Last night, the Gold Glove Awards were handed out to the “best” defensive players in baseball. And, as has historically been an issue with the award, name recognition and offensive value seemed to conspire to vitiate the reliability of the award, which is supposed to be entirely about defense.
One need look no further than Paul Goldschmidt taking home the Gold Glove at first base over Anthony Rizzo to know that actual defensive ability probably wasn’t the sole driving force behind the managerial/coaching votes. Name an important defensive metric, and Rizzo was the leader – often by a considerable margin. UZR/150? Rizzo 9.2, Goldschmidt 4.4. Defensive Runs Saved? Rizzo 16, Goldschmidt 13. Total defensive value? Rizzo -3.9, Goldschmidt -7.0. Even if you go by an old school metrics like fielding percentage, the two players were tied. The number that probably mattered? OPS. Rizzo .742, Goldschmidt .952.
As for Darwin Barney, he lost out this year to Brandon Phillips’ name and “flair.” Once again, just look at the numbers: UZR/150? Barney 15.5, Phillips 8.5. Defensive Runs Saved? Barney 11, Phillips 1 (that’s an entire win’s worth of a difference!). Total defensive value? Barney 14.7, Phillips 10.9. Hell, fielding percentage? Barney .993, Phillips .987.
The reality of the Gold Glove? Yes, it mostly recognizes the best defensive players in baseball, and the recent development of a relationship with SABR to allow voters to see advanced statistics when they cast their votes is a step in the right direction. But players without a big name or a big bat will always be under-recognized.
The numbers say Rizzo and Barney were clearly the best defensive players at their position this year in the NL (Welington Castillo was, too, but I’m not about to complain about Yadier Molina winning). But Rizzo and Barney played on a crappy team, and didn’t do much with the bat. So they lose.
You can see the full list of Gold Glove winners here.