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Evan Longoria and the Rays are first half leaders in Defensive Runs Saved

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MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Chicago Cubs Caylor Arnold-USA TODAY Sports

Tampa Bay now stands tied for second place in the AL East, four games above .500 and in pole position for a Wild Card slot, thanks large in part to defense, and the numbers back that assertion up.

At the end of the first half of 2017, the Rays are leading all of major league baseball in Defensive Runs Saved.

Because the Rays are constructed with several revolving roll players, there are not a lot of consistent names at each position, but where there is consistency, the Rays have some stars on the DRS Leaderboards.

Evan Longoria is the first half leader in Defensive Runs Saved at third base this season with 9, the third highest mark in baseball. At age-31, he has not won a gold glove since his age-24 season in 2010, although he was a finalist in 2015.

Kevin Kiermaier, the best outfield defender in baseball, has been on the disabled list since June 8th, but remarkably, he ranks second among all center fielders with 10 DRS, behind only Byron Buxton.

Other than that, it’s been team play that elevates the Rays to the best cumulative mark in baseball. Well rated defense-first players like Kiermaier, Colby Rasmus, Daniel Robertson, or dare I say even Mallex Smith have not stayed on the field consistently, mostly due to injury concerns, but like some sort of Voltron, their powers combine to elevate the Rays.

The addition of Adeiny Hechavarria, in particular, has buoyed the Rays infield defense, and came at an all-important time when Tim Beckham and Brad Miller were both injured. He has demonstrated jaw dropping defense since his introduction, including this pair of plays last Saturday:

DRS is not a large help in measuring Hechavarria, as he’s only appeared in 31 games this season due to an early season injury, but among SS with at least 200 innings this season, Hechavarria ranks second in baseball in UZR/150 with a score of 14.8. it’s a volatile statistic but Hech is ahead of Andrelton Simmons (13.7) nonetheless.

Back to reality, here’s how the Rays defense compares vs MLB for the infield:

... and the outfield:

DRS is not a great marker of catcher defense, but with limited playing time, the Rays catching tandem is making waves as well. On the all encompassing Baseball Prospectus leaderboard, backup catcher Jesus Sucre (35 appearances) ranks 19th on the season, and new lead backstop Wilson Ramos (9 appearances) already ranks 27th.

TL;DR — The Rays are good again, and through a team effort, they lead baseball in Defensive Runs Saved. And sure the Rays are good because they have significantly improved their offense this season, but they appear to have done so without sacrificing any of their trademark defense, and that’s made all the difference in 2017.