By In Stuff

The Gold Gloves

Every baseball fan has an opinion about baseball’s advanced defensive statistics. It’s understandable, really. Baseball defense is a tough nut. It is a much blurrier skill to measure than, say, hitting, for a pretty obvious reason. In hitting, you know EXACTLY what you’re measuring. Every plate appearance is a starting point.

All you need to do is count how successful the hitter was in that plate appearance. We have come up with dozens of ways to measure success. Did he get a hit? An extra base hit? Did he walk? Did he strike out? Did he drive in a run? Did he move the runner over? And so on. But the plate appearance is your constant. It always starts there.

For many years, people tried to judge defense the same way. Most still do. That, I think, is where the “error” concept comes in.

See, fielding percentage and batting average are really measuring in the same way. Batting average measures how how many hits you get per at-bat. Fielding percentage measures how many plays you make based on total chances. They come from the same kind of mindset, the mindset of measuring how often you are successful based on opportunities.

But, it seems to me, the main problem is this: Fielding is not like hitting. Not at all. It isn’t about how many plays you make based on opportunities. It is about how many opportunities you give yourself. Let’s pretend there are two center fielders who face PRECISELY the same number and type of balls over a full season.

Center fielder A records 375 putouts without a single error.
Center fielder B records 410 putouts but makes 9 errors.

Who had the better year? Well, in this case it’s easy … Center fielder B. Even with the errors, he made 35 more plays than the other guy. This isn’t even close. But the problem with defense is, it isn’t ever easy like that. No two center fielders face precisely the same opportunities over a season. There are fly-ball pitchers, ground-ball pitchers, hard-throwing pitchers, soft-throwing pitchers. And even if my some miracle two fielders DID, impossibly, face precisely the same barrage — precisely the same fly balls, line drives, gappers, wall balls and so on — they still would face different weather conditions, different sun angles, different ballpark dimensions and they would probably be lined up in different places depending on the manager’s defensive strategies.

In this way, it makes little sense to judge baseball in a linear way. You need to think spatially. There are so many variables, they are so hard to measure, and this is why I think many are so skeptical about defensive stats. What statistic can really get at all these factors and unknowns? How can you compare a left fielder in Fenway with a left fielder in Colorado? How can you compare someone who plays on grass against someone who plays on turf? How can you judge whether a player SHOULD have reached that ball or COULD have made that play?

This, I think, is why so many people have through the years judged defense aesthetically, like art. We let our eyes tell us. We watch them play. We see them dive. We see them botch. We see them make smart plays. We see them overthrow the cutoff man. We see them pull back home runs. We see them allow grounders through their legs. And, over time, we come to conclusions about them.

This eye test does have a lot of value. It is the senses — more than any statistic — that can grasp and appreciate the magnificence of Willie Mays in center field or Ozzie Smith at shortstop or Johnny Bench behind the plate. Without the numbers, a .300 hitter will look a lot like a .270 hitter much of the time. But Brooks Robinson looked different from other third basemen, Keith Hernandez looked different at first base, Roberto Clemente was a marvel in right field. Who even knew their error totals? Who cared?

The trouble is — and this is hard for many of us to admit — the eyes fall hard for optical illusions. There was a time during this postseason when I saw an outfielder get a terrible jump on the ball, run it down, catch it, then I heard the announcer go on and on about what a nice play he made. An inning or two later, there was a ball hit into the gap, and the same outfielder got a fabulous jump on the ball, ran it down and made what the announcer referred to as a routine play. There is no doubt in my mind that the second play wasn’t just harder but MUCH harder than the first. It just didn’t look that way, and it wasn’t described that way.

That stuff happens a lot. Take Dave Winfield. The basic numbers state unequivocally he didn’t get to many more balls than average right fielders, and he didn’t make fewer errors. Defensive WAR may not be your cup of tea, but it does calculate he was 23.7 wins WORSE than a replacement defender, which is staggeringly bad. But MAN did he have a great arm, and he had this beautiful way of throwing — he would unfurl, like a big American flag, and he would uncork these majestic throws, and it was thrilling to watch. He won eight Gold Gloves.

So, finding a judging system that values the artistic beauty of great defense while also grading the players on their actual defensive production … well, I don’t think we’ve found that system yet.

But, I must say … I do like the John Dewan plus-minus and runs saved statistics. I’ve explained these before: Dewan and his staff go back through video of every game in the major leagues, and they chart every ball hit in play. They then compare players to each other. A moderate-speed ground ball is hit two feet to the left of second base … how many shortstops get to that ball? A line drive hit to a certain spot in right field, how many right fielders catch it? And so on. Of course, there remain countless factors that defy fairness. But this is probably the most serious effort out there to calculate a player’s defensive contribution.

The plus-minus part is simple. If a player is plus-10, John and his staff have determined that player made an aggregate 10 more plays than the average defender. Runs saved goes up another level and tries to quantify exactly how many runs the player saved (or cost) his team over an average defender. They are cool stats with a lot of work put into them. I’m not saying they are perfect. I don’t think they are perfect. I’m sure numerous people could write me an essay tearing the statistic down to nothing. But I repeat: They are an orchestrated effort.

The runs saved statistic, more than any other, is a key component in the Fielding Bible Awards every year. A panel of 10 — I’m fortunate enough to be on the panel along with Bill James, Rob Neyer, Strat-o-Matic Inventor Hal Richman, Peter Gammons, everyone who votes in the Tom Tango fan poll, ESPN’s Mark Simon, the excellent Doug Glanville and others — vote. Nobody is required or even encouraged to use runs saved. But we are given access to the numbers. And I have found that most of us DO use those numbers, at least as a part of the voting. I do.

And so: With that in mind, let’s see how the Fielding Bible winners match up to this year’s Gold Glove winners.

AL: Matt Wieters, 5 runs saved (5th in baseball)
NL: Yadier Molina, 16 runs saved (1st)
Fielding Bible: Yadier Molina

There are no Dewan plus/minus numbers for catchers, but he does do runs saved. He has Wieters saving five runs this year, mostly because of his ability to shut down the running game, and he has Molina saving 16 runs, most in baseball. I would say these were excellent choices by the Gold Glove voters.

First base
AL: Mark Teixeira, 17 runs saved (1st)
NL: Adam LaRoche, 8 runs saved (5th)
Fielding Bible: Mark Teixeira

The runs saved numbers have been all over the place for Teixeira.
2007: 0 runs saved
2008: 21 runs saved
2009: 2 runs saved
2010: 6 runs saved
2011: 3 runs saved
2012: 17 runs saved

Yes, some years, have shown him to be an average first baseman. Other years, he emerges as the best first baseman in baseball. This was one of those years when he emerged.

People have said that the wide variations from one year to the next on certain players shows that defensive numbers are fundamentally flawed. Maybe they are fundamentally flawed, but I don’t think that’s the reason. Players’ offensive numbers fluctuate pretty wildly too. I don’t think the fact that one year Tex hit .308 and another year he hits .248 and another year he hits .306 and another year he hits .252 tells you that there’s something fundamentally flawed about batting average.*

*There IS something fundamentally flawed about batting average, but that’s not it. 

Second base
AL: Robinson Cano, 15 runs saved (2nd)
NL: Darwin Barney, 28 runs saved (1st)
Fielding Bible: Darwin Barney

Again, there is strong, complete agreement.

AL: J.J. Hardy, 18 runs saved (3rd)
NL: Jimmy Rollins, minus-8 runs (30th)
Fielding Bible: Brendan Ryan, 27 runs saved (1st)

Well, the agreement had to end somewhere. Two things here, both real flaws with the Gold Glove system in my opinion.

One … Brendan Ryan is, I’m pretty sure, the best defensive player in baseball. Period. All positions. And he can’t hit a lick. Both those things. In fact, those things are perfectly in sync … the only way someone could get 470 plate appearances in the big leagues with a .277 on-base percentage and a  .278 slugging percentage is if:

1. He’s a former superstar who had fallen off the cliff before managers could adjust and bench him (not Ryan).
2. He’s a brilliant young prospect who the team is playing before he’s ready to build for the future (not Ryan).
3. He can REALLY play some serious defense.

Yep, that’s Ryan. He’s an artist at shortstop. He’s beautiful to watch play defense. There seems absolutely no way that anyone could miss this. J.J. Hardy is a good defensive shortstop too, but he’s Salieri. Ryan is Mozart. Thing is, Ryan plays for a mediocre Seattle team that plays on West Coast time, and he didn’t hit, and he didn’t win. The Gold Gloves should never, ever miss a defensive player like Brendan Ryan.

The other problem: They will keep voting for a guy long after he lost all effectiveness. Jimmy Rollins was once a fabulous defensive shortstop. He won the Fielding Bible award in 2008 and, in my view, was absolutely the best defender in the game that year. But it’s just not true anymore. The Dewan numbers indicate it — minus-9 last year, minus-10 this year. Other defensive numbers like UZR indicate it too. But you can see it too. I don’t know if Rollins is really a below-average shortstop now — maybe the numbers overstate that — but he’s not the best in the league. I’m pretty sure Clint Barmes, who has many of the same perception problems as Ryan, was the best.

One other point: For years and years, the best defensive shortstops were all in the National League. This — and I don’t mean this in a snarky was — was why Derek Jeter kept winning Gold Gloves. The Fielding Bible winner every year but one was a National League (the one AL winner Jack Wilson, had just come over from the NL). You had the fielding wizardry of Adam Everett, Troy Tulowitzki, Jimmy Rollins, J.J. Hardy, Brendan Ryan, Ian Desmond and so on. The American League was pretty light on legitimate Gold Glove candidates.

This year, though, I would say Ryan, Hardy, Yunel Escobar, Cliff Pennington, Alcides Escobar and Elvis Andrus might have been better than anyone in the National League.

Third base
American League: Adrian Beltre, 13 runs saved (4th)
National League: Chase Headley, minus-3 runs (24th)
Fielding Bible: Adrian Beltre

The great Beltre … he really does belong in the conversation with Brooks Robinson and Billy Cox and the Boyers and Buddy Bell and Graig Nettles and Pie Traynor as the greatest defensive third basemen in baseball history.

That said, though, Brett Lawrie had by the numbers an ASTONISHING defensive year at third base. He saved 20 runs this year. Other defensive numbers also picked up his excellence. At one point, his defensive numbers were so staggeringly good he was listed among the league leaders in Wins Above Replacement. I didn’t see Lawrie that much this year, but some people I know in Toronto say he really was amazing night after night. He could have been rewarded for that.

Left field
American League:  Alex Gordon, 24 runs saved
National  League: Carlos Gonzalez, minus-13 runs saved
Fielding Bible: Alex Gordon

In this, I have sympathy with the voters. There really aren’t many great defensive left fielders. There’s Gordon … and there’s Gordon. And there’s Brett Gardner, when he’s healthy. And there’s Carl Crawford from three or four years ago. And there’s Gordon.

The numbers suggest Cargo was pretty brutal out there and a pretty bad choice. Martin Prado or Ryan Braun would have been a much better choice. One thought: Gordon and Braun both started out as third basemen. Braun was terrible at third. Gordon was below average and sinking. They might be the two best defensive left fielders in the game now …

Center field
American League: Adam Jones, minus-16 runs (35th)
National League: Andrew McCutchen, minus-5 (25th)
Fielding Bible: Mike Trout, 23 runs saved (2nd)

OK, I know this will tick off some Baltimore people — and I don’t like doing that because I love Baltimore and love the Orioles and really enjoy watching Adam Jones play — but I don’t get the Adam Jones defense thing. Do … not … get … it. The numbers consistently and across the board suggest he’s, at best — AT BEST — an average defensive center fielder. He’s had a minus defensive WAR each of the last three seasons. He’s had a substantially negative Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) the last three seasons too. It’s POSSIBLE these numbers are all wrong, but even if they are wrong, it’s very hard to imagine them being SO wrong that Jones is not only better than the numbers but actually the best defensive center fielder around.

One quick story: I was watching an Orioles game last year with a huge Orioles fan, and he was ranting about how good a center fielder Adam Jones is, how stupid the defensive numbers are, how stupid I was for saying he wasn’t that good and so on. And that game — THAT VERY GAME — a fly ball was hit to the gap, and Jones could not run it down. “Yeah, I’ll bet you will use that to say he’s not a good fielder,” the guy grumbled.

YES! I will use that! Adam Jones does not get to fly balls that other center fielders reach. He just doesn’t. It happened that day. It happened in the playoffs this year. It happens pretty often when I watch the Orioles play. He’s a good power hitter. He will steal you a base. He will create runs. He will make nice plays in the outfield. But all in all, throughout the year, he’s not a good center fielder. Giving him the Gold Glove over Mike Trout is mind-boggling. And even if you don’t want to give it to a rookie, how about Denard Span (20 runs saved) or Colby Rasmus (7 runs saved) or Austin Jackson (5 runs saved)?

I love everything about Andrew McCutchen’s game and since he won’t win the MVP award despite an awesome season, I’m glad to see him get some hardware. That said, picking him over Michael Bourn (24 runs saved, 1st in baseball) is kind of ludicrous.

Right field
American League: Josh Reddick, 22 runs saved (1st)
National League: Jason Heyward, 20 runs saved (2nd)
Fielding Bible: Jason Heyward.

So, you go from center field — where the Bible and Gold could not be further apart — to right field where they are in perfect sync. It’s hard to figure this game.

American League: Jeremy Hellickson, 2 runs saved (53rd), and Jake Peavy, 4 runs saved (22nd)
National League: Mark Buehrle, 12 runs saved (1st)

I’m not sure they should give a fielding award to a player who is forbidden from attempting to catch pop-ups.  But Mark Buehrle really is a defense savant.

Dear trick or treat neighbors: If you put Bit-o-Honey in my kid’s bags, I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance …

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81 Responses to The Gold Gloves

  1. Bill says:

    I’m a baseball fan and I actually don’t have an opinion on advanced defensive statistics.

  2. Winona Farms says:

    Can we just say for fact that people who choose not to use advance metrics are republicans and the people who choose to use them are democrats? Can we paint that broad stroke already?

    (or did I get that backwards…I forgot what CNN told me I’m supposed to believe.)

    • Josh says:

      This comment has been removed by the author.

    • Josh says:

      I cannot support that claim, for the simple fact that I definitely lean Republican, yet I fully embrace the use of advance metrics in baseball. Does that make me an anomaly??

    • Dodger300 says:

      I’m a Democrat, and while I don’t dismiss them, I have serious concerns about them being anything much more than a blunt indicator.

      Especially defensive WAR. Which is then added to offensive WAR, and is supposed to tell us who the MVP is. No way.

  3. I’m pretty sure the reason Trout didn’t get the Gold Glove was so that everyone will feel better when he is robbed of the AL MVP as well. And I can guarantee that anyone who is a Cabrera for MVP supporter will use Trout not getting the Gold Glove to back up their argument. I’m actually surprised they didn’t just give Cabrera a Gold Glove over Beltre.

    • Dave Hogg says:

      No, you can’t “guarantee” that. I live in Detroit, I cover the Tigers, I know a LOT of people who support Cabrera for MVP (including me), and I have not heard one person make that argument.

    • Rob Smith says:

      Look, Cabrera led the league not just in the Triple Crown categories but also Slugging and OPS. It was a great offensive power season and the first Triple Crown since 1967. I agree that Trout had the better “overall” season since he added speed and defense, but it’s hard for Trout to overcome Cabrera’s massive offensive power numbers and, of course, the Triple Crown. It has nothing to do with silly conspiracy theories.

    • Chris says:

      Wait a minute, so you agree that Trout “had the better overall season” but find it hard for Trout to “overcome Cabrera’s massive offensive power numbers”

      How did he have a better overall season without overcoming Cabrera’s offensive power?

      Either way the award is most valuable player, not most power numbers. If you do think it is only offensive power numbers, then tell Miggy’s teammate Mr. Verlander to give back his 2011 MVP award.

    • The Fox says:

      Pretty clear this guy was just talking about the range of Trout’s contributions vs. the density of Cabrera’s. It’s comparing a guy who does a lot of things really well to a guy who does a few things historically well.

      DiMaggio beat Williams for the ’41 MVP despite the fact that Ted had the better “overall” season (in those days, hitting .400 wasn’t as rare as it is today). Joe D. had a great season, with an unheard of, captivating 56-game hitting streak. Boom. MVP.

      Cabrera will win by the same logic. History.

    • The Fox says:

      This comment has been removed by the author.

    • Chris says:

      Yeah, flawed logic. To be fair Cabrera will not be the travesty that was Dimaggio over Williams.

      What did Cabrera do historically well? His 44 ties him for the 136th best season in history. .330 AVG? Not even in the top 500. 139 RBI? Tied for 119th best.

      I wouldn’t say he did any of these things historically well. He did however, do them pretty well relative to his peers in the AL.

      This is not to say that Trout did do anything historically well. What both of them did historically well was the combination of a few things.

      Number of seasons with at least .330 AVG, 44 HR, 139 RBI? 1 Cabrera 2012
      Number of seasons with at least .326 AVG, 30 HR, 49 SB? 1 Trout 2012

      So by this measure both guys had historical seasons if broken down into groups of 3 different stats.

      The difference for me? Trout was a better defender.

    • Gio says:

      I thought MVP meant player with most value to making the team win. As great as Trout was, Angels don’t make the playoffs with or without him. So what’s his value? Meanwhile, where would the Tigers be without Cabrera. Answer that and you have mVp. Period!

    • LT says:

      Lol, MVP is the most valuable player in the league, not any one team! I would be very surprised if they didnt give it to Cabrera, but statistically they shouldn’t. Winning the triple crown shouldn’t way in on a players MVP candidacy. There are many years of other players having better seasons than Cabrera across all three categories, and not being able to win the triple crown due to others excelling in one of the categories. The season trout has posted has never been done. But this is not why im here, Adam jones, Gold glove? WOW!

    • Statistically Trout did not have a better year than Cabrera. There’s one stat everyone seems to miss and that’s games played. Cabrera played in 161 games, that’s 22 more than Trout.

    • Chris says:

      Check the standings Angels finished with a better record and turned their horrible start around after Trout came up.

      Look at my post above, given the triple crown stats nobody has done what Cabrera has done either. Both were great seasons, hence defense being the difference.

      What statistics are we talking here? They both lead in several things.

      Trout: Runs, Triples, SB, BB, OBP, OPS+
      Cabrera: Hits, Doubles, HR, SO, BA, SLG

      They both had statistically great seasons. I’m a Trout for MVP supporter, but I certainly cannot knock Cabrera’s season. We should be celebrating both. Given two great offensive seasons, I just to use defense to separate them thus Trout is MVP

    • Brian says:

      I can explain why Mike Trout did not win a Gold Glove. Because the powers that be in the east don’t stay up that late to watch left coast teams. It’s beneath them. Besides, as we all know, civilization as we know it stops immediately west of I-95. Just ask the eastern media. I dare you.

    • Brian says:

      I can explain why Mike Trout did not win a Gold Glove. Because the powers that be in the east don’t stay up that late to watch left coast teams. It’s beneath them. Besides, as we all know, civilization as we know it stops immediately west of I-95. Just ask the eastern media. I dare you.

    • Dodger300 says:

      For some reason, Trout’s manager would move him to left field in the late innings and brought Peter Bourjos to play center.

      Is anyone going to make the argument that it happened because Boujos can’t play left field?

      Or will you accept that Trout wasn’t even the best centerfirelder on his own team?

  4. Asherdan says:

    Send me your errant Bit-O-Honeys

  5. What’s your beef with Bit-O-Honey? That was one of the few non-chocolate items I enjoyed getting as a kid. As I take my Katie out to trick-or-treat for the first time tonight (she is 14 months old today), I hope she gets a Bit-O-Honey.

  6. Casey says:

    Unfortunately, those who vote for awards continue to show their ignorance and one of the more enlightened sportswriters is responsible for pointing it out. To make awards nominations without considering the advanced statistics is the equivalent of navigating using a map and purposely foregoing a compass or GPS. It’s just foolish.

  7. Dave Hogg says:

    I think we have a long, long way to go before defensive metrics should be even mentioned in the same breath as hitting and pitching metrics. When one metric thinks a guy is a defensive savant, and another one thinks he’s useless, you aren’t ready for prime time.

    As for Trout, how do you give him the Gold Glove for center field when he gets moved to left when Bourjos goes into the game? It’s hard to argue a guy is the best centerfielder in the league when his manager doesn’t think he’s the best centerfielder on the team.

    • drunyon says:

      …Or, Trout is much better at playing left field than Bourjos is, so if the manager wants both Bourjos and Trout in the game, that layout optimizes the defense? Seriously, that took like three seconds to come up with. This is pretty basic stuff.

    • Not sure about Drunyon’s argument. Left is the easier position in the spectrum. Managers hide their worst defending outfielder in left all the time. So, without having seen a single Angels game this year, freely admitted, no, I don’t see why anyone would put their best outfielder in left.

      I could see an argument in right, where someone’s arm might be strong, but their routes for example might not be as good, but in left, no.

      This is not to say that I think Trout shouldn’t win the Gold Glove, just that drunyon’s argument doesn’t appear to be open and shut. What does Scioscia say?

    • Rob Smith says:

      Bourjos was 1st in 2010 and 2nd in 2011 in zone runs. So, prior to this year, based on that rating, he was either the best or second best centerfielder in baseball. When Trout arrived, however, he lost his every day job. So, both are great and one has to play LF and one has to play CF when they make a late game defensive substitution. What goes into that decision, I don’t know, but the fact that Trout gets moved for arguably the best CF in baseball the last two years before Trout was in the league, is not an indictment of Trout. It’s an indictment of our ignorance of how good an outfielder Peter Bourjos has been.

  8. Unknown says:

    I watched a lot of Reds games this year. In my extremely biased opinion, I thought Brandon Phillips would be a shoo-in for another Gold Glove. Is Darwin Barney really better?

  9. Devon Young says:

    I think Orioles fans think Adam Jones is a great CF, because they haven’t seen one before. Or at least, not in a whole lotta years. Judging by the O’s attendance over the past 7 seasons, the fans there probably haven’t seen a visitor great centerfielder either.

    • Jon W. says:

      I think O’s fans are like any other fans. They want to believe their guy is really good. And some fans are willing to put their head in the sand and their fingers in their ears and believe their guy is good despite the evidence.

      But a lot, if not most, die hard O’s fans think Adam Jones is what the evidence says – somewhere between an average fielder and a pretty bad fielder. If you go to O’s blogs and messageboards there’s often discussions that say something like “we could acquire Joe Smith because he’s a great glove in center, but we know Buck and Duq ain’t moving Jones no matter how mediocre he is.”

  10. Joe: I spent all year reading about the greatness of Mike Trout, from smug know-it-alls, particularly the guy who wrote the daily wrapup at Baseball Prospectus, who mentioned Trout in his line about the Angels every single day. I’m glad to see him lose this award because I’m sick of smug know-it-alls telling me how great he is. Trout has become topic No. 1 not so much for analysts, but for analyst camp followers.

    I’m human. So are Gold Glove voters. I’m glad to see him lose, and it was a joy to go to ESPN today and read the outrage of those bandwagoners. If he loses the MVP vote, it’ll be even more fun.

    The Gold Gloves have always been flawed. Jeter wins them. Rafael Palmeiro won one in a year when he played less than 30 games. So it’s hard to get worked up about it. But people who believe Trout is the second coming of Willie Mays because somebody smarter than them quoted a statistic they can’t personally calculate, they get worked up about it.

    I honestly value an accurate award less than the joy I’m getting today from the pro-Trout’s crowd outrage. Keep those complaints coming, folks.

    • clashfan says:

      You know that you sound even more smug than the people you claim to despise, right?

    • Paul Zummo says:

      You spent four paragraphs smugly mocking smug people. Just thought you’d like to know.

    • Yep. And I didn’t even work in that I went to the Giants’ victory parade today, to cheer for Barry Zito (-0.3 WAR) and the other stars on the team that, according to WAR, didn’t make the playoffs.

      Bet that Mike Trout Achieves 10.3 WAR Parade was also nice, though. Enjoy it, Mike Trout for MVP fans.

    • Arrogance begets arrogance.

    • Brandon Gray says:

      Uh, you’re an embarrassment to my last name.

      We can all assume you’d vote Braun over Posey for NL MVP, correct? Posey gets too much WAR love.

    • Rob Smith says:

      You don’t need advanced statistics to know Trout is a great centerfielder. All you need to do is watch the ESPN Sportscenter top plays. He’s on at least once a week.

    • thelatency says:

      Well, the Giants were second in all of baseball in WAR this year, so I don’t know where you’re getting this “didn’t make the playoffs” thing, unless you’re a troll that for some reason isn’t satisfied by his burgeoning dynasty of a favorite team winning its second World Series in three years.

      Look, individual awards don’t matter much, unless you’re the player or (maybe) the player’s agent, so this is essentially a big bag of balloon juice, here, but, okay:
      Things that are true:
      – The Giants are a great team, which WAR agrees with.
      – WAR is not infallible. It is also not useless or incalculable.
      – Mike Trout is frighteningly talented, should have won the Gold Glove, and should win the MVP.
      – Miguel Cabrera is, also, frighteningly talented, and is probably a better *hitter*, at this point, than Mike Trout is. He is also far worse on defense and cannot run.
      – Either one of them is worthy of being MVP. Mike Trout is just more worthy.

    • Brandon: Change your name.

      Giants had 34.2 WAR according to baseball-reference. That’s not second in baseball, it’s an 84-win season.

      Trout’s a good player. I like rational arguments like thelatency’s. One thing we agree on is this: I really don’t see why any fan cares so much about the MVP. Re Posey vs. Braun — I don’t care, and it probably saves the Giants some money if Posey doesn’t win it.

      If Trout is really that great, he’ll get his MVPs eventually, and the Angels will pay dearly for them.

    • The Fox says:

      Back in 2010, I was told it was a travesty Posey got the NL ROY over Heyward, pretty much because Heyward had 61 more walks, which bumped his WAR considerably. I disagreed at the time. A greater percentage of Posey’s at-bats yielded extra base hits, moving runners along and getting them (or him) into scoring position. I’ll take that any day over a walk.

      For years, I was told Matt Cain was a “lucky” pitcher, heading for a regression. Again, I disagreed. Matt Cain looked like one of the best pitchers in the game to me. Other teams didn’t score on him all that much. That’s talent, right?

      I’m not from San Francisco, but I can acknowledge the Giants for their two World Series championships. Sometimes greatness can’t be explained by numbers. It just happens, you know, when you play the game.

    • Ryan says:

      Dude, you look at baseball in the wrong light. Just because dumbass know-it-alls don’t shut up about a player does not take away from what that players does on the field, and shouldn’t make them less deserving. I’m sick of all these biased sports writers myself. No one can look at the game objectively anymore. And btw, the other commenters are right, you sound just as smug as those know-it-alls

    • adam says:

      “One thing we agree on is this: I really don’t see why any fan cares so much about the MVP.”

      Says the guy who wrote four paragraphs about being excited when Trout doesn’t win an award.

  11. akno21 says:

    So do you just hate rationality? What’s your deal?

  12. Stephen says:

    I think a significant amount of Brett Lawrie’s defensive value comes from how often the Blue Jays played the LH shift; Lawrie would often wind up in shallow right field. Baseball Reference has him at 2.4 DWAR in only 125 games this season, which again I believe is mostly because those metrics haven’t figured out a way to factor exaggerated shifts into evaluating a player’s range.

    That said, I’ve seen a great deal of Lawrie this year and last (in Canada, all of Toronto’s games are televised on national networks) and he is a solid third baseman. He’s excellent on charging bunts/dribblers and has a strong enough arm to gun out runners from foul territory.

  13. Stephen says:

    I think a significant amount of Brett Lawrie’s defensive value comes from how often the Blue Jays played the LH shift; Lawrie would often wind up in shallow right field. Baseball Reference has him at 2.4 DWAR in only 125 games this season, which again I believe is mostly because those metrics haven’t figured out a way to factor exaggerated shifts into evaluating a player’s range.

    That said, I’ve seen a great deal of Lawrie this year and last (in Canada, all of Toronto’s games are televised on national networks) and he is a solid third baseman. He’s excellent on charging bunts/dribblers and has a strong enough arm to gun out runners from foul territory.

  14. Gold Gloves are primarily awarded by inertia (he won last year, he played this year, he should win this year) and hitting. The first explains Mike Trout, the second Andrew McCutchen.

    • Rob Smith says:

      Yes, basically those that vote for the award are too lazy to look at the videos, check and make an informed decision. Not unlike the lack of research the public does before a general election.

  15. I’m an Astros fan (yes, I know) and I don’t watch much regular season baseball apart from whomever they’re playing. So when someone says, oh yeah, Beltre, I’m really clueless. I know of the reputation, but it’s basically hearsay for me.
    That having been said, I’m a big fan of the Fielding Bible simply because back when Adam Everett was playing short for us, and back when he was getting routinely jobbed in the Gold Gloves because he couldn’t hit, the Fielding Bible, just being there, validated what I was seeing every night.

    Everett truly was an amazing fielder, and I was sad when the ‘Stros let him go, and sad when he was moved out of baseball, just because I always felt that SOMEWHERE there’s got to be some team who could put up with his bat to get his defense. Just so we could watch, you know?

    Also, on Bourn: never disliked him, I love a fast guy in center, but I was never quite sold that he was *premier*, even if I couldn’t tell you who was better.

    • Rob Smith says:

      I’m in Atlanta. Prior to this year I really didn’t think he was all that great defensively(good… but…). But, he had a great defensive year this year. He ran down everything. I watch most games and I can tell you my main desire for the Braves to resign him comes from the defense he provides. Who knows, though. Maybe this year was just a really good year for him. Next year may not be as good. As Joe points out, players have up years and down years defensively too.

  16. Frank says:

    Question about the “runs saved” stat: Is there some sort of factor where the runners on based comes into that calculation? If so, there would be an advantage to fielders on teams whose pitching staffs permit a higher on base percentage.

  17. Poseur says:

    I love advanced numbers. I really do. But I have to say it, I hate WAR, and especially dWAR. I think it’s founded on a faulty premise, that we can reduce a player’s contribution to One True Number. I think what I like about sabermetrics is that it can give us a more fully rounded view of a player (this guy steals a lot of bases, but he gets thrown out a lot so maybe he’s not as good as we think). I want more information, and the move to just One Number, to me, is a backwards step. I understand the appeal, but I don’t like it. I just dislike the philosophy behind it.

    But here’s what bothers me about dWAR. It’s wrong. It’s not just a little wrong, it’s incredibly wrong. I’ll use Jones and Trout as my example with the great caveats that A) I’m an Orioles fan and B) I think Trout deserved the Gold Glove.

    Jones was worth 13 Fielding Runs and had a Range Factor of 2.75. He made 439 PO’s and made 8 errors with 7 assists. Trout was also worth 13 Fielding Runs and had a Range Factor of 2.70 (RF/9). He made 264 PO’s and made 2 errors with 2 assists. Jones played about 550 more innings. If you dig deeper, their baserunners held numbers are pretty similar with a small edge to Trout. There’s just no way I an look at those numbers, and watch the two play, and come up with the conclusion the Trout is much, much better. Better? Maybe. But they are in the same ballpark.

    Their dWAR? Jones had a -1.3 and Trout has a 2.2. That’s a chasm. The difference of 3.5 on WAR is huge. That’s the entire value of Elvis Andrus or Nick Swisher (the 22nd highest WAR in the AL). There is no convincing argument I have heard that the difference between Jones and Trout in the field is the entire contributions of Elvis Andrus, a legit All-Star shortstop. Look at the raw numbers again. Make an argument that Trout making 180 less outs makes him that much more valuable, according to WAR. I just don’t see it.

    WAR is wrong. Great blog, and I hope some of BR’s can help me with this one.

    • KHAZAD says:

      I partially agree with you. It is a flawed formula looking for a one number answer. I prefer using a different one and breaking things down only to runs.

      Pitching WAR, particularly Fangraphs, is much worse because it is based on the premise that all contact is the same, and judges pitchers entirely by a rather arbitrary formula designed to convert the pitcher’s walk rate, strikeout rate, and home run rate into something resembling ERA.

      There are some with a sabermetric bent who search for other ways of analysis, but most use the popular sabermetric stats that have gained acceptance among the experts, and swear by them with religious zeal.

      If you dis WAR with the vast majority of the above crowd, it is akin to suggesting to a fundamentalist Christian the maybe Jesus was a charismatic cult leader.

    • Mark Daniel says:

      I think part of the problem with defense is that players get more credit for making a tough play, one where a SS ranges into the hole or up the middle, for example, than when they make an easy play. They determine the “value” of a fielder by how many more of these difficult plays they make compared to league average. In one of Bill James’ explanations for fielding metrics (using Jeter as an example) he explained that a softly hit ball in “vector 17” is made by only 26% of shortstops. Thus, if a player makes that play, he gets +0.74 added to his score. If he misses, he gets -0.26 removed. Likewise, if medium speed grounder is hit right at a SS, one that 95% of players make, he gets +0.05 if he makes it and -0.95 if he misses it. The problem is that it doesn’t really matter in the game which play it is. It’s a single if the play is not made, an out if it isn’t. Thus, guys who make tough plays get all these points added, while if they make routine plays they don’t. In the year James was referring to, Jeter converted 400 plays to outs while Adam Everett (the slick fielding comparison guy) converted 374. The difference was that Everett was expectation of making 340 outs while Jeter was expected to make 439. Because Everett made more “tough plays”, he made more plays than expected, so he got more points. Jeter made less plays than expected, so he got fewer points.
      Thus, Jeter converting 400 balls into outs was worse than Everett converting 374 balls into outs. This is where the stats falter, I think. These analysis clearly show that Everett was a superior fielder in 2005. But does it matter? Is the difference meaningful in a real world sense? I think the answer is clearly no. There is no way Everett was 73 plays better than Derek Jeter in 2005 (as James’ numbers state). In a hypothetical situation where each player received the same number of balls hit to them, at the same varying trajectory and speed, maybe Everett would be 73 plays better. Perhaps he would. But in the real world, in the way the season ran its course, the numbers don’t reflect what happened. Everett was clearly better, but in the end it doesn’t actually matter.

    • Chris says:

      I think you answered your own question here. Everett was expected to make 340 outs on balls hit in his general area. In reality he made 374 outs meaning he performed above the expectation of an average SS. Given the balls hit in Jeter’s direction he was expected to make 439 outs, but only made 400 meaning he peformed below the expectation of an average SS.

      You can’t fault Everett for simply having fewer chances than Jeter. That is the same logic used in bogus RBI discussions. Its all about opportunities and who can maximize them.

      Don’t you want the guy making the tough outs?

    • Mark Daniel says:

      I guess my problem is that WAR doesn’t reflect what actually happened on the field. Adam Everett was determined to be “73 plays better” than Jeter that year. That implies he made 73 more plays than Jeter, but in reality he didn’t. The 73 represents the theory that Everett would have made 73 more plays than Jeter if they each had the same number of balls hit to them at similar trajectories and speeds.
      This number is then used in stats like WAR as if it is a direct measurement. It is not a direct measurement. It is a hypothetical, as in “If Adam Everett was in Derek Jeters spot, he WOULD HAVE made 73 more plays than Jeter did.”
      So clearly Everett was a better shortstop, but he shouldn’t get direct credit for making 73 more plays than Jeter just because he has the capability of doing so. He should get credit for what he actually did. And in 2005, he made fewer plays than Jeter. Period. I understand he should get credit for making tougher plays, but as it stands, in 2005 Everett’s dWAR was 3.3 while Jeter’s was -1.9. That’s a 5.2 WAR difference, which is a gross overestimation. In essence, that WAR difference is a figment of some statisticians imagination, because Derek Jeter made more plays than Everett. There is no way on Gods green earth he should be 5.2 WAR better by making fewer plays. It’s preposterous and is probably the reason why stats like WAR lack face validity.

    • Chris says:

      As mentioned elsewhere I kind of agree with you when it comes to dWAR. For one thing every sabre site says that a 3 year average for defense is needed to provide a reasonable evaluation. So using just one is apparently skewed anyways.

      But if we are just talking defense here, then I think we can both agree with the notion that Everett is a better defender. How much better is not all that concrete.

    • Dodger300 says:

      I’ll assume that you are correct that a soft grounder in vector 17 is worth .74, and a ball hit straight at the shortstop is worth .05.

      So it must take 15 outs on balls hit right at ysomeone to equal one out from vector 17.

      It strains my imagination to think that one single from vector 17 be the equivalent of five innings worth of outs.

      Can someone please explain to me how that could be the case?

  18. Mark A says:

    Hi Joe,

    I don’t mind the use of new defensive stats. They can be good for taking the fan bias or announcer hypnosis syndrome out of our perceptions of players, even if some of it just never seems quite right (like the numbers on Roberto Alomar).

    And I think they are great for the type of thing you are doing in this article. Comparing defenders to the others at their position. The numbers aren’t a true statistic, but they can be a rough measuring stick.

    Where I DON’T like defensive numbers is when they try to roll them into larger overall stats like WAR. Hitting stats are proper statistics. Almost no opinion or observation or bias needing in recording them (I say almost, because a scorers view on error vs hit can potentially add bias). But defensive stats simply are not the same. They are either observational recording (like plus-minus), which has obvious bias, or they greatly oversimplify the factors involved in whether a play should or should not be made.

    Thus, while you can get a pretty good idea of who can defend and who can’t (especially if you see a trend across multiple defensive statistics), when you try to quantify that defensive contribution for its impact on wins, it seems to me you taint the overall stat that you are building.

    As you said, rating defense is always a little bit art. Putting a number to the art and then mixing it with real numbers devalues the whole exercise.

    • Chris says:

      I actually somewhat agree with this. Even Joe acknowledges this in the beginning of this post. As much as I support Trout for MVP, it is somewhat dubious to me to just point at his WAR advantage which is largely made up in defense (Offensively they are close). Especially when the sabre crowd says that it takes 3 years to get a good look at a players advanced numbers on defense.

      But everyone just wants to say Trout 10.3 as if that is 100% concrete and justifiable. I think everyone agrees that Trout is a better defender than Cabrera but to what degree?

  19. M2 says:

    I prefer +/- to runs saved, mainly because this still isn’t such a locked down science that we should be making broad pronouncements about run value. Joe’s preamble covers the myriad factors that make it nearly impossible to boil everything that constitutes defensive play into a single number.

    And then there’s variance to take into consideration. Teixeira’s numbers are a perfect example. He’s always a good defensive 1B, but some seasons his numbers spike. Why? Well, the reason likely has very little to do with Mark Teixeira. Over 162 games season-to-season, he’s the same guy. His ability and technique isn’t going to vary that much. His health might, but, oddly, this season he was more banged up than usual.

    It would seem that what happens in certain seasons is he sees an array of balls come his way that better allows him to showcase his skills. When the ball finds him just that little bit better, his numbers spike.

    In that vein, it’s hard to know exactly how main grains salt need to be taken with Mike Trout, Darwin Barney and Brett Lawrie’s numbers. Trout certainly covers a ton of territory, but is he actually better than Austin Jackson and Denard Span? Or are the stats from this season exaggerating his ability? Lawrie was making some pretty ridiculous plays this season and he hasn’t been playing 3B all that long, so maybe he’s a gifted 3B who’s now coming into his own.

    Barney was nothing special last season and, in the limited amount of Cubs games I saw this year, he wasn’t making those ohmigod plays behind 2B on in short right field. Freaky Friday his season with Brandon Phillips and we might be looking at even gaudier numbers. I’m just not persuaded that Barney isn’t a statistical anomaly this season.

  20. Scott says:

    So we shouldn’t use stats, because they don’t describe defensive play well enough, except Dewan’s number, which is actually quite good, maybe even the best stat, but in reality is Dewan evaluating every defensive play in baseball using his own personal eyeball test and then applying a score to them? I actually buy that, as long as we are clear that you are codifying one mans eyeball test, not using an actual metric. Basing the number on a scouting report, in other words.

    • Chris says:

      I get your argument, but I would tend to trust the eye test that includes breaking down every single ball hit in the field by a variety of factors, over Joe Fan’s drunken vision from the upper deck.

    • Scott says:

      I agree with you. I actually wrote a blog post on this today saying I think they should poll advance scouts instead of coaches. Good professional eyes who watch the games and aren’t buddy-buddy with ball players, in other words. Gold Gloves

  21. As an O’s fan I can confidently tell you that a large portion, if not majority of dedicated O’s fans do not think Adam Jones is a great CF. I think he has his moments of brilliance and some of his numbers are skewed by the fact he plays shallow for some unknown awful reason, but he takes horrible routes to balls in the gap and often will approach a ball slowly before sprinting to catch up to it (see Yankee Stadium in the playoffs). And this view is shared by a large number of fellow O’s fans I talk to. Trout absolutely should have won. Heck he made maybe the best catch I have ever seen right at Camden Yards. I can get behind Hardy winning, even though Ryan has a case, because I think it is close between the two and Hardy is really really good at making all the plays he should and a large number of ones he probably has no business making.

  22. Wes says:

    Gold Glover Adam Jones, everybody!

  23. DJM says:

    As an Orioles fan, I not only want to say that you won’t make me angry, but I have to question your friend’s very sanity.

    Jones is a fine centerfielder. However, he is also inconsistent. He gets lazy on fly balls, and outright drops far more than any outfielder should. He also often does what he did on that play in the ALCS against the Yankees: instead of trying to get to the ball and wait for it to arrive, he tries to judge the ball and get to the spot at the same time, and misjudges it.

    There is always discussion on the better Orioles message boards and blogs–even after he signed his big extension in May and made the talk moot–that the team would be better off with him in left field.

    I don’t necessarily agree. As I said, I think he does a fine job and he doesn’t hurt the team out there. However, he in no way deserved that Gold Glove, and certainly not over Trout.

  24. Ryan says:

    Nice read. Thanks for the analysis. I think this years gold glove votes prove that Dewan and his staff are on the right track. And what I mean by that is, not necessarily in the way defense is tracked, but more in finding an alternative way to award the correct players. This years picks are awful. You mention Brendan Ryan plays in West coast time. How the eff should that play a role in the voting. Why do hacks that don’t even stay up to watch west coast games get to vote when they only follow half the players in baseball, if that? Rollins, really? Crawford not even nominated? Oh right, he plays on the west coast. But maybe you saw him in the WS? I saw plenty of MTrout and how he did not win is incredible. Current system = flawed. I can understand the umpires are not perfect and they are going to miss calls, but MLB can do better than this when it comes to awards. I mean c’mon.

  25. kevinm says:

    I hate hate hate Jimmy Rollins and he may not be the best SS right now, but he is def top 5 still in the NL and this guy needs to stop looking solely at his runs saved stats

  26. The Dmn8tr says:

    Detroiter here – Cabrera should win MVP, but will understand if Trout wins – both guys had great years. I don’t understand how Trout did not get the Gold Glove – makes no sense. I thought Austin Jackson had a shot, great defensive outfielder that I watch everyday, but to be honest it should have been Trout’s year. There has to be some non-performance reason (West Coast, rookie, etc…) going on here.

  27. big red says:

    I pay little attention to defensive metrics, it’s all about the aesthetics for me, and it’s on those grounds that I agree with you, Joe, that it was mind-boggling to see Trout dismissed for a GG. The MVP is one thing; despite the turnaround that he facilitated in Anaheim, the Angels didn’t make the play-offs, and despite the fact that Cabrera was feasting on weak AL central pitching, and his team still barely managed to back their way into the post-season with 88 wins, the Tigers did reach the WS. I can appreciate the logic in that reasoning. However if you are talking strictly defense, Trout blew away all the contenders. In my humble opinion the GG award has always been more of a popularity contest and is rarely based solely on defensive merits. Just yesterday there was a guy complaining about Yadier winning another GG, his main argument being that he had seen Molina “almost” get picked off of third base, and in his mind a great defensive catcher should never allow that to “almost” happen while on the base-paths. Ryan is, of course, another perfect example of how non-defensive considerations come into play. Thanks for another insightful article, and for continuing to be the most objective, non-vacillating sports writer out there.

  28. Dinky says:

    I went to Adrian Beltre’s first MLB game with three friends. One of them had just finished a minor league Stadium trip, and told us that Beltre was the real deal (he made his living gambling baseball at the time). And there was one of those plays that Beltre does better than anybody I’ve ever seen (including Brooks Robinon). Swinging bunt dribbled just barely on the grass fair. Every other third baseman I’ve seen hopes it rolls foul. The smart ones might even charge it, pull up, and in the act of stopping try to cut a little furrow for the ball to hit and roll off the grass towards the chalk. Beltre picked it up about 40 feet away from home plate with his left leg forward (just the rhythm of his run), threw the ball sidearm just barely missing his left knee, and getting the runner.

    There are other plays Beltre does not make like the all time best, but that one play….

  29. Dinky says:

    And yeah, it’s a travesty that Adam Jones won the Gold Glove. I can understand Trout not winning; he’s not even the best center fielder on the Angels (and how flukey is that!). Bourjos might compare to Mays. But giving it to Jones?

  30. densogirl says:

    Not being a saber type person, I still checked baseball reference advanced stats comparing Jones, Trout and McCutchen. Jones had 439 po’s, 7 assists, rdrs -13 in 162 games, McCutchen had 367 po’s, 3 assists, rdrs -5 in 156 games, Trout had 340 po’s, 3 assists, rdrs -100 in 139 games. Huh? So, are all these stats all wrong and we can only believe the Fielding Bible? I’d really like to know.

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