Are the Gold Gloves perhaps the most worthless of all awards, awarded on the basis of monkeys flinging handfuls of poo at ballots? That's just about the only conclusion which can be drawn from the winning of one by Nate McLouth. Let's review, shall we. According to Wikipedia, the Gold Glove "is the award given annually to the Major League Baseball player judged to have the 'most superior individual fielding performance' at each position."
Actually, that's not quite the case, because three gloves are awarded to outfielders, with no regard for position. This year, as well as McLouth, Carlos Beltran and Shane Victorino - all of them center fielders - took the outfield awards. So on that basis, let's be a little more generous. Is Nate McLouth among the top three cernter-fielders in the National League? Let's take a look at all the available metrics, and see what we find, as far as who the most appropriate recipient would be. There are ten potential center-fielders who played enough to qualify. The following chart shows the rankings of these players, as measured by each metric. The final column totals up those rankings and gives a final value; lower is better, obviously.
Fielding Percentage (F%), Range Factor (RF) and Zone Rating (ZR), from ESPN.
Revised Zone Rating (RZR) and Out of Zone Rating (OOZ) from Hardball Times.
Fielding Runs Above Average (FRAA), adjusted for all time, through Baseball Prospectus.
Any ties are broken based on the number of innings played in center.
I think the above makes it pretty clear that McLouth's Gold Glove was an utter travesty, and that it should probably have gone to the Diamondbacks' Chris Young, whom the majority of measures agree, was a superior player in center field. McLouth's edge is really only in his low number of errors, which is the equivalent of banging the rocks together as far as defensive metrics goes. In particular I note that the more advanced figures of RZR and FRAA both agree, ranking Young first and McLouth dead-last among qualifiers in center-field. Defensive Win Shares? Young: 6.9; McLouth: 3.0.
This all ties in with the results published by the Fielding Bible. While I don't have access to the full rankings, so could not include them in the table above, I do have the top and bottom players, according to John Dewan's plus/minus system. Chris Young is rated at +23, meaning basically, that he made 23 plays this year an average center-fielder would not have made. That trailed just Beltran and Carlos Gomez, so Young was still in the top three. Nate McLouth? Well, he came in at -40: that's last, and it was not even close, with the next-worst, Jim Edmonds, being fourteen plays better at -26.
Now, the awards in the past have seen some remarkable atrocities - need I say any more than, "multi-Gold Glove winning short-stop, Derek Jeter"? But this is probably worse than any of those. I may not often agree with Rob Neyer, but when he headlines his article on the awards, NL Gold Glove voters erred on McLouth, it's hard to argue. He says, "Quite frankly, this is like some horrible joke, roughly on par with...giving one to Rafael Palmeiro (1999) on the strength of 28 games."
Even locals are perplexed: One comment on the story from a Pirates fan says, "His range in centerfield is awful... There was nothing more frustrating this year than watching McLouth take an awful route on a ball he had to go back on, only to see the ball fall behind him a full five feet in front of the warning track. He played soooo far up and was soooo bad at going back on the ball." Over at Bucs Dugout, Charlie is somewhat kinder - but only somewhat: "McLouth's memorable throw in the All-Star game probably helped him, but other than that, I don't know what the voters saw here. McLouth, to my eyes, looked like an average centerfielder."
This is in contrast to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, which crows, "Before last season, the rap on McLouth was all-hit, no-field. He silenced those who doubted his defensive skills." Sorry. Not at all. Going by the most advanced and objective measures, McLouth possesses the defensive skills of a beached manatee with rheumatism. When he's presented with it, the award will probably go over his head and roll all the way to the wall.
Chris Young was robbed.