As someone who likes to write about defense, this is a little bit of a challenging time for me, because it’s hard to find much meaning in small sample sizes. Defensive Runs Saved isn’t necessarily meant to be an evaluative tool within the first 10 to 15 percent of the season.

But we can still find instances in which good defense has mattered. Just look at the three teams in the AL Central that rank in the top 7 in Runs Saved.

Royals (2nd)

The Royals enter today ranked 2nd in the majors in Defensive Runs Saved. What’s propelled them is their defense up the middle.

Two years ago, Bobby Witt Jr. ranked as the worst shortstop in the majors in Runs Saved. He still rated below-average per Defensive Runs Saved last season, but made considerable improvements (some metrics rated him above-average last season). This season, he’s setting an early standard.

The Royals’ infielders have turned ground balls and bunts into outs at the highest rate in MLB, with Witt leading the way no matter what’s in his path. He leads shortstops with 5 Runs Saved.

In the outfield, center fielder Kyle Isbel has continued his fine defensive work from 2023. Isbel doesn’t hit a lot, but thus far he’s done what the Royals have needed him to do: catch enough fly balls and line drives to have an impact.

Combine 2023 and 2024 and Isbel ranks 3rd among center fielders in Defensive Runs Saved.

Meanwhile, catcher, long held down by Salvador Perez, has turned into a timeshare between Perez and Freddy Fermin, the latter being a better pitch framer and the former typically being good at throwing out baserunners. Between the two of them they’ve allowed only 8 stolen base attempts all season. And Perez’s past issues with pitch framing haven’t manifested yet. The Royals’ pitchers have fared well with both.

Guardians (3rd)

The Guardians have last year’s Platinum Glove and Fielding Bible Award winner, Andrés Giménez, and he’s been doing as he typically does at second base. But other than that, you have to look a little deeper in order to ascertain what’s going on there.

For one thing, the Guardians’ outfielders have combined for an MLB-high 8 assists. That’s the most in MLB. The average team has 2.5. Ramón Laureano’s 4 assists (though a couple have been awkwardly attained) are more than 25 teams have gotten from their outfield this season.

The Guardians have also done well – at least through 19 games – in another aspect that we measure. They are tied for the major league lead when we combine their infield and outfield positioning Runs Saved totals. Score one early on for the team’s coaching staff (and probably their analytics department too).

The Tigers (T-6th)

Our timing on this isn’t great given that the Tigers made 3 errors yesterday, but let’s not let one bad game get in the way of some good work here.

The Tigers have turned the 2nd-highest rate of balls hit in the air into outs of any defense in MLB (73%). And they’ve turned grounders and bunts into outs at the 7th-highest rate. If you’re wondering why the Tigers have the lowest BABIP allowed in the majors by a healthy margin, that’s why (.244, 14 points better than the next-closest team).

Additionally, the Tigers have a pair of home run robberies, which count significantly in Defensive Runs Saved because these plays literally save runs. On March 30, Parker Meadows brought this one back from White Sox catcher Martin Maldonado. On April 9, Riley Greene snared a would-be homer from Pirates third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes. The Tigers won a close game in both instances.

The good D has helped the Tigers to a 10-9 start despite an offense that ranks in the bottom 5 of the American League in runs scored and the slash line stats.