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.
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.
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.
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.
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.