Reputation goes a long way in Gold Gloves
Christian Yelich knew he had a lot to learn about baseball when he was drafted in 2010, especially since the Marlins projected him as an outfielder. He had played mostly first base for Westlake High School in Thousand Oaks, Calif., and says he was so raw in left field that he "didn't even know where to stand."
Turns out Yelich was an excellent student.
In his first full Major League season, the 22-year-old Yelich is a very deserving winner of a Gold Glove award. Like 17 other winners, he captured the distinction on a combination of the eye test, as administered by National League managers and coaches, and his defensive metrics, which count for 25 percent of the vote in the 2014 Rawlings Gold Glove Awards.
"It still feels kind of weird," Yelich said. "It was a lot of hard work to get to that point. It's a credit to our outfield coordinator, Tarrik Brock, at the time, and working with [Marlins third base and outfield coach] Brett Butler this year was a big help."
Nothing's cooler than the big catch, the big play. Think about the double play that Joe Panik and Brandon Crawford turned to support Madison Bumgarner in Game 7 or the diving grab that Steven Souza Jr. made to preserve Jordan Zimmermann's no-hitter. Think about the range that Andrelton Simmons shows every time he steps on a diamond and all of the strong, accurate throws he makes across the infield to Freddie Freeman.
Those plays are what baseball is all about.
As fans, we're always waiting for the big hit but nothing changes a game -- and deflates an opponent -- more than robbery in the field. That's one of the big ways that the Royals won their American League pennant, and it was no surprise that three Kansas City players -- left fielder Alex Gordon, first baseman Eric Hosmer and catcher Salvador Perez -- won Gold Gloves.
That was pretty predictable, especially for Gordon. He's won four straight. But give yourself a pat on the back if you saw Yelich, Kyle Seager and DJ LeMahieu coming.
Yelich was up against finalists Justin Upton and Starling Marte. His selection is one of the biggest surprises as most of the winners were guys who had won before, including Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina, who took home his seventh of the exquisitely beautiful trophies.
More on Molina in a bit. But before then, a tip of the cap to breakthrough artists Seager of the Mariners and LeMahieu of the Rockies, who beat some big-name competition to win their first Gold Gloves.
Seager, a terrific two-way player for the much improved Mariners, was picked over finalists Josh Donaldson of the A's and Adrian Beltre of the Rangers. Donaldson had already won this year's Fielding Bible Award, and Beltre was looking for his fifth Gold Glove. Seager (10) was second to Donaldson (20) in Defensive Runs Saved, so it's easy to argue that Donaldson should have been the winner.
LeMahieu, who the Rockies stole from the Cubs in a deal for Ian Stewart shortly after Theo Epstein arrived in Chicago, was selected ahead of Brandon Phillips, who was looking for his fifth Gold Glove, and Chase Utley. He joins third baseman Nolan Arenado in giving Colorado two Gold Glove winners, and props to voters for appreciating his impact. LeMahieu led NL second basemen with 16 Defensive Runs Saved.
There were probably no choices easier than awarding Simmons and Mets center fielder Juan Lagares. At young ages -- they're both 25 -- these guys have established themselves as the best up-the-middle fielders in the Majors. They're going to be winning Gold Gloves for a long time.
A few of the votes will be heavily debated.
There's no question that Buck Showalter's Orioles play good defense, and shortstop J.J. Hardy was a deserving winner at shortstop. But where did all the support come from for winners Adam Jones (center field) and Nick Markakis (right field)?
They're strong fielders, sure. But the metrics aren't overly kind to either of them.
This was the fourth Gold Glove for Jones, so maybe voters are just in the habit of writing down his name. He is listed with only two Defensive Runs Saved by Fangraphs, which ranks him 13th in the AL. Jones played a lot more games than finalists Jackie Bradley Jr. and Adam Eaton but only 121 more innings than the Rangers' Leonys Martin, who led AL center fielders with 15 DRS. Either of the two Royals' center fielders, Lorenzo Cain and Jarrod Dyson, would have been a better choice than Jones, according to the sabermetric analysis.
Oh, and one other question. Where's Mike Trout? Given his skillset, you'd figure Trout would be a candidate every year. But he actually had a minus-9 DRS this year, putting him closer to the bottom than the top. Soon the Gold Glove will be one of the few awards Trout hasn't won.
As for Markakis, he had one DRS, which ranked 31st among AL right fielders. The A's Josh Reddick could have been a better choice, but Kole Calhoun and Kevin Kiermaier were the other finalists.
And that leaves only one other matter for review -- the power of the Molina Mystique.
Yadi is a great catcher, and that point was pounded home when he was knocked out of the NL Championship Series with a strained oblique and when he landed on the disabled list with torn ligaments in his right thumb. The Cardinals missed him when he was out, no question.
But this seemed like the year when Molina's run of Gold Gloves would end, and it didn't. The Brewers' Jonathan Lucroy won the Fielding Bible Award and the Pirates' Russell Martin had his second consecutive Gold Glove-worthy season behind the plate. But neither of them could wrest that iconic trophy out of Molina's hands.
Maybe it'll happen in 2015. But you shouldn't bet on it. Reputations still go a long way in these awards, even with the staggering wealth of statistics that are accumulated and analyzed.
That's fine. One of the beauties of the Gold Gloves is that they generate debate. So go ahead. Start your argument.