There are some pretty big shoes to fill for defensive second basemen in Kansas City. Royals Hall of Famer Frank White won eight Gold Glove awards (it should have been nine, HAROLD REYNOLDS) setting a high bar in this town. Mark Grudzielanek was the last Royals second baseman to win a Gold Glove, taking it home in 2006, but the club may have another candidate this year with Nicky Lopez.
In his first full season, Lopez has impressed Royals coaches, including manager Mike Matheny, who has already begun stumping for some hardware for his second baseman.
Mike Matheny continues to rave about the defense that second baseman Nicky Lopez displays. Lopez made another spectacular play last night. And Matheny is on the campaign trail for Lopez to win a Gold Glove this year: "I haven't seen anyone better."— Jeffrey Flanagan (@FlannyMLB) September 19, 2020
Lopez may have passed Matheny’s eye test, but what do the analytics say?
Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) uses play-by-play data to evaluate a defender’s contributions in comparison to how an average fielder at that position would perform. Of the twelve fielders with at least 250 innings at second base this year, Lopez ranked third in UZR, behind only Cleveland’s Cesar Hernandez and Detroit’s Jonathan Schoop.
But if you look into the numbers, Lopez looks even more impressive. He tops all AL second baseman in Error Runs, meaning he commits far fewer errors than his peers at second base. He led AL second basemen in Out of Zone Plays Made (OOZ), meaning Lopez made more plays on balls outside a traditional second baseman’s zone. He also led the league in Defensive Runs Saved by a second basemen - in fact he was tied for third among all defenders.
Looking even closer at Statcast data, Lopez continues to shine. He leads all second baseman in Statcast Outs Above Average (OAA), a metric that uses Statcast tracking data to determine how many outs each fielder is saving. Statcast has him in the 97th percentile in OAA.
Who could stand between Lopez and his first Gold Glove? Last year’s winner, Yolmer Sanchez, was let go by the White Sox, let go by the Giants, and returned to the White Sox to appear in just 11 games. Houston’s Jose Altuve and New York’s D.J. LeMahieu were the other finalists, although mostly on the strength of their bats, an odd way of selecting an award based on defense. Altuve was probably the worst defensive second baseman last season and wasn’t much better this year. LeMahieu was pretty average defensively, but his bat and playing for the big-media market Yankees could make him a finalist. Cleveland’s Cesar Hernandez and Detroit’s Jonathan Schoop are probably the greatest threat to Lopez if you go only by the defensive metrics.
Nicky Lopez may have to show some more improvement with his bat, but for now, his glove seems among the best in baseball. Hopefully voters can look past his offense and give him the accolades he deserves this year.