In case you missed it, the Rawlings Gold Glove Award winners were announced Sunday night. Even without Nicky Lopez, whose notorious omission from the list of nominees will long be debated, four KC Royals were up for the honor.
And two won their very first Gold Glove. Kansas City left fielder Andrew Benintendi and center fielder Michael A. Taylor were the winners, while second baseman Whit Merrifield lost to Marcus Semien of the Blue Jays and catcher Salvador Perez didn’t beat out Oakland’s Sean Murphy.
Perez not winning his sixth Gold Glove was surprising. Despite Perez leading the majors and the American League in several major defensive categories, Murphy managed to win his first ever Gold Glove.
This isn’t an indictment of Murphy, who did display great defensive prowess with a .993 fielding percentage, 24.1% caught stealing rate, 873 putouts, 44 assists, nine double plays turned, and only six errors in 112 games. But Perez beat him with a .998 fielding percentage, 43.9% caught stealing rate, 975 putouts, 61 assists and 12 double plays, and committed only two errors in 124 games at catcher.
It seems that the only important thing Murphy edged Perez out in was dWAR: his 1.3 was barely better than Perez’s 1.2. Even then, Perez allowed half the stolen bases and the least amount in the majors among qualified catchers (23) compared to Murphy (41).
So, how is it that Murphy managed to snatch the Gold Glove from Perez?
Pitch framing & DRS could be why KC Royals catcher Salvador Perez didn’t win.
For those not familiar with the concept, pitch framing is when a catcher makes a ball appear to be a strike by subtly moving his mitt to place a caught ball in the strike zone. As FanGraphs so aptly puts it: “The catcher, based on the way he receives the ball, can influence the call. Good catchers make sure strikes are called strikes and gets the umpire to call a few balls as strikes too.”
Easy enough to understand, right? Well, as it turns out, Perez isn’t exactly what baseball statisticians would categorize as a “good” catcher based solely on this defensive metric.
According to BaseballSavant, KC Royals catcher Perez placed dead last in pitch framing in 2021. He converted 44.7% of non-swing pitches to strikes for a -19 Runs from Extra Strikes rate. Murphy placed fourth, converting 49.6% of non-swing pitches into strikes with an eight RES rate.
It’s worth mentioning that the National League Gold Glove winner, Pittsburgh’s Jacob Stallings, converted 48% of non-swing pitches for a two RES rate.
So, it seems pitch framing constitutes a metric used in the voting process.
The same goes for Defensive Runs Saved.
When comparing the nominees through Fielding Bible, Murphy had 10 DRS to beat out Perez’s -5 and Martin Maldonado’s -2 in the American League. Stallings’ 21 DRS blew Molina’s six DRS and Realmuto’s zero DRS out of the water in the NL.
(Interestingly, this defensive metric may have contributed to the Gold Glove snub of Lopez—when comparing shortstops, he had three DRS, while nominees Carlos Correa had 21, Andrelton Simmons 15, and J.P. Crawford eight).
What can be taken from this is that pitch framing and DRS may well influence Gold Glove voting more than fielding percentage, caught stealing, assists, or errors committed.
But as mentioned before here at Kings of Kauffman, it’s OK that Perez doesn’t frame pitches well. And it certainly isn’t something to get too worked up about, either, because he means so much to the KC Royals in so many other ways.
Although Salvador Perez didn’t win a Gold Glove this year, he’s still one of the best defensive catchers in the game.