Eric Chaves hoisting his Gold Glove in 2002. Why not?

Eric Chaves hoisting his Gold Glove in 2002. Why not?

It’s hard even to get a healthy serving of righteous indignation worked up about the Gold Glove Awards these days, isn’t it? The writers might make a terrible decision on MVP or Cy Young or Rookie of the Year (or all of the above), but those you can complain about and argue over, because it’s possible to imagine the process becoming a good one. But the Gold Gloves, which have historically selected by managers and coaches evidently based on anything but fielding prowess, are so far from anything approaching relevance that there’s little point in doing anything but ignoring them.

But at least this year they’re switching things up a bit, as Dustin noted yesterday. They announced nominees or “finalists,” Oscar-style, ahead of time, allowing us to laugh even harder at the voters’ incompetence (even if Ryan Braun and A.J. Pierzynski don’t win their respective awards, we know some non-trivial segment of the voting populace ticked off their names, and that’s hilarious). They’re doing away with the three “outfield” awards and replacing them with specific LF, CF and RF awards, which most people will say is a good thing, but I’m not convinced (generally, “outfield” really is one single position; center fielders just tend to be better at it than the others). There’s something called a “Platinum Glove,” to be chosen by the fans among the eighteen Gold Glove winners, and that’s kind of terrifying. And they’re televising the announcement — at least here in the States — at 10:00 Eastern on ESPN2, a slot and network usually reserved (if memory serves) for ratings magnets like women’s basketball, fishing, and world’s strongest man competitions.

So I can’t imagine many people actually watching this (as a baseball fan, wouldn’t you rather see Robinson Cano et al. in the Taiwan All-Star Series, showing opposite on MLB’s own Network?). But I’m going to watch it, darn it, just for you, and I’ll give you my thoughts.

Here are your winners:

American League

Pos. Winner                                              Other Nominees
C Matt Wieters Pierzynski, Avila
1B Adrian Gozalez Kotchman, Teixeira
2B Dustin Pedroia Cano, Kinsler
3B Adrian Beltre Youkilis, Longoria
SS Erick Aybar Hardy, Cabrera
LF Alex Gordon Gardner, Fuld
CF Jacoby Ellsbury Jackson, Bourjos
RF Nick Markakis Hunter, Francoeur
P Mark Buehrle Haren, Carmona

ESPN’s Barry Larkin’s pick at catcher was Alex Avila, which is puzzling. Avila’s been an average or worse defender by every measure of which I’m aware, be it UZR, TZ, Beyond the Boxscore’s catcher defense ratings, caught stealing percentage, WP+PB, etc. Larkin basically credited Avila’s defense as being the reason the Tigers were good this year, and also picked Dan Haren for the pitcher award because he had made zero errors. Analysis!

The infield is pretty solid. Gonzalez led the way among first basemen in all the major metrics. There’s kind of a divide right now among stat geeks as between Pedroia and Cano — the stringer-generated advanced stats (UZR, plus/minus, TZ) tend to say Pedroia’s the best in the league by a huge margin, while Baseball Prospectus’ and Colin Wyers’ FRAA puts Cano well ahead of him (and Ian Kinsler ahead of either). Adrian Beltre has probably been the best defensive third baseman in the game for some time now (though FRAA doesn’t like him much either, this season), and he’s deserved more than the three he’s already won.

Erick Aybar, though, kind of comes out of nowhere; all the metrics have him as a bit above average, but not spectacular, and it’s not like he has the name recognition. But he’s so much better than Derek Jetter winning again that I’m not going to question it too much.

In the outfield, they’ve done a better job than the norm. Alex Gordon is excellent (and certainly deserved recognition for something after his terribly overlooked year), Ellsbury was probably the right choice in center, and Markakis…well, Markakis doesn’t grade out well by the advanced metrics, but he certainly has a good reputation. Having said that, though, for the last two years, Brett Gardner has been the best defender relative to his position in the entire major leagues, and by a lot. That’s a huge miss by the voters, especially since he’s only competing against other left fielders nowadays.

National League

Pos. Winner                                              Other Nominees
C  Yadier Molina McCann, Ruiz
1B  Joey Votto Sanchez, Loney
2B  Brandon Phillips Walker, Infante
3B  Placido Polanco Descalso, Sandoval
SS  Troy Tulowitzki  Cedeno, Gonzalez
LF  Gerardo Parra Braun, Holliday
CF  Matt Kemp Victorino, Young
RF  Andre Ethier Beltran, Bruce
P Clayton Kershaw Kuroda, Lohse

I had only one AL winner penciled into this post before the show started (Buehrle), but I had five NL winners, and I got them all right — Molina, Phillips, Polanco, and Tulowitzki (all legacy picks) and Kershaw (name recognition pick). In retrospect, I could have plugged Votto and Kemp in, too (rewarded for their offense).

I was very surprised that Pujols wasn’t even named as a finalist, but with him out of the running, Votto’s kind of an obvious pick (he’s a good one, too, according to most of the metrics). There’s a split on Phillips; he’s best by UZR, one of the worst by FRAA, and exactly average by Total Zone. Up next to Descalso (who played just 666 innings at third) and Sandoval (whose nickname is Kung Fu Panda), there was never any question Polanco was going to win. And Tulowitzki will keep automatically winning Gold Gloves now for as long as he keeps hitting, because that’s the way these things go.

In the outfield, Parra was clearly the best of those three left fielders, and probably the best pick league-wide. There’s another huge split on Kemp: subpar by UZR, flat-out bad by FRAA, good by TZ (not nearly the best by any measure).

Andre Ethier, though? Really? Very mixed reviews by the 2011 advanced metrics, and over the larger sample from 2009 to 2010, he was the second-worst right fielder in the majors (behind only Carlos Quentin), at -30.0. Ethier did play the entire season error-free — arguably because he wasn’t able to get to many droppable balls — which is clearly the reason he won the award. He stands out, to me, as the one true “joke” selection of this year’s GGs — Gardner was a joke of an omission, but none of the other guys stick out as terribly out of place — which is pretty good for them.

So there you go. It’s a pretty good year for the awards, compared to their norms. Nonetheless, they’ve managed to miss the game’s best defender. I’m not sure any of the changes represent improvements, and I’m quite sure that the selections don’t make for good TV: it invites shoddy, half-cocked analysis, a lot of clearly artificially drawn-out feature segments, and some really awkward moments with former players who seem especially uncomfortable speaking on television (especially Paul “Motormouth” Blair).

Still, I submit, more entertaining than the ridiculous 63-60 college football game that preceded it…but not by much.