The American League Statistical Gold Glove Awards
Baseball has some strange infatuation with unrealistic awards. A golden glove would give a player the range of your great uncle Frank after his fifth whiskey sour. A bat made of pure silver? Ask Domonic Brown how well that one works. Maybe this is why home runs are down, y'all.
Regardless, some people seem to find these burdensome bestowals intriguing. So we'll hand out our own. Because why not.
We'll be basing these selections on the dope-tastic defensive statistics and information that FanGraphs compiles. They are all invited to chill in the hot tub any time. Now let's get to doling out the hardware. I've got the American League side; we'll have the senior circuit up in a bit, as well.
Catcher: Salvador Perez, Kansas City Royals
This is the one position where we can't use FanGraphs' Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) statistic. Instead, we'll lean upon Defensive Runs Saved (DRS), where Perez was tops in the American League among catchers that caught at least 700 innings.
Of the 57 potential base-stealers Perez faced this year, he managed to throw out 25. The fact that he only faced 57 base-stealers while catching the most innings in the entire league is a testament in itself. You don't run on Salvador Perez.
By saying that Perez "caught the most innings in the entire league," I'm selling him short. He caught 66.1 more innings than Jonathan Lucroy and caught 10 more games. Perez has caught every game the Royals have played since the start of September. It kind of messed with his offensive production (he had a .260 wOBA the last month), but Perez's durability mixed with his top-notch defensive production makes him an easy selection here.
First Base: Albert Pujols, Los Angeles Angels
The pickings were pretty slim right here. Not a single A.L. first baseman who played at least 500 innings had a positive defensive rating on FanGraphs. Both Mark Teixeira and Mike Napoli were pretty close, but Pujols takes the cake
Pujols had a UZR/150 of 9.3; Napoli was second at 7.3. Pujols's defensive rating also topped the A.L. at -2.4 with Napoli and Teixeira checking in at -3.2. Again, none of these guys really stood out, but Pujols got down with his 34-year-old self to top the rest.
Second Base: Dustin Pedroia, Boston Red Sox
Pujols won his award by default; Pedroia won his because he is Da God.
One of the cool features FanGraphs has is called "Inside Edge Fielding." It shows the difficulty of various balls that players do or do not get to. One of the categories is balls an average fielder would have a 40-60 percent chance of reaching. Pedroia reached 88.2 percent of such balls. The next closest guy was Ben Zobrist, who had 13 fewer opportunities and thus a smaller sample size (four chances compared to 17 for Pedroia). The dude is a methed-up rabbit on the diamond, and he earned this puppy.
Shortstop: J.J. Hardy, Baltimore Orioles
From 2011-2013, the Orioles could always count on J.J. Hardy to hit 20 bombs and play some slick defense. Although the power fell off the table this year, the defense may have been even better.
Hardy's 20.4 defensive rating this year was the highest of his career, and it came in his age-31 season. This helped him post a 3.4 WAR despite slugging just .372. Me thinks the O's will take that.
Third Base: Josh Donaldson, Oakland Athletics
Although the award here is going to Josh Donaldson, I have to give some serious dap to Chase Headley. He'll probably be out of luck when it comes to the real awards after going from the N.L. to the A.L. mid-season, but he actually had the highest defensive rating of any player in the entire league at any position last year. You the real MVP, Chase.
Buuuuut, he's not eligible here, so we'll bump with Donaldson. Donaldson led the A.L. in both UZR/150 and defensive rating with Manny Machado missing good chunks of the season. But, even when Machado was on the field (fully healthy or not), Donaldson had a higher UZR/150, so he earned this one.
Left Field: Alex Gordon, Kansas City Royals
This is another one that is an absolute no-brainer. Gordon saved 27 runs with his defense in left field this year. No other A.L. left-fielder saved more than 12, and only three players were above three among those that played at least 500 innings in left.
Gordon's UZR/150 was more than 50 percent higher than the next highest guy. He also had a positive rating in all three categories that are factored into UZR, Outfield Arm Runs (ARM), Range Runs (RngR), and Error Runs (ErrR). Just don't hit it to left field against Kansas City, basically.
Center Field: Jarrod Dyson, Kansas City Royals
Revised previous sentence: just don't hit the ball at all against Kansas City. Many teams have taken this approach against the Royals in the post-season in an attempt to avoid their great defenders. I would say this strategy has come with mixed results.
This should come with the qualifier that Dyson only played 678.1 innings in center, so he barely qualifies for consideration. However, in those innings, he compiled a higher UZR than any other center fielder at 17.7. This made his UZR/150 a 36.6, which is stupid good. His RngR was 15.2, meaning he saved 15.2 runs just by running fast in the outfield. Dude's got wheels, and now he has some hardware to accompany that speed.
Right Field: Kevin Kiermaier, Tampa Bay Rays
If you look at right field with only guys that had enough innings to qualify, Nori Aoki would have been the top guy. Of course. But his defensive rating of 0.6 wasn't earth-shattering, so I expanded to guys that played at least 500 innings. Then Kiermaier just exploded off the map.
Kiermaier had a 16.0 UZR in 526.1 innings. That gives him a 56.6 UZR/150. That sounds pretty good, right? The second highest total in the league was Dyson at 36.6 among guys with at least 500 innings. That's 20 lower! Kiermaier's range saved 16.4 runs, which was more than Dyson in 152 fewer innings. Although he's the last one on our list, he might be the best outfielder in the entire league next year.