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Chicago Cubs vs St. Louis Cardinals

St. Louis Cardinals second baseman Kolten Wong fields a ball to start a double play to end the first inning during a game between the Chicago Cubs and the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium in St. Louis on Wednesday, July 31, 2019. Photo by David Carson, dcarson@post-dispatch.com

WASHINGTON — The radical improvement the Cardinals made on defense this past season not only helped them contend despite an inconsistent offense but also made a little history as the only club to go from worst to first in errors.

That turnaround could be worth its weight in gold.

Led by Gold Glove Award favorite Kolten Wong, the Cardinals had an National League-best six finalists for the nine Gold Glove awards presented this year. St. Louis-baseball sporting goods company Rawlings announced the three finalists for each award Thursday afternoon on its Twitter feed. The Cardinals finalists were:

  • Wong at second.
  • Yadier Molina at catcher.
  • Paul Goldschmidt at first base.
  • Paul DeJong at shortstop.
  • Harrison Bader at center field.
  • Jack Flaherty at pitcher.

The Cardinals' six finalists are more than the other teams in the National League Central had combined (four).

Wong, DeJong, Bader, and Flaherty are all in the running for the first Gold Glove of their careers. Molina is going for the 10th Gold Glove of his career, something only two other catchers in history have achieved. Goldschmidt has won three previous Gold Glove awards, and it was his arrival at first base that helped the Cardinals made such hairpin turn in the field.

The Cardinals led the majors with 133 errors in 2018. In 2019, no team committed fewer than the Cardinals' 66 errors.

Advanced metrics also trumpeted the Cardinals' defense. Their plus-95 Defensive Runs Saved, according to Baseball Info Solutions, ranked third in the National League, and no team was as proficient turning groundballs into out as the Cardinals, especially in the middle of the field. The Cardinals' middle infielders, Wong and DeJong, anchored positions that were a combined plus-32 Defensive Runs Saved.

The next-closest middle infield was the Dodgers' group at plus-18.

A position by position look at the finalists:

PITCHER: Flaherty, Arizona's Zack Greinke (now in Houston), and Philadelphia's Aaron Nola. Flaherty did not commit an error on 41 chances, and he had 23 assists. Neither of those numbers led the Cardinals' pitchers, though. Miles Mikolas had 44 chances and 30 assists, and he too did not commit an error. Flaherty was a plus-3 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS), according to BillJamesOnline.

CATCHER: Molina, San Diego's Austin Hedges, Philly's J.T. Realmuto. Molina's plus-2 DRS ranked 17th in the majors. Advanced metrics for catchers are still a work in progress, but he rated average or above average at framing pitches, and opponents rarely attempted steals on Molina so his caught stealing average is lower because he doesn't have much opportunity.

FIRST BASE: Goldschmidt, Cub's Anthony Rizzo, Arizona's Christian Walker. Rizzo split the award with Atlanta's Freddie Freeman last season. It's Goldschmidt's replacement at first base in Arizona that could be the chief threat here, though. Goldschmidt had the highest fielding percentage of any first baseman, whatever that's worth. He committed only five errors. His plus-4 DRS ranked fifth at the position overall, and so did his plus-5 fielding, according to Baseball Info Solutions. Goldschmidt was a part of 145 double plays this past season. The next-closest first baseman was involved in 128. Walker was a plus-9, and Rizzo a plus-7 in the field.

SECOND BASE: Wong, Atlanta's Ozzie Albies, Pittsburgh's Adam Frazier. Wong should win. Wong should have won last year. It sometimes takes a year for the voters -- managers and coaches -- to, ahem, catch up. Wong led his position with a plus-14 DRS and a plus-18 overall in the field. He was plus-10 to his left and involved in 103 double plays. His 4.98 range factor also led his position in the majors. Wong was the only second baseman in the NL with more than 400 assists, and he had 412. No. 2 was Albies with 384.

SHORTSTOP: DeJong, Arizona's Nick Ahmed, Colorado's Trevor Story. DeJong's plus-14 DRS is fourth at his position, right behind Ahmed (plus-18), Story (plus-17), and surprise snub Javy Baez (plus-15). In the plus-minus rating, DeJong is a plus-18, and that's tied with Story but well behind Ahmed, the favorite, who is at plus-24.

CENTER FIELD: Bader, Milwaukee's Lorenzo Cain, Washington's Victor Robles. This is an interesting trio because it pits the established fielding great, Cain, against two of the best young fielders at the position in the game, either of whom could have a long stretch of Gold Glove wins. Bader's plus-22 in the field ranks third, and his plus-13 DRS ranks third. Cain is a plus-31 and Robles a plus-18 when it comes to DRS. The scores are closer when it comes to the plus/minus ratings with have Cain at plus-20 and Robles at plus-22, to lead the position. Bader does well on what Baseball Info Solutions considers "basic" plays. Bader is a plus-14 in that range.

The finalists for each award are the three players who received most votes. There is not a runoff, and in November the player who received the most votes will be revealed as the winner.

The voting body for the Gold Glove awards is the managers and coaches at the major-league level, and they are outfitted by Rawlings with advanced metrics and rankings that have helped steer the award toward a modern evaluation of defense. Managers and coaches are not allowed to vote for their own players — so the Cardinals received this support from opponents.

In the NL Central, only the Cubs had as many as two finalists, with Rizzo at first base and annual Gold Glove favorite Jason Heyward in right field. American League champ Houston had five finalists.

No team in baseball has won as many Gold Gloves as the Cardinals' 87 total. Baltimore has 17 fewer, and the Yankees 21 fewer. 

2019 grades: Cardinals position players