Thursday, November 20, 2014

Reality Check: The Gold Glove Awards

On November 8, I received my 2015 edition of The Bill James Handbook. I wrote a lot about the Handbook last winter, and I will again this year. It's a fun book. I'll find myself going through it, looking at the pages, all the way until the 2016 edition's delivered next November. It contains career records for every player who appeared in a major league game in 2014 as well as all sorts of features on pitching, managing, fielding, hitting, and baserunning. Want to see how much Phillies starter Cole Hamel's fastball slowed down last year? (It didn't; he's been around 90-91 mph each of the past eight years.) Wondered who got thrown out trying to take an extra base most frequently? (The Dodgers' Yasiel Puig, which isn't a surprise, and the Brewers' Carlos Gomez, which sort of is; both with nine.) Which AL manager called the most sacrifice bunts? (Trick question; the Royals' Ned Yost has a reputation for being bunt-happy, but he trailed Cleveland's Terry Francona, Tampa's Joe Maddon, Baltimore's Buck Showalter, Toronto's John Gibbons, and Seattle's Lloyd McClendon.) You can order it here or at your preferred book retailer. I really like it.

The first thing I do every year when I get the Bill James Handbook is check out the Fielding Bible Awards. These are fielding awards voted by a panel of twelve baseball experts. You've heard of several of them, probably: Bill James, ESPN analyst Doug Glanville, MLB Network host Brian Kenney, sportswriter Peter Gammons. The voters receive data from John Dewan's Baseball Info Solutions, which compiles and distributes baseball statistics to teams and consumers, to help them make their decisions. The two key differences between the Fielding Bible Awards and the Gold Glove Awards is that the former are voted by baseball experts who use statistics, while the latter are voted by managers and coaches. I like to compare how the more empirical vote does compared to the more intuitive one. The stats vs. scouts storyline is a false dichotomy, and the Gold Glove voting includes a statistical component, but I always look to see how the Gold Glove winners do in the Fielding Bible voting to get a read on how the much the two views of the game are diverging.

There is one Fielding Bible Award per position, while the Gold Gloves are awarded to a player in each league. Here's the rundown:

FIRST BASE: Adrian Gonzalez of the Dodgers won the Fielding Bible Award. The Gold Gloves went to Gonzalez in the NL and Kansas City's Eric Hosmer in the AL. Hosmer finished in a three-way tie for twelfth in the Fielding Bible vote. He was tied for sixth in the American League, which was led by the Angels' Albert Pujols, so there was a pretty big disagreement there.

SECOND BASE: Boston's Dustin Pedroia won the Fielding Bible Award and the Gold Glove, with the NL Gold Glove going to the Rockies' D.J. LeMahieu. LeMahieu was the top National League vote-getter in the Fielding Bible balloting, so there's no disagreement here.

THIRD BASE: Oakland's Josh Donaldson won the Fielding Bible Award, edging out Colorado's Nolan Arenado, who was the top National League vote-getter for the second straight time. The Gold Gloves went to Arenado and Seattle's Kyle Seager. Seager was ninth in the Fielding Bible voting, behind Donaldson, Chase Headley (who split his season between the Padres and Yankees), Texas' Adrian Beltre, and Baltimore's Manny Machado among American Leaguers. 

SHORTSTOP: Brave sensation Andrelton Simmons was a unanimous Fielding Bible Award winner for the second year in a row, and he took the Gold Glove too. Baltimore's J.J. Hardy won the AL Gold Glove and was the top American League shortstop in the Fielding Bible voting. No controversy.

LEFT FIELD: The Royals' Alex Gordon was a unanimous Fielding Bible winner, besting the Marlins' Christian Yelich. They won the Gold Gloves too. No disagreement.

CENTER FIELD: Juan Lagares of the Mets got all but one first-place vote to win the Fielding Bible Award. He won a Gold Glove, along with the Orioles' Adam Jones. Jones is probably the one player for whom the analysts and the managers have the widest disagreement. He has a strong arm and he can go over the fence to rob a homer, but he's well below average at getting to balls. He finished behind six American League center fielders, led by Boston's Jackie Bradley, in the Fielding Bible vote, en route to a 13th place finish overall. Big continuing dispute here. 

RIGHT FIELD: The Braves' Jayson Heyward was a unanimous Fielding Bible winner and he took the National League Gold Glove too. He's now a Cardinal. In the American League, there was another Oriole-related difference, as Tampa Bay's Kevin Kiermaier was first, followed by Oakland's Josh Reddick and Boston's Daniel Nava, ahead of Baltimore's Gold Glove winner, Nick Markakis

CATCHER: Jonathan Lucroy of the Brewers barely edged out the Pirates' (now Blue Jays') Russell Martin, who in turn was just a bit ahead of the Cardinals' Yadier Molina in the Fielding Bible vote. Molina won the Gold Glove, as did the Royals' Salvador Perez, who was the top-rated AL catcher per Fielding Bible. Close enough.

PITCHER: I've always been skeptical of fielding awards for pitchers because the sample sizes are so small. The Fielding Bible Award went to Houston's Dallas Keuchel, who also won the Gold Glove. The NL Gold Glove went to the Dodgers' Zach Greinke, who was third, behind the Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw and the Marlins' Henderson Alvarez in the Fielding Bible vote. 

So that wasn't all that controversial, was it? There was a big disagreement between the Fielding Bible votes and the Gold Glove voters for the AL center field and first base awards, and a smaller disagreement over third base and right field in the American League. But that's pretty much it. Every Fielding Bible award winner got a Gold Glove other than Lucroy and Donaldson. 

It wasn't always this way. What this is saying is that the empirical view and the intuitive view are getting closer together. I'll leave it to you to figure out who's influencing whom.

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