I know that none of the current Giants are very popular with most of our readership, especially the legacy players, and I’m sure to get some angry emails for posting anything positive about these three, but . . . (overly dramatic sigh) I’m gonna do it anyway.
The Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) released the final Defensive Index rankings for 2019 yesterday, which uses their SABR Defensive Index (SDI) to calculate defensive prowess. SDI “accounts for approximately 25 percent of the Rawlings Gold Glove selection process that was added to the votes from managers and coaches.”
As Kenny noted, none of the Giants were finalists for a Gold Glove award. Couple that with your hatred of the Giants, and it all makes sense. But! Even though the Giants failed to have a finalist for any defensive position — and even though Evan Longoria was the top defensive third baseman in the NL through mid-August, per SDI — the final rankings have Buster Posey (7.3 SDI), Evan Longoria (5.0), and Brandon Belt (4.8) all in the NL’s top 25.
That’s a good thing! It means the Giants players who don’t hit better than league average — and Belt (98 OPS+) and Longoria (102 OPS+) basically do — are still positive contributors on defense. Defense is important. It helps you win ballgames. The Giants didn’t win that many in 2019, but their +46.1 Defense Runs Above Average in the field helped. Every little bit helps over a long season.
But you’re a true sports fan, and you’re skeptical. What does the SDI actually take into account? You’re right to be skeptical. Defensive metrics are still a work in progress, no matter what experts say. They’re getting better, though, and even if no stat — advanced or otherwise — will ever change the determination made by your eye, they’re still worth looking into. The base value of all these advanced measures will be that they’re something the industry looks at in determining their evaluations.
SDI looks at batted ball data — where a ball is hit in a particular defensive zone — and the number of plays made by a player in that assigned zone. Then those results get compared to the results of other players operating in the same zone. There’s also a lot more to it than that, and you can read about everything that goes into it here, but the bottom line is that based on the present day methods for evaluating defense, the Giants still have three elite defenders on the team.
Both Longoria and Belt have been in the top 25 for the past three seasons, while Buster Posey’s 4.8 SDI in 2017 must be some sort of mistake or else the result of old methods for measuring zone effectiveness. A quick look at the trio’s three-year run from 2017-2019 with their positional rankings in parenthesis:
BELT: 10.7 (1st), 9.6 (1st), 4.8 (2nd)
POSEY: 4.8 (6th), 6.4 (1st), 7.3 (3rd)
LONGORIA: 6.5 (1st), -2.2 (9th), 5.0 (3rd)
Longoria’s first year was a rough one, but like Belt and Posey, his defensive reputation is secure. It goes to show that the Gold Glove Awards — including the finalist round — is heavily slanted towards offensive numbers. Brandon Belt has never even been a finalist!
You’re also probably wondering, “Who cares? They suck, the team sucks, everything sucks, and will always suck until Farhan cuts the dead weight!”, which is an argument I can’t beat. Yeah, Brandon Belt won’t ever hit 30 home runs and Buster Posey will never be an All-Star again, and Evan Longoria bothers you, but their status as elite defenders is undeniable. The Giants have as many players in the top 25 as the Dodgers and Cardinals, and only the Diamondbacks have more (4).
It’s rare that a team fields nine All-Stars every day. The rest must make do with trying to field as much value as possible. The Giants can certainly find offensive upgrades at first, catcher, and third, but it won’t be easy to land hitters who can hit enough to make up for the loss on defense, because the Giants already have some of the best defenders in baseball.