The Gold Glove Award finalists were named this week and the Cincinnati Reds didn’t have a single player make the cut. Three players were named as finalists for each position, and there was also a spot for a “utility player” who played all over the field.
A part of that could be that many Reds players may not have been eligible. Players had to have played 698 innings through the team’s 138th game. Why they have the cutoff at the 138th game makes absolutely no sense given that there are 162 games in a season. A player could qualify ahead of another player with more innings at the end of the season simply because they had more playing time early in the season than later in the season. Alas, those are the rules.
Unlike how things used to be, there’s actually a statistical component that comes into play in the awards these days. No longer will we get awards handed out to guys who are really good hitters, or days where a player gets the award despite playing 28 games in the field.
Cincinnati didn’t find any of their players on the list of finalist. That doesn’t necessarily mean the team was bad from a defensive standpoint, though. It just means that none of their players were viewed as an elite fielder.
Let me note that while I do believe that there are some defensive stats that hold some value, I am also a believer that even the “good” ones miss a whole heck of a lot of information. Let’s also note that the general consensus is that defensive stats need about three full seasons worth of data to be considered a reliable reflection of a players abilities.
With that out of the way, let’s take a look at what some of the publicly available stats and see just how the Reds players stack up.
The Good Defenders
Harrison Bader graded out as the best defensive player on the Reds in 2023. The problem with that is that he barely played for the Reds and most of his defensive value came as a non-Red.
Among the players with Cincinnati who graded out the highest, it starts with TJ Friedl. Baseball Savant lists him at +7 runs on the season. Most of his time came in center, but he also played 128 innings in the corners during the year (out of his 1090 innings).
Elly De La Cruz is the next guy on the list. He graded out at +3 runs in his 850 innings. 591 of those came at shortstop with the other 259 coming at third base. Another shortstop is here, too. Matt McLain graded out at +2 runs. 465 of his innings came at shortstop with 296 of them coming at second base. Rounding out this group is Stuart Fairchild, who like McLain, came in at +2 runs. Fairchild played a fairly even amount in left, right, and center field for Cincinnati in 2023.
The So-So Defenders
Much of the team fell into the “average-ish” area. Players that were rated out as a 0-run (average) defender and a -2 run defender is quite long. Christian Encarnacion-Strand was rated as a neutral defender at 0 runs. Wil Myers, Jake Fraley, Luke Maile, and Noelvi Marte graded out as -1 run defenders. Will Benson and Joey Votto checked in as -2 run defenders.
No one in this group spent 600 innings in the field and none qualified for the Gold Glove Award based on that. Given their defensive stats here it’s unlikely they would have been a finalist even if they had more playing time.
The Not-So-Good Defenders
This group features a few players who didn’t play a lot and one who did. Kevin Newman and Jose Barrero both came in as -3 run defenders. Both saw limited action on the field. Barrero was sent down to Triple-A in June and never got called back up. Newman played in 463 innings during the season. He missed much of July and a month and a half of August and September before he was released in late September. Jonathan India falls into this group at -5 runs. All 893 innings he played came at second base.
The Poor Defenders
Three players are in this group and all played a decent chunk for Cincinnati this past season. Nick Senzel played at five different spots in the field in 2023 and came in at -9 runs overall. He played more third base than anywhere else – making up more than half of his innings in the field. Tyler Stephenson graded out at -11 runs behind the plate and at first base. He only spent 39 innings at first, with his remaining 703 innings coming behind the plate.
Spencer Steer was the worst defender on the team according to the fielding run values at Baseball Savant, coming in at -13 runs. Like Senzel, he played five different positions. But he played more innings in the field than anyone else on the team and by a wide margin. He played 1297 innings in the field. TJ Friedl was the only other Red to top 900 innings, coming in at 1090. Steer played 300+ innings in left, at third, and at first. He also played some at second base, and saw 11 innings in right field.
Does anyone disagree?
These numbers from Baseball Savant paint the picture of a really poor defensive team. But as noted above – defensive metrics have plenty of flaws in them. And different statistics tell different stories. Heading over to Fangraphs we can look at the team statistics and it’s more of the same from a team perspective. In fact, their defensive numbers have the Reds as the worst defensive team in baseball for 2023 at -61.6.
What’s interesting with the Fangraphs team defensive stats is that they only have five teams as being truly above-average. One team, the Yankees, is technically “above-average” at +0.2. Two other teams come in at 0.0 and -0.1. Everyone else is multiple runs on the negative side of things. The Brewers (+44.4) and the Rangers (+22.3) were the only two clubs in the positive double digits.
When it comes to the defensive value of individual players at Fangraphs there are a few players who grade out above-average. Their defensive value numbers include a “positional adjustment”. As such, simply being put in the lineup at shortstop, catcher, or center field is going to add to your value versus being put in the lineup at first base where you are going to get a negative starting defensive value.
Fangraphs had Elly De La Cruz as the team’s most valuable defender at +5.0. TJ Friedl checked in next at +4.8. Matt McLain was next at +3.9. Catchers Luke Maile and Curt Casali were also above-average here at +2.0 and +1.4.
Everyone else was below-average according to the defensive value stat at Fangraphs. Their numbers agreed that Nick Senzel (-9.1), Tyler Stephenson (-9.2), and Spencer Steer (-17.8) were the worst defenders on the club.