Once based largely upon fielding percentage and reputation, the Gold Glove Award has benefitted from the advancement of sabermetrics over the past decade. With so many more statistics to look at, voters have a much better sense of the true value of each particular defender.
As technology has increased, it is much easier to quantify things like range, as well as to combine the many facets of defense – such as arm strength, accuracy, and the ability to read the ball off of the bat – into individual statistics.
With all that being said, it is time to dive in and see who deserves the hardware at each position in the American League.
Catcher: Jonah Heim (TEX)
Catcher is arguably the most important and most difficult position on the baseball field, and Jonah Heim has separated himself amongst American League catchers by throwing out an impressive 40% of attempted base stealers. He leads the AL in fielding percentage amongst catchers and has only allowed two pass balls all season.
Additionally, Heim is excellent at framing pitches, a skill vital to the position. He leads qualified catchers in the AL in catcher framing runs, a stat that includes park and pitcher adjustments and converts strikes to runs saved on a .125 run/strike basis.
First Base: Nathaniel Lowe (TEX)
Nathaniel Lowe has separated himself amongst qualified first basemen as the best defender at the position in the American League. He leads all qualified AL first basemen in both Outs Above Average (OAA) and Defensive Runs Saved (DRS), the two most highly-regarded defensive metrics.
Lowe is particularly good ranging to his forehand side, which, as a right-handed first baseman, is important: balls hit to his left are those hit down the line and would likely be extra-base hits if he were not able to make the play. Turning these extra-base hits into outs is a huge contribution to his DRS and OAA ratings; those are the types of plays that prevent momentum shifts and keep his pitchers out of trouble.
Second Base: Andrés Giménez (CLE)
Andrés Giménez has had another absolutely spectacular defensive season and has positioned himself to take home his second Gold Glove in as many years. Like Lowe, he leads all qualified players at his position in both DRS and OAA, with 22 and 19, respectively. His Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR), which takes into account both range and arm strength, is also tops in the American League at 6.8, more than a point higher than the next closest second baseman.
Giménez is particularly good ranging to his backhand, where he has posted 11 OAA, stealing would-be base hits up the middle with regularity. That said, he also leads qualified AL second basemen in OAA ranging to his left as well. This ability to reach the ball no matter where it is hit has separated him from other second basemen across the league.
Shortstop: Anthony Volpe (NYY) or Bobby Witt Jr. (KCR)
The Gold Glove at shortstop will likely come down to a couple of rising stars who lived up to the hype (at least defensively) this season. The first is new Yankees shortstop Anthony Volpe, who leads qualified AL shortstops in DRS with 14 on the season. The youngster’s Range Runs Above Average, or RngR, is also tops in the league, and he boasts the second-highest UZR among qualified shortstops.
That being said, Volpe has committed 17 errors on the season, which is part of why his OAA sits at just 1. While that error number may keep him from taking home the hardware this season, his DRS and RngR have earned him a spot in the Gold Glove conversation, where he will likely find himself for years to come.
The other shortstop in contention for the Gold Glove is Bobby Witt Jr., who has had a true breakout season for the Kansas City Royals. Witt leads AL shortstops with an impressive 13 OAA on the season and has committed only 11 errors.
The Royals shortstop is particularly good to his backhand, posting an incredible 12 OAA when moving to his right. This is most apparent on plays in the hole between shortstop and third base, where his athleticism allows him to take hits away on balls that other shortstops simply would not be able to reach.
The only thing keeping this from being a runaway for Witt is his -5 DRS. However, DRS does not factor in range as effectively as OAA, so Witt’s number suffers from plays in which he might reach the ball but not complete the putout, while a shortstop who was unable to get to the ball entirely would not have his DRS lowered. Given this, and what we know about the distance he can travel thanks to Statcast, Witt has a strong case to take home his first Gold Glove this season.
Third Base: Matt Chapman (TOR) or Eugenio Suárez (SEA)
Matt Chapman has long been regarded as one of the best defensive third basemen in the game and has positioned himself to win his fourth Gold Glove this season.
The Blue Jay leads qualified third basemen in DRS by a significant margin with 12 on the season and ranks third in OAA. Chapman is particularly good to his backhand side, which, like Nathaniel Lowe, helps him prevent a lot of extra-base hits. Chapman is also very good on slow rollers, an important play for third basemen to be able to make to take away infield singles.
Another potential Gold Glover is Eugenio Suárez, who leads qualified third basemen in both fielding run value (per Statcast) and OAA.
Suarez is not necessarily someone who is known as an elite defensive player, and he actually has -3 DRS. However, his OAA takes into account his range more than DRS, indicating that he is getting to balls that other third basemen simply cannot reach. His 10 OAA, boosted by phenomenal numbers on balls hit softly down the third base line, have allowed Suárez to enter the Gold Glove conversation if voters are willing to look at his advanced metrics.
Left Field: Steven Kwan (CLE)
Steven Kwan has been absolutely sensational on defense this season, leading American League left fielders in both DRS with 18 and OAA with 9. Kwan is particularly adept at tracking balls hit over his head, and his ability to chase down these long fly balls and steal extra-base hits helps boost both his OAA and his DRS. Kwan’s burst, or his ability to accelerate toward a batted ball, is elite and nets him an extra foot of range compared to the league-average left fielder.
Kwan also has 10 outfield assists on the season, showing that he not only has an above-average ability to track down the ball, but he also has an elite arm for a primary left fielder. All of this puts Kwan in position to win his second Gold Glove in as many seasons since his MLB debut.
Center Field: Luis Robert Jr. (CHW)
Luis Robert Jr. has had an absolutely spectacular season and has been one of the few bright spots for the Chicago White Sox. While it was his offensive output that put the rest of the league on notice, Robert has also posted stellar defensive numbers, leading all American League center fielders in OAA with 13.
He has incredible range to both sides, posting 8 and 5 OAA to his right and left, respectively. This speed helps him cut off balls in the right and left center gaps, both stealing hits and preventing opponents from turning singles into doubles. Moreover, his 10 OAA on balls hit over his head is tops in the American League.
Robert has also posted an impressive 6 DRS on the season, and his Outfield Arm Runs Above Average, or ARM, ranks second amongst qualified AL center fielders.
Like so many players on this list, Robert Jr. is a young, rising star who is set to win his second Gold Glove, which will just be the beginning of what figures to be a long list of awards and accolades over the coming years.
Right Field: Alex Verdugo (BOS)
The Red Sox have a long history of outstanding defensive right fielders, due in large part to Fenway Park’s expansive right field. With so much ground to cover, the team has often looked to have two center-field caliber outfielders on the roster to help cover the ground in right, and Verdugo has played that role admirably. He has posted an outstanding 9 DRS and has a UZR of 10.3, both of which are tops in the American League amongst qualified right fielders.
Both Verdugo’s reaction and burst (per Statcast) are above league average, netting him an extra foot of range compared to the league-average outfielder. He is second in the American League in both ARM and RngR, and is tied for first amongst AL right fielders in outfield assists with 12. While he has come close to taking home the honor in the past, it seems all but guaranteed that the Red Sox right fielder will take home his first Gold Glove this season.
Utility: José Caballero (SEA)
When trying to find a defensive standout amongst American League utility men, José Caballero jumped off the page. He has played games at second base, third base, shortstop, and left field (as well as at DH), and this ability to be plugged into both the infield and the outfield provides invaluable flexibility for his manager.
Not only can he play anywhere on the diamond, Caballero excels wherever he is placed, as his 8 OAA have him tied for 32nd (with Javier Báez) in all of baseball.
To be ranked this highly is incredibly impressive, as most of the players around him have consistent defensive assignments at premier positions, allowing them the opportunity to rack up OAA. Caballero is also credited with 6 RAA (runs prevented above average) and has a 3% success-added rate, landing him in elite defensive company.
Pitcher: Logan Gilbert (SEA)
While there are fewer measurables for pitchers in terms of their defensive contributions, Logan Gilbert has separated himself as a great defensive pitcher over the course of the season.
The Seattle starter has not made an error on the year. This, along with his 19 putouts and 10 assists, has put him ahead amongst qualifying pitchers and has positioned him to win his first Gold Glove.
Stats and rankings as of September 29.