Top 20 Defensive Baseball Players of All Time

In baseball’s rich history there have been many players that have excelled in the defensive aspects of the game. Although not always earning the recognition of home run hitters or ace pitchers, excelling in the defensive elements of baseball is crucial to teams winning baseball games. Consistency, discipline, and work ethic are essential traits for a player to earn the coveted Gold Glove Award, awarded to elite fielders at the end of each season. The players on this list have been recognized as multiple time Gold Glove winners, distinguishing themselves as members to baseball’s elite defensive players.

Some of the players on this list came long before Web Gems were a daily part of our national pastime. The differences seen in baseball across different eras are significant, and television and radio were not always available to document the miraculous plays of major leaguers on a daily basis. Often the accounts of their plays were passed on in daily summaries of the games, while others were lost to the ages. Thanks to advanced statistics and extensive game logs, these spectacular performances have not gone forgotten.

Some of the players on this list have been inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame and are considered among the game’s greatest players. Others are not included in those categories, but excelled in the defensive aspects of the game to such an extent that their inclusion was necessary. Fielding errors were a rarity in the careers of these players. Their consistency over baseball’s grueling calendar has allowed them to be included among the greatest defensive players of all time.

20 Troy Tulowitzki – SS

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At the age of 29, Troy Tulowitzki still has a long MLB career ahead of him. The four time All-Star has played his entire career with the Colorado Rockies where he has won two Gold Glove Awards and three Fielding Bible Awards. He has led all shortstops in double plays turned three times and is the active leader among shortstops in range factor, fielding percentage, and total zone runs. In 2007, he led all shortstops in both putouts and assists.

19 Barry Bonds – OF

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Before developing into the most prolific home run hitter of all time, Barry Bonds was an outfielder with amazing range. In addition to breaking Hank Aaron’s home run record, he also is the all-time leader in total zone runs from a left fielder. He led all left fielders in range factor per game five times, assists six times, and is the all-time leader in putouts by a left fielder. These impressive fielding statistics earned him eight Gold Gloves when combined with his hitting statistics earned him seven NL MVP Awards and fourteen All-Star appearances. For all of his on field accomplishments, Bonds remains an underrated defensive player.

18 Keith Hernandez – 1B

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Keith Hernandez was welcomed into America’s living rooms on Seinfeld after a solid Major League career with three teams. He was world champion with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1982 and a part of the Amazin' Mets of 1986. He won eleven Gold Glove Awards and was named 1979 NL MVP. His 5 All-Star appearances may not be as spectacular as other members of the list, but he led the league assists as a first baseman 5 times, fielding percentage twice, and putouts four times. Hernandez also delivered the iconic Seinfeld line “I am Keith Hernandez,” perhaps making up for him missing out on Cooperstown.

17 Carl Yastrzemski – OF

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Carl Yastrzemski played three different positions for the Boston Red Sox during his 22-year career. His best work was done in the outfield where he earned seven Gold Glove Awards. Yaz won the Triple Crown and AL MVP in 1967. He also appeared in 18 All-Star games, earning the honor in all but four of his Major League seasons. Yaz led all outfielders in assists seven times, total zone runs four times, and putouts as a left fielder four times. Yaz excelled at playing balls off of Fenway’s Green Monster and for his efforts has had his #8 retired by the Boston Red Sox.

16 Bill Mazeroski – 2B

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Bill Mazeroski became a baseball icon when he hit the first World Series winning walk off home run in history. The ten time All-Star, eight time Gold Glove, led all second basemen in double plays turned for eight consecutive years from 1960 to 1967. He led second basemen in assists eight times and putouts five times. His defensive contribution to his teams were so significant that he was inducted to the Hall of Fame in 2001 and had his #9 retired by the Pirates despite underwhelming stats at the plate.

15 Al Kaline – OF

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Al Kaline spent his entire career with the Detroit Tigers, which earned him the nickname Mr. Tiger. During his Hall of Fame career, Kaline received 10 Gold Glove awards for his work in Right and Center field. He led the league in putouts from a right fielder and fielding percentage five times. He became the first Tiger to earn a $100,000 salary. The 18 time All Star won the World Series in 1968 and was also the AL Batting Champion in 1955. His #6 was retired by the Detroit Tigers and in 1980 he was enshrined in Cooperstown as a first ballot Hall of Famer.

14 Mike Schmidt – 3B

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Mike Schmidt is one of the best hitting and fielding third basemen of the modern era. He spent his entire 18-year career with the Philadelphia Phillies where he was chosen as an All-Star twelve times and won ten Gold Glove Awards. He led third basemen in assists seven times, double plays turned six times, total zone runs seven times, and range factor four times. Schmidt was a three time NL MVP and was the 1980 World Series MVP, where he led the Phillies to victory. His #20 is retired by the Phillies and he was inducted as a first ballot Hall of Famer in 1995.

13 Richie Ashburn – OF

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Richie Ashburn played the majority of his career before they awarded Gold Glove awards for elite fielders. Without the award, the evidence for Ashburn’s defensive greatness relies on his defensive statistics, which were virtually unparalleled during his 15-year career. The six time All-Star was a two time batting champ, but his fielding statistics were truly special. He led all outfielders in putouts nine times, range factor per game ten times, and assists three times. He was selected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1995 by the Veterans Committee.

12 Roberto Alomar – 2B

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Roberto Alomar was a fixture on the Toronto Blue Jays World Series winning teams and would go on to have an impact on several other exciting teams. A career .300 hitter with over 2,700 hits, he matches his prowess at the plate with solid defensive play in the middle infield. For his efforts he was the recipient of ten Gold Glove Awards and appeared in 12 All-Star Games. He led the American League in fielding percentage as a second basemen four times, assists twice, and committed the fewest errors as a second baseman twice. He was inducted to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2011 and had his #12 retired by the Toronto Blue Jays.

11 Honus Wagner – SS

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Honus Wagner is known as one of the greatest players of all time, but unfortunately he played in an era before advanced defensive statistics. Despite these statistical shortcomings, we do know that he finished first among shortstops in fielding percentage four times, had the best range factor for shortstops four times, and led shortstops in putouts twice. His #33 is retired by the Pittsburgh Pirates and he was honored as part of the first class inducted to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1936. The Flying Dutchman also has his visage on the most expensive baseball card of all time.

10 Roberto Clemente – OF

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Roberto Clemente is a baseball legend. His untimely death while on a humanitarian aid trip to Nicaragua came after a baseball career during which his feats on the baseball diamond matched up to his generosity off of it. Clemente was the first Latino starter to win a World Series and the National League MVP. Clemente’s defensive skills were virtually unparalleled, with Roberto earning 12 Golden Gloves and 15 All-Star appearances. He led outfielders in assists five times and led right fielders in fewest errors committed seven times. The MLB now awards the Roberto Clemente Award annually to the player with outstanding baseball skills combined with personal involvement in community work.

9 Tris Speaker – OF

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Tris Speaker was one of the greatest players in baseball history. The Grey Eagle was a legends both at the plate and in center field. He is the all-time leader in assists, double plays, and unassisted double plays by an outfielder. His defensive skills were so highly regarded that his glove was known as the place “where triples go to die.” The three-time World Series champion was named MVP in 1912 and won the batting title in 1916. The Grey Eagle was a member of the second ever Baseball Hall of Fame class and still holds the records for career outfield assists and doubles.

8 Jim Kaat – P

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Jim Kaat is regarded as one of the greatest fielding pitchers of all time. He was a 16-time Gold Glove winner and was a three time All-Star. He committed the fewest errors by a pitcher twice, range factor per nine innings twice, and assists once. In 1982 when he was the second oldest player in the Major Leagues, he won a World Series with the St. Louis Cardinals. He notched an impressive 283 wins and 2,461 strikeouts in his career along with a career ERA of 3.45.

7 Omar Vizquel – SS

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During an era with a plethora of talent at the shortstop position, Omar Vizquel was the best defensive player of them all. He won nine consecutive Gold Glove Awards and eleven total for his career. Vizquel is first all time among shortstops for games played at the position and double plays turned. He also retired with the highest career fielding percentage and once went 95 consecutive games without committing an error. The level of offensive talent at his position meant he was only selected to three All-Star Games, but Vizquel retired as the all-time leader in hits by a Venezuelan.

6 Johnny Bench – C

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Widely considered to be the greatest catcher in the history of baseball, Johnny Bench was a key member of the Big Red Machine teams that won four National League pennants and two World Series titles. Bench led the league in total zone runs as a catcher six times and caught stealing percentage three times. Bench was named to fourteen All-Star Games and earned ten Gold Glove Awards in his seventeen seasons in the majors. He was enshrined in Cooperstown in 1989 and no Cincinnati Red will ever wear his #5 again.

5 Greg Maddux – P

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Greg Maddux is widely considered to be the greatest fielding pitcher of all-time. His pitching credentials are some of the greatest of his era with 355 career wins, a 3.16 career ERA, and 3,371 career strikeouts. Maddux was an eight-time All-Star, four time NL Cy Young winner, and racked up an impressive eighteen Gold Glove Awards. He led all pitchers in assists in eleven seasons, range factor among pitchers fourteen times, and had three seasons in which he did not commit an error. He is the career leader in putouts by a pitcher. Maddux had his #31 retired by both the Chicago Cubs and Atlanta Braves. Last month, he was inducted to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

4 Ivan Rodriguez – C

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Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez is the epitome of the defensive catcher. Possessing a cannon for an arm, he terrified base runners with his pick off moves and laser throws to catch runners stealing. Pudge was named as an All-Star fourteen times and earned thirteen Gold Glove Awards. He spent the majority of his career with the Texas Rangers among other teams, but a one year stint with the Florida Marlins earned him a World Series title in 2003. Rodriguez led catchers in caught stealing percentage for eight consecutive seasons and is the career leader in total zone runs among catchers. He is the all-time leader in defensive games and putouts among catchers. He will be eligible for Hall of Fame induction in 2017.

3 Ozzie Smith – SS

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For most of his career, Ozzie Smith was the premier defensive shortstop in baseball. His defensive skills earned him the nickname “The Wizard of Oz.” During his 19 year career he appeared in 15 All-Star Games and earned 13 Gold Glove Awards. His was known for his trademark tumbling skills which dazzled fans young and old. Smith led the National League in fielding percentage among shortstops eight times, double plays turned five times, and range factor seven times. He is also the all-time career leader in assists as a shortstop and total zone runs. His #1 is retired by the St. Louis Cardinals and he's a Hall of Famer who helped win a World Series title in 1982.

2 Brooks Robinson – 3B

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Brooks Robinson made a living off of amazing plays at third base. He earned two of the best nicknames in baseball history because of his prowess with the glove, the Human Vacuum Cleaner and Mr. Impossible. Robinson was also recognized as an 18-time All-Star and 16-time Gold Glove Award Winner. Brooks was a two time World Series Champion and was named World Series MVP in 1970. He was inducted to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1983 as a first ballot member. Robinson is 3rd all-time in fielding percentage among third baseman. He is the all-time leader among third basemen in games played, putouts, assists, double plays turned, and total zone runs.

1 Willie Mays – OF

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The Say Hey Kid is a living baseball treasure. He is considered to be one of the greatest “five tool” players of all time. Willie Mays was involved in perhaps the most iconic play in baseball history which has been dubbed “The Catch,” when he ran down a Vic Wertz blast in the 1954 World Series. Mays is the all-time career leaders in putouts by an outfielder and games played by a center fielder. Willie is a 24-time All-Star, 12-time Gold Glove award winner, and two-time MVP Award winner. He was inducted to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1979 as a first ballot member.

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