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Tampa Bay Rays Gold Glove Finalists: The Upstart and the Comeback

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The Tampa Bay Rays’ 2015 season has been over for a while, but awards season will give us the opportunity to talk about several of the team’s players a little bit more. Everything begins with the 2015 Gold Glove finalists, and two of them were Rays: centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier and third baseman Evan Longoria. A few other players had cases–Logan Forsythe at second base particularly comes to mind–but it is exciting that Kiermaier and Longoria have been recognized and at least one of them should be in for more accolades in the coming weeks.

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This year marks Kevin Kiermaier’s second Gold Glove nomination in two years in the major leagues, and it would be downright shocking if he didn’t come away with his first Gold Glove. Kevin Pillar and Mike Trout are also excellent defenders (and that Trout guy apparently has a decent bat, too), but they don’t come close to Kiermaier. Kiermaier’s 42 Defensive Runs Saved were the most ever in a single season, surpassing Andrelton Simmons‘ 41 from 2013, while Pillar checked in at 22 (14 in centerfield) and Trout at 5.

If you prefer Ultimate Zone Rating, Kiermaier was at 30.0 runs above average, Pillar was at 14.0, and Trout was at -0.2. And in terms of Fielding Runs Above Average, it was Kiermaier at 24.6, Pillar at 14.3, and Trout at 11.1. No matter who you ask, Kiermaier blew away the field, enough that he should also win the Platinum Glove for the American League’s best defender. The eye test certainly confirms that, as the following videos demonstrate. He was incredible with both his glove and his arm.

Ichiro Suzuki singled in the second of those videos to set up Kiermaier’s 100 MPH throw, and Kiermaier will hope to go on a Suzuki-esque run of Gold Gloves. Looking at his talent in centerfield, he has a chance to be a player who can win 8 or 10 Gold Gloves before his career is through. Kiermaier isn’t the hitter that Suzuki was, but it seems reasonable to say that he will keep hitting enough for his defense to be so valuable. Add in the fact that he made marked improvement on the basepaths this season, and the Rays have themselves quite a player.

Evan Longoria, meanwhile, will likely lose the third base Gold Glove to either Adrian Beltre or Manny Machado. He ranks third among the trio in DRS, third in UZR, and second in FRAA as he was an elite defender this season but not the best. However, that certainly isn’t anything to be ashamed of. Longoria had a down year at the plate in 2014, but equally concerning was his rough performance in the field–his UZR was -0.3. This year, however, he jumped to +7.1 and returned to being the reliable defensive presence that the Rays need him to be. Here were two of his top plays.

Especially with Longoria’s bat not quite what it used to be, his defense will be especially important. Even if he is just slightly above-average at the plate, an excellent glove will help him continue to be a strong starter at the hot corner. Hopefully his offense will keep rebounding, but the fact that his glove is steady inspires confidence that he will be fine at the very least. If he keeps this up, we have to think that he will eventually earn his third Gold Glove to join the ones he received in 2009 and 2010.

Next: Tampa Bay Rays: The Future of Evan Longoria

Pitching and defense has been the Tampa Bay Rays’ emphasis for a long time now, and here we see both the youngsters and the old guard making sure that the latter stays up to par. With Kevin Kiermaier and Evan Longoria leading the way, it will be exciting to see the Rays continue to dazzle in the field for years to come.

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