The 2016 Chicago Cubs are known for a great many things.
They have the best record in baseball, the reigning 2015 NL Cy Young, Rookie of the Year, and Manager of the Year, the effective National League ERA leader, a killer offense, and an increasingly dominant looking bullpen.
They are known for a great many things, but defense isn’t really one of them. Of course, we know they have a multiple gold glove winner in right field, and a few candidates sprinkled throughout the rest of the starting lineup. And we know Javy Baez makes a crazy play almost every day.
But if you asked most Cubs fans, I’m not sure that defense would be atop their list of Cubs proficiencies.
Except they’d be wrong. According to at couple different defensive metrics, the Chicago Cubs boast not only a good defense, they have the single best defense in all of baseball.
At Today’s Knuckleball, Evan Davis discussed the recent explosion from Kyle Hendricks and attributed some of his success to a solid group of pitch framers and the best defense in baseball – which got me thinking. Sure they’ve been good, but the best in baseball? That can’t be right can it? Yup.
According to two different metrics, the Cubs own the best defense in all of baseball and it isn’t even particularly close.
DRS Leaders (Defensive Runs Saved):
- Chicago Cubs: 55
- Houston Astros: 44
- San Francisco Giants: 32
- Los Angeles Dodgers: 28
- Toronto Blue Jays: 28
Defensive runs saved is a defensive (counting) statistic that rates individual players as above or below average in terms of number of runs. You can read a full, detailed description of how the statistic is calculated here. When you add up all of the individual defensive runs saved for the Chicago Cubs, you wind up with a positive 55 DRS. The Athletics, for reference, are last in the league with a -65 DRS. According to this Metric, the Chicago Cubs are the very best in baseball, and again, they are the very best by 11 whole runs. That’s an enormous gap.
But it’s not the only measure by which they come out on top.
Over at Baseball Prospectus, the Chicago Cubs defense leads the league by another defensive metric, known as Park Adjusted Defensive efficiency.
PADE Leaders (Park Adjusted Defensive Efficiency):
- Chicago Cubs: 6.47
- Toronto Blue Jays: 3.31
- Los Angeles Dodgers: 2.89
- Atlanta Braves: 1.88
- San Francisco Giants: 1.76
Park adjusted defensive efficiency measures the percentage of balls in play a team’s defense converts into outs, including a park adjustment factor. You can read a full, detailed description of how the statistic is calculated here, but suffice it to say, in their example a score of 4.30 is considered “Excellent,” or the highest possible relative tier. The Cubs currently sit more than two full points ahead of that at 6.47. And, although these rankings come in a fairly different order, four out of the five teams are the same, lending credence to the belief that the Cubs really do lead the pack by a wide margin. For reference, the Diamondbacks have the lowest PADE in 2016, with a score of -4.38.
So whether they are known for their defense or not, the Cubs are among the very best in the game. Actually, that’s far too soft a conclusion. The 2016 Chicago Cubs have the best defense in baseball by at least two measures and it’s not even close. Maybe they should be known for it after all.
Brett Taylor contributed to this post.