The idea of a gold glove for a pitcher is fundamentally a weird concept. Pitchers very rarely make any defensive plays (except for you know, pitching), but they will occasionally run into the ball. However, pitchers only take the mound once every five or so days. This means that a pitcher will have less than one-fifth the opportunities (at most) that a position player will have in the regular season to have the ball hit toward them.
As a general rule, the pitcher will have very little overall effect on a team’s defensive capability. They just do not have enough opportunities to make an impact on defense. As a consequence, voters for the Gold Glove awards will have to make a determination on a pitcher’s defense based upon a very small sample size. A difficult task.
Notwithstanding the difficulty of the task, three pitchers have been nominated for the Gold Glove Award in the American League: José Berríos, Shane Bieber, and Jameson Taillon.
Why were these three pitchers chosen out of the myriad options available in the American League? Well, the answer is probably very simple. Based upon the defensive runs saved metric (courtesy of FanGraphs), they are the top three pitchers in the American League.
Bieber of the Cleveland Guardians leads the American League with three defensive runs saved. Taillon appears in second with two defensive runs saved, and Berríos follows in third with one defensive run saved.
Both Taillon and Bieber have a positive impact on their teams ability to get outs. They both have have positive one strike zone run saved (rSZ), which indicates their positive effect on a pitch being called a strike over average. At the same time, they both have positive two plus minus runs saved (rPM), which indicates that they both have good range and arm strength to field the pitching position when a ball is hit in their vicinity. Based upon these metrics, Taillon certainly seems like a good contender for the Gold Glove award. I am not exactly sure why Bieber has one more defensive run saved than Taillon, but it might have to do with the fact that he played 23 innings more than Taillon. This gave him more opportunity to save runs, or it could have to do with percentages that are not immediately obvious.
Regardless of the difference between Bieber and Taillon, does the eye test match up with what the advanced metrics tell us? The simple answer to this question is yes. Taillon fields with a calmness that belies the situation.
If you look at the short video above, you can see his ability to smoothly collect the ball in action. He finishes his pitching motion and immediately starts fielding. He doesn’t panic and throw the ball away, he just gets it over to first base without much ado about anything.
This ability is so important for a pitcher. Just think about a player like Aroldis Chapman. Every time he has to field a ball, you are constantly afraid that he will spontaneously light the ball on fire and throw it away. Taillon can just so easily get off the mound and field a ball that is within his proximity without any issues.
In addition to his calm demeanor in the face of fielding, he also shows solid glove work from the mound. If a ball is hit directly at Taillon, he seems to have a fairly good ability to knock it down or catch it.
By snagging the hit by Plawecki, Taillon managed to potentially save his team a base hit. You cannot really ask more from a pitcher. If you combine his ability to his good glove work with his good range from the mound, you have one of the best defensive pitchers in the American League.
Jameson Taillon was not the first person I thought of when considering who deserved a pitcher Gold Glove, but it seems like he is an excellent candidate. The defensive metrics and eye test line up to suggest strong defensive ability. While his calm demeanor defending can obfuscate his defensive ability, he has done a good job fielding his position. Is he better than Shane Bieber? I am not sure about that, but he is certainly in the running.