How Brett Lawrie beat the numbers

Toronto has taken a unique approach when positioning Brett Lawrie on defensive shifts. AP Photo/Charlie Riedel

We had a problem. Brett Lawrie's numbers looked too good to be true.

His defensive runs saved was inching higher and higher, seemingly on a daily basis. All-inclusive metrics such as Baseball-Reference's wins above replacement (WAR) -- which is now available on ESPN.com -- include defensive runs saved to gauge a player's overall value in terms of wins, and Lawrie's WAR was conspicuously high for a guy having a disappointing season at the plate. He was, in fact, leading the league, which certainly raised some eyebrows.

Lawrie's made more than his share of Web Gems at third base since his debut last summer -- his fearlessness in making great plays can also lead to scares like Wednesday's, when he flipped over a railing at Yankee Stadium and bruised his calf -- but his 2012 numbers put him among the best defensive third basemen in defensive runs saved history (dating back to 2003).

There have been many great defensive third basemen in that time, from Joe Crede and Scott Rolen to Ryan Zimmerman and Evan Longoria; is Lawrie truly in that upper echelon of great defenders, thus allowing him to rack up WAR without gaudy offensive statistics?

We began an investigation early this season and narrowed the issue down to one particular issue: shifts.