SDI Helps Explain Why No Cardinals Won Gold Gloves

photo: Jedd Gyorko (Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY Sports Images)

Our eyes told us that the 2017 St. Louis Cardinals were not a particularly strong team defensively. Now we have a consolidated metrics-based view of player performance in the field – a measure that is important, as it is 25 percent of the annual Gold Glove Award scoring – the SABR Defensive Index, or SDI.

Yadier Molina (USA TODAY Sports Images)

Yadier Molina’s eight-year reign as the top defensive catcher in the National League ended a year ago when Buster Posey unseated the Cardinals legend as the Senior Circuit’s Gold Glove Award recipient. A new winner at the position was crowned this week in Cincinnati’s Tucker Barnhart.

As Molina continued to demonstrate impressive durability in 2017, leading NL catchers in games played and innings caught, some Cardinals fans feel the 35-year old should have reclaimed the defensive award.

The measurements suggest otherwise, however. According to the SDI, Molina ranked fifth at his position in the NL this season, just ahead of Posey. The top-ranked NL backstop in SDI, San Diego’s Austin Hedges, was not among the top three overall scorers, pre-announced as “finalists,” with Gold Glove winner Barnhart second in SDI.

No measure is the be-all, end all, which is why actual voting by managers and coaches still make up the lion’s share of the Gold Glove scoring, 75 percent. But the SDI has a solid foundation, based on not one, but a group of defensive metrics. Though some discount any single-season’s worth of fielding results, those behind the SDI originally created and refined many of the measurements and devised the Index as a blended measure of multiple stats. (SDI background can be viewed here.)

Overall, the SDIs did not seem to swing the final results hard, with only four of the nine Gold Glove winners having the top SDI at their respective positions.

With that background in mind, let’s look at how several St. Louis Cardinals fared in the final update of the SDI for the 2017 season. (Because of its importance in the Gold Glove Award results, the full-year SDI is not published until after the winners were announced.)

Here are the Cardinals’ individual scores with the league leaders by position listed alongside.

NL pitchers Gold Glove SDI ranking SDI Top SDIs Rk SDI Winner
Mike Leake non-finalist 9th of 36 2.8 R.A. Dickey 1 5.1
Michael Wacha non-finalist 21st of 36 0.2 Zach Greinke 8 2.9 GG
Lance Lynn non-finalist 22nd of 36 0.1
Carlos Martinez non-finalist 36th of 36 -2.6
NL catchers Gold Glove SDI ranking SDI Top SDIs Rk SDI Winner
Yadier Molina finalist 5th of 14 7.1 Austin Hedges 1 10.7
Tucker Barnhart 2 10.4 GG
Buster Posey 6 4.8
NL first basemen Gold Glove SDI ranking SDI Top SDIs Rk SDI Winner
Matt Carpenter non-finalist 7th of 14 0.3 Brandon Belt 1 10.7
Paul Goldschmidt 2 8.8 GG
NL second basemen Gold Glove SDI ranking SDI Top SDIs Rk SDI Winner
Kolten Wong non-finalist 8th of 16 -0.9 D.J. LeMahieu 1 10.7 GG
NL third basemen Gold Glove SDI ranking SDI Top SDIs Rk SDI Winner
Jedd Gyorko non-finalist 3rd of 13 8.9 Nolan Arenado 1 11.0 GG
NL shortstops Gold Glove SDI ranking SDI Top SDIs Rk SDI Winner
Paul DeJong non-finalist 6th of 15 1.7 Addison Russell 1 8.3
Brandon Crawford 4 4.8 GG
NL left fielders Gold Glove SDI ranking SDI Top SDIs Rk SDI Winner
Tommy Pham non-finalist 2nd of 11 4.2 Marcell Ozuna 1 6.5 GG
Randal Grichuk non-finalist 8th of 11 0.9
NL center fielders Gold Glove SDI ranking SDI Top SDIs Rk SDI Winner
Dexter Fowler non-finalist 11th of 13 -7.8 Michael Taylor 1 7.9
Ender Incarte 2 7.1 GG
NL right fielders Gold Glove SDI ranking SDI Top SDIs Rk SDI Winner
Stephen Piscotty NR Jason Heyward 1 12.8 GG

These rankings are especially enlightening, since the Gold Glove Award announcements only include the top three vote-getters, the so-called “finalists”.

Jedd Gyorko (USA TODAY Sports Images)

As it turned out, Molina was neither the top scoring, nor top-ranked Cardinal on defense. Those honors go to Jedd Gyorko and Tommy Pham, respectively.

Tommy Pham (USA TODAY Sports Images)

Gyorko continues to score well in the annual SDI metrics, coming in a very strong third among NL defenders at the hot corner, with the highest Cardinal SDI of 8.9. In left field, Pham finished second overall to Miami’s Marcell Ozuna, the highest individual placement by a Cardinal in 2017.

As a team, St. Louis was shut out of the nine NL Gold Glove Awards for the second consecutive year. Molina was the only “finalist,” indicating Gyorko and Pham did not receive balloting support to the level their SDIs placed them.

At the other end of the spectrum was Carlos Martinez, with the lowest SDI of the 36 NL pitchers ranked. The team’s ace also had a negative SDI in 2016. Newcomer Dexter Fowler came in with the lowest negative score among Cardinals at -7.8. Last year, shortstop Aledmys Diaz had that dubious distinction.

Only three of the 12 Cardinals players listed compiled a negative SDI, however, with Kolten Wong joining the aforementioned two. Still, Wong was still in the middle of the pack of NL second baseman, eighth of 16.

Of the four St. Louis pitchers among the 36 ranked in the NL, now ex-Cardinal Mike Leake was the only one to register in the top half. Michael Wacha and Lance Lynn were in the middle of the pack.

Other St. Louis defenders with positive SDIs for the 2017 season are Paul DeJong, Randal Grichuk and Matt Carpenter. Adam Wainwright and Stephen Piscotty are among the Cardinals not receiving a 2017 SDI score.

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Brian Walton can be reached via email at brian@thecardinalnationblog.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.

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