Gold Gloves: Cheers, Jeers, and Snubs

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On the other hand, there's a reason Gold Gloves are so derided by so many serious analysts. The worst picks of the year: 

Derek Jeter, SS, New York Yankees
I know, I know, you've heard this song before, right? Captain Fantastic has been perhaps the greatest source of consternation amongst the stat crowd ever since all the newfangled defensive metrics became available. The metrics are remarkably consistent year in and year out in what they say, and what they say is Derek Jeter is a bad fielder. Unfortunately, such metrics seem to have little sway on the people who vote on awards and such, who say, "But he's the Yankee Captain! Look how many rings he has! And remember that one time against Oakland when he made that awesome play right by home plate? That was awesome!" 

The thing is, Jeter actually played better defense this year than he has in any other year since the advent of most of the defensive metrics. A big deal was made of him getting into outstanding shape coming into the season in an attempt to improve his range, and it actually appears to have made a difference. Both UZR and plus/minus have Jeter as a positive fielder in 2009 after years of below-averagosity. UZR has him at 6.6 runs better than an average defender; plus/minus likes him for 4 runs saved. Either way, Jeter had his best season in the field we have data for. So why do I still consider this such a travesty? 

Because you don't win Gold Gloves for being better than your own usual level of shittiness, that's why. Because those 4 runs above average by plus/minus rank Jeter as the 15th best shortstop in all of baseball. Fifteenth. Congratulations, Captain Jeter! You managed to reach the middle of the pack! 

Consider Elvis Andrus, the talented young shortstop for the Texas Rangers. UZR has him at 10.7 runs above average; plus/minus puts the number at 11 runs. Or Cesar Izturis, our very own former Cardinal gloveman extraordinaire: UZR 10.8 above average, plus/minus +11 runs. So why didn't either of them win? Because they're not Derek Jeter, that's why. 

Torii Hunter, OF, Los Angeles Angels
You can put Hunter squarely in much the same boat as Derek Jeter, except Hunter doesn't even have the weak defense of putting up a season above his own standards with the glove. No, Torii Hunter won a Gold Glove this year strictly on the strength of his reputation, with no real regard given to the fact Torii Hunter just isn't a very good fielder anymore. 

Now, back in the day, Torii Hunter really was an elite defender; go back to say 2001 or so and he's the man. Problem is, this is 2009, and Torii Hunter isn't that guy. He's the guy with the -1.4 UZR. That's right; UZR actually has Hunter as a below average center fielder. Plus/minus likes him better, as it has him saving 4 runs over the average fielder. Problem is, even that +4 number ranks him 12th among center fielders. Middle of the pack, and that's using the optimistic lens. 

See, this is the main problem with the Gold Glove awards. Players win them on reputation more often than their actual play on the field, and they continue winning them long after the skills that may have once made the award deserved have withered away. Hunter's Gold Glove this year is his ninth; UZR has him a positive fielder in exactly two seasons since 2002. He's a fair bit better by plus/minus; being average or better in four of the last six years, but he also hasn't ranked better than 11th since 2004. Still, Torii Hunter has a shelf full of Gold Gloves, and those awards tell voters he's good enough to vote for again.

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