The Best Defensive Team Of The Decade?

I think most people know that the Seattle Mariners put a good defense on the field this year. I’m not sure many people realize that this may be one of the best collection of defenders we’ve ever seen.

The M’s currently lead baseball in UZR by a huge margin. They are +84.5 runs above average, more than 20 runs ahead of second place Tampa Bay. Their team UZR total is the highest of any club in our data set, which goes back to 2002. In fact, the Mariners are only the fourth team in the last eight years to post a UZR over +70. The M’s passed that mark a month ago.

Amazingly, the team has achieved a record setting UZR despite making 102 errors. Their .982 fielding percentage ranks 23rd in baseball, and they have lost 13 runs from their UZR total thanks to the miscues – only the Nationals have cost themselves more runs via the error.

In fact, if we just focus on range, which is what most people associate UZR with, the Mariners are a staggering +91.2. Last year, the Rays put a track squad on the field and led baseball in Range Runs at +69.0, and they’re basically matched that with +62 range runs this year.

The 2008 Rays got to the World Series in large part because of how good their defenders were at covering ground. The 2009 Mariners have been 30% rangier than the 2008 Rays. There’s a reason the team leads the American League in ERA despite ranking 9th in the league in FIP. Franklin Gutierrez, Ichiro Suzuki, and Adrian Beltre have formed the nucleus of an historically great defensive team.

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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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Joe R
Joe R

Maybe now people will use the 2009 Mariners as a case study in why Fielding Percentage isn’t a particularly good stat.