The 2020 finalists for the Rawlings Gold Glove awards have been announced, and plenty of those surrounding MLB are outwardly upset.
— Rawlings Baseball (@RawlingsSports) October 25, 2020
The story begins where every facet of this season begins: with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Because MLB only provided players with 60 games on which to craft the narrative of their season, the nomination process for 2020 Gold Glove winners was changed. Instead of baseball writers nominating the best defensive players of the season, league leaders in defensive metrics were used at each position.
And it holds that the best defensive players should have the best defensive stats, at least at the major league-level. But this is not the comfort food of baseball statistics. Fans do not commonly dive into DRS and FLD% with the same frequency as they do with home runs and ERA.
Only the baseball nerds really seem to care about the obscurities of that all.
So, what better way to mock the system in place than predicting the races at some key positions this year? **Note: one of the “winners” is not even a finalist this year. But be patient, their case will be explained in due time.**
National League: Center Field
1. Cody Bellinger — Los Angeles Dodgers
2. Ronald Acuna Jr. — Atlanta Braves
3. Trent Grisham — San Diego Padres
Beginning with this race is an embarrassment of riches, where there’s likely two superstars and an impressive, possibly future… star.
Taking a purely impressionistic approach, Bellinger has the greatest impact on his team while in the field. He’s so valuable because he can prevent things like Saturday night’s walk-off (too soon?) from happening. Bellinger has his own highlight reel of spectacular plays this postseason, and that by itself would be enough to sway the BBWAA in a normal year.
Acuña is no slouch at number two, either. He finished 2020 with a perfect fielding percentage and four defensive runs saved at two outfield positions. Grisham, meanwhile, got his first taste of significant playing time in San Diego this year. He committed just two errors while on pace for 21 defensive runs saved in his rookie season.
The correct men are on the pedestal here, graciously.
American League: Third Base
1. Matt Chapman — Oakland Athletics**
2. Isiah Kiner-Falefa — Texas Rangers
3. Gio Urshela — New York Yankees
4. Yoan Moncada — Chicago White Sox
Let the hoopla begin.
Chapman was not nominated in this race, despite winning two consecutive Gold Gloves before this season. Of course, being based on defensive statistics overall, it is a little easier to understand that Chapman’s injury hurt him in this category.
But that doesn’t mean he wasn’t the best defender from this group manning the hot corner.
IKF, to which the Ranger third baseman is lovingly referred, was the second best from the group in defensive runs saved, with eight on the season. Accomplishing that feat on a Texas Ranger team is not to be overstated, as the Rangers finished top-10 in defensive efficiency and wins above average among third basemen.
Contrast those figures with Texas’ below average pitching, and it shows you what sort of effort Kiner-Falefa put into his glovework this season. But Matt Chapman is a premium defender at an already premium position. Chapman should get the nod.
That being said, anyone winning the Gold Glove besides IKF would be total highway robbery.
Gold 2020? pic.twitter.com/I4BkboZ6jt
— Isiah Kiner-Falefa (@Isiahkf11) September 29, 2020
National League: Catcher
1. Tucker Barnhart — Cincinnati Reds
2. Jacob Stallings — Pittsburgh Pirates
3. Willson Contreras — Chicago Cubs
The decision here is more or less clear-cut. Barnhart had nine defensive runs saved ahead of both Stallings and Contreras. A win would give him his second Gold Glove and reinforce Cincinnati’s belief that he is their catcher of the future.
Posey’s absence is a no-brainer. The 33-year-old Giant opted out this season after twin baby girls, who he and his wife adopted, were born prematurely.
As for Molina, the St. Louis veteran had plenty to say about his exemption over social media earlier in the week.
“I don’t know if it’s MLB or whoever but it’s clear that they don’t want this Boriuca Jibarito to draw with the great (Johnny Bench),” Molina said on Instagram in Spanish. “…At 38 years I’m still the best. Ask every catcher in the MLB and they’ll tell you!!!”
Make no mistake; the problem here is not Molina’s exclusion. He shouldn’t win the Gold Glove this year. The numbers back that up. Really, the issue comes in the underlying message around this year’s finalists.
Is Molina really the fourth-best defensive catcher in his own division? That’s a significantly harder case to prove.
So again, maybe the baseball nerds aren’t the best people to choose Gold Glove winners in 2020. Just putting that out there.
American League: Center Field
1. Luis Robert — Chicago White Sox
2. Ramon Laureano — Oakland Athletics
3. Byron Buxton — Minnesota Twins
Of all the positions across baseball, this has got to be the most stacked, up-for-grabs award out of all positions. There’s no shortage of top-caliber defensive highlights or outfield throws that make fans’ minds go numb.
These three are the epitome of Gold Glove defense.
As a rookie, Robert led this trio in defensive outs above average, at a plus-eight. Buxton led all contenders with 11 defensive runs saved. And Laureano ended up the leader in head-first charges toward opponents’ dugouts and f-bombs dropped on national television.
But seriously, Laureano was stellar in the field too, and his ball-hawking skills deserve proper recognition.
The edge in the race barely grants Robert the win in his rookie season. Overall, he meant more to his team in the field than any player for Chicago and will only keep getting better. Laureano is the sentimental favorite for his escapades and brusque personality but doesn’t compare to Robert’s body of work.
Winners of the Gold Glove in 2020 will be held in special regard across baseball history. But let it be known that an undeserved award doesn’t make the attainment of a defensive prowess any less earned.
Featured Image Courtesy of Atlanta Braves & Pinterest
“From Our Haus to Yours”