Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Gold Glove Nonsense

Well, it happens every year. The contenders are determined by hype with merit only tangentially related and the voters never use any creativity in making their selections. Normally fans of the few who win are happy and say it was well-deserved and everyone else points out how inane the whole thing is. The Oscars sure are annoying. Err, make that the Gold Gloves.

Derek Jeter's first Gold Glove win is sure to get lots of ink, much of which will acknowledge that this has, in actuality, been by far Jeter's best season defensively. When a superstar has a relatively great defensive season when the incumbent switches leagues or positions, as Alex Rodriguez did, he's got a good shot at winning. That's what happened this year. I think Miguel Tejada, who fits those same criteria (he had his best defensive season and his best offensive season this year, and I'll bet he's not in the top 5 in MVP balloting despite having won it with his not as gawdy 2002 campaign), should win, as he led qualifying MLB shortstops in range factor and was fifth in zone rating (3rd in the AL). Bobby Crosby and Jose Valentin were arguably slightly better per game, but Tejada started all 162 games, while Crosby and Valentin started 151 and 117 games, respectively. Besides those three, Julio Lugo also would have been a better choice than Jeter, and Carlos Guillen was arguably superior to the pinstriped one. Of course, Jeter only registered 13 errors, which gives him both fewer errors and a better fielding percentage than any of my preferred candidates, so it's not hard to see why he was chosen, though it's nearly impossible to see why the logic behind his being chosen could be widely accepted. This is "disappointing," I suppose you could say, but predictable.

The choice at second base, on the other hand, should make anyone who takes the Gold Gloves seriously vomit with rage. Only the much-maligned fielding of Alfonso Soriano produced more errors or a lower fielding percentage than Boone's fielding among qualifiers, so that justification is out. Throw in that Boone ranked worst among qualifying major league shortstops in both range factor and zone rating and this is an out-and-out stinker. The winner should, I strongly believe, be Orlando Hudson, who was probably the most valuable second baseman in the AL this year despite being platooned. Hudson annihilated the field in range factor and trailed only Mark Bellhorn and Adam Kennedy in zone rating. Hudson is the textbook Gold Glove victim, however, playing without name recognition for a team that wasn't on many folks' radars.

In the outfield, I would probably choose Aaron Rowand and Mark Kotsay over Ichiro! and Torii Hunter, but those choices aren't excruciatingly bad. And, come to think of it, Carl Crawford should place higher on anyone's ballot than Ichiro, not that that matters. As far as ex-outfielders go, however, there's a big problem, as Darin Erstad was given the honor at first base probably solely on the basis of his popularity and status as a former centerfielder. Well, we could also add in the intrinsic flaw of favoring players credited with fewer errors. Tino Martinez was slightly better than Erstad in most statistical regards, including errors, but didn't win. Mark Teixeira was substantially better in the rate stats and played more often, but his 10 errors must have done him in. Carlos Delgado is the official choice of the Fourth Outfielder Baseball Blog, as he led the AL in range factor and finished just behind Martinez and Teixeira at 3rd in zone rating. His 5 errors left him and Erstad with an identical fielding percentage, and his superior offense and superstar status should, theoretically give him the tiebreakers. But that's not how it works in the world of sports journalism; let's look at the storyline tale of the tape:

Erstad: Light-skinned. Delgado: Dark-skinned.
Erstad: Born in continental. Delgado: US Born in Puerto Rico.
Erstad: Angels' team mascot. Delgado: Said he wouldn't waive his no-trade clause.
Erstad: Skinny. Delgado: Kinda fat.
Erstad: "Scrappy" player, slaps singles. Delgado: Draws lots of walks, hits home runs.
Erstad: Injured from "playing too hard". Delgado: Injured, probably from lack of conditioning or moral character or something.
Erstad: Has played centerfield. Delgado: Has played DH.
Erstad: Won a world series. Delgado: Objects to the invasion of Iraq.

(And if this is how merit is judged in baseball, how do you think merit's going to be judged elsewhere in the same society?)

Eric Chavez was a great pick, as only the NL's breakout cyborg third baseman duo (Beltre/Rolen) had better defensive seasons. Kenny Rogers was an inoffensive selection, perhaps the best fielding pitcher in the AL. Choosing a catcher is arguably most difficult, and I don't think that Ivan Rodriguez was a better defensive catcher than Damian Miller, but that's still an evaluation procedure that needs work. Overall, the choices were about par for the course: two choices (Chavez, Wells) who were pretty much the best, three that were not the best choices but are somewhat defensible (Hunter, Ichiro, Rodriguez), two that were silly and wrong but easy to explain (Jeter, Erstad), and one that was dead wrong (Boone) Oh-- and one pitcher that wasn't a bad choice but who doesn't stand out either.

Looking forward, I think the NL Gold Gloves will be uneventful and unsurprising. I'd expect the four Cardinals who won last year-- Renteria, Rolen, Edmonds, and Matheny -- to repeat, as inertia will edge out the arguments that the left side of the Dodgers infield (Beltre and Izturis) were marginally better because of edges in playing time and zone rating and the relative anonymity of Brian Schneider and Jack Wilson will prevent their serious consideration. On top of that, the Cardinals could be the big story if Albert Pujols wins at first base, which has a decent shot at happening since he's both the best candidate and an offensive force, although Todd Helton's superior fielding percentage could give him the title. The other two outfielders after Edmonds will probably be repeat offenders Andruw Jones and new to the NL Mike Cameron, although Cameron's high error total and Met-ness could undo his candidacy. Luis Castillo is fairly deserving and won last year, so he's a good bet. Let's also pencil in former perennial Gold Glover Greg Maddux, who is probably the best choice outside of people who look like computer-generated Tom Hanks characters.

Erstad's RAA2: +8
Delgado's RAA2: +10

(RAA2 is park-adjusted runs prevented above average.) It's much closer than UZR shows. Furthermore, Erstad played first base after not playing any significant number of games at that position since 1999. Sure, first is the nearly-DH position where defense doesn't count for a whole bunch, but picking Erstad here is entirely defensible, skin color or no.
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