PHOENIX — Brandon Crawford’s reign as the National League’s best defensive shortstop will continue, but his run as the clubhouse’s only Gold Glove Award winner is over.
Crawford won his second Gold Glove Award on Tuesday and was joined by first-time winners Buster Posey and Joe Panik, giving the Giants three Gold Glove defenders for the first time since 1994, when Barry Bonds, Darren Lewis and Matt Williams won. Posey ended Yadier Molina’s eight-year run as the National League’s catcher and Panik beat out Jean Segura and 2014 winner DJ LeMahieu.
Posey is the first Giants catcher since Mike Matheny in 2005 to win a Gold Glove, while Panik joined Robby Thompson as the only Giants second basemen to win. The Panik selection came as a bit of a surprise, but only because a concussion limited him to 127 games. He said he was confident once he saw his name as a finalist, and called the selection the culmination of a lifelong dream.
“As a kid, when I would go to the park with my brother and my dad and my mom, my dad would always hits us ground balls first,” Panik said. “He said you work on your defense first and then you can hit. Ever since I was a kid, I made defense a priority. Knowing that I’m in that elite group of fielders to have won a Gold Glove — it’s very few throughout history — it’s something special.”
Posey felt the same way, saying he was hopeful throughout the process that he would finally break through.
“As a kid, I paid attention to the Gold Glove Award probably as much as any,” he said. “It’s a pretty cool deal for me.”
It’s also about time. The Giants have felt for a couple of years that Posey is the best defensive catcher in the National League, and there was disappointment among teammates and coaches last November when he finished second. Unseating an incumbent is difficult in Gold Glove voting, but Posey took another step up defensively and put up numbers that couldn't be denied. He led all catchers with 12 Defensive Runs Saved and was a runaway winner in the SABR Defensive Index, which makes up about a quarter of the vote. Posey finished with 15.2 SDI, far ahead of second-ranked Yasmani Grandal (5.9) and Molina (0.7).
While Panik dug into the numbers, Posey said he doesn’t pay much attention to advanced defensive metrics. They have treated him well, however, with pitch-framing metrics showing him to be the best in the game at stealing strikes. Posey credited college coach Mike Martin Jr. and former first-base coach and catching instructor Billy Hayes with helping him improve in that area.
Panik has been an eager student of bench coach and infield instructor Ron Wotus, and as a converted shortstop, he has always had the range, arm and creativity to win a Gold Glove. Injuries kept him from having a real shot in 2015, but he did more than enough with his time on the field in 2016. Like Posey, Panik got a boost from SDI, finishing at 8.5, two points ahead of the next best second baseman.
“With the concussion, I didn’t play 160 games or whatnot, but I knew my stats were strong fielding-wise and sabermetric-wise,” he said. “When I knew I was a finalist, I knew I had a chance because of the numbers.”
Panik and Crawford formed the National League’s first Gold Glove middle-infield combo in 14 years. Posey said there are times when he runs down the line to back up a throw to first and ends up shaking his head at a play made by Crawford or Panik, or sometimes both.
All three mix steadiness with bursts of the spectacular, with Crawford threatening to fill highlight packages on a nightly basis. A year ago, Crawford unseated back-to-back winner Andrelton Simmons. This season he had to hold off Cubs rookie Addison Russell, who tied Crawford with 19 Defensive Runs Saved and led in SDI. Crawford had the support of opposing coaches and managers who have spent years watching him pull outs from thin air.
“He makes the game look easy,” Panik said. “He definitely elevates my game, too.”
Together, the three elevated the Giants’ defense, which was the one constant in a roller-coaster season. The organization finished as the only one with three Gold Glove winners.
The award is the first major one for Panik and gave Crawford two to go along with his 2015 Silver Slugger Award. Crawford said he was happy to hear Posey added another item to an overflowing trophy case.
“I think it was the one award that he hadn’t won,” he said.
Through eight big league seasons, Posey has an MVP, three Silver Slugger Awards and a Rookie of the Year Award. Like Panik, he finally has that coveted Gold Glove, too.