The 2015 American League Gold Gloves, by the Numbers

The Gold Glove Awards are getting better. They really are! Two years ago, when I did this post for the first time, the numbers and the MLB finalists agreed on 28 selections. Last year, it was 30. This year, it’s 32. Furthermore, there appear to be fewer notably egregious selections. There are still a couple here and there, and we’ll get to those, but the days of Rafael Palmeiro — or even Derek Jeter, for that matter — winning Gold Gloves are behind us. When MLB decided to begin folding advanced defensive metrics into the selection process, everything improved markedly.

For the thousandth time: no defensive metric is perfect. However, they’re the certainly better than fielding percentage, the eye test, and “who is the best hitter,” and they’re currently the best public way we have to evaluate defense, so they’re what we use. For a while, Gold Gloves were held to a high standard. It was an honor to win them. They meant something. Then, there was a stretch when the Gold Glove became a farce. People realized they weren’t being given to the best defenders — they weren’t being given to good defenders, even — and it was all a joke. Now, the Gold Gloves are earning their back their status, and that’s a good thing. The awards should matter. It’s nice to see the players who deserve to be recognized, recognized.

So let’s recognize. The way the finalists are determined now is part manager/coach vote, part metrics. But what if it was all metrics? Just the objective numbers, and no human bias. That’s what I aim to do here.

Regarding eligibility, I used the same qualification rules used by Rawlings for the official award. If you’d like, you can find those here. Once having my player pool, I pulled three advanced defensive metrics for consideration: Defensive Runs Saved, calculated by Baseball Info Solutions, Ultimate Zone Rating, calculated by Mitchel Lichtman and used as the in-house FanGraphs metric, and Fielding Runs Above Average, calculated by BaseballProspectus and used as their in-house defensive metric. I summed the three, then averaged them together to figure a “total” defensive runs saved number.

You already know this, but the numbers don’t always agree. Sometimes, people don’t like that, but it is what it is. That’s why it’s better to use them all. I’ll always be confident in the defender who’s rated as positive by all three, moreso than the guy rated positive by two and average or below average by another. By the same token, I’ll always be confident in the defender with one excellent grade and two average grades, moreso than the guy with three average grades, because the numbers see something excellent in the first guy that isn’t apparent in the other. That excellent grade isn’t coming from nowhere. The numbers are subject to noise, but they’re not liars.

For catchers, things are a bit trickier, so instead I’ve just broken it down to the three major components of catching: controlling the run game (rSB, from FanGraphs), framing (from BaseballProspectus) and blocking (also from BP). These numbers are all represented in run values above or below average, and summed to give us a total defensive runs saved figure for catchers. UZR doesn’t exist for pitchers, so only DRS and FRAA are used.

OK, these last three paragraphs have been horribly boring. Let’s get to the fun stuff.

Pitcher – Dallas Keuchel

Player Inn. DRS FRAA tDEF
Dallas Keuchel 232 13 10 12
Wade Miley 193 5 1 3
Masahiro Tanaka 154 5 0 3

Since I mistakenly snubbed pitchers last year, we’ll start with them this time. Or you could view it as “getting them out of the way,” because pitcher defense is kind of boring. Except when Dallas Keuchel is doing it! Keuchel, over the last two years, has been worth 23 Defensive Runs Saved, more than 10 runs higher than the next pitcher, and nearly all of that comes from fielding his position, rather than controlling the run game. The number of weak ground balls in front of the mound generated by Keuchel gives him ample opportunities, and he routinely turns them into outs. Look at the way the follow-through in his delivery is already taking him towards this ball before it’s hit. He recognizes the ball off the bat so quickly, there’s actually a frame in this GIF where he’s got both feet off the ground, momentum already taking him towards the ball. Keuchel is excellent in many ways, this is one of them, and he should win his second consecutive Gold Glove, likely with many more to follow.

Iron Gloves: CC Sabathia (-5), Edinson Volquez (-5), Jeff Samardzija (-4).

Catcher – Russell Martin

Player Inn. rSB bpFRAME bpBLOCK tDEF
Russell Martin 994 4 13 1 18
Chris Iannetta 718 -1 15 1 15
Jason Castro 883 3 13 -2 14

The Blue Jays signed Russell Martin in the offseason to handle their pitching staff and serve as the elite defensive catcher that seemingly every good team in baseball is required to have. Given Martin’s reputation and track record, it’s no surprise that he did exactly that. Martin, of course, is an excellent framer/receiver/presenter/whatever we’ve decided to call it this week. Where he gains his edge, though, is in helping to control the running game. I do want to issue one correction, with regards to Martin’s blocking numbers. Last month, I published a post on Martin and R.A. Dickey, in which I noted that Martin’s blocking numbers, even after adjusting for the knuckleball, ranked near the bottom of the league. I’d had this confirmed by members of the BP staff prior to publication, however, after further review, the inquiry brought to their attention a glitch in their model that needed correcting. This has since been fixed, and Martin, it turns out, was actually at least an average blocker this season, if not above average. Put it all together, and you’ve got the complete package.

Iron Gloves: Kurt Suzuki (-7), James McCann (-7), Stephen Vogt (-4).

First Base – Albert Pujols

Player Inn. DRS UZR FRAA tDEF
Albert Pujols 804 4 3 4 4
Mike Napoli 899 -1 4 2 3
Mark Teixeira 913 3 0 3 3

Pujols was absent from the three finalists chosen by MLB, likely due to the amount of time he spent serving as Los Angeles’ designated hitter. His time at DH does not appear to be indicative of his defensive abilities, however. Rather, it was more likely a way for the Angels to keep the 35-year-old off his feet as often as possible, as he plays the fourth year of his 10-year contract. Pujols may have slowed considerably on the bases, but he can still pick it at first.

Pujols’ spot as a finalist was instead given to Eric Hosmer, who has won the last two Gold Gloves, though has typically graded as an average defensive first baseman. Teixeira or Napoli are probably better choices, but Hosmer does deserve credit for playing 500 innings more than any of our three finalists here, and the spread of the defensive impact at first base is slim enough to where it’s probably not worth quibbling over.

Iron Gloves: Logan Morrison (-4), Chris Carter (-3), James Loney (-3).

Second Base – Ian Kinsler

Player Inn. DRS UZR FRAA tDEF
Ian Kinsler 1324 19 6 0 9
Eric Sogard 775 5 1 6 4
Logan Forsythe 1073 8 1 -2 3

This was the position, across either league, with the most confusing finalists selected by MLB, in my opinion. They got Kinsler, who should be a lock for what would somehow be his first Gold Glove, but the inclusions of Jose Altuve and Brian Dozier are puzzling, to say the least. Dozier has never had a reputation as a strong defender and this year was no exception, as he finished sixth-to-last in a pool of 32 qualified second baseman with -4 runs saved in the total defensive metric used in this study. Altuve did appear to have improved his defense this year, but he improved it from “maybe worst in the league” to “about average.” Despite the advancements made toward considering pure defenders like Sogard for the Gold Glove, picks like Dozier and Altuve show that there’s still some work to be done to further remove ourselves from the popularity contests of year’s past.

Iron Gloves: Johnny Giavotella (-8), Robinson Cano (-7), Ben Zobrist (-6).

Third Base – Manny Machado

Player Inn. DRS UZR FRAA tDEF
Manny Machado 1367 14 8 20 14
Adrian Beltre 1237 18 12 -3 9
Josh Donaldson 1317 11 9 4 8

We’re currently in what seems like a golden era of defensive third baseman, and all three of these guys are certainly Gold Glove caliber. Donaldson won’t win, as his spot was given to Evan Longoria who was next in line with +6 runs saved, so regardless, we’ll have a deserving winner. The most deserving is probably Machado, who is unanimously seen as at least a one-win defender across the board and can make truly jaw-dropping throws like the one seen above. Machado should get this one, however, it’s probably close enough that if Beltre were to win his fifth career Gold Glove, you’d hear no qualms from me.

Iron Gloves: Pablo Sandoval (-12), Nick Castellanos (-6), Brett Lawrie (-4).

Shortstop – Didi Gregorius

Player Inn. DRS UZR FRAA tDEF
Didi Gregorius 1330 5 7 4 5
Alcides Escobar 1306 -1 7 5 4
Elvis Andrus 1404 -1 0 10 3

American League shortstop may be where this year’s biggest Gold Glove snub lies, but the snub wasn’t made by the selection committee. Instead, the snub was made by the rules for qualification. Cleveland’s Francisco Lindor, whose +8 tDEF grade would have made him the clear favorite, far surpassed the 690-inning minimum set by Rawlings to be eligible for the award. However, the qualifications also specify that a player must have met that inning requirement within his team’s first 137 games, and Lindor fell short of that requirement by 35 innings.

Had Lindor been called up four games sooner, he’d be the favorite to win his first of many Gold Gloves in the AL. Instead, our most deserving candidate becomes Gregorius, who lived up to his reputation as a plus defender in his first full season as an everyday shortstop. The ability to make a cross-body throw on the run with the sort of zip on it like the one shown above is decidedly remarkable.

Iron Gloves: Erick Aybar (-6), Asdrubal Cabrera (-6), Jose Reyes (-5).

Left Field – Yoenis Cespedes

Player Inn. DRS UZR FRAA tDEF
Yoenis Cespedes 1022 15 19 5 13
Eddie Rosario 742 10 7 -1 5
Alex Gordon 864 7 7 2 5

Cespedes’ gaffe in center field to kick off this year’s World Series may have painted a poor picture of his defensive abilities as an outfielder on the national stage, because you shouldn’t get it twisted: Cespedes holds his own out there. Maybe not in center field, where he’s assuredly out of position, but over the past three seasons in left field, only Gordon and Starling Marte have a higher DRS than Cespedes. Only Gordon leads him in UZR. Most of Cespedes’ value comes from his arm, but this year both measures agreed he had the best range of any left fielder in baseball. He’s always had the speed — you can see it in the GIF above — it was the routes that seemed to get him in trouble. Perhaps, now with another year of experience under his belt, Cespedes has improved his reads off the bat to the point where his speed actually leads to plus range, rather than offsetting one another. If this year’s range scores aren’t a fluke, then Cespedes becomes a perennial threat to Gordon’s throne as the best defensive left fielder in baseball. He should have it this year, at least.

sidenote: please just look at Hanley Ramirez and vow to never forget The Great Left Field Experience of 2015 before moving on

Iron Gloves: Hanley Ramirez (-16), Melky Cabrera (-5), Michael Brantley (0).

Center Field – Kevin Kiermaier

Player Inn. DRS UZR FRAA tDEF
Kevin Kiermaier 1174 42 30 25 32
Lorenzo Cain 1173 18 14 18 17
Kevin Pillar 1236 14 14 14 14

The numbers in this table are just hilarious compared to every other position. Pillar and Cain are truly spectacular in their own right and Cain was snubbed in favor of Mike Trout, but Kiermaier may have just had the best defensive season that we know of. Every metric agrees that Kiermaier was worth something like three wins with his glove alone, which is astounding. The Statcast numbers agree. There’s a lot to like about Kiermaier’s defensive game, but the thing that always strikes me is how quickly he accelerates to his top speed, as evidenced in the clip above, allowing him to get to balls that other outfielders wouldn’t have a chance at. Kiermaier is essentially the Andrelton Simmons of the outfield, a true generational defensive talent, and he should be winning Gold Gloves until the day he retires.

Iron Gloves: Adam Eaton (-7), Anthony Gose (-6), Delino Deshields Jr. (-5).

Right Field – Kole Calhoun

Player Inn. DRS UZR FRAA tDEF
Kole Calhoun 1383 6 14 10 10
George Springer 811 5 2 2 3
Alex Rios 914 -6 5 5 1

The defensive class in right field was particularly weak this year, but Calhoun stands out above the pack as a more-than-deserving candidate. Neither Springer or Rios were recognized, with the other two selections being given to perennial candidate Josh Reddick and J.D. Martinez, who seemed, by DRS and UZR, to have improved his defense drastically this year, though not if FRAA has anything to say about it. Calhoun should be the easy winner this year.

Iron Gloves: Carlos Beltran (-11), Avisail Garcia (-8), Jose Bautista (-6).

Stay tuned for the National League edition of this post, coming tomorrow.





August used to cover the Indians for MLB and ohio.com, but now he's here and thinks writing these in the third person is weird. So you can reach me on Twitter @AugustFG_ or e-mail at august.fagerstrom@fangraphs.com.

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Opie Curious
6 years ago

That Machado throw is the best I’ve seen all year. I’ve now watched that gif like forty times in a row. He doesn’t even see first base until he’s on the verge of releasing the ball, and yet there’s no hesitancy in his motion. Your average player sends that throw fifteen feet high and wide or else is three steps late. Just phenomenal.

tz
6 years ago
Reply to  Opie Curious

I go back and forth between that one and a play Simmons made on a Travis d’Arnaud grounder in the hole. Both guys throw laser beams with a super quick release and are right on target.

Like you said, worth rewatching.