Here in the Bay Area, we all know that Josh Donaldson is the best defensive third baseman in baseball. Now we have proof.
The Gold Gloves currently have the worst reputation of all of baseball's major postseason awards. The voters have been getting MVPs right for years (or close enough), since they no longer award the Juan Gonzalezes and Mo Vaughns of the world for simply leading the league in RBI. There hasn't been a notably undeserving Cy Young winner since 2005, when Bartolo Colon (in his former life) beat out the vastly superior Johan Santana based exclusively on his win-loss record. Rookie of the Year is kind of pointless, but a look back at the last eight years of winners surprisingly reveals a who's-who of some of today's top superstars and only a few flops. Manager of the Year is so subjective that it's hard to criticize it. But the Gold Gloves, man. They're getting better, but there's still too much stock put into incumbency and overall name-power (which is often earned with one's bat).
Enter the Fielding Bible. If you've never heard of it, take a gander at its official site. To summarize, it's a set of 10 awards -- one for each position, and a new multi-position award for versatile players who don't stick to one spot on the diamond. It's not split by league; there is only one winner from all of MLB for each position. The awards are voted on by a panel of legends including Bill James, Rob Neyer, John Dewan, Joe Posnanski, Dave Cameron, and Peter Gammons (among others). Essentially, many of the top baseball minds of the last 25-plus years use all of the most advanced tools at their disposal to do a serious version of the Gold Gloves.
This is the ninth year in which Fielding Bible awards have been handed out, and in that time the only winner from the Oakland Athletics has been Daric Barton at first base in 2010. That list has now doubled, as Donaldson snared the 2014 award at the hot corner as if it was just another sharp ground ball. Here's what the Bible had to say about JD:
"Josh Donaldson led all MLB third basemen with 20 Defensive Runs Saved. Here's another way to measure Donaldson's excellence. Baseball Info Solutions tracks a stat invented by Bill James called Good Fielding Plays (GFP). It's not as easy as it sounds to define a Good Fielding Play-there are 28 different categories of GFPs. Donaldson's total of 77 GFPs is 13 more than the 64 good plays handled by Colorado's Nolan Arenado. Donaldson is especially good making plays to his right where his excellent reaction time and strong arm really stand out. Nolan Arenado was second in the voting: Donaldson 114 points, Arenado 104."
I don't really have a lot to add to that. If you watch the A's every day, you've seen Donaldson do some incredible things on defense. He makes some errors, to be sure, but he makes so many extra plays that other third basemen don't make that he more than accounts for those miscues. He has the range, he has the arm, and he has the utter disregard for both his body and the person who washes the players' uniforms. I could post 20 incredible video highlights from 2014 without even searching hard, but here's one random selection from late in the season:
Donaldson is one of three finalists for the AL Gold Glove as well, and I expect that he'll win over Kyle Seager and four-time honoree Adrian Beltre (both fine glovemen in their own rights). However, even if Donnie doesn't, I'm not too concerned because at this point I put more stock in the Fielding Bible as the true measure of single-season defensive prowess. So congratulations to the Bringer Of Range on a well-deserved award.
While we're on the subject, how did the rest of the team fare in the voting? Let's take a run through the lineup:
- In right field, Josh Reddick finished third behind Jason Heyward and Kevin Kiermaier. That sounds about right. Heyward has a strong argument as the single best defender in all of baseball at any position, and Kiermaier is an absolute stud. Furthermore, Reddick played only 109 games this season due to injuries. He'll be right back in the running again next year, and he's a threat to win the award any time he plays a full season.
- Yoenis Cespedes finished third in left field behind Alex Gordon and Christian Yelich. But you don't want to hear about that, now or ever.
- Sam Fuld finished fifth in the multi-position award, behind Lorenzo Cain, Ben Zobrist, Josh Harrison, and Kiermaier. Fuld also got a few votes in center field.
- Coco Crisp was a notable omission, however. He did not receive a single vote. Part of that is probably that he only started 101 games in center field, but a bigger factor is the negative-17 Defensive Runs Saved he accrued when he did take the field. That ranked sixth-worst among all 150 qualified MLB defenders at any position and third-worst among center fielders. Granted, a lot of that can likely be explained by the neck injury that ruined his season, but it's also clear that he's lost a step or three on defense at this point in his career. He just turned 35, and the days of Coco as an elite defender are long gone. The next question is whether the days of him as a good, or even average, defensive center fielder might be gone as well. Perhaps it really is time to move him to left and let the truly elite Craig Gentry get more reps up the middle.
- Shockingly, Jed Lowrie didn't receive a single vote at shortstop. Did I say shockingly? I meant "obviously." The A's also didn't have a catcher or a first baseman receive any votes, probably because John Jaso and Derek Norris are poor behind the plate and because the team didn't have a regular first baseman with Brandon Moss spending so much time in the outfield.
- I don't really know how to accurately rate pitcher defense, but I sure thought Sonny Gray looked like something special this year. Apparently that was a home-fan bias, because Sonny only finished 14th among pitchers.
Check out the full list of 2014 winners here. Then, tell us what you think of Donaldson's D in the comments. Do you have a favorite highlight from the year (check out some videos of him for inspiration)? Do you want to write a haiku or a limerick about his soon-to-be golden glove? No better way to forget the bad parts of 2014 then by celebrating the good.