clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Making the cases for the 2018 NL Gold Glove awards

Which players deserve to win the most prestigious defensive awards in baseball?

Atlanta Braves v Colorado Rockies Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

The 2018 season is over, and that means the debates for some of Major League Baseball’s prestigious regular-season awards — the Most Valuable Player, the Cy Young, the Gold Glove, the Silver Slugger, and the Manager of the Year — are happening right now.

In this series, we are going to make cases for those players and managers who are in the running for these awards to come away with the hardware in their respective leagues. We will continue our series by examining the candidates for National League Gold Glove awards.

FYI, I’m going to heavily reference the two advanced defensive metrics here that I believe to be the most reliable: defensive runs saved (DRS), a stat that tells you how many runs better or worse a player has been than the average player at his position, and UZR/150, a range-based stat that tells you how many runs a player saved or gave up, all scaled to the estimate of what he would have done with a league-average number of defensive chances at the position.

Pitcher

1. Zack Greinke, Diamondbacks

Pitcher Gold Gloves are perhaps the most arbitrary awards in the sport, but for whatever it’s worth, Greinke has won the NL pitcher Gold Glove four years in a row. He’s likely in position to win his fifth straight — and the metrics justify it, as he tied for the lead among NL pitchers with seven defensive runs saved.

2. Julio Teheran, Braves

Though Teheran threw 32 innings fewer than Greinke, he appears to be the guy who’s best equipped to dethrone Greinke after all these years. He tied with Greinke, collecting seven DRS in 175.2 innings. However, baserunners stole 19 bags while Teheran was on the mound.

3. Clayton Richard, Padres

Though Richard pitched a comparatively low 158.2 innings, he finished with five DRS and led NL pitchers with 38 assists.

Catcher

1. Yadier Molina, Cardinals

Despite missing nearly a month after suffering a traumatic injury — he took a 102-mph Jordan Hicks fastball to the groin — Molina started 120 games, did a great job of commanding a Cardinals pitching staff that featured breakout performers like Miles Mikolas, Jack Flaherty, John Gant, and Hicks, and threw out a respectable 31 percent of base stealers. The metrics weren’t overly kind to him — he had -1 defensive run saved — but in a bad year for catcher defense, his durability and reputation will be enough to win him a ninth Gold Glove.

2. Buster Posey, Giants

Though Posey, a 2016 Gold Glover, regressed offensively for a Giants team that struggled for a second straight year, he was actually quite good in the field, collecting 10 defensive runs saved while working with a pitching staff that got impressive performances from unexpected contributors such as Derek Holland, Dereck Rodriguez, Andrew Suarez, and Reyes Moronta. Posey missed the last five weeks of the season after undergoing hip surgery, though, and since he started just 85 games behind the plate thanks to frequent off days and 13 starts at first base, he probably doesn’t deserve to win the award this year.

3. Manny Piña, Brewers

Piña, 31, seems to be here mainly because of a 41 percent caught-stealing percentage — though successfully managing a pitching staff full of overachieving underdogs like Jhoulys Chacin and Wade Miley couldn’t have hurt, either. He only caught 743 innings, though, and even with catching metrics being more flawed than they are at any other position, he was ordinary enough from a metrics standpoint that it’s difficult to see him winning an award with a SABR component.

First base

1. Freddie Freeman, Braves

Freeman was extremely durable in 2018, starting 160 games at first while serving as a defensive replacement in another, and his first Gold Glove is quite frankly overdue. He finished second only to the Giants’ Brandon Belt, who he played nearly 600 innings more than at first base, in defensive runs saved with 12. He also ranked second behind Belt with an 8.2 UZR/150.

2. Joey Votto, Reds

Votto, who hasn’t won a Gold Glove since 2011, has a chance to add another one to his trophy case tonight. He started 137 games and finished third behind Belt and Freeman in both DRS (nine) and UZR/150 (5.0).

3. Anthony Rizzo, Cubs

Rizzo — a 2016 Gold Glove winner — was durable, starting 148 games at first this year, and he finished with a respectable four DRS.

Second base

1. Kolten Wong, Cardinals

Wong was one of the most impactful defenders in baseball this year, collecting 19 DRS — which ranked first among NL first basemen and third among all NL defenders — along with a 17.6 UZR/150 that ranked second only to teammate Harrison Bader among all NL defenders with at least 600 innings played in the field. Unfortunately, a series of DL stints limited him to 98 starts, which may compromise his candidacy.

2. DJ Lemahieu, Rockies

LeMahieu didn’t perform quite as well as Wong did in terms of metrics, but he was nearly as good — 18 defensive runs saved and a 12.5 UZR/150, both of which ranked second among players with at least 600 innings played at the position. He was also significantly more durable than Wong, playing 1,115 innings at second, and that may be enough to win him the award.

3. Javier Baez, Cubs

The rules state that a player is to be nominated at the position where he played the most innings, and it would have been foolish not to nominate Baez at all, seeing as he’s one of the most electrifying defenders in baseball. But it’d feel weird to give Baez a Gold Glove at second base when there’s so much good competition and he started just 75 games (including only four in September) at second, while starting 52 at short and 18 at third. He was very average in terms of the metrics at all of those positions, and while it’s still easy to see the reputation he earned as an elite tagger-outer during the 2016 playoffs carrying him to his first Gold Glove, he doesn’t appear to be the most deserving candidate — or even second-most deserving — at the position.

Third base

1. Nolan Arenado, Rockies

Seeing as Arenado frequently gets talked about as one of the best defensive third basemen of all time and the best baseball has seen since Scott Rolen, he’d probably be a lock to win this award even if the competition was better. Arenado wasn’t exactly dominant in terms of metrics this year, but his 8.1 FanGraphs defensive rating led all qualifying NL third basemen, and he started 152 games at third.

2. Travis Shaw, Brewers

Shaw barely played third after being forced to second base following Mike Moustakas’ arrival on July 27, but he was very good in the time he played at the position, posting nine defensive runs saved, which ranked first among NL third basemen. The fact that he started only 99 games at third, though, is likely to derail his candidacy.

3. Anthony Rendon, Nationals

Rendon’s inclusion here is frankly quite confusing. While his range was good, he wasn’t just mediocre but downright bad according to the metrics (-6 defensive runs saved), and while he started 135 games, he wasn’t exactly the picture of durability — he had a two-week stint on the DL early in the season. The Braves’ Johan Camargo would have been a more logical finalist.

Shortstop

1. Nick Ahmed, Diamondbacks

Ahmed has arguably been the best defensive shortstop in the National League for several years now, and after he finally stayed healthy for a whole season, this may be the year that he finally wins a Gold Glove. He led all National League players — infielders, outfielders, and catchers — with 21 defensive runs saved, while starting 135 games and coming in as a defensive replacement in another 13. His range isn’t what it was before he underwent hip surgery in 2016, but it’s still pretty good — and more than good enough to win him a Gold Glove.

2. Brandon Crawford, Giants

Crawford had a really good first half and was likely in position to win his fourth straight Gold Glove after being an All-Star starter in July. He struggled both offensively and defensively after the break, though, and likely ruined his chance at continuing his streak. He’ll likely get votes for his durability (141 starts) and previous track record, but his reign as the NL Gold Glove shortstop appears to be over.

3. Freddy Galvis, Padres

Galvis’ most marketable skill was his versatility, as he started all 162 games — 157 at short and another five at second base. He was perfectly solid if unspectacular (seven defensive runs in 1,401 innings) at short, though his range left a bit to be desired. With all due respect to Crawford and Galvis, it’s surprising that the Cardinals’ Paul DeJong — the only shortstop who really competed with Ahmed from a metric standpoint — was snubbed.

Left field

1. Corey Dickerson, Pirates

Dickerson’s story is impressive, as he was designated for assignment and traded by the Rays in February, with one of the chief concerns (aside from the fact that the Rays didn’t want to pay him) being that he was primarily a DH and unplayable defensively. Dickerson proved that statement wrong in his return to the National League, leading qualifying NL left fielders with 16 DRS and displaying outstanding range with a 11.9 UZR/150. In a weak field, it’d be surprising if he didn’t win the Gold Glove.

2. Adam Duvall, Reds/Braves

It was somewhat surprising to see Duvall get nominated, as he started just nine games after getting traded to the Braves on July 30. He was efficient in the time he was on the field, though, collecting 17 DRS in 766.1 innings and posting a strong 11.4 UZR/150. Duvall was very good in the field, but he probably didn’t play enough to end up with his first Gold Glove.

3. Christian Yelich, Brewers

Other than his status as the presumptive NL MVP, it’s a mystery as to why Yelich got nominated here — he started 68 games in right field, 63 in left, and 12 in center, and he wasn’t really outstanding at any of those positions. Voting has gotten much better this decade, but with the ugly history of lazy voters awarding Gold Gloves based on name recognition and offensive ability, there’s perhaps still a chance that Yelich could come away with his second Gold Glove and his first since 2014.

Center field

1. Lorenzo Cain, Brewers

With all due respect to Inciarte, who had a spectacular year defensively, Cain seems to be the surest bet among NL outfielders to come away with a Gold Glove on Sunday. While playing 1,180 innings — 12th among all NL outfielders — Cain finished first among that group in defensive runs saved (20) and third in UZR/150 (11.9). Considering how quickly outfielders decline defensively and that Cain is now 32 years old, it’s unbelievably impressive that he’s still effectively holding down center field, let alone that he’s still the best defensive outfielder in the entire National League.

2. Ender Inciarte, Braves

Inciarte was basically the victim of playing in the same league as Cain — he ranked third among qualifying NL outfielders with 17 defensive runs saved, and his 7.4 UZR/150 tied for fifth among that group. There’s a fringe possibility that some of the voters could give him an edge because he ended up playing 161 more innings in the field than Cole did.

3. Billy Hamilton, Reds

Hamilton is one of the fastest and most exciting outfielders to watch in the league, no doubt, so it’s not exactly surprising to see him make the list of Gold Glove finalists. The metrics indicate that he wasn’t really a dominant defender in 2018, though, as he finished sixth among eight qualified NL center fielders in defensive runs saved (4). When you consider that Cardinals center fielder Harrison Bader was snubbed from the group of finalists while finishing second among all NL outfielders in DRS (19) and first among qualifiers in UZR/150 (17.2), it’s hard to understand why Hamilton made the list.

Right field

1. Jason Heyward, Cubs

Heyward, whose reputation as a defender is so strong that it earned him an eight-year, $184 million contract three offseasons ago, wasn’t quite as good as usual in the field this year. He tied for ninth among NL right fielders with at least 200 innings played at the position in defensive runs saved (3), and he posted his worst UZR/150 (7.4) since his rookie year — perhaps a sign that his 6-foot-6, 240-pound frame is catching up to him. With all of that said, his only real competition for the award is a fourth-outfielder type who moved all over the outfield, so he’ll likely end up with his fifth straight Gold Glove and sixth overall.

2. Jon Jay, Royals/Diamondbacks

Jay, Heyward’s former Cardinals teammate and aforementioned competition for the Gold Glove, started 113 games in the outfield between the Royals and Diamondbacks — his most in a season since 2013. He managed to be efficient while splitting his time between left (40 starts), center (24 starts), and right (49 starts), collecting a total of seven defensive runs saved, including six in right. There’s an argument to be made that he was better than Heyward this year, even if he’s extremely unlikely to end up actually winning the award.

3. Nick Markakis, Braves

Markakis presumably earned this nomination because of his durability, as he started all 162 games — 157 in right field, another three in left, and two at DH. He wasn’t really anything special as a defender, finishing with a total of one defensive run saved and a mediocre 0.8 UZR/150.