Stat of the Week: 2018 Fielding Bible Awards Preview

For the next two weeks, this space will feature a multi-part series on the top candidates for The Fielding Bible Awards, which will be announced the week of October 29.

The Fielding Bible Awards are voted on by a panel of 12 experts, who can vote based on visual observation and subjective judgement, as well statistical analysis.

This week, Part I of our preview looks at catchers and infielders.

(DRS totals in parentheses)

Catcher
Fielding Bible Favorites: Jeff Mathis (17), Mike Zunino (12)
NL Gold Glove Favorite: Austin Hedges (12)
AL Gold Glove Favorite: Salvador Perez (1)
Other top contenders: Sandy Leon (12), Tony Wolters (12)

What’s fascinating about the catcher leaderboard for Defensive Runs Saved this season is that it is mostly (though not entirely) composed of part-time players who excel at pitch-framing. At the top of that list is Diamondbacks catcher Jeff Mathis, who led the position by saving 17 runs in just over 500 innings, due not only to his pitch-framing, but also to his pitch-blocking. Mathis was part of a three-catcher unit, all of whom excelled on the defensive side.

Others who fit the description of part-timers who can frame include Sandy Leon of the Red Sox and Tony Wolters of the Rockies. The AL Gold Glove Award could be a tight race between Mike Zunino of the Mariners, who had a strong year in both framing and thwarting basestealers, and Salvador Perez, whose penchant for basestealing deterrence has helped him win four Gold Gloves in the past.

Last year’s Fielding Bible Award winner, Martin Maldonado, finished with 3 DRS, 14 back of the MLB lead.

First Baseman
Fielding Bible Favorites: Matt Olson (14), Brandon Belt (13)
NL Gold Glove Favorite: Eric Hosmer (8)
AL Gold Glove Favorite: Matt Olson
Other top contenders: Freddie Freeman (12), Joey Votto (9)

The Bay Area is the home of the two first basemen who led the majors in Defensive Runs Saved. Matt Olson of the Athletics finished with 14. Brandon Belt dealt with injuries for the Giants but still managed to save 13 runs, one fewer than Olson in 530 fewer innings. Belt may have the most range of any first baseman, but Olson is not far behind, and is among the best at scooping throws.

Within reach of them are Freddie Freeman of the Braves and Joey Votto of the Reds. Olson, Belt and those two are the four first basemen who saved at least 10 runs with their range and positioning. Eric Hosmer also had some of the best numbers of his career at first base. He will be bidding for his fifth Gold Glove.

Second Baseman 
Fielding Bible Favorites: Kolten Wong (19), DJ LeMahieu (18)
NL Gold Glove Favorite: Javier Baez (5)
AL Gold Glove Favorite: Ian Kinsler (10)
Other top contenders: Whit Merrifield (8), Ozzie Albies (8)

If nothing else Cardinals second baseman Kolten Wong should win most improved defensive player. He jumped from costing his team a run with his defense in 2017 to saving it a major league-best at the position 19 in 2018. Wong isn’t as flashy as some other candidates, but he was solid and reliable in covering ground. Same for last year’s winner, DJ LeMahieu of the Rockies, who played virtually mistake-free all season in finishing with 18 DRS, one behind Wong.

Javier Baez of the Cubs doesn’t have a comparable Runs Saved total, but is held in high regard by many for his ability to do the amazing. He led non-first basemen in Good Fielding Plays. Ian Kinsler, who split the season between the Angels and Red Sox, also had a solid season, though he’s a notch below Wong and LeMahieu in overall performance. He’ll be a top contender for an AL Gold Glove, which would be the second of his career.

Shortstop Fielding Bible Favorites: Andrelton Simmons (21), Nick Ahmed (21)
NL Gold Glove Favorite: Nick Ahmed
AL Gold Glove Favorite: Andrelton Simmons
Other top contenders: Francisco Lindor (14), Paul DeJong (14)

Angels shortstop Andrelton Simmons entered this season having won five straight Fielding Bible Awards, and given that he tied for the MLB lead with 21 Defensive Runs Saved, it’s likely he’s headed to a sixth. Simmons was his usual excellent self, covering ground to both sides with aplomb and tying for the MLB lead in Double Play Runs Saved.

Diamondbacks shortstop Nick Ahmed, the player with whom Simmons tied, may give him a run for his money. Ahmed may have the best arm for a shortstop in the majors, which allows him to get outs from deep in the shortstop-third base hole that others cannot get. He was considerably better than his NL counterparts and should be a favorite for the Gold Glove, too.

Francisco Lindor of the Indians and Paul DeJong of the Cardinals had good seasons. They’re just not in the same class as the two players at the top.

Third Baseman
Fielding Bible Favorites: Matt Chapman (29), Nolan Arenado (5)
NL Gold Glove Favorite Nolan Arenado 
AL Gold Glove Favorite: Matt Chapman 
Other top contenders: Adrian Beltre (10), Travis Shaw (9)

Athletics third baseman Matt Chapman led the majors with 29 Defensive Runs Saved. No other third baseman finished with more than 10. So it seems like he’s in position to dethrone three-time reigning Fielding Bible Award winner Nolan Arenado. Like Ahmed at shortstop, Chapman’s arm allows him to make plays that other third basemen can’t make — in his case, on balls hit down the third base line.

Arenado had a down year in Runs Saved, tallying only five. But he was still a regular highlight-reel playmaker. His 45 Good Fielding Plays led the position and make him a favorite to win an NL Gold Glove. Let’s also give a salute to Adrian Beltre, who saved 10 runs in an injury-shortened season. He’s the leader in DRS since it was first compiled in 2003.

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