These NL East fielders can flash the leather

May 22nd, 2020

Of the five tools scouts use to evaluate players (hitting, power, speed, fielding and throwing), the two that tend to show up most often on postgame highlight reels are power and fielding. And while towering blasts out of the park attract the most fanfare, there is equal admiration for home run robberies, dazzling double plays, outfielders stretching out to make a catch in the grass and infielders diving into the stands to snag a foul ball.

There’s a whole ceremony devoted to the best fielders in baseball, after all. And while the Gold Glove Awards are the highest of honors, they aren’t the only measure of the defensive value players bring to the field, with metrics such as Defensive Runs Saved (DRS), Outs Above Average (OAA) and Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) gaining traction throughout the game.

In the National League East, it isn’t always about the stars that balance bat and glove. It’s also about the players who turn their glove into their greatest asset, from a converted second baseman to a utility infielder-turned-starter to a jack-of-all-trades fielder.

This week, asked its beat reporters to choose which player on the team they cover has the best glove. Here are the results in the NL East:

Even when center fielder Ender Inciarte won a third consecutive NL Gold Glove Award in 2018, some members of the Braves organization were saying then-No. 6 prospect Cristian Pache was the organization’s best defensive outfielder. Pache, now the club’s No. 1 prospect, could reach the Majors at some point this year, and it might not take him long to become one of the game’s most exciting defenders. But until he arrives, the Braves player with the best glove tool is Albies. He might not have had the arm to remain a shortstop, but Albies' footwork, agility and hands have allowed him to quickly become one of the game’s best second basemen. He ranked second among all second basemen with 11 DRS last year. His shortstop-like range and agility have helped him find comfort regardless of where he is positioned in a shift. -- Mark Bowman

Before becoming the Marlins' regular shortstop last year, Rojas was used in a utility role. And for the last couple of seasons, Rojas has widely been regarded as the club's best defensive player. It was common the past few seasons to see him switch from shortstop to first base in the late innings as a defensive replacement. Rojas became Miami's regular shortstop in 2019, and he ranked among the best in the NL at his position. Advanced metrics back that up. His UZR and UZR/150 were either at or near the top among all shortstops last year. UZR puts a run value on defense, attempting to quantify how many runs a player saved or gave up. And UZR/150 scales an average number of chances for a season. In 2019, Rojas had a 7.3 UZR, fourth among MLB shortstops, and his 12.8 UZR/150 mark was the best. What all this simply means is Rojas stands among the best of his peers in making the plays that should be made. -- Joe Frisaro

For years, scouts have considered Guillorme one of the finest defenders at any level in the Mets organization -- and not just because of that much-publicized barehand bat grab he made during Spring Training three years ago. Featuring some of the softest hands in the game, Guillorme is a smooth fielder capable of playing second base, third base and shortstop. In limited time at the big league level, he’s committed just two errors in 242 1/3 innings. His glove is what has kept him on the roster. As a backup infielder, Guillorme isn’t ever likely to play enough to compete for a Gold Glove. But the skills are obvious, standing out on a roster that does not feature many defensive stars. Guillorme, by contrast, is one of the more defensively sound middle infielders in the game today. -- Anthony DiComo

Robles wasted no time showing his defensive potential in his first full Major League season last year. He was an NL Gold Glove Award finalist in center field the same season in which he placed sixth in NL Rookie of the Year Award voting. Robles led all outfielders in 2019 with 25 DRS, two more than Cody Bellinger, the NL MVP Award winner. He also had a clear lead among all outfielders with 23 OAA and 20 runs prevented, per Statcast. (The next closest was the Rays’ Kevin Kiermaier at 17 and 15, respectively). In his age-22 season, Robles collected 2.7 defensive WAR, tied with Indians catcher Roberto Pérez for fourth among all big leaguers. He has a .986 career fielding percentage in 179 games. -- Jessica Camerato

Before the pandemic postponed the beginning of the 2020 season, Kingery prepared in the spring for everyday duties at second base. He welcomed the move to one position, especially his best and most comfortable position. He spent the previous two seasons playing everywhere except first base and catcher. (Yes, he pitched 1 1/3 innings in 2018.) Kingery is a potential Gold Glove winner at second base. Before he started bouncing around the infield and outfield, he seemed to catch everything he could get his glove on at second base. There is no reason he cannot continue to play defense like that, whenever baseball returns. -- Todd Zolecki