Chicago Cubs: Gold Glove finalists proof of a horribly flawed system
By Jake Misener
The inclusion of Ben Zobrist in this year’s Gold Glove finalists and the exclusion of Chicago Cubs Willson Contreras and Javier Baez prove a problem exists in how the award is decided.
More often than not, I tend to find myself leaning more toward the new-age style of baseball thinking. This gels well with my love of the analytically-minded Chicago Cubs – especially under the leadership of manager Joe Maddon.
Fangraphs might be my most-utilized site when I’m researching players. It’s helped me break down issues with Jason Heyward‘s offensive approach and understand why Anthony Rizzo is one of the best defensive players in today’s game.
By that same logic, you’d think I would understand why Ben Zobrist is a finalist for the National League Gold Glove Award at second base. But you’d also be wrong.
Yes, Zobrist far outpaces teammate Javier Baez in terms of UZR (3.4 to 0.8). Both men saved five defensive runs in their work at second – so that’s a wash.
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We can sit here and go through the advanced analytics all day. But it won’t change my mind. There’s no way Ben Zobrist is more deserving of a Gold Glove than Javier Baez. There just isn’t.
Both men play multiple defensive positions. But, if you ask Fangraphs, neither are Gold Glove-caliber based on their respective UZR measurements. I say otherwise.
Baez one of the best defensive talents in the game
Before I go any further, I suppose I should preface with this: Baez makes a good number of mistakes – trying to get to balls and make plays most wouldn’t even attempt. I accept that – but hardly think he should be penalized for this.
Zobrist, on the other hand, goes with a very different approach. In fact, it mirrors his offensive approach. He plays it safe, gives you what you need out there. In turn, this means you’re far less likely to see highlight-reel plays involving the veteran utilityman than most players – including Baez.
I understand the metrics, but this is a slap in the face to the work Baez has put in defensively. Time and time again, Maddon opted for the middle infield of Baez and Addison Russell when he needed the best leather out there behind guys like Kyle Hendricks.
Brett over at Bleacher Nation said it best:
"It’s pretty hard to make the case for Zobrist as the top defensive second basemen in the league when he’s not the best defensive second baseman on his own team."
Willson gets no love
Another snub? Willson Contreras.
The Cubs catcher led the league in back-picks this season and limited the running game in a big way. He narrowly missed leading the leagues in assists – losing out to Tucker Barnhart of the Reds. That being said, it’s pretty clear the same issue that plagued Baez’s candidacy got the better of Willson, too.
He led all National League catchers in that regard in 2017.
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Risk versus reward
I guess at the end of the day, I can rationalize the choices for finalists in Gold Glove voting. But just because you make the plays you’re supposed to make doesn’t warrant consideration, in my opinion.
I want a guy who makes the plays he’s not supposed to – that no one is supposed to. Sure, there will be some errors along the way and frustrating miscues. But when he pulls off a play in the hole or snaps down a tag quicker than you can blink, he deserves a shot at a Gold Glove.