The Gold Glove awards get a lot of grief. It’s deserved, to a degree. The comments section of pretty much any post about the Gold Gloves goes only about three deep before somebody brings up Rafael Palmeiro, who won the first base award in 1999 (his third in a row) despite playing only 28 games in the field and 128 at DH that season. But that was a one-off; the worse problems are how some players flat-out own the awards (Greg Maddux won 18, Jim Kaat and Brooks Robinson each won 16–were they really the best every one of those years?), how it often seems to award good bat/mediocre glove guys over good field/no hit types, and how some of the recipients of the award are, well, undeserving.
One of the problems is that the Gold Gloves are voted by managers and coaches, who have limited exposure to other teams and aren’t paid to spend a lot of time assessing the skills of other teams’ fielders. Tampa Bay’s Kevin Kiermaier, the best-fielding center fielder in the game this year, started four games against the Angels, getting 14 putouts and an assist. Could the Angels personnel really evaluate him on the basis of 3% of his total chances for the season? (I know, you’re thinking, “How’s that any different from the beat writers who vote on the other awards?” Beat writers have more bandwidth available for the other 29 teams in the league than uniformed personnel. The Angels’ last game against the Rays was June 11, and that was probably the last time Mike Scioscia and his staff had any reason to contemplate a Tampa Bay player.) Kiermaier did, in fact, win the Gold Glove, but the voting procedure leaves plenty of room for errors. Add the relative lack of fielding data compared to hitting and pitching metrics, and it’s no surprise that some of the Gold Glove winners are head-scratchers.
To address this, in 2013, Rawlings, which sponsors the award (the official name is the Rawlings Gold Glove Award), introduced a quantitative component developed by the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR). The SABR Defensive Index (SDI) combines Defensive Runs Saved (from Baseball Info Solutions), Ultimate Zone Rating (from Mitchel Lichtman), and Runs Effectively Defended (from STATS) and accounts for 25% of the Gold Glove vote. Additionally, the SDI is distributed to the managers and coaches voting for the Gold Glove.
The result has been a surprisingly strong convergence between the numbers-oriented evaluation and the Gold Gloves. The more stats-oriented analogue of the Gold Gloves is the Fielding Bible Awards, sponsored by Baseball Info Solutions and voted by a panel of twelve baseball experts, including familiar names like Bill James, Peter Gammons, ESPN’s Doug Glanville, MLB Network’s Brian Kenney, and FanGraphs’ Dave Cameron. Unlike the Gold Gloves, which are awarded to nine players in each league, there is one Fielding Bible Award per position overall (and one multi-position player award). However, the annual Bill James Handbook contains the full Fielding Bible voting results, so you can see every player who received votes and who led in each league.
Given that, I’ve created a table. It lists, by position, the Gold Glove winner, the Fielding Bible winner, and where the Gold Glove winner finished in the Fielding Bible voting for his league. Here it is:
That’s pretty close, right? Of the eighteen Gold Gloves, eleven went to the player who finished first in his league in the Fielding Bible vote, and five went to the player finishing second. The only differences larger than that were the American League Gold Gloves for second base (Altuve trailed Kinsler, Ryan Goins, Logan Forsythe, Dustin Pedroia, Carlos Sanchez, and Eric Sogard) and shortstop (Escobar finished behind Lindor, Didi Gregorius, and J.J. Hardy). The empirical Fielding Bible Awards illustrate that the subjective Gold Gloves are becoming less so. Don’t expect another Palmiero, or you-know-who, anytime soon.Next post: Qualifying Offer Madness: Did Wieters, Rasmus and Anderson Make the Right Call?
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