A.L. Gold Glove Winners By UZR


I think that it is widely known that the Gold Glove Award in baseball is one of the most ridiculous charades that gets proven as such almost every year. I mean, Derek Jeter, who by almost any measure is no longer a good defensive SS, won the award in 2010. Rafael Palmiero famously won the award once as a 1B when he spent the majority of the season in the DH role. It could have been Palmiero’s mustache, but in large part it was his offense, which of course should have no bearing on a defensive award. It seems that offense and reputation are just as much a part of the Gold Glove as anything, making it hard for anybody other than the same guys to win it. It’s the one award where voters just get lazy, and I never understood it considering that defense is such a big part of the game.

That being said, defense is tremendously hard to quantify. There are two schools that constantly battle each other here, the sabre-geeks, and the old school eyeball test. For instance, UZR will tell you that Delmon Young was an above average LF this year, however, anyone who watches him on a daily basis can tell you watching his fielding is like having to watch a guy pass a kidney stone…uncomfortable as all hell.

Personally, I think it is a combination of both that people should use to decide if someone is a good defender.

There is a lot of good statistics out there today that help quantify a players performance. UZR, or ultimate zone rating, is currently the widely used defensive statistic used by stat geeks. UZR is essentially the measure of the runs a player saves per 150 innings. That sounds like something you can sink your teeth into. UZR does have its faults however, including; positioning of players, infielders only get judged on ground balls, and it’s a measure that relies on the performance of others within the zones for their positions. Essentially, it doesn’t make the player a good defender if you are above zero in UZR, it means the player performed better than others in that particular season. So, the quality of defenders changes by who plays the position.

Even with it’s limitations, UZR is a good general indicator of good defenders. Most of the time, if a player has a positive UZR, it matches with the eye test. Cases like Delmon Young are an anomaly, and that is why UZR is best when taken over a 3 year sample. It does measure players ability to get to ground balls (range), and their ability to convert those to outs. And that’s what it’s all about after all, getting outs.

With the ridiculousness of guys like Derek Jeter still getting Gold Gloves, I thought I would take a strictly unbiased look at who should win Gold Gloves in the American League according to UZR. For the ratings, I will use Fangraphs as the measuring tool.

C- Matt Wieters (Catchers don’t use UZR, but Wieters gets the eye test vote for me)
1B- Adrian Gonzalez (Bos)- Gonzalez accumulated a 10.8 UZR. Mark Teixeira finished 2nd.
2B- Howie Kendrick (LAA)- Finished with a UZR of 19.7. Dustin Pedroia finished 2nd.
SS- J.J Hardy (Balt)- Finished with a UZR of 11.7. Alexei Ramirez finished 2nd.
3B Adrian Beltre (Tex)- Finished with a UZR of 17.0. Evan Longoria finished 2nd.
RF David DeJesus (Oak)- Finished with a UZR of 14.2. Nick Swisher finished 2nd.
CF Jacoby Ellsbury (Bos)- Finished with a UZR of 15.7. Peter Bourjos finished 2nd.
LF Brett Gardner (NYY)- Finished with a UZR of 31.0. Vernon Wells finished 2nd.

As you can see, besides maybe RF, there are a bunch of names that you would expect to see on a list of the best defensive players. Unfortunately, the likelihood that all these guys will come away with a Gold Glove is pretty small. Voters still are stuck in the number of errors, which by the way is a factor in UZR. Or they are more likely stuck on reputation and offensive contribution.

It may not be perfect, but I think it is more fair. It will be interesting to see how close the actual winners will be to this list.