Two Tigers win Gold Gloves, but not the right two

Ivan Rodriguez and Placido Polanco were honored today as MLB announced the Gold Glove winners. For Pudge it was his 13th while it was Polanco’s first. But were they the most deserving Tigers? Rob Neyer took a look at the inherent biases or trends in the voting. A couple of these helped the Tigers (previous winner, fielding percentage, offensive contribution), and a couple hurt the Tigers.

Pudge Rodriguez

We’ll start with Pudge Rodriguez who saw his caught stealing rate drop to 30.9%. That was still a little above average in 2007 when base stealers in the AL were successful 73.2% of the time, but hardly Gold Glove worthy. Kenji Johjima gunned down 46.5% of would be base stealers. Even dubious stats like passed balls didn’t favor Rodriguez as he was charged with 7 while Johjima was charged with 5 in 54 more innings. And that isn’t even inclusive of the numerous wild pitches which could have been scored either way. Then throw in 6 errors and the picture is bleak for Pudge who won the award entirely off his reputation.

Placido Polanco

Moving to Placido Polanco, his win was certainly defensible. While errors and fielding percentage is a flawed stat, making it though a season without an error is still a remarkable achievement. While the error that was charged to Polanco and later assigned to Marcus Thames is certainly debatable, it was the only instance that I can recall where the streak was helped by the scorer. Throw in Polanco’s .341 batting average and it is easy to see why he would garner votes. But in looking at other metrics he lagged his peers.

Looking at +/- in the The Bill James Handbook 2008, Polanco was a respectable +10. That trailed Aaron Hill (+22), Mark Ellis (+19), and Robinson Cano (+17) considerably. If you don’t like +/- those same 3 appear as the best (but in a different order) using UZR as well. Polanco rates a little better using Revised Zone Rating, but he still is sandwiched between Ellis and Hill and made over 100 fewer plays than Ellis and nearly 150 fewer plays than Hill.

I like Polanco and am happy to see him receive some recognition. But the evidence just doesn’t show him as the best fielding 2nd baseman in the AL.

Brandon Inge

Now it’s time to stir the pot with some Brandon Inge controversy. Adrian Beltre took home the hardware for third basemen this year. Beltre is an excellent defender so this isn’t a bad choice at all. The trouble is, as Neyer pointed out, the award was a year late. Beltre should have won it in 2006. This year Brandon Inge beat him in UZR (+12 versus +5). Inge also beat him in +/- as Brandon amassed a +22, second only to Pedro Feliz. Nick Punto was next closest in the AL at +10 while Beltre was a solid +7. Inge was 2nd in the AL in RZR behind Mike Lowell and in total made 45 more plays on balls in his zone than any other AL third sacker. Beltre bests him only in plays on balls made out of his zone, 64 to 63. But even in fielding percentage where Inge typically gets dinged, he posted a .959 to Beltre’s .958.

Brandon Inge was deserving of the award this year, and it wasn’t a 1 year fluke. Looking at the 3 year +/- numbers only Albert Pujols, Chase Utley, Adam Everett, and Pedro Feliz have a better rate than Inge.

Curtis Granderson

This one is the hardest to figure. Granderson seemed to do many of the things that help you win gold gloves.

Solid offensive season? Check. He was top 10 in slugging, OPS, Runs, Total Bases, and Triples. Plus he had that whole quad-20 thing which was arbitrary, but still remarkable and attention gathering.
Winning team? Check. The Tigers were in contention all year and received plenty of attention.
Highlight plays? Check. His homer rob of Wily Mo Pena was the #2 web gem. Plus he had some high profile diving catches including a triple/run saving catch on Sunday night baseball and a game saving catch in an August pennant race tilt against the Indians.

Not that any of the above are legitimate reasons for winning, but they do seem to resonate well with voters.

As for his actual case, he had the highest RZR in the American League regardless of position.

Looking at +/- he was second only to Coco Crisp (also a deserving candidate) at +21 just behind Crisp’s +22. Gold Glove winner Ichiro was at +4 and other winners Grady Sizemore and Torii Hunter weren’t in the top 10. (the annual only lists the top ten and bottom 5 at each position.

Looking at UZR, Sizemore rates well at +26 leading AL centerfielders with Granderson second at +18 (Crisp and Dejesus tied for 3rd at +13). Meanwhile Ichiro was -14.

If you’re skeptical of the advanced metrics, that is understandable. When some players rate inconsistently across them it is hard to know where the truth lies. But Granderson rated at or near the top across the board, which is more than can be said for the other fielders except for Crisp.

I’m not overly upset with the results. The Gold Gloves have long been flawed awards. But when someone describes a player as a gold glover it is important to note whether they are using the generic term for a very good defender, or whether they are actually toting someone’s hardware. The former probably carries more weight even if the latter carries more prestige.


  1. Stephen

    November 6, 2007 at 11:00 pm

    I think Kenji Johjima and Al Gore should be Facebook friends.

  2. David

    November 7, 2007 at 12:13 am

    You showed nicely how flawed the Gold Glove Award is.

    Pudge and Polanco shouldn’t have won, but did.

    Inge and Granderson probably should have, but didn’t.

    Oh well, all that matters to me is how they play and how many games we win.

    But, I wonder what effect it has on them…

  3. JML

    November 7, 2007 at 12:16 am

    Placido shouldn’t have won? BAH!! DOUBLE BAH!! Hm, it’s evident what kind of a day I had today, isn’t it? And yes, it sure would have been nice to see crInge get some recognition for defense, as well as Grandy.

  4. Stephen

    November 7, 2007 at 12:18 am

    Brandon Inge winning a Gold Glove would have made him more tradeable (good!) but Inge winning a Gold Glove would have validated his approach to the game. (not good!)

  5. Vince in MN

    November 7, 2007 at 12:22 am

    The Gold Glove Awards have been a joke for years – I am not sure exactly what they are meant to honor, but apparently defensive skill doesn’t have a lot to do with it. Most Popular Player by Position Award might be more accurate, when the trophy could be changed to a bronze smiley face instead of a glove.

  6. Walewander

    November 7, 2007 at 1:20 am

    Stephen – there is a lot to complain about Brandon’s approach with the stick, sure, but there sure isn’t anything wrong with his glove. It’s even more impressive once you take the position shifts into account.

    Oh, and Curtis was ROBBED.

  7. Jason

    November 7, 2007 at 1:34 am

    Placido deserves the award. End of story.

  8. Joel

    November 7, 2007 at 1:51 am

    I’m fine with Inge’s approach to the game in the field. His approach at the plate is what’s in question.

  9. Mike R

    November 7, 2007 at 2:16 am

    Billfer, you could have summed this up with:

    “Gold Glove voting is a joke. Rafael Palmeiro won a Gold Glove at 1st base despite playing in 28 games at 1st base in 1999.”

    And I’m not making that up. Peep his fielding numbers over at He won GG in 1997-1999.

  10. Lee Panas

    November 7, 2007 at 2:16 am

    There is no way Pudge should have won the award. Polanco’s award was reasonable although probably not fully deserved. You can probably make better cases for Inge and Granderson. Even Granderson is not clear cut though because the metrics don’t say anything about an outfielders arm and his not too good. I still think he deserved it but it’s arguable from that standpoint.

  11. The Spot Starters

    November 7, 2007 at 12:36 pm

    Agree totally with the Pudge and Granderson comments. Not sure I’m on board with Polanco and Inge. I recognize that Polanco doesn’t have the strongest arm or is the speediest in the field but he was flawless. I think even two errors would have damaged his candidacy, but he was perfect.

    Pudge is clearly slipping, nothing else needs to be said there.

    I try to separate Inge the batter with Inge the fielder but I feel that my vision may be clouded on that front. If I’m not mistaken I don’t think he led the league in any defensive statistics.

    Granderson deserves it for patrolling a huge outfield and making very few mistakes. He always takes great routes to balls, his main problem (and it barely came up) was that sometimes his long throws are way off line. He’s a stud in center.

  12. jim-mt

    November 7, 2007 at 2:33 pm

    No stats to back it up; Inge makes spectacular plays, but then seems to botch an easy play in a critical situation.

    And I wish he would quit being his own batting coach(per Jim Price)-he needs help!

  13. Mark in Chicago

    November 7, 2007 at 2:54 pm

    Dear Billfer,

    You have banged the hornet’s nest with a stick by posting a supportive/positive case for Inge. Good luck, my friend, you will need it.



  14. Rings

    November 7, 2007 at 3:02 pm

    While there’s long been the Inge debate on various portions of his game, defense included, a few of his memorable brain farts (attempting a force at third in a non-force situation, getting picked off 2nd on a fly ball in a 1-run game, etc.) and his poor performance in last year’s World Series may have had more to do with the outcome of the (subjective) voting than anything.

    Granderson and Sizemore will long battle for favor among AL CF’ers. Although both are media friendly (MLB blog & playoff commentary vs. SI cover and female fan base), Grady has the upper hand at the moment.

    Polanco deserves the award, stats be darned. No question on this one.

  15. billfer

    November 7, 2007 at 11:13 pm

    I don’t have a big problem with the Polanco selection because a case can be made for it. He just wasn’t the most deserving.

    As for Inge, I’m pretty sure that a ton of players and coaches weren’t thinking about the bonehead non-force play. His highlight plays got a lot more coverage and I’m entirely confident getting picked off 2nd didn’t factor into their voting. And while we’re on the irrelevant Brandon Inge stats, he was one of only 3 Tigers to actually hit well in the 2006 World Series.

  16. David

    November 8, 2007 at 2:30 am

    Ba Zing

    I really hope Brandon hits well next year not only for the team but to shut guys like Rings and Stephen up for being dumb.

    He is as good as it gets at third. And as Billfer pointed out (and I did a few times awhile back) he along with Guillen and Casey mashed in the WS.

    However if we were to get ARod (yea right…) for a tad more than Maggs (16-20 mil – again year right…) I don’t know where I would play Rentaria – LF?

    I wonder if Arod said he’d come to Detroit for 20mil and them moving in the fences if Dombrowski would do it, I saw his interview with Seth Everett and he seemed pretty against it- only b/c Arod wants so much.

  17. billfer

    November 8, 2007 at 6:39 am

    No calling people dumb.

  18. Coach Jim

    November 8, 2007 at 12:58 pm

    Next year we’ll have 5 Tigers competing for GGs. I’m adding Guillen at 1B.