The Cleveland Indians have a Gold Glove finalist in Francisco Lindor. What are the young shortstop’s chances of taking home the hardware?
From the moment he set foot on the field for the Cleveland Indians, Francisco Lindor has helped transform the team into one of Major League Baseball’s best defensively. Only 22 years old, Lindor is now receiving the recognition he so richly deserves for his glovework, being named a finalist at shortstop for the American League Gold Glove award.
Lindor is joined as a finalist by Andrelton Simmons of the Los Angeles Angels and Jose Iglesias of the Detroit Tigers. The Gold Glove winners will be announced on November 8th during ESPN’s Baseball Tonight broadcast.
Cleveland has not had a Gold Glove award winner since Grady Sizemore in 2008, and Omar Vizquel was the last Tribe shortstop to take home the hardware back in 2001.
That Lindor was recognized does not come as any surprise to fans of the Indians who have watched him make tough plays seem routine and routine plays look effortless. Seemingly few games have gone by throughout the 2016 season in which he did not make a highlight-reel play with the leather.
So how does Cleveland infield captain stack up to his competition? The three finalists rank near the top of the AL in the old tried-and-true metrics of errors and fielding percentage, of course, but digging deeper into the advanced statistics gives a much clearer picture of how they compare.
In terms of Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) as calculated by FanGraphs, Simmons and Lindor are head and shoulders above the other shortstops in the league. Simmons ranks first with an 18 DRS rating, with Lindor right behind at 17. Iglesias does rank fifth, but he totaled a DRS of just 3.
We talked about Lindor making routine plays look effortless, and the metrics bear that out as well. The Revised Zone Rating (RZR) stat, which measures the proportion of balls hit into a fielder’s zone that he successfully converted into an out, sees the Indians’ shortstop atop the AL. Of 343 balls hit into his zone, 289 were converted into outs, good for an .843 RZR. Iglesias placed second at .828, with Simmons 10th at .751.
And what about those spectacular plays? By the Out of Zone (OOZ) metric, the only shortstop in the league who made more plays than Lindor was Houston’s Carlos Correa. Simmons ranked 6th in this category and Iglesias 11th.
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Using the Range Runs (RngR) statistic, which measures number of runs above or below average a fielder is, determined by how the fielder is able to get to balls hit in his vicinity, Lindor (18.0) is again the leader by a large margin over Simmons (12.9) and Iglesias (2.6).
The final two metrics that seem relevant to this comparison are Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR), which tells us how many runs better or worse a player has been relative to the average player at his position, and Defensive Runs Above Average (DEF), which measures how many runs better or worse that player has been relative to the average player across all positions.
But UZR doesn’t tell the whole story, and herein lies one of the more compelling arguments in favor of the award being brought back to Progressive Field. Lindor’s lead in this category is so great because he played nearly every day, something that cannot be said for Simmons and Iglesias.
Lindor appeared in 155 games at shortstop in 2016, starting 153 of them. That number is staggering when compared to Simmons (124 games, 123 starts) and Iglesias (136 games, 131 starts). The product of Montverde Academy in Florida spent nearly 96 percent of Cleveland’s games manning his position, far ahead of the others.
The argument may be made by some that the UZR150 metric, which scales performance to 150 games, would be a more accurate depiction to use, but this discounts Lindor’s durability and actually penalizes him for it. Games are won and lost with defense every day, and his constant presence should be seen as nothing but a positive.
The final metric to look at, DEF, also shows that, statistically speaking, these are three best at their position in the league. Again, Lindor is the leader (27.8), followed by Simmons (20.8) and Iglesias (17.6).
What is striking is that if all players in the AL are included regardless of position, Lindor is still at the top of the list, and by a large margin over Kevin Pillar (23.6), the center fielder for the Toronto Blue Jays, and only narrowly trails Crawford (28.0) when all players in MLB are included.
Thus, by the most comprehensive of the statistical measures available to us, the Indians have the best defensive player in the American League in Lindor, and one of the two best in all of baseball. It’s incredible to consider that from a player so young.
The mere fact that Cleveland has such a superb defensive shortstop is one of the reasons it was rated the top defensive team in the American League by FanGraphs, and one of the top three in all of baseball. Lindor is not only deserving of the Gold Glove award, he should be the favorite. That’s not a knock on Simmons or Iglesias, either, just a credit to the consistent performance he has put together, day in and day out, in leading a leather revolution for the Indians.