The annual Rawlings Gold Glove Award is given out at the end of each MLB season. The award has recognized great defensive performances dating back to 1957. Each season six players from each position selected as finalists, three from each league. One winner from each league is selected totaling 18 total winners. This year, the Cardinals had two players nominated, Kolten Wong at second base, and Yadier Molina at catcher.
The award is reserved for the most outstanding defensive player at each position. There are many factors that play into the award, but it is solely based on their defensive performance. Once the qualifying players are determined and the finalists are chosen there is a vote that takes place to decide the winner. Coaches and managers cast their votes on who they believe is deserving of the award. In addition, 25% of the overall vote comes from a component provided by Society for American Baseball Research (SABR).
Yadier Molina is already an eight-time Gold Glove Award winner, four-time Platinum Glove Award winner, nine time all-star, and the 2018 Roberto Clemente Award winner. Molina is currently seeking his ninth Gold Glove. Yadier has also won the Fielding Bible Award six times, an award for the best statistical defender at each position. Yadi’s impressive resume is still growing.
This is Kolten Wong’s first time being nominated for the Gold Glove award. Wong has also won his first Fielding Bible Award this season. This is not a solid indication however that he will win out over the other nominees. Kolten’s defense was very good, but can he win the Gold Glove?
There isn’t a cut and dry blueprint that maps out who will win the Gold Glove award each year. The Rawlings guidelines for the award does state that it is based only on defense. But, not only off of statistics. Simply put, the best defensive performance should take home the award.
Also nominated for the award is division rival Javier Baez, and Rockies second baseman DJ LeMahieu. LeMahieu is no stranger to the nomination, as he took home the award just last season.
This is the 6th season that the SABR analytics are being used to aid in deciding who bring home the award. In years past, analytics were not a deciding factor. Each player’s individual performance on the field, and what coaches saw was what lead to the voting. Now, MLB uses the SABR Defensive Index is used to determine who plays the defense statistically. The data is compiled and used and make up 25% of the voting. However, SABR will not release their full results until after the Gold Glove winners are announced. They have posted the rankings for all players up to August 19th of this season. Shown below are the NL overall leaders.
Notice that Javier Baez is not even listed on this ranking. Even more interesting, when looking at the Second base rankings. Baez ranks 9th. For someone who is nominated for a Gold Glove at second base, why is he not even ranked higher defensively? These do not show numbers for the entire season, but after almost five months of play, his SDI is only a 0.0.
A Look into the Numbers
Next, lets look at is some of the statistics. Looking at the data, there are many factors to be considered when ranking these players. Listed below are some simple defensive stats. For Baez, I only used his 2B numbers. Baez played 1303.3 innings total, however he spent most of his time, and is nominated at 2B.
LeMahieu did see the most playing time. He also had significantly fewer errors and higher fielding percentages than both Wong and Baez. These numbers also don’t show that Baez totaled 17 errors this season. He only committed 6 at second base, however his large number of errors overall is somewhat troubling. Wong also had a higher number of errors, this isn’t an indication of bad defense, rather it shows how clean of a defender LeMahieu is.
It is also interesting that with 219 less innings this year, Wong’s Defensive Runs Saved were higher than LeMahieu. The DRS calculation is quite complicated. It also is a great tool for assessing overall defense. According to FanGraphs, a Gold Glover should have a DRS of over 15. Wong and LeMahieu both achieved this stat, however Baez only rated above average.
If you are interested in reading more on DRS calculations, check out the FanGraphs website.
To get a better understanding of how each of these players performed defensively, it is important to dive deeper into the numbers. FanGraphs also uses what they call inside edge fielding to determine how a player fairs with higher degree of difficulty plays.
Each defensive play is rated by difficulty, and then a probability is calculated by player. The chart here shows each degree of difficulty, and then the percent that each player was able to make those plays. In parenthesis it shows the number of times a player had the opportunity to make each type of play.
|Likely (60- 90%)
Not shown is the “Impossible” rating. None of the three players made any of those plays. This makes sense because less than 1% of those plays are likely to be completed.
Wong did make more plays rated 60% probability or lower than Baez and LeMahieu. Wong is very good at completing difficult plays for outs. He also may have struggled with likely and routine plays, which is where LeMahieu does standout. These numbers are all interesting. What is more interesting to me is that Wong was given the Fielding Bible Award, and also held the lead on the Defensive Index for all defenders on August 19th. It will be interesting what the end of the season stats will show.
This award is not all based on statistics. It is based on of the Coaches, and Managers opinions as well. So, we also have to take into consideration the showmanship that comes with each player. Below are some videos that stood out to me. This is not all of their best plays, but just a handful. You can be the judge; the eye test does say a lot about each player’s abilities.
Kolten Wong charges to field a slow grounder by Keon Broxton and throws to first on the run in time for the out in the top of the 8th inning
Dominic Leone fields Victor Reyes’ bunt and throws the ball over Matt Carpenter’s head, but Kolten Wong backs him up to save a run
Kolten Wong lays out to snag a hard-hit grounder off the bat of Erik Kratz, then gets up and throws to first for the out in the 4th inning
DJ LeMahieu shows off the leather, making three excellent defensive plays to rob three Mariners of hits
DJ LeMahieu makes a sliding stop up the middle and fires a tough throw to first in time to nab Joe Panik in the top of the 5th inning
Colin Moran rips a liner into right, but Javier Baez lays out to make a superb diving snag before faceplanting into the ground
Javier Baez makes a diving stop on Greg Allen’s hard ground ball, and then makes a strong throw from his knees to get the out at first base
Baez is a great player, but simply was not the standout second baseman in the National League. His tagging, and his arm, his ability to play multiple positions, and his offense are his major strengths.. However, this is a defensive award. His lack of presence on the SABR Defensive Index, and his errors are glaring when making the evaluation.
LeMahieu boasts his consistency, and his clean defense. These two factors do give him leverage to win the award. Statistically speaking, he didn’t make as many difficult plays as Wong and Baez. His 6 foot 3” body does help to expand his range, but he does seem to lack some explosiveness. He is certainly a great candidate due to only having four errors over 1115 innings and could potentially win a second year in a row.
Kolten Wong has a very good chance to bring home this award. Kolten stepped up his defense this season, and really made a large number of dazzling plays. His defense kept him in the starting lineup when he was healthy. The future looks bright for Kolten. If the stats, and the eye test are thoroughly evaluated, he should take home this award on November 4th.
Best of Luck to Kolten Wong.