Major League Baseball handed out its Gold Glove awards (given to the top fielder at each position) Tuesday, and Toronto Blue Jays fans seemed pleasantly surprised but also moderately upset with the results.
On the one hand, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. secured a Gold Glove at first base, capping off his against-the-odds transition from a below-average third baseman to a top-tier defender at first.
But across the diamond, at the hot corner, some folks feel Baltimore Orioles third baseman Ramon Urías wasn’t as deserving as Matt Chapman, for example. Starting pitcher Ross Stripling, Chapman’s teammate in Toronto in 2022, expressed his disappointment with the results.
So, was Stripling correct? Did Chapman get robbed of his fourth Gold Glove? Let’s take a look.
From the data alone, it’s obvious, at least metrically, that Chapman’s 2022 season was not good enough to merit a Gold Glove. He ranked closer to the average third baseman in defensive runs saved (DRS) and outs above average (OAA) than he did to the league’s best.
In 2022, Urías ranked at the top of both those important categories, although he played just 118 games, the fewest (excluding 2020) for an AL Gold Glove-winning third baseman since Wade Boggs won the award with just 97 games played during the lockout-shortened 1994 season.
Having seen Chapman take pre-game infield warmups on a regular basis, I can say he is one of a kind. Fundamentally, he’s a stud. The California native implements a crouched ready stance, which keeps his frame sturdy, and he uses a repeatable, over-the-top throwing motion that assures his tosses to first base have four-seam backspin. Very rarely, if at all, would you see a throw from Chapman tail up the first-base line towards home.
Since Chapman is so athletic, his range is one of his biggest assets. He can cover ground moving to his left, often closing out plays with dramatic diving stabs. At times this season, though, he struggled on plays toward the third-base line. Those are the hardest plays a third baseman can make, but that didn’t deter him from constantly repping that exact play.
After a particularly intense pre-game infield session this season, during which Chapman was drilling those plays to his backhand behind the bag (and apparently not meeting his own high standards), I witnessed the 29-year-old frustratedly drop-kick his glove in the air, then chuck a baseball into the 500-level seats in left field. He’s an uncompromising competitor.
But it’s not just the mechanics that made Chapman great this season. His chatter on the field, his mound visits, and his ability to shift over to shortstop and turn double plays all made a huge impact on the Blue Jays’ infield.
I saw Chapman overcome some early hiccups adjusting to the Rogers Centre infield and turn in what I would deem, visually, a Gold Glove-calibre season.
In 2019, Chapman put up 28 DRS and 15 OAA. Why were his numbers so low in 2022?
Let’s use OAA, a range-based defensive metric calculated by Statcast, since its databases are the most accessible. This year, the system gave him the lowest defensive ranking of his career.
One of the biggest differences in Chapman’s defensive profile this year was how frequently he played “shortstop.” Statcast recorded Chapman as having attempted 108 plays at short, with a 67 percent success rate, good for 0 OAA. For the first time in his career, Chapman also technically recorded four reps at second base, where Statcast measured his 75 percent success rate at the keystone to be 17 percent lower than his expected success rate, thus awarding him a minus-1 OAA.
As we know, the Blue Jays shifted their defence 50.3 percent of the time, the third-highest mark in baseball. It appears that when Toronto shifted Chapman away from his natural spot at the hot corner, he didn’t make the above-average plays he typically would at third base. And since he was out of position so often, those non-third-base numbers dragged down his total OAA.
Of course, that doesn’t answer why Chapman produced just a 2 OAA specifically at third base this season. For that, you can dig through a multitude of theories. Chapman saw notably fewer defensive chances on plays charging in, which have always been his strength, per Statcast. Perhaps the rest of the league simply played better defense this season, raising the bar on what was defined as “average.” We can go on and on.
It’s hard not to default to the defensive numbers, as murky as they may be. The sabermetrics firmly assess Urías as a far superior defender, despite the fact he made eight errors in 118 games while Chapman made five in 155 games.
My bigger gripe is not with Chapman missing out on his fourth Gold Glove; to me, it’s more about why Statcast suddenly devalued his defense. I guess the Blue Jays’ constant shifting just put too much strain on Chapman, forcing him to attack plays outside his comfort zone.
In the end, Chapman was undoubtedly Toronto’s defensive MVP, and his contributions were a massive factor in the club’s run to the postseason. That counts for something, even if it’s not recognized with a Gold Glove.
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