The Cincinnati Reds have two National League Gold Glove finalists in 2020. Rawlings announced the three finalists in each league at each position on Thursday afternoon. Catcher Tucker Barnhart and outfielder Shogo Akiyama were among the final three at their position.
In 2020 the criteria for Gold Glove Awards was changed from the past. This season (and only this season) the award is based on SDI, which stands for SABR Defensive Index. In past years it has been a part of what goes into the awards (dating back to 2013) – but this year it’s the sole criteria. So what exactly goes into SDI? Here’s what they define it as:
The SDI 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, including data from MLBAM’s Statcast, Sports Information Solutions, and STATS, LLC.
The Gold Glove Awards have never been perfect. Derek Jeter, well known to be a very poor shortstop, has five Gold Gloves. Rafael Palmiero has a Gold Glove from a season in which he played 26 entire games at a position (in a 162-game season). In the last decade the way the awards are decided have changed from simply being coach votes to voting along with statistical data and weighing those things together. It’s still not perfect, but it’s better. We’ve gotten away from good hitters winning Gold Gloves because they can swing a bat.
With that said, we know a lot of things about defensive statistics. We know that they aren’t perfect, or anything close to it. And we also know that you need a large sample to work with before they even get there. This season there were only 60 games played. That sample size simply isn’t large enough to get reliable data and information. And that’s without considering the fact that not everyone even played in 60 games.
Let’s take Shogo Akiyama as an example: He was nominated for a Gold Glove among left fielders. On the surface there’s nothing wrong with that – he’s a strong defender. But he played 246.1 innings in left field this year – starting 30 games and getting action in six others. The Reds pitchers threw 504.0 innings this year. Shogo Akiyama was in left field for less than half of them.
That, of course, does not mean that he couldn’t still be one of the best defensive left fielders in the game. It makes it unlikely that he prevented as many runs as some others simply because of the volume. What do the numbers say, though? Among left fielders in UZR he rated 6th in the National League. Statcast’s Outs Above Average had him tied for 2nd at +1 in left field, tied with 10 other players. Defensive runs saved has him at +4, tied for 3rd in the league with Jurickson Profar.
The issue for 2020 is that there’s just not enough information. Having managers and coaches vote might have actually meant more this year. The data just isn’t reliable enough. With someone like Shogo Akiyama, who played less than half of the season in left field, it’s really tough to figure it out. Is whoever is in charge of coming up with the rankings giving him credit for his time in center, or is this solely based on his time played in left field? Who knows? 2020 continues to be the strangest year.
Tucker Barnhart, the last Reds player to win a Gold Glove (2017), is also a finalist this year. The defensive runs saved stat ranks him as the top catcher in baseball this year at +9 runs. Fangraphs “Defense” statistic puts Barnhart 4th in the National League, but rather close to all three of the catchers in front of him – all of whom also played in more innings. So much of a catchers defensive value can’t be calculated via stats, but that’s where we are at right now with the awards – managers can’t even try to do internal calculations about the outside value brought on by a catcher this year since they can’t vote.
The winners for the 2020 Gold Gloves will be announced on November 3rd. As C. Trent Rosecrans of The Athletic pointed out – nothing else is happening that day, so we should probably all be glued to our televisions to see who gets the award from Rawlings.