When you think of Diamondbacks' defense, the first names that come to mind are probably the likes of Gerardo Parra, gunning down another runner at third-base, or Didi Gregorius, making a play deep in the hole, then firing across the diamond to retire the batter. Often overlooked is the man on the receiving end of the latter throw: Paul Goldschmidt. For someone who came up to the majors, not exactly with the reputation as an elite defender. However, like just about every other aspect of the game, he was worked tirelessly to improve, and the results have been undeniably impressive, as shown below.
Might this be rewarded with a Gold Glove? It'll be interesting to see, not least because for the first time this year, the decision will not be based solely on votes from managers and coaches, but will also include an objective, statistical component, developed in conjunction with SABR. The official announcement in March said:
SABR will immediately establish a new Fielding Research Committee tasked to develop a proprietary new defensive analytic called the SABR Defensive Index™, or SDI™. The SDI will serve as an "apples-to-apples" metric to help determine the best defensive players in baseball exclusively for the Rawlings Gold Glove Award and Rawlings Platinum Glove Award selection processes... Beginning in 2013, the managers/coaches vote will constitute a majority of the Rawlings Gold Glove Award winners’ selection tally, with the new SDI comprising of the remainder of the overall total.
The SDI is a metric which will combine several different defensive stats, including UZR and DRS, into a single figure, which will then be converted into Gold Glove votes, and added to those returned by humans. While it will still only represent about 25% of the final outcome, it's definitely a nice move to see an objective metric being included, particularly since the Gold Gloves have often been about previous performance or offensive output, rather than just how well a given player has played defense in that season. [Not that considering offensive output will exactly hurt Paul's case this year, of course!]
What the metrics say
There were eight players in the National League, who started 100 or more games at first-base for their teams this season. Here are the numbers, ordered in descending number of innings played there, including as many of the stats being used by SABR as possible (I couldn't find a 2013 source for RED or DRA), as well as a couple of others for good measure:
Based purely on the numbers, it would appear that the Cubs' Anthony Rizzo may be Goldschmidt's biggest challenger. Among the (literal!) SABR metrics, he has the best UZR and DRS, and also stands out in Rpm, while Goldschmidt leads in TZ, and does well in RF/9. I'm also impressed by the sheer number of putouts recorded by Paul - between 200 and 250 more than Votto or Rizzo, despite a similar amount of time on the field. Plays like the one below, showing our first-baseman covering a fantastic amount of ground, illustrate how this is possible, due to his excellent range.
We mustn't forget, however, that these numbers will constitute only one-quarter of the final tally. While there may also be coaches and managers who look at them, while deciding their ballots, I probably wouldn't rely on that. I strongly suspect it's more likely to be memories of the half a dozen times you saw the player in question over the course of the season. More traditional numbers, like errors, are perhaps still used, and those certainly don't do any damage, with Goldie's fielding percentage better than everyone bar Helton [One wonders if the three-time winner might get the nostalgic vote, in his final year?]
It may even be simpler than that. While it could be coincidence, I note that both in 2011 (Joey Votto) and 2012 (Adam LaRoche), the award went to the man who just played more there than anyone else - maybe a case of familiarity breeding content? Again, Goldschmidt should be fine if this is a factor, having led the league. All our bonus baseball likely helped here: he started the same number of times as Rizzo, and played eight fewer complete games than his Cub counterpart, yet Goldschmidt still ended up with 31 more innings!
Certainly, there are factors which may be taken into account, that are not directly reflected in the statistics. How many times this season have we seen Goldschmidt dig a ball out from the dirt, or like the play below, where he took what could easily have become an error on Cliff Pennington and turned it into a simple 5-3 groundout? While plays like that may not have much of an impact on the numbers, they'll probably stick in the mind of the Philadelphia manager and coaches. Nominees will be announced a week next Friday, with the winners announced on October 29. We'll find out then if we have the first Gold Glove winning first-baseman in Diamondbacks history.