Since the Cardinals turnaround under Mike Shildt started, Cardinal fans – and outside observers as a whole – have been engaged in a number of debates surrounding the team’s immediate future. Some involve the team itself; others focus on specific players and seasons.
- Will the Cardinals make the playoffs? (It’s looking better!)
- Can they overtake the Cubs for the NL Central crown? (It’s looking better!)
- Will Mike Shildt have his interim tag removed? (It’s looking likely!)
- Can Matt Carpenter win an MVP? (It better happen!)
- Can Harrison Bader win Rookie of the Year (It– well, probably not, but man would it be sweet.)
These are worthwhile topics, and anyone aside from rival fans would admit they’re more engaging than the fifty shades of, “How many ways can we find to say Mike Matheny should be canned?”
Until very recently though, one underlying storyline – that plays heavily into the turnaround and even spans before – has gone relatively undiscussed. That, of course, is just how brilliant Kolten Wong has been this season.
Seemingly-physics-defying plays notwithstanding, Kolten Wong has been the best defensive second baseman in baseball during the 2018 season. And frankly, there isn’t much of an argument against that statement.
This is not a particularly welcome take in the NL Central, where Tag Artist and Rising Star Javier Báez has been the MVP of a first-place Chicago Cubs team. And there’s no doubt, Báez has sculpted his reputation on dazzling plays as well.
Like it or not, Javier Báez is a good defensive second baseman. And the point still stands: Kolten Wong is much better. In fact, he’s much better than pretty much every National League second baseman.
|Player||Inn||UZR (FG)||UZR/150 (FG)||Total Zone Runs (BR)|
It should be noted that defensive metrics have been a hot topic among statheads recently. We still don’t know a lot about how well these particular numbers measure a player’s defensive ability and how it factors into his total value. However, we’re not here to invent a new metric.
In terms of FanGraphs measurements, Wong stands head and shoulders above the rest of his NL counterparts. The closest competitor for the Gold Glove probably comes from Colorado’s DJ LaMahieu, with Braves rookie Ozzie Albies close behind.
As for Báez… well, this is kind of awkward. Technically, he doesn’t have enough innings at second base to qualify for a Gold Glove at his primary position. The Cubs use Báez heavily at third base, where he’s abysmal, and at shortstop, where he’s just kind of OK. This doesn’t disqualify him automatically, as he only needs to get to 698 innings to officially qualify for the Gold Glove. But even that number of innings seemingly shrinks with the addition of Daniel Murphy and Addison Russell’s subsequent trip to the disabled list.
But enough about Báez. It’s pretty clear that he’s not the best second baseman in the National League. Let’s move on.
By Baseball Reference, we can see that there are some alternate looks at Kolten Wong’s defensive supremacy in the NL. Baseball Reference has both LaMahieu and Arizona’s Ketel Marte as superior defenders, with Albies and Gennett falling out of the race completely.
So, for arguments sake, let’s do some more digging with just those three names – Wong, LaMahieu and Marte – to see if Wong’s case for Gold Glove holds up. Let’s focus on range and difficult plays.
|Player||Range Factor/9 (BR)||Range Runs (FG)||Remote Plays: 1-10% (FG)||Unlikely Plays: 10-40% (FG)|
Again, Baseball Reference rates LaMahieu slightly higher, though the Range Factor per nine innings difference is substantially closer than the four runs between Wong and the other two by Total Zone Runs. Marte, on the other hand, is rated a full point below both Wong and LaMahieu.
When it comes to Inside Edge’s most difficult plays, Wong is the clear leader. Wong ranks first in the MLB in Unlikely Play percentage and second in Remote Play percentage to Albies, who has had six fewer chances. Neither LaMahieu or Marte measure on the Remote scale, and both fall lower on the Unlikely meter.
The truth is, any player’s case for Gold Glove can be nitpicked to death. They aren’t the best in this or that measurement, or they don’t measure well in this or that area. But with the tools at hand, one player in 2018 has stood head and shoulders above the rest at second base. No matter which metric you prefer, Kolten Wong’s name comes up at or near the top of the list, often with vastly superior numbers than anyone else. No other second baseman can claim the same thing.
So let’s just get it over with. Give Kolten Wong his damn Gold Glove already.