The Toronto Blue Jays made a conscious effort to prioritize defence last offseason. While that didn’t result in playoff success in 2023, five of their players received recognition for their stellar play in the field.
Rawlings Baseball, which distributes MLB’s annual Gold Glove Awards, has revealed this season’s positional finalists for the American and National Leagues. The winners will be unveiled on Nov. 5.
Among those finalists include José Berríos (pitcher), Alejandro Kirk (catcher), Matt Chapman (third base), Daulton Varsho (left field) and Kevin Kiermaier (centre field).
— Toronto Blue Jays (@BlueJays) October 18, 2023
It's the second straight year that five Blue Jays have been nominated at their respective positions, with Berríos and Chapman serving as the only repeat selections. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. won his first career Gold Glove last November.
As for which players from this season’s squad may take home the award, let’s explore the legitimacy of their cases to determine how they may fare this fall.
Other Finalists: Sonny Gray (MIN), Pablo López (MIN)
Nominated for a second consecutive season, Berríos remains in search of his first career Gold Glove despite long being considered among the sport’s premier defenders on the mound.
But could this finally be the year his drought ends?
There is certainly a strong argument for it. For starters, Berríos increased his Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) from plus-one in 2022 to an AL-best plus-five this past season, with Gray and López (+4) sitting tied for second behind him.
The 29-year-old also had a slight edge at turning double plays, which he did twice during the season. Gray only accomplished that feat once, whereas López didn’t record any.
Additionally, Berríos surpassed Gray and López in both putouts (15) and infield assists (26), adding to his case to claim this year’s Gold Glove.
Errors, however, might be where the Blue Jays hurler may lose a few points, considering he committed two while neither of the Twins’ top two starters had more than one. Still, that likely won’t be an overwhelming factor among voters.
As a result, Berríos should be well-positioned to add some gold to his trophy case next month.
Other Finalists: Adley Rutschman (BAL), Jonah Heim (TEX)
Despite a poor offensive showing, Kirk didn’t allow his shortcomings in the batter’s box to impact his fielding behind the plate, resulting in his first career Gold Glove nomination. Despite that, it’ll be even more challenging to become a first-time winner.
The Blue Jays backstop finds himself in an extremely tough field opposite of Rutschman and Heim, with the pair widely viewed as two of baseball’s most dependable defensive catchers. The numbers under the hood, however, should make this an incredibly close battle.
Kirk finished second in the majors in DRS (+17) behind only former teammate Gabriel Moreno (+20). Heim, however, finished ahead of his counterparts in overall Fielding Run Value (+13) — a metric that holds more significance than others.
That was largely due to Heim’s elite pitch-framing abilities, as he earned the third-highest value (+10) among big-league catchers. Texas’ primary catcher also featured a superior throwing grade, with his plus-three value tied for third-highest.
Kirk was, however, able to close that gap slightly with his impeccable pitch blocking, which ranked tied for the highest value (+4) in the majors. Rutschman placed a tad lower with a plus-two value, and Heim broke even at zero.
All told, the Rangers backstop appears poised to prevail by a razor-thin margin in a tight competition.
Other Finalists: José Ramírez, Alex Bregman
Chapman, a three-time Gold Glove winner and two-time Platinum Glove winner, has been winless since 2021 - his final season with the Oakland Athletics. In all likelihood, the biggest obstacle standing in his way of ending that drought resides in Cleveland.
Ramírez (+6 OAA, +4 FRV) ranked ahead of Chapman (+4 OAA, +3 FRV) in both Outs Above Average and FRV in 2023. The Blue Jays third baseman held the edge in DRS, with his plus-12 placing third in the majors and significantly ahead of his rival competitor, but it remains to be seen if that will be enough.
Range metrics skewed in slight favour of Ramírez, however, arm strength was easily won by Chapman, whose 89.2 mph average velocity from third base finished fourth-highest in the big leagues. Cleveland’s infielder, meanwhile, finished 34th in that category.
As for Bregman, the Astros corner infielder is a step behind his counterparts and as such is pretty easy to dismiss from this two-horse race. Deciding a winner between Chapman and Ramirez could ultimately go either way.
Other Finalists: Austin Hays (BAL), Steven Kwan (CLE)
Like Kirk, Varsho vastly underperformed offensively this past season relative to expectations, but you’d be hard-pressed to find an outfielder who put together a better defensive showing than the 27-year-old. Well, other than his teammate flanking him a few dozen yards away in centre field, that is.
Varsho led all major-league outfielders in DRS (+29), saving 14 more runs than Kwan and 23 more than Hays. He also recorded more OAA (+10) than them, finishing tied for sixth-highest in baseball.
The problem, however, is the former Arizona Diamondback logged over a third of his 1,280 total innings in centre field. If we narrow our search to strictly left field, it’ll show that Kwan led the majors in both DRS (+15) and OAA (+9).
It is worth noting that Varsho’s plus-12 FRV in left field was tied for the second-highest in the big leagues, with Kwan’s plus-eight tied for fifth. So that could swing the scale back in his direction.
Still, 18 of Varsho’s DRS occurred in centre, and that’s also where he accumulated nine of his OAA. He was among the sport’s top defenders, but when it comes to individual positions, he could unfairly get squeezed among the voting committee.
Right or wrong, that may serve as the defining element as to whether Varsho secures his first career Gold Glove in 2023.
Other Finalists: Julio Rodríguez (SEA), Luis Robert Jr. (CHW)
As competitive as the AL Gold Glove race was in left field this past season, the one in centre may have been even tighter between Kiermaier, Rodríguez and Robert.
The Blue Jays centre-fielder defeated both of his competitors in DRS, as his plus-18 was the second-highest at that position in the majors. But Kiermaier and Robert drew even in OAA (+12) and FRV (+12), with Rodríguez (+12 OAA, +9 FRV) just a hair behind.
Kiermaier (981.1) also finished shy of the 1,000-innings mark, while Rodríguez (1,342.1) and Robert (1207.2) both cleared it by significant margins — a feat that’ll surely boost each of their odds.
But at 33, coming off a 2022 season that ended prematurely due to hip surgery, Kiermaier deserves a ton of praise for recapturing his elite defensive form as quickly as he did. Few likely could’ve done the same, especially when it involved playing half the season on turf rather than a grass surface.
As such, it's difficult to envision a scenario where the impending free agent doesn’t cap off this remarkable bounce-back campaign by winning his fourth career Gold Glove.