Gold Gloves vs. UZR: The Laziest Article I've Ever Written (AL Edition)

So, today we got to see the American League Gold Glove awards as voted on by coaches and managers. The following is the list of players who won for the American League

 

Player Team Position
Mark Buehrle CHA P
Joe Mauer MIN C
Mark Teixeira NYA 1B
Placido Polanco DET 2B
Evan Longoria TBR 3B
Derek Jeter NYA SS
Adam Jones BAL OF
Torii Hunter LAA OF
Ichiro Suzuki SEA OF

 

If you are reading this site, I do not think you need to be told that the Gold Glove awards reward players for their name, good looks, reputation, lack of errors, and degree of difficulty, whether real or fabricated by a player's skill. What it does not generally reward is actual defense, though that occasionally gets thrown into the mix as well.

In what will undoubtedly appear as a lazy article (after all, it's so easy to pick on these things, why even bother?), I am going to pit the Gold Glove awards with UZR to see how much agreement there may be. Of course, so as to not raise the ire of one MGL, I will not be quoting single-season UZR totals. Rather, I'll do something simple: a 3-year pseudo-Marcels projection of defensive worth based on both UZR and the Fans Scouting Report. I'll take the single-season UZR leader (yes, I know, but this allows me to not have to do too many projections) and the 2009 GG winner and run a weighted Marcels, weighting UZR at 75% and the Fans at 25%. I'll then regress each total by 75 games of average defense for infielders and 100 games of average for outfielders.

For outfielders, I'll look at the players with the best UZR + positional adjustments, so as to account for the fact that you can pick any three outfielders. For catchers, I'll use the defensive estimates done by devil_fingers in this post, and TotalZone data available at B-Ref courtesy of Sean Smith. Catcher defense is regressed 125 games; I do not have a basis for this, but I figured it should be regressed the most because we know the least about it. I won't be looking at the pitchers, though it is worth mentioning that Buerhle also won the Fielding Bible Award for pitchers this season, so that probably goes down as an agreement. Finally, because the 2009 FSR is still in the voting format, 2009 data will only include UZR. Sorry.

Let's find out how the voters did against the numbers (why do we always have to fight?).

First off, here are the players the Gold Glove voters selected.

 

Player Position Defense
Joe Mauer C +7
Mark Teixiera 1B +2
Placido Polanco 2B +9
Evan Longoria 3B +15
Derek Jeter SS +0
Adam Jones OF +2
Torii Hunter OF -2
Ichiro Suzuki OF +9

 

As you can see, the list is not all that bad. Among the players listed here, the Fans Scouting Report agreed a whole lot more than UZR did with the GG voters. Teixeira has come out as around the second best first baseman in baseball over the last few years, behind only Albert Pujols, but UZR has had him with two seasons of below average play and one very strong 2008 campaign; overall, he ended up at around +2 runs. Torii Hunter ends up as the only player in the negative side; here the Fans and UZR disagree heavily, with UZR rating Hunter as solidly below average while the Fans have still have him as one of the best center fielders in the game.

I was rather surprised to see Derek Jeter rate as an even shortstop under this methodology. The Fans have him as slightly above average (+2 and +1 runs in 2007 and 2008 respectively), while UZR has him over the three-year span as a -4 run defender per 150 games. it is worth noting that in the 2009 FSR, Jeter ranks in the middle of the pack as well at shortstop, around the likes of Juan Castro, Tyler Greene, and Miguel Tejada.

Ichiro was an interesting case as well. Each of the three years, UZR rated him well, even with his move to center field in 2007. The Fans, however, were off the charts in favor of Ichiro, labeling him likely the best defender in baseball. The Fans had Ichiro at +27 and +22 runs in 2007 and 2008 respectively. Taking the conglomerate, Ichiro ended up at +9 runs, still the second best total listed here.

There were still places where UZR, the Fans, and even the GG voters agreed. Everyone came to terms on how ridiculous Evan Longoria is at third base, and no one should be surprised there. Similarly, Placido Polanco received reviews from the Fans that were very similar to his UZR numbers, at least in 2008. And Adam Jones received high marks in '08, in concordance with his solid UZR. Jones however was hurt in that his second season in 2009 weighed in more than half of his rating and he happened to receive poor marks from UZR; the Fans still rank him very highly among center fielders, and his numbers would have looked better had I used this season's FSR data.

The Numbers Tally

In comparison, let's take a look at the leaders in terms of UZR or catcher defense this season. Note that in the case of third base, Longoria was the UZR leader and the award recipient, so I went to the second-ranked player for the comparison. Also, in the case of second base, the leader was Ben Zobrist, but I felt with such little data at our disposal in terms of his second base play, his skewed 2009 UZR would have a significant hold on his projection, so I went with the next available player, Dustin Pedroia. Finally, I added four outfielders, three of them center fielders, for comparison. Only one corner outfielder, Carl Crawford, would have approached the amount needed when combining both UZR and positional adjustment.

 

Player Team Position Defense
Gerald Laird DET C +7
Kevin Youkilis BOS 1B +3
Dustin Pedroia BOS 2B +8
Chone Figgins LAA 3B +9
Cesar Izturis BAL SS +7
Franklin Gutierrez SEA OF +21
B.J. Upton TBR OF +8
Rajai Davis OAK OF +7
Carl Crawford TBR OF +10

 

As mentioned, the GG voters nabbed two of the UZR leaders (at third base and at second base, if you don't count Zobrist). It would appear as if they did a very good job in that department, as this methodology shows Longoria as absolutely dominant defensively and Polanco a very defensible choice given the difference between him and Pedroia. Mauer and "One Man, Five Tools" Laird came out fairly even in the projection, so there should be no quibble in handing the award to the future AL MVP. Likewise, the Youkilis vs. Teixeira debate came fairly even, so deeming Teixeira the winner is certainly a decent choice.

The shortstop position was a very interesting find. I was quite surprised to see that Cesar Izturis came out on top this season, though he carries a very good reputation. I was also quite happy to see strong agreement between the Fans and UZR on Izturis' year-to-year performances. Overall, he would have been a solid choice. I recognize also that I left Elvis Andrus out of the picture for similar reasons to the Zobrist argument. He did end ever-so-slightly behind Izturis on the leaderboard, so I do have that to back me up. With the type of regression Andrus probably would have received for not having played a whole lot, I imagine Izturis would still have come out on top.

It is perhaps in the outfield where the voters missed the mark. Two of the three winners of the Fielding Bible awards, center fielder Franklin Gutierrez and left fielder Carl Crawford, came up missing in the final awards, while a player that, according to this projection, actually hurt the team's defense when compared to the average was awarded (another) Gold Glove. The decision to take Hunter in this case seems very poor when in comparison to the options available. Gutierrez's exclusion was expected but still heinous in light of how good he was this year and how good he has been the past three seasons.

Any of the above choices, between Crawford, Upton, Davis, and Gutierrez, would have been much better than Hunter in this case. Replacing either Jones or Ichiro would be more questionable, and admittedly I did not factor in positional adjustments into these, so Ichiro's numbers as a center fielder and right fielder are counting the same, as are Gutierrez's.

Conclusion

The voters actually did a decent job overall, minus the one giant oversight of Gutierrez and the awarding of yet another Gold Glove that Derek Jeter likely did not earn. Compared to recent results over the last few years though, this year's ballot was a nice change of pace, even though it included a lot of the "old guard" in terms of defense. I hope that in a few years, we can expect to see less of Jeter and Hunter and more of Gutierrez, Andrus, and Crawford on these ballots, reflecting a changing of the guard in defense, a changing of the system and how it is run, or maybe even a more open view on defensive metrics, at least in the context of rewarding good defense.

Expect the National League version tomorrow, or later still, depending on how infuriating it looks. I'm a pessimist.

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