Gold Gloves, the keystone and D.J. LeMahieu

The 2018 Rawlings Gold Glove Awards were issued this week. Among the list of 54 finalists (three at each position per league) and 19 winners (there was one tie) there was not one single Mets player.

Examining the list, it is noteworthy that 12 of the 19 winners were from playoff teams. Exposure helps, sure, but there’s no denying that defense helps a team win. The Red Sox outfield defense saved hits from falling and runs from scoring in seemingly every game leading up to their World Series victory.

Our previous General Manager, Sandy Alderson, felt that defense was overrated, and historically he wasn’t alone. For many years, the Mets have played players out of position in an attempt to score a few more runs, but certainly offset that with additional runs allowed. Howard Johnson and Wilmer Flores at shortstop, Mike Piazza and Jay Bruce at first base, Daniel Murphy and Lucas Duda in left field, and a host of corner outfielders masquerading as bad center fielders.

Over the years the Mets have had some fine gloves, even 20 Gold Glove winners – Tommie Agee (1970), Bud Harrelson (1971), Doug Flynn (1980), Keith Hernandez (1983-88), Ron Darling (1989), Rey Ordonez (1997-99), Robin Ventura (1999), Carlos Beltran (2006-08), David Wright (2007-08), and Juan Lagares (2014). The awards are certainly subjective, and historically based more on reputation than analytics, but that’s likely changed these past 10 years. In 2015, Jacob deGrom won the Wilson Defensive Player of the Year Award for pitchers, but yet wasn’t a Rawlings Gold Glove finalist. Hmmm.

Having just one Mets Gold Glove winner in the past 10 years speaks to team philosophy more than anything else. This needs to change. A strong defense gives young pitchers confidence and allows veteran pitchers the wiggle room to take chances as they trust the men behind them. Former closer Jeurys Familia, when at his best, has an ability to make hitters pound the ball into the ground, but what good is that if ground balls keep finding holes through the infield?

A strong defense gives a team a better chance of winning close games. It’s a secret weapon and perhaps an undervalued asset, along with team speed. Overachieving teams with low payrolls and few big name players that manage to play .500 or even sneak into the playoffs like the Tampa Bay Rays and Oakland A’s can often thank their legs and gloves. It’s about more than just sure-handed players that don’t make a lot of errors and catchers who can throw out base runners. It’s about fast players with range to chase down balls in the outfield gap, holding doubles to singles and turning hits into outs. It’s about rangy second baseman closing off that right side gap that has seemed like a chasm for the Mets since the Edgardo Alfonso days. The keystone is a spot for an athletic player who can cover a lot of ground and make game changing plays. For the Mets these past 10 years it’s been a place to plug guys with balky knees and flat feet.

Jeff McNeil looked better than expected in his time at second base in Queens, but he’s played third base as well and Todd Frazier is coming off the worst season of his career and entering his walk year. Among the free agents at second base is three-time Gold Glove winner D.J. LeMahieu. The Rockies second baseman was credited with 18 DRS in 2018, second most in the Majors. He’s also a career .298 hitter with a .350 OBP who won the NL batting title in 2016.

When the Mets look at catchers in particular, they need to look for defense. There is no Mike Piazza right now. There is no catcher putting up MVP offensive numbers. Rather than overpaying in trade or free agent dollars for a catcher because he can hit 20 home runs, the Mets should zero in on the best backstop they can find. It’s a defensive first position and with a few exceptions (Yadier Molina) few of these guys can maintain health and consistency into their later years.

The Royals are rebuilding and have a catcher with a sizable contract (by their standards). Salvador Perez is not a great offensive player when you consider his inability to draw walks, but he’s won five Gold Gloves and in each of the past two seasons he’s slugged 27 home runs and driven in 80 runs. Perez is also, by all accounts, a clubhouse leader. There are other trade targets at catcher that might cost less in prospects, like San Diego’s Austin Hedges, who’s got one of the best arms in the game.

Defense matters and it’s cheaper than offense. The list of active players who have Gold Gloves and Silver Sluggers on their mantle is short and includes, among a few others, Mookie Betts, Mike Trout, Nolan Arenado, Jose Altuve, Francisco Lindor, and Paul Goldschmidt. The cream of the crop. Players whose teams wouldn’t dream of trading them (except for maybe the last one) because they know how rare these silver and gold players are. But if you’re a GM not fortunate enough to own one, you need to sprinkle in some gold with the silver to find the winning combination.

9 comments for “Gold Gloves, the keystone and D.J. LeMahieu

  1. November 9, 2018 at 4:07 pm

    Personally, I’ve seen too much of balsa wood bats like Bud Harrelson, Doug Flynn and Rey Ordonez.

    My opinion is that you’re much better off with a guy like 2016 Asdrubal Cabrera, who may not get to much but what he got to was turned into an out, and his 117 OPS+ than with DJ LeMahieu and his Gold Glove and 88 OPS+

    FWIW, 2016 Cabrera had a 3.6 fWAR while 2018 LeMahieu had a 2.0 fWAR. Two years older and much worse defensively, Cabrera still put up a higher fWAR last year, with a 2.7 mark.

  2. November 9, 2018 at 4:30 pm

    Give me the Shift, a Statue, Soft Hands and a Steady Arm….. I won’t debate Defensive stats, but infield play has become more about at’em balls and decent throwing, versus range. BTW…. I believe that more “Air Balls” has somewhat made OF play and OF defensive Speed far more important. I’m a Bohemian in “measuring” that as well.

    I’d like Marwyn G in that “UT” Role—He’s a better RH Bat..a need. He Plays OF…a Need. …..but Cabs can be a nice 400 ab guy, around the IF. He won’t kill you if He needs to fill in for 3 weeks.

    I want Major Leaguer Players on the roster!

  3. MattyMets
    November 9, 2018 at 8:29 pm

    Have you all not noticed how many ground balls go through the right side of our infield?

    • TexasGusCC
      November 9, 2018 at 10:15 pm

      I shudder at the statue of Asdrubal Cabrera coming back. I’m sorry, but while the WAR in 2016 was excellent and this past year’s was very good, did anyone notice his performance in Philly? Maybe we should be counting our blessings rather than pushing our luck?

      Cabrera can play third pretty well, but even there his bat won’t suffice.

      • November 10, 2018 at 8:00 am

        Don’t confuse a preference for a type with preference for a player.

  4. November 9, 2018 at 11:13 pm

    But you’re Pining for Wilmer?—- likely, $5,000,000 arb…amazing

  5. TJ
    November 10, 2018 at 7:10 am

    I mostly agree with Brian, and partly with Eraff. The all leather no stick guy is extinct on winning teams. Shifts have changed some requirements too. But, the statue/bad glove is a problem too, except for the dude going 40/120. To me, the key is that the pitchers are comfortable and confident in the fielding. Sometimes there is a bit of perception in there too. A guy like McNeil may be so-so in reality, but he rarely looked bad and at times looked exceptional. So long as the pitcher doesn’t have to constantly raise concern or change approach, I’m good. Now, C is another story…

  6. November 10, 2018 at 9:23 am

    To Brian’s point..a “Known Quantity” Utility/Swing Guy who can give you 400-500 or so ab’s…that’s the generic Type. Josh Harrison, in better days. Cabs…Marwyn. You have 3-5 guys on the bench every night–1 is a Catcher. You need some Professional Baseball players…. these are not 150 at bat guys. You need them to play!

    I ran through a hack review a few days ago…in 2018, the Mets gave 15-20% of their at bats to guys who are not/are not any longer MLB players. I’m not even counting Flo…. Again…they need quality depth, and the players in those roles need to wear a few gloves…survive-ably.. Give me 2 major leaguers and 2 arms in the penn to start…and a C

    • TJ
      November 10, 2018 at 9:45 pm

      Bingo

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