After recording a 200-hit season and being selected to his first All-Star team, Ender Inciarte added some gleaming hardware to his 2017 haul Tuesday when the Braves center fielder won his second consecutive National League Gold Glove.
Inciarte beat out center-field finalists Billy Hamilton of the Reds and Michael Taylor of the Nationals to become the first Brave to win consecutive Gold Gloves since shortstop Andrelton Simmons in 2013-14, and first Braves outfielder to do it since Andruw Jones won 10 in a row through 2007.
Simmons won his third Gold Glove and first in the American League on Tuesday in his second season with the Angels, and he’s a favorite for the AL’s Platinum Glove as the league’s top overall defensive player (Simmons won NL Platinum as a Brave in 2013).
Inciarte, in his fourth major league season and second with the Braves, set career-highs in average (.304), home runs (11), RBIs (57) and walks (49) while batting leadoff. He became the fourth player to have at least 200 hits for the Braves since the team moved to Atlanta in 1966, and first since Marquis Grissom in 1996.
Still, it was Inciarte’s steady, often spectacular defense that the Braves valued most.
Inciarte, who turned 27 on Oct. 29, has been a fixture on defensive highlight reels and a regular on ESPN’s Plays of the Day for two seasons with the Braves, and 2017 was his first season playing strictly center field and batting leadoff. Manager Brian Snitker decided early to stick with him at the top of the order through thick or thin and only rested Inciarte – he wanted to play every day – when he was injured.
To longtime Braves observers, Inciarte is the team’s best center fielder since Jones. Jones combined good speed with preternatural jumps on fly balls – he sometimes took the first step of his route before the ball even left the bat – while Inciarte uses good jumps and blazing speed to cover extensive ground and make plays in the gaps, including numerous diving catches and leaping grabs with his glove near the top of fences.
Braves outfielders had the third-worst defensive runs saved (DRS) among major league outfields in 2017 with 25 runs below average, better than only the Athletics and Giants. But that had more to do with their aging corner outfielders, particularly injury-plagued left fielder Matt Kemp and the cast of left-field backups. Inciarte had to cover a lot of ground out of necessity most nights.
Inciarte didn’t grade out as well in most defensive metrics as he had in 2016, but still led NL outfielders in range factor per game (putouts plus assists) at 2.67 (Taylor was fifth and Hamilton sixth in that category). Inciarte’s .936 zone rating, as calculated by STATS Inc., was tied with Cubs right fielder Jason Heyward for sixth-best among NL outfielders, just ahead of Hamilton (.933). Taylor (.944) was second in that category.
Heyward, another former Brave, won his fifth NL Gold Glove on Tuesday and fourth in a row. He won his first two with the Braves in 2012 and 2014.
Inciarte played in 156 games – tied with Braves right fielder Nick Markakis for second-most among major league outfielders -- and committed three errors (.985 fielding percentage) while totaling 420 defensive chances and recording an NL-best 410 putouts and seven assists.
Fangraphs ranked Inciarte in a 47th place tie among all major league players in defensive runs above average (DEF) at 4.6, while Simmons led by a wide margin with 22.6 DEF. Inciarte was eighth among all center fielders in that category, while Taylor (11.7) and Hamilton (9.6) were second and third behind Twins center fielder Byron Buxton (11.8) of Baxley, Ga., who won his first Gold Glove.
Sabermetric defensive statistics, combined into a SABR Defensive Index, are now a component in selecting Gold Glove winners. But the votes of major league coaches and managers still account for about 75 percent of the selection process.