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D-backs pass defensive runs saved record with 46 games left

Arizona Diamondbacks shortstop Ketel Marte flips the ball to Nick Ahmed (13) on a ball hit by San Francisco Giants' Buster Posey in the first inning during a baseball game, Sunday, Aug. 5, 2018, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

With 46 games left in the regular season, the Arizona Diamondbacks have already set an MLB record, according to one analytic service company.

The D-backs’ 108 defensive runs saved (DRS) as of Thursday is the most by a team in a single season since Sports Info Solutions began recording the statistic in 2003. That surpassed the 2016 Chicago Cubs, who over their regular season tallied 107 defensive runs saved.

Assuming Arizona’s doesn’t take a drastic turn to become a self-destructive, mistake-prone defensive team, it can finish the year with that record.

The D-backs have allowed the fifth-fewest runs in MLB to this point (only the Milwaukee Brewers have played more than Arizona’s 116 games as of Thursday).

While the pitching staff owns the fourth-best overall ERA (3.59), as DFS indicates, the players behind and in front of the Arizona pitchers have been near-perfect with an MLB-leading fielding percentage of .990.

Not only have the Diamondbacks not made mistakes — they’ve made plays.

About 31 percent of those defensive runs saved can be traced back to three players.

Per Sports Info Solutions, shortstop Nick Ahmed (14 DFS), outfielder Jarrod Dyson (10) and catcher Jeff Mathis (nine) have stolen runs at a high rate. It’s most impressive for Dyson and Mathis, who have respectively played 67 and 45 games out of 116 games.

Arizona as a whole has benefited not only from its overall skillset in the field but from being put in position to make plays. Twenty-eight of the D-backs’ defensive runs saved have been credited to shifts, according to Sports Info Solutions.

No stat tells the entire story and similar DRS analytics are tabulated differently, depending on the source. But for context, here’s Sports Info Solutions’ general definition of its evaluation method.

Defensive Runs Saved is a comprehensive accounting of how a player performs defensively. Depending on the position a player plays, Runs Saved is a combined measure of his range and positioning, his ability to field bunts, to turn double plays, to prevent baserunners from advancing either on balls in play or on stolen base attempts, to get extra strike calls, to limit earned runs, and to make extraordinary defensive plays while avoiding misplays. Positive numbers mean that a player saved his team runs, while negative numbers mean a player cost his team runs, with zero being average.

Ahmed, of course, leads the pack thanks to his range up the middle, and that accounts for a lot of the weight in calculating DRS. FanGraphs has credited the shortstop with 15 defensive runs saved this year, which is tied for fifth in MLB.

Arizona’s emphasis on their three-catcher rotation appears to be paying off, as reflected by the runs saved by Mathis, who is primarily used as ace Zack Greinke’s catcher. The D-backs’ valuation of players like Dyson, who contributed despite struggling at the plate, could complicate matters when he comes off the disabled list following a groin injury.

Throw in Arizona’s shifting philosophies, and the DRS analytic goes a ways in validating their decision-making.

And at the end of the day, their 0.5-game lead in the National League West does as well.