No (Gold) Glove for the Tribe
Back in the early days of Spring Training, during the press conference to introduce Michael Bourn as Cleveland’s new star center fielder, Indians general manager Chris Antonetti was asked for his thoughts on the team’s reconfigured, fleet-footed outfield.
Antonetti smiled and quipped: “We’re just going to move all the fences back. We’re going to make it 450 in left and 550 in center and 450 in right, so they can just go run and catch every ball.”
Antonetti and the Indians certainly had reason to be optimistic about the defensive potential of the new outfield alignment. Bourn up the middle, flanked by former center fielders Michael Brantley and Drew Stubbs in left and right, respectively, gave Cleveland arguably one of the fastest outfields in baseball.
On Tuesday, though, the Indians came up empty-handed in the American League Gold Glove Awards in the outfield, and across the board. In fact, Cleveland did not have a single player among the three candidates at each position. Maybe that wasn’t much of a surprise after watching the team for the past six months, but the shutout would’ve seemed unlikely back in the spring.
The American League’s Gold Glove winners includes Royals catcher Salvador Perez, Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer, Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia, Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy, Orioles third baseman Many Machado, Royals left fielder Alex Gordon, Orioles center fielder Adam Jones, Red Sox right fielder Shane Victorino and Blue Jays pitcher R.A. Dickey.
The one position where I thought the Indians might have at least a candidate was left field. Brantley finished with no errors (he now owns the Cleveland franchise record for consecutive errorless games at 245 and counting) and ranked fourth in the American League with 11 outfield assists. Brantley manned the left-field corner at Progressive Field beautifully, cutting down baserunners at second base, or at least convincing them to stay put rather than attempt an extra base.
The AL candidates for left field, however, included Gordon, along with Oakland’s Yoenis Cespedes and Detroit’s Andy Dirks. Gordon took home the honor after ranking first in assists (17) and ARM (per fangraphs.com), ending with just one error and ranking fourth among AL left fielders (min. 700 innings) in UZR/150 and Def (defensive runs). Gordon was deserving of the nod and, after a closer look at the metrics, it was justified to leave Brantley off the list of candidates. Texas’ David Murphy actually had a better argument for inclusion over Brantley.
Among AL left fielders with at least 500 innings, Brantley ranked seventh in UZR/150 (-4.9) and 12th (out of 13) in Defense (-10.8), according to fangraphs. That was a step back from 2012, when Brantley served as the Tribe’s primary center fielder and posted a UZR/150 of -0.6 (ranked 14th among MLB center fielders with at least 700 innings).
Brantley’s showing reflected that of the Indians’ outfield as a whole. Bourn, Brantley and Stubbs combined for a 31.8 UZR/150 rating in 2012, when they were each center fielders for the Braves, Indians and Reds, respectively. In 2013, when Brantley and Stubbs each moved out of center, the trio combined for a -9.6 UZR/150. Keeping the outfield fences right where they were wound up being a good thing for Cleveland.
Bourn went from being ranked first among MLB center fielders (min. 700 innings) in UZR/150 in 2012 (23.8) to being ranked 8th in the American League (-0.9) in 2013. Stubbs was baseball’s fifth-ranked center fielder in 2012 (9.0 UZR/150), but ranked sixth among AL right fielders in 2013 (-0.2). Stubbs also made six errors, which marked the second-highest total in the league. Josh Hamilton and Alejandro De Aza were tied for first in that dubious category with eight apiece.
The good news is that Cleveland’s outfield did improve overall in 2013 wen compared to 2012, as did the Tribe’s defense as a whole. Cleveland’s team-wide -4.5 UZR/150 was ranked 13th in the AL this past season, but the club was dead last (-6.8) in the previous season. The outfield, specifically, improved to -2.2 from -7.0 in the previous year.
Let’s take a look at some other positions for the Indians:
Catcher: The Indians might have a future Gold Glove candidate in the up-and-coming Yan Gomes, whose 40.8 caught-stealing rate was second in the AL (per baseball-reference.com). Among catchers with at least 500 innings, Gomes was tied with Chris Stewart for third in the AL in Defense (11.9), trailing only Perez and Matt Wieters. Carlos Santana, who saw more time at first base and DH in the second half, had a 0.5 Defense rating in 2013.
Infield: Among those with at least 500 innings… Nick Swisher ranked seventh in UZR/150 (2.2) among AL first basemen. … Shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera ranked 15th (out of 16) with a -16.8 UZR/150. … Third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall ranked 11th (out of 14) with a -4.6 UZR/150. … Second baseman Jason Kipnis was second in the AL in double plays turned (45) and fourth in assists (395), but his -6.3 UZR/150 ranked 15th (out of 16) and he made 12 errors (tied for the second-most in the AL).
Gomes gives the Indians’ some defensive hope behind the dish, and the club has the potential to be solid up the middle if Kipnis focuses on improving his defense and Bourn can return to his career norm. Shortstop continues to be an issue with Cabrera, whose highlight-reel plays do not make up for the continued lack of range. Prospect Francisco Lindor should help shore up that spot within the next couple years. The adjustment to right field seemed to be a slight issue for Stubbs, though he might bounce back with a year of experience under his belt. Chisenhall certainly has plenty of room for growth at the hot corner. Swisher turned in some impressive plays at first base, where he was solid enough in his first year for the Tribe.
There is so much focus on the offense, but it’ll be interesting to see how the Tribe approaches upgrading its defense this winter.