This afternoon, Rawlings Sporting Goods announced Lane Thomas as one of the three finalists for the Gold Glove Award for right fielders in the National League. The Washington Nationals right fielder is going up against Mookie Betts and Fernando Tatis, Jr. for the award. While it will be a long-shot to win the award over, Betts who is the reigning Gold Glove winner, some might not like the fact that Betts only started 77-games in right field. While Betts spent than half the season starting in right field, he played the rest of the games in the middle infield in his 151 games this season.
While the award originated in 1957, Rawlings first began highlighting the top-three defenders at each position as finalists in 2011. Betts is also nominated for a second Gold Glove Award as a utility player. It is possible he could win twice. The winners will be unveiled during a one-hour, special-edition “Baseball Tonight” broadcast on ESPN Sunday, Nov. 5, 2023, at 7:30 p.m. ET.
While Thomas made many highlight plays in right field and led in outfield assists (16) as a right fielder, his OAA (outs above average) was actually negative (-3.0) and mainly for his poor defensive start to the season. If you remove Thomas’ April stats (-4.0), he was actually a +1.0 OAA for almost 80 percent of the season. But then again, Betts is also OAA negative, and Tatis actually led all right fielders in MLB at +11.0 OAA. When the Nats analytically moved Thomas deeper in the outfield, his defense clicked in place, and he made several circus catches at the wall and even over the wall like in the photo (above). That photo was from the second week of May which is when Thomas was playing deeper.
If you go by DRS (defensive runs saved), Tatis is again leading all right fielders, Betts is tied for 14th best at +3.0 and Lane Thomas is back in the pack at +1.0. So maybe Tatis should be a unanimous winner?
FanGraphs defensive metrics again has Tatis as the best in baseball for right fielders, and their stats are largely based on their proprietary UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating) does not favor Thomas at all.
To determine the winners of the 18 defensive position Awards, each team’s manager plus up to six coaches on his staff vote from a pool of qualified players in their League and cannot vote for players from their own team. In 2013, Rawlings added the SABR Defensive Index™ (SDI) to the Rawlings Gold Glove Award selection process, which comprises approximately 25 percent of the overall selection total, with the managers’ and coaches’ votes continuing to carry the majority.
To identify the utility Award winners, Rawlings collaborated with SABR to create a specialized defensive formula separate from the traditional selection process for the Rawlings Gold Glove Award position winners. Utilizing the SABR formula and additional defensive statistics, Rawlings will select one utility winner from each League.
While Thomas most likely will not win the award, his recognition is just another plus for his 2023 season as the team’s most valuable player. He is up for a huge pay increase as MLBTR is projecting a $7.0 million price tag for the second year of his arbitration eligibility. Thomas is under team control through the 2025 season.