam Wainwright

Catcher: Willson Contreras, Chicago Cubs

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Contreras is the last man standing after the Cubs' fire sale of their 2016 World Series core at the trade deadline.

    What Contreras brings to the plate from the batter's box is well-known, but he's been excellent behind it as well this season.

    Contreras is second in defensive WAR among catchers, and he has a slightly higher caught stealing percentage than the WAR leader Jacob Stallings.

    Contreras is hitting below his career slash line, but he's shown steady improvement behind the plate. The question now is whether the Cubs plan to sign him to an extension, or if this is his curtain call.

    Honorable Mention: J.T. Realmuto

First Base: Paul Goldschmidt, St. Louis Cardinals

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    The St. Louis Cardinals' Paul Goldschmidt has won a few Gold Glove Awards in his career, but it has been a few years.

    This year's performance should get Goldschmidt his fourth prize.

    Among qualified first basemen, Goldschmidt is by far the leader in defensive runs saved (10), while the next best behind him is the Houston Astros' Yuli Gurriel with six.

    Goldschmidt also leads first basemen in ultimate zone rating.

    It is no coincidence that the teams with the two best first baseman (Goldschmidt and Gurriel) are also the top teams in outs above average and runs prevented.

    Honorable Mention: Yuli Gurriel, Houston Astros

Second Base: Tommy Edman, St. Louis Cardinals

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    This has been a breakout season for St. Louis Cardinals second baseman Tommy Edman.

    In last year's shortened season, Edman was named to the roster for summer camp and became the team's starting third baseman. He slashed .250/.317/.685 with five home runs and 26 RBI.

    This year, he was moved to second base with Kolten Wong leaving for the Milwaukee Brewers in free agency, and after the Cardinals traded for Nolen Arenado from the Colorado Rockies.

    Edman is slashing .267/.313/.397, and he leads all second baseman in doubles.

    More importantly, he's been the best at his position defensively.

    The 26-year-old Edman leads all second baseman in outs above average (12) and runs prevented (nine). New York Yankees second baseman Rougned Odor is next closest with eight outs above average and six runs prevented.

    Honorable Mention: Rougned Odor, New York Yankees

Third Base: Nolan Arenado, St. Louis Cardinals

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    You're noticing a theme here.

    The Cardinals, simply put, have the best defensive infield in baseball. Between the reliable Goldschmidt, the emerging Edman, and Nolen Arenado, it's hard to make plays against this group.

    Arenado is one of the best to ever play the position, with eight straight Gold Glove Awards from 2013-2020. He didn't slow down after arriving to the Show-Me state.

    Arenado leads all third baseman in home runs (32) and RBI (99). He's fourth in outs above average and runs prevented, respectively. Arenado's ultimate zone rating also ranks fourth among third basemen.

    Arenado is tied for third in fielding percentage (.974) and defensive WAR among third basemen (1.0).

    Honorable Mention: Matt Chapman, Oakland Athletics

Shortstop: Carlos Correa, Houston Astros

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    The fact Carlos Correa has never won a Gold Glove seems criminal, but it's likely because of him struggling to stay healthy throughout his career.

    The former No. 1 overall pick brings it both at the plate and in the field.

    Correa, who is in a contract year and could be the most coveted free agent this offseason, entered Sunday’s game ranked fifth in the American League in WAR (5.9), eighth in runs (94) and 10th in on-base percentage (.366).

    Correa leads all MLB shortstops in defensive WAR (2.7).

    There are going to be a handful of talented shortstops on the market soon: Correa, Corey Seager, Trevor Story, Javier Baez.

    Correa, approaching his 27th birthday this month, is the youngest and best of them all.

    Honorable Mention: Nick Ahmed, Arizona Diamondbacks

Left Field: Andrew Benintendi, Kansas City Royals

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    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    Benintendi's bat has really come alive in September. He's slashing .412/.440/.647 for the month and has three games in September with four or more hits.

    During a recent seven-game stretch against the Baltimore Orioles and Minnesota Twins, Benintendi rattled off a .536/.548/.964 slash line with three homers, three doubles, a pair of walks, 14 RBI and four runs.

    Benintendi has also emerged as a top-tier Major League left fielder. He leads his position among qualified players in defensive WAR. Only Andrew McCutchen has started more games at the position.  

    Honorable Mention: Tyler O'Neill, St. Louis Cardinals

Center Field: Michael A. Taylor, Kansas City Royals

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    Taylor leads all center fielders with a defensive WAR of 2.3 and his top five in fielding percentage (.991).

    Taylor is also the leader in outs above average and runs prevented.

    Only the Baltimore Orioles' Cedric Mullins and Cleveland's Myles Straw have more putouts in center.

    Taylor was mostly a reserve in the seven years he spent with the Washington Nationals, but he’s emerged as a star in center field for Kansas City.

    It's a cool story, considering he began his career playing shortstop and struggling to develop at that position. But now he's doing just fine in center field.

    Honorable Mention: Trent Grisham, San Diego Padres

Right Field: Max Kepler, Minnesota Twins

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    Joe Puetz/Associated Press

    This one is tough because Kepler has been a disappointment offensively, but he's been money on the defensive end.

    The Star Tribune even questioned whether to still consider Kepler a rising star, considering his underwhelming offensive performance since hitting 36 home runs in 2019.

    Kepler's slash line is .202/.305/.404, which leaves a lot to be desired. But in right field, he's elite.

    Kepler leads right fielders in outs above average (seven) and is tied with Joey Gallo for the most runs prevented (six).

    Honorable Mention: Mike Yastrzemski, San Francisco Giants