Boston Red Sox center fielder Jackie Bradley, Jr. was a glaring omission from the list of finalists for the Gold Glove award at his position.
Four members of the Boston Red Sox were included on the final ballot at their respective positions for the Rawlings Gold Glove Award. While most of them won’t end up taking home the hardware, a solid case can be made that they each at least belong on ballot.
The same can’t be said for Jackie Bradley, Jr. The defensive wizard who expertly navigates the outfield at Fenway Park was surprisingly left off the list of center field finalists.
Buxton is the clear favorite. The Twins center fielder led the league at his position with 24 defensive runs saved, a 9.9 UZR and 11.8 defensive runs above average (Def). It will be somewhat of a travesty if Buxton doesn’t win.
Pillar warrants some consideration as well. The Blue Jays center fielder was third in the league with 15 defensive runs saved, while ranking second with a 6.0 UZR and 8.3 Def. He committed only one error this season for a sparkling .997 fielding percentage. Pillar also fielded his position for 153 games, more than any other AL center fielder.
Both of these center fielders are among the elite defensive players at their position and merit inclusion on the ballot. Based on this year’s production, both would have an edge over Bradley for the Gold Glove even if the Red Sox center fielder was on the ballot.
Except Bradley’s not on the ballot, while somehow Cain is.
What exactly makes Cain a better candidate? Bradley’s 9 DRS are nearly double the 5 DRS that Cain provided. His 4.2 UZR is significantly better than Cain’s 1.6 UZR, as is Bradley’s 6.2 Def compared to Cain’s 3.8 Def. They each tied with six outfield assists, while Bradley made three fewer errors and owns a better fielding percentage.
Bradley’s leaping catch to rob Yankees slugger Aaron Judge of a home run was one of the more memorable defensive plays of the season. Highlights like this tend to stick in the minds of voters, which would have worked in Bradley’s favor if he were on the ballot.
The only advantage Cain has over Bradley is range. Cain’s 2.89 Range Factor per game led the league at his position and he was second with 6.7 Range Runs (RngR). Bradley fared well in both categories but still trailed Cain by quite a bit. However, Bradley’s range metrics take a hit by playing next to right fielder Mookie Betts, who is the best defensive outfielder in baseball. It’s hardly fair to penalize Bradley for that.
Bradley may not have the elite speed of some other center fielders but his ability to read the ball off the bat is unmatched, allowing him to a get a great jump. His instincts give him a chance to make catches others wouldn’t come close to making and he has a cannon for an arm.
Cain is a great outfielder in his own right but he’s not quite in the same class as Bradley. While Boston’s center fielder shouldn’t win the Gold Glove over Buxton or Pillar, he should have had a spot on the list of finalists over Cain.