Gold Glove Awards Take Another Step Forward

You might be wondering where Dave Cameron is. He’s presently down in Arizona, at the SABR Analytics Conference. You’re probably not wondering where David Appelman is. He’s presently also down in Arizona, at the SABR Analytics Conference. Plenty has already been shared at the conference, and plenty more will be shared later on, but before the FanGraphs contingent and also several others, an announcement was made pertaining to the Rawlings Gold Glove Awards.

We’ll draw straight from the Rawlings official website. Excerpted:

Rawlings Sporting Goods Company, Inc. […] announced today during the Society for American Baseball Research’s annual SABR Analytics Conference in Phoenix a new collaboration with SABR. This collaboration will add a new sabermetric-based component to the Rawlings Gold Glove Award® and Rawlings Platinum Glove Award™ selection processes.

As part of the multi-year collaboration beginning with the 2013 season, SABR will develop an expanded statistical resource guide that will accompany the Rawlings Gold Glove Award ballots sent to managers and coaches each year. In addition, SABR will immediately establish a new Fielding Research Committee tasked to develop a proprietary new defensive analytic called the SABR Defensive Index™, or SDI™.

Basically, Rawlings will work with SABR. Rawlings already sent out a statistical resource packet to Gold Glove voters the last few years. Now SABR’s going to improve the packet. Additionally, and more importantly, SABR will create a committee that, in turn, creates a new statistical defensive metric. This metric will play a role in determining the award winners. Much of it will still be left up to the voters, but no longer will the voters represent 100% of the input. The breakdown in determining award winners will be X% voters, and (100 – X)% SDI.

SDI has not yet been developed, and it hasn’t yet been determined how much of a role it will play. Those parts are coming, though, so the process will be different and in place well in advance of the 2013 award voting.

We don’t know anything about SDI, because SDI doesn’t yet exist. But we can trust that it won’t be awful, given the people in charge of the people in charge of creating it. I don’t know what it might add beyond DRS or UZR, but as long as it’s based on the right data, it can only go so poorly. The Gold Gloves are going to welcome the influence of advanced math, as Rawlings is continuing to try to change the awards’ reputation.

Now, among statheads and FanGraphs readers, there probably exists a preference for the Fielding Bible Awards, and that probably isn’t going to change. Those awards are almost entirely math, with little room for Gold Glove subjectivity. It’s possible this is a response on Rawlings’ part to the Fielding Bible Awards’ increased exposure, but the processes will remain starkly different. The reasons people preferred one over the other are going to remain unchanged.

But in terms of standing among ballplayers, it’s still the Gold Gloves that matter the most. Players have become more aware of the Fielding Bible Awards, but Ozzie Smith and Omar Vizquel won Gold Gloves. Willie Mays and Brooks Robinson won Gold Gloves. It’s Gold Gloves that players want to win, more than they want to win Fielding Bible Awards, so this is a step forward in getting the right players recognized. Even though we don’t yet have much in the way of information, it’s hard to imagine how this could make things worse.

Truth be told, the Gold Gloves were already making progress. They’ve come a long way since the Rafael Palmeiro embarrassment, and just last year they awarded a Gold Glove to Darwin Barney. I think there’s a tendency to exaggerate how lousy the Gold Gloves can be, but they’ve remained subjective and this latest development will introduce just a little math, to supplement coaching-staff observations. No, they aren’t going to be based entirely on contemporary metrics. If they were, they’d just be the Fielding Bible Awards. But every step forward is progress, and all progress should be applauded, especially when it’s made by so established an institution. The Gold Gloves don’t have to get smarter about the voting process. There’s tradition on their side. The intent is somewhat noble.

Now there’s the matter of a more philosophical question: why does it matter who wins a Gold Glove award? Gold Gloves don’t determine performance — performance, in theory, determines Gold Gloves, and we care about wins and losses. Performance determines wins and losses. It seems to me the Gold Gloves, like all awards, mean a hell of a lot more to the players than they do to the fans. For the fans, they’re by and large just something to talk about after baseball is over.

But there’s value in those discussions, and clearly, as evidenced by the 2012 AL MVP conflagration, awards can make some people passionate. To me, most simply, as long as there are awards that are supposed to recognize the best, we might as well hope they actually recognize the best. I wouldn’t mind if there were no Gold Gloves at all, but because there are, we might as well hope that they don’t suck. Sucky awards are a disservice; appropriate awards are an honor. And, eventually, award credentials can help make someone’s case for the Hall of Fame.

To fans, the Gold Gloves aren’t and shouldn’t be important. But they don’t have to be completely irrelevant, and Friday, we have word that the voting process is about to improve, leading eventually to improved selections. That’s a win. It’s a minor win, like a vending machine spitting out an extra quarter, but, cherish anything that can make you even just a little bit happier.

Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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El Vigilante
9 years ago

Sure, it is weird that any awards matter to fans. Why should fans care about which movie wins the Academy Award for Best Picture? It is all quite absurd. The problem is that the GG awards lend unwarranted credibility to players. When trying to discuss the inabilities of Derek Jeter, the sabre-averse fan is quick to mention GG. I’m hoping this leads to better informed discussions.

I think the exciting portion of this news is the creation of a new defensive stat. As long as Rawlings is willing to share the entire process and maintain transparency with the stat, I’m cautiously optimistic.

9 years ago
Reply to  El Vigilante

Good comment, especially the “unwarranted credibility” part.
On the new metric, I am just cautious instead of cautiously optimistic. There’s certainly not enough time to develop and test a really new stat, so I’m afraid it might just be some kind of average of existing ones. However, that’s still progress, I guess.

9 years ago
Reply to  El Vigilante

Fans care because awards for players are often validation of their own beliefs. If I think Player X was deserving of MVP consideration for his season, I want to feel that my opinion is legitimized by having that player factor into the actual MVP race.

They also allow us to gauge the media’s views and tendencies and, as you said, impact credibility. This year’s AL MVP debate helps show where baseball media at large stands on traditional measures vs sabermetric measures. Gold gloves (as they were) showed the holes in the sabr-averse evaluation of defence. But they also worked to undermine the pro-sabr crowd in the eyes of the non-stathead because we’ve had generations of conventional baseball thinking drilling the legitimacy/meaning of gold gloves into our head.

So seeing that something that’s been a symbol for all things anti-sabr embrace the idea of having a statistical component now means that the stathead crowd can now hold their own a little better in the defensive debate, and also means that perhaps we’re moving more toward a time where media takes all evidence into account instead of picking and choosing and being dismissive of things they’re unfamiliar or uncomfortable with. And as the media goes, so goes the casual fan.

9 years ago
Reply to  Matt

I also think people have a general sense of fair and unfair.

For example, when I watch the NBA, I don;t want to see Steve Nash win 2 MVPs because I know that defense is part of the game, and Nash doesn’t play any.

The tough part of fans and fielding is that you really do need to “be there” to see where players start, where they end up and how that compares to their opposition (for a comparison).

You watch highlights and Azdrubal Cabrera is the best SS in the AL.

I go to a Cardinal game (a few years ago) and notice that Brendan Ryan starts off in shallow LF, yet always seems to get to everything very quickly but never rushed, and always seems to get the grounder after the 2nd hop.

Most fans see baseball on TV, and I don;t think TV does a good job at showing defensive range or how far guys travel to make plays.

We all see Jeter’s patented jump throw play, what we don’t see (or saw) was Tejada make the same play, only not requiring the whole jumping and the leaping and the throwing, etc … just making a routine backhand play because of his advantage in range.

9 years ago
Reply to  CircleChange11

“We all see Jeter’s patented jump throw play, what we don’t see (or saw) was Tejada make the same play, only not requiring the whole jumping and the leaping and the throwing, etc … just making a routine backhand play because of his advantage in range.”

Doesn’t that argument lend itself into the idea that bad defensive players can make routine plays look hard, while good defensive players can make difficult plays look easy?

I agree, defense is way to deceiving to be measured accurately by the fans on TV.