Collectively, the Chicago Cubs have squeezed 15.2 WAR out of their position players so far this season, which is the most in the National League, and second only to the Yankees (15.4 WAR) in all of baseball.
And while their offensive prowess (103 wRC+, 3rd in the NL) plays an important role in arriving at that total, their defense is arguably what shines the brightest. Indeed, according to FanGraphs, the Cubs have the best defense in all of baseball, and it’s not particularly close.
Take the “Defensive Runs Above Average (DEF)” stat, for example. It measures a player’s defensive value relative to league average and adds in a positional adjustment to compare defensive value across multiple positions. And also according to FanGraphs, 9-10 runs of DEF (above or below the league average of “0”) is equal to one win. So by that measure, the Cubs are not just the best defensive squad in baseball this season, but they might just owe as many as four wins to their defense.
- Cubs: 38.8
- Diamondbacks: 34.5
- Brewers: 31.6
- Braves: 27.1
- Marlins: 23.3
- Cardinals: 19.6
- Nationals: 17.8
- Rockies: 15.0
- Reds: 14.4
- Athletics: 11.3
The Cubs are also on top of baseball in BP’s Defensive Efficiency metric, for what it’s worth. The defense, put simply, is the best in baseball right now.
And boy was that defense on display last night.
In the top of the fifth inning, for example, Javier Baez made a beautiful defensive play (big surprise, right?):
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) June 20, 2018
Stopping the ball at all in this case would’ve have been one thing, but turning and making a throw as accurate and strong as that one while you’re running away from first base over your left shoulder is just nuts.
Obviously, Baez makes spectacular diving stops and flips and throws on an almost nightly basis, but there’s something about the apparent simplicity in this play that’s different. This is a bit of a more traditionally tough play and Baez handles it so smoothly, so effortlessly. Maybe I’m splitting hairs, but there’s just something beautiful about how easy he makes this ridiculously difficult play look.
But the boys weren’t done after that one.
Platinum and Gold Glove winner Anthony Rizzo recorded two outs on one play by himself last night and it might’ve even saved the ball game:
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) June 20, 2018
With no outs in a tie game and a runner on first, Anthony Rizzo snared a high line drive that very well could have skipped all the way to the right field corner. Not only did he snag the ball, he came down and slapped the bag for the immediate double play. If that ball gets over his head, the best case scenario is maybe that goes foul. But if not, it’s at least second and third with no outs. At worst, a run scores, the Dodgers lead 2-0, and they still have a runner on third with no outs. Instead … two outs, nobody on, let’s move this along so Albert Almora can walk it off in the 10th.
And finally, in extra innings, Ben Zobrist made a nice catch in another key-moment of the game:
Although that play doesn’t seem as tough on the surface, that ball was perfectly placed between the right and center fielders, which requires very good communication not to mess up (yielding a drop, or, worse, an injury). That’s especially tricky when you’ve got a guy out there in right who is not playing out there all the time. Fortunately, Zobrist might be the most pro-fundamentals baseball player in the history of the league, so it was relatively smooth sailing.
And if you watch the end of that video, you’ll even see that the leap was, in fact, a necessary maneuver, not just something to make it look fancy. All in all, very good work by the veteran on this one.
So in the end, the Cubs hit the Dodgers with three fantastic defensive plays in this one, showing off their best-in-baseball defense along the way. Without those plays, they very likely lose the game.
Now if they can also just become the best offense and pitching staff, too, they’d be perfect (they already are the best baserunners)!