by Matt Wilkes

Evaluating the Gold Glove chances for Tucker Barnhart and Shogo Akiyama

Aside from Joey Votto, the Reds haven’t had many players worthy of award consideration in recent years. That seems likely to change soon, as Trevor Bauer is the favorite to win the National League Cy Young award. Cincinnati has two more players who could potentially win a major award, as catcher Tucker Barnhart and left fielder Shogo Akiyama were finalists for the NL Gold Glove awards at their respective positions. Could they potentially join Bauer as award winners?

Note: Gold Glove winners will be based on the SABR Defensive Index rather than managers and coaches. This is because the regionalized schedule prevented staffs from evaluating every team in their leagues. Here’s a rundown of the SABR Defensive Index:

The SABR Defensive Index is a measure of the number of runs saved by a player’s defensive performance over the course of a season, compared to the average defensive player at that position. The SDI combines measures from five (5) different defensive data sources and includes factors that rate the defenders arm strength and accuracy, range and his sure-handedness, along with the number of “excellent” and “poor” fielding plays he makes. The SDI also incorporates a rating for a player’s ability to turn double plays (2B and SS), fielding bunts (primarily P, C, 3B, and 1B) and scoops of throws in the dirt (1B). For catchers, blocking balls in the dirt and stolen bases/caught stealing are also included. For pitchers, the SDI includes his ability to hold runners on base and control the running game.

Tucker Barnhart

Other finalists: Willson Contreras (Cubs) and Jacob Stallings (Pirates)

Barnhart is vying for his second career Gold Glove after previously winning the award in 2017. While he was below average offensively, he still posted a 0.8 fWAR — better than his 2019 output — on the back of his strong defense. The 29-year-old put up a strong season by almost any defensive metric, old or new.

He didn’t commit an error behind the plate and threw out 36.4% of would-be base-stealers, third among NL catchers and ahead of the other two finalists. Contreras was just behind at 34.6%, while Stallings was at 33.3%. Although he has a below average throwing arm and pop time, Barnhart’s throwing accuracy makes up the difference. Using Stolen Base Runs Above Average — which takes out factors a catcher can’t control, such as a pitcher’s time to the plate and the speed of the runner — Barnhart ranked second in baseball and tied for first in the NL with Contreras.

Barnhart led all catchers in defensive runs saved (9), which is a comprehensive defensive statistic that accounts for a catcher’s ability to throw out baserunners, frame pitches, block pitches, and field bunts. Stallings is second (7), while Contreras is barely above average (1).

Few are better than Barnhart at blocking pitches in the dirt. He ranked second in baseball in Blocking Runs, a statistic by Baseball Prospectus that attempts to measure how many runs a catcher saves during a season by blocking errant pitches. Unfortunately for Barnhart and his Gold Glove chances, Stallings is the catcher atop the leaderboard.

Framing is one area where Barnhart is a clear third behind Contreras and Stallings. While he’s gone from one of the worst framers in the league in 2018 to an above-average framer the last two seasons, Barnhart still isn’t in elite territory. He ranks 13th in FanGraphs’ pitch framing metric, while Contreras is 11th and Stallings is 7th. Per Baseball Savant’s pitch framing metric (Extra Runs From Strikes), Barnhart (1) is just behind Stallings and Contreras (2).

Although he ranked slightly behind Stallings and Contreras in framing and trailed Stallings in blocking, Barnhart’s overall defensive game — as evidenced by his lead in DRS — gives him a legitimate shot at becoming the Reds’ first multi-Gold Glove winner at catcher since Johnny Bench.

Shogo Akiyama

Other finalists: Tyler O’Neill (Cardinals) and David Peralta (Diamondbacks)

After racking up the NPB equivalent to the Gold Glove numerous times in his career, Akiyama is a finalist in his first year as a major-leaguer at a position he was largely unfamiliar with. Akiyama was a centerfielder in Japan, but seamlessly transitioned to left field with the Reds. He seeks to become the first Reds outfielder since Eric Davis in 1989 to win a Gold Glove.

Like Barnhart, Akiyama fared well in traditional and advanced metrics. He didn’t commit an error and racked up two outfield assists. Akiyama finished third among all left fielders with 4 DRS, trailing co-finalist Tyler O’Neill (9) and the Pirates’ Bryan Reynolds (5). David Peralta, the other co-finalist, was a below-average fielder via DRS (-1). For outfielders, DRS is primarily a measure of range and arm strength.

Statcast improved upon DRS with Outs Above Average (OAA), which helps remove human error and measures how many plays an outfielder made or did not make compared to the average outfielder using metrics such as exit velocity and launch angle. Among left fielders, Akiyama finished tied for fourth in baseball and second in the NL at 1 OAA. O’Neill led baseball at 4 OAA, while Peralta was tied with Akiyama at 1.

Akiyama’s throwing arm also rated as above average. FanGraphs uses a metric called rARM, or Outfield Arm Runs Saved, which “evaluates an outfielder’s throwing arm based on how often runner advance on base hits and are thrown out trying to take extra bases.” The Reds left fielder finished tied for second in the NL at 1 rARM along with O’Neill. Peralta was worth 0 rARM.

Despite an impressive debut season filled with highlight-reel catches, Akiyama is unlikely to beat out O’Neill, who was very clearly the best left fielder in baseball. Fortunately for Akiyama, he should at least finish ahead of Peralta based on the metrics.

Photo Credit: Hayden Schiff

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Matt got hooked on Reds baseball after attending his first game in Cinergy Field at 6 years old, and he hasn’t looked back. As a kid, he was often found imitating his favorite players — Ken Griffey Jr., Adam Dunn, Sean Casey, and Austin Kearns — in the backyard. When he finally went inside, he was leading the Reds to 162-0 seasons in MVP Baseball 2005 or keeping stats for whatever game was on TV. He started writing about baseball in 2014 and has become fascinated by analytics and all the new data in the game. Matt is also a graduate of The Ohio State University and currently lives in Columbus. Follow him on Twitter at @_MattWilkes.