When it comes to baseball, there are casual fans, hometown fans, old-school fans, know-it-all fans, rabid fans and people like me. I’m a 365 day-a-year fan who enjoys all the nuances of the actual game as well as all the minutia of the hot stove season. A day doesn’t go bye when I don’t check the transactions or think about free agent signings or muse about the topic of my next blog. And, I’m not at all apologetic about my passion for the game because it has been a wonderful distraction in my life. As a wise man once said, “Life is more worthwhile when you can be passionate about something trivial.”
For me, being a member of The Society of American Baseball Research (SABR) is a delightful extension of my fandom. The brilliant people who write for the Society always make me think and open my eyes to the endless history of this great game. So, when they recently published their “SABR Defensive Index” (SDI) for 2016, it got me thinking about how far we’ve come in the last thirty years in regards to judging defensive excellence on the field. For many years, I was a critic of the annual Gold Glove awards because they never seemed to based on reality, only reputation. The final straw was in 1999, when Rafael Palmiero only played 34 games at 1B (and 128 at DH) but still won the AL Gold Glove. Of course, he won it in ’97 & ’98, so he must still be the best 1B in the league, right?
Since then, researchers have created defensive metrics that quantify the performance of major league players on the field, so we’re getting closer to the truth. Currently, the SDI ratings are incorporated into the Rawlings Gold Glove selection process and account for about 25% of the results when added to the votes from managers and coaches. So, let’s look at the SDI results and how they compare to the actual Gold Glove winners for 2016. The SDI numbers represent defensive runs saved relative to the league average at the position.
> American League
* C – Salvador Perez – At age 26, the Royals backstop won his 4th consecutive Gold Glove and it was richly deserved…his 8.7 SDI was tied for the best rating with James McCann of the Tigers.
* 1B – Mitch Moreland – Won the Gold Glove and it was certainly deserved, as his 6.2 rating was easily the best number.
* 2B – Robinson Cano – It’s not often that you’ll find three candidates with statistics this close. Cano’s 8.6 was essentially the same as Jason Kipnis and Gold Glove winner Ian Kinsler (both at 8.5).
* 3B – Adrian Beltre – The 5th Gold Glove for this future Hall-of-Famer, even at age 37, his skills (14.6) were significantly better than Kyle Seager & Manny Machado
* SS – Francisco Lindor – His first Gold Glove at age 22 and no one else was close to his rating of 18.5.
* LF – Brett Gardner – Probably the weakest position as only three players had a positive number…Gardner won the Gold Glove with a number of 8.0.
* CF – Kevin Kiermeier – He and Kevin Pillar are so much better than all their peers, it’s almost embarrassing. Kiermeier got the award with 14.6, while Pillar had 11.7…nobody else was over 6.
* RF – Adam Eaton – Lost the Gold Glove to Mookie Betts even though his rating was slightly higher…21.4 – to – 19.3. The next highest number was 3.6!
> National League
* C – Buster Posey – Won the Gold Glove and his rating (15.2) was so much better than anyone else, it would be a disservice to mention another name.
* 1B – Anthony Rizzo – His first Gold Glove with a number of 8.6…Wil Myers was next at 6.6.
* 2B – Joe Panik – This may have been a surprise when he won the award, but it was warranted with a 8.5 rating. Four time winner Brandon Phillips had a negative number for 2016.
* 3B – Nolan Arenado – Four seasons into his career and four Gold Gloves, this time with a rating of 12.2. Justin Turner was a close second at 11.1.
* SS – Addison Russell – Russell and Brandon Crawford were far and away the best NL Shortstops and Crawford got the hardware. The final numbers were 17.2 & 15.6 respectively.
* LF – Adam Duvall – Starling Marte will take his Gold Glove to CF in 2017, but Duvall’s first season was impressive with 9.1. Marte was next at 6.4.
* CF – Ender Inciarte – Another clear reason why Dave Stewart should not have been a GM. Inciarte won the award with a number of 16.4…Billy Hamilton was second
* RF – Jason Heyward – Easily the best at his position with a 14.9 rating that was more than double the runner-up. It was his fourth Gold Glove in the last five years
> In case you’re curious, here’s a list of the defensive players with the worst ratings…in other words their defense was “offensive”.
* AL – Kurt Suzuki C…Eric Hosmer 1B…Johnny Giovatella 2B…Yunel Escobar 3B…Brad Miller SS…Melky Cabrera LF…Carlos Gomez CF…J.D. Martinez RF
* NL – Nick Hundley C…Joey Votto 1B…Daniel Murphy 2B…Jake Lamb 3B…Alexei Ramirez SS…Jayson Werth LF…Andrew McCutcheon CF…Yasmani Tomas RF
What about Pitchers, you ask? Well, Dallas Keuchel had the second best rating in the AL and won the Gold Glove while Zack Greinke captured the hardware in the NL despite finishing third behind Bartolo Colon & Jake Arrietta.
Don’t forget to take your glove to the ballpark.