A lot of fans have really turned on the idea of the Gold Glove award. A number of the awards are given to players who have great offensive years, and they get the Gold Glove as almost a consolation prize. A good example of this recently is Carlos Gonzalez of the Rockies winning last year after a monster offensive year (.974 OPS) despite being below average in both advanced defensive metrics (UZR and DRS). And also, Derek Jeter, a hideous fielder for a majority of his career, has somehow won five Gold Gloves. Think about that.
But anyway, in the press release yesterday announcing the awards show, ESPN also announced a list of three nominees for each position in each league. A new wrinkle this year is breaking the outfield up into left, center, and right field so that three center fielders just don’t win every year. Looking at the list of nominees, there are a few players that got nominated that don’t exactly scream “elite defender” to me.
Catcher: Brian McCann of the Braves is nominated in the National League. According to Beyond the Box Score’s season-ending catcher defensive rankings, McCann ranked 105th in baseball in catcher defense of the 114 catchers who caught in the majors this year. But of course, McCann had an .817 OPS on the season and has been one of the best offensive catchers in baseball over his career. Alex Avila was nominated in the American League, and like McCann, he was a beast with the bat (.895 OPS), but ranked 96th in the rankings. AJ Pierzynski was worse than both of them on both offense (.728 OPS) and on defense (111th in the rankings), and he probably got in just on his name value. The other AL nominee was Matt Wieters, who should easily win the award, ranking first in the BtB rankings. It’ll be a tougher race in the NL, where Carlos Ruiz and Yadier Molina joined McCann in the nominees. Both were ranked in the top ten.
First Base: defense at first base is another tricky subject, like catching. It’s really still a work in progress. However, all three AL nominees have a reputation of being good defenders: Adrian Gonzalez, Mark Teixeira and Casey Kotchman. Out of the three AL East nominees, Kotchman ranks the lowest defensively, but Teixeira and Gonzalez are both neck and neck. I’d probably give the edge to Gonzalez looking at overall numbers though (11.1 UZR, 6 DRS compared to 8.6 and 3 for Teixeira). In the National League, it’s a little confusing. Last year’s winner, Albert Pujols, is nowhere to be found. Instead, the three nominees are James Loney, Joey Votto and Gaby Sanchez. All three are roughly in the same ballpark, with Loney and Sanchez having nearly identical UZR and DRS numbers. However, Votto is better than both of them, and when you factor in his offensive superiority (not that you should, of course), he’ll probably get the nod.
Second Base: the three best offensive second basemen in the AL are nominated: Dustin Pedroia, Robinson Cano, and Ian Kinsler. Cano won last year, and Pedroia won in 2008. But it should be a two horse race this year as Pedroia and Kinsler aren’t just two of the best second basemen in the league, they’re two of the best overall defenders. The metrics disagree on Cano (UZR has him at -3.0, and DRS has him at +6), but both numbers pale in comparison to his two challengers. Neither would be a bad choice, but Cano would be. The senior circuit nominees feature Brandon Phillips, who has won in two of the last three years, along with Neil Walker and Omar Infante. Phillips is elite in both metrics, while Infante is rated neutral by DRS (-1) and good by UZR (8.2). Both metrics rate Walker as below average, and he shouldn’t be anywhere near the award.
Shortstop: two of the best defenders in the American League, Alexei Ramirez and Brendan Ryan, aren’t nominated. One of the worst, Asdrubal Cabrera, is. JJ Hardy and Erick Aybar are the other two nominees. Hardy deserves to be there and will probably win, but Aybar is the definition of a league average choice. The nominees in the AL could have been a lot better, but praise the lord that the Captain isn’t involved again. In the NL, Troy Tulowitzki is the favorite due to his good ratings in both metrics, and the fact that is bat is excellent doesn’t hurt either. Alex Gonzalez was incredible according to DRS (+15), but neutral according to UZR, and his awful bat didn’t do him any favors. Ronny Cedeno falls into Gonzalez’s group of “good glove, bat bat”.
Third Base: Adrian Beltre and Evan Longoria are both elite in the American League. Kevin Youkilis’ selection is just bizarre, with him being below average on both metrics and not even getting a full season of playing time. Either Beltre or Longoria would be a worthy choice, and both have a substantial amount of narrative behind them. The NL shakes out a lot like the AL, with a pair of elite defenders (Pablo Sandoval and Placido Polanco) getting nominations, as well as an odd choice in Daniel Descalso of the Cardinals, who only played 666 innings at third and wasn’t too great in doing so.
Left Field: Brett Gardner is an absolutely, positively elite glove in left field, and should win the award hands down. Alex Gordon was good in his first full year out there, but he was nowhere near the level of Gardner. Sam Fuld was also good in left, but only ended up getting just over 600 innings out there. Gardner should be a slam dunk choice. In the NL, Ryan Braun, who has a reputation has a horrendous defender, was nominated. He lived up to that reputation in 2011. Another offensive powerhouse, Matt Holliday, was nominated. He was about average. The final nominee was Gerardo Parra of the Diamondbacks, who was great out there. Neither choice for the left field Gold Glove should be too complicated, but I have a nagging feeling that it will be.
Center Field: three elite defenders in the American League, and all were nominated: Peter Bourjos, Austin Jackson, and Jacoby Ellsbury. There are a number of other great defensive CFs in the AL (Franklin Gutierrez and Denard Span come to mind), but you can’t argue with either of the three nominees. They play in big markets, and they all held their own offensively this year. Any would be a good choice. It’s a different story in the NL, with Shane Victorino being roughly neutral, Matt Kemp having a great reputation but being roughly neutral, and Chris Young being the best of the three defensively, but the least well-known. Young should win, but I doubt he will.
Right Field: DRS loves Torii Hunter, but UZR calls him neutral. Considering his reputation, I’d expect him to win the award. Jeff Francoeur falls into the same boat as Hunter, but to a lesser degree. Nick Markakis was behind the eight ball in both metrics, and shouldn’t be here. The best AL defender, David DeJesus, is nowhere to be found. The same is true in the NL, with the three best defenders (Jason Heyward, Will Venable and Mike Stanton) nowhere to be found. Andre Ethier is the best of the three nominees, with Carlos Beltran looking like a shell of his former self, Jay Bruce ranks below average. More questionable calls in the outfield.
Looking at all of the nominees, we see a common trend: players getting nominated (and winning the award in a lot of cases) because of their bats. Elite defenders who didn’t have great years offensively are nowhere to be found. It’s sad that this happens, but I expect nothing less. I also expect nothing to change.