On Thursday, the finalists for the Rawlings Gold Glove awards were announced, and as is the case every year, there were some real head-scratchers included in the final three. Clank-mitts are honored while solid defenders are ignored. Some players get rewarded based on past performances no matter how far their current performance has fallen. Below are the silliest finalist, the biggest snub, and the lifetime achievement award given to the player who is always a finalist for the Gold Glove precisely because he is always a finalist for the Gold Glove.
In case you haven’t seen the finalists yet, here they are for every position.
NL: Jack Flaherty, Zack Greinke, Aaron Nola
AL: Jose Berrios, Lucas Giolito, Mike Leake
NL: Austin Hedges, JT Realmuto, Yadier Molina
AL: Danny Jansen, Christian Vasquez, Roberto Perez
NL: Paul Goldschmidt, Christian Walker, Anthony Rizzo
AL: Yuli Gurriel, Matt Olson, Justin Smoak
NL: Ozzie Albies, Kolten Wong, Adam Frazier
AL: José Altuve, DJ LeMahieu, Yolmer Sánchez
NL: Trevor Story, Paul DeJong, Nick Ahmed
AL: Marcus Semien, Andrelton Simmons, Francisco Lindor
NL: Anthony Rendon, Josh Donaldson, Nolan Arenado
AL: Alex Bregman, David Fletcher, Matt Chapman
NL: Juan Soto, David Peralta, Hunter Renfroe
AL: Robbie Grossman, Andrew Benintendi, Alex Gordon
NL: Victor Robles, Lorenzo Cain, Harrison Bader
AL: Jackie Bradley Jr., Kevin Kiermaier, Mike Trout
NL: Cody Bellinger, Jason Heyward, Bryce Harper
AL: Kole Calhoun, Josh Reddick, Mookie Betts
There are a lot great candidates this year which makes it hard to narrow it down to just one. Juan Soto does a lot of things well, but he doesn’t pass the eye test. To his credit, he compiled 6 OAA this year which is a massive improvement over his rookie year. Kole Calhoun appears to be a finalist for leading the league in innings played in right field. Never mind that he was worth -1 DRS and 0 OAA. Mike Trout is a finalist because he’s Mike Trout and not because of his -1 DRS and -2 OAA. Justin Smoak doesn’t grade out well by any metric (-3 DRS, -3.2 UZR/150), but it doesn’t really matter who else was an AL finalist at first aside from Matt Olson.
The most baffling nomination has to go to Andrew Benintendi, however. The Red Sox’ left fielder posted -3 DRS and -10 OAA. The latter number puts him in company with Kyle Schwarber, Ian Desmond, and Eloy Jiménez. Statcast only tracked five outfielders in all of baseball who were worse in the field than Benintendi. This seems to be a reward for his game-saving catch in the ALCS last postseason because Benintendi didn’t do much in 2019 to help his team in the field. Benintendi didn’t make a play with a catch probability lower than 50 percent all year. It’s a truly baffling decision considering there were other worthwhile candidates in left field in the American League.
One of those candidates is Michael Brantley. Brantley led all left fielders with 10 DRS, but there the other metrics didn’t agree. UZR/150 had him at just 3.4 and OAA had him at -6. Brantley might have taken home the Biggest Snub honors if Statcast like him a bit more.
Plenty of other deserving defenders missed out. Javier Báez lost a coin flip with Paul DeJong. Evan Longoria led NL third basemen in SABR’s defensive index through August 18th, and that’s supposed to be the most heavily weighted defensive metric in Gold Glove voting. Whit Merrifield spent too much time playing the outfield to be credited for being nine runs better than José Altuve at second. How dare he offer his team defensive versatility?
No one was more deserving of recognition than Aaron Judge, though. All Judge did was tie with Cody Bellinger for the majors lead in DRS among right fielders. He also posted 8 OAA which tied him for 11th in all of baseball. He led all of baseball in UZR/150 at 24.2 regardless of position.
Judge was actually ineligible because position players must play in 713 total innings before his teams 142nd game. Judge missed time in the beginning of the year with an oblique strain which means that he didn’t meet the innings threshold before the cut-off, but why is the cut-off in the middle of the season? If the idea is to make it so a player fields his position 7.5 innings per game in 67 percent of his teams’ games, why not make it 814 innings over a full season? In that case, Judge would have missed the threshold, but it’s hard to ignore what Judge did in slightly less playing time.
Lifetime Achievement Award
There hasn’t been a year where Yadier Molina and Alex Gordon haven’t been finalists for the Gold Glove since Rawlings began announcing the finalists in 2011. In Molina’s case, he has won the award in all but two years since his first win in 2008. Gordon has won the award in six of the last eight seasons. Neither have been great defenders for years of course. Gordon’s defense isn’t what it used to be. His -5 OAA rank in the 21st percentile among all outfielders, but the competition in left field isn’t great. Gordon’s one defensive run saved tied for third in the American League. While Michael Brantley was more deserving of recognition, it’s not so egregious that Gordon was a finalist.
Molina though was mediocre in a crowded field, and the voters grandfathered him in above Yasmani Grandal, Tyler Flowers and Buster Posey. Molina has been roughly an average framer for three seasons averaging just 1.73 runs a year since 2017. Among the 37 catchers with at least 500 innings caught this season, Molina ranked 18th in DRS, 15th in framing, 13th in defensive runs above average, 24th in stolen base runs, 19th in percentage of base stealers thrown out, and 18th in blocking runs. But hey, he was tied for first in errors, and we all know errors are a great way to evaluate defense especially for catchers.
If there’s any justice, the award will go to Austin Hedges. If last season is any indication, Molina will add a tenth Gold Glove to his mantle this offseason. He won the award in 2018 despite having worse numbers than his paltry marks this year. That earns him the Lifetime Achievement Award for Receiving a Gold Glove He Has No Business Winning.
Kenny Kelly is a writer for Beyond the Box Score and McCovey Chronicles. You can follow him on Twitter @KennyKellyWords.