The battle between traditionalists and SABR nerds is upon us, and not a single soul will survive. Or at least that is how the narrative seems to go sometimes, and it is also why many people dismiss the Gold Glove award faster than the plot line of a Michael Bay film.
Theoretically, the Gold Glove award goes to the best defender in each league at each position. As we all know, often times that wasn't the case. It was as deep of an award as being crowned homecoming king or queen, more just a popularity contest and recognition that opposing managers know who you are than anything else.
Things look a bit different now and it might be time to give the Gold Glove awards a bit more attention. Not complete attention, of course, but perhaps it is time to avoid a knee-jerk, immediate dismissal of the nominees. It has been linked to in every article about why it is time to start caring about the Gold Glove. Last season, the award included a SABR metric for the first time, thereby taking a popularity contest and injecting a slight amount of logic into it.
A new statistic was created, the SABR Defensive Index, and accounts for approximately 25 percent of the total votes -- the rest coming from managers and coaches. It was a change that needed to happen. In the midst of Mike Trout's absurd 2012 season, he lost the Gold Glove to center fielder Adam Jones. Gold glove detractors were quick to point out that Trout led all center fielders in the AL in UZR at 12.0. Jones was close to bringing up the rear at -6.5.
That brings us to now. Three Mariners, Robinson Cano, Felix Hernandez and Kyle Seager, were nominated for a Gold Glove. A lot of people basically said, "Pfft, whatever," and moved on with their day. In some cases (and positions), those people were right. In other cases, it looks like the Gold Glove is starting on the road to legitimacy.
Here is a full list of the nominees, and a slight exercise with UZR to follow. The criticism of the Gold Glove awards is that they don't go to the right people. This could still be the case this year, and probably one or two will end up in the hands of undeserving recipients. But overall, there should be a slight uptick in correct winners this year thanks to the addition of the SDI weight.
To get the numbers I arrived at, I hopped on Fangraphs and organized each position by UZR (limited by qualified innings). I took the numbers of all of those players to try and find a standard deviation for the nominees. Admittedly, it is a small sample size. Only 13 left fielders posted high enough innings amounts, which makes the numbers and the theoretically normal curve fluctuate a bit more than it should. So, for example, here is first base (nominated players in bold).
Now, there is a lot that can go wrong with trying to force numbers out of nothing, especially when it comes to statistics. So for the time being, it is important to remember the following facts: 1) all of these numbers only hold weight assuming a normal distribution (like a bell curve); 2) SDI numbers are different than UZR numbers. The end exercise, with all these numbers, is trying to find out where the Gold Glove nominees place on the general spectrum of the curve. That seemed easiest to translate using the Z-Score, or standard score, which gives a solid number for where someone places on the spectrum. E.g. a Z-Score of 1.0 means that player is a full standard deviation above the mean. A Z-Score of -0.5 means they are somewhere below average. For a quick refresher, if your standard deviation is 1.0, that means you are above the mean by 34.13 percent, or better than 68.26 percent of players. A standard deviation of 2.0 puts you in the 95th percentile.
And now for the numbers of the infield nominees.
|Albert Pujols||6.3||1.20||Dustin Pedroia||18.3||2.19||Josh Donaldson||15.5||1.63||Andrelton Simmons||15.5||1.82|
|Justin Morneau||6.3||1.20||Ian Kinsler||13.0||1.54||Juan Uribe
|Adrian Gonzalez||5.5||0.98||DJ LeMahieu||10.7||1.26||Kyle Seager||10.6||1.06||Zack Cozart||12.1||1.41|
|Miguel Cabrera||4.3||0.66||Chase Utley||8.2||0.96||Nolan Arenado||6.0||0.53||Alcides Escobar||1.6||0.14|
|Eric Hosmer||-0.4||-0.60||Brandon Phillips||8.1||0.94||Adrian Beltre||4.0||0.29||Alexei Ramierez||-0.7||-0.13|
|Adam LaRoche||-5.0||-1.85||Robinson Cano||-3.8||-0.51||Pablo Sandoval||3.5||0.23||Adieny Hechavarria||-8.8||-1.11|
Time for the outfield nominees.
|Jason Heyward||21.4||2.32||Billy Hamilton||20.1||1.77||Alex Gordon||25.0||2.38|
|Kevin Keirmaier||16.0||1.50||Juan Lagares||18.6||1.64||Christian Yelich||12.8||1.03|
|Nick Markakis||6.2||0.52||Jackie Bradley Jr.||15.9||1.40||Yoenis Cespides||10.1||0.72|
|Kole Calhoun||5.7||0.47||Adam Jones||8.3||0.74||Starling Marte||1.5||-0.23|
|Giancarlo Stanton||1.6||0.05||Adam Eaton||-3.3||-0.27||Justin Upton||-0.9||-0.50|
|Gerardo Parra||1.2||0.01||Denard Span||-4.7||-0.39||Michael Brantley||-5.7||-1.03|
One thing that isn't listed here is that for each position except for first and third bases, at least the top three UZR ratings were nominated. The Gold Glove hopefuls at second base were the best represented, with the top-five UZR holders garnering a nomination. Poor Howie Kendrick, at number six, was kicked out by Mr. Popular Robbie Cano at No. 13.
There were still some debacle picks, however. Adieny Hecharvarria was the third worst shortstop by UZR last season. Michael Brantley was the second worst left fielder, and as we already established, Adam LaRoche has no business even thinking he has a chance. It seems that for all the times the nominations were correct, there were just enough to raise a few eyebrows. That can all change as well by the time the winners are announced. For now, the Gold Glove isn't the most legitimate award, but it is at least working on the right path.