The final four teams competing to win their respective league championships this year were the St. Louis Cardinals against the San Francisco Giants in the National League and the Kansas City Royals and the Baltimore Orioles in the AL. What was the most common element that set these teams apart compared to the other 26 teams in baseball? It was defense. The Orioles and Cardinals had the best defense in each of their leagues (based on Defensive Runs Saved). The Royals were third best in the AL, while the Giants were above average in the NL. Looking at batting and pitching of the four teams, however, only one team ranked as high as third in any major category (Baltimore, third in the AL in pitching).
Yes, Virginia, defense does matter. A lot. All you had to do is watch the defensive shifts that were going on in the playoffs or one spectacular defensive play after the other in the World Series and you would know: Defense wins games…and titles…and rings.
The importance of defense and of using analytics to measure defensive performance by teams and individual players came into its own in 2014. Baseball highlights involving defense are now a mainstay of baseball recap shows. Using defensive metrics such as Defensive Runs Saved and Ultimate Zone Rating has become well accepted. Even the Gold Glove voting has come around to using analytics as a component for determining the Gold Glove Awards. The Fielding Bible Awards, which are announced before the Gold Gloves each year and name only one winner per position in Major League Baseball (instead of two, one for each league), show how this brave new world of defensive excellence works.
In 2014, eight of the ten winners of The Fielding Bible Award were also the MLB leader in Defensive Runs Saved. The other two came in second. So it is now clear that today's baseball experts trust and rely on the fact that the new defensive metrics can truly measure defense.
And if you watched Lorenzo Cain go get ‘em in the World Series, you’ll be glad that for the first time ever The Fielding Bible Awards have added a 10th category this year: the Multi-Position award. Players like Cain who exhibit defensive excellence at multiple positions will now be recognized each year. The inaugural winner of this award is (drum role here)…the Kansas City Royals’ multiple-position defender Lorenzo Cain, who beat out Ben Zobrist of the Tampa Bay Rays by three points.
In this, the ninth year of The Fielding Bible Awards, five other players join Cain as first time winners Gonzalez at first base, Josh Donaldson (A's) at third, Juan Lagares (Mets) in center field, and a pitcher-catcher battery combination of Dallas Keuchel of the Astros and Brewer Jonathan Lucroy. Atlanta teammates Andrelton Simmons (shortstop) and Jason Heyward (right field) win their second awards. Third time winners are Dustin Pedroia at second base and Alex Gordon with his third consecutive award in left field.
The Fielding Bible Awards are announced each year in The Bill James Handbook, which comes out on November 1 from ACTA Sports (www.actasports.com) and contains almost 600 pages of stats and analysis on the various facets of baseball, including the lifetime stats of every player who played the game in the major leagues in 2014. “The Bill James Handbook is still the first-to-market, most comprehensive, and most insightful baseball reference guide,” says ACTA Sports publisher Greg Pierce. “Bill James and the crew at Baseball Info Solutions break new ground every year, and this year is no exception with their new Defensive Shifts Summary, a new chart of Pitcher Career Fastball Velocity Trends, a new League Stats Breakdown by Position, and expanded analysis of Instant Replays conducted in 2014.”
The 2014 Fielding Bible Award winners are:
Multi-Position – Lorenzo Cain, Kansas City Royals
First Base – Adrian Gonzalez, Los Angeles Dodgers
Second Base – Dustin Pedroia, Boston Red Sox
Third Base – Josh Donaldson, Oakland Athletics
Shortstop – Andrelton Simmons, Atlanta Braves
Left Field – Alex Gordon, Kansas City Royals
Center Field – Juan Lagares, New York Mets
Right Field – Jason Heyward, Atlanta Braves
Catcher – Jonathan Lucroy, Milwaukee Brewers
Pitcher – Dallas Keuchel, Houston Astros
A complete record of the voting can be found in The Bill James Handbook 2015