Known league-wide as a premier defender, Toronto Blue Jays first baseman Justin Smoak may be getting recognized for his fielding.
According to an official release by Rawlings, Toronto Blue Jays first baseman Justin Smoak has been named a finalist for the 2018 American League Gold Glove Award for the first base position. Smoak is being nominated alongside Oakland Athletics first baseman Matt Olson, and Red Sox slugger Mitch Moreland.
To anyone familiar with the Blue Jays, and Smoak in particular, this is hardly a surprise. Smoak, 31, has been lauded by Blue Jays fans for his stellar range and clever baseball mind in the field.
In terms of metrics, he fared excellently this season, achieving a .999 fielding percentage, good enough for first in all of baseball. Additionally, he’s put up an 8.58 Range Factor and has committed just one error, the least committed by any qualified major league first baseman.
Even more advanced metrics, such as those categorized as “fan scouting” stats on Fangraphs, show him in an equally favourable light, with his baseball “instincts” and arm accuracy garnering the highest scores.
There’s also a certain intangibility to measuring the effectiveness of a fielder, especially a first baseman. While defensive metrics have come a long way in truly assessing the value of a position player, there’s still a fair bit left to figure out.
Smoak, while impressive, is facing some stiff competition, particularly in Olson. With a UZR of 11.6(!), he’s arguably the favourite when it comes to this award. Combine that with his strong arm, excellent baseball instincts, and knack for making highlight reel plays, and it’s tough to imagine Smoak beating him out.
Regardless, it’s still wonderful for Smoak to be recognized for his fielding. While he’s not the flashiest defender, he’s as solid as they come, and deserves to be applauded as such.