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 2017, 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 2017. The SDI numbers represent defensive runs saved relative to the league average at the position.
> American League
* C – Martin Maldonado – If you wonder how valuable a .221 hitter can be to a team, look no further. The Angels back-stop won the Gold Glove and his 14.1 rating was almost double that of the nearest competitor.
* 1B – Here’s where perception and reality refuse to meet. The best DFI was the Indians Carlos Santana with 6.7. Eric Hosmer of the Royals won the Gold Glove with a negative rating and 11 other AL 1B finished ahead of him.
* 2B – Ian Kinsler of the Tigers had the best mark with 5.8 but the second place finisher won the Gold Glove…Brian Dozier of the Twins.
* 3B – Evan Longoria’s 6.5 number was the best and he captured the Gold Glove…Todd Frazier & Kyle Seager were close behind.
* SS – Andrelton Simmons of the Angels won his 3rd Gold Glove at age 27 with an amazing rating of 18.8. Elvis Andrus was a distant 2nd with 10.1.
* LF – Alex Gordon’s offensive woes didn’t impact his defense as he won his 5th Gold Glove with a 11.1 rating. Brett Gardner was close at 10.8.
* CF – In a league filled with quality CF’s, the Twins Byron Buxton stood out with an incredible 20.0 rating and the Gold Glove. Lorenzo Cain’s 10.1 was next best.
* RF – Mookie Betts of the Red Sox won his second consecutive Gold Glove by posting a number of 22.0. No other RF was over 9.
> National League
* C – Austin Hedges and Tucker Barnhart had almost identical ratings (10.7 & 10.4)…Barnhart came away with the award.
* 1B – Brandon Belt had the best results at 10.7 but Paul Goldschmidt was a close 2nd and won his 3rd Gold Glove.
* 2B – DJ LeMahieu nearly lapped the field with his number of 10.2 and the Gold Glove is in his trophy case. Joe Panik won the leather in ’16 but dropped to the bottom of the list in ’17.
* 3B – Nolan Arenado – Five seasons into his career and five Gold Gloves, this time with a rating of 11.0. David Freese was a close second at 9.5.
* SS – Addison Russell has been consistently excellent and topped the list with a 8.3 number, but he lost out on the award, which went to Brandon Crawford for the 3rd straight year.
* LF – Marcell Ozuna will take his skills and a Gold Glove to St. Louis for 2018. He had the best rating at 6.5.
* CF – Ender Inciarte gave more credence as to why Dave Stewart should not have been a GM by winning the Gold Glove again. This was a very close competition as Michael Taylor & Manny Margot were right on his heels.
* RF – Jason Heyward was the best at his position with a 12.8 rating…a $184 Million investment should bring something. Yasiel Puig of the Dodgers was next with 9.5.
> 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 – Brian McCann C…Yonder Alonso 1B…Starlin Castro 2B…Nick Castellanos 3B…Tim Anderson SS…Kris Davis LF…Adam Jones CF…Jose Bautista RF
* NL – Francisco Cervelli C…Tommy Joseph 1B…Joe Panik 2B…Jake Lamb 3B (a repeat “winner”)…Jose Reyes SS…Matt Kemp LF…Denard Span CF…Domingo Santana RF
What about Pitchers, you ask? Well, Marcus Stromen had the best rating in the AL and won the Gold Glove while in NL, Zack Greinke won his 4th straight award despite finishing only 8th in the ratings…R.A. Dickey was #1.
Don’t forget to take your glove to the ballpark.