The National League’s best defensive outfielder, statistically-speaking, is the Chicago Cubs’ Jason Heyward.
I’m not sure I need that “statistically-speaking” caveat in there, because it’s possible everyone would simply agree that he’s the best, whether the numbers back it up or not. But, the numbers do back it up. By a ton.
Consider that Heyward’s 18 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) are 50% more than the next guys on the list (Ender Inciarte, Billy Hamilton, and Adam Duvall are all tied at 12). Heyward’s Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR), 17.2, is just as far from that group (Hamilton is closest, at 11.6). And pro-rated over 150 games, Heyward’s UZR/150 is still tops, at 27.2.
He’s not just good for an outfielder, either. Those 18 DRS are tied with Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford for the most in the National League by any player. Outfield defense is underrated because most outfielders are mediocre or worse, and very few are so good that they can make a huge impact with their glove over the course of a season, given how few plays they see compared to many of their infield counterparts. But the elite ones? They are disproportionately valuable because of the kinds of damage they save their pitchers from. When a shortstop misses a ball, it usually means one base. When an outfielder can’t get to one, it could mean two or three or four bases.
Look at me going on and on when all I really wanted to do was to share with you this video of Heyward’s latest great play:
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) August 10, 2016
That’s a ball in no man’s land, though it’s funny to watch each of Ben Zobrist and Anthony Rizzo yield to Jason Heyward before it looked like Heyward was really going to be able to go after it. They know how good he is. So they peel off, and he puts it in an extra gear, and makes the catch at the last second. Beautiful.