ATLANTA -- Defense significantly influenced this season's National League East race. So it seems fitting that this is the first year three Braves players were awarded a Rawlings Gold Glove Award.Ender Inciarte, Freddie Freeman and Nick Markakis were each named Gold Glove winners when the awards were announced Sunday night. Inciarte
ATLANTA -- Defense significantly influenced this season's National League East race. So it seems fitting that this is the first year three Braves players were awarded a Rawlings Gold Glove Award.
Ender Inciarte, Freddie Freeman and Nick Markakis were each named Gold Glove winners when the awards were announced Sunday night. Inciarte has earned this honor each of the past three seasons. Freeman is a first-time honoree, and Markakis, who won the award in 2011 and 2014, has reason to cherish this year's trophy more than the previous two.
"This is a great honor to be recognized with the Gold Glove Award," said Markakis, who underwent neck surgery before the 2015 season and wasn't expected to win another Gold Glove. "We play a lot of games throughout the season, and winning awards isn't what you strive for; the most important part to me is working to help my team win. If you are rewarded at the end of the year with an award, then it's a plus."
Freeman is the first first baseman and just the third corner infielder -- following Terry Pendleton (1992) and Clete Boyer (1969) -- in franchise history to gain this honor. Freeman and the Cubs' Anthony Rizzo were named co-winners for NL first basemen. This was the fourth tie in Gold Glove history.
Inciarte is the first Braves player to win three consecutive Gold Gloves since fellow center fielder Andruw Jones won 10 straight from 1998-2007.
"Winning the Gold Glove Award means everything to me," Inciarte said. "It's a good feeling knowing all the work I put in every offseason paid off. I want to keep getting better and keep receiving this award, because the feeling never gets old."
Markakis won after being named a right-field finalist with former Brave Jason Heyward and Jonathan Jay. Inciarte, Lorenzo Cain and Billy Hamilton were finalists in center field. Freeman, Rizzo and Joey Votto were the first-base finalists. Along with votes cast by NL managers and players, the winners were determined with the help of select defensive metrics. The votes accounted for 75 percent of the determining score.
While Inciarte and Freeman have been regarded as elite defenders over the past few years, Markakis serves as tangible proof of the value created by the proper application of the advanced analytical approach Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos instilled after joining the organization last winter.
Per Statcast™, Markakis ranked 46th among 87 qualified outfielders with 0 Outs Above Average (a defensive metric that indicates the cumulative effect of all individual Catch Probability plays a fielder has been credited or debited with over the season). He ranked 73rd out of 90 qualified outfielders with -5 OAA last year.
Looking back at Directional Outs Above Average, Markakis had -4 OAA going back on balls and a -1 OAA coming in on balls in 2017. This data influenced the Braves to position Markakis deeper and closer to the right-field line, especially against left-handed hitters, this season.
Against left-handed hitters, Markakis' average starting position was 302 feet from home plate at what was deemed a 25-degree angle (represents average distance from the adjacent foul line). In 2017, his average starting position was 290 feet from the plate at a 27-degree angle.
Among the 40 right fielders who were positioned for at least 250 plate appearances against left-handed hitters, nine had an average starting position deeper than Markakis. In 2017, Mookie Betts (289 ft.) was the only right fielder (min. 250 PA) who consistently played more shallow than Markakis. There were also just nine outfielders this year who had an average starting position closer to the right-field line. In 2017, Max Kepler and Scott Schebler were the only outfielders to be more consistently positioned farther from the right-field line.
Inciarte and Harrison Bader led all Major League outfielders with 21 Outs Above Average. The Braves outfielder ranked second among NL center fielders with 17 Defensive Runs Saved (behind Cain, 20) and with a 7.4 Ultimate Zone Rating per 150 games (Cain, 11.9).
Freeman took a back seat to Paul Goldschmidt, Rizzo and Adrian Gonzalez when this award was presented over the past few years. But the Braves first baseman set himself apart this year as he produced career bests with a 8.2 UZR/150 and 12 DRS. He led all NL first basemen in UZR/150 and ranked second in DRS to the Giants' Brandon Belt (13).
"This is an incredible honor to win a Gold Glove award," Freeman said. "I take a lot of pride in my defense; it's just as important to me as my offense. I want to thank everyone who voted for me. It means a lot to me to win a Gold Glove."
Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.