Mookie Betts stands out among MLB Defensive Player Award winners

Getty Images
4 Comments

The top major league defenders were announced on MLB Network on Friday night during the fifth annual Wilson MLB Defensive Player of the Year Awards. Red Sox’ right fielder Mookie Betts took home top honors as the best overall defender, while the Giants were recognized as the best defensive team in the league.

Both Betts and the Giants earned distinctions for their defensive prowess earlier in the week during the Gold Glove announcements. The Giants took home three awards honoring catcher Buster Posey, second baseman Joe Panik, and shortstop Brandon Crawford, while Betts shared honors with the Cubs’ Jason Heyward as one of the most accomplished right fielders in 2016.

Unlike the Gold Gloves, which have been criticized for taking more than a player’s defense into account and only recently incorporated sabermetric standards in the voting process, the Wilson Defensive Player Awards are primarily determined by defensive metrics. According to MLB.com’s Doug Miller, players’ performances are weighed according to their defensive WAR (dWAR) and Defensive Runs Saved (DRS), which account for 50% of the vote, while Inside Edge fielding and arm ratings make up another 20% each and standard fielding percentage determines the final 10%.

In fact, the Defensive Player Awards aligned much more closely with the results of the 2016 Fielding Bible Awards, which also bases its selections on sabermetrics and overlapped several winners: Anthony Rizzo, Dustin Pedroia, Nolan Arenado, Mookie Betts, and Buster Posey (Zack Greinke and Brandon Crawford nearly beat out Dallas Keuchel and Andrelton Simmons as well).

Here are the 2016 Defensive Player of the Year winners, by position:

Best overall defensive player of the year and best right fielder: Mookie Betts, 32 DRS

According to FanGraphs’ Defensive Runs Saved, Betts’ 32 DRS mark was heads and tails better than any other defender in 2016, no matter their position. Using FanGraphs’ Defense metric, which combines fielding runs and positional adjustment, he clocked in at third-best among qualified right fielders behind the White Sox’ Adam Eaton and the Cubs’ Jason Heyward with a mark of 10.6 Def.

Best first baseman: Anthony Rizzo, 11 DRS

Cubs’ infielder Rizzo was the only representative from the 2016 World Series champions to make the list. His DRS ranked above all other first baseman in 2016, shackled to a first-place dWAR of 0.2 and .996 fielding percentage.

Best second baseman: Dustin Pedroia, 12 DRS

Pedroia joined teammate Mookie Betts as another standout from the Red Sox’ squad, tying the Tigers’ Ian Kinsler with a league-best 12 DRS at second base. Mariners’ second baseman Robinson Cano looked to be next in line for the award, with 11 DRS and a 1.6 dWAR.

Best third baseman: Nolan Arenado, 20 DRS

Rockies’ third baseman Nolan Arenado was one of just two repeat winners on this year’s list, joining Buster Posey with his second consecutive nomination in 2016. Like Betts, he dominated his class of defenders with 20 DRS, eclipsing Adrian Beltre and Kyle Seager‘s shared mark of 15 DRS by a wide margin. His .973 fielding percentage, while a personal career best, fell toward the middle of the pack as Manny Machado led major league third basemen with a .979 FP.

Best shortstop: Brandon Crawford, 19 DRS

Crawford appeared to face stiff competition among some of the league’s top shortstops in 2016, including the Cubs’ Addison Russell and Angels’ Andrelton Simmons. His 19 DRS was matched by Russell’s and his 28.0 Def came neck-and-neck with Francisco Lindor‘s 27.8 Def. He gained a slight edge with his 21.3 Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR), however, which may have put him over the top for first place.

Best left fielder: Brett Gardner, 12 DRS

Pardon the expression, but this one appeared to come out of left field. At 33 years old, the Yankees’ outfielder was recognized for his defensive achievements for the first time in his nine-year career, despite holding a third-best DRS of 12 and fifth-best UZR of 3.5 among left fielders.

Best center fielder: Kevin Kiermaier, 25 DRS

A fractured left hand robbed Kiermaier of nearly two full months with the Rays, but he still managed to fill highlight reels and out-perform every other center fielder in the majors. His 25 DRS was well above that of second-place nominee Kevin Pillar, and it paired well with a 3.0 dWAR and 12.3 UZR as well.

Best pitcher: Zack Greinke, 7 DRS

Like Kiermaier, Greinke also lost some time to the disabled list when he was sidelined with a left oblique strain. He finished the season with just 2.2 fWAR, down considerably from his 5.8 mark in 2015, but contributed a league-leading 16.6 Inside Edge rating (via Miller’s report).

The Diamondbacks’ ace finished the season with just 2.2 fWAR, down considerably from his 5.8 mark in 2015, but as Miller pointed out in his summary, the right-hander also contributed a league-leading 16.6 Inside Edge rating, .980 fielding percentage and 7 DRS (only Bartolo Colon surpassed him, with 8 DRS). He was recognized earlier this week with his third consecutive Gold Glove Award.

Best catcher: Buster Posey, 12 DRS

While catcher metrics are still far from perfect, Posey stood out as the only other second-timer on the 2016 list of winners with 12 DRS and 27.6 framing runs. The only other backstop to approach Posey’s output? Salvador Perez, who put up 11 DRS and 15.5 Def with the Royals in 2016. While Posey has been consistently recognized for his efforts at the plate, this marked the first year in which he was selected for both a Defensive Player of the Year Award and a Gold Glove among major league catchers.

MLB Network will air their final round of defensive awards on Friday, November 18 at 8 PM EDT when the Esurance MLB Awards will reveal the Best Defensive Player and Best Defensive Play of the 2016 season.