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Taking a closer look at the Orioles' Gold Glove finalists

Taking a closer look at the Orioles' Gold Glove finalists
Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy could win his third straight Gold Glove Award this year. (Andrew Weber, USA Today Sports)

The three Orioles who were named finalists for Gold Glove Awards on Thursday are all previous winners.

Both center fielder Adam Jones and shortstop J.J. Hardy have won at their respective positions in each of the past two seasons. Right fielder Nick Markakis won the award in 2011.

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I wasn't surprised that Manny Machado, last year's Gold Glove winner at third base and the American League Platinum Glove winner, wasn't a finalist. He missed the season's first month while recovering from offseason knee surgery and missed the last month and a half of the season after an injury to his other knee.

Machado played in just 82 games in 2014 and even he said it took him a while to get back to the level at which he was used to playing. Sure, he made some great plays when he was out there, but it wasn't necessarily a Gold Glove-caliber season.

Even though he struggled at the plate and his season ended with a 25-game suspension for a failed drug test, Chris Davis put together a solid season at first base. His .996 fielding percentage ranked second among all AL first basemen and his range factor per nine innings of 9.18 was fifth among AL first basemen.

When you look at the finalists chosen ahead of Davis -- the Detroit Tigers' Miguel Cabrera and Albert Pujols of the Los Angeles Angels -- one can wonder whether his move to third base after Machado's injury or even his suspension hurt his chances.

Speaking of the first base position, the advanced metrics actually reward Cabrera and Pujols -- both of whom aren't known as great defenders. Sometimes even those stats can be misleading. Neither is a better defender than Kansas City Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer, who should win his second straight Gold Glove award at the position.

Catcher Matt Wieters, the Orioles' sixth Gold Glove finalist last season, only played in 26 games this year.

Predicting the Gold Glove winners is always a tough task, but all three Orioles finalists have good chances to win when the awards are announced Nov. 4.

I think Hardy is the easiest bet. Across the board, Hardy had a better season defensively than last year's Gold Glove performance. He committed 13 errors in 2014, and five came in a four-game hiccup in early June. If range is a major qualifying factor, fellow finalists Alcides Escobar of the Royals and Alexei Ramirez of the Chicago White Sox might have a slight edge over Hardy, but Hardy is the better overall shortstop.

Jones is the favorite to win in center field as well. Interestingly, his top competition might come from Boston Red Sox center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. Despite making just 105 starts in center field, Bradley's 13 assists were second most among all AL outfielders (Jones had seven outfield assists). Bradley also led AL center fielders with eight double plays turned. Jones had three.

One would think Markakis' exemplary defense gets rewarded this year. He hasn't made an error since Aug. 12, 2012. He was also a finalist last season, but he was edged by Red Sox right fielder Shane Victorino, who posted an amazing 24 defensive runs saved.

Markakis' competition this year doesn't seem to be as tough. The Angels' Kole Calhoun and the Tampa Bay Rays' Kevin Kiermaier are both first-time finalists. They're both fine defenders who show great range and make flashy diving plays, but neither made more than 112 starts in the outfield, so it's hard to project how that range would play over the 147 starts Markakis made in right field.

And we've said this before, Markakis makes the difficult plays look easy. The right-field wall and corner at Camden Yards can make a mockery of a decent defender, but Markakis plays them with perfection. And this year, Markakis had his share of highlight-reel catches, including a home run-robbing play on the run at U.S. Cellular Field that was one of the best defensive plays of the season.

Again, the Gold Glove awards are difficult to predict, but I wouldn't be surprised if all three Orioles win. I also wouldn't be surprised if only one of the three receives the honor.

eencina@baltsun.com

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