Perennial stars, newcomers nab NL Gold
Rollins, Molina repeat; Zimmerman among four first-timers
The best defensive players in the National League for 2009 were honored Wednesday, and while a host of young new faces were shown love for the glove, some of the game's highly vaunted and decorated veterans claimed their hardware, too.
The Rawlings Gold Glove Awards were revealed, and Jimmy Rollins, the Phillies' shortstop and heartbeat, headlined the list by taking home his third straight award. Rollins' teammate, center fielder Shane Victorino, Padres first baseman Adrian Gonzalez and Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina also repeated as Gold Glove Award winners.
The Phillies, Cardinals and Dodgers each had two winners, with Rollins and Victorino, St. Louis pitcher Adam Wainwright and Molina, and Los Angeles second baseman Orlando Hudson and outfielder Matt Kemp.
Wainwright and Kemp were two of the four first-time winners, with Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman and Astros outfielder Michael Bourn also being honored.
Rollins, the vocal leader of the NL champions and the catalyst of their offense and defense, ranked as average in Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR), with a score of 2.7, and Range Factor (RF), where he scored 3.9, but voters clearly liked his Gold Glove resume and his .990 fielding percentage, the best at his position in the Major Leagues.
UZR, developed by FanGraphs, determines the number of runs above or below average a fielder is by combining his rankings in "range runs," which quantifies how well a fielder is able to get to balls hit in his vicinity, and "error runs," which takes into account how many errors a fielder makes compared to an average fielder at the same position on the same amount of balls in play. Range factor, meanwhile, was first developed in 1977 by statistician Bill James, and it represents the number of successful plays a fielder makes per game by combining putouts and assists and dividing that number by innings played.
Old-school Phillies manager Charlie Manuel might not know a lot about UZR or RF, but he knows good defense when he sees it.
"When Jimmy is right offensively," Manuel said, "with the way he plays defense, that's what makes him one of the best players in the game."
While Rollins now has his third Gold Glove, Hudson did him one better, nabbing a fourth in voting by NL managers and coaches, who could not select players on their own teams.
The man known as "O-Dog," who also won the Senior Circuit hardware in 2006 and 2007 while with the D-backs and landed another award in the American League while with the Blue Jays in '05, was stingy in the field again in 2009, making eight errors in 692 chances for the highest fielding percentage (.988) of his career.
Gonzalez won for the second straight year at first base after appearing in 156 games at the position this season, committing seven errors in 1,367 total chances for a .995 fielding percentage.
While his RF of 8.7 put him in the middle of the pack among NL first basemen, Gonzalez led the league in UZR with 3.8, tied for third among NL first basemen in games played and ranked fourth in innings, and his 136 assists ranked second among all Major League first basemen.
"Defense is something where you help your teammates out a little bit more [than offense]," Gonzalez said. "So [to be honored] for that ... just feels better because it's more of a team concept, rather than just what you can do at the plate."
One of the least surprising honorees was Molina, who seized his second straight Gold Glove after making only five errors in 971 total chances (.995), throwing out 40.7 percent of would-be base-stealers, leading the Majors with eight pickoffs and compiling a 3.48 catcher's ERA.
Molina, who started the All-Star Game at home, made 136 starts in 2009, the most by a Cardinals catcher since Ted Simmons (139) in 1977, and he caught 1,176.2 innings, the second-most in the Majors.
Victorino rode the wave of momentum from another sterling defensive campaign that saw him make his first All-Star team. He made only one error in 345 chances a year after making two in 323 chances. That was good for a fielding percentage of .997.
At third base, Zimmerman completed one of the most well-rounded individual seasons in baseball by winning his first Gold Glove. Zimmerman, who made his first All-Star team and batted .292 with 33 home runs and 106 RBIs, led all NL third basemen in total chances (MLB-best 459), assists (an MLB-high 325), range factor per game (2.97) and games started (153). Zimmerman's 18.1 UZR and 2.9 RF also led NL third basemen.
"It's a huge honor," Zimmerman said. "I think I've been thought of as a defensive player since I got drafted, and to finally win one ... is one of the biggest individual honors you can get."
Bourn, 26, excited the Minute Maid Park crowd all season with diving plays, had 11 assists, a solid UZR of 8.6 and a .992 fielding percentage. He tied for sixth among NL outfielders in games, while ranking third in total chances (385) and putouts (371).
"Michael is a difference-maker in center field," Astros general manager Ed Wade said. "His range, routes and instincts are unbelievable. It's tough to quantify how many runs he saves with his defense. This won't be Michael's last Gold Glove. We're fortunate to have him."
The Dodgers are fortunate to have Kemp, who received the ultimate defensive recognition for his 14 outfield assists, which ranked second in the league, and for making only two errors in 393 chances (.995). Kemp, 25, logged 1,355 1/3 innings in center field, more than any other Dodgers center fielder in a Gold Glove season.
And speaking of logging tons of innings, that's likely what led to the selection of Wainwright as the final member of the NL Gold Glove team. Wainwright threw a league-best 233 innings, didn't make a single error in 56 chances and nabbed the first Gold Glove in this A.G.M. (After Greg Maddux) era.
The big right-hander also combined with his catcher, Molina, to make up the first Gold Glove battery combination since Kenny Rogers and Ivan Rodriguez accomplished the feat for the Detroit Tigers in 2006.
Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.