DENVER -- I have this crazy theory that the National League Gold Glove for second base should go the best defensive second baseman in the National League.
Last season, the decision makers chose to add a statistical element to the awarding of the Gold Glove. While I agree with Colorado Rockies manager Walt Weiss when he says that defensive stats are "mostly useless" toward making definitive conclusions, the new element may be the key for DJ LeMahieu overcoming what is his biggest obstacle: not enough people know who he is.
For too long, reputation and ability with the bat have played a role in the distribution of defensive awards, and as much as one can quibble with the specifics, at least defensive metrics attempt measure the only thing that should be a factor in making this decision: one's defense.
Nolan Arenado, who knows a thing or two about elite work with the leather after being named the first Gold Glove rookie at third base since 1957, notes, "Yeah [defensive] stats aren't perfect but it's great that they are putting more into the defensive aspect instead of saying 'oh, he hits well, so we're going to give him the Gold Glove.' And that's what it seemed like back in the day."
On the subject of how this might help his second baseman Arenado says, "He's a quiet player and a quiet guy. At the same time you have to respect what he's done and if you look at the stats, how can you not respect him?"
Okay, Nolan, let's look at the stats.
The only second baseman in baseball with a higher defensive WAR (fielding and positional adjustment) or better UZR than LeMahieu this season is Dustin Pedroia's insane 20.1 and 18.0 ratings. DJ's 11.8 dWAR mark is first in the NL by a wide margin. Chase Utley comes in second with 8.7 and Brandon Phillips behind him at 8.2.
LeMahieu beats even Dustin Pedroia for an MLB leading 19 Defensive Runs Saved. Pedroia has 16.
"Brandon Phillips is a great player and makes a lot of highlight plays," says Weiss, "but give me DJ every day of the week."
With a string of maddeningly frustrating and freakish injuries this season, the Rockies haven't exactly been world beaters, which makes them unlikely candidates when one first racks the brain thinking of who to award for excellence in the game of baseball.
DJ LeMahieu, though, has avoided the parade to the E.R. by not just staying on the field, but owning it.
"I try to be aggressive and not be afraid to make mistakes," he says. "I'm just trying to help out my pitcher the best I can."
Perhaps the most amazing thing about his outstanding production is that, technically, DJ is playing out of position.
"I grew up a shortstop and always watched shortstops so I just try to bring that mentality to second. I didn't really play that much second base until a little bit in college and now in pro ball and exclusively [at] second pretty much just this year."
He's taken to it nicely.
Being almost twice the size of most second baseman and being a natural shortstop, LeMahieu's game is much more in the mold of players like Cal Ripken Jr. -- or even DJ's double-play mate, Troy Tulowitzki -- but on the other side of the diamond.
The reason he lags behind Pedroia at all in the above stats is Dustin's phenomenal ranging ability. There is a natural trade-off between size and range so being behind only Chase Utley in the NL in that category (according to Fangraphs) is just as eye-popping as the stats he is leading in, all things considered.
As his manager put it, "He isn't one of those tall, skinny guys either, he has a big body and still has some of the softest hands and makes some of the best exchanges in the game."
He sacrifices very little for his size which is a tool that none of his contemporaries possess. This invariably comes from hours and hours of hard work put in years ago.
"As a kid I always liked taking ground balls more than BP. That sounds weird, I know, but I took tons and tons of groundballs as a kid. ‘Soft hands' actually has a lot to do with moving your feet. Our whole infield moves their feet really well and is aggressive going to the ball."
While on the subject of his teammates, when asked if chemistry and trust play a major role in playing good infield defense, he says, "Big time. I know for me, [when] turning a double play Tulo or Nolan can put themselves in a weird spot to catch the ball because they are so athletic but I know that they are going to deliver a pretty good throw and we've got Morneau over there picking everything so, yeah it's big."
"I mean I think it's huge when it comes to infield defense for sure."
So what are DJ LeMahieu's chances of winning a Gold Glove this season? I don't know, I don't sit in on those meetings. What I do know is that all the statistical evidence points to him at least landing on the ballot. And that could be more than half the battle.
"He tends to fly under the radar," Weiss says. "I'm hoping that this guy can win a Gold Glove this year. I think he's played that kind of defense and established himself at that position."
"He'll turn a tough double play for you in crunch time," the manager added. "I think people are surprised when they see him in person. He has great instincts, but the ability to read swings is very important as an infielder' it determines your range and it determines your first step. He always seems to be in the right place at the right time because he's moving on contact; he has the ability to read swings."
And that's coming from someone who isn't exactly a stranger to playing quality middle infield defense. Sure, Weiss, Arenado, and the author of this article may all be a bit biased but the numbers -- and more importantly, the results -- are rooted only in truth. Weiss has seen a lot of second base defense played over the years, so when he talks Gold Gloves, 'tis wise to listen.
My hope is that once DJs name is out there, the people who decide on such things will take a close look at the tape and see what Rockies fans have gotten to see every day: an incredibly bright spot in a dark and rainy season.
"The impact he has is that he's always consistent," Arenado says. "He makes the throws, he makes the routine plays, he makes the extreme plays ... there's no play that he doesn't make. He's great with his feet, he uses his hand well and he's just the best defensive second baseman in the game. That's what I think. That's what I think everyone else thinks, too. I don't see why he wouldn't be the Gold Glove winner, I think he's just as deserving as anyone."
Well put, Nolan.
LeMahieu isn't an offensive juggernaut and he isn't playing on a winning team this season, but you see, I have this crazy theory that the National League Gold Glove award for second base should go to the best defensive second baseman in the National League.