Giving the Gold Glove Voters Some Credit

I’ll be honest, I wasn’t planning on writing about the Gold Gloves today. They were announced on a Tuesday evening at 10 pm eastern, having been delayed because ESPN2 had a racing program go overtime. Or at least that’s what I gathered on Twitter, because I wasn’t watching them. It seems like these awards are getting the recognition they deserve based on their years of hilariously poor selections.

But, in this afternoon’s chat, there were a lot of Gold Glove related questions. Most of them were outrage based, wanting to know who was the biggest snub or who was the worst recipient of the award. There were jokes about Adam Jones. People are good at making fun of the Gold Gloves, because for a long time, the Gold Gloves have been the most mockable award in sports. At this point, they might as well change the cliche to death, taxes, and making fun of bad Gold Glove selections.

And, of course, there were some bad Gold Glove selections this year, so there has been mocking today. But, perhaps lost in the annual tradition of scorn heaping is the fact that there’s pretty clear evidence that the managers are getting better at this.

Let’s just take a quick look at the AL winners, with their UZR/DRS listed in parentheses.

C: Matt Wieters (N/A UZR, +5 DRS)
1B: Mark Teixeira (+11 UZR, +17 DRS)
2B: Robinson Cano (+10 UZR, +15 DRS)
SS: J.J. Hardy (+11 UZR, +18 DRS)
3B: Adrian Beltre (+17 UZR, +14 DRS)
LF: Alex Gordon (+14 UZR, +24 DRS)
CF: Adam Jones (-7 UZR, -16 DRS)
RF: Josh Reddick (+18 UZR, +22 DRS)

The obvious outlier there is Jones, who wasn’t a very good pick, but beyond that, you’re looking at double digit positive numbers from both systems for every winner besides Wieters. This year, the Gold Gloves went to seven elite defensive players (plus the pitchers, who we don’t really have good data for) and Adam Jones. Maybe you like Dustin Pedroia more than Robinson Cano, or Brendan Ryan more than JJ Hardy, but hopefully we can all admit that we don’t know enough about defense to argue that one great defender was definitively better than another great defender. The metrics we have, and the games we watch, should give us enough confidence to say that a player is likely good or bad with the glove, but when it comes to separating players within those groups, we should probably step back and say “hey, they’re all good choices”.

The AL managers gave out 10 Gold Gloves, since there was a tie at pitcher. Of those 10, there’s one that could be considered a poor choice. They might not have made the best choice at every position, but they made good choices everywhere but center field, and we don’t have the tools necessary to say that one good choice was clearly better than another good choice, at least to the point where scorn should be our first response.

Even in the NL, where Carlos Gonzalez got an award he almost certainly didn’t deserve, most of the picks are pretty good. Darwin Barney and Jason Heyward are both good selections, and both are first time winners who didn’t make the flashy plays that you’d expect from a young player getting recognition early in his career. Yadier Molina is awesome. Adam LaRoche had to try and catch Ryan Zimmerman’s throws across the diamond, which more often than not involved keeping the ball from hitting a random fan in the face.

The Gold Gloves are not perfect. They’ve never been perfect, and in the past, they’ve been horrible. Last night’s picks were not horrible. They were mostly good, with some meh mixed in. Instead of looking for the meh, how about we celebrate the fact that the awards seem to be headed in the right direction, and that we don’t live in an age where we really have to believe that the Gold Glove winners are actually the best defenders in baseball. We have access to all kinds of information, and no one is a slave to the Gold Glove voting in this day and age.

Adam Jones and Carlos Gonzalez weren’t good picks, but they were the exception, not the rule. Instead of focusing on the few they got wrong, how about we congratulate the managers on getting most of them right? That’s a lot more than we used to be able to say about the Gold Gloves.

Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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11 years ago

Great post. In today’s chat there seemed to be a lot of hoopla about Jones winning, which he should not have, and too much attention given to this award, which in your words is “worthless” (or something like that, but it is true whatever negative word you used). However, props must be made to the winners who, in the context of advanced defensive statistics, deserved the award, which is at worst 6 out of 8. I’m pretty surprised the voters did this well with it all things considered.