Top eight MLB defensive stars heading into 2017

Manny Machado of the Baltimore Orioles

When it comes to measuring top players, offensive numbers seem to be the go-to statistics, but that’s just not fair. We often forget that an individual can still be a star for his team by dominating on the other side of the ball.

From a web-gem from a two-time Gold Glove Award winner who can prove himself at a hitter’s park or an outfielder who gives his pitcher an extra amount of confidence, defense matters.

While these guys may not be the kings of the batter’s box, they do prove that defense can certainly win championships. Here are eight top MLB defensive stars to watch for this upcoming season.

Kevin Pillar, centerfielder, Toronto Blue Jays

Kevin Pillar

When it comes to Kevin Pillar, defensive skills are what makes him stand out. He’s not going to be known for his power, but 22 total defensive runs saved in 2015 following by 21 last season in the same category shows he’s a weapon to have in the outfield. Especially for a team that plays all of their home games in a hitter’s park.

Pillar also possesses a 21.4 Ultimate Zone Rating in runs above average. He’s a pitcher’s dream as a teammate, especially when you look at his putout numbers.

And his unlikely fielding percentage? It sits at a 70.4-percent. That’s the highest number you will see on this list. Pillar is a defensive star among stars in MLB.

Nolan Arenado, third baseman, Colorado Rockies

Anyone on defense playing at Coors Field will have their work cut out for them. Especially for someone playing at the hot corner.

Still, after four Gold Gloves (one each big league year) and multiple All-Star spots, Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado is not only phenomenal in the box, but with his glove, too.

Inside Edge measured Arenado at having an average 48.8-percent unlikely rating, which means he has a 10-to-40-percent chance of successfully fielding balls coming to him on plays at an “unlikely” rating. He also spent his last two seasons among the top 10 in outs made.

Manny Machado, third baseman, Baltimore Orioles

In 2013 Baltimore third baseman Manny Machado had 35 defensive runs saved in almost 1,400 innings of play. Those numbers have dwindled, but he stands at a 44-percent in unlikely plays rating.

And yes, that’s pretty good.

His fielding percentage increased since 2015, he is not selfish when it comes to assists and maintains stellar numbers with putouts.

He is the recipient of two Gold Gloves and a Platinum Glove Award as well.

He also does things like this:

There aren’t many players who can pull that off on a regular basis.

Brandon Crawford, shortstop, San Francisco Giants

The thing that is most likable about Brandon Crawford is how undervalued he is. This is not a bad thing. He’s a number 19-ranked (ish) shortstop when it comes to average draft position if you’re a fantasy guy or girl.

But when it comes to his defense, he stands out.

Whether it’s a web-gem play or having a fielding Bible (DRS) average of 19.5 over the last two seasons, he gets the job done. He’s also the king of starting double plays.

He remains one of the best shortstops in the game, despite a minute amount of notoriety. But like previously mentioned players, that’s what makes him so great.

Dustin Pedroia, second baseman, Boston Red Sox

Saying Dustin Pedroia is a “vacuum” wouldn’t be a bad nickname to call him. Anything within a five-mile radius seems to be scooped up.

That’s a bit of an exaggeration, but you get my point.

A resume filled to the brim with World Series Championships, a Rookie of the Year, four Gold Glove Awards with as many All-Star roster spots on a prestigious team is certainly brag-worthy.

Pedroia’s defensive runs saved aren’t as stellar as others you’ve seen on the list, but in 2015 his unlikely-percentage sat at a 50-percent rate. That’s ridiculous.

Paul Goldschmidt, first baseman, Arizona Diamondbacks

Sometimes it’s difficult to measure the defensive abilities of a first baseman. But a successful first baseman can truly shape your infield. And when you are playing half of your games at a park at high altitude like they have at Chase Field, the ball will come your way fast.

A two-time Gold Glove Award winner, Paul Goldschmidt had a stellar season in 2015. He’s not known for his DRS numbers, but at the first base position, that’s not going to be the case.

His defensive numbers are above average, but the 74 baseball scoops in 2013 was ridiculous.

He also creates a wall and elongates his body enough to make the defense adore him that much more. And remember, those scoops make a world of difference.

Mookie Betts, outfielder, Boston Red Sox

Feb 13, 2017; Lee County, FL, USA; Boston Red Sox right fielder Mookie Betts (50) runs on the field during reporting day for pitchers and catchers at JetBlue Park. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

In 2016, Mookie Betts became one of the cornerstones to the Boston Red Sox’s success. He’s been in MVP talks over his last two seasons when it came to his bat, but let’s not forget about his defensive capabilities.

He had a ridiculous 32 defensive run saves last season in and is above average in just about every category of fielding on the Inside Edge fielding categories.

He also presents value in the outfield at home when dealing with Fenway Park’s ballpark factors. The green monster will gobble up home runs, but that can only take you so far. The extra-base hits are a thing of beauty for someone in the batter’s box, so having Betts out there to tone those down is a positive.

Coming off of a season where he could have been named the MVP, expect him to come out ready to make a case for himself in 2017.

Kevin Kiermaier, centerfielder, Tampa Bay Rays

In mid-March, the Tampa Bay Rays signed Kevin Kiermaier to a six-year, $53.5 million contract extension.

Look at these numbers.

Kiermaier had 42 DRS in 2015 and 25 last season. Adding to the fact that his defensive value is above average, this makes a case for why the team wants to keep him around. He has support from his ace as well.

“If it’s not caught, then literally nobody in the world would have caught it,” said Chris Archer

His glove has always stood out more than what he can bring to the batter’s box, but that doesn’t take away his overall value.

About the author

Jessica Kleinschmidt

Jessica Kleinschmidt

Jessica is a sports writer with an obsession for baseball. You can catch her in the stands or in the media booth. She's the one with the big hair. In addition to Sportsnaut, Jessica has been featured on Bleacher Report, Fox Sports, and MLB Nation.