As most hardcore baseball fans will tell you, and they may have been accused of being a ‘stats nerd’ at some juncture, far too often the best defenders don’t end up being awarded with a Gold Glove. MLB’s official award for defensive play is chosen by managers and coaches, who while they typically know a ton about the game (or theoretically), may not see certain players field very much. In addition, the award is somewhat limited in it’s real ‘shine’, since it’s long been contended that managers and coaches are reluctant to hand the award to players that had horrendous offensive seasons. Why? What does that have to do with defence?
There is also the question of whether orthodox stats, like how many errors a player makes, truly reflect the defensive capabilities of a fielder. Some players get to far more balls in play than others; some prevent far more runs as a result of their jaw dropping range. Are these factors being considered when it comes voting time? Maybe, but maybe not.
Need an example? Anyone who has watched Seattle Mariners’ shortstop Brendan Ryan knows that he is a god amongst men in terms of fielding. If you haven’t seen him play, or watched one of the many highlight reels out there documenting his defensive gems, you’re life is incomplete. Has he won a Gold Glove? Nope. Why? Because his bat is weak…
This is why publications like The Fielding Bible and Fangraphs, among others, have developed a far more comprehensive way of evaluating a player’s defensive contribution and skills. In the case of Ryan, for example, The Fielding Bible declared that the shortstop is the “best defender in baseball. Period.” According to their calculations, prior to 2013, the defensive wizard was responsible for saving 67 runs over the past three years.
While The Fielding Bible won’t announce it’s awards until this season is over, thanks to Fangraphs and its Ultimate Zone Rating (which also considers things like range, double-play runs etc, and not the dude’s batting average) we can get a sense of who should be tapped for Gold Gloves this year.
As of September 7th, the man leading the way in the UZR metric is Baltimore’s rising superstar, Manny Machado. According to Fangraphs, the Orioles’ third baseman has saved just over 30 runs thus far in 2013. That’s obscenely good. The 21 year-old has a range runs score of 24.2, which demonstrates just how dynamic he is at the hot corner. Thankfully he’s also pretty, pretty good with the bat, so you know, he doesn’t have to worry about being glossed over for a Gold Glove…
Second in the UZR rankings is Red Sox right fielder Shane Victorino, who has put up an impressive score of 25.5. Mr. Victorino, it should be noted, won multiple Gold Gloves during his time with the Phillies. He’s been a great pick-up for Boston, without question.
At number three is fielding guru Andrelton Simmons, who has been responsible for saving just over 24 runs at shortstop for the Braves. While the 24 year-old’s offensive numbers have been decent, it’s because of his ridiculous glove that Simmons currently has a fantastic wins-above-replacement (WAR) value of 4.1.
Some of the other men leading the way in defensive play this year are Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado (UZR of 22), Brewers center fielder Carlos Gomez (19.5), Diamondbacks center fielder AJ Pollock (18) and as always, Rays third baseman Evan Longoria (15).
Now yes, there’s still a few weeks left in the season, but here’s hoping at least some of them get tapped for Gold Gloves…