It’s decision night in America, and no, I am not talking about the 2020 elections (let’s be honest, if you’re here you’re probably avoiding that coverage). I’m talking about the 2020 Rawlings Gold Glove Winners who were announced on ESPN a few minutes ago.
Congratulations to Anthony Rizzo and Javier Báez, who both were recognized as the best defenders at their positions.
The Cubs had the most Gold Glove nominees of any team in 2020 with seven. It is worth noting that for the first time these nominations were determined exclusively sabermetrically as opposed to giving a heavy weight to the eye test of managers and coaches. That led to a significantly different field of nominees than in previous years. At least one NL Central catcher was less than pleased with his omission.
This year’s nominations were based solely on SABR’s Defensive Index (SDI). The SDI works as follows:
The SABR Defensive Index draws on and aggregates two types of existing defensive metrics: those derived from batted ball location-based data and those collected from play-by-play accounts. The three metrics representing batted ball data include Defensive Runs Saved from Baseball Info Solutions, Ultimate Zone Rating developed by noted sabermetrician Mitchel Lichtman, and Runs Effectively Defended based on STATS Zone Rating and built by SABR Defensive Committee member Chris Dial. The two metrics included in the SDI originating from play-by-play data are Defensive Regression Analysis, created by committee member Michael Humphreys, and Total Zone Rating.
Players also had to meet the following minimum innings/games thresholds to qualify:
Due to the compressed 2020 season, the Award qualifications have been amended to rely solely on the SABR Defensive Index™ (SDI). To be considered, pitchers must have pitched at least 50 innings, catchers must have played in at least 29 games and infielders/outfielders must have completed at least 265 defensive innings.
While SABR’s SDI has made up 25 percent of the nomination process in years past the remaining 75 percent of nominations have come from votes from mangers and coaches.
Notes for all Cubs nominees
Kyle Hendricks was barely in the top 20 in SDI in 2019, and was the Cubs’ second best defensive pitcher after Jose Quintana. Alec Mills did not have enough innings to qualify in 2019. While Atlanta’s Max Fried took home the Gold Glove here, both Hendricks and Mills had solid showings.
Willson Contreras was 11th in SDI in 2019, and he’s never been a darling of defensive measures for catching. His Gold Glove finish is a testament to his incredible work ethic and dedication to continuous improvement. While Tucker Barnhart took the Gold Glove for 2020, I imagine Contreras will remain in the conversation in future years.
Anthony Rizzo has a collection of Gold Gloves plus one Platinum Glove. He added another tonight behind a strong 2020 campaign where he had three defensive runs saved. He won the award in 2019 although he finished third in SDI behind Christian Walker and Brandon Belt.
It seems incredible that this is the first Gold Glove for Javier Báez, but the stars just haven’t aligned for the defensive wizard we know as El Mago. For a while he was splitting time between second base, shortstop and third base, but honestly, the fact that it took a recalibration of how the nominees are calculated for Javy to finally be nominated at shortstop (he was nominated at second base in 2018) is one of the biggest indicts of the previous process for determining Gold Glove nominees. He was tied for third in SDI at SS in 2019 with Trevor Story.
Like Rizzo, Jason Heyward is a fixture in the Gold Glove conversation. The Cubs right fielder had 5 Gold Gloves heading into tonight and while his defense is still outstanding he now has to face off with Mookie Betts for defensive honors in the National League and he came up just a bit shy of his sixth Gold Gove. Last year Heyward was third in the NL by SDI.
Nico Hoerner closed out 2020 with a disappointing offensive campaign, but his glove work during this most unusual rookie season was enough to land him in the top three in the league in SDI. Nico will get a few more shots at this since he’s only 23 years old.