He isn’t the flashiest outfielder in baseball, but Marlins left fielder Christian Yelich now has the hardware to prove he’s one of the best defensive players in the game.
Tuesday night Yelich, 22, became just the sixth Marlins player ever — and the franchise’s first outfielder — to win a Gold Glove Award.
Playing in his first full big-league season in spacious Marlins Park, the club’s 2010 first-round pick paced all National League left fielders with only one error, six assists (one double play) and a .996 fielding percentage.
Up until last season, managers and coaches in each league were tasked with picking the best defensive players at each position (although they couldn’t vote for their own players). Now, Gold Glove winners are selected as a collaboration between votes by managers and coaches and sabermetrics.
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Even though he’s not blessed with the strongest of arms, Yelich had a stellar season covering ground with his glove, according to the folks who evaluate players beyond traditional statistics.
According to Bill James’ plus/minus leaderboard (which measures the number of plays the player made above or below that of an average fielder), Yelich led all left fielders in baseball with a plus-34 rating. His 13 runs saved, meanwhile, ranked second to Kansas City’s Alex Gordon (27) among all left fielders.
Marlins shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria and right fielder Giancarlo Stanton, also named finalists for Gold Gloves this season, weren’t as highly rated as Yelich when it came to sabermetrics.
Although Hechavarria finished fourth in putouts (200), sixth in fielding percentage (.979) and made dozens of highlight-worthy plays this season, he inexplicably ranked last among 67 shortstops in total zone fielding runs with a minus-10 average.
Stanton, who won the Hank Aaron Award last month for being the best hitter in the National League, ranked sixth in fielding percentage (.982) and finished tied for third with seven outfield assists among right fielders. But there was no way he was going to beat the Braves’ Jason Heyward, who is a sabermetrics beast.
Stanton was close, though, finishing second in total zone fielding runs (28) and fourth in defensive runs saved (7), according to Baseball Info Solutions.
Yelich is the youngest Marlins player to win a Gold Glove. Former catcher Charles Johnson was 24 when he was awarded his first of three in 1995.
Johnson and second baseman Luis Castillo each won three Gold Gloves with the Marlins. Pitcher Mark Bueherle (2012), first baseman Derrek Lee (2005) and third baseman Mike Lowell (2005) each won a Gold Glove once with the Marlins.