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Flashing the Leather: 2010 Gold Glove Awards

November 10, 2010

Maybe Adrian Beltre was more deserving of the Gold Glove than his counterpart, Evan Longoria.

At the end of each season, as we all know, awards are handed out. They’re not always predictable, of course, but it doesn’t take much to get a feel as to what the voters like. The Gold Glove Awards are no exception, of course, but the interesting thing to me about them is that they’re voted on by the managers of the Major League organizations- men that barely get to see players outside of their own division with regularity.  The votes aren’t cast by scouting staffs nor baseball executives that spend countless hours sifting through scouting reports and data profiling these players…they’re voted on by guys that don’t really see players on teams out of their division very often and as a result are more likely to go off of reputation more than anything else.  Memory is a tricky thing, and given that these managers see so little of the players, they’re more likely to be prone to confirmation bias- remembering the good plays and overlooking the bad ones, or having their perception of the player’s defense marred by their reputation rather than their actual efficiency.

This is of course why I don’t pay much attention to the Gold Gloves- they’re meaningless to me.  If the awards were based on, say, the Fielding Bible Awards, then I would be perfectly fine with it.  Those guys spend a lot of time watching, recording and observing players.  But it’s not based on the BIS scouts, and more often than not questionable choices are made.  I don’t think anyone can seriously claim that Derek Jeter is a deserving winner in 2010, nor do I believe anyone can make the same claim for Rafael Palmeiro in 1999 despite playing 135 games as a designated hitter (the Palmeiro example has been used to the point of exhaustion, but I feel it bears repeating).  It’s more or less a joke, but sometimes the picks made are pretty good ones.

This year’s winners weren’t horrible, although, in my mind, perhaps some better choices could have been made.  In the American League, we have Joe Mauer at catcher (not much of a surprise there), Mark Teixeira at first base (a foregone conclusion), Robinson Cano at second (apparently Cano has become a much better defender), Derek Jeter at shortstop (really?), Evan Longoria at third (sounds good to me), and the outfield awards going to Carl Crawford (about damn time), Ichiro Suzuki (no complaints here), and Franklin Gutierrez (about a year too late).  Mark Buerhle won it too.  In the National League, Yadier Molina took home the gold yet again (well-deserved), Albert Pujols at first (a fine selection in my opinion), Brandon Phillips at second (sounds good), Troy Tulowitzki at shortstop (finally), and Scott Rolen at the hot corner…which isn’t much of a surprise, either.  In the outfield we have Michael Bourn of the Houston Astros, Carlos Gonzalez of the Rockies, and Shane Victorino of the Phillies.  Bronson Arroyo rounds out the pack.  That’s not a horrible list by any means, outside of the seemingly obligatory Derek Jeter pick.  But let’s take a different approach.

Yesterday I wrote extensively about defensive metrics (perfect timing, no?) and rather than using them to dominate my votes as I have before, I’m going to weight them less.  I won’t be using single-season UZR, DRS or TZ; rather, as I mentioned yesterday, I’ll be using basic Zone Ratings with UZR’s double play/outfield arm runs in addition to implementing the Fans’ Scouting Report, expressed in runs.  I’m weighting the two equally, so the overall equation is simply:

Rating = .50*ZR + .50*FSR

And that’s all there is to it.  It’s combining estimated defensive efficiency with the player’s tools in an attempt to give us a nice blend of performance and style.  Of course, it is entirely possible (actually, likely probable) that the votes cast by the fans have been tainted by prior knowledge of the player’s UZR/DRS/TZ ratings, so there is a caveat that comes with even the scouting reports.  Our results:

Catcher: Matt Wieters (+8) and Yadier Molina (+14), of the Baltimore Orioles and the Saint Louis Cardinals, respectively.  Molina was essentially a no-brainer, but the Wieters pick was a surprise.  For what it’s worth, Joe Mauer was right behind Wieters in the voting (+7), but Wieters came out ahead due to actual efficiency.  The fans had them tied.

First Base: Daric Barton (+9) and Adrian Gonzalez (+7).  Barton was, of course, overlooked in favor of the Yankees’ first-sacker, who posted a decent +2 rating.  The fans loved Teixeira more than Barton, but Barton’s estimated efficiency was substantially higher than Teixeira’s.  Second on the AL list was Boston’s Kevin Youkilis.  Gonzalez lost to another pretty good defender in Albert Pujols, who rated as a +4.  The numbers supported the fans’ observations of Gonzalez but not that of Pujols.  Second in the voting was Mets’ rookie Ike Davis with a +5.

Second Base: Mark Ellis (+9) and Chase Utley (+8).  Ellis is chronically underrated, and Utley’s still one of the best in the game.  Dustin Pedroia and Robinson Cano were tied for second (both at +7), but I’d give the edge to Cano due to the fact that Pedroia played less than half the time he did.  I can’t complain about the Cano vote.  Brandon Phillips came in second with a +6, and he’s an interesting case- his estimated efficiency was a poor -5, but the fans rated him as a +18.  So I can’t complain about that pick, either, and I’m willing to bet the numbers are missing out on something this time around.

Shortstop: Alexei Ramirez (+9) and Brendan Ryan (+14).  The fans liked Tulowitzki more, but Ryan was more efficient.  I can’t say no to the Tulowitzki vote, but I think Ryan’s being underrated quite a bit by the managers.  Ramirez was easily better than Jeter, who was a -8.  What a joke.  The second place shortstop in the AL is Oakland’s Cliff Pennington, at +8.

Third Base: Adrian Beltre (+15) and Ryan Zimmerman (+12).  Beltre has the highest rating of all players, but Evan Longoria wasn’t far behind (+14).  It was a pretty darn good choice, in my mind.  Zimmerman was the best in the National League, followed by Scott Rolen (+11).  Again, not a huge discrepancy, and something I can live with.  Not bad either way.

Outfield: The voters lump all outfield positions into one, so I’ll tackle this all at once as well.  I have Carl Crawford as a +12 in left and Matt Holliday as a +3.  There were a number of other players that rated above Holliday; none of them amassed many innings at the position and were discredited for that.  In Center Field I have Austin Jackson (+7) and Michael Bourn (+7), with Franklin Gutierrez also rating as a +7.  And in right, I have Ichiro Suzuki at a +10 and Jay Bruce as a +9.  Victorino rated as plus, as did Gonzalez.

I’m not covering pitchers, as there is no ZR or FSR data for them.

All in all, I can’t really complain with the way the managers voted this year.  I disagree most with the Jeter and Teixeira picks, but neither one really surprised me all that much.  The Reds sure do have a good defensive corps, what with Rolen, Phillips, Joey Votto (listed as a +3), Bruce, and Drew Stubbs (+4).  I would have liked to have seen Zimmerman win the award at the hot corner, but I understand the Rolen vote.  It’ll be interesting to see how the rest of the voting goes- next up should be the Rookie of the Year Awards, if I remember right- and that should lead to some very interesting discussions and debates.

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