Rawlings announced their Gold Glove nominations this afternoon, and safe to say it was an impressive showing by the Kansas City Royals, as four Royals players garnered nominations, as highlighted in the tweet below from the Royals’ official Twitter account:
Whit Merrifield and Michael A. Taylor shouldn’t come as surprises to Royals fans.
Merrifield had one of his best defensive seasons in his career at second base, as he rated 8.3 defensive runs above average this season at the keystone position, which ranked him second overall of MLB’s second baseman this year, according to Fangraphs. As for Taylor, a big reason why the Royals extended him two more years was due to his stellar defensive play in Kauffman Stadium’s spacious outfield, and he has already garnered some hardware this offseason, as evidenced by him earning a Fielding Bible Award for his stellar defensive play in center field in 2021:
On the other hand, Andrew Benintendi and Salvador Perez were mild surprises.
While Benintendi tied for second of qualified left fielders in defensive runs saved (seven), according to Fangraphs, he rated below average in terms of defensive runs above average (-0.9), and he was only one out above average, according to Baseball Savant, which tied him for 10th for qualified left fielders. As for Salvy, while his arm strength has been well noted this year, his framing issues and regression in blocking this year made it seem like his best defensive days behind the plate were behind him, which is tough to say considering Salvy has won five Gold Gloves in his Major League career.
That being said, while Benintendi and Salvy may not have been as “qualified” as Whit and Taylor, Royals fans will take the recognition for the Royals’ regular left fielder and catcher, especially since it only sheds positive “national” light on a Royals organization that often gets overlooked in the national baseball media.
On the other hand, a big surprise for Royals fans was shortstop Nicky Lopez not getting a Gold Glove nomination, despite leading all shortstops in outs above average at 24. Lopez’s mark was four outs better than the next best shortstop, Francisco Lindor of the New York Mets, according to Baseball Savant.
After Rawlings made their announcement, there was appropriate outrage on Twitter, even from the Royals’ official Twitter account (which by the way, has just been killing it this year):
Already, mere hours into the announcement, many Royals fans are generating their own theories in terms of why Lopez got snubbed in favor of Carlos Correa of Houston, JP Crawford of Seattle, and Andrelton Simmons of Minnesota:
So, being the curious baseball fan that I am, I decided to dive deep into why Rawlings and the Gold Glove “committee” preferred Correa, Crawford, and Simmons over Lopez, who not only deserved a nomination but perhaps the award in general for his stellar play in 2021.
Let’s take a look at why Lopez may have been snubbed for a Gold Glove for a second-straight season (even though last year, the snub came at second base).
In many ways, it’s hard to see why the Rawling Gold Glove committee would omit Lopez from shortstop consideration. On a metrics end, most favored Lopez as the favorite, as evidenced by Prospect 1500 Jared Perkins’ tweet:
(Off-topic: Of course an Astros blog would come to Correa’s defense here. Can’t wait for him to go elsewhere and do his watch-tapping antics in Astros fans’ faces in 2022.)
It’s hard to see Lopez lead in two important defensive metrics, finish second in another, and not even be considered a finalist, let alone a favorite for the award.
However, one defensive metric Lopez lagged in this year, especially in comparison to the shortstop competition was defensive runs saved, or commonly known as DRS.
The definition of DRS can be found on MLB.com’s website, but a summary of the metric is illustrated below:
DRS quantifies a player’s entire defensive performance by attempting to measure how many runs a defender saved. It takes into account errors, range, outfield arm and double-play ability. It differs only slightly from UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating) in its formula, but the concept is the same.Defensive Runs Saved definition; MLB.com
Considering Lopez rates highly in UZR (which DRS mirrors closely to, according to MLB.com), one would think that Lopez would also perform well in DRS. However, let’s take a look at where Lopez ranks against American League shortstops this season on a DRS basis, according to Fangraphs:
It seems like Lopez’s candidacy probably got dinged the most by DRS, as he ranks 5th among AL shortstops (and is actually tied with Bo Bichette of the Blue Jays as well). Lopez lags not only behind Crawford and Simmons, but also Isiah Kiner-Falefa of the Texas Rangers, who surprisingly looks good on a DRS basis, though he didn’t generate much buzz for any Gold Glove consideration this season.
While Benintendi benefited from doing well in DRS, but looking mediocre in other categories (UZR, OAA, Def), Lopez was penalized for it, as his “okay” DRS numbers seemed to weigh more heavily than his incredibly stellar marks in other defensive metrics.
And let’s be honest, Lopez also probably lost out due to the fact that he was on a losing team (Correa and Crawford were on winning clubs), and that he didn’t have name power at shortstop either (unlike Simmons, who has garnered quite a defensive reputation stemming from his days in Atlanta). “Reputation” is definitely a big reason why Salvy is in the running for a potential sixth Gold Glove. Lack of such a “reputation” is a reason why Lopez missed out on the Gold Glove at second base, and why he was omitted from Gold Glove consideration at shortstop.
However, when baseball fans watch highlight videos of Lopez playing defense this year, like the one below, it’s hard to see why the committee couldn’t list him as at least nomination, as the “eye test” certainly backs up the advanced numbers in Lopez’s case.
Honestly, while as a Royals fan I am upset that Lopez didn’t get at least a nomination, I am more frustrated with the whole “award” voting process in general. I do agree that some kind of subjectivity needs to be part of the process. Defense is a whole lot more complicated than hitting, and one can’t just look at one or two metrics and make a definite decision on who is the “best” defender at a certain position. Thus, I totally understand the challenges for the Gold Glove committee, as well as players and managers who vote, when it comes to determining the best three at a position, especially one as deep as shortstop this year, where there were many deserving candidates in the AL.
On the other hand, it is hard to stomach when a player like Lopez, who leads in many categories, gets snubbed, while another candidate like Crawford, who is dynamic but lags in many defensive metrics, gets a nomination. Crawford not only ranked 19th of all MLB shortstops in OAA, according to Savant, but he also ranked 5th in defensive runs above average (nearly three whole runs behind Lopez) and 6th in UZR. I get that Crawford was better than Lopez on a DRS end. However, I think Lopez being significantly better in three defensive categories (UZR, OAA, Def) should be weighted more in the voting process than Crawford simply leading Lopez by one.
Would Lopez have won the Gold Glove at shortstop this year if nominated? Probably not. Correa does have the best overall profile, and he has that name power that’s going to win him over with other players and managers, especially with Correa on a Division and AL pennant-winning club.
However, Lopez deserved at least a nomination, especially considering he was not expected to even make the Opening Day roster in Spring Training, let alone be the Royals’ best defensive infielder.
Nonetheless, that shouldn’t take away Lopez’s special season in 2021…
And the promising outlook he brings to the Royals’ middle infield in 2022 and beyond.
Photo Credit: Ed Zurga/Getty Images