Earlier, I took a look at the worst defensive seasons in Royals history. Those truly lead-gloved seasons brought back some painful memories, so I thought I should even it out by highlighting the best defensive seasons in Royals history.
The Royals have a rich history of Gold Glove winners and dazzling plays in the field. Here are some of the players that made that possible. Again, I used mostly defensive WAR (dWAR), by Baseball Reference, while also using other defensive metrics and subjective opinion.
Catcher - Salvador Perez, 2016
You could have also listed Salvy’s 2013 or 2014 seasons as well. Heck, his his five Major League seasons are all in the top eight in Royals history for dWAR for catchers. I chose 2016 because he threw out 48% of base-stealers, the best mark by a starting catcher in Royals history. He led all catchers in Defensive Runs Above Average this year, and he posted 2.0 dWAR, the third time he has reached that mark, the only catcher in team history to do so. Yes, he has issues with framing, but Salvy has been a pretty tip-top catcher behind the plate.
Others: Darrell Porter, 1979; Bob Boone, 1989
First Base - Jeff King, 1997
The Royals have fared poorly at first base in defensive metrics over the years, but King had a fairly solid glove having converted from third base early in his career. King was 17 Total Zone Fielding Runs Above Average, by far tops in the American League for first base, and committed just five errors. It was a good enough season that he probably should have earned him the Gold Glove over Rafael Palmeiro, who would be a full-time DH just two seasons later.
Others: Doug Mientkiewicz, 2006; Wally Joyner 1993
Second Base - Frank White, 1984
It should be no surprise to find out that Frank White was really, really, really good at defense. Ten of the top thirteen seasons in dWAR from a Royals second baseman are from Frank. Frank had to cover second base for the Royals when the stadium as covered in Astroturf, causing the ball to dart like a marble on cement. White learned to stand at the edge of the infield line, practically in right field, using his athleticism and strong throwing arm to cover a ton of ground.
I think his best season was probably 1984, a year in which he was actually overlooked for the Gold Glove in favor of Detroit’s Lou Whitaker, probably because the Tigers were a freight train that year. Frank was 18 Total Zone Fielding Runs Above Average in 1984, the best mark of his career.
Others: Mark Grudzielanek, 2006; Cookie Rojas, 1970
Shortstop - Fred Patek, 1972
Fred Patek, who stood at just 5’6’’, turned in what was the best defensive season in Royals history, according to dWAR, in 1972. In just his second year in Kansas City, Patek led all of baseball in dWAR that year with 3.2 and his 18 Total Zone Fielding Runs Above Average tied with Paul Blair for best in baseball at any position. He was part of turning 113 double plays, more than any other shortstop. He was named to his first All-Star team, certainly for his glove, for he hit .212/.280/.276 that year.
Others: Alcides Escobar, 2013; Tony Pena, Jr., 2007
Third Base - George Brett, 1977
George Brett began his career initially as a poor defender, at least according to the metrics, but quickly worked his way to becoming one of the top defensive third basemen in the league. He committed a lot of errors, but also shows more range than most due to a tenacious, almost reckless style of play that landed him on the disabled list frequently.
However he found the poor defensive reputation tough to shake, as it seemed people wanted to find something wrong with his game while he was terrorizing pitchers with his bat. Brett did not win a Gold Glove until 1985, when his glove was well in decline. But in the late 70s, Brett was one of the better defenders in the American League at the hot corner.
Others: Mike Moustakas, 2012; Joe Randa, 2003
Left Field - Alex Gordon, 2014
I still have to remind myself every once in awhile that Alex Gordon began his career as a third baseman. The defensive transition was not just flawless, it was exemplary, with Gordon shining as the league’s best. In 2011, his first full season in the outfield, he had 20 assists, tied for third-most by an outfielder in the Wild Card era. He had 34 more over the next two seasons. By 2014, teams were wise enough to stop running on him, and you could see how valuable he was by not even making a throw.
Since Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) became a metric in 2002, Gordon’s 2014 season is the best-ever by a left-fielder with 26 DRS. Not only has arm been fantastic, but he has showed considerable range for a left-fielder, a tremendous testament to his athleticism.
Others: Willie Wilson, 1980; Johnny Damon 1999
Center Field - Lorenzo Cain, 2015
The Royals have had some gazelles flying around center field, but Cain was the best. From 2013-2015, Cain had an astound 7.8 defensive WAR combined. Perhaps his best season was 2015, in which his exemplary defense, and the overall great defense by the club, was credited for carrying a mediocre offense and below average starting rotation to a championship.
Since 2002, only two centerfielders have more DRS than Cain with 68 - Michael Bourn and Carlos Gomez - and they have well over twice as more innings in center field. And it is crazy to think one of the best fielders in the game has never won a Gold Glove.
Others: Carlos Beltran, 1999; Jarrod Dyson, 2016
Right Field - Jermaine Dye, 1999
It has been a fairly thin crop for the Royals in right field, a position where teams typically hide their weakest defensive outfielder. Really, the best right-fielder in franchise history is....Lorenzo Cain. In only a handful of innings there in both 2013 and 2014 he eclipsed what others had done in a full season. The metrics would also make a strong case for David Lough, for his rookie 2013 season.
However I will honor Jermaine Dye, who had a bit more staying power than Lough. Dye was known for his strong arm, gunning out 17 runners from the outfield, with only Mark Kotsay eclipsing him for assists by a right fielder. But Dye also covered a fair amount of ground that year, finishing fourth in Total Zone Rating. His reputation lagged behind, so he was given a Gold Glove the following season in 2000, and in 2001, he would break his leg, hampering his defense for the rest of his career.
Others: Al Cowens, 1976; David Lough, 2013