Today, the American League and National League winners of the Rawlings Gold Glove Award will be announced. Here are my picks for the American League awards. I ignored the finalists and made my picks for who I believe deserves to win regardless of what The Establishment has to say. National League picks will be coming this afternoon.
I should say as a quick comment on my general Gold Glove philosophy that I largely disregard the (true) caveat that a year’s worth of defensive statistics have not stabilized quickly enough to draw confident conclusions. The way I see it, awards should reflect what happened, not what will happen. Giving a player a Gold Glove is not necessarily saying that I think he’s actually the best at that position in his league, but rather that his results were the best in 2018.
Pitcher–Kyle Gibson, Minnesota Twins: I should say first and foremost that I find the criteria for the pitcher Gold Glove somewhat bizarre, though this is a fringe minority opinion. If the point of the Gold Glove is to reward players for their defense, and thus their ability to suppress the offense of the other team, shouldn’t pitching ability factor into that? No? Whatever. Anyway, while Kyle Gibson had a decent but certainly not tops-in-the-league season on the mound, he was well-rounded in the non-pitching aspects of the game. Gibson made zero errors (not the most important defensive stat, but not one I don’t consider a factor at all), finished fifth in the AL in pitcher assists (23), and had more putouts, 17, than any pitchers ahead of him on the assists leaderboard (he finished fourth in this stat). And he only allowed three stolen bases in 196 2/3 innings. A close second for me is Seattle Mariners starter (and former St. Louis Cardinals starter) Mike Leake, with Leake’s three errors being essentially a tiebreaker.
Catcher–Mike Zunino, Seattle Mariners: It was admittedly not a banner year for AL catchers, but the Seattle backstop continues to be a stalwart of advanced metrics. He was good by more traditional metrics for catchers–he finished fourth in the league in Defensive Runs Above Average, without a ton of separation between him and #1 (Martin Maldonado) and caught a respectable 34.6% of attempted base-stealers–but was even better by Defensive Runs Saved, where he led AL catchers with 12, and by Baseball Prospectus’s Fielding Runs Above Average. There is a good case to be made for Houston Astros catcher Max Stassi, but ultimately, I opted for the higher volume workload of Zunino.
First Base–Matt Olson, Oakland Athletics: Rarely is any first baseman a consequential defender, and while Olson was rightfully overshadowed by the more defensively impactful opposite side of the infield, he was also far and away the best defensive first baseman in the AL this season. By Ultimate Zone Rating, he was the best first baseman in the league by 313%. By Defensive Runs Saved, a different measure of the same basic principle, Olson saved 14 runs; second place Yonder Alonso saved four runs. With (overrated fielder) Eric Hosmer now in the National League, this should open the door for Matt Olson to win his first Gold Glove.
Second Base–Ian Kinsler, Los Angeles Angels/Boston Red Sox: The now-36 year-old Kinsler has a Gold Glove already and ought to win another one for his work with two different AL teams in 2018. He was a plus defender in every aspect of the position in 2018, such as turning double plays, range, and avoiding errors. He finished a close second behind Texas Rangers second baseman Rougned Odor by Defensive Runs Saved, but Kinsler held a more considerable edge by Ultimate Zone Rating. These were easily the league’s two best second baseman statistically, but I’ll give the edge to the veteran.
Third Base–Matt Chapman, Oakland Athletics: Chapman is a good-not-great hitter who has turned into a legitimate MVP candidate thanks to his excellent glovework at the hot corner. Chapman had a decent edge in UZR over Seattle Mariners third baseman Kyle Seager–10.9 to 6.6–but had Seager held a large Defensive Runs Saved edge, I’d be more willing to defer to that. But it’s Chapman who has the monster edge–by DRS, Matt Chapman saved 29 runs, while Seager actually gave away five runs. A 34-run gap is essentially a very, very good player’s worth of total value by defense alone. I don’t think the gap is that wide, but I do think Matt Chapman is definitively the correct choice.
Shortstop–Andrelton Simmons, Los Angeles Angels: There is a clear hierarchy of two when it comes to defensive shortstops in the American League–Simmons, who won the Gold Glove last year, and Cleveland Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor, who won the award in 2016. And while Lindor is the superior overall player thanks to definitively better offensive production, Simmons remains the gold standard of shortstops in baseball. In 2018, despite 131 2/3 fewer innings, Simmons bested Lindor (who in turn bested all other AL shortstops) by both DRS and UZR. Lindor had a slight, slight edge by range, but Simmons more than made up that ground by committing fewer errors (10 to 14).
Left Field–Alex Gordon, Kansas City Royals: The five-time Gold Glover is essentially the AL version of Jason Heyward–his offense has been no better than acceptable since 2015, but his glove in the corner outfield remains among the game’s best. Gordon more than doubled other AL left fielder in UZR runs, held a seven-run lead in DRS, and no other full-timer at the position came even close to Gordon’s rate of defensive excellence. Brett Gardner, who would probably be my #2 pick for the award, was literally about half as good.
Center Field–Kevin Kiermaier, Tampa Bay Rays: The sabermetric darling deserves his third Gold Glove award this season, after a typically terrific campaign in which he led AL center fielders in the major defensive metrics. Kiermaier only played in 88 games, which may scare voters into Red Sox CF Jackie Bradley Jr., but Kiermaier’s impact on the game ought to make up for his relative lack of innings.
Right Field–Mookie Betts, Boston Red Sox: The two-time defensive winner of the award certainly deserves to three-peat after an MVP-caliber 2018 season in which Betts continued to lay claim to the title of best defensive corner outfielder in the game (and he could probably be a good defensive center fielder too, if not for the aforementioned Jackie Bradley Jr. already occupying the position). New York Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge has emerged as a very good defensive right fielder in his own right, and would be my #2 pick for this award, but there’s really no argument for Judge–Betts has far more range, committed fewer errors despite more innings, and while Judge probably has the stronger arm, it’s not nearly enough to close the gap.