The 2019 Gold Gloves finalists were announced by Rawlings on Thursday, with three finalists at each AL and NL defensive position, and there are four Oakland A’s players in the running. The winners will be announced on Nov. 3.
Three of the A’s finalists are expected, but one is a bit of a surprise:
- 1B Matt Olson
- SS Marcus Semien
- 3B Matt Chapman
- LF Robbie Grossman
Olson and Chapman won the Gold Gloves last year, and there’s every reason to think they’ll repeat. Semien was a finalist last year and was expected to be so again, and this time around he’s also an outright MVP candidate, but the GG competition at short will be tough. Meanwhile, Grossman was never known for his defense entering 2019, but he put up good metrics all year.
Oakland’s four finalists tie them for the AL lead, with the Red Sox and Astros. In the NL, the Cardinals have six, and the D’Backs four. Here’s a quick look at each A’s candidate, and you can click here to see the full list of finalists.
Matt Olson | 1B
Other finalists: Yuli Gurriel (HOU), Justin Smoak (TOR)
This should be one of the easiest calls out of any position. Olson is the best defensive first baseman in the majors and it’s not even close. He won the Gold Glove and Fielding Bible award last year, so he has the track record and incumbency on his side. And this summer he dominated the advanced metrics, leading all MLB first basemen in Defensive Runs Saved (DRS), Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR), Fielding Runs Above Average (FRAA), and SABR’s Defensive Index (SDI). In some cases he was nearly double the runner-up, despite missing a month to injury.
- DRS: +14 (next is +9, next AL is +3)
- UZR: +6.6 (next is +3.7, next AL is +3.5)
- FRAA: +11.7 (next is +10.8, next AL is +8.0)
- SDI: +5.8 (next is +5.5, next AL is +5.3)
Note: SDI was last updated in August, so that metric isn’t a final season total
In three of those metrics, the runner-up is Christian Walker of the D’Backs, except for UZR where Anthony Rizzo of the Cubs beats out Walker. The AL runners-up are (in order of the above list) Ronald Guzman (TEX), Guzman again (but not enough playing time to qualify), C.J. Cron (MIN), and Yuli Gurriel (HOU).
Given that statistical dominance, it should come as no surprise that there isn’t any real competition for this award. Gurriel does fare well on FRAA and SDI, but DRS and UZR rank him around neutral. Meanwhile, Smoak barely even played enough innings to qualify for eligibility, and all of his metrics are negative, so he appears to just be a token third name for the list.
Of course, single-season defensive metrics are not a be-all end-all, nor will they necessarily be used heavily by the particular people who vote on this award (managers and coaches). However, SDI does get used in the process and accounts for 25% of the vote, though unfortunately that’s the one metric in which Olson only just barely edges out another GG finalist (Gurriel) instead of all the other metrics where he’s in his own stratosphere (and that’s assuming Olson held his SDI lead through Sept).
But forget the stats. We’ve all seen Olson play. He does things that you didn’t even realize a first baseman could do. His range and hands and instincts are incredible, he’s a pickin’ machine who prevents countless throwing errors for his teammates, and his arm could play in the outfield. Here’s one of my favorite highlights from his latest season:
Olson is going to win this, no question.
Marcus Semien | SS
Other finalists: Andrelton Simmons (LAA), Francisco Lindor (CLE)
At the very least, Semien belongs on this list. After looking like the worst shortstop in the game just four years ago, he’s stunned the sport by working his way into the upper ranks of middle infield defense. He’s legitimately a good fielder now.
But will it be enough to win this award? The other two names are daunting, especially Andrelton Simmons, who won the last two Gold Gloves and the last six Fielding Bibles. The best argument against Simmons might be that he only played 103 games this year due to injury, but even in that limited time he still posted monster metrics across the board, leading AL shortstops in DRS and UZR and ranking second in FRAA (he didn’t qualify to appear on the latest SDI list). As for Lindor, Semien beat him in every metric except DRS, but Lindor still has quite a bit of name power.
Perhaps one other setback for Semien is his style of play. He’s steady and consistent but he doesn’t make as many holy-crap acrobatic highlights that defy the laws of physics, like you see from Simmons (or from, say, Matt Chapman at third base). That shouldn’t necessarily matter if he still created the same amount of value, but it’s the kind of thing you could imagine sticking out in the minds of voters.
I’m not expecting Semien to win this, but he certainly has a chance. He’s the only finalist who played the full season (Lindor played 137 games), and he ranks second among AL shortstops in UZR and SDI (maybe third in SDI if Simmons beat him, but if not then Semien could get a big extra vote from leading the finalists in this stat).
Matt Chapman | 3B
Other finalists: Alex Bregman (HOU), David Fletcher (LAA)
What else is there to say about Chapman’s defense? Last year he won literally every major defensive award that exists — the AL Gold Glove (voted by managers/coaches), the Fielding Bible (voted by sabermetric folks), the Wilson award (based purely on stats), and the Platinum Glove (voted by fans). And while the GG and Bible ranked him only at third base, the Platinum ranked him ahead of all AL defenders and the Wilson award put him atop the entire majors. He was the consensus best defender in baseball at any position.
It remains to be seen whether he’ll repeat that clean sweep, but at the very least he’s a shoo-in for the AL Gold Glove at 3B. Bregman might win the MVP, and he’s a good defender, but he doesn’t hold a candle to Chappy. Fletcher also put up a fine defensive season, but, well, here are some numbers to illustrate the point. Chapman leads MLB third basemen in almost everything.
- DRS: +18 (next is +15, next AL is +7)
- UZR: +14.8 (next is +10.3, next AL is +6.9)
- FRAA: +12.9 (trails one at +14.2, next AL is +11.3)
- SDI: +13.0 (next is +7.0, next AL is +5.4)
Chapman is more than double the AL runner-up in three of those categories. Nolan Arenado (COL) actually edged him out in FRAA, and got sort of close in UZR, but it was Josh Donaldson (ATL) who got close in DRS and Evan Longoria (SFG) who trailed in SDI. Among the AL, Bregman was the runner-up in DRS, FRAA, and SDI, while Kyle Seager (SEA) was second in UZR (and Fletcher third).
Again, one season of these metrics is a small sample, but this kind of dominance is tough to ignore and this is the second straight year Chapman has done this (third if you count his partial 2017 rookie year). He leads all MLB players at all positions in UZR, and all AL players in SDI. And of course, the eyeball test fully backs up the numbers, as he routinely makes highlight plays that drop your jaw to the floor between his superhuman range, hot-corner reflexes, and unparalleled throwing arm.
Just give him the Gold Glove already so we can get on with the real debate about whether he should repeat as the Platinum winner. Maybe give him the 2020 Gold Glove too just to save time and shipping costs.
Robbie Grossman | LF
Other finalists: Alex Gordon (KCR), Andrew Benintendi (BOS)
Entering 2019, Grossman’s career metrics ranged from slightly negative to atrocious. He was presumably signed for his bat, offering desperately needed OBP from the left side of the plate, and Athletics Nation was not looking forward to his defense. And yet, here we are.
He wasn’t a statistical marvel like the Matts, but he shows up on the leaderboards for all four metrics with solidly positive values. And while the eyeball test won’t reveal anything special, that might be just the trick with him — his strength seems to be getting good jumps on the ball, which doesn’t show up on TV (because the camera hasn’t panned to him yet) and makes some of his impressive catches look more routine than they would if he were a step behind and needed to dive.
Gordon is the name to beat here, despite relatively modest metrics that value him just a hair above neutral. He won the last two Gold Gloves, and six overall; the last Fielding Bible, and four overall; plus a Platinum in 2014. On the other hand, Benintendi seems like more of a token third finalist, as he doesn’t fare well in any metric and doesn’t have a notable track record to override those mediocre numbers.
The case for Grossman is purely in the stats. He leads Gordon and Benintendi in all four major metrics, and UZR is the only one where it’s even close. Most importantly, he dominates them in SDI, which is the one that directly matters for this award — he leads AL left fielders at +5.8, while Gordon was the only other on the list with a positive value, at +0.2 (Benintendi was third-from-last at -3.8). If you buy those single-season metrics, and/or you think 35-year-old Gordon has lost a step, then Grossman might actually have a chance here. I’m not specifically expecting it, but I will be weirdly unsurprised if he wins.
Given all that, here’s how I see this playing out:
- 1B: Olson is a total lock
- SS: Semien is probably unlikely (I’ll guess Simmons)
- 3B: Chapman is a total lock
- LF: Grossman has a legit chance (I’ll guess a coin-flip between him and Gordon)
No question on the Matts. Real chance for Grossman. Long shot for Semien, but we’ll forget about that when he’s finishing top-3 for MVP.
Congrats to these four A’s on their well-deserved Gold Glove finalist nods!