The results are in, and the Oakland A’s still have the best corner infield defense in baseball. The 2019 Fielding Bible awards were announced last Thursday, and third baseman Matt Chapman and first baseman Matt Olson each won comfortably, for the second year in a row after they also both won in 2018.
The Fielding Bible is like the Gold Glove award, but better. The Gold Gloves are voted on by managers and coaches who only see some of the eligible players six times over the course of six months, and historically they have often been skewed by factors such as sheer name power, incumbency, and even offensive stardom.
On the other hand, the Fielding Bible is determined by a panel of absolute legends including Bill James, Rob Neyer, John Dewan, Mark Simon, and Peter Gammons (among others, including an actual former player in Chris Singleton). Essentially, 12 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 for the top defenders in the majors. 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 2019 list; click here for more info.
- P: Zack Greinke, ARZ/HOU
- C: Roberto Perez, CLE
- 1B: Matt Olson, OAK
- 2B: Kolten Wong, STL
- SS: Nick Ahmed, ARZ
- 3B: Matt Chapman, OAK
- LF: David Peralta, ARZ
- CF: Lorenzo Cain, MIL
- RF: Cody Bellinger, LAD
- UT: Cody Bellinger, LAD
This is the 13th year of the Fielding Bible (since 2007), and coincidentally the A’s have only ever won at these same two positions. Daric Barton captured the 1B award in 2010, and Josh Donaldson snared the 3B honors in 2014. Then last year, in 2018, Olson and Chapman each won at their respective infield corners, and now they’ve repeated this time around. The Matts also won the AL Gold Gloves last year, and they’ve both been named finalists for that hardware yet again in 2019 — the winners for those will be announced later today.
At first base, seven different players have won over time, including Olson and Barton. Albert Pujols has the most, having taken home five of the first six awards, and Paul Goldschmidt is next with three (Goldy finished in fourth place this year). But in the present day, nobody can touch Olson, who won unanimously this year over runners-up Joey Votto (CIN) and Christian Walker (ARZ). The next AL name was in eighth place (C.J. Cron, MIN). Here’s what the Bible has to say about Oly:
Olson won his second in a row, this time by unanimous selection. He is a difference-maker at first base for the Athletics, helping make their infield one of the best in baseball. Twelve of his 13 Defensive Runs Saved come from Range & Positioning. Only two other first basemen even reached five Range & Positioning Runs Saved. Olson is very surehanded, rating above average on balls hit down the line and in the hole. He does great work handling throws from shortstop Marcus Semien and third baseman Matt Chapman. Over the last two seasons, Olson has 67 Good Fielding Plays for throw handling. No other first baseman has more than 60.
Over at third, Chapman missed a unanimous decision by one vote — he was ranked third by Bill James (???), behind eventual runner-up Nolan Arenado (COL) and fourth-place finisher Alex Bregman (HOU). James was also the only dissenter last year, going with Arenado over Chapman then too. (The third-place finisher this year was Donaldson, now with ATL). The only other multi-time winners in the history of the hot corner are Arenado (three) and Adrian Beltre (four). Here’s the 2019 writeup:
Chapman hasn’t been around for that long, but his defensive work already merits mention with all-time greats. Chapman specializes in doubles denial. The Athletics allowed 97 ground balls hit within 10 feet of the third base line. Their third basemen (almost always Chapman) turned 76% of them into outs, a rate 20 percentage points above the MLB average. What’s so impressive is that Chapman does this sort of thing while playing a mistake-free third base. He had the fewest Misplays & Errors on a per-inning basis of any third baseman. In the last three seasons Chapman has 66 Defensive Runs Saved. Nolan Arenado ranks second among third basemen with 33, half as many!
Two other A’s infielders are finalists for Gold Gloves, but as expected they did not fare as well in the Fielding Bible. At shortstop, Marcus Semien finished in seventh place, and his highest individual votes were a third and a fifth. There are only two AL players who finished ahead of him, but they were Andrelton Simmons (LAA) and Francisco Lindor (CLE), the other two nominees for the GG. Semien is already a long-shot for that award, and this Bible result doesn’t bode well for his chance of an upset victory tonight.
The other GG finalist is Robbie Grossman in left field. He only finished in sixth place for the Bible, with nothing higher than a few votes for fourth, but the bright side is that only one of his GG competition finished ahead of him — Alex Gordon (KCR) in fourth, not far above Grossman. The other GG finalist, Andrew Benintendi (BOS), finished 13th for the Bible. Grossman at least has a chance for the GG, but Gordon has some serious incumbent name power to overcome as a six-time winner.
As for the rest of Oakland’s roster, several other players at least made downballot cameos. Chad Pinder showed up twice: seventh place in LF (one spot behind Grossman), and 23rd in multi-positional. Over in right field Stephen Piscotty got 15th place, and catcher Josh Phegley and CF Ramon Laureano finished 18th place at their positions, with that whole trio each getting just a couple stray points in the voting.
Looking through non-A’s winners, Greinke, Wong, and Cain all repeated at their positions, though nobody has a current streak of three of more years. Wong was the only other unanimous winner, along with Olson.
Everyone else is a first-timer, meaning an end to the six-year run of Simmons at SS, and the three-year runs of Mookie Betts (BOS) in RF and Javier Baez (CHC) at the multi-spot. Betts finished runner-up, and Baez was runner-up but at pure SS this time, ahead of Simmons in third place in an extremely tight race.
In LF, Peralta actually tied with Michael Brantley (HOU), but got the nod from the tiebreak voters. That helped Arizona lead the way with three winners. Bellinger is the first player ever to win at two spots in the same year, though Cain did win a multi-spot award back in 2014 before becoming a full-time CF and later winning at that position.
Congrats to Chapman and Olson on these awards! May there be many more to come, and may there be Gold Gloves to follow in a few hours.