Jorge Mateo Deserved a Gold Glove

Jorge Mateo
Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Every year I have to remind myself that Gold Glove snubs aren’t worth getting worked up about. It’s exceedingly difficult to measure defense objectively, especially in a single season’s worth of games. It’s even harder for voters to make judgments about players’ defensive capabilities when they only watch them play a handful of games each year. Beyond that, the Gold Gloves have gone to “unworthy” players so often before that it’s foolish to be bothered by one more bad choice. Sometimes the wrong guy wins the Gold Glove, and that’s just how it goes. The players know it, the fans know it, and we all go on living.

Yet here I am, about to spend the next thousand or so words rattling on about how Jorge Mateo was snubbed for a Gold Glove. Because as troublesome as it is to evaluate defense, we do have some pretty great statistics available to help accomplish that task. And while Gold Gloves are awarded to undeserving fielders almost every season, they tend to go to those who need them the least: established stars with impressive offensive numbers. This year, the metrics make an ironclad case for Mateo at shortstop, and he would benefit from the recognition more than any of the three finalists. So against my better judgment, I’m here to write about a Gold Glove snub. If Rawlings won’t honor his dazzling defense, I’m going to have to do it myself.

Just watch him leap:

And watch him fly:

And watch him slide:

The AL Gold Glove finalists at shortstop this year are Carlos Correa, Xander Bogaerts, and Jeremy Peña. None of those finalists comes as much of a surprise, nor are any of them completely undeserving. Correa is the reigning Platinum Glove winner, and Platinum Glove winners have always been Gold Glove finalists the following season barring injury or retirement. Bogaerts took some big strides with his defense in 2022, and voters took notice. Peña flashed the leather in his rookie season, and his glove looked every bit as good as the prospect reports said it would. Here’s a look at each of their defensive results in 2022:

2022 AL Gold Glove Finalists at Shortstop
Player DRS UZR OOA FRAA Arm Strength
Jeremy Peña 14 -6.3 7 1.2 84.3 mph
Xander Bogaerts 4 4.9 5 1.1 82.1 mph
Carlos Correa 3 1 -3 0.7 88.0 mph
Red: First (among finalists), Yellow: Second, Blue: Third (FRAA courtesy of Baseball Prospectus)

DRS loves Peña. UZR, however, is much kinder to Bogaerts. Correa, for his part, has an absolute gun at shortstop. Understanding the limitations of defensive metrics in small sample sizes, you could look at these numbers and at least make a case for any one of the three players. There’s no runaway favorite.

Now, for comparison, here’s the same table with Mateo added in:

Jorge Mateo and the Gold Glove Finalists
Player DRS UZR OOA FRAA Arm Strength
Jorge Mateo 14 7.5 11 5.1 86.9 mph
Jeremy Peña 15 -6.3 7 1.2 84.3 mph
Xander Bogaerts 4 4.9 5 1.1 82.1 mph
Carlos Correa 3 1 -3 0.7 88.0 mph
Red: First, Orange: Second, Yellow: Third, Blue: Last (FRAA courtesy of Baseball Prospectus)

What was that about no runaway favorite? Mateo has a sizeable lead in three of the four comprehensive fielding metrics, and he’s only one run behind Peña for the lead in DRS. These numbers don’t just make Mateo look better; they put him on a whole other level.

To prove that just a little further, here’s the table one more time with all 12 qualified AL shortstops:

Defensive Metrics for Qualified AL Shortstops
Player DRS UZR OOA FRAA Arm Strength
Jorge Mateo 14 7.5 11 5.1 86.9 mph
Jeremy Peña 15 -6.3 7 1.2 84.3 mph
Xander Bogaerts 4 4.9 5 1.1 82.1 mph
Carlos Correa 3 1 -3 0.7 88.0 mph
Elvis Andrus -4 3.8 3 1.5 81.5 mph
Bo Bichette -16 -15.4 -7 -2.1 84.8 mph
Isiah Kiner-Falefa 10 0 -2 -3 81.1 mph
Amed Rosario 6 9.4 -7 2.3 85.2 mph
J.P. Crawford -3 -0.3 -11 -0.6 83.3 mph
Andrew Velazquez 11 1.7 3 0.5 83.3 mph
Corey Seager -3 2 4 1.7 81.9 mph
Javier Báez -3 -10.5 2 3.1 88.7 mph
Red: First, Orange: Second, Yellow: Third, Blue: Last (FRAA courtesy of Baseball Prospectus)

Mateo stands out from the pack in a clear and marked way. He is the only one to rank first in multiple categories, and the only one to rank in the top three of all five. Moreover, he is the only AL shortstop who even grades out above average in all five metrics.

Numbers like this should be enough to make anyone a Gold Glove finalist, and in fact, at nearly any other potision they would be. Mateo is one of only two eligible fielders to have led his position in Outs Above Average and not be named a finalist; the other is his teammate, first baseman Ryan Mountcastle. Unlike Mateo, Mountcastle did not grade out as an elite defender by any other metrics, and he plays the least valuable position on the field. Besides, while Mateo led the next-best eligible shortstop by 4 OAA, Mounctcastle was only worth 3 OAA total. Similarly, only two eligible players with 12 or more DRS were not named finalists: Mateo and another teammate of his, Adley Rutschman, who lost out to three other talented catchers with significantly more playing time.

Here’s the part where a skeptic might point out how unreliable defensive metrics can be. Indeed, the chart above proves as much. Báez has been worth 3.1 Fielding Runs Above Average, but his Ultimate Zone Rating is a disaster. Rosario, meanwhile, has the best UZR of the bunch, but his OAA makes him look like a major liability. OAA is Seager’s friend, but DRS certainly isn’t. And while Kiner-Falefa has an outstanding 10 Defensive Runs Saved, his -3 FRAA is at the bottom of the heap.

Yet as much as these numbers conflict and contradict one another, there’s one thing they can all agree on: Mateo is an elite defensive shortstop. The fact that defensive metrics are so volatile makes his 2022 stat line all the more impressive. Of all the advanced statistics designed to measure glovework, not one could identify a flaw in his game.

As a matter of fact, no matter how deep you dive into Mateo’s defensive numbers, there’s no weakness to be found. Outs Above Average, Defensive Runs Saved, and Ultimate Zone Rating can all be broken down into their constituent parts. OAA has four components: outs on plays in, plays back, plays toward third, and plays toward first. He was worth at least one out on all four categories of play, and he is the only qualified AL shortstop who can say that. Similarly, he was worth at least one run in all three components of DRS: double plays, good fielding plays, and plus/minus, the primary range component of DRS. He was the only AL shortstop to save a run in all three categories. It’s the same story with UZR; no other American League shortstop (min. 100 innings) had an above-average rating in range runs, error runs, and double play runs, the three categories that make up the metric. Upon close inspection, all of Mateo’s numbers hold up. It’s really quite something. How could you even begin to make a case for anyone else?

Jorge Mateo Defensive Metric Breakdown
In Back Lateral 3B Lateral 1B rGDP rGFP rPM RngR ErrR DPR
5 3 1 2 2 2 10 3.5 3.4 0.6

I’m not trying to argue against the eye test here, or to say that Gold Gloves should be determined based solely on numbers. But defensive metrics sometimes get a bit of a bad rap. We find ourselves repeating the same phrases about their limitations over and over (as I myself have already done in this piece), and eventually that repetition starts to plant seeds of doubt. It makes us hesitant to form arguments using these stats. But that shouldn’t be the case! Defensive metrics are flawed, highly volatile, and more subjective than offensive stats. Yet that does not mean they’re useless. These stats make an excellent effort to perform an incredibly difficult task, and they do a pretty great job of it too. They’re highly detailed, they’re carefully constructed, and when properly understood, they can tell us a lot about a player’s performance. These metrics may not be perfect, but they’re still the best we’ve got, and we should use them as such. Therefore, sometimes it is okay to make a Gold Glove case using just the numbers.

This is one such case. According to several of the best measurements we have, Mateo was far and away the top fielding shortstop in the AL. Overall, his defensive stat line was unparalleled. If the Gold Gloves are truly meant to honor the best defenders at each position, then he deserved to have won for his performance this year.

Leo is a writer for FanGraphs and an editor for Just Baseball. His work has also been featured at Baseball Prospectus, Pitcher List, and SB Nation. You can follow him on Twitter @morgensternmlb.

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Paul Larman
1 year ago

Oh man!! I could not agree more – As a Blue Jays season-ticket holder I saw him play a lot and he passes the eye test with flying colours as well as all the metrics