The American League edition of this post ran yesterday, and can be found right here.
There’s no sense in bogging the top of this down with words, really. My comments on the history of the Gold Glove, its improvements, and defensive metrics can be read in yesterday’s post. For those interested, I will re-publish the qualification rules and selection process before we begin:
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.
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.
To the awards!
Pitcher – Zack Greinke
Zack Greinke prides himself on his defense. It’s not often you hear a pitcher say that. Then again, it’s not often you hear many pitchers say or do the things Zack Greinke says and does. If you wanted to get extra-granular with this, perhaps you could assign Greinke extra marginal fractions of runs saved for being (maybe?) the only pitcher that aligns his own fielders based on the batters he’s facing and the pitches he’s planning to throw. Zack Greinke is awesome. He might win a Cy Young, and he should also win a Gold Glove. In this case, MLB nailed all three finalists, so there really isn’t a poor selection either way.
Catcher – Yasmani Grandal
As if Greinke and Clayton Kershaw need any more help, they now throw to the best-receiving catcher in baseball. Yes, with Jonathan Lucroy and Yadier Molina banged up, and the other Molina out of the game, that title now belongs to Yasmani Grandal, whose framing abilities were worth nearly three wins by themselves according to BaseballProspects’ rigorous and extensive calculations. There’s a reason why the Dodgers seemingly refused to take Grandal out of the lineup in the postseason despite the torn labrum in his left shoulder that rendered him essentially useless at the plate down the stretch. Unfortunately, the current selection process for Gold Gloves doesn’t seem to give catcher’s credit for framing — or, if it does, it doesn’t weight it heavily enough — and so Grandal wasn’t included in this year’s final three. Instead, Posey is the most deserving of the three finalists chosen by MLB.
First Base – Paul Goldschmidt
First base defense is pretty incredible in the National League. Consider, when observing that these three first basemen were all worth somewhere in the spectrum of 10 runs saved, defensively, that the top three qualified American League shortstops had tDEF totals of +5, +4 and +3. Goldschmidt, in particular, is pretty incredible, with DRS giving him credit for nearly two wins of defensive value. He should win his second Gold Glove in three years, though MLB got all three finalists correct, by these standards, and there really isn’t a bad pick in the bunch.
Second Base – Danny Espinosa
I felt a little uneasy about the top spot going to a guy who played just 650 innings at the position, but Espinosa met all the requirements for qualification set by Rawlings, and the only reason he didn’t rack up more innings at second is because the Nationals needed him to play awesome defense at shortstop, third base, first base and left field, too. As far as I’m concerned, as long as you’re qualified for the award, if you saved more runs at the position than your peers, you should win the Gold Glove. The numbers here make it easy: Espinosa, unanimously, was a +10 defender at second base this season, and no other National League second baseman can say that. Of course, he wasn’t selected as a finalist by MLB, likely due to his low innings total, and the only crossover candidate is Dee Gordon, so he becomes the best choice to actually win the award.
Third Base – Nolan Arenado
Nolan Arenado became just the 10th player in baseball history to win a Gold Glove in his rookie season back in 2013, setting the stage for what could become one of the most decorated defensive careers at third base the game has seen. Arenado seems like as good of a lock as there is to be a perennial Gold Glove winner, and this year is no exception. I mean, look at that throw. Goodness.
MLB got their selection of Matt Duffy right, and Todd Frazier wasn’t a bad third option, being that he ranked fourth in this study, but Jake Lamb’s surprisingly elite defensive season in Arizona nets him a nomination here.
Shortstop – Andrelton Simmons
Hey, speaking of perennial Gold Glove winners, here’s Andrelton Simmons! Look at where he is when he throws that baseball! My brain still does not comprehend this play. Question that’s impossible to answer: who fails to win a Gold Glove first, Arenado or Simmons? Or Kevin Kiermaier? Simmons is the premier defensive player in baseball, and, really, there’s not much left to say about him that hasn’t already been said.
Crawford has played second fiddle to Simmons as the game’s best defensive shortstop for the past couple seasons, and so he was rightfully rewarded as the second finalist by MLB. Adeiny Hechavarria was chosen over Ahmed, though, and that’s not a bad choice considering he was the next person on the list, but Ahmed deserves some recognition, too. Really, the left side of the Diamondbacks infield does. That’s quite an impressive pairing that’s probably underrated by most people who don’t watch Diamondbacks baseball.
Left Field – Starling Marte
A curious negative rating by BP’s FRAA metric makes this race far closer than it would appear by the metrics hosted here at FanGraphs. With Alex Gordon having carved out his niche as the American League’s top defensive left fielder, Marte has done the same for the National League in Pittsburgh over his first three full seasons, yet he still has not won a Gold Glove. This year, that should change.
Center Field – Billy Hamilton
Elite speed doesn’t always translate to elite defense (looking at you, Rajai Davis), but in Billy Hamilton’s case, it does. The fastest player in the game is also one of the best fielders in the game, and he should be rewarded with his first of potentially many Gold Gloves in center field this season.
The big talking point here isn’t in the names above this paragraph, though, it’s in one of the names below this table. No, not Angel Pagan. We know about him. It’s about McCutchen, of course, a former winner and perennial finalist who was again chosen this year despite having a career DRS of -30 and a UZR that agrees at -28. Just by the numbers, McCutchen is the most egregious selection as a finalist in this year’s Gold Glove class. I don’t watch the Pirates, so I don’t claim to know much about McCutchen’s defense, but for what it’s worth, the Statcast numbers say McCutchen had one of the very worst first step times of any outfielder in baseball this year, which could help explain some of the discrepancy between his very obvious athleticism and his perceived liability as a center fielder.
Right Field – Jason Heyward
It isn’t the biggest reason why, but it’s one of the big reasons why Heyward is expected to land somewhere in the vicinity of $200 million in this year’s offseason. Consider that, since entering the league in 2010, Heyward has accrued more Defensive Runs Saved than any player in baseball. The same goes for UZR, by a hefty margin. Simmons and Kiermaier may have posted higher single-season totals than Heyward, but Heyward’s been the most consistently amazing defender in baseball for more than half a decade and he’s still young, at 26, so his defense might not begin seeing a noticeable decline for several more seasons. Heyward’s defense keeps his floor about as high as a floor can be, and his ceiling far higher.
For those interested, I uploaded the spreadsheet that contains all the defensive numbers used for these posts, including tDEF and tDEF/1000, for every qualified defender this season onto Google drive, and it can be viewed right here.
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 email@example.com.