07 November 2008

Notes on the 2008 Gold Gloves

National League Gold Glove winners were announced Tuesday, and the American League winners came out yesterday. There were several new names, a lot of old ones, a few surprises, and a few really, really bad decisions.

First the names, and the number of Gold gloves they've won (in parentheses):

P: Mike Mussina, NYY (7) and Greg Maddux, LAD/SD (18)
C: Joe Mauer, MIN (1) and Yadier Molina, STL (1)
1B: Carlos Pena, TB (1) and Adrian Gonzalez, SD (1)
2B: Dustin Pedroia, BOS (1) and Brandon Phillips, CIN (1)
3B: Adrian Beltre, SEA (2) and David Wright, NYM, (2)
SS: Michael Young, TEX (1) and Jimmy Rollins, PHI (2)
OF: Grady Sizemore, CLE (2), Torii Hunter, LAA (8), and Ichiro Suzuki, SEA (8)
OF: Shane Victorino, PHI (1), Carlos Beltran, NYM, (3) and Nate McLouth, PIT (1)

The most remarkable thing about the list is also the least remarkable: It includes Greg Maddux for the 18th time, more than any player at any position in history. Jim Kaat and Brooks Robinson both had 16, and nobody else has more than 13, or is likely to challenge Maddux any time soon.

The most among active players is 13 by Pudge Rodriguez, who will be 37 at the end of this month. Most catchers aren't even playing anymore by age 42, much less catching, much less catching well enough to win a Gold Glove. Ditto for the quatragenarian Omar Vizquel, with 11 to his credit, and Ken Griffey Junior, who's becoming increasingly senior, and who now hasn't added to his 10 Gold Gloves in a decade.

The closest thing to a real possibility is Andruw Jones, who has 10 of them, but will be 32 at the beginning of next season, and just had a horrible year, thanks largely to a bum knee. He would not only have to heal completely, but he would need to hit well enough to keep an everyday job and field well enough not just to remain a centerfielder, but to not look over matched out there. Oh, and all of that, every year through 2016. Not gonna happen.

The AL pitcher who won, Mike Mussina, gets his 7th after a hiatus of a few years. He last won the award in 2003, when he made no errors in 215+ innings. He wasn't quite as flawless this year, but since Moose won 20 games and made only one error, they must have figured he deserved it. According to Plus/Minus, Moose wasn't really all that good, while Kenny Rogers was actually about 16 plays above average, but the voters presumably saw that 5.70 ERA and losing record and chose to ignore him. It would be an interesting study to see how many pitchers have won the Gold Glove in an otherwise down year. Not many, I bet.

The Fielding Bible doesn't rate catchers, but according to the Hardball Times, the leading defensive catcher in the AL by Win Shares was Kurt Suzuki, with an amazing 11 WS. Joe Mauer was second with 9.2, so he's certainly a deserving candidate, if not the most deserving. In the NL, Jason Kendall led all fielders, not just all catchers, with 11.9 fielding Win Shares. Kendall may not be able to hit his way out of a paper bag anymore, but it seems he could field baseballs with one if he needed to.

Playing half his games in Miller Park, with lots of foul ground around home plate, no doubt helped to boost his stats, specifically put-outs, but he also nabbed 43% of would-be base stealers, far and away the highest percentage in the majors, so it's not all a park effect. The others atop the fielding Win Shares lists also play in such places, as you will see.

Molina was second in the NL in Win Shares, with 9.2. It should be noted, however, that this Molina was Bengie, of the Giants, not Yadier of the Cardinals. Yadier was only the third best (and therefore, the worst) catching Molina, trailing Jose (9.1) as well. Overall, he was just the 5th best receiver in the Senior Circuit, behind Chris Snyder and Geovany Soto as well, by Win Shares.

Ironically, Yadier Molina didn't even do well in the sorts of things voters usually like. He had the worst fielding percentage among qualified NL receivers, making the second most errors, and starting only seven double plays, about half as many as Kendall. Maybe he made some snappy SportsCenter-type plays or something, but otherwise, I can't make much sense out of this one.

First Base:
Carlos Pena was 4th in the AL in 1B Fielding Win Shares, but first in the Fielding Bible's Plus/Minus, if you discount Mark Teixeira, who spent most of the year in the NL, so I've got no complaint there, really. Lyle Overbay and Kevin Youkilis were both over 3.5 Win Shares, and among the league leaders in +/-, so you could have gone either way if you wanted. The voters undoubtedly saw him atop the AL Fielding Percentage list and stopped looking for more evidence.

NL winner Adrian Gonzalez doesn't even show up in the +/- ranks, and is, coincidentally enough, also 4th in fielding Win Shares in his league, but he was also first in fielding percentage, tied with Pujols and Lance Berkman, who was second in the NL in both WS and +/-. Albert Pujols was tied with Gonzalez in WS, with 2.1, though he led the NL with +20 plays, according to the Fielding Bible.

This means that Albert Pujols got jobbed again, as he no-doubt will with the MVP vote, as all the knuckleheads who look no further than Homers and RBI will end up voting for Ryan Howard instead of the perennial best player in the NL. But I digress.

Second Base:
Brandon Phillips led all NL secondbasemen in Win Shares with 7.1, and was a respectable +17 in the Fielding Bible's list. Chase Utley, who was second with 6.1 WS, led all of MLB at any position with +47 plays, which is so much bigger than any other number on those lists that you have to wonder if it's a typo. Indeed, before this year, Orlando Hudson, generally considered one of the best defensive secondbasemen in MLB, with three Gold Gloves himself, was +53 plays total, from 2005-07.

In the AL, Dustin Pedroia led all secondbasemen with 7.6 Win Shares, a comfortable lead over Akinori Iwamura, at 5.9. Plus/Minus has Oakland's Mark Ellis being about 11 plays better than Pedroia, though Ellis is only 8th in WS. Oddly, Robinson Cano comes up a close 3rd in AL fielding WS, with 5.8, but dead last in MLB in +/-, at -16 plays. The reverse is true for Adam Kennedy, who shows up 3rd in MLB in +/-, at +19, but 35th in Win Shares. Something is very wrong here.

I find disagreements like these very interesting. Though I've read both Win Shares and the Fielding Bible in their entirety, I don't understand their algorithms well enough to even speculate why the two metrics would differ so much. How could Win Shares suggest that Phillips is marginally (about 1/3 of a Win) better than Utley, while +/- says that Utley was about 2.5 times better than Phillips? Worse yet, how could metrics that generally agree on Pedroia and Phillips so significantly disagree on Cano and Kennedy?

I suspect that eventually the smart folks behind each of these, John Dewan and Bill James, already so closely associated with each other, will put their heads together and figure out which of them, if either, is right, or at least more right. But for now, there's not much reason to complain about either Gold Glove selection, only to scratch our heads about some of these other curiosities.

Third base:
Adrian Beltre (this is probably thei first time ever that two Adrians were named, by the way) led the majors with +32 plays, according to Dewan's Fielding Bible, but was only 6th in the AL in Win Shares. He was also third in Range Factor and first in Zone Rating, so no complaint there, really. The difference between 1st and 6th in Win Shares is about 1.5 WS, so there's no reason to get too bent out of shape here.

David Wright was not among the top third in MLB third basemen in +/-and was only 5th in WS in the NL, but he won it last year, he's young, he's still hitting, and it's going to be tough to take it from hm for a while, now that he's got a reputation. Troy Glaus (1st in WS) might have been a better choice, or perhaps Blake DeWitt, who's the only NL hot cornerman to show up on both lists (2nd in WS, 1st in the NL in +/-).

Jimmy Rollins led all MLB shortstops with +32 plays, according to Dewan, and was 3rd in fielding WS. J.J. Hardy (2nd in +/-, 1st in WS) was also very good.

Michael Young, however, is a bizarre case. He was second in the AL in Win Shares this year, with 7.1, trailing only Orlando Cabrera's 8.0. Seems like a good pick, right? Except that Young was not among the top 10 among MLB shortstops in +/-, and until this year, he was perennially in the bottom six. From 2005-07 he was a total of 64 plays worse than an average MLB shortstop, trailing only Manny Ramirez (-109) and Derek Jeter (-90) as the worst defensive player in the majors at any position.

Like second base, shortstop seems to have a notable difference in how Win Shares and +/- evaluate worth, as Young usually is among the best shortstops with 5-7 WS per year, despite the thrashing he usually gets from Dewan. Derek Jeter gets similarly divergent treatment from the two metrics.

Outfield (AL):
As a blanket statement, before I get into specifics, let me just reiterate that the voters should be required to select players from three different positions, right, left and center, not just pick three center fielders as they usually do. Carlos Crawford and Franklin Guittierez were both very good in left and right field, respectively, and Alex Rios was just as good splitting time between center and right, so it's not as though there are no other options for the voters. Now on to specifics...

Torii Hunter was tied for first (with BJ Upton) among AL outfielders with 6.7 WS, though he doesn't show up in the top 10 on the +/- lists. He was 6th in both Range factor and ZOne Rating among AL centerfielders, but his perfect 1.000 fielding percentage must have made the voters swoon, so he's got a little more hardware.

Hunter won his first Gold Glove in 2001, when he was +25 FRAA (Fielding Runs above Average) according to Baseball Prospectus, but he had a negative number every year since then until 2008, when he was +15, a perfect example of a player skating on his reputation, rather than perfomence, when it comes to this award. (David Wright's going to have to hit Mayor Bloomberg in the forehead with an errant throw before the voters stop giving him the award, I think.)

Ichiro is another one. A right fielder with some speed and a good arm, he comes up +12 plays according to Dewan, which is nice, but only about 6th best in the AL. Win Shares ranks him about 27th, and Baseball Prospectus gave him a -4, the first time in his career he's been below average for them.

Grady Sizemore...well, you've got me. He shows up badly in two of the advanced metrics: -13 FRAA according to Baseball Prospectus, and not among the top ten center fielders in +/-. Plus he's 8th in WS among the 14 AL teams, which is of course in the bottom half of the league. He's 6th from the bottom in the majors in Range Factor, but 4th best in Zone Rating. But he made only two errors and had a .997 fielding percentage, so I guess he gets the vote. Never mind the fact that he doesn't make errors because he hardly ever makes, you know, plays.

The real injustice here is Carlos Gomez, who led all MLB center fielders in RF, ZR, and +/-, and came up a respectable 6th with 4.5 Win Shares. He's only 22 right now, so he's got time to win some awards.

Outfield (NL):
Carlos Beltran picked up his third consecutive award this year, and deserved it, as he was second among MLB centerfielders with a +23 mark, according to Dewan. He was also 3rd in RF and ZR and 4th in fielding percentage.

The other two picks are oddballs. Shane Victorino was 2nd among NL center fielders in ZR and 3rd in fielding percentage, but dead last in Range Factor, presumably because he pitched behind a staff with a lot of groundball pitchers (Myers, Moyer, Blanton, and to some degree, Hamels). Dewan has him as +10 plays, and Baseball Prospectus is consistent with that, giving him a +5 FRAA mark, i.e. decent but far from the best in the league.

When it comes to defense, though, being a tough llittle fireplug of a guy (Shane is 5'9", 160) and/or making flashy-looking plays goes a lot farther than, say, effortlessly getting to every single ball hit anywhere near you. Add a great nickname (and "the Flyin' Hawaiian" is one of the best I've heard in a long time) and you've got yourself a recipe for success.

The third NL outfielder selected, Nate McLouth, is positively baffling. If the players could run campaigns for and against each other, the smear ads against McLouth might read something like this:

Nate McLouth...

He says he made only one error all year, and that this was an unjust call because he never even touched the ball, but let's look at the evidence:

He was only 11th in Range Factor and 17th in Zone Rating (among 19 qualified MLB centerfielders). He ranked 29th among all MLB outfielders in Win Shares, and there are only 30 teams!

Independendent watchdog group Baseball Prospectus rated him as 17 runs below average, and freelance auditor John Dewan labels him 40 plays below average, the worst defensive player at any position in all of MLB in 2008.

Nate McLouth: Wrong on Range Factor, wrong on Zone Rating, wrong on FRAA
and Win Shares and Plus/Minus.

Plus he'll raise your taxes and probably would have let Willie Horton out of jail, given the chance.

We can't afford to vote for Nate McLouth.

[I'm Chris Young and I approved this message.]

Young, Brian Giles and Willie Harris all had good years according to Dewan, and Chris Young also led NL outfielders in defensive Win Shares, so he's the obvious alternative candidate.

Next week we should start seeing the major awards given out, so I'll try to have some more commentary.

Have a good weekend!

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She-Fan said...

Congratulations to Moose. What a season for him. 20 wins and a Glove. Good way to go out if that's what he chooses to do.

Travis M. Nelson said...

Yeah, nice for Moose to add to his collection, I guess, and of course finally winning 20 was a nice bonus. It would be a real surprise to me if he were to hang up the spikes now. Not exactly Koufax after 1966, but something akin to that. There's a modest precedent in that Lefty Williams and Eddie Cicotte both won 20+ in 1920, their last year in MLB, but they didn't exactly choose to retire.

The only other player to win 20 in his final year was a guy named Henry Schmidt, who had played in the Pacific Coast League but went to Brooklyn in 1903 and went 22-13. That proved to be his only season in the majors, as he went back to the PCL afterwards. At the time, you could make just as much money playing for the PCL or the American Association as you could in MLB, so that kind of thing wasn't totally unusual as it would be today.