Oct 3, 2015; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Kansas City Royals shortstop Alcides Escobar (2) forces out Minnesota Twins third baseman Trevor Plouffe (24) and turns a double play in the second inning at Target Field. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports
Both the 2015 Central Division Champions and the 2014 American League pennant winner boasted outstanding defensive teams. However, the data is split on the issue of which team was better.
Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) and Fangraphs.com’s DEF metric favored the 2014 A.L. Champion KC Royals. Their 61.1 UZR and 74.8 DEF rating led all of baseball by substantial margins. However, the 2014 Kansas City Royals only ranked third in defensive runs saved (DRS) with 40.
The 2015 Central Division champs also led all of baseball in UZR and DEF, but their numbers weren’t quite as impressive at 50.9 UZR and 56.9 DEF. Despite the more humble numbers, they did enjoy bigger gaps over the second place team in both categories. And, DRS liked the 2015 Kansas City Royals better than the 2014 A.L. Champions. The 2015 KC Royals ranked second in major-league baseball with a 56 DRS, behind only Arizona’s 71.
Really, the two teams are very close on defense. But, I have to give the edge to the 2014 Kansas City Royals. 2014 Omar Infante was better at second base than his 34-year-old late-season replacement Ben Zobrist. Alex Rios is worse than Nori Aoki (despite Aoki’s how shall we say—creative—paths to the ball) in right. Alex Gordon probably lost a little range in left with his July groin injury. The numbers suggest Gordon has collapsed with his UZR/150 (UZR prorated over 150 games) falling to 10.5 after an outstanding 22.6 in 2014. But I suspect that decline is more about a generally better year for left fielders (UZR is a comparison stat) rather than a massive loss in fielding skill from Gordon.
Overall, the defense will once again be an asset for the 2015 Kansas City Royals throughout the playoffs.
Next: 2015 Rotation vs. 2014 Rotation