The Kansas City Royals broadcasts, both on the television and radio sides, love to tout defensive statistics like Defensive Runs Saved and Ultimate Zone Rating if they paint a player in a positive light. Likewise, those statistics, which are two of the best overall defensive statistics publicly available, are often used to point out poor defensive play on other teams.
But you won’t hear Ryan Lefebvre, Rex Hudler, or Denny Matthews often talk about when defensive statistics grade Royals players poorly. So it might come as a shock to many of you when it’s pointed out that some Royals do not quite have the stellar defensive output that seems to be the case. In other words, I’ve spent the first 100 words here trying to lighten the shock from its thesis a little, though if you’ve read the title you know where this is going: the Royals have the worst defensive infield in baseball.
If you’re honest with yourselves, this shouldn’t be a shock. Carlos Santana, Whit Merrifield, Nicky Lopez, and Hunter Dozier—Kansas City’s starting infield, from right to left—have made some jarring defensive miscues this year. They aren’t passing the eye test, in other words. The Royals aren’t passing the error test, either; the team has accrued 19 errors, tied for fourth-most in baseball.
However, it is the comprehensive defensive statistics of DRS and UZR that shine the spotlight on just how poorly the Royals have been this year. Both stats factor in errors, range, and double-play effectiveness when grading infielders, and both are on the same scale: runs saved above or below league average defense, set at 0.
DRS and UZR take slightly different approaches to grading defense, so to incorporate both approaches, we’ll average out their scores for each team’s infield innings. Then, we’ll give each team a score per 1000 innings, as not every team has played the same amount of innings this year. Finally, we’ll add the scores together to find the total runs saved for each team throughout the total infield.
Infield Defense by Runs Saved Per 1000 Innings
As you can see, the Royals are, quite literally, at the bottom of this list. Kansas City lacks an above-average position anywhere on the infield—though first base has been respectable thanks to Santana’s efforts—and their shortstop play has been the worst among any infield position among any team this year.
Could the defensive statistics be wrong? Potentially! But two factors work against the Royals here. First, as stated earlier, this approach incorporates both DRS and UZR, thereby tempering some of the extremes in either direction. Second, the Royals aren’t just middling here—they are the worst defensive infield in baseball. The Royals are so bad that you could spot them 10 whole runs per 1000 innings here and they would be...the second-worst defensive infield in baseball.
The good news is that a better defensive infield is on the horizon. While Lopez has been, shall we say, less than desirable at shortstop, we know that Lopez is a great defensive second baseman. We also know that Adalberto Mondesí is an excellent defensive shortstop. When Mondesí returns and shifts Lopez to his natural and best position, the defense will improve drastically. Furthermore, should the Royals ever call up Bobby Witt, Jr. to play third base this year, we’d likely see a huge improvement over Dozier (who is a better outfielder than infielder).
The bad news is that, until Mondesí returns, the Royals are sort of stuck, and Witt may not even debut this year. For the short term, the Royals infield defense will continue to be poor relative to the rest of the league. Can they be better? Yes. Will they be better? Let’s put it this way: they must, or else the Royals’ thin chances of playoff contention this year will be further put in jeopardy.