While Craig handles the Top 25 Baseball Stories of the Decade, I will bring us to the end of the 2010’s with my own decade retrospective series looking at player performance. Today’s installment will highlight the top-five defensive players of the past decade. In the coming days, we will also look back on pitchers, hitters, base runners, and even playoff series.
Let’s jump into it. The top five defensive players of the 2010’s:
5. RF Mookie Betts, Red Sox
What doesn’t Mookie Betts do well? He’s a perennial MVP candidate with the bat alone. He runs the bases well. He’s an outstanding bowler. Betts is also, according to FanGraphs’ UZR/150 stat, the best defensive player of the decade. He averaged 18.1 UZR per 150 games, the highest rate in the game. His four consecutive Gold Gloves concur. Baseball Reference has Betts as being 112 defensive runs better than average over his six seasons in the majors. And yes, he makes this best-of-decade list despite his first full season occurring in 2015. He’s that good.
4. CF Kevin Kiermaier, Rays
Among outfielders who have played at least 3,000 defensive innings in the outfield, Kiermaier is tops in UZR/150 at 15.1. Betts is second at 14.3. Defensively, there isn’t a single thing that Kiermaier doesn’t do well. He’s fast, gets good jumps on fly balls which results in outstanding range, and has a terrific arm. He owns three Gold Gloves and a Platinum Glove despite only twice reaching 120-plus games in a season among his seven years in the big leagues. Kiermaier leaves a little to be desired offensively, so it speaks to his defensive prowess that the Rays haven’t blinked once when it comes to putting his name in the lineup on a nightly basis.
3. C Yadier Molina, Cardinals
Molina is a no-brainer for this list. He is a nine-time Gold Glove Award winner and a four-time Platinum Glove Award winner. Over the course of his career, he has thrown out would-be base-stealers at a 40 percent clip, much higher than the league’s 28 percent average across his 16 seasons. Molina has also long been highly regarded for his pitch-framing skills, his ability to handle a pitching staff, as well as his game-calling instincts. Molina has been about average with the bat throughout his career and he’s currently a fringe Hall of Fame candidate. If and when he does get into Cooperstown, it will be on the back of his historically great defense.
2. 3B Nolan Arenado, Rockies
We are in an age of incredible third base defense. Adrián Beltré recently retired, but Arenado, Manny Machado, Matt Champan, and Anthony Rendon are still active and already rank among the best defenders of their generation. While defensive metrics actually like a handful of other third basemen ahead of Arenado (he’s seventh in UZR/150 among third basemen with at least 3,000 defensive innings since 2010), the Rockies star is the pinnacle of outstanding defense. Nobody makes incredibly difficult plays look as easy as Arenado makes them look. That’s why, during his seven years in the league, he’s taken home seven Gold Gloves and three Platinum Gloves.
1. SS Andrelton Simmons, Braves/Angels
To me, the player who has best personified “elite defense” over the past decade has been Andrelton Simmons. Like Arenado, he made really hard plays look downright simple. He also, on many occasions, turned garbage into gold, making plays that no other shortstop would make and actually getting an out (or two). Simmons’ range and accuracy are incredible. Since 2010, among all players at all positions, with at least 3,000 defensive innings, Simmons ranks second in UZR/150 at 17.4, trailing only Betts. He ranks first by a wide margin in overall UZR at 112.3. It should come as no surprise, then, that Simmons took home four Gold Gloves and a Platinum Glove. Frankly, he should have seven, one for each of his last seven seasons after debuting as a rookie for 49 games in 2012.