Awards season provides bored baseball fans with a bridge to free agency madness, something to get worked up about for a few hours and help us forget the long hours of boredom that is the MLB offseason. The early stages of award season have already begun, as yesterday Rawlings announced the Gold Glove finalists for each position. It’s not surprising the Angels only have two finalists, but it is surprising one of them is not Erick Aybar, who was beaten out at shortstop by Alcides Escobar, Alexei Ramirez, and JJ Hardy (the probably deserving winner).
Measuring defense is always tricky, but whether using the eye test or fielding metrics, Aybar seemed deserving of a spot in the finals. Aybar ranked second among AL shortstops among DRS* and UZR. His 10 errors were also the fewest he’s committed in a season since 2007, when he only logged 79 innings at short. Fielding percentage is in the conversation with saves and pitcher wins as the most useless stats around, but some people pay attention to it. Aybar’s .982 rate was tops in the AL among shortstops. Using traditional and modern defensive measures, Aybar checks out. It’s a bit puzzling Aybar isn’t a finalist, but this is also the award Derek Jeter won five times. Voters might be throwing darts at a bulletin board for all we know.
* Yes, according to DRS Aybar actually cost the Angels three runs, but that’s still good for second best in the AL. The moral of the story: shortstop is hard.
As for the Angels that are finalists. Pujols, a two-time winner when he was in the NL, graded as a top-three first basemen in DRS and UZR, a welcome sight after his injury-plagued 2013 season. At some point in his mammoth contract the Angels will convert Pujols to a full-time DH. The fear after last season was that day was fast approaching, but with a year of solid defensive play Pujols may be able to hold that day off for a little longer. He still runs like a slug, but he has good instincts and an accurate throwing arm at first. The longer Pujols can play in the field, the more value he will bring to the Angels.
Calhoun’s nomination was a bit of a surprise just because he’s a relative unknown, but per FanGraphs there are only seven qualified right fielders in the AL, so Rawlings had to pick somebody. Not that his inclusion is unwarranted — Calhoun saved the most runs and had the second best UZR in the AL, in addition to numerous Web Gem plays the voters love.
Meanwhile, the only other Angels that have a claim for a nomination are Mike Trout and Howie Kendrick. Trout only has a case in name recognition only. He was snubbed in 2012 when he probably should have won, and now it looks like he might not have another chance to win. DRS and UZR say Trout was the third worst center fielder in the AL — this is where my eye test is going to call “bull.” I don’t think Trout is as good as he was in 2012, but he’s not among the worst defensive players in the American League, either.
Kendrick didn’t have much Gold Glove chatter over the summer but he did have another solid season at the keystone. Kendrick rated as the third-best second basemen by DRS and fourth by UZR. Having Aybar and Kendrick man the middle of the infield for nearly a decade has been a huge boon for the Angels. It’s a luxury to roll out guys on Opening Day in two key positions and know you’re going to get 145 games of reliable play. Kendrick and Aybar were huge reasons the Angels won the division crown this year, and if the Angels succeed in 2015 those two are likely going to be underrated, but key, contributors again.