AL Gold Glove Favorites at Each Position
As the 2012 season approaches, we can expect to see the American League's best fielders put on another great show on the baseball diamond. Last season's AL voting featured heavy competition at almost every position, and don't be surprised to see the same in 2012.
With some Gold Glove streaks ending over this past season—such as Ichiro Suzuki, Joe Mauer and Torii Hunter—it should be fun to watch this year's Gold Glove battle. The AL exit of defending award-winner Mark Buehrle should also make the conversation more interesting.
Take a look at the the nine players I believe have the best shot at a Gold Glove award this season.
Pitcher: Roberto Hernandez Heredia (Fausto Carmona), Cleveland Indians
We all know him as Fausto Carmona, but there's a good chance there will be the name Roberto Hernandez Heredia written on a 2012 Gold Glove trophy. Heredia is more well-known for his pitching and identity theft, but he's a pretty slick fielder as well.
Last season, Heredia was a finalist for the award after posting a fielding percentage of 1.000 through 188.2 innings played. Besides his fielding percentage, his range factor and caught stealing percentage are also above the league average.
Heredia has fielded his position well ever since he broke into the big leagues in 2006, and I think that 2012 is finally the year that he takes home the award.
Catcher: Matt Wieters, Baltimore Orioles
Matt Wieters is not only the best young catcher in baseball defensively, but he also may be flat-out the best defensive catcher in all the MLB. The 25-year-old's defensive statistics were excellent in his third big league season, earning him his first Gold Glove award last year.
The All-Star's .995 fielding percentage was impressive as he recorded just five errors behind the plate for Baltimore last season. Wieters also blocks the plate as well as anybody in the league, allowing just one passed ball in 2011.
In addition to all that, he did a great job stopping the running game last year. Wieters threw out 34 of 92 runners attempting to steal, finishing the season with a high caught stealing percentage of 37.
The scary part is that Wieters is only going to get better. The Orioles have to be glad they have a player like him locked up for a while, as he continues to emerge as AL East's best backstop.
First Base: Mark Teixeira, New York Yankees
The AL East has dominated the Gold Glove award at first base in recent years, and Yankees' slugger Mark Teixeira is a big reason why. The four-time Gold Glover is an absolute ball-snagging machine at first and just missed out on another Gold Glove last year.
Teixeira was outvoted by division rival Adrian Gonzalez, another stellar defender who also has a great shot at another Gold Glove this season. Both Teixeira and Gonzalez posted a .997 fielding percentage in 2011, as the winner of the award really could have gone either way.
The numbers are very similar, but Teixeira's ability to scoop up errant throws and flash the leather on highlight reel plays will separate him from Gonzalez once voting time comes.
Second Base: Dustin Pedroia, Boston Red Sox
It's safe to say that Dustin Pedroia has been the AL's best defensive second baseman throughout the past five years.
The 5'9" 28-year-old made just seven errors last season, finishing the year with a strong .990 fielding percentage. In addition to a low error total, Pedroia lead all Major League second basemen with an outstanding UZR of 17.9.
However, the two-time Gold Glover will have plenty of competition for award. The AL East features two other talented second basemen in Ben Zobrist and Robinson Cano, who both should give Pedroia a run for his money.
Third Base: Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay Rays
I don't think it's much of an argument when determining who is the best defensive third baseman in baseball. Only Adrian Beltre, who took the Golden Glove last year, stands in Longo's way of true defensive domination at his position.
Longoria's .962 fielding percentage was solid but just a tad lower than Beltre's last year as Longoria committed more errors. Longoria knows that all he needs to do is keep the error total down to take home the hardware, because he excels massively in every other department.
You can bet your bottom dollar that Longoria will earn his third Gold Glove award this fall.
Shortstop: J.J. Hardy, Baltimore Orioles
J.J. Hardy was one of MLB's award snubs last year. The 29-year-old led AL shortstops in fielding percentage at .990, a whole 10 percent lower than the award-winner Erick Aybar.
Hardy is not the kind of shortstop who is going to make the nightly highlights, but he gets the routine plays done as well as anybody in baseball. He finished the season with an impressive UZR of 10.7, which dominated both of the other AL Gold Glove finalists.
Statistically speaking, Hardy was undisputedly the best shortstop in the American League last season. He just needs to keep up the consistently great defense, and he will probably earn the award that he deserves.
Left Field: Alex Gordon, Kansas City Royals
It was very tough for me to decide who should be the Gold Glove favorite for left field between Alex Gordon and Brett Gardner.
Many considered Gardner as a Gold Glove snub last year, but from a statistical standpoint it's hard to say Gordon wasn't deserving of the award. Gordon led AL left fielders with a .991 fielding percentage and demolished MLB left fielders with 20 assists, a number that was 13 higher than any other AL left fielder.
Gardner's argument is his ridiculously good range that dominates the rest of the pack. His UZR was far higher than any left fielder in baseball last year.
Still, I think Gordon's big arm advantage is what makes the small difference between them. Gunning down runners is crucial for outfielders, and Gordon did a terrific job of doing just that. Gardner has a below-average arm, which is why he shouldn't win the award if Gordon can repeat his excellent defensive performance from 2011.
Center Field: Jacoby Ellsbury, Boston Red Sox
It's hard to argue that Ellsbury wasn't deserving of the Gold Glove last year; the guy was simply the best center fielder in the American league.
Ellsbury did not record a single error throughout the whole season. In addition to a perfect fielding percentage, Ellsbury lead the majors with a 15.6 UZR. The 28-year-old All-Star can absolutely fly, getting to balls in the outfield that most center fielders can't reach.
The battle for the best defensive center fielder is always fun to watch, because it guarantees a tight competition with plenty of candidates. Detroit's Austin Jackson will likely make a good case for the award, as his strong arm and great range are starting to get a lot of notice.
Right Field: Jeff Francouer, Kansas City Royals
Jeff Francoeur and Alex Gordon make one great corner outfield combo in Kansas City. Francoeur already has one Gold Glove under his belt, and he'll probably make a run at another in 2012.
Errors were the only thing that got in the way of a Gold Glove for Francoeur last year, as his .986 fielding percentage was not amongst the league leaders. His defensive value really lies in his arm, as his 16 assists was an MLB best last season.
If Francoeur is going to win this award, he will need to reduce his error total. It's all about mental focus for Francoeur, as he clearly has the talent to be the AL's best defensive right fielder.