Ozzie Smith won 13 Gold Gloves during his Hall of Fame career.
Defense wins championships. Well maybe not in baseball. Still, as the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays, the 2009 Seattle Mariners, and the 2010 San Diego Padres have shown us, a good defense goes a long way in today's game.
Defense is the unappreciated side of the game. You don't see players winning MVP awards for their defensive play. Fielding wizards like Carl Crawford often fly under the radar, their offensive game attracting much more attention than their rare defensive skills.
Still, once a year all eyes are on the fielders. Every November managers and coaches in each league honor one player at each position as the top defender in his league.
Which American League players deserve to take home the hardware? Well...
It's always difficult to evaluate the defensive contributions of a catcher. Given their responsibilities on and off the field calling pitches and managing a pitching staff, their impact cannot be quantified and often cannot be observed.
Lou Marson, who's batting average sits under .200 as of today, lost his job to rookie phenom Carlos Santana earlier this year. He's played under 80 games in the 2010 and thus might seem like a curious choice.
But Marson did start for a good portion of the season. He's played more games than most backups, and few American League starters have done enough to put them in contention in my mind. Despite not playing nearly as many innings as most starting catchers, Marson is second in the league in caught base-runners with 29. He's caught 41.4% of base-runners, far more than any other AL backstop with 70 or more games played.
Marson has 3 passed balls - a reasonable numbers. He also ranks first in the American League in Total Defensive Runs behind the plate, with a +6.
This award looked like Justin Morneau's to lose before his injury, and given his tremendous play the first few months of the season, he still might have a case. In my mind though, Daric Barton should be the front-runner as of now.
Barton has converted 84% of balls hit in his zone to outs, second in the American League behind Kevin Youkilis. He's also demonstrated tremendous range, leading the American League with 59 plays made outside of his zone.
His .990 fielding percentage might seem a little low, but this is mostly a product of his range. Given how far he goes to try make plays, the mediocre error total is not surprising. Barton leads all American League first baseman with 20 defensive runs saved.
The smooth fielding, smoother hitting Robinson Cano is having a great season and many, especially in the New York area, have suggested Cano should win his first Gold Glove award this year.
While Cano has certainly improved his defensive play over the past couple of years, four-time Gold Glove winner Orlando Hudson deserves to get "one for the thumb."
Aside from his defensive reputation, obviously a factor in the Gold Glove race, Hudson has performed well across the board statistically. For the fourth time in his career, Hudson led AL second baseman in range factor, a measure of putouts plus assists per nine innings. Hudson ranks fourth in fielding percentage, and leads in both Ultimate Zone Rating and Defensive Runs Saved.
Hopefully not Derek Jeter.
While 2010 has been a down year in general for American League shortstops, the Gold Glove award has a couple solid candidates. As of now, Ramirez should be the front runner.
The Cuban Missile leads AL shortstops in range factor, and in assists. He's converted 82.3% of balls in his zone, tops among AL shortstops, and made 59 plays outside his zone, again leading AL shortstops. He also leads AL shortstops in Ultimate Zone Rating and Defensive Runs saved. I think you get the picture.
Some, myself included, questioned the Mariners decision to move Chone Figgins to second and Jose Lopez to third. While Figgins has struggled a bit, the Lopez move has been a success. His skills are simply better suited at the hot corner.
While Lopez has made his fair share of errors, he leads all AL third baseman in outs made per nine innings, and per defensive game. He's also first in Defensive Runs Saved and Defensive Plus/Minus runs.
Lopez is second in the league converting 75.9% of balls in his zone to outs. He also ranks second with 59 plays made outside his zone.
It seems like the defensively conscious Seattle Mariners made a good move.
While Rawlings awards a Gold Glove to three outfielders at any position, I like to pick a winner at each position. Either way, Carl Crawford deserves some recognition.
Crawford leads all American League outfielders in Ultimate Zone Rating and is second Defensive Runs Saved. His Range Runs total is far and away the best in the league.
Crawford ranks first in the American League in left field range factor, the sixth time he has done so in his career. He also ranks third in assists and fielding percentage.
Jackson's .302 average and 93 runs scored might put his name in the Rookie of the year discussion, but his defensive play is special.
Jackson's range is incredible. So far in 2010, he's made 95 plays outside his zone, the most of any AL center fielder. Jackson also ranks second among AL centerfielders with five outfield assists. Jackson makes the easy plays too, converting 93% of balls in his zone into outs.
The Tigers rookie ranks first among AL centerfielders with 21 Defensive Runs Saved.
Ichiro has won nine straight Gold Gloves, and 2010 should mark the 10th time in 10 Major League season that Ichiro is honored be American League managers and coaches.
Ichiro leads all American League right fielders in putouts - the seventh time he has done so. He ranks second in range factor and first among American League right fielders with an out recorded on 92% of balls hit in his zone.
Suzuki also leads all Major League right fielders with 82 plays made outside his zone. Suffice to say, no American League outfielder can match Ichiro's range and fielding ability.
The 2009 Gold Glove winner guaranteed himself a repeat on opening day with the above play.