Because the abilities that inform defensive value are more difficult to quantify than pitching or hitting, defensive statistics have long been the bugaboo of modern baseball analysis. Sure, fielding percentage or error totals – not unlike batting average or hit totals – have some descriptive value, but they convey very little information when you start thinking about what a defender actually does.
To that end, advanced metrics have sought to better describe defensive performance, including a number of attempts at a defensive WAR value. There is also a calculation of defensive runs saved, a metric that, in my mind, hews a little more closely to what a defender is trying to accomplish.
In either case – whether by dWAR or defensive runs saved – the Cubs have three of the top defenders in the National League: Darwin Barney at second base, Anthony Rizzo at first base, and Welington Castillo behind the plate.
Interestingly, although the advanced metrics say the trio should take home Gold Gloves at the end of the season, I can’t help but wonder if we’ll see the Cubs shut out.
Rizzo is “new” enough that he might not get the managerial support needed to win, even though we’ve heard for a couple years now that his defense is purported to be “Gold Glove caliber.” Similarly, Castillo’s emergence as a top defensive catcher – and the presence of Yadier Molina – is sufficiently new that I don’t think he’s going to get the votes. We’re just a year removed from folks wondering whether Castillo was going to be able to put together an overall average set of tools behind the plate. (Seriously: his defensive emergence this year has been remarkable, and relatively quiet.)
As for Barney, I can’t help but feel like Brandon Phillips – personality and all – will win the Gold Glove. Barney’s victory last year felt like it was buoyed by his errorless streak, something on which he can’t lean this year. His numbers are still tops in the league, but I get the sense that the managers and coaches were just waiting for a reason to return to voting for Phillips on the basis of his flair and his at bats.
We’ll see if my instinct on these decisions plays out. Fair or not, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Cubs with a few bridesmaids when the defensive hardware is handed out after the season.
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