How Juan Soto is a Gold Glove Award finalist

The finalists for the Rawlings Gold Glove Awards were announced Thursday afternoon, and wouldn’t you know it, the Nationals had two representatives.

Well, 1 ½, you could say.

Victor Robles and Juan Soto (who is also representing the Padres) were named finalists in the National League in center field and right field, respectively. It is the second time they have been named finalists, with the former teammates both earning the honor in 2019 (Soto in left field).

Robles’ nomination makes sense. His 12 Defensive Runs Saved led all NL center fielders and he recorded an NL-high seven outfield assists. As discussed on Wednesday, he was by far the best defensive player on a Nats team that struggled in the field.

Soto, on the other hand, raises some eyebrows.

He had only three total assists throughout the season, two of them with the Nationals.

The advanced metrics were not in his favor, either.

Per FanGraphs, Soto had a -19.4 defensive rating, -2 defensive runs saved, -2.6 ultimate zone rating, -2.4 arm rating, -14 outs above average and -13 runs above average on the season. All of those rank near the bottom of qualified NL right fielders.

Keep in mind the Gold Glove Awards do not take offensive production into consideration. That could have helped Soto’s case, but this is a strictly defensive award.

So how did Soto end up as a finalist for right field?

It comes down to the number of qualified players for each position.

Rawlings’ official website details the criteria for Gold Glove consideration qualification:

“All infielders and outfielders must have played in the field for at least 698 total innings through his team’s 138th game: this equates to playing in the field for approximately 7.5 innings per game in approximately 67% of his team’s games by his team’s 138th game; this ensures that only full-time players are considered.”

The next line is specifically relevant to outfielders:

“All infielders and outfielders with at least 698 total innings played qualify at the specific position where he played the most innings (i.e. where his manager utilized him the most).”

In the National League, there were 25 qualified outfielders, including David Peralta, who is a finalist in left field despite being traded from the Diamondbacks to the Rays before the deadline.

Here are the NL finalists for the three outfield positions:

Left field
Ian Happ – Cubs
David Peralta – Diamondbacks/Rays
Christian Yelich – Brewers

Center field
Trent Grisham – Padres
Victor Robles – Nationals
Alek Thomas – Diamondbacks

Right field
Mookie Betts – Dodgers
Juan Soto – Nationals/Padres
Daulton Varsho – Diamondbacks

Varsho also qualified as a utility finalist.

Obviously, these nine finalists played the necessary amount of innings in their respective positions. That leaves 16 other qualified outfielders to be considered for Gold Gloves. Of those 16, only five played the most innings in right field: Hunter Renfroe, Nick Castellanos, Starling Marte, Seiya Suzuki and Randal Grichuk.

Even though it now makes more sense that Soto is a finalist due to a smaller qualified pool, the question of whether or not he deserves to be among the final three is still valid. Including him with those five other qualified right fielders, Soto ranks last in defensive rating, outs above average and runs above average, fourth in defensive runs saved, and third in ultimate zone rating and arm rating.

Realistically, any one of those other five right fielders could have finished as a Gold Glove finalist ahead of Soto.

So who voted for him?

Only the manager and six coaches from each team can vote on the Gold Glove Award winners. They can only vote for players in their own league and cannot vote for their own players (so Nationals and Padres managers and coaches couldn’t vote for Soto). They also vote for players at particular positions, not in general terms (so, specifically, right field instead of the general outfield).

And there you have it. If you were wondering how Soto finished as a Gold Glove finalist yesterday, it was more to do with a lack of qualified options rather than his unimpressive metrics. Blame the managers and coaches from the 13 other NL teams.

In the grand scheme of things, it really doesn’t matter all that much, as Mookie Betts is the frontrunner to win the award with 15 DRS.

But if by some miracle Soto wins, the Nationals would be able to claim just their third Gold Glove since the move to D.C. (keeping in mind Robles could also win for center field this year). Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman won a Gold Glove in 2009 and first baseman Adam LaRoche bagged the honor in 2012. There is no clear rule on this, but as far as I can tell, players who were traded midseason and won Gold Gloves have been claimed by both teams in their record books.

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