Sometimes you write something and you think it has a good chance of being controversial. Sometimes you expect there to be people that disagree with your point and to let you know they disagree, whether on Twitter or in the comment section or wherever. This…this is not one of those times. I think any Orioles fan who watched even a few Orioles games this year believes that Manny Machado should win the Gold Glove award. But what you may not realize is how much Machado dominated the competition. He was truly head and shoulders above his peers at third base.
With the Gold Glove winners being announced tonight and likely having already been decided, I'm going to make the case for Manny Machado to win the Gold Glove Award at third base in the American League. As Stacey has already written, six Orioles were named as finalists to win the award. However, none of the other five have as good of a case to win the award as Machado.
First, I want to talk about defensive metrics. I think even the people that created the defensive metrics like John Dewan (DRS) or Mitchel Lichtman (UZR) would tell you that they're not perfect. They'd tell you that you need three years of data to get an accurate reading of a player's defensive value. While the metrics are not perfect, they're the best we've got and they're certainly better than trying to gauge performance from watching a few games. Even for the most passionate Orioles fan, they're only going to see the competition at most 19 games a year.
For the first time, the metrics are being used in the voting process this year. Rob Neyer wrote about the new process when some of the details were released in August. He concluded that the metrics will account for about 40% of the vote. The newly formed SABR Defensive Committee will account for approximately 25% of the vote, while the SABR Defensive Index will be included in the information packets distributed to players and coaches. Neyer speculated that while not all of the players and coaches will use the information, some of them will.
I think this is a big improvement in the way the Gold Gloves are given out. Every year, there is always grousing from the internet baseball community that the right guys didn't win the award. Hopefully this year, we see much less of that because the right guy got the award. If you're interested in the gory details of the new sabermetric component of the award, you can find them here.
(Editor's note: Machado has been awarded the Fielding Bible for a third baseman by the Bill James Handbook for 2013.)
Now that I've established the reason for looking at the defensive metrics, let's see what they say about third base in the American League this season. We'll start with UZR created by Mitchel Lichtman. From the SABR website, 70% of the SABR Defensive Index (SDI) will be made up of the batted ball location-based data measures which include UZR and DRS.
I'm showing you the whole top 10 mainly because it's fun to see just how bad Miguel Cabrera was this season on defense. UZR is shown in runs above or below average, so the number above means that Manny was more than 31 runs above average this season. That's pretty unbelievable. His closest competition was Evan Longoria at 14.6, but even he was pretty far away. The most surprising thing about these numbers (besides the fact that Manny was so much better than everyone) was that UZR rated Adrian Beltre as a below average defender this season. He is a four time Gold Glove winner including 2011 and 2012, but if he comes anywhere close this season it will be because of his reputation not his performance.
Let's move on to John Dewan's metric, Defensive Runs Saved. This metric is also presented in runs above or below average. In an interview with MLB Network's Clubhouse Confidential before the 2012 season, Dan Duquette referenced this metric as one he liked to use. Feel free to search the Clubhouse Confidential archives if you need proof. Again, here are the top 10 qualifiers.
Once again, Manny obliterates the rest of the field in the American League. In terms of Defensive Runs Saved, he is a full 23 runs better than his nearest competitor: Evan Longoria. Again, Miguel Cabrera is the worst and Adrian Beltre slips even farther below average according to DRS. Longoria and Donaldson have similar ratings but DRS really likes Matt Dominguez. Houston acquired him in an under the radar trade, but he showed some power this year for them. If he keeps playing defense like this, the Astros may have a solution at third base. For anyone that puts any stock in DRS, there's really no argument for anyone else besides Machado.
Manny's season wasn't just the best season by a third baseman in 2013. It was the best season had by a third baseman according to UZR and DRS since they've been keeping track of the numbers. UZR has been compiling data since the 2002 season, while DRS has been keeping track since 2003. The next best season by a third baseman according to UZR was Adrian Beltre's 2004 season, with just about 26 runs above average. That's still more than 5 runs worse than Manny's season! Check out this chart of the top 10 third baseman seasons in the last 12 years according to UZR.
|2002||Scott Rolen||- - -||3B||1360||22.6|
It's a similar story when you look at the top 10 ever according to Defensive Runs Saved. Manny put up the best season by a third baseman ever recorded by the system. The most interesting thing about this list might be that Colorado Rockies rookie Nolan Arenado's 2013 season places so high on the list. Also, you can see just how good Adrian Beltre was in the mid aughts. Here's the list.
There's not much of an argument for anyone else at third base in the American League this year in my opinion. No matter which of the two most popular (and publicly available) defensive metrics you look at, Machado runs away from the field. However, for anyone that doesn't trust defensive metrics I'll leave you with just a few examples of the countless great plays Manny Machado made this season. The managers and coaches haven't always gotten the Gold Glove voting right. But I'll be surprised if Manny doesn't win the award this year because he was not only the best defensive third baseman this season; he was the best defensive third baseman in the entire era of defensive metrics.