Our weekly examination of the skills that comprise the "five tools" of baseball shifts to the defensive side of the game. In the past, metrics that measure a player's defensive value were somewhat scarce; today, however, there are several ways to accurately gauge how much a player is contributing from
Our weekly examination of the skills that comprise the "five tools" of baseball shifts to the defensive side of the game. In the past, metrics that measure a player's defensive value were somewhat scarce; today, however, there are several ways to accurately gauge how much a player is contributing from that side of the game.
One thing that hasn't changed -- defense has always been vital to a team's long-term health. Contenders usually don't have many holes in this area. In this week's American League Central notebook, we examine the players who are a step above the rest in the category of defense:
Indians: Roberto Pérez
We didn’t forget that Francisco Lindor has enough web gems to fill a 15-minute highlight reel, but what Pérez did in his first full season behind the plate last season put him in some elite company. Despite playing through bone spurs in his ankle, the 30-year-old compiled a franchise record .997 fielding percentage (three errors in 1,137 total chances) and did not record a passed ball in 118 games (993 2/3 innings). He was the only catcher in the Majors to catch over 100 games without a passed ball and is just the fourth backstop since at least 1930 to work a minimum of 118 games behind the plate without allowing one. The last catcher to do so was Johnny Bench in 1975. Pérez’s plus-29 defensive runs saved outpaced all other AL catchers by at least 17 runs and was the second-highest total by a catcher since Baseball Info Solutions began tracking the metric in 2003. The security his mitt provides his pitchers helped allow the Tribe’s staff to record the fourth-lowest ERA (3.79) of all 30 clubs last season. -- Mandy Bell
Royals: Alex Gordon
Who has the best glove on the Royals? There is no debate: Left fielder Alex Gordon.
Gordon's mantel is full: He has seven Gold Glove Awards, along with numerous other fielding awards. He is a three-time winner of the Wilson Defensive Player of the Year Award, and was a Platinum Glove winner in 2014.
And Gordon’s 98 career assists are not only a franchise record, but that is tied with Gerardo Parra for the most among left fielders since 2010.
"There’s really no secret how Alex does it," former manager Ned Yost once said. "He works his tail off. You watch him during batting practice every day and he attacks every ball hit his way like it’s the seventh game of the World Series. He never stops working." -- Jeffrey Flanagan
Tigers: JaCoby Jones
Jones led Major League outfielders with 23 defensive runs saved in 2018 before dropping to minus-13 DRS last year. Despite a drop-off, he remains a master of the highlight play, speeding towards left-center field and climbing the fence to bring back a would-be home run from Victor Robles last June. His speed and athleticism make him a prototypical center fielder for spacious Comerica Park. A healthy start would go a long way toward helping Jones regain his defensive prowess, but if he struggles, the Tigers have another defensive wizard in center in training in former first-round pick Derek Hill. -- Jason Beck
Twins: Josh Donaldson
Donaldson is a technician. His close attention to the mechanical elements of his swing has been well documented over the years, and that looked to extend to his defensive work in a month of Spring Training with the Twins. With crisp movements, sure glovework and little wasted movement from even the earliest days of camp, Donaldson had every bit the look of the anchor that the Twins hope will bring some stability to the left side of the infield after years of uncertain defense from both Miguel Sanó and shortstop Jorge Polanco. Another visible sign of Donaldson's confidence and knowledge in his craft was his work on the back fields with prospects Royce Lewis and Travis Blankenhorn -- essentially serving as another infield coach for the up-and-comers.
Donaldson hadn't really been able to show that defensive prowess on the field in the Statcast era due to injuries, but he returned to form in a full and healthy 2019 season in which he was worth eight outs above average, ranking him third in the Majors at his position behind only Nolan Arenado and Matt Chapman -- the Platinum Glove Award winners in each league. There are also strong arguments to be made here for Byron Buxton and Max Kepler, but given how ambiguously the "glove" tool is defined and the fact that Buxton was highlighted for his speed and range in center field last week, it felt right to give this one to Donaldson, whose defensive metrics stem more extensively from his technique, reaction and hands. -- Do-Hyoung Park
White Sox: Adam Engel
Luis Robert has the potential to be a top-flight defensive player in center, as does third baseman Yoán Moncada and Nick Madrigal, when he arrives in the Majors at second base. But as of now, the best glove on the White Sox belongs to Adam Engel. In the 2018 season, when Engel played a career-high 143 games and had a career-high 463 plate appearances, Engel was named a finalist for the American League Gold Glove in center field.
Engel consistently plays one of the shallowest centers of anyone in baseball but has the sprint speed to close and make both the routine and spectacular plays. In that ’18 season, Engel went over the fence at Guaranteed Rate Field three times in one week to take away home runs. He was among the Top 5 in outs above average, per Statcast, during both the 2017 and 2018 seasons. And while his role figures to be reduced in the upcoming season, Engel still provides a valuable presence off the bench for a team ranked 25th in defensive fWAR during the ’19 campaign. -- Scott Merkin
Alyson Footer is a national correspondent for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @alysonfooter.