In most sports, they say that defense wins championships. But it’s funny how we don’t always seem to hear that about baseball. In the MLB, most fans and pundits will agree that elite pitching is the biggest factor in winning the World Series. We always seem to forget the role that good defense can play in support of good pitching.
At the same time, we pay a lot less attention to defensive metrics than the multitude of statistical categories that relate to a player’s offensive prowess. Nevertheless, defense is a vastly underrated aspect of baseball, and the players who excel in that part of the game deserve to be recognized.
These are the best defensive players at each position heading into the 2020 season.
Pitcher: Jacob deGrom
Technically, deGrom doesn’t have the Gold Glove Awards to back up his defensive prowess, but all you have to do is watch him field his position to know that you can’t do it any better.
For a guy who throws in the upper 90s, deGrom finishes his windup in the perfect position to become a fielder.
It’s worth noting that deGrom was a shortstop in college, so it shouldn’t be that surprising that he’s an excellent defensive player despite standing 6-foot-4.
Catcher: J.T. Realmuto
Not only is Realmuto one of the best offensive catchers in the game, but he also does it on the defensive end. A few years ago, Yadier Molina would have been a given as the best defensive catcher in the game, but with Realmuto in the prime of his career, he deserves recognition after taking the Gold Glove away from Molina in 2019.
Realmuto's quick enough to jump on bunts in front of the plate and he has the arm strength to throw out runners trying to steal bases. Most importantly, Realmuto is one of the best in baseball at getting his body in front of pitches in the dirt, preventing a lot of balls that would otherwise be wild pitches.
First Base: Matt Olson
This is a close call with Paul Goldschmidt and a few other first basemen making a strong argument, but Olson has won back-to-back Gold Gloves and established himself as the premier first baseman in the game right now.
For a guy who’s 6-foot-5 and can mash home runs the way Olson has the last few seasons, he’s also awfully nimble around the first-base bag.
Second Base: Kolten Wong
Wong has been inconsistent at the plate during his career in the majors. However, there’s no doubt that he stands out above the rest when it comes to his defense, which is why the Cardinals keep him in the lineup.
Wong won his first Gold Glove in 2019 after ranking first or second in all of the major defensive metrics among second basemen.
Wong has sure hands and incredible athleticism in short bursts, which helps him make difficult plays look routine. Other second basemen may make more highlight-reel plays, but Wong is the most reliable and consistent fielder at the keystone baseball has at the moment.
Third Base: Nolan Arenado
In fairness, there are several outstanding third basemen in baseball. However, the position is a no-contest with Arenado taking home seven straight Gold Glove Awards and three consecutive Platinum Glove Awards.
He’s got the arm, the instincts and the quickness to handle the hot corner. More importantly, Arenado works as hard as anyone at his defense and seems to get even better every year.
But that's why he's one of the best players in baseball.
Shortstop: Javier Baez
Okay, let’s just agree that it’s virtually impossible to pick only one shortstop here. After all, these guys play the position because they have world-class athleticism that allows them to play the most difficult spot on the diamond.
His range is utterly phenomenal, and he backs it up with glove work, soft hands and arm strength that are equally impressive.
Every skill one needs to play shortstop at a high level is a skill that Baez possesses in abundance. You just won’t find a shortstop who’s more impressive or more enjoyable to watch.
Left Field: Marcell Ozuna
After playing center field early in his career, Ozuna was able to make an easy transition to left field — and he's stood out even more in his new home.
After winning the Gold Glove in 2017, he’s somehow been overlooked the past couple of seasons. However, Ozuna still has the range and arm strength to handle center field, which makes him an elite defensive player in left.
The fact that he hasn’t become an automatic Gold Glove winner in left field is enough to make one question the voters.
Center Field: Kevin Kiermaier
Kiermaier doesn’t impress too many people with his bat, but the guy can flat-out get it in center field. The only criticism for Kiermaier is that he will sometimes put too much effort into being a hero and end up getting hurt.
He failed to win the Gold Glove in 2017 and 2018 because he missed large chunks of the season because of injury.
In fairness, there are a lot of great center fielders in baseball, but Keirmaier literally catches everything.
Right Field: Mookie Betts
With four straight Gold Gloves and counting, there is little doubt that Mookie Betts is the premier right fielder in baseball these days. Of course, Betts had the advantage of playing center field early in his career and then making the transition to right field, where his skills stood out even more. However, Betts also spent most of his time in the minors playing second base.
Betts' development from minor league second baseman to Gold Glove right fielder has been impressive to watch and a testament to his incredible talent and athleticism. In fact, it’s that talent and athleticism that allows Betts to improve his defense the more time he spends in right field.
Photo: Getty Images