Hitting is a unique skill, and pitchers can make baseballs do amazing things, but it's really on defense that Major League players can show off their athletic ability, from a running, leaping catch to a laser throw from the outfield or across the diamond.
Those who performed to the highest degree in all of baseball for 2017 were honored with the presentation of the Wilson Major League Baseball Defensive Player of the Year Awards on Friday, a second nod to defense in the first week of awards season.
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In a season roaming the outfield that was truly a treat for the baseball eye and the analytical mind, Twins center fielder Byron Buxton was named the Defensive Player of the Year. He claimed his first career Gold Glove Award earlier in the week, but this honor elevates him to an even higher level as the game's very best defender. He's also up for Best Defensive Player in the Esurance MLB Awards, which also will include Best Play, Defense when they're announced Friday, Nov. 17.
The Los Angeles Dodgers were named the Defensive Team of the Year, an award that befits the way they romped to the National League West title and, ultimately, into the World Series -- as a team, with contributions from all over the field.
Wilson, which established this award in 2012, considers various defensive metrics in determining the nine individual winners, one team winner and overall top defender. That formula includes defensive WAR (25 percent), Defensive Runs Saved (25 percent), Inside Edge fielding ratings (20 percent), Inside Edge arm ratings (20 percent) and fielding percentage (10 percent). A different formula is used for pitchers and catchers.
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In leading the nine-player team of defensive standouts announced Friday night, Buxton provided several highlight-reel plays in 2017, and his athletic tools helped him become a major factor in the Twins' run to the postseason. Buxton was ranked as the fastest player in baseball this season by Statcast™'s sprint speed metric, led all center fielders with 24 Defensive Runs Saved and led all MLB outfielders with 25 Outs Above Average -- six more than No. 2 Ender Inciarte of the Braves.
Buxton hauled in an MLB-high 29 catches that Statcast™ rated as 4 or 5 stars. His 92.9 percent success rate on his 28 4-star chances was the highest for any outfielder with more than six.
"He changes the game defensively more than anybody I've ever seen," Twins veteran second baseman James Dozier said of Buxton recently. "It bugs me that he's even compared to other guys because until you play with him, you see the balls he gets to nobody else can get to."
Although their NL West rivals won the team award, the Colorado Rockies boasted the most Defensive Player of the Year Award winners this year with a trio of third baseman Nolan Arenado, second baseman DJ LeMahieu and pitcher Tyler Chatwood. Arenado, whose exploits at the hot corner are well established, led NL third basemen with a SABR Defensive Index of 11 and 20 Defensive Runs Saved. LeMahieu led all second basemen with eight, while topping NL players at his position in total chances (729), assists (470), double plays (106) and fielding percentage (.989). Chatwood, meanwhile, committed zero errors in his 43 chances from the mound.
The infield also includes another well-established defensive wizard in Angels shortstop Andrelton Simmons, who led the Majors with 32 defensive runs saved. One could say Simmons had a hand in how teammate Martin Maldonado won the catcher award on top of his first Gold Glove -- Maldonado had a 38.7 caught-stealing percentage, which ranked first among AL catchers who played at least 100 games. At first base, it's Carlos Santana of the Indians who took the honors after leading AL first basemen in assists with 95 and double plays started with 16.
Buxton was joined in the outfield by Royals veteran left fielder Alex Gordon and Dodgers right fielder Yasiel Puig, who along with Santana and Chatwood did not win a Gold Glove Award, voted on by managers and coaches. Puig was tied for the lead among NL right fielders and eighth in MLB overall with 18 defensive runs saved.
Puig was the only member of the Wilson squad from the Dodgers, who were shut out in Gold Gloves. But as a team, the Dodgers made defense a cornerstone of a remarkable season that eventually left them one win away from the World Series title. The Dodgers led the Majors in Baseball-Reference's Defensive Efficiency (.709), which measures the percentage of balls in play converted into outs, and led the NL with a total of 48 defensive runs saved.
Here are the Wilson Defensive Player of the Year winners:
C: Martin Maldonado, Angels
1B: Carlos Santana, Indians
2B: DJ LeMahieu, Rockies
3B: Nolan Arenado, Rockies
SS: Andrelton Simmons, Angels
LF: Alex Gordon, Royals
CF: Byron Buxton, Twins
RF: Yasiel Puig, Dodgers
P: Tyler Chatwood, Rockies
Best Overall Defensive Player: Byron Buxton, Twins
Defensive Team of the Year: Los Angeles Dodgers
The Defensive Player of the Year honors bring the first week of awards season to an end. Next week, a four-day run of Baseball Writers' Association of America awards will reveal winners from each league for Rookie of the Year on Monday, Manager of the Year on Tuesday, Cy Young Award on Wednesday, and Most Valuable Player on Thursday.
All four one-hour specials for the BBWAA awards will begin at 6 p.m. ET on MLB Network.
Awards season will culminate with the MLB Esurance Awards at 8 p.m. ET on Friday, Nov. 17, on MLB Network, covering all the bases with awards acknowledging baseball's best on and off the field in 2017.