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The King and the Golden Glove

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This is a story about a king and the rare golden glove.

Mike Stobe

Once upon a time, there was a King who reigned over Seattle. He was a mighty king and ruled his loyal court with a benevolent hand. His power was so great he could ascend into the heavens and slay fallen angels, tame wild elephants, blast astronauts from space, and out duel cowboys from the desert. His exploits were known across the land and all were amazed.

One day, he was interrupted in his court with news of a beautiful and rare golden glove and a competition to win it. The King had to have this extraordinary treasure and so he set off with two of his greatest knights to claim it. At the competition, he was met by an astronaut and a birdman from the north. "Ha!" the King thought to himself, "I have defeated hundreds of astronauts already and no mere birdman can outwit me!" And so the three champions displayed their acrobatic and athletic skills to the watching eyes in Rawlingsville.

***

Last week, Rawlings announced the finalists for the 2014 Gold Glove awards. Both Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager were nominated at their respective positions. Surprisingly, a third Mariner was nominated, Felix Hernandez. The Gold Glove awards are pretty silly but Rawlings has tried to take some steps recently to give them a bit more legitimacy. Despite all of the improvements to the process, choosing the best fielding pitcher is like choosing the best Star Trek: Voyager episode -- a few of them are good and some of them really suck but they're all kind of meh.

Today, I'd like to take a look at Felix's candidacy for this award in the most ridiculous way possible, by looking at his fielding highlights from MLB.com. When searching for "Felix Hernandez" and "defense" in the massive MLB.com video library, five videos come up from this year. Surprisingly, four of them occur in two games, two from 5/23 and two from 6/13. It seems like Felix really kicked it up a notch in those games but was unexceptional in his other thirty starts. Let's go to the video!

Felix Picks Off Crisp

Date: May 7
Opponent: Oakland Athletics
Situation: Bottom of the first; no out; Coco Crisp on first; John Jaso batting

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Huh, ok. Coco Crisp runs himself into a pick off and Felix is aware enough to step off the rubber and throw to first. Felix ends up applying the tag on Crisp after he gets himself into a pickle but nothing too exciting here. We'd expect a Gold Glove finalist to make these kinds of routine plays so it's nice to see a confirmation for Felix.

Felix's Nice Recovery

Date: May 23
Opponent: Houston Astros
Situation: Top of the sixth; no out; none on; Jason Castro batting

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First of all, ouch. Second of all, great recovery from Felix. For some other pitcher who isn't as skilled on the mound, this play might have been cause to fall to the ground in pain or spin around in circles searching for the ball. For Felix Hernandez, Gold Glove finalist, it is of no concern. As Dave Sims so eloquently put it, "what a competitor, what an athlete."

Also, that throwback King's Court was awesome.

Mariners Turn Two

Date: May 23
Opponent: Houston Astros
Situation: Top of the eighth; one out; Jose Altuve on first; Dexter Fowler batting

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Look, another highlight from the same game. This time, Felix makes an excellent grab on another sharp comebacker to his left. It's not a simple play but his momentum is carrying him towards the ball so that certainly helps. He makes a low throw to Willie Bloomquist covering second but they still convert the double play. Felix walks of the field pumped up, the five-run lead maintained.

The real show stopper is this take out slide by Jose Altuve:

Altuve Slide

Nice. Fact: Jose Altuve running fully upright is the same height as any other player who is sliding into second.

Mariners Turn Double Play

Date: June 13
Opponent: Texas Rangers
Situation: Top of the second; one out; Alex Rios on first; Robinson Chirinos batting

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Felix was involved in two double plays all year and this is the second one. He induces a slow, high chopper off the bat of Chirinos, cleanly fields the ball, spins and fires a laser to second. Good instincts from Felix to immediately go to second here, but, again, a play we would expect a Gold Glove finalist to make. Although, I agree with Dave Sims and Mike Blowers, Felix is special and he is fun to watch.

Felix's Tag at First

Date: June 13
Opponent: Texas Rangers
Situation: Top of the sixth; no out; none on; Leonys Martin

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Finally, a play worthy of a Gold Glove finalist. On a slow chopper to first, Felix sprints over to cover. Morrison offers a poor feed and Felix almost loses the ball. Once he's secured his grip, he finds Martin charging down the line right at him so he tags him before he can make it to first. With all the moving parts on this play, we might expect something to go wrong with a lesser pitcher on the mound.

This guy knows it too:

Guys Safeco

Standing Guy: Look, I told you guys. Felix could win a Gold Glove this year. This is his year, man.
Guy with Beer: That's nice!
Guy in yellow: Yeah, uh huh, I'm with you Bill.

Okay, so there really isn't much to work off of. To the eye test, Felix is able to make a few nice plays and isn't missing the routine plays. What do the stats say?

Gold Glove Winner

Fielding %

DRS

2003

Mike Mussina

1.000 (t-1st)

7 (t-2nd)

2004

Kenny Rogers

.985 (14th)

11 (1st)

2005

Kenny Rogers

.985 (13th)

6 (t-1st)

2006

Kenny Rogers

.912 (t-35th)

9 (t-1st)

2007

Johan Santana

1.000 (t-1st)

7 (t-1st)

2008

Mike Mussina

.976 (14th)

2 (t-12th)

2009

Mark Buehrle

.982 (t-7th)

10 (1st)

2010

Mark Buehrle

1.000 (t-1st)

12 (1st)

2011

Mark Buehrle

.982 (10th)

7 (t-1st)

2012 Co-winner

Jeremy Hellickson

.950 (22nd)

2 (t-14th)

2012 Co-winner

Jake Peavy

.973 (t-11th)

4 (t-4th)

2013

R.A. Dickey

0.962 (20th)

7 (1st)

2014 Finalist

Dallas Keuchel

.985 (9th)

10 (1st)

2014 Finalist

Mark Buehrle

.976 (t-10th)

2 (t-6th)

2014 Finalist

Felix Hernandez

.973 (t-12th)

-2 (t-31st)

Above is the list of American League Gold Glove winners at pitcher since 2003 (the first year we have DRS data). Unfortunately, UZR doesn't track pitcher fielding so I've included fielding percentage as another metric for kicks. Outside of Mike Mussina in 2008 and the co-winners in 2012, DRS seems to agree with the selections made prior to the sabermetric improvements. In the first year with the sabermetric data included, that trend continues. If that's the case, then Felix doesn't look like he has a shot at winning the Gold Glove this year.