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Can SABR Save the Gold Glove Awards?

SABR & Rawlings have pledged to adapt the Gold Glove Awards, but is it enough to make them relevant?


Ah... the Gold Glove Awards, those accolades handed out by Rawlings every season to the "best" defender at each position on the diamond. Voters include MLB coaches and managers from both leagues. In the past, few baseball fans questioned the credentials of the voters for the annual defensive awards. Most coaches were once players, and they should have the best understanding of what constitutes the premier defenders in the game. In addition, few people in the world watch as much baseball as coaches and managers, so not only does this group have the past experience needed, but these voters have witnessed the defensive greatness in person and often.

Well, the advent of advanced analysis and infusion of tons of video and film has allowed other baseball folks to have just as good, if not better views of all of the defensive plays made in a given season. The added scrutiny put on every bit of defensive movement has led to metrics of range, better understanding of positioning, and overall a huge addition to the older methods of evaluating both individual and team defense.

At the 2nd annual SABR Analytics Conference held in Phoenix Arizona, the society, along with Rawlings, announced that the manner in which these awards are given out will undergo a much needed makeover. Suffice it to say, that when Derek Jeter wins 5 gold gloves, or when Rafael Palmeiro wins the award after playing only 28 games in the field in 1999, the system needs to change.

In order to better refine the process, SABR will create a committee to study what sorts of factors should be included in the choosing of these illustrious awards. In an interview with Kurt Hunzeker, a director of brand marketing for Rawlings, ESPN's Buster Olney asked the Rawlings director if he could expound on the specific metrics that might be used in the new system.

"For Rawlings, it's not any one metric. For us, we wanted to marry what has been widely known as the managers and coaches' vote representing the "Art of Fielding" -- they value players that seemingly are in position to make a play -- with the "Science of Baseball" -- the statistics and metrics that have greatly evolved and become widely known and accepted in recent years."

This answer might have an aroma of pandering in it, but the sentiment rings true. Fielding metrics are fantastic, in that the tabulations cause us to view defense in different ways, exploring the ins and outs of the process as we have never done before. On the other hand, defensive metrics are used with less confidence than hitting or pitching metrics, especially given the different types used. So, it's remains vital to combine the yet immeasurable aspects of fielding like soft hands, quick transfers, personal placement, chemistry, etc. with the more concrete methods of analysis like Ultimate Zone Rating, Fielding Runs Above Average, Defensive Runs Saved, and the like.

It's important to remember that voters will still represent a large chunk of the determination of Gold Glove Awards, but the idea of adding an independent source of analytic data to the process enhances it greatly. The sabermetric community has somewhat done away with Gold Gloves as the method for defensive achievement, tending to use the Fielding Bible Awards instead, but the Fielding Bible Awards are not utilized in any significant way beyond publishing their existence.

Gold Glove Awards are often used in arbitration hearings, as well as contract negotiations, two significant parts of the game away from the diamond. Most importantly, announcers and those with the bully pulpit in baseball commonly refer to the best defenders in the game as those who win Gold Glove Awards, basically poisoning their audience little by little until baseball fans as a whole believe these awards to be the be-all and end-all where fielding is concerned.

I applaud Rawlings for pushing for an advanced set of criteria when determining the Gold Glove Awards, as well as SABR for participating in the process. But, I implore, in fact, demand, of those in the baseball world with the most exposure to truly analyze the situation, and come to the logical conclusion that the previous methods used in choosing winners of the Gold Gloves has been wrought with issues and needs an update.

Recent award winner Jeff Sullivan of Fangraphs expounded on this topic.

"That's a win. It's a minor win, like a vending machine spitting out an extra quarter, but, cherish anything that can make you even just a little bit happier."

Jeff, I agree, it's a win, and a minor one at that. So, let's hope that it leads to a cascade of advancements in the determination of all accolades in baseball, and most importantly a change in what those in the main stream see as important and valuable.

Food For Thought:

Are these changes enough? Will these advancements make you any more interested in the Gold Glove Awards? Will changes like these make the awards more relevant to all baseball fans in the future? Have the folks who determine the Fielding Bible Awards just gotten it right, and those awards should supplant the established Gold Gloves?