Why Blue Jays’ Marcus Semien is deserving Gold Glove candidate
At the start of the 2021 season, Marcus Semien had only played 236.2 innings – or roughly 26 games – for the second goal of his MLB career. At the end of this year, there’s a good chance he deserves a golden glove on his coat for his keystone job.
Despite minimal second-place experience, the 30-year-old, who started his career as one of the weaker defensive infielders in the majors, currently ranks first among second basemen. AL in UZR (+4.2), second in defensive points saved (+11), and third in Statcast’s Outs Above Average (+7).
Due to Semien’s shortstop skill history – a significantly more difficult position – it makes sense that he would thrive on the right side of the infield, but there is a difference between succeeding and producing at a level. elite. What he does now is exceptional, especially given the complexity of playing on second base.
Throughout MLB history, shortstops have been converted from more demanding positions (usually shortstops) to seconds, but it almost always took a significant amount of adjustment time before they reached the best in the league in their new home.
While the Golden Gloves are an imperfect barometer of defensive excellence, the award dates back to 1957 and has been presented to the second baseman 128 times, providing useful context for what Semien is doing. Of that group, only three players had less MLB experience in this role than the Blue Jays star entered in 2021 with:
Ryne Sandberg (221 innings): Sandberg played his first full season (1982) before moving on to the second and winning his first Golden Glove the following season. He has won this award nine times in a row and is considered one of the best to ever play the position. It’s not bad company for Semien, and it’s worth noting that Sandberg completed his positional conversion at the height of his athletic powers at the age of 23.
Ken Hubbs (53.1 innings): Hubbs didn’t change positions, he simply won a Golden Glove in his first full season at the age of 20. The Chicago Cub were so good defensively that they won Rookie of the Year in 1962 despite scoring .260 / .299 / .346. and leading the league in strikeouts and double play. Hubbs tragically died in a plane crash in 1964, but could have become one of the best defensive second basemen of all time.
Pokey Reese (52.1 innings): Reese is arguably the best Semien analogue among Gold Glove winning second baseman. The former Cincinnati Reds mainstay debuted as a shortstop and played a little third before finding a second-place home in 1999 and winning back-to-back Golden Gloves. He may have won more, but he split his time between runner-up and short in 2001 and then saw his playing time drop from there due to his anemic stroke.
It’s a short list that includes an all-time great player and another player who had that potential. While there were other Gold Glovers who converted from other places on the Diamond, they needed more MLB reps than Semien – even paragons of defensive versatility like Craig Biggio and athletes. incredible like Dee Strange-Gordon.
If we accept the premise that Semien becoming an elite second baseman so quickly is extremely impressive, it’s worth asking what makes him so great.
The first and most obvious ingredient in a veteran’s success is consistency. Of the qualifying second baseman, only one – Tommy Edman – has fewer errors in his name. While the Blue Jays roster has no shortage of players known to have created chaotic plays on the pitch, when the ball hits Semien there is a well-deserved confidence that it will generate at least one out, maybe of them.
However, reliability alone is not enough to produce at a Gold Glove level. Semien also did his fair share of spectacular plays – like this catch on a 114.1mph liner off the bat of Aaron Judge:
Semien isn’t just a fast reactor either, he’s still able to cover more ground than his contemporaries, making balls that would pass other defenders playable. According to UZR, his lineup has been worth 3.7 points this year, the highs among second baseman. The second highest total is DJ LaMahieu’s +1.7. DRS also gives him the highest range rating at his position (+10), and four other second baseman score above +5.
Blue Jays fans have grown used to seeing him make excellent plays moving to his left towards first base. Statcast’s above-average outings, which break down his defensive stats by direction, place him tied for first among second basemen in that direction – and
he produced a dynamic example in his very first game as Blue Jay.
The 30-year-old can make games like this easy with his ability to recover from a dive, put his feet down and throw, with impressive fluidity.
Semien is also comfortable on his right. In the clip below, Semien’s flip isn’t ideal, but his ability to stalk and muster a climax of 103.3mph in the middle is extraordinary.
When it’s time to hand out the Golden Gloves at the end of the year, Semien may not hear his name called out – Kansas City Royals’ Whit Merrifield is a strong contender too – but the fact that he will be in the conversation is one heck of an achievement. Semien is not just a shortstop who finds his place in a position that demands less of him. He changed the defensive game in second place on the first day.