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Rays Beat: Infield had golden touch

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Published:   |   Updated: October 27, 2013 at 01:32 AM

ST. PETERSBURG — The spectacular occurred on a late-July night at Fenway Park when, with Shane Victorino on first base, Yunel Escobar went behind second base to field a grounder by Dustin Pedroia, flipped the ball from his glove behind his back to Ben Zobrist, who grabbed the ball with his bare hand before turning and throwing to first base to complete the double play.

“It was impressive for sure,” Zobrist said the next day. “You don’t draw plays like that up.”

The Rays’ infield defense was certainly capable of the spectacular during the 2013 season, but it was the steady play around the horn from Evan Longoria to Escobar to Zobrist to James Loney that played a significant role in the team’s success.

Manager Joe Maddon said all season that the four played Gold Glove-worthy defense, especially Escobar, who Maddon stumped for a Gold Glove at the very start of spring training.

Now, all four are finalists at their positions. The winners will be announced at 8 p.m. Tuesday on ESPN2.

“They were as steady and predictable as the weather at the Trop,” outfielder Sam Fuld tweeted Friday after the finalists were announced.

Maddon said the Rays’ infield defense in 2012 was at times painful to watch. That’s why Loney was signed during the first day of the winter meetings and Escobar was acquired in a trade two days later.

The quartet committed a combined 29 errors — fewest in the major leagues by an infield. By contrast, Rays infielders combined for 76 errors in 2012.

The Gold Glove, while awarded for fielding excellence, has long been considered an offensive-driven award. Also, those who have won Gold Gloves before are more likely to win again, a trend that makes it hard for a player to win for the first time.

In an effort to make the defensive award based on play during one season just that, the voters — managers and up to six coaches on their staffs — were given defensive stats that go well beyond errors and fielding percentage to consider for each player. That’s a first.

The Society of American Baseball Research helped to create a formula for measuring defensive index.

Included are defensive runs saved, ultimate zone rating, runs effectively defended, defensive regression analysis and total zone rating. These categories are expected to make up 25 to 30 percent of the vote.

It will be interesting to see how much the voters relied on this set of metrics.

A player’s reputation as a fielder as well as what he does at the plate has factored into the voting, as did the amount of times during the season a voter sees a player play.

Voters in the AL East saw Escobar and company play up to 19 times this season, while the voters on the A’s saw the Rays play only six times.

The new set of information should help eliminate some of the guesswork and help level the playing field (so to speak) among the candidates.

Show them the $$$

The Rays have 10 players who are arbitration eligible. Tim Dierkes of MLB Trade Rumors projected the salaries each can expect for 2014:

David Price, $13.1 million; Matt Joyce, $3.7 million; Jeff Niemann, $3.4 million; Jeremy Hellickson, $3.3 million; Wesley Wright, $1.4 million; Sean Rodriguez, $1.3 million; Jake McGee, $1.2 million; Jose Lobaton, $1 million; Sam Fuld, $900,000; and Cesar Ramos, $700,000.

At the bottom

Not surprisingly, the Rays ranked last in value among the 30 major-league teams by Bloomberg at $530 million.

The Yankees, valued at $3.3 billion by Bloomberg, are the most valuable and top the list of 10 teams valued at more than $1 billion.

The Dodgers (second at $2.1 billion) and Red Sox (third at $2.06 billion) were the only teams in the top 10 to reach the postseason.

As for the rest of the AL East, the Orioles were valued at $1.12 billion and the Blue Jays are valued at $950 million.

rmooney@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7227

Twitter: @RMooneyTBO

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