No relief pitcher has ever been awarded a Gold Glove. But just because something has never been done before, it doesn’t mean it will never happen in the future. Perhaps Gold Glove voters haven’t been presented with compelling arguments in favor of a fantastic-fielding relief pitcher. Or done the research themselves. I’m going to fix that, starting now.
My methodology: I reviewed defense-related statistics for all relievers who’ve pitched at least ten innings this season. I focused on assists, put-outs, rPM (plus/minus runs saved) and DRS (defensive runs saved). I’m familiar with the recent discussion about whether DRS accurately captures a player’s defensive performance when his manager orders the defense to shift. But pitchers don’t shift (at least not yet). So I am comfortable relying on DRS as metric accurately measuring a pitcher’s contribution to saving runs.
I also reviewed video of defensive plays made by the top ten contenders, as ranked by the statistics. I only reviewed those plays available as highlights on MLB.com. I did not review video of every game in which these relief pitchers appeared this season.
Based on the statistics and the video, I’ve identified three relief pitchers in each league as Gold Glove contenders.
Scott Atchison, Boston Red Sox:
Atchison’s been busy this season, throwing 31.2 innings out of the Red Sox’ bullpen. He leads American League relievers with eight assists. He also has two put-outs. Baseball Info Solutions credits Atchison with 2 rPM and 2 DRS.
Here’s Atchison with a nice play covering first base on a broken-bat grounder into the hole between first and second in the Red Sox game against the Tampa Bay Rays on May 25.
In two innings of relief in the Sox game against the Detroit Tigers on May 28, Atchison makes a nice play on a comebacker. It’s the third play in this video:
Ryan Cook, Oakland A’s:
Cook gained notoriety this season for pitching 23 innings in relief without giving up an run, earned or unearned. He’s only allowed two runs all season, in an inning of relief on May 28, in the A’s game against the Minnesota Twins.
Cook’s also been good with the leather. In 25 innings pitched, he has six put-outs and three assists. According to BIS, Cook has a 1 rPM and 1 DRS. Unfortunately, MLB.com doesn’t include any highlights of Cook’s defensive plays so far this season. But his PO/A numbers and his rPM/DRS numbers put him at the top for relief pitchers in the American League.
Fernando Rodney, Tampa Bay Rays:
In 26.1 innings pitched, Rodney has five put-outs and four assists. BIS credits Rodney with zero rPM and 1 DRS.
In two scoreless innings of relief in the Rays’ May 23 game against the Toronto Blue Jays, Rodney made two good defensive plays. In this video, watch Rodney’s play on the first batter and the fifth batter:
In the Rays’ April 30 game against the Seattle Mariners, Rodney made a nice play on a squibber in front of home plate to save a run.
Jeremy Affeldt, San Francisco Giants:
Yes, this is my second post in as many days discussing Jeremy Affeldt. Don’t worry, that’s likely the end of FanGraphs’ coverage of Affeldt for the rest of the season.
Affeldt deserves the credit for his defense, which has been very good this season. In 20.2 innings pitched, Affeldt has two put-outs and eight assists. According to BIS, he has 0 rPM and 0 DRS.
Here’s Affeldt making a leaping grab on a comebacker in the Giants’ May 17 game against the St. Louis Cardinals:
The Giants left-hander made a similar play in Monday’s game against the Chicago Cubs, seen here:
Ronald Belisario, Los Angeles Dodgers:
Belisario’s only thrown 14.1 innings this season, but already has one put-out and seven assists. BIS credits Belisario with 2 rPM and 2DRS.
In Monday’s game against the Philadelphia Phillies, Belisario pitched the bottom of the 8th inning with the game tied 3-to-3. He made this nice play on a comebacker to start the inning:
Wilton Lopez, Houston Astros:
Lopez leads the National League with nine assists. He also has four put-outs, in 30.2 innings pitched. BIS credits Lopez with 0 rPM and 1 DRS.
Here’s Lopez picking off Josh Harrison in the Astros’ May 11 game against the Pittsburgh Pirates, with the Astros leading 1-to-0 in the 8th inning:
In the Astros’ game against the Colorado Rockies on May 28, Lopez saved a run by grabbing a comebacker and throwing home:
One-third the way through the 2012 season, these relievers are the leaders in the clubhouse for best defensive relief pitchers. We’ll do this again at 110-game mark to see if these pitchers have held onto their leads or been surpassed by their bullpen brethren.