The National League Gold Gloves: Was Arizona Robbed?

The National League Gold Glove awards were announced today, and while there wasn't anything quite as horrific as giving Derek "The Traffic Cone" Jeter another award, there were still a couple of winners that made me go "Huh? They're good?". I figured I would dig a little deeper into objective measurements - rather than apparently picking them based strictly on fielding percentage - and see how much merit there was to the choices. And, from there, it was another couple of clicks to see how the winners stacked up against our defenders here in Arizona...

After the jump are all the numbers.

But before we get to those, some thoughts on the problems with the awards, voted for by managers and coaches in each league, who are not allowed to vote for their own players. Consequently, they do so based on a maximum of nineteen games of observation - and a lot less for teams outside your own division. How many meaningful plays per game does, say, your average outfielder make? Cross off the "can of corn" pop-flies, and throwing back in singles that make it through or over the infield, and there can hardly be more than a couple of occasions that provide meaningful insight into a player's skill-set. Little wonder awards seem given out more on reputation than merit.

Of course, fielding metrics are still in their infancy, subject to random variation due to small sample size and of doubtful reliability. However, their big advantage is that they are present for all 162 games of the season, rather than just the five occasions on which Kirk Gibson saw Scott Rolen play third-base in person during 2010 (and one hopes Gibson was giving his attention to things other than his Gold Glove ballot at these times). So, here are the numbers from the three main, publicly-available defensive systems, for both the winners and their Arizona counterparts

Gold Gloves UZR Rtot Rdrs Arizona UZR Rtot Rdrs
P. Bronson Arroyo 6 (1) Ian Kennedy 2
C. Yadier Molina 16 (1) 12 (2) Miguel Montero 0 2
1B. Albert Pujols 1.5 (4) -2 (74) 0 (64) Adam Laroche 5.2 2 2
2B. Brandon Phillips 9.7 (2) 0 (43) 0 (40) Kelly Johnson 7.1 3 2
SS. Troy Tulowitzki 7.1 (3) 12 (2) 16 (3) Stephen Drew 8.7 0 -1
3B. Scott Rolen 10.6 (3) 3 (9) 2 (11) Mark Reynolds 2.2 -7 -3
OF. Shane Victorino 2.6 (16) 12 (4) 11 (2) CF. Chris Young 4.0 7 10
OF. Michael Bourn 17.6 (3) 23 (1) 16 (1) RF. Justin Upton 7.6 20 7
OF. Carlos Gonzalez -2.7 -2 -2 LF. Gerardo Parra 13.3 11 14

UZR is Ultimate Zone Rating from Fangraphs.com. Rtot (Total Fielding Runs Above Avg) and Rdrs (Defensive Runs Saved Above Avg) are both from Baseball-Reference.com. The number in brackets for the winners is where they ranked at their position by that metric in the National League- among qualifying players for UZR. I didn't include any rank for Carlos Gonzalez, because he started 51, 55 and 34 games in left, center and right - seemed unfair to put him up against purely CF, when he played only 40% of his time there. But we'll have more to say about him later. Trust me on that...

To start with the positions where I can't really grumble: Bronson Arroyo, Yadier Molina and Michael Bourn all seem to have their awards solidly backed by the fielding metrics - admittedly, with some limited numbers, especially for Arroyo. Much though it pains me to say it, Troy-boy also probably did well enough across the board, to make his selection justifiable. Even through Drew had a better UZR than Tulowitzki, the other two scales both rate our shortstop as the sabermetric equivalent of "meh".

The numbers are less convincing for Pujols, Phillips and Rolen. However, that trio all did well in the Fielding Bible awards, which poll a broader cross-section of views than the Gold Gloves - they came first, second and third in the NL respectively. I'm somewhat intrigued by the love for Pujols, where the metrics regard him as mediocre. Rolen and Phillips both did well enough in UZR, if not Rtot or Rdrs. Conversely, Victorino didn't do well in UZR or in the Fielding Bible voting, but got solid numbers in the other two. At least there's some justification for him, even if you have to peer quite hard to see it.

Then there's Carlos Gonzalez, who appears to have been given the award, simply for having been a Swiss Army Knife - only one other NLer in the past fifty years has played forty games at each outfield position in the same season (So Taguchi for the 2005 Cardinals). However, as Rob Neyer said, "there's not much evidence that he played any of them particularly well. Let alone brilliantly." All three metrics agree that CarGon's best position was, far and away, left-field, with Gonzalez below average elsewhere. The only way his numbers even merit consideration, is if you pretended he spent all season is left, scaled his performance there accordingly, and ignore center and right completely. Particularly the latter, where UZR/150 ranked Gonzalez 25th, among the 27 with 250 innings there.

So were Arizona robbed? Probably not individually, according to the metrics. If there's anyone who was "robbed" by Carlos the (Gold Glove) Jackal, it would probably be Angel Pagan, who ranked better by both objective and subjective measurements. Across all NL outfielders, he was second by Rtot, fourth by UZR and came third in the Fielding Bible voting for CF. Or Jay Bruce of the Reds: seventh, second and first, respectively, in the same categories. Or the Giants' Andres Torres: fifth, first, fifth. Any one of those outfielders would have been a more credible selection than Carlos Gonzalez.

However, there is data to suggest the Diamondbacks might have had the best-fielding outfield, collectively, in the National League. I think 'Skins is going to talk more about our defense in due course, but the collective Rtot of Upton, Parra and Young, at 43, was better than any other trio of NL team-mates. UZR is close to concurring, ranking the entire Arizona outfield [including Cole Gillespie, etc.] behind only the Giants - whose total was almost entirely due to Torres.

Kevin Towers said last week, "I am a big believer in defense, especially at Chase Field. We will not be able to be successful with marginal defenders in the infield or the outfield, so [for] any changes to our everyday lineup, defense will also be a priority in the players we choose to add to our roster." On the basis of the numbers from 2010, it doesn't seem like the outfield requires much help in this area.

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