Following my American League rundown earlier today, here are my picks for the Gold Glove awards in the National League.
Pitcher–Zack Greinke, Arizona Diamondbacks: That Greinke is the four-time defending winner of this award is probably all the evidence that is necessary to presume he will win again in 2018, but his numbers from this season support his reputation. Greinke tied with Julio Teheran of the Atlanta Braves for first place among pitchers by Defensive Runs Saved, while leading the NL’s pitchers in putouts, tying for fourth in assists, and committing zero errors. His two stolen bases allowed tied with St. Louis Cardinals starter Miles Mikolas for the fewest among pitchers with 150 or more innings, and Greinke had over 200. Teheran and Mikolas are nice also-rans, but there really isn’t an argument for putting either ahead of Zack Greinke.
Catcher–Yasmani Grandal, Los Angeles Dodgers: Although his defense was much maligned during this year’s postseason, the Gold Glove is a regular season award, and Yasmani Grandal is the best pitch framer in Major League Baseball, saving 15.7 additional runs over the typical backstop. A strong Gold Glove case could be made for Jeff Mathis of the Arizona Diamondbacks, an even nerdier pick thanks to his complete lack of offensive ability (but excellent defensive metrics), but I went with Grandal on the grounds of catching nearly double the innings of Mathis on the season.
First Base–Freddie Freeman, Atlanta Braves: Although more known for his excellent bat, Freddie Freeman saved more runs by Ultimate Zone Rating than any other National League first baseman on the season. Additionally, he led the NL in Out of Zone plays and trailed Brandon Belt of the San Francisco Giants, who would be my #2 pick, by just one Defensive Run Saved. Those who take advanced defensive metrics more seriously than Gold Glove winners may be interested to hear that Eric Hosmer, reputationally the best defensive first baseman in the sport, was the third-worst defensive first baseman in the NL this season, just better than much-beleaguered Cardinals first baseman Jose Martinez and just worse than Colorado Rockies transient Ian Desmond.
Second Base–Kolten Wong, St. Louis Cardinals: While division rival Javier Baez may enjoy the more storied reputation, Kolten Wong was considerably better by any quantifiable measure in 2018. Wong led NL second baseman in plus-minus runs, Defensive Runs Saved, UZR runs saved, Double Play Runs Saved, and Range Runs Saved. For years, Wong made spectacular plays while occasionally supplying notorious mishaps, but in 2018, everything came together and he was easily the league’s best at his position.
Third Base–Nolan Arenado, Colorado Rockies: Although his reputation has long exceeded his actual production, Arenado displayed a flair for the dramatic in 2018 which earns him this award, if not quite “modern day Brooks Robinson” comps. By Ultimate Zone Rating, he trails Washington Nationals third baseman Anthony Rendon by a hair, but Arenado holds an edge by Defensive Runs Saved (DRS actually has Rendon as negative; anecdotally, I don’t believe for a second that Rendon is a bad fielder, but it’s enough to give me some hesitation) and by Out of Zone plays, Arenado was easily the most electrifying NL third baseman–his league-leading 69 such plays more than doubled those of Rendon.
Shortstop–Nick Ahmed, Arizona Diamondbacks: Cases can be made for a handful of NL shortstops, including Dansby Swanson of the Atlanta Braves and, improbably, Cardinals shortstop Paul DeJong, who led the league’s shortstops in UZR. But ultimately, I went with Nick Ahmed, somewhat decisively the NL’s leader in Defensive Runs Saved and plus-minus while finishing a close second to the Nationals’ Trea Turner in Out of Zone plays.
Left Field–Corey Dickerson, Pittsburgh Pirates: Although Kyle Schwarber has the slight UZR edge thanks to his stronger arm, Corey Dickerson gets the hardware thanks to his far superior range. He bested the Cubs left fielder by 14 Defensive Runs Saved, 21 plus-minus runs, and 56 out-of-zone plays. With defending award winner Marcell Ozuna having a down year defensively (though not as down as it might have seemed), the path should be clear for Corey Dickerson to win the award.
Center Field–Harrison Bader, St. Louis Cardinals: The case for Milwaukee Brewers center fielder Lorenzo Cain is a strong one, though on the strength of what Bader did this season, rather than projecting what he will do in future seasons, I am deferring to the Cardinals rookie. Bader had a slight UZR edge, though his edge was more substantial–nearly double Cain’s–when looking at it on a rate basis. Bader had the statistically stronger arm and committed fewer errors and while Cain had the edge by range, it wasn’t by a huge factor.
Right Field–Jason Heyward, Chicago Cubs: Heyward’s numbers were somewhat down from previous campaigns in 2018, and while I tried not to defer to his reputation when evaluating one season’s worth of work, it’s hard to pretend that it wasn’t something of a tiebreaker in his race against Miami Marlins rookie Brian Anderson. To be clear, Heyward was still good–he finished just 0.7 UZR runs and 1 DRS run behind Anderson, and Heyward had the superior arm. At the end of the day, Jason Heyward made more spectacular plays–68 OOZ plays to Anderson’s 60–so I’m going with that.