Gold Glove Finalists: The Entire Rays Infield Nominated

J. Meric

The Rays are a team that prides themselves of supreme, internally developed pitching and superior defense.

It's not that offense doesn't matter -- the Rays were tied for the third best wRC+ last season -- but that the difficulties in playing in Tropicana Field, and the advantages of seizing upon a market inefficiency like defense (and how it's measured) allows the Rays to have an edge when other teams might invest elsewhere.

Unfortunately for the Rays and fortunately for the stat heads, statistics regarding defense are developing and becoming more widely available, and as such the Rawlings Gold Glove Award will finally be informed, specifically employing the SABR Defensive Index (SDI):

The SABR Defensive Index draws on and aggregates two types of existing defensive metrics: those derived from batted ball, location-based data and those collected from play-by-play accounts.

The three metrics representing batted ball data include Defensive Runs Saved from Baseball Info Solutions, Ultimate Zone Rating developed by noted sabermetrician Mitchel Lichtman, and Runs Effectively Defended built by SABR Defensive Committee member Chris Dial.

The two metrics included in the SDI originating from play-by-play data are Defensive Regression Analysis, created by committee member Michael Humphreys, and Total Zone Rating.

These components are then evaluated by a committee of seven individuals (listed behind the link), and compiled to create the SDI, which represents 25% of the votes toward the Gold Glove award. These statistics are then included in a resource guide that was sent with the ballots sent to managers and coaches in September.

The votes were tallies, and wouldn't you know it, the entire Rays infield is nominated.

The finalists, alphabetically:

1B 2B SS 3B
Chris Davis (BAL) Robinson Cano (NYY) Alcides Escobar (KC) Adrian Beltre (TEX)
Eric Hosmer (KC) Dustin Pedroia (BOS) Yunel Escobar (TB) Evan Longoria (TB)
James Loney
(TB)
Ben
Zobrist (TB)
J.J.
Hardy (BAL)
Manny Machado (BAL)

That's a strong representation by the AL East.

Notable absences include third basemen Josh Donaldson (OAK) and Mike Moustakas (KC), second basemen Howie Kendrick (LAA) and Omar Infante (DET), and pretty much most first basemen -- which is telling of the reliability of advanced statistics in evaluating defense, and the need for SABR to bring together a seven person committee.

If you were judging by, say, UZR alone, Mike Napoli (BOS), Mark Trumbo (LAA), and James Loney would outpace their competition significantly, but defense is more than one measurement.

What we have readily available, via the database at Fangraphs, is only a few pieces in the puzzle, but perhaps we can use them as a guide. Here is a cursory look at the candidates using the Plus/Minus system, which determines both DRS and UZR metrics.

First Base

1B Inn DRS UZR UZR/150
James Loney (TB) 1277.2 4 6.1 7.2
Eric Hosmer (KC) 1372.1 3 2.5 2.2
Chris Davis (BAL) 1377.2 -7 -1.2 -1.4

The inclusion of Chris Davis is somewhat surprising, and I wonder how many he votes he got simply because he was performing at the position well enough for the first time in his major league career. Davis is a journeyman of sorts, and hadn't logged more than 350 innings of work at any position since 2009, when he played first base for 800 innings in Texas.

Davis also proved that he had range, making 20 plays out of zone (OOZ), which is more than Hosmer (16). Loney made 23; however, that was only fourth most among AL first baseman. As you can see, we're running in circles.

A justifiable worry is wondering how many votes Davis received for his offense. One of the main criticisms of the award has been the bias of a player's overall performance -- or perceived performance -- and seeing Chris Davis crop up in the top three when many other first basemen had viable defensive performances raises a red flag.

All of that said, I think UZR has this one right, and I'm picking James Loney.

Second Base

2B Inn DRS UZR UZR/150
Dustin Pedroia (BOS) 1398.0 15 10.9 11.7
Ben Zobrist (TB) 1017.1 7 10.0 14.7
Robinson Cano (NYY) 1350.1 6 0.8 1.3

Here is where Ben Zobrist received a penalty for his defensive flexibility. He logged 115.0 innings over 21 games at short stop this season, and 244.1 innings across all three outfield positions.

This raises the question as to whether players should be limited by the time they served at each position. Brendan Ryan (SEA, NYY) and Jose Iglesias (BOS, DET) appear to be among the best defenders at short stop, but neither placed in the award rankings, or even show up on the leaderboards due to a lack of innings at the position this season.

Unfortunately, I think a full season's worth at second base will go in the little guy's favor. Dustin Pedroia is one of the most mobile athletes in the game, and tracked down an American League best 63 plays out of zone this season (Cano had 50, Zobrist 41). He wouldn't be undeserving, but I think the vote should be close between the top two.

Short Stop

SS Inn DRS UZR UZR/150
Alcides Escobar (KC) 1388.1 4 10.9 12.1
Yunel Escobar (TB) 1320.0 4 10.7 12.2
J.J. Hardy (BAL) 1417.0 8 6.0 6.1

Escobar and Escobar -- on paper, it's hard to tell them apart. Alcides tracked down 89 plays out of zone, Yunel tracked down 90. Alcides bested in UZR by .02, but Yunel played 69 less innings.

If there's any advantage here, in the metrics readily available on Fangraphs, it's fielding percentage.

Yunel Escobar had a near major league best fielding percentage at short stop this season (.989) with only seven errors in 153 games, beaten out by Jhonny Peralta who had only four errors in 935 innings before Detroit traded for a better short stop. Alcides had 13 errors.

Yunel broke the Rays franchise record for consecutive games played without an error this season and was a model of consistency, and if I had to guess, I think he'll come up with the award.

Third Base

3B Inn DRS UZR UZR/150
Manny Machado (BAL) 1390.0 35 31.2 31.8
Evan Longoria (TB) 1289.0 12 14.6 16.2
Adrian Beltre (TEX) 1289.2 -5 -1.2 -1.4

If there is any way this award is not Manny Machado's, I will be in shock. The star third baseman should be a star short stop, and Machado also blew out his knee while running through first base unchallenged at the end of this season in Tropicana Field, so next season may be a different story altogether.

This year, however, all the deference belongs to Machado.

As I said earlier, the inclusion of Beltre over the likes of Donaldson is surprising, but the votes in Beltre's honor likely came out of respect, and that's fine by me.

Conclusion

It was a fantastic year for the Rays infield, but you may have noticed that the other positions weren't mentioned, and that would be because the Rays did not place in any of those categories. Wil Myers's defense was good enough to place sixth in the AL for UZR/150, but he's not in the conversation yet and played only 88 games. Desmond Jennings, by the metrics, actually had a down year in center, and left field was a revolving door last season.

Catcher framing techniques are currently beyond the scope of the Gold Glove award, so Jose Molina was out of contention, and while I would have liked to see David Price's name involved for pitcher Gold Glove this season, Doug Fister (DET), and Toronto's duo of R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle got the nods. Like I said, the American League East is cleaning up.

You can find the full list of finalists here.

To recap, my predictions for the infield are:

1B - James Loney
2B - Dustin Pedroia
SS - Yunel Escobar
3B - Manny Machado

And for the positions I didn't pick the Rays to win, I am expecting a close second place finish -- but that's just my opinion. There's a very good chance we could see an All-Rays Gold Glove infield, and that's awesome.

The 2013 Rawlings Gold Glove Award winners will be unveiled during a one-hour, ESPN2 "Baseball Tonight" primetime special, Tuesday, October 29, 2013, beginning at 7pm ET.

All stats courtesy of Fangraphs.

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