The St. Louis Cardinals have had a lot of success with Gold Glove Awards in recent years. Some might say too much success.
The St. Louis Cardinals achieved a historic milestone in 2021, as five players on the team won Gold Glove Awards. Paul Goldschmidt, Tommy Edman, Nolan Arenado, Harrison Bader and Tyler O’Neill all took home the coveted Rawlings Gold Glove Award. No doubt the St. Louis-based Rawlings was very happy that — wait, what was that? The organization that nominates players for the award is in St. Louis? This calls for an investigation.
Goldschmidt will be the first subject to take a look at. He led the major leagues in 2021 in Ultimate Zone Rating and in Error Runs. In Outs Above Average, Goldschmidt tied for second with Anthony Rizzo with six, trailing Max Muncy, who had seven. In Range Runs, Goldschmidt was actually below average at -0.3. But overall, he seemed to be a decent choice for the award, and his pedigree didn’t hurt.
For second sackers, Edman led the major leagues in Outs Above Average and Runs Above Average, but he was only a bit above average in the other stats, with 1.2 in Error Runs and 2.6 in Ultimate Zone Rating. In fairness, Edman’s Outs Above Average were far and away the top in baseball at 13, compared with three players tying for second place with nine. If you’re really set on Outs and Runs Above Average, Edman makes sense as the Gold Glove winner.
Arenado has been lauded as possibly the best defensive third baseman to ever play baseball, but last year, he didn’t finish first in any of the FanGraphs fielding categories for National League third basemen. He was third in Ultimate Zone Rating, third in Error Runs and seventh in Range Runs. Ke’Bryan Hayes led the pack in Outs Above Average and Runs Above Average, and he finished only 0.1 points behind Ryan McMahon for the NL lead in Ultimate Zone Rating. In my mind, Arenado did not deserve the Gold Glove for third basemen last year; it should have gone to Hayes.
In center field, Harrison Bader led the National League in Outs Above Average, with 14, as well as Runs Above Average, with 13. His Range Rating was double that of the NL second place finisher, Lorenzo Cain, and he led the league in Defensive Runs Saved as well. Out of all the Cardinals who won Gold Gloves last year, Bader was by far the most deserving.
Now we get to left fielder Tyler O’Neill. O’Neill was an interesting case, because those who watched him tended to be underwhelmed by his defense. His elite speed seemed to make up for some poor route decisions and led him to make the catch whereas someone less fleet of foot would not have snagged the ball. O’Neill did lead the NL in Defensive Runs Saved and Ultimate Zone Rating, although his Ultimate Zone Rating per 150 games was only 7.4, far below the NL leader, Brian O’Grady, at 79.6.
In Error Runs, though, O’Neill was one of the worst in baseball at a full run below average. He committed more defensive miscues than almost any other left fielder given the same number of balls in play. Still, his Outs and Runs Above Average were near the top of the list. O’Neill might not have seemed to deserve the Gold Glove, but there didn’t appear to be many other clear-cut options for the award. I suppose I’d begrudgingly give it to him.
Now let’s take a look at the current Gold Glove nominees. Goldschmidt has received a nomination, but in the FanGraphs stats, he’s really backslid from last year. He has -6 Outs Above Average and only had two Defensive Runs Saved. He did lead the major leagues in Error Runs and finish second in Ultimate Zone Rating, but I don’t think that’s enough for him to earn a Gold Glove given his putridity in Outs Above Average, a stat that Rawlings seems to covet.
Edman is a candidate at second base once again, although he played more at shortstop this season. He is also eligible in the new utility player category. Edman wasn’t quite as impressive this year in advanced fielding stats, but he still finished third in NL Ultimate Zone Rating, albeit far behind the leader, Brendan Rodgers, who also led the league in Range Rate among second basemen. While Rodgers probably deserves the award there, Edman will likely receive the award at the utility spot. One of his competitors raises some eyebrows: fellow Cardinal Brendan Donovan.
Donovan’s nomination makes me scratch my head. Surely there are several more deserving utility players out there with the emphasis on versatility nowadays. His best position is third base, where he has a 3.8 Ultimate Zone Rating. He is adequate in the outfield, with a rating of 0.3. Nothing jumps off the page, though, and he is below average at shortstop and first base. If Donovan wins the utility Gold Glove Award, something messed up in the analysts’ calculators.
So with all that evidence, do I think Rawlings is colluding with the Cardinals to provide nominations? Donovan’s inclusion could get the gears turning in some conspiracy theorists’ heads, and it’s not out of the question that the company would want to throw St. Louis an additional bone.
The selection process does have a few flaws. Players will always be nominated for the award based on reputation and offensive ability as well (see Juan Soto), which Goldschmidt and Arenado have displayed in spades over their careers. If you’re not as offensively gifted, it will often be an uphill battle to receive a nomination for the Gold Glove, and you’ll have to stand out more on defense than you would if you can swing the stick as well.
But overall, Rawlings seems to be giving most players a fair shake, and since the company doesn’t determine who wins, it can’t have too much of an effect on the results.
You’re off the hot seat for now, Rawlings. But I’ve got my eye on you.