Adam Engel steals his way into Gold Glove consideration

He has an uphill climb against Jackie Bradley Jr. and Mike Trout in center field, but a nomination is an accomplishment in and of itself

Adam Engel received 463 plate appearances in 2018, and a lot had to go wrong to make it possible. Ryan Cordell broke his collarbone in April, throwing the rest of his season off course. Leury Garcia struggled to stay off the disabled list for smaller reasons. Trayce Thompson hasn’t been the same since his back injury in 2016, and was the least productive of all White Sox this season. Charlie Tilson, ironically, was the healthiest, but didn’t distinguish himself over 108 games between Charlotte and Chicago.

And yet it could’ve been worse because Engel technically improved:

  • 2017: .166/.235/.282
  • 2018: .235/.279/.336

The latter line represents a significant reduction in his strikeout rate (35 to 28 percent), and a more normal BABIP (.245 to .322). It came at some cost — the improved contact played a part of his walk rate dropping from 5.7 percent to 3.9 percent, and his ISO from .116 to .100. Still, it’s fair to say that Engel had to improve his hit tool above all else, and that he did.

There still isn’t a major league hitter here. His best month in terms of OPS was August, when he hit .276/.284/.448 with zero walks to 28 strikeouts over 88 plate appearances, capping off a stretch where he drew two walks over three months. To answer Michael Wagner’s question from Patreon, I don’t know how he gets to average from here without insane BABIP luck or milking more out of his defense.

And he’s doing about all he can in the latter department, as his work in center culminated in a great honor Thursday:

Yes, Adam Engel is a Gold Glove finalist, so all those starts weren’t for naught. Even if he’s likely to finish behind Jackie Bradley Jr. and Mike Trout in voting, his being here represents the major improvement in Gold Glove selection since the Society for Baseball Research was invited into the process and made the SABR Defensive Index part of the process.

Engel isn’t the only one to get a boost from the data over reputation. Remember when Marcus Semien and Clayton Richard both struggled to throw to first? Now they’re both Gold Glove finalists! Semien’s turnaround in particular has been a massive triumph, both for himself and the Athletics. Oakland had the league’s worst defense in 2017, and now they have finalists at all four infield positions, if you’re looking for ways to get back to .500.

Specific to Engel’s situation, In fact, if you only use SDI, Engel could be the front-runner. SABR won’t release the final 2018 rankings until after the awards are handed out, but the last list from mid-August shows Engel trailing only Leonys Martin on the leaderboard, and Martin’s season ended on Aug. 7 due to a life-threatening bacterial infection. Bradley was running fourth, and Trout seventh.

The metrics are split on this final field.

Ultimate Zone Rating: Has Bradley in front at 7.4, with Trout at 5.0 and Engel at -0.6 (mostly due to his arm).

Defensive Runs Saved: Has Trout leading with 8, with Engel at 1 and Bradley at 0.

Outs Above Average: Statcast’s go-to metric has Engel atop the American League at 17, with Bradley at 11 and Trout at 8.

So Engel theoretically has as much a shot as the other two, although it’s hard to imagine him keeping his head above water in the part that comes down to votes. He’s just simply not as popular, which poses a problem when Bradley and Trout are also great.

Engel did what he could for voters, condensing a year’s worth of home run robberies into the span of a single week …

… but he did get off a slow start defensively, and the seven errors stand out against Bradley (three) and Trout (zero). The error column is often an unfair way to judge a defender, but I’d call it fair to say it took Engel a couple months to get his route-running up to Gold Glove standards, and given the quality of competition and the deficit in name recognition/baseball accomplishments, he might have needed to go 6-for-6.

But again, considering Engel’s 19th-round origin story and his limitations as a hitter, the fact that he has a legit chance at hardware represents an accomplishment. And while most of our offseason plans have found ways to supplant him in center, hopefully he can find himself on a roster that maximizes his skills while minimizing his liabilities, because the glove plays anywhere.

Take a second to support Sox Machine on Patreon
Jim Margalus
Jim Margalus

Writing about the White Sox for a 16th season, first here, then at South Side Sox, and now here again. Let’s talk curling.

Articles: 3891
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Lurker Laura

Trade Adam Engel now, while he’s hot.

Trooper Galactus

In the way that a dumpster fire is hot, I guess.

Patrick Nolan

The White Sox eschew any and all players that can frame a pitch. Got smooth receiving skills behind the plate? GTFOH.

Lurker Laura

That’s a thin margin of WARP error, which just goes to show the state of catching in general. I like Smith better than Castillo for multiple reasons, but I’m not upset he’s gone. Just upset he’s gone with literally zero return.

Perhaps this clears the way for both Seby and Castillo to have monster first halves, resulting in the latter getting traded and the former getting promoted.


Smith was not going to be part of the White Sox plans going forward, and the return for him would have been next to nothing. I hope he finds success in Anaheim. He surely seems like a really good guy.

Lurker Laura

A trade for some unproven 18-year-old perhaps? Ah well, doesn’t matter now. I, too, hope he has success in Anaheim. I always liked him.


That would have been about what we would have gotten for him. I always liked him, too. His home run for “Webby” was one of the highlights of a lost season.

lil jimmy

Was it the hair? I also hope he gets a few more years to stick around.

karkovice squad

That’s not a thin margin of error. If Smith maintained his performance across as many PAs as Narvaez, he’d have been a full win better. And Castillo would’ve been as far below average as Narvaez was above.

Narvaez was barely above replacement level despite having offensive production 22% better than league average and playing a premium position. That’s how much his framing deficit kills his value.

Lurker Laura

Big “if.”


Seems like a guy who will bounce around on waivers several times this off-season. Who knows, he might end up back on the White Sox.

I think he was the odd man out in the polling here as well.

Trooper Galactus

Rick Hahn’s obsession with catchers who turn strikes into balls is truly perplexing.


If you go by bWAR but add in BRef’s framing numbers (which they include in DRS, but not bWAR), you get:
Narvaez: 1.1 bWAR
Smith: 0.4 bWAR
Castillo: 0.3 bWAR

Still frustrating to see them let the younger, better, under-longer-control catcher than just ditching the guy who cheats and still sucks.

Trooper Galactus

While Smith isn’t exactly young, it is frustrating. Not like he’s gonna be some sort of stud with the Angels, but man, I did not want to see Castillo again.


File this under “it’s not a big deal, but this isn’t the kind of transaction that gives me confidence in a front office that deserves none”.

Trooper Galactus

Well said.

karkovice squad

DRS’ catcher defense model isn’t as good as BP’s.

Just subtract the full 17.5 runs from BP’s model for Narvaez. That would bring Narvaez down to .2 bWAR and leave Smith at .6 in a little over half the playing time.

lil jimmy

One of these things is not like the other,
one of these things just doesn’t belong.