Wednesday, November 11, 2009
NL Gold Gloves: 2 out of 9 ain't bad
Well, there's nothing truly offensive about the list of National League Gold Glove winners. Rather, it's just the usual laziness that you would expect from voters who don't take the process seriously. If you're a voter and you really don't care who wins the Gold Gloves, your job is easy: You simply vote for who you voted for last year, or you vote for the player with the highest fielding percentage. Jimmy Rollins scored on both points, and one wonders if the voters have any idea that Troy Tulowitzki was again the best shortstop in the National League, just as he was in 2007 (when Rollins won his first Gold Glove).
Oh, I forgot the other Lazy Voter's Rule: Vote for the player with the most impressive non-fielding stats. That might seem like a strange tack, but remember that we're talking about voters who don't really give a tinker's damn. Adam Wainwright? Maybe he really is the best-fielding pitcher, even though he's a right-hander and there's absolutely zero statistical evidence that he did anything special after the ball was struck. In the Fielding Bible balloting, 20 National League pitchers showed up, and Wainwright was one of them ... in 17th place, and well behind teammates Joel Pineiro and Chris Carpenter.
We're not perfect. I don't want to ignore the possibility that Wainwright did things with the glove that were truly and meaningfully impressive this year.
A long time ago, I read that the most effective way to criticize someone is to offer a compliment, then your bit of criticism before finishing with another compliment and (if possible) a friendly squeeze of the shoulder. Unfortunately, the voters haven't done enough good things for that to work. So, instead I'll have to employ the less effective criticize-compliment-criticize paradigm.
At catcher, the voters defaulted to incumbent Yadier Molina, who is so obviously the best defensive catcher in the National League that if anyone else had won the Gold Glove, the award should have been blown up. More impressively, the voters also hit on first-time winner Ryan Zimmerman, who not only led the majors in Web Gems (an unofficial statistic) but also dominated most of the sophisticated fielding metrics that don't usually show up on TV. The voters could have gone for Kevin Kouzmanoff, who made only three errors in 139 games. They could have gone for David Wright, who won last year. But instead they chose the best defensive third baseman in the National League, and they score big points for that one.
So, bravo, sirs! You are to be commended for two of your choices!
Or rather, three of them. Everyone doesn't love Michael Bourn, but I rated him as the best center fielder in the National League. He's never won a Gold Glove and it would have been easy for the voters to ignore a weak-hitting kid playing for the Astros. But they didn't. Bravo, again.
And then we've got the rest of them. As usual, Albert Pujols was the best first baseman in the National League. But he made (gasp!) 13 errors, and I suppose some voters simply can't countenance a first baseman who makes 13 errors. So instead of Pujols with his 13 errors, we've got Adrian Gonzalez with his seven errors. That's right, folks: six errors probably cost Pujols the Gold Glove. Or perhaps it was simply a matter of incumbency, as Gonzalez won last year, too. This is far from criminal, as Gonzalez is a fine first baseman. It does strike me as odd that the voters remain reluctant to give Pujols -- who has just one Gold Glove on his mantel -- his due as not only the best hitter, but perhaps the best all-around player in the game today.
Rollins is a legacy pick, and so is Orlando Hudson, who won in 2006 and '07 and probably would have won last year if he hadn't spent a couple of months on the DL. Instead, the voters went with Brandon Phillips last season, and while he wasn't my first choice -- Chase Utley was -- Phillips was certainly defensible. This year, the voters returned to Hudson, once again spurning Utley, who still doesn't have a Gold Glove despite being arguably the league's top defensive second baseman for five seasons running. And not over the last five seasons; I mean in each of the last five seasons.
Who cares, right? Well, someday Utley's going to be on a Hall of Fame ballot, and at least a few voters will say, "Gosh, I love the guy's hitting stats, but why didn't he win any Gold Gloves?"
The answer isn't that Utley wasn't a great fielder; the answer is that the Gold Glove voters just weren't paying attention.
Speaking of which, I'm not sure what to say about Matt Kemp and Shane Victorino. Kemp gets bonus points because he's a good hitter and he's fast and he's got a good arm, with the only problem being that Kemp doesn't make a particularly large number of plays, which is sort of the point of the thing.
Victorino didn't make a great number of plays this season, either. But one can almost forgive the voters, because Victorino was solid last season (when he won his first Gold Glove) and even better in 2007 as a right fielder. Players typically peak early as fielders, but Victorino's (apparent) decline has been precipitous, and I have a hard time holding the voters responsible for tracking Victorino.
On the other hand, if we can't expect the voters to see that a player has declined in the field, what can we expect these voters to do? Watch "Baseball Tonight" every night and keep a careful log of Web Gems? If the voters -- and remember, we're talking about managers and coaches -- have any credibility, it's because they see the candidates regularly throughout the season, and because they presumably keep their ears to the ground. But when you look at the players who win Gold Gloves year after year in the face of all the available statistical evidence, it's easy to conclude that even that shred of credibility really hasn't been earned.