For the first time since 2012, the Oakland Athletics have a Gold Glove Award winner.
Second-year first baseman Matt Olson has become the first A’s player since Josh Reddick to take home one of the coveted awards on Sunday night, and the first A’s first baseman since Mark McGwire in 1990. He becomes only the third first baseman in franchise history to win the honor.
Olson was the first of two winners in an infield where all four players were finalists. Third baseman Matt Chapman also won the honor for third basemen, making the 2018 team the first A’s team in franchise history to have multiple Gold Glove Award winners on the same infield.
“The reason all four of us were nominated was him,” Chapman said.
Both Olson — drafted in 2012 — and Chapman — drafted in 2014 — emerged in 2017, with Olson seeing his second partial season of big league action, and Chapman his first. Olson, then 23, hit .259 with 25 home runs and 45 RBIs in 59 games in 2017.
In 2016 and 2017, Olson played outfield and first base, but as the starting first baseman this season — from start to finish — he was exceptional.
“It’s pretty awesome,” Olson said, to get his first Gold Glove alongside Chapman, who advanced along with him through the A’s minor league system. “Obviously really close with Chappy, and we love messing around with each other. He’s obviously a great talent, and for us to share this moment after spending the past few years together has been really cool.”
Even considering his offensive contributions in his first full season in the major leagues — 29 home runs, 84 RBIs, 33 doubles in 162 games — Olson’s defense was immensely valuable. His defensive runs saved above average in 2018 was 14, good for 12th among all major league players, and more than any big league first baseman.
“For the pitchers to have trust in making their pitch, executing their pitch, not only trying to strike guys out, but let them pitch to contact and have that trust in us making the play, where they don’t have to make that perfect pitch, that’s only going to help us out in the field, as well as them,” Olson said.
Olson ranked fifth among major league defenders in ultimate zone rating (11.6), again, first among all big league first basemen. UZR compares the event that actually happened (hit/out/error) to data on similarly hit balls in the past to determine how much better or worse the fielder did than the “average” player. Only one infielder was ahead of Olson, and that was shortstop Francisco Lindor.
“It’s definitely nice, especially because first base doesn’t necessarily get the glory that other positions do,” Olson said. “That’s more than fine, but to be able to have a good year defensively like I did, it was nice to get that recognition.”
The award, voted on by manager and coaches, also incorporates SABR-developed defensive metrics, which make up 25 percent of the criteria. Managers and coaches can vote on players in their own league, but n0t on their own team.
“My defensive ability is something that I’ve always had, growing up,” Olson said. “I knew I could have the potential to be a Gold Glove first baseman. Not necessarily in my first full year, especially because sometimes we don’t get the coverage as the other places, but as the year started going on, I felt like I was doing pretty well, and we were getting some more looks because of Chapman’s defense, obviously. It all came together.”