There is an old adage in the NFL that defense wins championships. Even though the NFL has morphed into a more offensively oriented game, teams such as the Baltimore Ravens and the Seattle Seahawks have still proven that adage correct, as they have won the last two Super Bowls. Yet, can that saying apply to baseball? The Kansas City Royals, a team who have been built upon speed, contact and defense, certainly hope so.
In looking at the top teams in the American League in terms of defensive runs saved above average, it is notable that four of those five teams harbor legitimate playoff hopes. The Baltimore Orioles and Kansas City Royals, ranked first and tied for third respectively, both lead their divisions. The Oakland A’s, ranked second, hold down the first Wild Card spot, while the fifth ranked Seattle Mariners are a game and a half out of the second Wild Card. The only team in the top five that does not have a chance at the playoffs is the Boston Red Sox.
Looking at the list of the top players in terms of defensive runs saved in the American League, the Royals have two of the top five in total zone fielding runs above average. Alex Gordon leads all outfielders with 19 runs saved, ranking second in the American League behind Josh Donaldson. At this point, one of the Gold Glove awards for the outfield should just be permanently reserved for Gordon to take home. Joining Gordon on the list is fellow outfielder Lorenzo Cain, who is tied for fifth overall, and ranks second amongst outfielders, with 14 runs saved.
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Looking at the opposite end of the spectrum, we find two other contending ball clubs at the bottom of the list for runs saved. The Detroit Tigers defensive struggles have been well documented, and their poor defensive reputation certainly appears to be warranted as their defense has cost the Tigers 63 runs this season. As they find themselves in a tight race with the Royals, that 96 run difference could be what keeps the Tigers from winning the Central.
Yet, that is not the worst mark in the American League. That dubious honor belongs to the Cleveland Indians, who defense has cost the Tribe a whopping 87 runs. Like the Tigers, the Indians still find themselves in the race for the Central, but their chances are decreasing with each passing game. Even a league average defense may have been enough to put the Indians in the lead in the Central.
The Royals and the Mariners both find themselves as having below average offenses, hovering right around the four run per game mark. Meanwhile, the Tigers have the best offense in terms of runs per game in the American League, and the Indians are above average as well. The difference between the four clubs appears to be their defenses; while the Tigers and Indians have been let down with the gloves, the Mariners and Royals are winning, in large part, because of their defensive acumen.
That old adage of defense winning championships may not be solely applicable to the NFL. Should the Royals make the playoffs, a lot of credit will be due to their ability to make plays and prevent other teams from scoring.