A few days ago, Major League Baseball announced its finalists for the Rawlings Gold Glove Awards.
Here we see a few of the names we’d expect — Nolan Arenado, Matt Chapman, Sean Murphy, Mookie Betts, Matt Olson, Carlos Correa. They’re all great defenders worthy of recognition. Then, there’s Juan Soto.
The Padres outfielder is not a good defender. He’s not subpar. He’s well, well, well below average. In fact, in terms of Outs Above Average (OAA), Soto totaled -15 OAA in 2022, the worst mark of his career. Of the 38 qualified right fielders (some are listed as center fielders, but played considerable time in right as well) in MLB, Soto finished with the worst OAA by five runs. Philadelphia’s Nicholas Castellanos recorded a -10 OAA this year. After him, it’s Ronald Acuña Jr., who posted -6. Childish Bambino was almost 10 outs above average worse than the third-worst right fielder in baseball, yet somehow, he earned Gold Glove finalist recognition. HOW?!
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According to the Rawlings website, certain qualifications must be met in order for a player to qualify for a Gold Glove. For infielders and outfielders, the requirements involve playing about 7.5 innings per game through your team’s first 138 games. While there is a way to look that information up and determine which players were eligible in right field after each team’s 138th game, I don’t get paid enough to spend the next six hours of my life doing that for every individual player. Thankfully, there’s another qualification that states: “All infielders and outfielders with at least 698 total innings played qualify at the specific position where he played the most innings (i.e. where his manager utilized him the most).”
In 2022, there were 39 National League outfielders who played enough innings to qualify for a Gold Glove. Of those 39, 12 of them worked primarily as right fielders (Soto, Mookie Betts, Randal Grichuk, Hunter Renfroe, Nick Castellanos, Starling Marte, Daulton Varsho, Seiya Suzuki, Acuña, Luis Gonzalez, Lars Nootbaar, and Avisail Garcia).
Here’s where Soto ranks among every qualified NL right fielder in certain stats, according to FanGraphs:
- Outs Above Average: 12th (-15)
- Defensive Runs Above Average: 12th (-13)
- Ultimate Zone Rating per 150 innings: ninth (-2.7)
- Defensive Runs Saved: eighth (-2)
- Range Runs: eighth (-1.3)
- ARM rating: ninth (-2.4)
- Fielding Percentage: fourth (.990)
- Outfield Assists: T-ninth (3)
So, sure, in terms of pure fielding percentage, Soto was alright, but that’s literally the only category where Soto was above average among qualified NL right fielders.
I feel I should explain the ARM rating by the way. It’s basically a measure of how strong a player’s arm is. I can’t really tell you how Soto got a -2.4 rating, but I can explain why the number is so low. According to BaseballSavant, among all right fielders in MLB, Soto’s average throw (not including casual throws that were just lazily tossed back in after a single) when trying to throw out a runner was 85.8 miles per hour. That ranks him 40th among 44 qualified right fielders. The hardest Soto threw a ball from the outfield this season was 93.2 miles per hour. That ties him with Houston’s Kyle Tucker for 35th-best. The low velocity on Soto’s throws probably explains why he played the most innings of any qualified NL right fielder, yet still had the fewest outfield assists.
Soto isn’t fast. He doesn’t have range. He isn’t the most sure-handed, and he doesn’t have a great arm. He’d be the perfect designated hitter if he wasn’t so young, spry, and passionate about baseball.
I just want to be clear. This isn’t me ripping a new one on Soto. He’s legitimately my favorite player in baseball. That said, he doesn’t deserve to be named a Gold Glove finalist, and I’ll be damned if he outright wins the award. This would be a travesty on par with the Rafael Palmeiro disaster of 1999 or any of Derek Jeter’s Gold Glove Awards. The MLB managers and coaches can still do the right thing. I will forgive everything if Soto does not win the award. But, if by some unholy abomination, Soto walks away with the hardware, we should abolish the Gold Glove altogether. That’s how strongly I feel about this, and deep down, no matter how big a Soto fan you might be, you know it’s true.