The five White Sox Gold Glove finalists may not be the five you’d expect

It’s often risky to make sweeping declarations about an individual’s defense over the course of a single season of defensive metrics, so when you’re left with 37 percent of a standard season for the 2020 version, it’s going to make an even bigger mess of the landscape. At 60 games, the Society for American Baseball Research wouldn’t have even released the preliminary standings for its SABR Defensive Index, which normally accounts for a quarter of the voting. This year? Sixty games is all anybody has to work with, and the SDI accounts for all of the voting.

Basically, while the Gold Glove finalists unveiled by Rawlings this afternoon included plenty of surprises, the presence of said surprises shouldn’t have been surprising. There was always going to be an element of randomness with such a small sample.

The uncertainty benefited the White Sox by and large. They boast five Gold Glove finalists, which is a new high for the franchise since the awards shifted to the three-finalist model for hype purposes. They just might not be the five that come to mind.

If I had to guess the five most likely White Sox under consideration, Luis Robert and Yoán Moncada would have been among them. Sure enough, they’re among the three finalists at center field and third base, so there’s two.

It’s not necessarily a shock that the White Sox are represented in the catcher category, but the White Sox placed two catchers in the top three, and that’s jarring to see. Yasmani Grandal and James McCann flank Roberto Perez among catchers, running the team total to four.

For the fifth, I might’ve guessed Dallas Keuchel among pitchers, because he’s won the award four times and held opponents to just two stolen-base attempts, one of which succeeded. If not Keuchel, I would’ve congratulated José Abreu for his dramatic improvement at first.

But nope. It’s Danny Mendick, and that’s the biggest surprise of the bunch.

Mendick’s defense at second is fine, and he looked more composed in his playmaking than Nick Madrigal. It’s more that we saw what a Gold Glove second baseman looked like last year with Yolmer Sánchez, and Mendick wasn’t quite that gifted. More to the point, he only started just 28 games at second base, and the committee admitted that it missed a name, so it didn’t seem like he should’ve qualified for final cut. But there he is, a Gold Glove finalist, and you can’t take that away from him.

* * * * * * * * *

Since the subjectivity of defensive appreciation is largely removed from the proceedings this year, a tale-of-the-tape with the various defensive metrics might provide a clear indication of the front-runners. Let’s size up the finalists and how they scored by Defensive Runs Saved, Ultimate Zone Rating and Outs Above Average, at least among the non-catchers. The backstops are dealing with a different set of metrics for their different responsibilities.

CENTER FIELD

PlayerDRSUZROOA
Luis Robert82.67
Byron Buxton112.53
Ramon Laureano53.43

Kevin Kiermaier appears to be the odd man out, as he finished between Buxton and Robert in DRS, and led all center fielders in UZR. He’d seem like a better call than Laureano in terms of quality, and Buxton in terms of quantity. Robert leads all the candidates in innings by plenty, so he has the best argument for those who like great defense to be available all season long.

THIRD BASE

PlayerDRSUZROOA
Yoán Moncada-13.53
Isiah Kiner-Falefa81.14
Gio Urshela65.4-1

Matt Chapman usually has this award on lock, but he was limited to 37 games this year with a hip issue. The field is thus wide open, and with the metrics disagreeing on the order of the quality, I wouldn’t count out Moncada. Even if he doesn’t win it, the strides he made year-over-year are worthy of general commendation considering he spent the year battling the after-effects of COVID-19.

SECOND BASE

PlayerDRSUZROOA
Danny Mendick40.20
Cesar Hernandez63.84
Nicky Lopez81.46
Jonathan Schoop02.42

Apparently the AL Central has all of the league’s defense at second base, so much so that even when Rawlings amended the finalist pool to add a name, it pulled from the division yet again. The initial omission of Lopez initially confused me greatly, given that he led in two of the advanced metrics and nearly doubled Mendick’s innings total. The field was since expanded in a bit of CYA that isn’t the Cy Young Award.

Mendick looks like the odd man out here, but there’s no turning back now.

CATCHER

PlayerCDAFDerDRSRES
Yasmani Grandal4.08.453
James McCann1.54.452
Roberto Perez1.66.662
*Catcher Defensive Adjustment, FanGraphs Defensive Runs, and Statcast Runs Extra Strikes

Catching defense is even more warped than the rest, because not only did they only get 60 games to work with, but they also caught under a limited selection of umpires. It’s hard to know just how well or poorly a catcher truly did his job, especially when Omar Narvaez of all people leads all of MLB in Baseball Prospectus’ metric. (He was not a Gold Glove finalist in the NL.)

At any rate, Grandal and McCann got on the board in different ways. Grandal led AL starting catchers in Called Strikes Above Average, and he also had an excellent year throwing, both of which made up for his occasional troubles with passed pitches. McCann improved his framing to decent, which makes his brand of defense a well-rounded one. His 2.82 catcher ERA leads all AL (semi-) regulars. His biggest flaw was three catcher inferences against him. Only Gary Sanchez had more.

Perez stands a good chance of beating them both, because besides grading out well across the board, nobody halted the running game like him. Opponents were only successful on four of 14 stolen base attempts. He won last year’s Gold Glove on the strength of his 41 percent kill rate, and now it’s 71 percent.

* * * * * * * * *

What about first base, you might be asking. It’s worth a look, if only because Abreu seemed to maximize all his abilities, resulting in the best performance of his career, even if the aesthetics were often lacking.

Just like second base, this could come down to the finalists being an afterthought, at least the third spot. Matt Olson has won the last two Gold Gloves on merit, and while Evan White didn’t hit a lick for Seattle in his rookie season, he showed the capacity for incredible plays.

That said, Abreu held his own on the leaderboard, by and large.

PlayerDRSUZROOA
Yuli Gurriel20.92
Matt Olson52.53
Evan White72.22
José Abreu5-0.72

Maybe Abreu could’ve slipped ahead of Gurriel for consideration, but I don’t see him topping both Olson and White, so it’s not a grave injustice.

Abreu instead will have to settle for other accolades. He’d previously been named the Sporting News Major League Baseball Player of the Year, and today the White Sox announced that Abreu was named American League Outstanding Player in the 2020 Players Choice Awards. Only Frank Thomas (1993-94) and Jermaine Dye (2006) have received that honor among White Sox. Thomas won the MVP in both of those years, while Dye finished fifth.

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Amar

Hey Jim,
Just curious … does the FanGraphs Defensive Runs use that FRM statistic for its calculation? I was surprised to see McCann rank 8 in MLB according to FRM.

carbiner

I guess this reinforces the best catcher duo in the game theory, as if there were any doubt. Apparently McCann might be unjustifiably cheap next year due to our poor deprived, penniless billionaires; so I guess we should get him if that’s the case. Would make Giolito happy at any rate.

asinwreck

Sox cornering the market of gold-glove catching candidates like the Hunt brothers cornering the silver market.