Even further down the priority list of Concerns for Hip Bloggers are the Gold Gloves. Sure, they are chosen (at least nominally) by baseball managers who know the game. The clearly ridiculous choices of the past (Rafael Palmeiro? Derek Jeter? Michael Never Complains Young?) only confirm the impression some writers give: the managers basically are wracking their brains at the end of the year, just trying to think up the names of fielders on other teams since they can’t vote for their own.
It doesn’t help matters that voting occurs at a time of the year when other things are on their mind. It is unlikely to be high priority. It would not surprise me if some managers simply go to their team’s public relations flack to fill out their ballots.
I suppose I understand the apathy – or, as I suspect, the posture of apathy – among many bloggers and writers about the Gold Gloves. However, I am here to tell you that I care.
I mean, yeah, in the big scheme of things, the Gold Gloves do not matter, but neither, under the same scope, does baseball. People can care (or pretend to not care) about whatever they want. No, “Gold Glove Winners” and “Best Fielders” are not the same thing, and yes, it can be extremely frustrating to argue about this stuff given the current state of fielding metrics.
Maybe people want to ease their pain by saying, “Hey, who needs the Gold Gloves when we’ve got the Fielding Bible Awards. Well, fine, I tend to think that that panel generally does a better job than the voters for the Gold Gloves, but it is not the official one. Are people saying, “Hey, we’ve got the Internet Baseball Awards, who cares about the MVP?” Are people saying “we’ve got the ESPN Power Rankings, who cares about the World Series?” There’s something official and historical about the Gold Gloves, for better or worse.
I’m not saying they matter as much as the World Series. There is obviously a big difference between something voted on by managers and a best-of- seven series, or, this year, a four-game series in which I could not get excited about either team despite each having one of the most fun-to-watch fat guys in the game.
But I’ll say this: the World Series is still a heck of a lot closer to the Gold Gloves on the “mattering” scale than, say, a weather catastrophe or a national election. So, if you do not care about the Gold Gloves, fine. I do. So there.
So now that I have virtually done an entire post defending my discussion of “2012′s Best Fielders” with the 2012 Gold Gloves as a lead, how exactly does a person like me, who, I hope, has never pretended to be anything like a scout, go about choosing? Well, yeah, I must confess that I do look at those dirty ol’ advanced metrics that they have at FanGraphs. I am aware of the problems and the debates around them, but I do not pretend to be an expert on them. I will simply say that while I am skeptical of them, even over multiple years, I do not think that the problems of advanced metrics are enough for me to assign them to my personal garbage can.
But I do not simply look at them to decide who has been the best fielder. I will not go into great detail here, since I want to get to the awards, but I do look at a number of things. Yes, I look at the “advanced” metrics like Ultmate Zone Rating and Dewan’s Defensive Runs Saved. However, I also look at Baseball Prospectus’ re-worked Fielding Runs Above Average, which works quite differently — it does not use batted ball type or location data, and starts on the team level (defensive efficiency), and infers expected outs in a quite different manner. (Those are not the only mettrics I use. For example, FanGraphs uses a combination of things for catchers, and there is this other crazy metric out there.) Initially, I was also going to talk about how these metrics “interact” in my decision-making, and how I use the most simple ones — like Range Factor — as an objectivity check, but I might save that for a “using old-timey metrics” series down the road.
Moreover, I try to look at more than one year of data. However, this does not mean that I am really choosing a multi-year Gold Glove award, nor does it mean that I am estimating each player’s true talent. I am still just interested in basing things on 2012′s performance. However, given that all of the available metrics are far from perfect, even in their representation of what really happened, we need something to fill in the gaps.
Looking at the previous seasons can help fill in epistemological gaps in trying to decide whether the current year’s performance is (maybe) due to random variation or not. In this respect, I am following the lead of Phil Birnbaum’s analysis of “Bayesian” awards, which he discussed last year with reference to the Cy Young.
Of course, the other big “gap filler” (although it is probably more than that) is scouting information. Again, I do not even consider myself an amateur scout. However, I do have my own impressions, that I do not think are totally worthless. I also sometimes talk to people whose scouting eye I value a great deal. Finally, I take a look at current and past results from Tom Tango’s Fans Scouting Report initiative. Some people will argue that a whole bunch of mere fans is not really much better than one, but, in short, I disagree.
So how do I combine all of this stuff? Well, here’s the thing — for an award, rather than a projection or something like that, I do not have an algorithm. I look at the various aspects and let my judgment sort things out. Hey, I did not say it was perfect! Personally, I think the ambiguity and discussions around it are part of the fun.
So, onto my fake ballot and the winners.
(Oh, one more thing: I don’t do pitchers. Oh, okay, whatever. It’s Zack Greinke for both leagues.)
2012 Gold Gloves According to Matt
American League Catcher:
This might be the easiest one. Maybe it is because most metrics (as far as I know) are baselined against MLB rather than AL and NL average, but Matt Wieters’ fielding is so far beyond every other catcher in the American League both this year and last according to just about every measure that it is sort of ridiculous. Kansas City’s Salvador Perez has a chance to dethrone Wieters (or at least compete with him) over the next few years, but he needs to play a full season first. Adam Jones might have got the attention for the big first couple of months with his bat (after which he returned to basically being the same ol’ Adam Jones), but Wieters is arguably the more valuable player overall on the Orioles.
National League Catcher:
This one is closer than the American League contest, but in the end, it’s just as clear. Miguel Montero is an underrated catcher on both sides of the ball. Buster Posey’s combination of a monster bat and good glove might make him the Senior Circuit’s best overall player of 2012. But is there any doubt that Yadier Molina is still the best defensive catcher in baseball? Heck, if he had a good year framing pitches, you could almost make an argument for him being a dark horse MVP candidate. Boy, it sure is fun praising a Cardinal with a neck tattoo.
American League First Base:
Hilarious that after years of letting guys like Jeter win Gold Gloves on the basis of their bats, one “down” year from Albert Pujols, pretty clearly the best defensive first baseman in baseball of the past decade, means he is not even a finalist. In “Bayesian” terms, one could make a case for Pujols, and he was still at least one of the top two or three. However, I give the edge thisyear to Adrian “Most Boring Superstar in Baseball” Gonzalez. Yeah, I know he switched leagues.
National League First Base:
For me, this is a virtual toss-up between Adam LaRoche and Joey Votto. I give the edge to Votto, but ask me again in five minutes and I will probably say LaRoche, who had a really nice comeback year as an underrated factor in the Nationals’ big season.
American League Second Base:
It is tempting to go with Dustin Ackley just to avoid picking between Cano and Pedroia. This is a different toss-up than that between Votto and LaRoche. I have my doubts that Pedroia is really as good as the “advanced” metrics say, but I will hesitatingly give him the nod over Cano.
National League Second Base:
This is another tough choice. With all due respect to Darwin Barney, I think Brandon Phillips is still The Man here, although, yeah, I could be wrong.
American League Third Base:
Something of a similar situation to the NL second base situation — one could make arguments for either Brett Lawrie or Mike Moustakas, but I still think this is Adrian Beltre’s for now. It will be interesting to see how well Evan Longoria does in a full season.
National League Third Base:
With Ryan Zimmerman hurt and/or fading, I am not sure who to vote for. I am not buying David Wright or Aramis Ramirez as great fielders, so I will go with Chase Headley, although I am not too enthusiastic about his glove, either.
American League Shortstop:
There are a number of good-fielding shortstops in the American League, but I honestly feel like, at least in the field, Brendan Ryan has emerged over the last couple seasons as having a glove that is clearly the best.
National League Shortstop:
I was very tempted to say Clint Barmes here, and he does deserve more recognition for his glove. Still, I have to give this to Brandon Crawford. Zack Cozart also deserves a shout-out here.
American League Left Field:
This should be Alex Gordon all the way. Sure, Carl Crawford and Brett Gardner was hurt, but I also think that Crawford’s fielding is overrated and Gardner should be a center fielder (next year, at least). Also, much of Gordon’s value in the field comes from his arm, which is more easily measured objectively than range (another long story).
National League Left Field:
Ryan Braun is a finalist for the Gold Glove which means that the Jeter Legacy will live on! I will go with Martin Prado. Whatever.
American League Center Field:
Detroit’s Austin Jackson wins this for me, but one could make an argument for Denard Span being just as good this year.
National League Center Field:
Michael Bourn, and it is not close.
American League Right Field:
Obviously, every defensive metric is biased against Jeff Francouer. Pretty sure he saved about 53 runs this year with his arm. But who am I to fight against The Man (or is it The System?)? Josh Reddick is my compromise with The Powers That Be, although I do not think he is quite as good as the advanced metrics say.
National League Right Field:
Jason Heyward wins this — he’s always been good in the field, even last year when his bat was a problem. Bonus points for not having a superfluous “y” in his first name.