Since his electric, injury-shortened rookie season, Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons has established himself the top defensive player in baseball -- by a wide margin. In terms of advanced metrics dating back to the 2012 season, Simmons' 113 defensive runs saved are so far out in front of the next-closest player (Jason Hayward, 89) that a hypothetical player posting the difference between the two would rank 25th overall over that span.
Simmons is baseball's preeminent defensive guru, and while Tampa Bay center fielder Kevin Kiermaier is making a run at the throne, the 26-year-old Braves shortstop has longevity on his side.
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With this history serving as the backdrop, Simmons was surprisingly left off the 2015 National League Gold Glove team as Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford snapped the Braves standout's two-year reign on Tuesday night. The numbers did not support the selection -- and with advanced metrics accounting for 25 percent of the vote, this is notable. Simmons once again led all NL players in defensive runs saved at a premium position, finishing as MLB's distant second behind Kiermaier's absurd acrobatics in Tampa Bay's outfield.
If any player on the ballot deserved the benefit of the doubt, it was Andrelton Simmons.
Equally important, however, is this point: Crawford is a deserving winner.
This is not an egregious oversight by the voting body that hands down Gold Glove honors, of which it has made several in recent years. The Giants shortstop pieced together an outstanding fifth season, both at the plate and in the field, hitting .256/.321/.462 with 21 homers, finishing top-25 in wins above replacement among position players and tallying 20 runs saved. That last mark is most relevant for the Simmons-Crawford debate. Here's how the two stacked up:
Simmons: 25 defensive runs saved in 1,279 1/3 innings
Crawford: 20 defensive runs saved in 1,200 1/3 innings
Two fairly comparable seasons when calculating a useful, albeit less-than-perfect, statistic. Crawford is the first player not named "Andrelton Simmons" to post a 20-plus DRS season since 2012. (Of note: Diamondbacks shortstop Nick Ahmed, a former Braves prospect, equalled Crawford's mark this season. It was the first time since 2006 that three shortstops in the same league posted 20 or more runs saved.) Simmons was his typical spectacular self with the glove -- Crawford and Ahmed were similarly great as well, giving Simmons his first true competition over the past three years.
The National League shortstop position isn't close to the most curious selection on the ballot. Houston star Jose Altuve won the AL Gold Glove at second base, despite finishing 16 defensive runs saved behind Ian Kinsler of the Tigers. Even with the opposite shortstop award, Kansas City's Alcides Escobar won the award despite costing his team one run over the course of the season. Essentially, if any of the three NL challengers were in the American League, they would (or should) have been runaway winners.
(Keep in mind: The Braves were quick to point to Nick Markakis' AL Gold Glove with the Orioles after signing him last offseason, but his numbers lagged far, far behind the likes of Kiermaier, Daniel Nava (Red Sox), Lorenzo Cain (Royals), Brock Holt (Red Sox), etc. In short, as Mike Trout's trophy case can attest, the player with the best numbers doesn't always walk away with the award.)
There is a sense of denying history here.
Three straight Gold Gloves at shortstop would have put Simmons in hardware-based company with the likes of J.J. Hardy, Jimmy Rollins, Derek Jeter, Omar Vizquel, Tony Fernández, Mark Belanger, Ray Ordóñez, Barry Larkin, Dave Concepción and, the reigning king of such conversations, Ozzie Smith. Many of those names rattled off their runs in the pre-sabermetric era -- Jeter, in particular, benefitted from judging defensive players based primarily off fielding percentage and jump throws -- but, all in all, Andrelton Simmons deserves to be included in that elite group. His numbers more than back that up.
But Brandon Crawford is a deserving member of the Gold Glove fraternity, too. Those two statements are not mutually exclusive.
The biggest problem for Simmons' Gold Glove streak was not the award's voting body, it was the fact that he played in the ultra-competitive National League.