Outfield seeks history as four BoSox nominated for Gold Glove

(Photo: Billie Weiss/Getty Images)
On Thursday, MLB announced the 2019 finalists for the Rawlings Gold Glove Award, eventually awarded to the best defender at each position in each league, adjudged by a combination of SABR analytics and manager and coach vote. On Thursday’s list of finalists, the Red Sox appeared four times via breakout catcher Christian Vázquez and all three starting outfielders, Andrew Benintendi, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Mookie Betts.

At catcher, Vázquez started 138 games for the Sox and showcased a quantum leap in offensive prowess. He receives his first Gold Glove nomination after a career year. After a mental boost from both his manager and health in a confusing season for Boston, Vázquez earned recognition on the national scale, tattooing the defensive highlight reel and even being in the conversation for an all-star appearance after catching the league by storm. Vázquez finished the year with a 38% caught stealing rate, good for top 5 in all of baseball. Perhaps what stands out most about Vázquez's defensive presence to Sox fans is the ability to pick off runners, sometimes to end huge threats.

While Vázquez might be the first to tell you that his defensive versatility could still use work (with passed balls, pitch blocking and framing being skills still rough around the edges), the strides are noticeable and Vazquez has a golden opportunity to become the fourth Red Sox catcher to win the award (Carlton Fisk 1972, Tony Pena 1991, Jason Varitek 2005). The competition is Blue Jays rookie Danny Jansen and the MLB catching leader in defensive runs saved, Roberto Pérez of the Indians.

Meanwhile, the best defensive outfield in baseball finally sees the trifecta of Gold Glove nominations. Despite the offensive frustration all around the Red Sox outfield in 2019, they didn’t miss a beat with their arms and gloves.

Benintendi, whose greatest career moment till date is a defensive gem in October, competes with six-time winner Alex Gordon and new Athletic Robbie Grossman. Benintendi’s defensive prowess in a tricky LF spot was noticeable for avid fans — from playing the monster to perfection to hold runners to singles and throwing out runners when the arm was challenged, Benintendi’s hustle in the OF knew no bounds. There is nobody strictly more deserving of the award than Benintendi but if he does lose it, it’ll likely be to the pedigree of Alex Gordon whose future is in serious question.

The reigning MVP Mookie Betts did it all last year; in fact, the hardware he earned in 2018 could take up its own museum. After 2019, through six seasons in the major leagues, Betts is in contention for his fourth Gold Glove Award, stacking to an already ridiculous superstar resume. Mookie’s defensive persona fits the bill in every statistical way possible. The arm is elite. The speed is smooth. The athleticism is unearthly. In one of the toughest right fields to man 81 times a year in the sport, Mookie’s presence makes the job look easy. However, if you’re going to nitpick, might as well be at this spot since the competition is fierce. Betts is going up against two past winners who the Fenway Faithful have given a standing ovation — former Red Sox draftee Josh Reddick and highlight machine Kole Calhoun, who notably made one of the plays of the year at Fenway Park. While non-casual fans may have noticed glimpses of a lack of hustle from Betts in the outfield, he certainly made up for it in the record books with his freakishly athletic skills. He finished second in the American League in both defensive runs saved and outfield assists; the pedigree only helps his case to help him win his fourth straight gold glove.

Finally, on a team that has so much defensive talent, one can argue that the best defender of them all is the captain of the outfield, magician Jackie Bradley Jr who led the American League center fielders with 13 defensive runs saved in 2019. It’s no surprise anymore to any fan of the sport when Jackie appears on social media, robbing extra bases or throwing out runners all over the basepaths. It’s almost taken for granted that that’s what he does. In another position that is stacked with talent, Jackie certainly has the attention of voters — and Ryan Brasier, whose metaphorical life he’s rescued on multiple occasions. The only psychological factor that is up against Jackie to win the award again is that the finalist at CF who hasn’t won the award yet is some dude named Mike Trout. Voters are bound to just go ballistic at the fact that Trout doesn’t have the award yet. Trout and Bradley also compete with the king of flash at the position, Kevin Kiermaier.

While the Sox are fully capable of sweeping the four nominations and taking home four Gold Gloves, it’s not realistic to think voters will fully agree. While several teams have had four winners of the award in the same season, the Red Sox could still make history if the outfield sweeps the awards, since no team in the history of the sport has ever had three outfielders win the Gold Glove Award. Might as well before we know what his future looks like?

Winners of the Gold Glove Award will be announced during a live Baseball Tonight broadcast on ESPN on Sunday, November 3.

Follow the author at @AhaanRungta and read more here.