Fay: Reds have the best, most flexible defense in MLB

CINCINNATI -- If you believe in defensive metrics, the Reds have the best defense in Major League Baseball.

Fangraphs rates the Reds first with an overall defensive rating of 9.8. The Giants at second at 9.4. As points of reference, the St. Louis Cardinals (-10.7) and the Pittsburgh Pirates (-12.7) are rated the worst in MLB.

The Reds also lead in Ultimate Zone Rating/150 and are tied with Tampa Bay for Defensive Runs Saved, according to Fangraphs.

Those ratings are based on the numbers.

The Reds pass the eye test as well. Manager Bryan Price points to the defense as a reason the Reds are hovering around first place.

"I don't think we have a weak spot defensively," Price said.

The numbers bear that out. Fangraphs, in fact, rates every Red except Joey Votto in the 10 at their position in the majors. Votto is rated 14th. The others: Eugenio Suarez, first at third base; Tucker Barnhart, third at catcher; Zack Cozart, fourth at shortstop; Adam Duvall, fourth at left field; Billy Hamilton, fourth at center field; Scott Schebler, eighth at right field; and Jose Peraza, ninth at second base. Brandon Phillips, by the way, rated 18th at second. 

The remarkable thing is Cozart, Votto and Barnhart are the only ones playing the position in which they started the minors.  

"To be able to move Adam Duvall from a corner infielder into left field and have him play Gold Glove-caliber defense, you couldn't have seen that happening," Price said. "You couldn't have seen the transition with Suarez moving from shortstop to third base happening so quickly.

"Even Peraza getting reps at second base. He gets better every day."

Price says Cozart and Hamilton are the keys.

"You've got your stalwart out there with Cozart captaining the infield," Price said. "I think the commodity of having a veteran player in the middle of the diamond makes everyone around him better. Suarez and Peraza can learn a lot  from watching the way Zack plays the game and what he's willing to share.

"I haven't seen everybody, but I don't imagine there's a better center field than Billy Hamilton."

Hamilton is the fastest man in baseball and, despite being relatively new to center field (he started at a shortstop), he has great instincts. His speed allows Duvall and Schebler to guard the lines.

"We're able to cut a lot of balls off that might be doubles," Schebler said.

Defensive improvement comes from work. The Reds, largely a young group, have bought into that.

"I don't even have to watch my guys anymore," outfield coach Billy Hatcher said. "I know they're going to be out there doing batting practice, shagging balls, getting the reads off the bat."

Suarez is a living, fielding example of the improved defense. He led MLB third basemen with 23 errors last year. He had one so far this year.

"Freddie Benavides deserves the credit," Price said. "You have to have the athleticism to do it. But Freddie has made a huge difference with (Suarez's) footwork. That's what they talk about. ... It's been miraculous."

Benavides and the infielders are out at 4 p.m.  working on drills before batting practice.

"I thought it would be easier because the throw is closer," Suarez said. "But it's been hard. That ball gets on you much faster. I keep working hard every day."

The numbers say the work is paying off.

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