Wednesday, November 5, 2008

2008 National League 'Shoulda' Gold Gloves

The Baseball Writers of America Association traditionally botch giving out awards, none is more obvious then with the Gold Glove Awards. The BBWAA typically enjoy giving awards to fielders who are also strong hitters. In addition to that, the writers give credit to a player based on reputation and making highlight reel plays. While highlight reel plays are exciting to view, they are often the result of poor positioning, a weak arm, mediocre reaction, and/or a lack of speed. Every time Derek Jeter is in the air making an 'acrobatic' throw, imagine Jimmy Rollins making that same play, flat on his feet.

Another issue, is the use of a pointless statistic. Fielding Percentage is a subjective measure and is more a product of a players individual ability. That is, a ball that Chase Utley gets to may not be a ball that Luis Castillo can get to. Thus, if Utley gets to the ball but makes an errant throw, allowing a 'base hit', should he get punished for getting to the ball while Castillo watched the ball roll into the outfield?

Thus, I'm going to take a look at two of the most prominent defensive statistics that actually matter. Statistics which truly look at how a player fields.

The first statistic I will look at will be The Fielding Bibles plus/minus (+/-) measure. At the Fielding Bible, the authors watch every defensive play over the course of the year and figure out how many runs a player saves compared to league average. A rate of +10 would be the same as earning a win for The Hardball Times' win shares.

The second statistic I will look at will be The Hardball Times' revised zone rating (RZR). Here is THT's explanation of RZR,
Revised Zone Rating is the proportion of balls hit into a fielder's zone that he successfully converted into an out....To get a full picture of a player's range, you should evaluate both his Revised Zone Rating and his plays made out of zone (OOZ). You can read more about the Revised Zone Ratings in this article.
These measure's will be weighted equally to come up with an unofficial list of who should win a Gold Glove-which is to be announced later this afternoon on ESPNews.

Without further adieu, the 2008 'Shoulda' Gold Glove winners for the National League:

1B - Albert Pujols

Pujols rates as the #1 defensive first basemen by both RZR and +/-. This is an easy award to give away and furthers Pujols' legacy as one of the best baseball players of all time. The runner-up for this away is Lance Berkman who ranked just behind Joey Votto in +/-, but a fair distance ahead of him in RZR.

2B - Chase Utley

Utley more then doubles the next best second basemen in +/- , ranking just below the NL's runner-up Brandon Phillips. Utley is nearing the same echelon as Pujols as the total package, being both an elite hitter and an elite fielder. The big difference, most teams will allow their first basemen to be a mediocre fielder if he is an elite hitter. Whereas second base, the more difficult position to field, is expected to have a slick fielder, albeit with a weak bat.

3B - Ryan Zimmerman

The most difficult position to award to this point, Zimmerman rates as the 4th best third basemen according to THT's RZR, however he is the only one of THT's top 5 which made TFB's top 10. Zimmerman has always been considered a plus fielder but never given credit for such. Undergoing major surgery twice in the last year only increases how impressive of a fielder he is. The runner-up is the New York Mets David Wright.

SS - Jimmy Rollins

J-Roll rates as the National Leagues top +/- fielding short stop and number two in RZR. I imagine the BBWAA will get this right and take Rollins as he has a sound bat to compliment his slick fielding. Yunel Escobar is undervalued as a fielder, and if the Padres can find a taker for Khalil Greene, it wouldn't be a terrible idea to utilize Yunel as the center piece of a Jake Peavy trade.

LF - Matt Holliday

I am as shocked as the next person as I had always thought of Holliday as a terrible fielder. Holliday rates as the second best fielder among those who qualified in RZR and the third best fielder in +/-. The reason I am giving him the nod over Willie Harris and Connor Jackson is because of the major discrepancy in playing time. Harris is the runner-up but nearly wins the award due to making 45 out of zone (OOZ) plays in less then half the playing time of Holliday (Holliday made 50 OOZ plays).

CF - Chris Young

It is evident that Carlos Beltran has the best shot at winning this award, but Young actually rates out as the superior fielding when utilizing both statistics. Beltran leads Young by one point in +/- whereas Young leads Beltran by over 2% in RZR. A very close race and arguably a toss-up.

Cody Ross was arguably the best center fielder in the National League. That certainly comes as a surprise to me as Ross clearly looks out of position in cavernous Dolphin Stadium. What knocks him from the competition is his lack of OOZ plays and plays altogether.

RF - Randy Winn

Finishing first and second in RZR and +/- respectively has Winn at the top of the heap in the National League. It is a good thing that Winn is a solid fielder, as his bat is not overly impressive and would not be tolerated if he was below average. The runner-up goes to Brian Giles.

It is interesting to note that each of the outfielders mentioned here, come from poor hitters parks, parks that are traditionally knows for having large outfields. I am curious if these fielders are benefitting from either a fly ball friendly pitching staff, or by a more all-out style of play.

With the awards being given out later this afternoon, it will be interesting to see how much the BBWAA allow a subjective measure such as fielding percentage weigh into their respective decisions.

I left out the catching and pitching positions because each has much to do with their respective teams. For example, a catcher may struggle with throwing out runners because his pitchers do not help with the running game, and vice versa. A catchers reputation also limits who runs, and when. One way to measure such, would be to look at a team's ERA while a specific catcher is behind the dish. This, however, could also be a result of being a 'personal catcher' to a really good pitcher.

In terms of a pitchers gold glove, there are certainly pitchers that are phenomenal with the mit, but a lack of playing time, as well as being of secondary concern to a pitcher is my rationale for omitting pitchers from this list. It would be like utilizing a pitchers hitting when awarding the National League Cy Young.

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