Joe Posnanski
Wednesday November 11th, 2009

There is little doubt that you are expecting me to follow up that headline by writing about Derek Jeter. But ... no.*

*As you might imagine, I have received about two billion jillion shmillion emails the last few days about the Yankees payroll screed I wrote a few days ago -- even though I specifically suggested that Yankees fans skip it. I have not wanted to respond because I think that sort of defeats the purpose. The idea was just to spark a conversation about the Yankees, and it has done that much more than I ever expected.

Also I don't quite know how to respond because 90 percent of the angry emails I've seen demand that I defend something I never said and don't believe. Still, I tried my best to respond to a few or the more popular complaints in my blog.

Anyway, back to Jeter. I have to tell you: I'm really not at all perturbed about Derek Jeter winning the Gold Glove this year. Do I think Jeter was the best defensive shortstop in the American League? No, not really. But unlike Gold Gloves past, I think that Jeter had a good defensive year. I don't know if it was better positioning or, as reported by good friend Ian O'Connor, that Jeter really increased his flexibility by working out with a new trainer. But whatever the case, I picked up from the statistics*, from scouts and from my own meager scouting skills that Jeter was significantly better defensively in 2009.

*Jeter, for the first time, had a positive Dewan plus/minus. It's actually quite stark:

2004: -16 2005: -34 2006: -22 2007: -34 2008: -11 2009: +5

Jeter also, for the first time, had a positive UZR -- though three times he was for all practical purposes an average shortstop:

2002: -0.2 runs 2003: -2.2 2004: -0.4 2005: -14.3 2006: -6.8 2007: -15.3 2008: -0.5 2009: +6.6

And, to be honest about it, there wasn't a real obvious choice for Gold Glove shortstop in the American League -- there has not been for years, which is why Jeter has won four Gold Gloves now. There is no widely accepted American League defensive genius the way there was when Omar Vizquel played short or Tony Fernandez or Mark Belanger.

The best defensive shortstop in the American League in my view was Texas' Elvis Andrus. He had great defensive numbers and scouts gushed about him and he had that "he seems awesome" factor. If you watched him play a couple of times, chances are you saw him make a dazzling defensive play.*

*The "He seems awesome" factor can trick you -- the first couple of years I thought Yuniesky Betancourt had it. He made enough great plays that people in other towns who only caught a fleeting glance would think, "This guy is a great defensive player." He was not great even then, and of course he is not even average now. But it was easy to fall into that trap.

Andrus could have won the Gold Glove -- I would have voted him the Gold Glove -- but to be fair he was just a rookie, and he did make 22 errors, and you can understand why the managers and coaches went with Jeter.

Baltimore's Cesar Izturis could have won the Gold Glove -- he probably had the best overall defensive numbers, and he had won a Gold Glove in the past, and he does have a reputation through the league as a defensive star. But he only played 114 games -- Jeter played 153. That's a huge difference. I think you could make a viable case for Jeter here.

Same is true for Detroit's Adam Everett. It seems pretty clear to me and others that Everett is a better defensive shortstop than Jeter every day of the year and twice on Sundays (if there's a doubleheader). In fact, in 2006, Bill James wrote a scathing and fascinating essay on Jeter's defense using Everett's awesome defense (Everett was a preposterous +41 on the Dewan plus/minus) as a counterpoint. But, Everett's not quite that good now, and anyway he only played 116 games.

Angels' shortstop Erick Aybar could have won the Gold Glove -- I think you could make a compelling case that he's a better defensive shortstop than Jeter. But, I also think you could make a compelling case that Jeter was better this year. Their UZR difference is negligible, Jeter's plus/minus is better, Jeter started 12 more games at short. And my own impression of Aybar's defense is that he's good but not necessarily great, and I would say that picking Aybar would not have been any more fulfilling than picking Jeter.

So... yes, I'm saying that I think Jeter is actually a fair Gold Glove pick. I would not have picked him -- as mentioned, I would have picked Andrus -- but I think this was a pretty good year to give Jeter the Gold Glove. Now, I feel just as strongly that his previous three Gold Glove wins were all pure lunacy. And I also think this is where the Jeter Gold Glove run ends -- Jack Wilson, who won the Fielding Bible Award at short, should play the full year in the American League, and Andrus will be established and I think he could win quite a few before he's done. Assuming they play 140 or so games, either one of them is likely to be a much better defender than Jeter next year.

But this year I really don't think Jeter is a bad choice at all. No, there was someone else who I think got wildly ripped off for a Gold Glove. And, no, I'm not talking about David DeJesus not winning a Gold Glove.*

*The Kansas City Royals management -- and various people around the team -- really, really, really thought DeJesus was (A) worthy of a Gold Glove and (B) an actual candidate for a Gold Glove. This was because he did not make a single error -- he has not made an error in left field since 2006 -- and he was among the league leaders with 13 assists. Of course, I tried to tell people around the team that this was preposterous because -- well, let's see if I can dust off my old BASIC Computer Language skills from 7th grade:

10 PRINT "David DeJesus is a left fielder."

20 PRINT "Right or wrong, left fielders don't win Gold Gloves."

30 PRINT "Is this clear?"


50 IF A = "Yes" THEN GOTO 110

60 PRINT " Not clear? Well, DeJesus is not even the best left fielder in the American League."

70 PRINT "Carl Crawford is the best."

80 PRINT "By a lot."

90. PRINT "Carl Crawford has never won a Gold Glove."

100 GOTO 30

110 STOP

But the Royals had such a bad year and they were so bad defensively at every other position that DeJesus' defensive consistency -- and he IS a good left fielder, he really is -- grew into something larger than life. It became this weird point of contention. Who the heck brags about how good a defender their left fielder is anyway? If he covers so much ground, why isn't he playing center field? If he has that great an arm, why isn't he playing right field? There are a million different ways to explain how bad the Royals are, but one of the simplest would be to say: Their best defensive player was their left fielder. And they proudly trumpeted this

Anyway, DeJesus didn't win a Gold Glove, of course. But I'm thinking of another outfielder. The three outfielders who won Gold Gloves were Torii Hunter, Adam Jones and Ichiro Suzuki. Now -- and I appreciate that you may not care about defensive statistics at all or you are agnostic about them -- but I'm going to give you a couple anyway. First, I want to show you their Dewan plus/minus numbers:

Ichiro: +21 plays above average Torii: +8 Adam Jones: -20

Yes, that would be -20 for Adam Jones. Maybe you don't buy that at all. I understand. Here are their Ultimate Zone Ratings:

Ichiro: +10.5 runs above average Torii: -1.4 Adam Jones: -4.7

Yes, with UZR, Torii AND Adam Jones scored negative numbers... again, you might call total bull on that. And I understand, I really do. You might simply know, in your heart, that Hunter is still as great as he ever was out there and that Adam Jones is a defensive dynamo. But now I'm going to show you the Dewan plus/minus and the UZR for another outfielder. You already know who this is: Franklin Gutierrez.

Dewan: +43 UZR: +29.1

Do me a favor, no matter how you may feel about defensive numbers: Just look at those again. Compare them. Please? Everyone knows that I love these stats, but even if you think they are irreparably flawed -- could they be THAT WRONG? His plus/minus is SIXTY THREE PLAYS better than Adam Jones. His UZR suggests that he saved more than THIRTY RUNS more Torii Hunter. Could they be that wrong?

Well, obviously, I don't think so. I spent some time watching these players... I ended up watching quite a few Seattle games last year. There is little doubt in my mind that Franklin Gutierrez was every bit as good as the numbers suggest, and that he was a much, much, much, much better defensive player than any of the three, including Ichiro, who I think had a terrific defensive year. That's not a knock. Gutierrez had a monster defensive year. A near-legendary defensive year.

And numbers aside, my own scouting aside -- people who watched him play thought that too. I probably heard from five or six scouts/executives this year who said that they saw Gutierrez play and thought he was a phenom out there. Of the 10 voters in the Fielding Bible, eight picked Gutierrez the best center fielder in all of baseball, not just the AL. Bill James picked the Diamondbacks' Chris Young No. 1 and Gutierrez No. 2 -- I think that was just Bill being argumentative. Hal Richman picked Gutierrez third.*

*Hal Richman, the inventor of Strat-o-Matic and one of the great judges of defense, put Torii Hunter No. 1. and Carlos Beltran second. I love on an emotional level that he put Beltran so high because everyone knows how much I love Beltran. Still, the guy only played 77 games this year. I felt kind of guilty for ranking Beltran fifth in my own poll. But, hey, I did watch him grow up.

John Dewan -- who has pretty much dedicated his life to quantifying baseball defense -- estimates that Frankie Gutierrez saved 31 runs over an average center fielder in 2009, which is absolutely amazing. No outfielder was even close. And Dewan is a guy who, together with his staff, literally breaks down EVERY SINGLE PLAY on video.

The way I see it: The coaches and managers missed. That's all. We all know that the Gold Glove has become something to reward good offensive players who seem to be pretty decent in the field, too. I think part of it comes from this urge we have to believe in the complete player. I mean look at the OFFENSIVE numbers of the AL Gold Glove winners:

C: Joe Mauer -- hit .365 and will probably be MVP.

1B: Mark Teixeira -- Led league with 39 homers and 122 RBIs, an MVP candidate.

2B: Placido Polanco -- Down offensive year, only hit .285 after hitting a combined .318 last five seasons.

SS: Derek Jeter -- Another great offensive year, an MVP candidate.

3B: Evan Longoria -- Hit 33 homers and drove in 113 RBIs.

OF: Ichiro Suzuki -- Hit .352 and led league with 225 hits -- fourth year in a row that he led league in hits.

OF: Torii Hunter -- Eighth straight Gold Glove and he probably had his best offensive season, 126 OPS+

OF: Adam Jones -- Sort of an odd fit, but was hitting .303 with some power before All-Star Break.

So there you go. How likely is it that the best offensive players are ALL the best defensive players, too?

I really feel like the Gutierrez snub is a huge blight on this year's Gold Glove award. He had a defensive year for the ages. It seemed impossible to miss. But he's a limited offensive player (not bad, but limited), and he played out in Seattle (and maybe the voters didn't want to choose TWO Mariners), and this was his first year in center field (he had been an utterly brilliant defensive right fielder in Cleveland). I appreciate that the Gold Glove is a flawed award and always has been, but it is, for now, THE award for defense, and I really wish they had gotten this one right. I think they should have gotten it right.

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