Ian Desmond and Denard Span were named finalists on Friday for Gold Glove awards for their respective positions. Desmond, the stalwart leader of the Nationals infield, was named a finalist for the shortstop award along with Atlanta’s Andrelton Simmons and Colorado’s Troy Tulowitzki. Span, the in his first season in Washington, was selected as a finalist for his perfect fielding record and tremendous range in center field and will be pitted against Milwaukee’s Carlos Gomez and Pittsburgh’s Andrew McCutchen.
Desmond is a finalist for the award for the second straight season, losing last season to Philadelphia’s Jimmy Rollins. Desmond, 28, made large strides defensively in 2012, committing only 15 errors and making both the routine and difficult plays. He began this season shaky, but settled down. At one point, he reeled off a 59-game errorless streak. He finished with 20 errors, second most among NL shortstops, but still exhibited excellent range and a strong arm.
Desmond finished with a 4.4 UZR score, fifth among qualifying NL shortstops. Simmons is the favorite for the award, regarded as the best defensive shortstop in baseball and also posting high marks in advanced metrics. Simmons saved 41 more runs than the average defender, according to Baseball-Reference.com, while Desmond saved three fewer runs than the average defender. Simmons also posted a 24.6 UZR, by far the best at his position.
Span, 29, was a new addition to the Nationals this season, the leadoff hitter and center fielder that the General Manager Mike Rizzo long coveted. Span had a strong reputation as a defender with the Minnesota Twins, and he lived up to it in Washington. Among center fielders with at least 1,000 innings, he was the only one in baseball to post a spotless fielding percentage of 1.000 and commit no errors. He saved three more runs than the average defender and posted a 10.2 UZR score, third best among NL center fielders.
Despite being a strong defender throughout his career, this was the first time Span has been named a finalist for the Gold Glove award.
“It’s definitely an honor to be recognized for all my hard work,” he said. “I’ve been playing center field for a long time and I’ve put a lot of work and time in what I do out there defensively, all my game actually, but especially defensively. But being mentioned as one of the top center fielders in the league is unbelievable.”
Span made such good reads and jumps that he was rarely caught out of position on a play, thus making it look effortless by gliding to the ball and he didn’t have to dive much. Span displayed tremendous range and an ability to make difficult, game-changing catches. McCutchen won the award last season and posted a 6.9 UZR score and saved seven runs. Gomez, perhaps the favorite, had a breakout season and posted a 24.4 UZR score and saved 38 more runs than the average defender.
While some advanced metrics may favor the other two defenders in some categories, especially Gomez, Span’s fielding percentage shouldn’t be overlooked. He played a demanding position and didn’t commit a single error. McCutchen made six and Gomez committed five.
“I look at those two guys and they’re great center fielders and they did things I didn’t do as far as offensive numbers, maybe both arguably MVP candidates,” Span said. “But I look at what I did, as far as no errors. I was talking with Randy Knorr and he said, ‘You were perfect.’ That, to me, if that doesn’t warrant a Gold Glove I don’t what does, especially with the naked eye. Hopefully they take that into consideration.”
Rawlings will announced the winners at 8 p.m. on Tuesday on ESPN2. Managers and coaches cast votes from a pool of qualified players in their league, but not for their own players. And for the first time in the award’s 57-year history, Rawlings is collaborating with the Society of American Baseball Research (SABR) and an advanced statistic (the SABR Defensive Index) will account for about 25 percent of the total vote.