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Diamondbacks’ center fielder Alek Thomas stating his case in Gold Glove race

Jesse Friedman Avatar
August 17, 2022

When asked whether Alek Thomas’ performance in center field this season was worthy of Gold Glove consideration, Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo was quick to respond.

“He should be in the mix,” Lovullo said. “I just see somebody that’s getting exceptional breaks and is playing fearlessly out there.”

Although Thomas didn’t break into the majors until May 8, he has made more than enough of a mark defensively in the past three months to contend for the National League Gold Glove Award. Thomas has the highlight reel to prove it.

On Saturday, he made an extraordinary catch to rob C.J. Cron of a two-run homer and seal a 6-0 win in Colorado.

Courtesy of Baseball Savant/AT&T SportsNet Rocky Mountain

That was not Thomas’ first home run robbery of the season. On June 8, he robbed Joey Votto of a two-run shot in the first inning.

Courtesy of Baseball Savant/Bally Sports Ohio

Three innings later, Thomas robbed Votto again, this time of a single.

Courtesy of Baseball Savant/Bally Sports Ohio

Thomas’ 94th-percentile speed sets him apart in the outfield, and he showcases it frequently.

Courtesy of Baseball Savant/AT&T SportsNet Pittsburgh

Thomas has also made it clear that he isn’t afraid of a full-speed collision with the center-field wall.

Courtesy of Baseball Savant/NBC Sports Bay Area

Courtesy of Baseball Savant/AT&T SportsNet Rocky Mountain

Entering Tuesday’s game against the San Francisco Giants, Thomas ranked third among National League center fielders with four defensive runs saved (DRS), and he was tied for second with plus-5 outs above average (OAA). He is also second in ultimate zone rating per 150 defensive games (UZR/150) with 10 (minimum 600 innings).

Baseball’s defensive metrics are notoriously unreliable, but DRS, OAA and UZR/150 are viewed as some of the industry’s best, with UZR/150 having less clout than the other two. Fielding percentage (FP) is worse than any of those three, but is still worth a look.

With just under 50 games left in the season, we can say with relative certainty that the N.L. Gold Glove Award for center field will go to one of the six names on this list.

NameGames (innings) in CFDRSOAAUZR/150FP
Alek Thomas84 (683.1)459.9.991
Michael Harris II70 (630.1)5510.01.000
Victor Robles96 (723.0)323.4.977
Cody Bellinger105 (904.1)23-5.0.988
Dylan Carlson46 (370.0)738.8.990
Brandon Nimmo107 (916.2)–266.21.000
Top 2022 NL Gold Glove candidates for center field

Three names jump out: Thomas, the Atlanta Braves’ Michael Harris II and the St. Louis Cardinals’ Dylan Carlson. Harris II is arguably the favorite, with the best UZR/150 of the group, the second-best DRS and the second-best OAA.

Like Thomas, Harris II did not start the year in the big leagues. He played his first game with the Braves on May 28. With an impressive .292/.330/.508 slash line in his rookie season and his superb center-field defense, Harris II is also a serious contender for NL Rookie of the Year.

Thomas’ stock in the Rookie of the Year race has fallen recently due to his .230/.281/.302 line since July 2, but his defensive metrics are nearly identical to those of Harris II. The numbers are arguably too close to spell a meaningful difference between the two.

With the highest DRS in center field of anyone on the list, Carlson also warrants a mention. He has only played 46 games at the position, but his numbers are arguably the most impressive on the list. Nonetheless, the fact that Carlson has played so few games in center field figures to be an unsurmountable obstacle. Even if Carlson started there every day for the rest of the year, he wouldn’t reach 100 games played in center field. Realistically, he will probably finish with around 92.

However, it is worth noting that Harrison Bader, last year’s NL Gold Glove winner in center field, logged just 103 games at the position. Bader’s 15 DRS and plus-14 OAA were far and away the highest of any NL center fielder. The sheer distance between Bader and the next closest candidate likely made the choice easy.

The 2022 winner isn’t likely to have manned the position in the big leagues for the whole season anyway. Only two players on the list above could reach the 150-game mark in center field with their big-league teams: Cody Bellinger and Brandon Nimmo. The metrics do not make a compelling case for either.

Based on the numbers, the field of center fielders in the National League this year is actually weak compared to past seasons. As shown below, with the exception of the shortened 2020 season, no NL Gold Glove recipient for center field has had an OAA under plus-14 since MLB starting tracking the stat in 2016. In 2022, no candidate is on pace for more than plus-9 OAA.

YearNameGames played in CF (innings)DRSOAAUZR/150
2021Harrison Bader103 (886.2)151415.1
2020Trent Grisham59 (496.1)7621.1
2019Lorenzo Cain143 (1177.1)19148.7
2018Ender Inciarte155 (1341.0)16217.4
2017Ender Inciarte156 (1359.2)4202.7
2016Ender Inciarte120 (1044.0)13209.6
NL Gold Glove Award winners in center field, 2016-21

Oddly enough, Thomas isn’t the first D-backs’ Gold Glove candidate for center field this season. Daulton Varsho posted strong defensive metrics as the team’s primary center fielder through the first two months. An article from Overtime Heroics pegged him as a Gold Glove favorite in early May.

With the combined efforts of Thomas and Varsho, the D-backs’ center-field defense has arguably been the best in baseball. For a team that finished at or near the bottom in almost every defensive metric for center fielders a year ago, the turnaround is nothing short of remarkable.

Follow Jesse Friedman on Twitter

Top photo: John Leyba/USA TODAY Sports

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