With the Yankees clinging to a minuscule chance of making the postseason, the team has understandably turned their eyes towards 2024, letting go of veterans in order to give additional playing time to the youngsters. That said, the year isn’t over yet, and while the team’s chances of raising a championship flag over the stadium seem about as likely as winning the lottery on a ticket found in the sewer, individual players have the opportunity to add some hardware to their own personal collections.
Gerrit Cole and his quest for his first career Cy Young Award after five top-5 finishes (including two times as the runner-up) has garnered the majority of the attention, but buzz has been building around Anthony Volpe’s chance at becoming the second straight American League rookie shortstop to win a Gold Glove. As Michael Kay noted on the broadcast the other day, his 15 Defensive Runs Saved rank second in the American League behind Wander Franco’s 16, and even ignoring the controversy, Volpe has time to improve that total while Franco does not.
However, Volpe’s case isn’t quite so cut and dry: his 1.0 UZR/150 ranks 7th among AL shortstops with at least 700 innings, and his 4 Outs Above Average ranks fourth. While DRS supports Volpe’s candidacy, UZR/150 would give it to Jorge Mateo, and OAA pegs Bobby Witt Jr. as the favorite despite his -2 DRS.
Which metric most accurately predicts the Gold Glove Award winner at shortstop? I set out to collect data on the last seven winners (going back to 2016, the first year we have Statcast defensive data). In addition to DRS, OAA, and UZR/150, I also included fielding percentage to account for the old-school contingent of the players’ and managers’ votes.
From this, I gleamed a few things. For starters, with the noted exception of Jeremy Peña last season, a shortstop needed to have a positive value at all three metrics. Second, having a double-digit value at one of DRS or OAA is a major help. Third, winning in a previous year makes it more likely you’ll win in a future year. And last, having the last name “Crawford” is apparently a major benefit.
As nice as this chart is, however, it only tells us what the individual player did, not how he compared to his competition. To gain that additional context, I reached out to my brother, who specialized in analytics while in graduate school. I compiled season defensive data from every shortstop with at least 700 innings at the position since 2016, which amounted to 25-30 per season (I used 200 innings for 2020, as that gave a similar sample size of 31). Then, he ran a multinomial logistic regression analysis on it, which spit back the following data:
So, a little bit of basic statistics in case you’re unfamiliar, and I apologize in advance to any statistician who actually understands what these terms mean, as I am explaining them in mostly laymen’s terms. In essence, P-Value tells you how significant the correlation is between the statistic (in this case, DRS, OAA, Fldg %, and UZR/150) and the result (in this case, winning the Gold Glove). It is an inverse relationship, which means that a higher P-Value indicates a weaker correlation, and vice versa. Parameter Estimate, meanwhile, tells you the extent of the correlation. A high parameter estimate coupled with a low P-Value represents the strongest correlation.
From this data, we can see that DRS is the metric that correlates most strongly with winning the Gold Glove at shortstop. OAA comes in second, while both Fielding Percentage and UZR/150 are essentially useless at predicting the winner. This set of data is encouraging for Volpe, who has a good shot at finishing the season as the league leader in DRS.
But it’s not quite as clear cut as this data makes it look. My brother also ran a decision tree on the data, which revealed that a shortstop typically needs a six in both DRS and OAA to have a realistic shot at taking home the Gold Glove. While Volpe’s 4 OAA isn’t all that far away, there’s likely not enough time left in the season for him to reach that benchmark. That said, it’s not all bad news: of the four shortstops with at least 6 DRS and 6 OAA, three are in the National League (Swanson, Francisco Lindor, and Ezequiel Tovar), and the fourth is Franco.
And so, with all that, we circle back to the opening question: what are Anthony Volpe’s chances of winning a Gold Glove this season? The truth is, he’s been good enough this season to put himself in position to take advantage of a relatively weak crop of AL defenders, where his strongest competition plays his final game of the season on August 12th after playing just 112 games. Will he be the one to take home the hardware? Only time will tell — but the fact that we’re even having this conversation is a testament to his strong work at the position after many were concerned at his ability to stick at shortstop long-term.