By Daniel R. Epstein
Rafael Palmeiro is one of only six players in MLB history to achieve 3,000 hits and 500 home runs, but his career is remembered as something of a joke for two reasons. The first is his use of performance-enhancing drugs to reach those milestones. The second really isn’t his fault. In 1999, he won the AL Gold Glove at first base despite playing only 28 games at the position and spending most of the year at DH.
MLB’s most coveted defensive award has a long history of dubious recognitions. It has improved since 2013 when they started collaborating with SABR to make the selection process more data-driven, but there are still plenty of head-scratchers. For example, take a look at these inexplicable finalists for Gold Gloves in 2021.
J.P. Crawford, AL Shortstop
Perhaps this is a case of inertia. When Seattle Mariners shortstop J.P. Crawford won his first Gold Glove in 2020, it was well-deserved. He accumulated six Outs Above Average (OAA) just by charging in on weakly hit balls, which led MLB. This year, his poor lateral movement counterbalanced his forward quickness, giving him zero OAA. Kansas City Royals shortstop Nicky Lopez led all MLB defenders at any position by a wide margin with 25 OAA— five more than second-place Francisco Lindor— but he was not a finalist.
Joey Gallo, AL Right Field
New York Yankees outfielder Joey Gallo is 2021’s Palmeiro. He spent fewer games at his nominated position than any other player (excluding pitchers). He played right field exclusively with the Texas Rangers but after his July 29 trade to New York, manned left field primarily. All in all, he only spent 83 games in right field— just over half a season’s worth. It just so happens his teammate Aaron Judge, who wasn’t nominated for a Gold Glove, earned this year’s Fielding Bible Award. Somehow, the Gold Glove voters think Gallo was one of the top three right fielders in the league even though he was second-best in his own locker room.
Manny Machado, NL Third Base
San Diego Padres third baseman Manny Machado has a reputation as one of the best defenders in the sport, but he hasn’t collected a Gold Glove since 2015. It’s a loaded position right now, as evidenced by his six Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) only ranking tied for fifth in the NL. Pittsburgh Pirate Ke’Bryan Hayes and Atlanta Brave Austin Riley finished first and second in MLB DRS at third base (16 and 13, respectively), but neither was named a finalist. Hayes joins Judge as the only two Fielding Bible Award recipients this season not to be named finalists for Gold Gloves.
Salvador Perez, AL Catcher
Kansas City Royals catcher made history this season, leading the AL with 48 home runs and 121 RBI and setting an MLB record for most home runs in a season by a catcher. He appeared in 161 games (124 behind the plate), becoming only the third backstop to reach that mark along with Joe Torre in 1970 and Ted Simmons in 1973. He already owns five Gold Gloves, but his selection as a finalist this year is incomprehensible. According to Baseball Prospectus’ Catcher Defensive Adjustment (CDA), he was the worst defensive catcher in MLB this season. His -12.9 CDA finished dead last out of 106 players. None of the AL’s top three in CDA— Los Angeles Angel Max Stassi and Texas Rangers teammates Jose Trevino and Jonah Heim— earned finalist nominations.
Daniel R. Epstein is the co-director of the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America. He writes for Baseball Prospectus, Off the Bench Baseball, and Bronx Pinstripes. You can find him on Twitter at @depstein1983.