photo: Paul DeJong and Kolten Wong (Joe Puetz/Imagn)
Our eyes told us that the 2019 St. Louis Cardinals were a substantially better team defensively than in recent seasons. Another more quantitative data point was provided when Rawlings recently announced that six Cardinals were among the top three finishers in the National League Gold Glove Award competition at their respective positions.
With Sunday evening’s announcements, we now have both the Gold Glove Award winners and the consolidated metrics-based view of player performance in the field. The latter, called the SABR Defensive Index, is an important measure, as it is 25 percent of the annual Gold Glove Award scoring, with coaches’ and managers’ votes carrying the other 75 percent.
A new winner at the second base position in the National League was crowned Sunday evening – Kolten Wong.
— Rawlings Sports (@RawlingsSports) November 4, 2019
The Cardinals’ other five “finalists” fell short, headlined by shortstop Paul DeJong. Among all fielders at all positions in the National League in 2019, DeJong had the second-highest SDI. Unfortunately for him, the Gold Glove Award winner at short, Nick Ahmed, logged the NL’s best 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 Award scoring. But the SDI has a solid foundation, based on not one, but a group of five 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, SDIs reflect the final results quite well, with six of the nine NL Gold Glove winners having the top SDI at their respective positions. The only “finalist” who seems undeserving is Washington left fielder Juan Soto, who lugged home a negative 1.3 SDI, placing him 11 of 14 qualifiers at his position. This strongly suggests the voters did not consider the SDI when placing their left-field votes.
With that background in mind, let’s look at how St. Louis Cardinals players fared in the final update of the SDI for the 2019 season. (Because of its importance in the Gold Glove Award results, the full-year SDI is not published until after the winners were announced.)
These results are as close to the actual Gold Glove Award scoring as we will get, as Rawlings does not disclose any further details beyond the names of the winners and the other top three finishers by position.
Here are the Cardinals’ scores and the NL winners and “finalists” by position listed as well.
|Rank||NL pitchers (36)||Team||SDI||Recognition|
|T9||Zack Greinke||ARI||2.5||GG winner|
|Rank||NL catchers (16)||Team||SDI||Recognition|
|1||J.T. Realmuto||PHI||12.0||GG winner|
|Rank||NL first base (12)||Team||SDI||Recognition|
|3||Anthony Rizzo||CHC||4.0||GG winner|
|Rank||NL second base (11)||Team||SDI||Recognition|
|1||Kolten Wong||STL||13.0||GG winner|
|Rank||NL shortstop (16)||Team||SDI||Recognition|
|1||Nick Ahmed||ARI||15.7||GG winner|
|Rank||NL third base (15)||Team||SDI||Recognition|
|1||Nolan Arenado||COL||13.1||GG winner|
|Rank||NL left field (14)||Team||SDI||Recognition|
|1||David Peralta||ARI||7.7||GG winner|
|Rank||NL center field (14)||Team||SDI||Recognition|
|2||Lorenzo Cain||MIL||10.2||GG winner|
|Rank||NL right field (11)||Team||SDI||Recognition|
|1||Cody Bellinger||LAD||7.9||GG winner|
These rankings are especially enlightening, since the Gold Glove Award announcements only include the top three vote-getters, the so-called “finalists”, in no particular order.
Among the six Cardinals’ announced “finalists”, in the SDI, the team had a first (Wong), a second (DeJong), a third (center fielder Harrison Bader), two fourths (Paul Goldschmidt at first base and Yadier Molina at catcher) and a ninth (pitcher Jack Flaherty).
The 8.3 point SDI gap between Wong and the second-place scorer, Kike Hernandez of the Dodgers, was the largest by any NL position leader.
In other words, according to the defensive metrics, no second sacker was close to the Cardinal in 2019. That was confirmed by The Fielding Bible, which earlier anointed Wong as the top second baseman across all of MLB in 2019.
As a team, St. Louis is continuing a bit of a renaissance in Gold Glove Award results. Before Molina won in 2018, the Cardinals had been shut out of the nine NL Gold Glove Awards in both 2016 and 2017. However, even last year, Molina and Wong were St. Louis’ only “finalists,” aka top three finishers.
As usual, the Cardinals feature strong fielders but also others who did not stack up well against their peers. In the latter department, St. Louis has two defenders with negative SDIs – Matt Carpenter at third base (-1.0) and Dexter Fowler (-1.3) in right field. They ranked 11th of 15 qualifiers and eighth of 11, respectively, at their positions.
In left, 2017 Gold Glove Award winner Marcell Ozuna barely managed to reach a positive SDI in 2019, at 0.7. That was still two points higher than finalist Soto, however.
Of the four St. Louis pitchers among the 36 ranked in the NL, Miles Mikolas (sixth) actually has a higher SDI than two of the finalists, teammate Flaherty and winner Zack Greinke. Dakota Hudson also placed strongly, just making the top third, at 12th. Former Gold Glove Award winner Adam Wainwright also had a positive SDI (0.8), but ranked just 21st in 2019.
Did you know? Rawlings takes each Gold Glove Award winners' glove model, casts them and applies gold coating. So the physical award they receive is of their own glove.
— Brian Walton (@B_Walton) November 4, 2019
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