10 Best Defensive Players in MLB History

While baseball statistics typically focus on hitting and pitching prowess, the exceptional defensive abilities of players in MLB history are equally deserving of recognition. Great defensive players significantly contribute to supporting pitchers.

Granted, ranking the best defensive players in MLB history presents challenges, especially considering the diverse skills required across different positions. For example, the skills needed for top shortstops differ from those of premier outfielders. Additionally, certain positions tend to attract a higher concentration of exceptional fielders in baseball. Despite these complexities, here is our list of the 10 most outstanding defensive players in baseball history.

Nolan Arenado

Even before his career is over, Arenado’s defensive prowess has already established him as a potential all-time great. He holds the distinction of being the only infielder to capture the Gold Glove in each of his first 10 seasons in the league, including his rookie year. Beginning in 2017, Arenado embarked on a streak of six consecutive Platinum Glove Awards. His ability to make plays that seem impossible for others sets him apart, leading many to believe that he may ultimately be recognized as the greatest defensive third baseman in baseball history.

Keith Hernandez

Hernandez’s absence from the Hall of Fame is unfair given his exceptional defensive skills. In fact, his defensive prowess is one of the biggest reasons he belongs in the Hall of Fame. Hernandez revolutionized the role of first base with his positioning far off the bag and his ability to cover extensive ground, influencing play across the entire infield. Despite first base traditionally not being associated with strong defensive players, Hernandez’s exceptional abilities set him apart. His remarkable streak of 11 consecutive Gold Glove awards from 1978 to 1988 remains unmatched by any other first baseman in baseball history, solidifying his status among the greatest defensive players across all positions.

Greg Maddux

Maddux’s mastery extended beyond pitching to include exceptional fielding skills, a facet that significantly contributed to his success as a pitcher with 355 career wins and four consecutive Cy Young Awards. His readiness to field immediately after releasing the ball allowed him to thwart numerous hits. From 1990 to 2008, he claimed the Gold Glove Award in all but one season, accumulating a record 18 Gold Gloves throughout his career. While it was expected that Maddux would win the Gold Glove each year, his status as one of the greatest defensive players in MLB history, regardless of position, validated each of these accolades.

Andruw Jones

Jones was unrivalled in centre field during the late 1990s and early 2000s. His remarkable streak of 10 consecutive Gold Gloves from 1998 to 2007 solidifies his case as a significant Hall of Fame contender. Jones’ daring approach to playing shallow in centre field was a testament to his confidence in his ability to track and catch deep-hit balls. His exceptional arm strength further elevated his status among the elite defensive centre fielders in baseball history.

Honus Wagner

Wagner’s legacy extends far beyond his speed on the basepaths and the rarity of his valuable baseball card. While he secured eight batting titles, Wagner’s defensive prowess was equally renowned. His exceptional athleticism, which propelled him to five stolen base titles in the National League, also translated into elite defence at shortstop. This combination led many to regard him as the greatest shortstop in baseball history.

As a Pittsburgh native, Wagner spent most of his career playing for the Pirates and becoming a hometown hero. Nowadays, Pittsburgh sports fans can use the top Pennsylvania betting sites to place wagers on Wagner’s Pirates and a slew of other sports, as some of the most trusted sportsbooks operate in Pennsylvania.

Omar Vizquel

Vizquel stands out among shortstops as a defensive powerhouse. As the all-time leader in games played and double plays turned among shortstops, not to mention being tied for the all-time lead in fielding percentage, Vizquel’s defensive prowess is unmatched. He solidified his reputation by securing 11 Gold Gloves during his career and being the oldest shortstop to win the award, achieving this feat at the age of 39. Vizquel’s defensive excellence remained consistent throughout his career. His remarkable achievement of going 95 consecutive games without an error speaks volumes about his defensive acumen.

Ivan Rodriguez

When it comes to catchers, Rodriguez stands out as a pinnacle of excellence. Pudge’s remarkable career spanned over two decades in the major leagues, during which he earned an impressive 13 Gold Gloves—an achievement he truly deserved. His exceptional throwing arm gave Rodriguez unparalleled control over the running game. Across 20 seasons, he produced a career caught-stealing percentage of nearly 46%, far surpassing the league average of 31%. Beyond his defensive prowess, Rodriguez was no slouch at the plate, accumulating over 300 home runs and claiming seven Silver Slugger awards. His multifaceted skills solidify his status as a Hall of Famer and one of the greatest catchers to grace the game of baseball.

Brooks Robinson

When it comes to manning the hot corner, no third baseman in baseball history can match Robinson. Known as the “human vacuum cleaner,” Robinson stands out as one of the finest defensive players ever to grace the big leagues, regardless of position. Any ball hit near him seemed destined to result in a routine out. Robinson’s agility and lightning-fast reactions set him apart from other third basemen. He topped American League third basemen in fielding percentage a remarkable 11 times, a feat unmatched by any other player. Moreover, Robinson’s remarkable streak of 16 consecutive Gold Gloves from 1960 to 1975 stood as an MLB record for an extended period, solidifying his legendary status in the annals of baseball history.

Willie Mays

While Mays’ iconic catch in Game 1 of the 1954 World Series is well-known, it’s just a glimpse of his defensive abilities. Mays epitomized the concept of a five-tool player, excelling not only in hitting but also in covering vast distances in centre field and possessing a powerful throwing arm. His defensive skills allowed him to go on a streak of 12 consecutive Gold Gloves during the peak of his career from 1957 to 1968. Mays stood out among centre fielders in baseball history for his tendency to play shallow, a testament to his unmatched range and remarkable skill in tracking balls hit deep, as famously demonstrated in “The Catch.”

Ozzie Smith

Anyone who ever got a chance to watch Smith play shortstop knew that nobody could match him. His ability to effortlessly execute spectacular plays earned him the iconic moniker “the Wizard of Oz.” Smith’s athleticism was so remarkable that he occasionally delighted spectators by performing backflips on the field. His talent made the challenging role of shortstop appear deceptively easy. Throughout his illustrious Hall of Fame career, Smith secured an impressive 13 consecutive Gold Glove awards, showcasing his defensive mastery that contributed significantly to his status as a 15-time All-Star. Among the pantheon of exceptional defensive players in baseball history, Smith’s unparalleled skill at the demanding shortstop position solidifies his place as the greatest defensive player of all time in our rankings.

Featured image photo of Nolan Arenado by Joe Puetz/Getty Images

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