Run prevention is one of baseball's new buzz terms. As the game and how we watch it continue to evolve, we're realizing more with each passing season that the balls that end up in gloves are just as important as the ones that end up in the bleacher seats.Defense could
Run prevention is one of baseball's new buzz terms. As the game and how we watch it continue to evolve, we're realizing more with each passing season that the balls that end up in gloves are just as important as the ones that end up in the bleacher seats.
Defense could be just as important to success in the Major Leagues as any other facet of the game, and there are myriad ways to evaluate it through advanced statistics. Those are becoming increasingly more reliable as the 2016 campaign winds down and we look to reward the best in the sport for their stellar work with the glove.
This year's Esurance MLB Award finalists for Best Defensive Player are a fivesome as fearsome with the leather as they are with the bat, and they are focused on two of the most pivotal positions: right field and shortstop.
Mookie Betts of the Red Sox and Adam Eaton of the White Sox are right fielders, and Brandon Crawford of the Giants, Francisco Lindor of the Indians and Addison Russell of the Cubs are shortstops. All are elite defenders set to vie for this distinguished and well-deserved honor.
The Esurance MLB Awards annually honor Major League Baseball's greatest achievements as part of an industry-wide balloting process that includes five groups, each of which accounts for 20 percent of the overall vote: media, front-office personnel, retired MLB players, fans at MLB.com and Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) voters.
Cast your Esurance MLB Awards ballot
The MLB Awards are an all-inclusive program, encompassing the top players and performances from both the American and National leagues from Opening Day through the end of the postseason.
Individual awards will go to the Best Major Leaguer, Best Hitter, Best Pitcher, Best Rookie, Best Defensive Player, Best Manager, Best Executive, Best Social Media Personality and Best Major Leaguer, Postseason.
Winners also will be recognized for the year's Best Play, Offense; Best Play, Defense; Best Moment, Best Performance, Single Game; Best Social Media Post; Best Fan Catch; Best MLB Interview; Best Call, TV/Radio; Best Player-Fan Interaction, and Best Trending Topic
Voting began on Sept. 19 at 4 p.m. ET on MLB.com/awards, one hour after the inaugural Esurance MLB Fans of the Year winners were announced.
Voting for the MLB Awards will remain open until 2 p.m. ET on Nov. 11 by visiting MLB.com/awards. Winners will be announced live on MLB Network and MLB.com on Nov. 18.
Betts is an American League MVP candidate, but it's not just for his spectacular offensive season. The converted infielder, all of 23 years old and in only his second full big league season, has been transcendent in the field.
FanGraphs has him with an overall defensive rating of 10.3, which ranks 27th of all players in the Major Leagues, through games of Sept. 25. He has already mastered the difficult quirks of playing corner outfield in Fenway Park and has turned in a full reel of highlight plays in 2016.
So has Giants shortstop Crawford, who won his first Gold Glove in 2015 and hasn't slowed a bit. In fact, Crawford is ranked No. 2 overall for Major League defenders as of Sept. 26, according to FanGraphs. Crawford's incredible 25.7 is a testament to what Giants fans have known since he came up from the Minors: A ball hit his way is almost a sure out.
"He's an athlete," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "And he has great game awareness."
Eaton, meanwhile, has emerged as a terrific leadoff man and defensive wizard. His 19.6 FanGraphs overall defensive rating has him ranked sixth in baseball, and this after he moved over from center field, where he played 48 games. Eaton has a jaw-dropping and MLB-leading 18 assists this season, by far the best number of his career and the stat that might get him a Gold Glove.
"I've been asked a lot about it," Eaton said. "I'd be blessed [if I won]. Anyone coming into the season wants to win a Gold Glove. Ever since I was a little kid, I wanted to win a Gold Glove."
Over in Cleveland, it's hard to argue that the Indians are a first-place club in large part because of the talent of Lindor. It's also hard to argue that a huge part of that talent comes on the defensive side of the ball. As of Sept. 26, Lindor is the No. 1-ranked defensive player in Major League Baseball, with an overall ranking of 27.6 on FanGraphs.
"He's pretty special," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "His ability to get the ball on a line with accuracy and with some carry on it is pretty impressive."
And then there's the shortstop on the team with the best record in baseball. Russell is in his first full big league season and has shown acumen with the glove that typically dazzles the Wrigley Field faithful. And his numbers aren't half-bad, either, with FanGraphs ranking him fourth overall in MLB with 21.7.
"I'm very confident in my skills," Russell said, and he could have been speaking for any of the 2016 finalists for best Defensive Player.
Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @DougMillerMLB.