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Diamondbacks’ Ahmed: ‘Christian Walker is a Gold Glover’

Arizona Diamondbacks first baseman Christian Walker fields a grounder hit by Los Angeles Dodgers' Matt Beaty, before running to first base for the out during the first inning of a baseball game Friday, Aug. 30, 2019, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Top of the ninth inning, bases loaded, no outs.

The Los Angeles Dodgers were threatening to swipe a win away from the Arizona Diamondbacks, who led 6-4 entering the final frame on Aug. 31. LA outfielder Matt Beaty was up against Arizona’s Archie Bradley, and he hit a sharp, low line drive towards the 3-4 hole.

First baseman Christian Walker dove to his right and snagged the ball on a short hop with his backhand. He rose to a knee and delivered a strike to shortstop Nick Ahmed at second base, who turned the double play as Chase Field erupted in the background. Bradley got the next hitter out and Arizona won its sixth-straight game 6-5.

Walker has never known to be a plus defender in the past, Ahmed noted on the Sports Info Solutions Podcast. But the 2018 Gold Glover discussed with host Mark Simon about how that has changed this season.

“He is incredibly improved and underrated defensively,” Ahmed said. “Going back to spring training and the offseason, he was always picking my brain about defense and his footwork and hands. He has made every routine play, picked balls out of the dirt for us and he’s made phenomenal plays. He is a Gold Glover in my eyes.”

That is high praise from someone who has had stout defender Paul Goldschmidt to throw to for most of his career. But, Ahmed may not be wrong, as the numbers suggest that Walker could be a dark horse to contend for the award.

Walker is third among National League first basemen in defensive runs saved with five. This stat measures how many runs a defender saves his team compared to an average player. He only trails Goldschmidt and Cincinnati’s Joey Votto who each have six. There is a real possibility that Walker could end the season on top of that list.

The D-backs first baseman is also third at his position in the NL in UZR/150 (ultimate zone rating per 150 games). This metric may look alien to some, but Fan Graphs has a simple explanation for it.

Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) is one of the most widely used, publicly available defensive statistics. UZR puts a run value to defense, attempting to quantify how many runs a player saved or gave up through their fielding prowess (or lack thereof).

It takes into account range and errors among other aspects, and in this category, Walker trails just Goldschmidt and Chicago’s Anthony Rizzo.

The increased awareness of defensive metrics helps Walker’s chances immensely but there are some that aren’t as favorable. He has a solid fielding percentage of 99.3%, the sixth-highest mark in the NL, and also has more errors than other contenders like Goldshmidt, Rizzo and Votto.

But, his ability to make plays on harder to get to balls makes him one of the best defensive first basemen in the NL and has helped the D-backs in some big moments like in that win over the Dodgers. That makes him a good candidate to be nominated for a Gold Glove this season.

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