A White Sox position player hasn't taken home a Gold Glove since Robin Ventura won it at third base in 1998, but they'll have two chances to snap that streak in 2014.
Rawlings, the sponsor of the award, announced the three finalists for each position, and the Sox show up a couple times:
- Shortstop: Alexei Ramirez, J.J. Hardy, Alcides Escobar
- Center field: Adam Eaton, Adam Jones, Jackie Bradley Jr.
The vote used to be entirely up to managers and coaches, but Rawlings introduced a sabermetric-based component that accounts for 25 percent of the vote last season, and it's still the same this time around.
Sizing up that quarter of the electorate at Bill James Online, John Dewan (author of The Fielding Bible and owner of Baseball Info Solutions) compiled what his Defensive Runs Saved totals offer as the top three at each position. I mentioned his shortstop survey last week while talking about Ramirez's ability to convert double plays, and Dewan's final three matched the ones put forth by Rawlings.
Dewan tagged Hardy as the clear favorite, and Ultimate Zone Rating backs this up. The systems quibble a little bit on Escobar, but the metrics are more or less proportional when stacking them against each other.
In Ramirez's favor: that league-leading ability to turn two, and a league-leading number of out-of-zone plays made. Part of that's a reflection of the White Sox's predilection for shifting, because look at this:
- Ramirez, 140
- Jean Segura, 96
- Brandon Crawford, 83
- Andrelton Simmons, 82
Simmons is considered the best shortstop in the game by scouts and metrics alike, so when he's making nearly 60 fewer out-of-zone plays and still maintaining superior ratings and reviews, you might want to correct for gerrymandering.
That stat remains a feather in Ramirez's cap to some degree, but I can't imagine either superlative will be enough to overtake Hardy, who is the defending two-time Gold Glove winner at short. It's safe to say his reputation is up there, and there are probably enough voters who will agree with the 25 percent determined by the metrics.
Now, center field is a battleground. First of all, none of Dewan's three choices -- Leonys Martin, Lorenzo Cain and Jarrod Dyson -- were nominated by Rawlings. Here's what he saw:
Four different players saved between 14 and 15 runs in the AL, including Leonys Martin, Jackie Bradley Jr., and teammates Lorenzo Cain and Jarrod Dyson. I lean slightly toward Martin as the favorite, but either Dyson or Bradley would likely take the Award if either had the opportunity to be a full-time starter.
With Cain and Dyson, it's possible they split the vote. Rob Neyer suggested a rationale: In late-inning situations, Ned Yost put Dyson in center and moved Cain to right ... and if Cain's not his manager's No. 1 choice, how he can be a Gold Glove finalist?
Martin's omission has no such defense. It appears the selection process just whiffed on him. He gets good-to-great reviews, all metrics love him, and he might have baseball's best arm in center field. And yet even with a full-time workload in center, he missed out on a spot.
It's weird the process overlooked Martin while giving Bradley a nod. Bradley's defense in center is elite, but he fell short of 1,000 innings there because he lost his job.
At least everybody agrees on Bradley's defense. When it comes to Eaton and Jones, the metrics might not be much help at all. I threw in Plus-Minus for an attempt at a tiebreaker, but it just further muddles the picture:
Jones is there because ... well, the voters seem to love Jones' defense. He's won the Gold Glove the last two seasons despite mediocre-to-terrible statistics both years, and he didn't need the support of that sabermetrically aligned 25 percent in 2013. Now that his metrics are actually on the positive side (UZR flip-flopped on him), it's hard to see how he would fare worse in the results this time around.
Eaton is a one-man argument against metrics, or at least a one-year sample. UZR gives him the brush-off, while DRS considers him one of the best. Having watched him for a full season -- and having watched Alejandro De Aza before him -- the eye test sides with DRS. I'd put Bradley and Dyson a clear tier above him, and I'd give Cain a slight edge, but that's about it in the American League. I just don't think he wins a name-recognition battle over any of them, or Jones for that matter.
Bradley is the wild card, because he's an incredible defender, and everybody should know it. Tyler Flowers got a good look at his range on July 9:
But the Boston depth chart in center is stacked, and Bradley didn't hit enough (.198/.265/.266) to keep his job. The Red Sox optioned him down to Pawtucket in mid-August, giving playing time to super-prospect Mookie Betts and late-season Cuban signee Rusney Castillo for the majority of the last six weeks.
The old joke with Gold Gloves is that players have to hit well enough to win one. That's not as true as it used to be, and StatTracker could make it an antique, but it probably still applies for Bradley. The league might agree on his abilities in the field, but they might not think he's not yet a major leaguer despite his defense.
Eaton doesn't have that problem, and if Jones weren't a three-time Gold Glover and four-time All-Star, I'd probably feel good about his chances. Alas, he's in the middle between Jones' star power and Bradley's universally worshipped defense. This being the case, I'd wager against his abilities to stand out in this contest, even if he's capable of amazing catches in Fenway Park's center field himself.