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Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Gold Gloves are Meaningless, Laughable (Part 2)

As I discussed yesterday, it is often very difficult to distinguish between the top tier of defenders. That's why I'm not going to bicker with a choice like Jimmy Rollins or Michael Bourn, because while I might prefer Mike Cameron or Rafael Furcal, there is no denying that Bourn and Rollins are in the upper echelon of NL defenders at their respective positions. In other cases, unfortunately, bickering is not only possible, but relatively easy. Here are the five most unfortunate aspects of this week's Gold Glove announcements:

5. The Gold Gloves are not without material consequences.

Yesterday I argued that the Gold Glove voters are uniquely unqualified to make the evaluations the award asks of them. Sad as this may be, one could easily argue that the individual awards presented every November should be regarded generally as meaningless, as players should be focused on team achievements anyway. Before making that argument, however, consider that many of the veterans who routinely win Gold Gloves, despite mediocre production, cost their teams money in the process. Torii Hunter will make an extra $100,000 for each Gold Glove he earns as an Angel. If he brings one home in every year of his contract, and the voters seem prone to making his award routine, than the Angels will pay out half a million dollars, more than the league minimum for rookie players, to subsidize Hunter's trophy case, despite the fact that one could easily argue that they are actually paying for the defense the Hunter played during his years in Minnesota (Hunter hasn't posted a positive UZR since 2005 and hasn't been among the league leaders at his position since 2003).

4. Do we really need to exaggerate the quality of Derek Jeter?

For years, Derek Jeter has been at the center of controversies regarding fielding statistics. Baseball Prospectus led the way in demonstrating that not only was Jeter not worthy of his Gold Gloves, but was, in fact, from 2004 until 2007 (during which time he won three Gold Gloves), the worst everyday shortstop in all of baseball. Eventually, this incredible discovery made its way into the mainstream media and even to the proud ears of Jeter himself. Many started speculating that a position change would be demanded, and soon. Even the Gold Glove voters denied him the award in '07 and '08, although at least one of their choices, Michael Young in '08, was arguably even worse.

The Yankee captain should be commended, however, because instead of becoming angry and belittling the evidence, as players are prone to do, he set about making himself better. He hired personal trainers and dedicated his offseason to improving his agility, quickness, and range. In 2008 he was an average AL shortstop defensively, which, of course, combined with his superior offensive talents, made him a very valuable commodity. And in 2009, he was even better. His 6.6 UZR* was the best of his career, as was his .986 fielding percentage. We should all note this as persuasive evidence that Derek Jeter is, in fact, deserving of his "Captain Intangibles" legacy. What it doesn't make him, however, is the best defensive shortstop in the AL. As the answer to that question, I would have accepted Elvis Andrus (10.7 UZR, .968 F%), Cesar Izturis (10.8 UZR, .985 F%), Adam Everett (8.9 UZR, .969 F%), or Erick Aybar (7.8 UZR, .983 F%). Unlike Jeter, each of these guys gets paid primarily for his glovework. It would be nice to see their dedication to that facet of the game get acknowledgement. After all, Derek Jeter takes home plenty of other hardware (see, in 2009 alone, Roberto Clemente Award, Hank Aaron Award, World Series ring, and probable Silver Slugger).

3. If you thought Mark Texeira was good this year, wait until you see what he's actually capable of.

Remember when Rafael Palmeiro won a Gold Glove at first base even though he'd spent the entire season at Designated Hitter. It wasn't quite that egregious, but it was a little odd that Texeira's fielding reputation grew to new proportions in the spotlight of New York, even though it appeared to anybody that had been paying attention to his career throughout his tenure with Texas, Atlanta, and Anaheim that Texeira was struggling (I guess this is what happens when you follow Jason Giambi). He posted career lows in assists, range factor, and UZR. Perhaps nursing some nagging injuries, he was reluctant to throw the ball or move away from the bag. His numbers actually and embarrassingly resembled those of well-known stick-in-the-muds and DH-types, Billy Butler and Russell Branyan. He recorded less assists as a first baseman (49) than Kevin Youkilis (52), despite the fact that Youk played less than half as many innings at the position. Albert Pujols played a similar number of innings and recorded 185 assists.

Texeira will probably get better and likely will earn some Gold Gloves over the course of his career. Too bad he stole one this season from Miguel Cabrera, Kendry Morales, or Lyle Overbay.

2. Why do NL managers hate Albert Pujols and Chase Utley?

One of the grand ironies of this year's Gold Gloves is that while Jeter, Texeira, Joe Mauer, and Shane Victorino earned Gold Gloves largely based on their offensive contributions, two MVP-caliber sluggers who were actually dominant on both sides of the ball missed out, yet again. Chase Utley has now led NL 2B in UZR (by a significant margin) for five consecutive seasons. Here are his stats compared with 2009 winner Orlando Hudson and 2008 winner Brandon Phillips (who also has a case for being gypped this season):

Utley - 1357 INN, .985 F%, 408 A, 86 DP, 10.8 UZR
Phillips - 1332 INN, .988 F%, 409 A, 95 DP, 6.9 UZR
Hudson - 1272 INN, .988 F%, 359 A, 68 DP, -3.3 UZR

Hudson, certainly not a bad defender, was probably at best the fifth or sixth best second-baseman in the NL this season. Utley was the best and Phillips has been his only near competition for a long time now. For anybody else to win is frankly atrocious.

The Pujols case isn't quite as bad. Adrian Gonzalez is a very solid defender, but Pujols has in some ways changed how first base is played. He has led the league in range by a long shot in each of the last two seasons, mainly because he continues to play deeper and further from the bag than anybody else, without giving up a greater number of hits down the line. He changes the whole infield dynamic by giving converted outfielder Skip Schumaker some leeway to protect up the middle. He also gives himself the opportunity to range deep into foul territory to catch pop-ups, thus allowing Ryan Ludwick to play deeper and further off the line. Pujols dominance shows up in range factor (10.4 when the next best guy is at 9.7), assists (185 when the next best guy is at 136), double plays (140 when the next best guy is at 135), and putouts (1473 when the next best guy is 1387), as well as the more substantial and complicated metrics. It's a wonder the NL voters haven't noticed.

1. There was no acknowledgement for the single most valuable defender in all of baseball, Franklin Gutierrez.

This is a true tragedy. My qualm is not some much with the fact the AL voters recognized Torii Hunter, Ichiro, and Adam Jones, all of whom are fine defenders, but that they failed to noticed Gutierrez is an absolute travesty. In his first year as a full-time centerfielder, Gutierrez posted a ridiculous 29.1 UZR, the best by any player since Andruw Jones posted a 30.0 in 2005. Like Jones, Gutierrez has deceptive speed, gliding effortlessly to balls which many, seemingly faster players have to dive for, and via extraordinary route choices expands his range to cover almost two thirds of the outfield. Unlike Jones, he will never hit 50 HR, and therefore may never catch the eye of Gold Glove voters.

Here are my Gold Glove choices:


C - Yadier Molina
1B - Albert Pujols
2B - Chase Utley
3B - Ryan Zimmerman
SS - Rafael Furcal
LF - Matt Kemp
CF - Mike Cameron
RF - Randy Winn
P - Adam Wainwright


C - Gerald Laird
1B - Miguel Cabrera
2B - Placido Polanco
3B - Evan Longoria
SS - Elvis Andrus
LF - Carl Crawford
CF - Franklin Gutierrez
RF - David DeJesus
P - Mark Buehrle

*Ultimate Zone Rating is a defensive metric from FanGraphs which combines for infielders analytical metrics for range, double play efficiency, and general efficiency (errors, etc.) and for outfielders arm strength, range, and general efficiency.

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