Rays Infield Receives Recognition for Defense

By David Hill

Oct 4, 2013; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Red Sox first baseman Mike Napoli (12) is forced out at second base by Tampa Bay Rays shortstop Yunel Escobar (11) during the eighth inning in game one of the American League divisional series playoff baseball game at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

The Tampa Bay Rays defense was nothing short of remarkable for much of the season in 2013, making only 59 errors all season, a mark second only to the Baltimore Orioles. Time and again, it seemed as though the Rays were making the spectacular play routinely. This season, the Rays made 55 fewer errors than in 2012, with a large part of that being being due to newcomers Yunel Escobar and James Loney, along with having Evan Longoria for the full season.

The performances of Escobar, Loney, Longoria and Ben Zobrist have now been recognized, as the entire Rays infield has been named as finalists for the Gold Glove Award. The actual winners will be announced Tuesday night, and will be determined based off a combination of the traditional voting by managers and coaches, but will also include a sabermetric component as well. Longoria will be going for his third Gold Glove, with Loney, Escobar and Zobrist each seeking their first award.

Winning a Gold Glove award would be a fitting cap to the season for any of these players. With Longoria, it would not only reaffirm his place as one of the best all around third basemen in the game, but help to accentuate exactly how much the Rays missed him in 2012. Not only was his production in the lineup sorely missed, but Longoria was also a steadying influence in the field, helping the Rays pitching staff immensely with his defensive acumen.

Escobar came over with the reputation of being an excellent defensive shortstop, and he may have surpassed expectations last year. He made spectacular play after spectacular play, seemingly topping himself at every chance, culminating with his astonishing behind the back glove flip to begin a double play. That play alone may be enough to get Escobar his first gold Glove award. Yet, beyond that, Escobar solidified the middle of the Rays defense, giving the Rays the type of defense at short that they had been lacking over the past couple of seasons.

Zobrist, who helped shore up the Rays defense at short last season, is starting to get recognized as one of the better players in the game. Not only did he make the All-Star game this past season as Jim Leyland‘s utility player, but his nomination for the Gold Glove award at second further illustrates his value to the Rays. Despite being utilized around the diamond, Zobrist still led all second basemen in fielding percentage, while ranking third in range factor.

Loney was another player brought in by the Rays in the offseason who was known for his defense, but like Escobar, he may have surpassed expectations. Loney continually made excellent plays around the bag at first, making the play on tough throws or finding just the right angle to throw out runners at second. Also like Zobrist, he could get a boost from the sabermetric component of the award balloting, as he ranked amongst the leaders in range factor and defensive runs saved.

One of the hallmarks of the Tampa Bay Rays run of success has been their excellent defense. Now, the Rays entire infield has been recognized for their defensive abilities.