If Gold Gloves Were Awarded on Merit Alone…
If you did not already know, the Mariners have three players in the running for 2014 Gold Glove Awards: Felix Hernandez as a pitcher; Kyle Seager as a third baseman; and Robinson Cano as a second baseman.
A commenter on Dan’s article about Justin Upton and a potential re-attempt at a trade for him mentioned a Fangraphs article titled The 2014 American League Gold Glove Awards, Strictly By The Numbers. This article was referenced in defense of keeping Dustin Ackley on the Mariners roster and keeping him out of trades this offseason.
Curious, I went to Fangraphs and read the article. To my surprise, there were 3 Mariners in the top three defensively at their position based on strictly defensive metrics.
Care to guess? Two of them are not Felix Hernandez and Robinson Cano.
Instead, August Fagerstrom had Mike Zunino as the best catcher in the American League. He had Kyle Seager as the second best third baseman (behind Josh Donaldson of the Athletics). And, much to my pleasant surprise, the defensive metrics had Dustin Ackley as the third best defensive left fielder in the American League.
Seager isn’t a big shocker, so I am just going to leave him be.
Mike Zunino is a bit different. Many people discredit Gold Gloves because the seem to award great offensive players who aren’t terrible at defense with the award. Derek Jeter has won it 5 times, and one could argue he has never been the best defensive shortstop in the American League.
The defensive numbers weren’t kind to Zunino’s blocking skills, but as August notes, blocking has an inverse relationship with pitch receiving, or framing. And far and above, Zunino is the best pitch framer in the American League. He gets strike calls when the ball is off the plate, he work the umps zone to get the best out of his pitchers– it’s no real surprise that the Mariners had some of the best pitching in baseball with him behind the dish.
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I wasn’t all that shocked that Zunino was up there, though. He’s been revered for his defensive skills and game management since the Mariners drafted him a long 2 years ago.
But seeing Dustin Ackley’s name on the list was a pleasant surprise. After being converted from a first baseman in college to a second baseman in the Mariners’ minor leagues, Ackley made the bigs and struggled offensively. The Mariners replaced him at second with Nick Franklin, and tried Ackley’s hand at the outfield. Much of 2013 he bounced around center and left field– his arm isn’t strong enough to play right.
And when Lloyd McClendon became the manager of the Seattle Mariners, he decided to put Ackley in left field and leave him there. From Opening Day Ackley was the left fielder, and a full year at the same position did wonders for him, and for the M’s.
He had good UZR (ultimate zone rating) and DRS (defensive runs saved) numbers that warranted him 3rd best by defensive metrics, behind only Alex Gordon of the Royals and Yoenis Cespedes of the Athletics/Red Sox.
There’s something to be said about defense in the spacious Safeco Field. It’s clear the Mariners need a professional and powerful outfield bat, but such a player can’t entirely suck at defense. Remember when the Mariners had both Mike Morse and Raul Ibanez starting at the corner outfield spots? Yeah.
I am a strong proponent of keeping Ackley around, and re-signing Kyle Seager. And we all know Mike Zunino isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
Defense and pitching wins championships; if you’ve been watching the Royals this postseason, you already know.