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The Strike Zone

Gold Gloves join the stat revolution and it's harder to quibble with the winners

Lorenzo Cain, Royals Centerfielder Lorenzo Cain was far more deserving of a Gold Glove award in the AL than Adam Jones. (Charlie Riedel/AP)

The World Series isn't over yet, but awards season has already begun. On Tuesday, the Gold Glove awards were announced, one day after the Fielding Bible Awards were. For the first time, the former incorporated actual defensive metrics instead of relying solely upon the eyes of managers and coaches, resulting in considerable crossover with the latter, which is based more on sabermetrics.

While there's room to quibble here and there regarding the winners -- and I'll do so below -- the result is a more credible set of honors in a field that's generally tough to get a handle upon. As a particular cynic of the Gold Gloves -- years ago, I coined he phrase Fielding Grammys (referencing an old Simpsons joke) to describe them -- I'll concede that they appear to have significantly closed the gap on their more statistically-driven counterparts, so much so that next year, I may have to curb my snark.

Before we dive in too deeply to the process behind the results, here are the list of Gold Glove winners in each league; Fielding Bible Award winners are denoted with an asterisk. After I've run through the choices, I'll explain a bit more about the changes to the Gold Glove voting and the how the FBA selections came to be.

POS ALNL
PR.A. Dickey*Adam Wainwright
CSalvador PerezYadier Molina*
1BEric HosmerPaul Goldschmidt*
2BDustin Pedroia*Brandon Phillips
3BManny Machado*Nolan Arenado
SSJ.J. HardyAndrelton Simmons*
LFAlex Gordon*Carlos Gonzalez
CFAdam JonesCarlos Gomez*
RFShane VictorinoGerardo Parra*

When it comes to defensive statistics, it's worth remembering that one year of a single metric is generally held to be an unreliable sample size. It's also difficult to find a perfect consensus at any one position among the alphabet soup of metrics; the five I consulted for this piece include the commonly cited UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating) and DRS (Defensive Runs Saved) and the less familiar DRA (Defensive Regression Analysis, available at the relatively obscure Baseball Gauge site) and TZ (Total Zone Rating; on Baseball-Reference.com) and the lamentably unrepresented FRAA (Fielding Runs Above Average from Baseball Prospectus).

I tend to cite DRS most often given its combination of data and observation and its usage as the defensive component in Baseball-Reference.com's version of Wins Above Replacement. That's mostly a matter of preference, space considerations and -- to be fair -- good marketing on the part of Dewan, who publishes The Fielding Bible on a biennial basis, and packs it chockfull of interesting articles on a variety of defense-related topics.

With all of that in mind, it's worth a look at how the voters did at each position. I won't list every run rating or ranking, but I'll do it in some places.

Pitcher

Gold Gloves: R.A. Dickey, Blue Jays (AL); Adam Wainwright, Cardinals (NL)

Fielding Bible: Dickey

Given the small sample sizes involved (34 starts for Dickey), it seems ridiculous to give out hardware at this position. Beyond saying that, I'll save my bullets.

Catcher

Gold Gloves: Salvador Perez, Royals (AL); Yadier Molina, Cardinals (NL)

Fielding Bible: Molina

This position is a notoriously difficult one to get a handle on defensively because the easiest stat to find (caught stealing rate) is a less important facet of the game than it used to be, while the groundbreaking work in pitch framing isn't yet reflected in the major metrics (as of this writing, the latest BP rankings only reflect play through August). There isn't even a UZR for catchers, and the spread for FRAA is minimal for some reason that's currently unclear.

As it was, Molina -- who already had five Gold Gloves and Fielding Bible Awards apiece -- ranked third in DRS (+12) behind the Cubs' Welington Castillo (+19) and the Pirates' Russell Martin (+16), and fifth in DRA (+10.0), with Perez (+19.0) and Martin (+17.2) first and second, respectively. Given that, the selection of Molina is — wait for it — defensible but not ideal. Martin (second in DRS and DRA) might have been a better option.

In the AL, Perez is a good choice. He tied with Cleveland's Yan Gomes for the league lead in DRS (+11) while catching 57 percent more innings.

First Base

Gold Gloves: Eric Hosmer, Royals (AL); Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks (NL)

Fielding Bible: Goldschmidt

Goldschmidt led the majors in Total Zone (+12) and FRAA  (+17.4) but was second in DRS (+13) and sixth in UZR (+5.4) and DRA (+6.6). The Cubs' Anthony Rizzo outranked him in DRS (+16) and UZR (+8.3) while running second in FRAA (+11.4) and fourth in TZ (+7), though he had a negative DRA (-1.1). He might have been a more deserving choice, and it's worth wondering whether Goldschmidt's strong year with the bat and Rizzo's disappointing one seeped into the Gold Glove voting. The FBA capsules did note that Goldschmidt set a record with over 100 Good Fielding Plays, one element of the accounting; Rizzo was runner-up for the FBA honor.

In the AL, it appears the Red Sox' Mike Napoli, a converted catcher, was hosed. Napoli (+11 TZ, +10 DRS, +9.7 UZR, +5.1 DRA, +4.2 FRAA) rated higher in most places than Hosmer (+5 TZ, +3 DRS, +2.5 UZR, +0.5 DRA, +7.7 FRAA), and the Indians' Nick Swisher far outdistanced both men in DRA (+15.1) and doubled up Hosmer in DRS (+6).

Second base

Gold Gloves: Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox (AL); Brandon Phillips, Reds (NL)

Fielding Bible: Pedroia

Pedroia looks to be a good choice for both awards. He was tops in the AL in DRS and TZ and second in UZR, though he was in the red on DRA.

Over in the NL, Phillips, who previously won three Gold Gloves, is a more questionable selection. Though he tied for second in Total Zone and fourth in UZR and FRAA, he was ninth in DRS and 13th in DRA. A better case could be made for the Cubs' Darwin Barney, who snagged both honors last year. This season he led in UZR, was third in DRS and DRA, and fourth in TZ, though he had a negative FRAA.

Shortstop

Gold Gloves: J.J. Hardy, Orioles (AL); Andrelton Simmons, Braves (NL)

Fielding Bible: Simmons

Simmons blew away the field, leading in all five metrics I've cited here, most of them by a wide margin; his +41 DRS was a record. Hardy is a less sterling choice. While fourth in DRS, he was seventh in UZR, 10th in TZ, 14th in DRA and a whopping 12 runs below average per FRAA. Alas, finding consensus at this position in the AL is a tough task. The Twins' Pedro Florimon, who ranked second in DRS (+12), was the only AL shortstop who was even above average across those five metrics.

Third base

Gold Gloves: Manny Machado,Orioles (AL); Nolan Arenado, Rockies (NL)

Fielding Bible: Machado

Like Simmons, Machado led across the board, with his highest rating coming via +35 DRS. Arenado, who didn't debut until April 28, was the first rookie since Frank Malzone in 1957 to win a Gold Glove. He ranked second in DRS (+30) and FRAA, third in UZR and DRA and eighth in TZ. A case could be made for the Dodgers' Juan Uribe, who beat out Arenado in UZR and TZ (second) as well as DRA (fifth) while ranking no lower than fifth in any of the metrics, but he didn't lead any of them, so it's understandable that he didn't win.

Leftfield

Gold Gloves: Alex Gordon, Royals (AL); Carlos Gonzales, Rockies (NL)

Fielding Bible: Gordon

Gordon's hardware is deserved, as he led the majors in TZ, led the AL in DRS and was second in DRA while ranking no lower than eighth in the other two metrics.

In the NL, Pittsburgh's Starling Marte has a legitimate beef. He led the league in both DRS (+20) and UZR (+20.4) and ranked third in TZ (+9), but he was about average in the other two metrics. He still would have been a superior choice to Gonzalez, who played the position in just 106 games, and despite being third in DRS (+10) and seventh in UZR (+7.3) was well below average in both TZ (-9) and DRA (-6.6).

Centerfield

Gold Gloves: Adam Jones, Orioles (AL); Carlos Gomez, Brewers (NL)

Fielding Bible: Gomez

Jones, who had previously won two Gold Gloves, was the worst choice at any position. He was in the red across the board, sometimes by as many as 15 runs. The Royals' Lorenzo Cain would have been the best choice, as he was in the top five in DRS, UZR and FRAA and in the top 10 in the other two.

Gomez was the runaway winner in DRS (+38) and led in UZR and DRA as well while ranking second in FRAA to Houston's Brandon Barnes and fifth in TZ, so it's not surprising he won both awards.

Rightfield

Gold Gloves: Shane Victorino, Red Sox (AL); Gerardo Parra, Diamondbacks (NL)

Fielding Bible: Parra

No real quibble here. Victorino was first in DRA and FRAA, second in UZR and DRS and third in TZ. Had he not trailed Parra by 12 runs in DRS (36 to 24), he might have gotten the Fielding Bible honor; as it was, he had eight or 10 runs on Parra in the less widespread FRAA and DRA. Parra led in DRS and UZR while ranking second in DRA, third in FRAA and fourth in TZ.

Regarding the Fielding Bible Awards, the only positions (excluding pitcher) where I have significant gripes based upon the available data and my own observations are at catcher and first base, though neither recipient is a terrible choice. As for the Gold Gloves, the only clear mistake was for Jones as AL centerfielder, though I also believe the voters whiffed at first base and shortstop. Still, that's a considerable improvement upon years past.

As with the data itself, one year's results aren't definitive, but the future of the Gold Glove award is suddenly much brighter. It has been around since 1957, and has traditionally been voted upon by managers and coaches, with the caveat that they're not allowed to vote for players on their own teams.

Prior to the advent of sabermetrics, the award stood as the last word on defense, and once a player won, he was often recognized year after year on the basis of reputation rather than statistics. The best example came in 1999, when the AL Gold Glove at first base went to Rafael Palmeiro, who was the choice the previous two years but who was limited to 28 games in the field that year.

In addition, offensive performance has often appeared to drive the choices. Five-time Gold Glove winner Derek Jeter may have 3,316 career hits, but various metrics put him more than 150 runs in the red, and the contrast between his reputation among uniformed personnel and that among statheads has been a point of heated debate for more than a decade.

In an effort to get with the times, Rawlings has partnered with the Society for American baseball Research to incorporate sabermetrics into the process via something called the SABR Defensive Index. The SDI aggregates two types of defensive metrics, those derived by batted-ball-type data (Baseball Info Solutions' Defensive Runs Saved, Mitchel Lichtman's Ultimate Zone Rating and Chris Dial's Runs Effectively Defended, a forerunner to later metrics) and those derived via play-by-play data (Michael Humphreys' Defensive Regression Analysis and Sean Smith's Total Zone Rating). BIS owner John Dewan, Dial and Humphreys were part of a seven-person committee that also included Baseball-Reference.com founder Sean Forman. Their work accounted for about 25 percent of the total vote, with managers and coaches -- who were provided with a statistical resource guide accompanying their ballots -- making up the balance.

The Fielding Bible Awards were created by Dewan in 2008 as a response to the sabermetric community's longstanding dissatisfaction with the Gold Gloves. In the founder's view, the voting system was badly designed and lacked transparency. Dewan created a panel of 10 experts (now 12) and used a 10-man ballot to cover each position without regard to league. They named one winner but also published the full voting results; not only can one see who ranked where at a given position, but how each voter -- who is able to consult data as well as their own observations -- ranked them.

This year's panel included Dewan; writers Bill James, Peter Gammons, Joe Posnanski, Rob Neyer and Dave Cameron; MLB Network host Brian Kenny; ESPN Stats and Information researcher Mark Simon; and Strat-O-Matic creator Hal Richman. There was one vote apiece representing the BIS video scouts (who score the plays that go into Defensive Runs Saved) and the Tom Tango Fan Poll. Forman was one of three tiebreakers on the panel.

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