Jackie Bradley Jr., Mookie Betts, and Dustin Pedroia have been named Gold Glove finalists at their respective positions for 2016.
Somehow, of these three, Bradley is the one who seems least likely to take the award down if you buy into the statistics. While he managed to recover from some weird early season difficulties dealing with the wall in center field, he still ended the season with less emphatic numbers than you might have expected given what we’ve seen from him in the past. A 4.5 UZR leaves him well shy of the heights attained by Kevins Pillar and Kiermaier, and while he tightens the gap a bit in terms of DRS, he still ends up well short of their marks. He’s one of the best defenders in baseball, but Bradley didn’t start strong, and ran into some fierce competition. If 2016 doesn’t end up being his year, it will still come eventually.
For Pedroia, this is just the same old, same old. He may not be quite as spry as he was in his best years, but even at 33, Pedroia is still capable of producing spectacular plays with regularity. DRS would suggest it should be a close race between Pedroia, regular competitors Ian Kinsler and Robinson Cano, but at least by UZR Pedey is the clear favorite. Though, of course, the traditionalists may go for Cano having made just three errors on the season.
But the crazy one here is Mookie Betts. And not in the way that Derek Jeter’s constant presence in these awards was crazy. Betts, who naturally started 2014 as a second baseman and 2015 as a center fielder, went ahead and adjusted to his first full season in right by being good. Really good. UZR puts him as one of the best defenders at any position this season. DRS? DRS says he was the best, period, and that it wasn’t particularly close. His +32 on the year is a full 10 runs above Adam Eaton, who happens to be both second place among AL right fielders and second place among all other players of baseball. Mookie hasn’t quite lapped the field, but he’s come awfully close and, in doing so, produced a top-10 season in the 15-year history of the statistic. How on Earth? Challenge Mookie Betts to pitch, and he’d probably record a no-hitter by the end of the week.
At the end of the day, defensive stats are a bit of frontier science in baseball. You have to take it all with a grain of salt, particularly at sample sizes of a single season or less. For all that, though, these three are clearly among the best at their positions. Inevitably someone out there will get mad no matter who wins because that’s what award season is for, but it’s hard to blink an eye at any one of them being named among the best defenders in any given year.