Incumbents looking to retain NL Gold Gloves
Past winners Rollins, Phillips, Molina facing competition
Defense wins championships in baseball, too, and as the game gets more statistically complex and experts look beyond the obvious acts of hitting and pitching, great glovework becomes more and more important.
Wednesday marks the annual celebration of fielding excellence in the National League, with the Rawlings Gold Gloves being awarded to nine position players in honor of their diamond diligence in 2009.
Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins, who took home this hardware in 2007 and '08, did his best to solidify his hold on the Gold Glove with a Major League-best .990 fielding percentage this season. His Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) of 2.7 and Range Factor (RF) of 3.9 rate him as average, but his sure hands likely will carry the day. He could get competition from the Dodgers' Rafael Furcal, who led all NL shortstops in UZR (8.0) but had 20 errors. The Rockies' Troy Tulowitzki, who posted a .986 fielding percentage, second to Rollins, also will get consideration. He has a solid RF (4.3), but below-average UZR (-1.2).
At catcher, the Cardinals' Yadier Molina is a near lock to earn his second consecutive Gold Glove. He was ranked first among all Major League catchers by The Fielding Bible, but could get a surprise challenge from his brother Bengie of the Giants, and Dodgers backstop Russell Martin, one of the most respected catchers in the league.
Mets left-hander Johan Santana, who won a Gold Glove with the Twins in 2007 and ranked the highest of any NL pitcher by The Fielding Bible, is the likely leader in the clubhouse. Although Cardinals right-hander Joel Pineiro, who led NL pitchers in RF (1.8) and turned three double plays with only one error, merits consideration.
Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips, who won the Gold Glove last year, finished the 2009 campaign with a 4.7 RF, 6.9 UZR and nine errors. He should be challenged by the Phillies' Chase Utley, who was ranked second in the Majors only to the Jays' Aaron Hill by The Fielding Bible and bests Phillips in both RF (4.9) and UZR (10.8). He had but three more errors (12) than Phillips. The Astros' Kaz Matsui, with a .991 fielding percentage, six errors and 5.0 RF could be a darkhorse, although his UZR (-1.7) hurts his cause.
At first base, 2006 Gold Glove winner and likely NL MVP Albert Pujols of the Cardinals has a good chance to regain his status as the league's best defender, but he'll have to beat last year's winner, the Padres' Adrian Gonzalez. Gonzalez's RF (8.7) is middle of the pack, while Pujols' 10.4 led all NL first baseman. But Gonzalez leads the NL in UZR (3.8) compared to Pujols' just above average 1.3. The difference could be errors. Gonzalez had just seven compared to 13 for Pujols.
The Cubs' Derrek Lee, a three-time Gold Glove winner, could be a surprise contender with a strong RF (8.5) and UZR (3.7) with just six errors. On numbers alone, he certainly deserves consideration.
The other corner position of the infield has intrigue, too, with last year's winner, the Mets' David Wright, looking like more of an also-ran this season because of an injury-shortened campaign. This should open the door for a battle between the Nationals' Ryan Zimmerman and the Padres' Kevin Kouzmanoff, both of whom can make solid Gold Glove arguments.
Zimmerman, ranked as the best third baseman in baseball by the Fielding Bible, led all NL third basemen in assists, RF (2.9) and UZR (18.1), but had 17 errors. Kouzmanoff set a single-season record for NL third basemen with a .990 fielding percentage (three errors), but trails in RF (2.2) and UZR (7.5). He got political help from his team when the Padres in September overnighted a DVD to the other 15 NL managers with a note that supports the team's push for him to win a Gold Glove.
In the outfield, it's unlikely that the injured Carlos Beltran will repeat for the Mets, but Shane Victorino of the Phillies has a good chance to win his second consecutive Gold Glove. Nate McLouth, who won a Gold Glove with the Pirates last year, might lose a few votes because he was traded to the Braves in the middle of the season.
That leaves an open field for the Nationals' Nyjer Morgan, who led NL outfielders in UZR (27.8) by a wide margin and posted 14 assists while committing only four errors. Perennial Gold Glove contender Mike Cameron of the Brewers had another strong season, leading the NL in RF (2.8) while posting the third-best UZR (10.0), but had only four assists.
Also in the mix are the Astros' Michael Bourn (8.6 UZR, 11 assists) and the Giants' Randy Winn (16.5 URZ, no errors), while the strong arms and solid defense of the Astros' Hunter Pence (NL-best 16 outfield assists) and the Dodgers' Matt Kemp (14 assists) could garner them support.
Doug Miller is a national writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.