There's no one perfect formula that takes teams to October success. Front-line starting pitching, a deep bullpen and a powerful offense all help, but nothing is a guarantee. With that said, you won't find many clubs in recent years that went deep in the postseason without excellent defense.And while we
There's no one perfect formula that takes teams to October success. Front-line starting pitching, a deep bullpen and a powerful offense all help, but nothing is a guarantee. With that said, you won't find many clubs in recent years that went deep in the postseason without excellent defense.
And while we often think first of middle infielders, outfield defense can make a big difference too. Think of those 2015 Royals, or last year's Cubs.
Enter Statcast™, and its new metric, outs above average. For a full explanation, take a look here. In short, the statistic provides an indication of outs saved by an outfielder relative to the average, based upon the balls hit toward him.
However, season-long totals can be a bit misleading due to trades, injuries and the like. So instead of team totals, what follows is a look at some of the top current outfield combinations.
Minnesota Twins: Byron Buxton (24) and Max Kepler (8)
In some ways, this year's Twins look a lot like the playoff teams from last decade. They don't strike anybody out, and they can go and get it in the outfield.
Buxton is a wizard, an all-around defensive star who stands seven outs better than any other big league outfielder per OAA. He's joined by Kepler, who ranks 13th at plus-8. Even their third outfielder, Eddie Rosario, isn't bad. He checks in at three outs below average, for a composite plus-29 among their starting flycatchers.
For a team that ranks 14th out of 15 American League clubs in strikeouts, that's a huge boost. The Twins don't have pitchers who overwhelm hitters. They have to catch the ball. The good news is, they do.
Boston Red Sox: Mookie Betts (15), Jackie Bradley Jr. (11)
The Red Sox are the only team with two outfielders who have tallied a score of plus-10 or better. Their third outfielder, Andrew Benintendi, comes in at a not-great minus-6, but don't worry. That composite plus-20 for the three of them is better than any other team's two or three best outfielders.
And, once again, it's for a team that can use it. While the Red Sox do miss bats, they don't get ground balls. Boston ranks third in the AL in strikeouts, but it is third from the bottom in the Major Leagues in ground-ball percentage, ahead of only Seattle and Detroit.
Leaning on strikeouts and fly balls can be a great strategy if you catch the ball. The Red Sox do.
Tampa Bay Rays: Kevin Kiermaier (12), Steven Souza (8)
As of now, the Rays' odds for making the postseason are long. But if they get in, their outfield defense shouldn't let them down. Kiermaier has put up that plus-12 mark in just 89 games, meaning that in a full season, he might be pushing Buxton.
Their third starter is Corey Dickerson (plus-1), making them the only team with two elite starters and a third who is above average. And for another flyout-oriented team (23rd in ground-ball percentage), the trio is a key asset for Tampa Bay.
Honorable mention: Seattle Mariners, Cincinnati Reds, Chicago Cubs
The Mariners are the only team with three players who rate at plus-4 outs or better: Jarrod Dyson (7), Guillermo Heredia (7) and Mitch Haniger (4). However, Dyson is done for the season thanks to a hernia, and his replacement, Ben Gamel, carries an ugly minus-9 rating.
The Reds are missing Billy Hamilton (fractured left thumb) and his plus-8, though Adam Duvall rates at plus-7. And the Cubs have two healthy players at plus-5 or better, but while Jason Heyward (10) is a regular, Leonys Martin (5) comes off the bench.
Matthew Leach is an executive editor for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter and read his columns.