Last year the St. Louis Cardinals won a whopping 5 Gold Gloves. You already knew that, though. The defense was historically great.
Somehow it finished second to the Texas Rangers in DRS (86 to 81), but nobody came close to the Cardinals in outs above average. The team finished the year with 41 and the next closest team (Astros) had 34.
We all know how things went after that. The team targeted pitchers who could utilize that defense. J.A. Happ and Jon Lester came first. Then came Steven Matz. This appeared to be a team that was building around it’s defense.
So, now let’s take a look at what’s happened to that defense. Player like Brendan Donovan, Nolan Gorman, Juan Yepez, and Corey Dickerson have all seen more time in the field. None of those players are known for their defense, although Dickerson actually won a Gold Glove in 2018.
How has the defense fared with the new acquisitions? How many Gold Gloves could this team win? Let’s take a look.
Last year, the infield was a real strength defensively as Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Arenado, and Tommy Edman all won Gold Gloves and had outstanding defensive seasons. Yet, somehow, two of the three have gotten even better.
We’ll start with Nolan Arenado because he’s been on highlight reels everywhere. He did this on Friday night.
I don’t know if there’s another third baseman on the planet who can make that play. As a matter of fact, I don’t know if there’s another one that would even try. Arenado isn’t just good, he’s daring. And that lets him make plays that nobody else would even think about.
How about this one?
Again, how many players would even attempt that, much less pull it off. The Jeter jump throw will alwaysbe iconic, but who tries it from there, in that situation? I can count on one finger how many third baseman have that kind of confidence.
Then, there’s this play. Arenado can make any play and any throw and he knows it. There are few things I enjoy watching more than him playing defense.
We’ve all seen the plays this year, but what do the numbers say? They say that Arenado has actually improved this year.
He’s won the Gold Glove every year of this career and the streak isn’t going to end this season. He has 17 defensive runs saved and 14 outs above average and both figures represent a sizeable improvement from last year (6 DRS, 10 OAA).
Only Ke’Bryan Hayes has a higher DRS total, but he’s tied with Arenado in OAA and has a much worse UZR. Arenado is also the better hitter and the more well known player. That shouldn’t matter, but it does when it come to Gold Glove voting.
I’m not yet convinced that Hayes is a better third baseman, but that doesn’t matter. Arenado will get Gold Glove number 10 this year and is in the running for his 6th Platinum Glove.
I want to discuss Tommy Edman next because he might actually be having a better defensive season than Arenado. According to the numbers, he is. Edman has compiled a crazy 19 OAA and 19 DRS this year. Unlike Arenado, he’s done it at multiple positions.
That’s no slight against Arenado. Edman simply deserves extra credit for playing Gold Glove caliber defense at two different positions.
Take a look at what’s he’s done at different positions this year.
Tommy Edman Defense
With a full season of work at either second base or shortstop, he’s probably a Gold Glover. At least, that’s what I would have said in the past. Now, MLB (or Rawlings) has given Edman an opportunity. This year, for the first time ever, there will be a Gold Glove award for super utility players.
The criteria has yet to be announced but I think we can just go ahead and give the award to Edman. I mean, he’s literally having a better defensive season than Arenado. His 20 defensive runs saved are more than over half of all MLB teams. Simply by himself, Edman would rank as the 14th best TEAM in the majors.
With his ability to play multiple positions, I guess you could field an entire team of Tommy Edmans. That team would probably finish third in the NL Central.
Arenado and Edman are elite defenders, but they’re really the only ones on the team.
Here are the OAA leaderboards to show what I mean.
Cardinals OAA Leaderboard
Harrison Bader and Edmundo Sosa are no longer on the team. Paul DeJong might as well be gone too since he has returned to the bench and seems to be stuck there. His days as a starter in St. Louis now appear to be firmly in the rearview mirror. With Edman playing gold glove caliber defense at short and Donovan and Gorman emerging at second, there’s not reason for DeJong to reclaim his former role.
Neither Donovan nor Gorman have been good fielders this year, but Donovan has been good at the hot corner and fine at first base. That’s a shame for him because the Cards already have some guys who are pretty good there.
To finish off the infield, let’s take a look at Paul Goldschmidt. If you listen to the broadcasts of games, you would think Goldschmidt is a great fielder. If you look at his past stats and Gold Glove history, you would have the same conclusion. Even if you watch him play, there are plenty of times where Goldy would look like a gold glover.
But then you look at his stats. I was surprised to learn that he’s actually been a bad fielder. And not just bad. Really bad. So bad that he’s tied with Juan Yepez for the second lowest OAA total on the team with -6.
I wasn’t ready for that. However, if OAA isn’t your jam, then DRS paints a rosier picture. He has 2 defensive runs saved, which is down from 9 a year ago, but still solid.
Either way, he shouldn’t win the Gold Glove but he just might do it anyway. Why? Because Gold Gloves are often awarded to the wrong players. Goldy may win the MVP award this year and has a history of strong defense. That might be enough for him to swipe the Gold Glove too.
Christian Walker deserves the win the Gold Glove this year and it’s not even close. I do think he’ll win it but I think Goldschmidt may get a lot of consideration.
We’ve now covered four of the five Gold Glove winners last year - Arenado, Edman, Bader, and Goldschmidt. The final winner from last year was Tyler O’Neill and he’s had a rocky season.
In left field, he went from 11 DRS and 4 OAA to 1 DRS and 2 OAA. That’s basically from defensive maestro to above average left fielder, though I should mention he has played roughly half as many innings as he did last year. Double everything and you get 2 DRS and 4 OAA.
UZR also isn’t a fan of his defense, so OAA is really the only defensive statistic where he’s as good as he was last year.
Simply based on the eye test, it seems clear that he’s having a worse year. He scores even lower on the eye test in center field.
He won’t be winning a Gold Glove again this year.
Now, I don’t want to be too hard on O’Neill. His injuries this year have likely slowed him down and played a huge role in his decline from last year. I’m not saying that O’Neill isn’t a Gold Glove caliber defender. I’m simply saying that he hasn’t been this year. And that’s understandable
So, it looks like last season’s total of five Gold Gloves is going to drop to two this year. It could even be less depending on the rules for the super utility Gold Glove and whether Ke’Bryan Hayes can unseat Arenado.
Add Nolan Gorman and Juan Yepez, then subtract Harrison Bader and Edmundo Sosa and it becomes clear that the 2022 has been a worse defense team than the 2021 team.
But how much worse?
The short answer is not much. The Cardinals are still 4th in the league in DRS (62) and and 4th in OAA (21). The Cards are no longer the best defense team in baseball, but top 5 is still a great consolation prize.
The team has also turned 50 more double plays than any other group in the majors. That’s due in large part to the pitching staff having the second highest ground ball rate in the league.
The defense may have declined this year, but everything is still going according to plan. Pitchers are getting ground balls. The Cards are turning double plays. The defense is elite. Adding rookies with underwhelming gloves has done nothing to change that. In large part, that’s because Arenado and Edman have been so good.
They are the focal points of the defense.
With Nolan Gorman/Brendan Donovan taking over second base and Lars Nootbaar having an iron grip on right field, the defense is no longer going to be elite at every position. The same can be said behind the plate as Yadier Molina is retiring.
That’s okay though because this is still a great defensive team. It’s just not as good as it was last year.
Sacrificing defense for offense has worked out well as this is now the second best offensive team in the league (according to wRC+) and fourth best defensive team in the league (according to DRS and OAA).
I prefer that over being the best defensive team and 14th best offensive team like the Cardinals were in 2021. They have found a good balance of defense and offense and haven’t been scared to incorporate players like Nolan Gorman, Brendan Donovan, and Juan Yepez.
The loss of some glovework has actually made this a better and more complete team. And this is still an amazing defensive team.
Writer’s Note: After finishing this article, Andrew Knizner did this to win a game.
Knizner’s base running made that a hard throw.
That got me thinking about the play that Arenado made at the beginning of September when he threw the runner out at home after throwing the ball over his shoulder. Here it is.
If Arenado played third base for the Reds, I think Knizner would have been out last night and that game might still be going.
Just another example of how Arenado makes plays that most third basemen can’t.