After a season in which the Royals led all of baseball in UZR, according to FanGraphs, it’s fitting that they ended up with five nominees for a Gold Glove Award.
And from that large pool of potential winners, the Royals ended up with three winners.
Left Field – Alex Gordon
Safe to say that Gordon’s transition to left field was successful? In his first three full seasons as an outfielder, Gordon leads all big leaguers in outfield assists and now has his third Gold Glove to show for it. This was no surprise. Gordon was an overwhelming favorite going in, and beat out Andy Dirks of Detroit and Yeonis Cespedes of Oakland.
First Base – Eric Hosmer
Hosmer’s win was a surprise. For the most part, he looks like a Gold Glover. He’s athletic and moves well. He has a strong arm. The rules of this year’s voting added Sabermetrics considerations, but the support of managers and coaches voting must have given him the edge over James Loney of Tampa and Chris Davis of Baltimore.
Because, you see, according to the most popular defensive metrics – UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating) and DRS (Defensive Runs Saved) – Hosmer was in the middle of the pack statistically. The Award broadcast on ESPN2 highlighted Hosmer’s advantage over Loney and Davis in assists as a first baseman (122 to 98 to 75 respectively), and he did lead the league in that measurement. He also tied for the AL lead with Davis for scooped throws. He’s a perfectly acceptable defensive player, and I don’t think he stole the award from anyone, but I was still surprised that he won.
And you can bet that his agent, Scott Boras, is making note of this honor to bring up when both sides exchange salary figures for Hosmer’s first arbitration year.
Catcher – Salvador Perez
His wasn’t a surprise, as Perez draws praise from nearly every opposing manager, and he’s always had a strong reputation as a defender. Perez led all AL catchers in assists and threw out more would-be basestealers (25) than any other catcher in the AL as well. He led all AL catchers with 11 DRS, tying with Yan Gomes. The upset comes at the expense of Wieters, though I’m not sure why Mauer ended up nominated at all, as he started only 73 games at catcher all year.
Perez is the first Royals catcher to win the award since Bob Boone in 1989.
Additionally, Alcides Escobar was beaten out by J.J. Hardy of the Orioles at shortstop, and Lorenzo Cain, who played just 115 games this year due to injuries, lost to incumbent Adam Jones. Despite limited time, Cain still led all AL outfielders in Defensive Runs Saved, so he may have a beef, but it’s tough to unseat last year’s winner.
This is the first time the Royals have won three Gold Gloves in one season, with three other years yielding two winners. The 1977 team had Al Cowens and Franke White, the 1980 team had White and Willie Wilson, and 1989 saw the battery of Bret Saberhagen and Boone win.
The shift to include Sabermetrics in the decision for Gold Glove winners is a step to escape the perception that the award is a sort of popularity award, or that it goes to the bigger name or offensive player. Reputation carries a lot with the current structure, as managers only see limited games of these players and could be forming their decisions on incomplete information, and the stats don’t cover enough to compensate for some of those biases.
So how much do these awards matter? Well, they recognize the skills of Perez, Gordon, and Hosmer, but I don’t know that any of those three really need the recognition. Gordon and Perez were both All-Stars this year, and Hosmer has been a top baseball prospect since his senior year of high school and into the draft. Maybe they make a nice selling point when trying to sign pitchers. But the facts are that the Royals were an excellent defensive team this year, and with these individual awards, that reinforces the performances we saw all season.