For all the highlight reel plays and Gunnar Henderson hype, not one of the Orioles’ top defensive players went home with one of this year’s Rawlings Gold Glove Awards.
Henderson, who dazzled fans all year with his almost-daily Web Gems, wasn’t even a finalist.
Doesn’t seem fair, considering how well the O’s played team defense on the way to 101 regular-season victories, but it isn’t all that surprising that finalists Adley Rutschman, Austin Hays and Ryan Mountcastle were passed over in favor of Texas Rangers catcher Jonah Heim, Cleveland Guardians leftfielder Steven Kwan and Rangers first baseman Nathaniel Lowe.
There are a lot of reasons Heim was selected the Gold Glove catcher over Rutschman, starting with some basic stats. He caught more games, threw out a higher percentage of basestealers and ranked tops among AL catchers with a 22.8 fielding runs above average, according to FanGraphs. And, as we all know in Baltimore, FanGraphs is much better at analyzing past performance than predicting future results.
Heim also had a breakout season offensively and was the American League starter in the All-Star Game, two things that shouldn’t affect the voting by the managers and coaches but certainly kept national attention focused on him throughout the season. He clearly was the better offensive player, producing similar home run and double totals while driving in 95 runs compared to Rutschman’s 80 in spite of having 186 fewer plate appearances than Adley.
Both helped lead their teams to first-place finishes, but this was Heim’s golden season on every level.
Hays made a lot of amazing plays in Oriole Park’s version of the Grand Canyon, so no one would have been surprised if he had won his first Gold Glove, but Kwan was the Gold Glove incumbent at the position and led all AL leftfielders in defensive runs saved and outs above average. Don’t know how the ridiculous dimensions in left field impacted the Hays metrics, but I’m sure FanGraphs can tell you that after they predict that the Orioles will win 73 games next year.
Mountcastle simply suffered from all the time he spent on the injured list and the number of starts at first base he lost to the platoon system that developed with the surprising emergence of MLPBA Comeback Player of the Year finalist Ryan O’Hearn. Hard to win a Gold Glove when you start only 86 games at the position.
Meanwhile, Lowe engineered an astonishing year-over-year defensive turnaround at first base. He finished with four outs above average (as determined by Statcast) after his -11 in that metric last season was the worst among regular American League first basemen.
In related statistical news, here’s a little Gold Glove irony. Henderson fell completely through the cracks because he split time evenly between third base and shortstop. He appeared in 84 games at third base and 83 at shortstop (obviously with some in-game overlap). That made him more than a utility player and less than a regular at either position.
Not saying that Henderson would have beaten out either Toronto’s Matt Chapman at third or New York’s Anthony Volpe at short if he had played full-time at one of those positions, but he had virtually the same fielding percentage as Volpe and – for what it’s worth – had a decidedly higher WAR than either one of them. And, to be fair, Houston’s Mauricio Dubón was very deserving of the utility award after playing very well at second base and center field and appearing at six other positions over the course of the season.
Of course, no one has to shed any tears for Gunnar, who has already been named Most Valuable Oriole, The Sporting News AL Rookie of the Year and appears to be a lock for the more prestigious BBWAA Rookie of the Year Award. He’ll also get some MVP votes and, at the rate he’s going, I’m guessing will have to bring in a contractor to expand his trophy case by this time next year.