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Matt Chapman and Matt Olson win Gold Glove awards

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The best defensive corner infielders in baseball.

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Kiel Maddox-USA TODAY Sports

The 2018 Gold Glove award winners were announced on Sunday, and the list includes two Oakland A’s. Third baseman Matt Chapman and first baseman Matt Olson both picked up the hardware in recognition of their outstanding defense. It’s the first Gold Glove for each of them, as they were playing in their first full MLB season.

The A’s are quickly building a case as the best defensive infield in baseball. They boasted Gold Glove finalists at all four positions, and now half of them have gone on to win. Chapman and Olson also earned Fielding Bible awards last week, so at the very least Oakland has the most daunting infield corners in the sport. That’s an especially big deal for a team whose fielding was arguably the worst in the majors for the previous three seasons.

The last A’s player to snare a Gold Glove was right fielder Josh Reddick in 2012. Before that, though, their most recent honorees were coincidentally at the same positions as Chapman and Olson — third baseman Eric Chavez won six straight from 2001-06, and first baseman Mark McGwire took one home in 1990. The last time the club had multiple winners in the same season was 1985, with shortstop Alfredo Griffin and outfielder Dwayne Murphy.

The all-time list of Oakland A’s winners:

  • Joe Rudi, OF: 1974-76
  • Dwayne Murphy, OF: 1980-85
  • Mike Norris, P: 1980-81
  • Rickey Henderson, OF: 1981
  • Alfredo Griffin, SS: 1985
  • Mark McGwire, 1B: 1990
  • Eric Chavez, 3B: 2001-06
  • Josh Reddick, RF: 2012
  • Matt Olson, 1B: 2018
  • Matt Chapman, 3B: 2018

For his part, Chapman continues a long line of defensive excellence at Oakland’s hot corner, one that extends throughout the 21st century. Chavez dominated the position for the better part of the first decade, and later Josh Donaldson picked up the mantle with a Fielding Bible award in 2014 despite never getting a Gold Glove. Even the stopgaps between those two bookends were mostly great fielders, from Jack Hannahan to Kevin Kouzmanoff to Brandon Inge. The quality strayed for a couple years after Donaldson left, but now Chaptain America has restored the legacy.

Of course, merely calling Chapman the AL’s best defensive third baseman sells him significantly short. He has an argument as the best defender at any position in all of baseball, between his jaw-dropping highlight reels and gaudy statistical metrics. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see him named as the AL’s overall Platinum Glove winner, which you can help make happen by voting here.

Here are Chapman’s ranks in the four mainstream advanced metrics, among all players at all positions. He leads all third basemen in each of these by wide margins:

  • 1st in DRS, Defensive Runs Saved (29)
  • 1st in SDI, SABR Defensive Index (21.9)
  • 8th in UZR, Ultimate Zone Rating (10.9)
  • 9th in FRAA, Fielding Runs Above Average (14.8)

The only other player to make the Top 10 of all four lists was Rockies second baseman D.J. LeMahieu, with ranks of 9th, 2nd, 7th, and 1st, respectively. He also won a Gold Glove on Sunday and was a close runner-up for the Fielding Bible at the keystone. Appearing Top 10 on three lists: SS Andrelton Simmons, RF Mookie Betts, and 2B Kolten Wong all missed on FRAA, while SS Nick Ahmed missed on UZR, and they all won Gold Gloves.

For his part, Olson also ranked highly in SDI (8th) and UZR (6th), at a position where stats don’t always tell the whole story. Not only does he cover his own territory magnificently, he also makes all of his fellow infielders better by consistently corralling their throws. Even Chapman’s greatness must offer a tip of the cap in this regard, as he can confidently fire off his cannon arm in the general vicinity of first base knowing that Olson will always squeeze it.

That assistance from Olson also helped out second baseman Jed Lowrie and shortstop Marcus Semien, who joined him as Gold Glove finalists entering Sunday. Lowrie lost out to Ian Kinsler, and Semien to Simmons, both are which are fair choices. Even accounting for the effect of Olson, though, the two Oakland middle infielders turned in the best performances we’ve ever seen out of either of them and truly earned the hell out of their nominations. Here’s the full AL lineup; click here to see the NL crew:

P: Dallas Keuchel, HOU
C: Salvador Perez, KC
1B: Matt Olson, OAK
2B: Ian Kinsler, LAA/BOS
SS: Andrelton Simmons, LAA
3B: Matt Chapman, OAK
LF: Alex Gordon, KC
CF: Jackie Bradley, BOS
RF: Mookie Betts, BOS

The A’s weren’t the only team to garner multiple awards, with the Red Sox, Royals, Angels, Rockies, Braves, and D’Backs following suit. Atlanta led the way with three, though Boston acquired a third midseason in Kinsler. Six of the Fielding Bible winners also picked up Gold Gloves, with C Jeff Mathis, 2B Kolten Wong, and CF Lorenzo Cain left out.

To conclude, here’s a personal favorite highlight from each of Chapman and Olson. Of course they both have piles of great plays on record, but these selections are a good starting point. First up is Olson, ranging to grab a grounder and then deftly flipping it straight from his glove to the pitcher covering the base.

The most remarkable thing about this play is that it doesn’t actually show off any of Olson’s best skills, like digging throws out of the dirt or using his own outfield-quality arm to nab runners at other bases. He’s probably a Gold Glover before even factoring in this highlight; it’s just a bonus resulting from his athleticism, sure hands, quick thinking, and elite situational awareness, with some help from teammate Sean Manaea.

The next clip does feature Olson’s ability to pick throws, but the star is Chapman. I still can’t believe he did this.

Third basemen charge bunts up the line all the time, but here Chapman does it from the shortstop position while on an extreme shift. The added difficulty of the exaggerated angle cannot be overstated, and it’s bonkers that he even attempted the throw at all. The throw itself may not look like much at first glance, but that’s because you’ve literally never seen anyone make this play before and therefore have nothing to compare it to — it bounces precisely because Chapman wants it to, and more importantly it travels on a perfect line to the base, post haste.

His unparalleled range, lightning reflexes, fearless intensity, and the best infield arm in the sport are all on display in that video, illustrating his ability to cover an entire half of the diamond on his own. However, the single most absurd part is that it wasn’t even his best play of that particular game, nor even against that specific hitter in that particular game. He made an even better one later on that day to rob the same guy again.

Congrats to Chapman and Olson on their first Gold Glove awards! May there be many more to follow.