If there was any doubt that Matt Chapman and Matt Olson are the best defenders at their respective positions, we can now put that to rest. The 2018 Fielding Bible awards were announced on Monday, and the two Oakland A’s infielders each won by substantial margins.
The Fielding Bible is like the Gold Glove award, but for defense. Sure, the Gold Gloves are ostensibly about defense, but they have a reputation for putting too much stock in overall name power (often magnified by offensive production). That’s partly because they’re voted on by managers and coaches who only see some of the eligible players six times over the course of six months.
On the other hand, the Fielding Bible is determined by a panel of absolute 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 quarter-century use all of the most advanced tools at their disposal to do a serious version of the Gold Gloves that’s based on reality instead of feelings. For more on the process, check out their site.
The result of the panel’s vote is a list of 10 awards. There is one for each position, plus an extra for a multi-positional player. There is only one per league, rather than being split between the AL and NL. Here is the full 2018 list; click here for more info.
P: Zack Greinke, ARZ
C: Jeff Mathis, ARZ
1B: Matt Olson, OAK
2B: Kolten Wong, STL
SS: Andrelton Simmons, LAA
3B: Matt Chapman, OAK
LF: Alex Gordon, KC
CF: Lorenzo Cain, MIL
RF: Mookie Betts, BOS
UT: Javier Baez, CHC
This is the 12th year of the Fielding Bible (since 2007), but the A’s have only won twice before now. Coincidentally, their previous wins were at the same positions as these new ones: Daric Barton was named at 1B in 2010, and Josh Donaldson captured the 3B award in 2014. Neither of them ever followed up with a Gold Glove, but Olson and Chapman have both been nominated for that distinction this season and should have strong chances of winning.
At first base, the previous six awards had been split among four players. Paul Goldschmidt won three of them, including last year, but was never named twice in a row. Albert Pujols is the all-time leader at the position, having taken home four of the first five awards. Here’s what the Bible has to say about the selection of Olson, who received 8-of-12 first-place votes to beat out Brandon Belt and Freddie Freeman (the next-highest AL finisher was Joe Mauer, in eighth place):
Olson helps his teammates more than he helps himself. He was the best in baseball, scooping 44 difficult throws from his fellow infielders. The next best first baseman had 31 scoops. Olson is not the most athletic first baseman, but he is the most consistent. His range is not as wide as some others, but when it comes to handling balls that are defined as “straight-on” by Baseball Info Solutions, he was the best with nine more plays than an average first baseman. He led all first basemen in baseball saving 14 runs for the A’s defensively.
Over at third, Chapman knocked off three-time incumbent Nolan Arenado, who still finished runner-up himself. Adrian Beltre is the only other multi-time winner at the hot corner, with three non-consecutive victories, and he also finished in third place this year. Chapman racked up 11-of-12 first-place votes, with the following explanation:
While he was helped on occasion by the scoops of fellow Fielding Bible Award winner Matt Olson, Chapman saved the most runs defensively in all of baseball at any position in 2018 (29 Defensive Runs Saved). His arm is a cannon. He was clocked throwing 98 as a pitching prospect and the speed is still there. It allows him to make plays down the line that no one else can. No third baseman was better on balls hit to his right. Chapman throws his body all over the field to make plays. He had 36 plays where he dove, slid or jumped to make the play. Yolmer Sanchez was a not-close second among third basemen with 25.
Two other A’s infielders are nominated for Gold Gloves, but as expected they did not fare as well in the Fielding Bible. At shortstop, Marcus Semien finished in sixth place, effectively tied with Addison Russell, and his highest votes were a third and a pair of fourths. However, the only AL players who finished ahead of him were Simmons and Francisco Lindor, the other two nominees for the GG. Semien has no business winning the GG over that pair, but he’s made significant improvement over the last few years and this at least suggests his nomination was indeed legit.
The other GG nomination went to Jed Lowrie at second base, but that nod looks a bit shakier now. He finished 14th at the keystone, with naught but a few token downballot mentions. What’s more, he was behind six other AL players, including the two other GG nominees (Odor, Kinsler, Wendle, Merrifield, Altuve, Gordon, plus Schoop who spent most of the year in Baltimore).
As for the rest of Oakland’s roster, two other players at least made downballot appearances. Chad Pinder showed up twice: eight place in LF, and 13th in multi-positional. Over in right field, Stephen Piscotty showed up in 14th place.
Looking through the non-A’s winners, Simmons leads the way with his record sixth straight award. Only catcher Yadier Molina can match that total all-time, but his weren’t all consecutive. When I say that Fielding Bible awards are like the better, smarter version of Gold Gloves, remember that Simmons has only won three GGs in his entire career.
Other repeat winners include Betts and Baez, who both got their third straight. Gordon had three previous victories but not since 2014, and he now takes the all-time lead in LF ahead of Brett Gardner. Cain earned a multi-position award in ‘14, but this is his first triumph in center — no one has ever won twice in center field. Dallas Keuchel had a four-year streak snapped by Greinke.
Betts was the only unanimous winner, but three others received 11-of-12 first-place votes: Chapman, Simmons, and Greinke. Only Bill James ranked Chapman second, behind Arenado. In one other notable voting quirk, the president of SABR (Vince Gennaro) put Semien ahead of Lindor; he was also the only one to put Simmons second, behind Nick Ahmed.
Congrats to Chapman and Olson on these awards! May they be the first of many, and may there be Gold Gloves to follow next weekend.