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A baseball player’s defensive abilities are much harder to measure than his offensive skills or pitching prowess. Thus, for many years, there were no comprehensive statistics to evaluate defense. However, in the twenty-first century, several defensive metrics have been developed, and one of the most popular is DRS.
DRS stands for “Defensive Runs Saved.” It is a statistic that measures a player’s defensive performance. DRS is one of the most commonly used defensive metrics in modern-day baseball analysis.
The Fielding Bible (an offshoot of Sports Info Solutions) introduced DRS during the 2003 season. DRS strives to measure the number of runs above or below average that a player contributes to his team on defense. A positive DRS means a player prevented more runs than the average defender at his position. In contrast, a negative DRS indicates the opposite – the player cost his team more runs than the average defender at his position.
DRS is available on FanGraphs and is used by Baseball Reference to calculate the fielding component of WAR (Wins Above Replacement). Details about calculating DRS are available on the Fielding Bible website.
When Was DRS Created?
The Fielding Bible introduced DRS in 2003. All DRS records since its inception are available online. However, the way DRS is calculated has changed significantly over the years as sabermetricians work to improve its accuracy. Thus, the DRS we use today differs from the original version of the metric that debuted in 2003.
How To Use DRS
All players begin with a DRS of zero, and DRS accumulates as the season goes on. An average defender will stay close to zero, while a good defender’s DRS will go up and a bad defender’s DRS will go down.
A good defender might have +5 DRS at the end of the season and a great defender might have +10. Conversely, a poor defender might end with -5 DRS and a bad defender might finish with -10.
However, it is important to remember that DRS is calculated relative to the average defender at each position. Therefore, it is not very useful for comparing players at different positions. For instance, playing shortstop is much harder than playing first base, so a shortstop with an average DRS could still be a more valuable defender than a first baseman with a good DRS.
It is also critical to remember that DRS is not reliable in a small sample size of defensive innings. It cannot be used to compare players after a handful of games, because one or two plays can greatly skew the numbers. DRS is best used to evaluate players over a full season, or even multiple seasons’ worth of games.
For a similar reason, small differences in DRS are not significant. If a player has one more or one fewer DRS than another player at his position, it does not prove one of those players is a better defender than the other.
What Are the Components of DRS?
Defensive Runs Saved is made up of several component metrics. If you add together the values of each component metrics for any player, you will find his total DRS.
For infielders, the three components of DRS are: Double Play Runs Saved (rGDP), Plus Minus Runs Saved (rPM), and Good Fielding Play Runs Saved (rGFP). For outfielders, rGDP is replaced by Outfield Arm Runs Saved (rARM).
Catchers are evaluated with four component metrics. Good Fielding Plays are still used, but instead of rGDP, rPM, and rARM, the additional components are Strike Zone Runs Saved (rSZ), Stolen Base Runs Saved (rSB), and Catcher’s ERA Runs Saved (rCERA). Finally, DRS for pitchers is also composed of four metrics: rSZ, rSB, rGFP, and rPM.
Some former components of DRS are no longer included in the calculation. This includes Bunt Runs Saved (rBU) for first and third basemen, and HR Saving Catch Runs Saved (rHR) for outfielders. You can learn more about all the components of DRS and how to use them on FanGraphs or the Fielding Bible website.
Where Can I Find DRS?
Complete DRS records are available at FanGraphs for every season dating back to 2003. These records can be found under the “Fielding Leaders” tab on the website and on individual player pages. More details about the history and practical application of DRS can be found on the Sports Info Solutions and Fielding Bible websites.
Who Has the Highest DRS in Baseball History?
The two players with the highest DRS in baseball history are shortstop Andrelton Simmons and third baseman Adrián Beltré. Both players have accumulated 200 DRS, which puts them well ahead of Yadier Molina in third place (184 DRS).
Simmons made his MLB debut in 2012 and has played for the Atlanta Braves, Los Angeles Angels, Minnesota Twins, and Chicago Cubs. He racked up 201 DRS playing shortstop but lost 1 DRS when he briefly played second base in 2022.
Beltré earned all 200 of his DRS at third base, where he played for the Los Angeles Dodgers, Seattle Mariners, Boston Red Sox, and Texas Rangers from 1998 to 2018. He debuted several years before DRS was created, so he did not earn any DRS for his first five big league seasons.
Who Has the Most DRS in a Single Season?
In 2017, Andrelton Simmons accumulated an incredible 41 DRS, the record for most DRS in a single season. He was playing shortstop for the Angels at the time. In second place is center fielder Kevin Kiermaier, who racked up 38 DRS playing center field for the Tampa Bay Rays in 2015.
The team with the most DRS in a single season is the 2022 New York Yankees. The Yankees had a record 129 DRS, becoming just the fifth team – and the first American League team – to surpass 100 DRS in a season.
Who Has the Worst DRS in Baseball History?
The player with the lowest career DRS is Derek Jeter, who had -162 DRS from 2003 to 2014. However, it’s important to note that Jeter player shortstop, one of the most difficult defensive positions. He also played eight seasons before DRS was introduced.
The player with the lowest DRS in a single season is Matt Kemp, who had -33 DRS as a center fielder for the Dodgers in 2010. The team with the lowest single-season DRS in history is the 2005 New York Yankees. They had -120 DRS that year.
What Are the Most Popular Defensive Metrics?
Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) is one of the most popular defensive metrics, but it is not the only one. Others include Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR), Outs Above Average (OAA), and FRAA (Fielding Runs Above Average). UZR is available on FanGraphs, OAA is available on Baseball Savant, and FRAA is available on the Baseball Prospectus website.
Total Zone (TZ) is a defensive metric that can be used to measure the defense of any player in MLB history. It is not as accurate as metrics like DRS and UZR, but it is useful for evaluating players who played before advanced defensive metrics were developed.
DRS, UZR, OAA, FRAA, and TZ are all publicly available on the internet. Therefore, they are used more frequently than private metrics. However, there are still some privately-kept defensive statistics worth knowing. This includes the SABR Defensive Index, which is an amalgamation of various defensive statistics, Runs Effectively Defended (RED) from STATS Inc.
Why Are Errors and Fielding Percentage Ineffective Statistics?
For many years, the only defensive statistics in regular use were errors and fielding percentage. Errors are defensive mistakes fielders make, and fielding percentage is the rate at which defenders make error-free plays.
However, neither of these statistics is very effective at capturing a player’s true defensive value and ability. Being a good defender is about more than avoiding mistakes. The best defenders are the ones who reach the most balls and make the most plays. Sometimes those defenders will make more mistakes, because they are handling a greater number of tough plays than a less skilled defender would.
What Is UZR in Baseball?
UZR stands for Ultimate Zone Rating. It is a defensive statistic that operates similarly to DRS. UZR measures a player’s defensive performance in runs above or below average. Components of UZR include Range Runs (RngR), Error Runs (ErrR), Double-Play Runs (DPR), and Outfield Arm Runs (ARM).
What Is OAA in Baseball?
UZR stands for Outs Above Average. It is a newer addition to the library of advanced defensive statistics. It uses data from Statcast to measure a player’s defensive performance in outs above or below average.
The four main components of OAA come from the four directions a player has to move to field balls in play: in, back, lateral toward 1B, and lateral toward 3B. OAA can also be separated into plays made against left-handed batters and plays made against right-handed batters.
What Is FRAA in Baseball?
FRAA stands for Fielding Runs Above Average. It is a comprehensive defensive metric developed by Baseball Prospectus. It is used to calculate the fielding component of Baseball Prospectus WARP (Wins Above Replacement Player).