Depending on the stats you decide to look at, the Braves could range from being a good defensive team (.987 FP%, 2nd best NL), bad defensive team (-23.2 UZR, 3rd worst NL), or a lucky team that relies on some spectacular saves (24 DRS, 6th best NL). But we're not here to discuss the defense of the team as a whole; today, we're here to discuss which individuals on the Braves were the best and worst fielders on the squad.
The baseball gods may have forgotten to bless Alex Gonzalez with at least some average-level offensive talent, but boy did they compensate on the defensive end. Sometimes stats can quantify the talent, sometimes they can't. The fact is, that Alex Gonzalez has a gun for an arm, and above-average range, and the athleticism necessary to make some seemingly unconvertible plays into outs.
Sometimes the best way to explain is through visual aid. You might want to get some popcorn ready, and enjoy some of Alex Gonzalez's 2011 fielding brilliance, as provided by MLB.com
In terms of the numbers, Ultimate Zone Rating isn't particularly kind to A-Gon, tagging him with a -0.3 UZR. But delving into stats more associated with John Dewan's Plus-Minus system, sheds a little bit more light into Gonzalez's defensive prowess. A-Gon's 17 rPM (+/- Runs Saved) is the best among MLB shortstops, and his 15 DRS (Defensive Runs Saved) are the best among National League shortstops (2nd MLB). A testament to his range, Alex was credited with 69 plays made out of his "zone," which only Yuniesky Betancourt is the only other shortstop in the NL who can say they made more.
So although Alex Gonzalez is the worst hitter on the team, when it comes to flashing the leather, there isn't anyone better. Jason Heyward makes a little bit of noise out of right field, with his 17 rPM, 15 DRS, and a generous 8.6 UZR, but shortstop is vastly the more important defensive position, which is why he gets all the glory. Does his defense make up for the lack of offense? Crudely, his 77 wRC+ isn't completely covered by the 15 defensive runs saved, so I would have to say no.
But darn if he isn't a treat to watch defensively sometimes, the way he manages to leap over barreling base runners, and somehow manage to get enough arm on a throw to Freddie Freeman, while still in mid-air.
Although to those watching, Dan Uggla looked to be plenty beyond the defensive anchor most concluded he was perceived as, mostly in part to an ugly 2008 All-Star Game, the truth of the matter remains, that Dan Uggla is a below-average fielder. Defensive ratings are a difficult thing to appease, and much of it still remains subjective to a degree. Regardless, when examining the numbers on the Braves as a whole, as well as compared to second basemen around the rest of the National League, as well as all of Major League Baseball, Dan Uggla's defense still unfortunately hovers around the lower quartile.
His -12.2 UZR is second worst on the team; Freddie Freeman ranks worse, but UZR is a particularly controversial subject when grading first basemen, so we're overlooking this aspect, not to mention Freeman's uncanny ability to pick and scoop balls out of the dirt (45, 2nd NL). It's the worst among all second basemen in the NL as well as MLB. His -3 rPM is third worst in the NL and MLB, and his -9 DRS is tied with Orlando Hudson for worst in the NL and MLB. And according to Fangraphs' Revised Zone Rating, Uggla's .817 is in the lower half of all major league second basemen.
Not ignored is Nate McLouth, who was essentially a butcher out in center field. Had he not been limited to just 498 innings as opposed to Uggla's team-most 1,431 innings on the field, he might have been in this position instead.
It's a good thing that Uggla's a monster with the bat, and his 109 wRC+ would probably have looked a whole lot spiffier had he not started the season so poorly. But for what it's worth, as much as I would prefer to have my second baseman with slightly more range, Uggla certainly does look a lot more comfortable with Turner Field as his home park as opposed to Sun Life Robbie Player Shark Stadium, giving a little bit of credence to the allegations that their football surface was often detrimental to baseball fielders.