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Carlos Santana is a legitimate Gold Glove candidate

He isn’t the only converted catcher on the shortlist.

Cleveland Indians v Chicago White Sox Photo by David Banks/Getty Images

During Wednesday’s game against the Chicago White Sox, a fantastic play by Carlos Santana turned a putout into a double play. A hard ground ball spiked off the clay toward Santana, who gloved it and stepped on first. This froze the runner, Avisail Garcia, in his tracks between first and second. As we know, Santana isn’t the fastest player on the diamond. In a straight-up rundown there are few players he would beat to the bag.

Instead, Carlos faked a throw to second base. The runner lurched back toward first, allowing Santana to close the gap and guarantee the second out.

Santana also made a diving stop at first during the game to erase a hit. We’ve see spectacular plays from the converted catcher/third baseman/designated hitter all season long. After last night, I began to wonder how legitimate his candidacy for a Gold Glove Award might be.

Michael Bode at Waiting For Next Year dug into this a little bit as part of an article last week, but I specifically wanted to zero in on a few different fielding metrics to see how he stacks up against the elite at his position.

Before researching the article, I considered what I know about Santana and the rest of the league. The eye test tells me he is among one of the better defensive third basemen in the American League this season. I considered that Eric Hosmer and Joe Mauer are likely having excellent defensive seasons on doomed or bordeline teams. I also wanted to find a way to consider several different methods that are used to value a player’s defensive contributions. Like the way that a poll of polls is used to make political projections, pulling rankings from multiple sources should, in theory, be a better estimate of the true defensive value of a player.

I present to you the following table, followed by what I hope is a halfway decent unpacking of said table.

Name Fielding FG Rank Bref dWAR Rank FRAA Rank AVG RANK TOTAL TOP 5s
Name Fielding FG Rank Bref dWAR Rank FRAA Rank AVG RANK TOTAL TOP 5s
Joe Mauer 5.9 1 0.2 1 0.8 7 3 2
Mitch Moreland 2.7 3 0.1 2 3.7 5 3 3
Carlos Santana 1.3 7 -0.1 4 4.3 4 5 2
Danny Valencia -2.3 10 -0.5 6 6.3 2 6 1
Logan Morrison 2.6 4 -0.4 5 0.5 9 6 2
Chris Davis 0.9 5 -1.1 10 2.4 6 7 1
Jose Abreu -0.2 11 -1 9 6.1 3 8 1
Yulieski Gurriel -5.3 13 -1.1 11 8.1 1 8 1
Miguel Cabrera 3.7 2 -1.3 13 -1.2 10 8 1
Justin Smoak 1.8 6 -0.9 8 -2.2 11 8 0
Yonder Alonso -3.1 12 0 3 -3.9 12 9 1
Mike Napoli 0.1 8 -0.6 7 -5.8 13 9 0
Eric Hosmer 0.2 9 -1.2 12 0.6 8 10 0

What I’ve essentially done is taken the basic fielding value rating from the three most popular places - FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, and Baseball Prospectus. For FanGraphs, I’m using the numbers before positional adjustments are applied. Players with less than half or an insignificant number of innings played at first (Chase Headley, Joey Gallo, etc) are stricken from the record. I’ve then tallied up where each player ranks according to their peers, and averaged that. I’ve taken note as well as to how often a player is ranked as being one of the top five by these systems.

For what it’s worth, additional measurements such as DRS tend to agree that the top five players are Mauer, Moreland, Santana, Morrison, and Valencia, if not necessarily in that order. Things look good for Santana to earn consideration, though Mauer comes out as the clear leader. This is a conclusion many others have already come to, and as noted at the top of the piece, is not all that surprising.

I also tried to normalize dWAR to about the same numerical values as FRAA and DEF; when doing this and taking the average value, the top five results do not change, and very nearly what we get just by taking the average ranking in each category. Most importantly, Mauer, Moreland, and Santana still lead the way.

Name Bad Math Average DEF Value
Name Bad Math Average DEF Value
Joe Mauer 2.90
Mitch Moreland 2.47
Carlos Santana 1.53
Logan Morrison -0.30
Danny Valencia -0.33
Jose Abreu -1.37
Yonder Alonso -2.33
Chris Davis -2.57
Yulieski Gurriel -2.73
Justin Smoak -3.13
Miguel Cabrera -3.50
Eric Hosmer -3.73
Mike Napoli -3.90

Another important takeaway: Eric Hosmer is terrible. The Gospel According to Tom Hamilton now contains a tremendous flaw that requires purging. Another thing to point out is that most of these guys aren’t all that good defensively. Valencia, a Top 5 defender at the position in the American League, is generally viewed as a below average fielder compared to the rest of the league.

By the numbers, it is clear that Joe Mauer should be the front runner for the award. Voters don’t necessarily take metrics into account as much as they should, however. There are also nebulous penalties assessed to player’s candidacies based on how well the team is playing and how well they hit. Yes, it’s exactly as stupid as it sounds. I know. Suffice it to say that the higher a player’s profile is, the more likely it is that he’ll be easily recalled by a voter when the ballot arrives. A player on a better team with better results at the plate will top of mind. For example, I don’t think many people will vote for Danny Valencia since he’s stuck in Seattle and has a negative fWAR, courtesy of his below-average everything. Logan Morrison is having an excellent season, but I don’t think the numbers are there to merit consideration. Plus, he’s on the Rays, and nobody wins awards in Tampa unless they are secretly Inhumans, like Kevin Kiermaier.

This leaves a race between Carlos Santana, Joe Mauer, and Mitch Moreland. All of these players are on teams that are on playoff contenders, and will stay in the national spotlight down the stretch. While Mitch Moreland plays on the Red Sox, who may win the AL East, he is below average at everything unglovable. He won the award last season, but he clearly outpaced the rest of the players at his position at that time. It’s a much closer race this season.

A vote for any of these three players is a good vote. One area we haven’t analyzed yet, though, is the Inside Edge Fielding data. Remember how I mentioned Santana passes the eye test because of the exceptional plays that he makes? This is backed up by the numbers. On remote plays, which have a 10% chance of success or less, on average, Santana has converted 11.8% of his chances this season. Mauer? None. On unlikely plays, 10%-40%, Santana converts 12.5% of his plays, while Mauer cashes in with 61.5% converted. Moreland, on the other hand, hasn’t made any remote or unlikely plays all season. Mauer and Moreland are more dependable on even odds, likely, and routine plays. These numbers come with the caveat that the sample sizes at first base for less likely plays are very small.

It’s clear that Mauer deserves the hardware. He’s never won it at first base despite being very good every season. It’s a question as to what sticks in voters’ minds throughout the rest of the season, though. If Santana stays hot at the plate and continues to make exceptional, highlight reel plays, he might be able to sneak past Mauer and Moreland to win the award.