The Gold Glove is, in theory, an award for the best defensive players at their position. It is an award that has been handed out to defensive wizards such as Brooks Robinson, Ivan Rodriguez and Ozzie Smith; players that have been true greats with the glove. However, much like other awards, the Gold Glove has been handed to those whose qualifications were dubious at best, such as the year that Rafael Palmerio won the award despite playing only 28 games at first.
With the Rays having built the basis of their run of success on strong pitching and excellent defense, it is no surprise that they would have several possible candidates for the Gold Glove award each year. Yet, even though the Rays finished with the second fewest errors in baseball, one player truly stood out while watching the Rays each game.
Almost every week, it seemed as though Yunel Escobar was making a play that very few shortstops would get to. He led the American League in fielding percentage at short, making only seven errors all season. He made the spectacular play seem routine, and even made what may have been the play of the year, when he ranged far to his left to snag a grounder, flipping the ball behind his back with his glove to start a double play. Even more importantly, he managed to solidify a position that had been in flux over the past few years.
Escobar may be better known for his problems in Atlanta and in Toronto than for his ability in the field. He would not be able to win the award based on name recognition, unlike players such as Derek Jeter. In fact, Escobar may not be the sabermetric darling either, as he did not rate highly in a lot of defensive metrics. However, Escobar’s case for the award goes far beyond what the statistics may state. On a team that bases a large part of their success upon excellent pitching and fielding, Escobar was a major factor in the Rays cutting their errors nearly in half from last season.
Yunel Escobar was a big part of the Rays success this year. Hopefully, that effort will be rewarded with a Gold Glove.