If you’ve been impressed with Ranger Suárez’s play in the field lately, you aren’t alone. The 27-year-old starter has proven himself to be quite the defensive whiz on the pitcher’s mound.
In 146.1 innings, Suárez has yet to make an error. He has recorded 27 assists, which is tied for second among all pitchers. The only pitcher ahead of him, Tyler Anderson, has thrown more than 20 additional innings.
Suárez also leads all pitchers in baseball with eight defensive runs saved (DRS). The next best pitcher, Taijuan Walker, has just six, while the next best after him has only four.
Perhaps most impressive of all, Suárez has not allowed any stolen bases this season. Not one. That’s partially because of JT Realmuto, who has a tremendous arm behind the plate, but Ranger deserves plenty of credit too. He is the only National League pitcher (min. 75 IP) to have not given up a single stolen base while on the mound. And yes, controlling the running game is an important part of pitcher defense. It is a key component of the SABR Defensive Index for pitchers, which plays a large role in determining the Gold Glove winners.
And speaking of Gold Gloves…
With all this in mind, you’d think Suárez would certainly be in the running for the Gold Glove, the award for the best defensive player at each position in each league. Yet, if it turns out, he won’t be eligible to win. His name wasn’t even included on the ballots, which were distributed last week according to Matt Gelb or The Athletic.
Per the rules outlined on the Rawlings website, a pitcher must have thrown at least 138 innings in his team’s first 138 games in order to qualify for the Gold Glove ballot. The Philadelphia Phillies played their 138th game on Sept. 9, at which point Suárez had only thrown 127.2 innings.
This innings threshold is essentially the same as that required to qualify for the ERA title (one inning pitched per every team game) with the exception that ballots are printed after the 138th game of the season, and so no innings pitched after that game count. Suárez is not going to reach 162 IP this year, so he would have been ineligible regardless of when ballots were printed.
Nevertheless, the innings pitched requirement does him a disservice. Suárez has been one of the best defensive pitchers in the league, if not the very best. But because he missed a few starts in July with back spasms, he is ineligible to be rewarded for his efforts.
Most other major awards do not have a playing time requirement. There is no innings pitched requirement to win the Cy Young or the MVP. If a pitcher is good enough in the innings he did pitch, that is all that matters.
Moreover, if there is going to be an innings pitched requirement, the current threshold seems far too high. In modern-day baseball, starting pitchers are throwing fewer and fewer innings. These days, qualifying for the ERA title is no longer a basic expectation – it’s an achievement in and of itself.
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Rawlings is perfectly aware that not all positions are created equal. The eligibility requirement at catcher is far lower than at any other position. A catcher must have played in half his team’s games by game 138. That’s a 69-game minimum.
That seems low – and it is – but for good reason. Catchers don’t play as often as other position players, and the point of the Gold Glove is to honor the best defensive players, not just the most durable.
If there is going to be an eligibility requirement for pitchers, it should be similar to that used for catchers.
By using “one IP per team game” as the threshold, Rawlings is biasing the award towards durable starting pitchers. And durable starting pitchers are great! But being a durable pitcher and being a strong defensive pitcher are two completely different things.
Ranger Suárez is still young. He’s still getting used to the rigors of a full MLB season. He’s not a durable starting pitcher just yet. But he is a terrific defensive player – and he deserves to be treated as such.
To be perfectly, completely honest, Suárez probably wouldn’t have won the Gold Glove anyway. (Bear with me, I promise I’m going somewhere with this.) As terrific as he’s been, he’s still lacking one important qualification: a reputation around the league as a great defender. Managers and coaches vote on the Gold Gloves, and they tend to vote for players they already know are good defenders.
It’s hard to know what opposing coaches think of Suárez’s defense, so it’s hard to know if they would vote for him, regardless of what the stats tell us. But whether or not Suárez ever had a chance of winning is beside the point. He deserves to have been on the ballot.
Being on the ballot would have helped him start to develop the reputation he needs. He might not have won this year, but he could have gotten a handful of votes and improved his case for 2023. Now, he’ll have to start next season at the very beginning.
So Ranger Suárez won’t be getting a Gold Glove in 2022. It’s a shame, but it doesn’t take away from how fantastic he’s been. Suárez is a great defender. The Phillies know it, the fans know, and eventually the rest of the league will know it too.
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