CINCINNATI — Cardinals infield coach Stubby Clapp had an answer before the eighth word of the premise could be completed.
“Absolutely,” he said.
The question: Should there be a Gold Glove for utility fielders?
“I just think — especially in today’s game — you’ve got so many guys who are playing so many different positions,” Clapp elaborated once the question was completed. “The ability to play those different positions at a high caliber should be recognized.”
The Cardinals are the obvious advocate for St. Louis-based Rawlings adding a utility fielder to the positions eligible for the Gold Glove Award because they have the leading candidate. Tommy Edman leads all players in Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) with plus-21 and defense Wins Above Replacement, but does not lead an individual position. And it’s his versatility — intertwined with team need — and ability to pivot cleaning between positions that could keep Edman from being eligible for a second consecutive Gold Glove at second base.
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Edman and Tyler O’Neill, two of the Cardinals’ five Gold Glove winners last season, are in similar positions when it comes to defending those honors.
To be eligible for a Gold Glove, a fielder must have at least 713 innings in the field by the end of the team’s 141st game, according to Rawlings. Entering Tuesday, O’Neill, a two-timer winner of the Gold Glove in left field, had 648 innings in the field. He’ll need to average five in the field over the next 12 games to be eligible — and they can come while playing center field. O’Neill’s last seven starts have come in center. Those innings will count toward his total in the field — the 713 — and then he’ll be a candidate at the position where he has the most innings.
For O’Neill, that’s obviously left.
For Edman, that’s another twist.
With more than 1,000 innings in the field, Edman is far beyond the minimum required for “full-time player” status, but he’s carved those innings up between five different positions, mostly at the two middle infield spots.
Rawlings’ Gold Glove criteria states a player will “qualify at the specific position where he played the most innings (i.e., where his manager utilized him the most).” As of Tuesday, Edman would still qualify again at second, but shortstop is within range. He has 100 more innings at second than short. Edman made his 54th start at the position Tuesday.
“His mentality allows him to stand wherever you tell him to and he’s just going to try to make every play possible,” manager Oliver Marmol said, expanding on an earlier comment: “He’s not fazed by anything. In the middle of the game, I might have to move him to right field. He can play short, second, and it doesn’t matter. He’s there to play baseball and he doesn’t care where he’s standing.”
As the defending Gold Glove winner, Edman has a plus-14 DRS at second base. That ranks second in the NL to Colorado’s Brendan Rodgers, at plus-15. Rodgers has nearly twice as many innings as Edman at that position to increase his total. Those are the only two second basemen in the NL with more than plus-8 DRS. At shortstop, where he’s had diving snags in consecutive games to help the Cardinals win, Edman has a plus-6. That ranks sixth in the NL, but the five ahead of him all have at least 440 more innings to accumulate plays.
Advanced metrics are considered for the Gold Glove vote, and at either individual position, Edman’s DRS is elite but not the leader.
As an individual, Edman is the leader, plus-4 DRS ahead of any other player.
He has the numbers to repeat, but maybe not the position.
The Gold Gloves have modernized in the past decade to separate outfield to left, center and right winners, and voting now includes advanced metrics. Should the next step be to inaugurate a catch-all utility award?
Edman isn’t as certain as his coach.
“Realistically, thinking about it, it would be cool, but I don’t know if there are enough players to qualify for it to mean as much (as one position),” Edman said. “How do you quantify it? If you play multiple games at two different positions? It would be awesome if they had one, but it would definitely be based on how they figure out who qualifies.”
Revamped look to the left
In the past week the Cardinals have overhauled their options from the left side of the bullpen and introduced a complication to how the lefties can and will be used.
Rookie Zack Thompson pitched two scoreless innings Monday and touched 99 mph with his fastball. JoJo Romero, the return from Philadelphia for shortstop Edmundo Sosa, has yet to allow a baserunner in four innings, striking out five of the 12 opponents he’s faced. Yet, neither lefty is certain to be as crisp, as successful in back-to-back games. Romero is still within the window of recovery from elbow surgery, so the Cardinals are being cautious with his repeated use. Thompson did not bounce back as effectively or with the same velocity at Class AAA when preparing to appear in consecutive games.
“He’s going to have to do it up here,” Marmol said. “Touched 99. See how he recovers. He’ll have to do it up here (because) there’s not the luxury. Can he navigate it? Sure. If it’s a heavy left-handed lineup, yeah, we’ll see what that looks like.”
Ward appreciation tees
Within earshot of the Cardinals’ dugout it is sometimes possible to hear a voice rise above the rest after a defensive shift gobbles up another grounder that would have been a single.
“Charts!” the voice will say. “We’ve got charts!”
And should the shift steal a hit from the Cardinals?
“They’ve got charts, too!” the voice will shout.
Assistant hitting coach Turner Ward, who joined the staff this season, entertains his colleagues and gets Paul Goldschmidt smiling with his catchphrases that he hollers during games or in the batting cage. The interjections have become such a part of the dugout culture that pitcher Adam Wainwright and bench coach Skip Schumaker designed and delivered T-shirts to coaches Tuesday to wear. On the red shirt are three Wardisms: “Are you kidding me?”; “Charts!”; and “3-2, 2-2.” The last one refers to Ward’s advice that hitters should be as selective with a full count as they should be at 2-2. The first one refers to a pitch.
“Any time a pitcher throws off-speed pitch, when they’re behind in the count — it’s 2-0, 2-1, 3-0 — and throws a changeup,” Marmol said. “At the top of his lungs, ‘Are you kidding me?’”
And now, when he says it — shirts! They’ve got shirts.