What is the Deal with Gold Gloves?

Asher B. Chancey, Baseball Evolution

November 15, 2005


Am I wrong to be ABSOLUTELY FURIOUS that Torii Hunter won the gold glove this year even though he only played 98 games? Surely, this is not Palmeiro '98, but still.


Well, he did account for a remarkable 4 double plays and he did record 8 outfield assists in those 98 games (compared with 0 and 5 all of last year in 138 games). But, nonetheless, the guy missed 64 games. And his range factor was only .05 above the league average. How can he win the Gold Glove?

If only we could find some other viable outfielder candidates who played all year and could have won the award. Oh wait . . .


-         Vlad Guerrero, by comparison, had 8 outfield assists this season, and managed to play 120 games in right field.


-         Jermaine Dye had 9 outfield assists, though 8 errors probably hurt him.


-         Here is a shocker although his range factor was under the league average, and he committed seven errors, Manny Ramirez had a remarkable 17 outfield assists this season! 17 outfield assists, even if you are Manny Ramirez, must merit consideration, right?


-         How about Hunter's teammate, Jacques Jones, whose range factor was .37 better than the league, and who had 9 outfield assists.


-         Gotta give it up, though, for Vernon Wells, who committed ZERO errors this season while compiling 12 outfield assists. Though, interestingly, his range factor was below league average.


While we are here, though, why would we limit our criticism of this year's Gold Glove winners to Torii Hunter. With a considerable number of repeat winners from last season, there is at least a presumption that the voters phoned it in. So, consider:


-         Eric Chavez won in the American League for the fifth straight year. Yet, Brandon Inge of the Detroit Tigers recorded 7 more putouts, 77 more assists, 14 more double plays (41 vs. 27) and despite his eight more errors, had a range factor .40 points higher than Chavez's (3.16 vs. 2.76). Wonder if the voters went with the old favorite rather than actually looking at the candidates?


-         In Omar Vizquel, we have a first time National League Gold Glove winner, but a ten time winner of the award overall including the AL awards he's won. And perhaps he earned it only 8 errors, 426 putouts, 80 double plays, a 4.40 range factor. Except, what about Rafael Furcal, who, despite committing 15 errors, turned 39 more double plays than Vizquel, 21 more putouts, 78 more assists, and a 4.99 range factor, which is significantly higher than Vizquel's. Certainly possible that the voters went purely on errors, but more likely that the voters saw an obvious old favorite on the ballot and went with him.


-         But wait, there is more on Vizquel David Eckstein topped him with a 4.87 range factor, 122 double plays, and 515 putouts, though he too had 15 errors. Also, Jack Wilson had 12 more putouts, 95 more assists, 46 more double plays, and a 4.89 range factors, though 16 errors.


-         Now, I have no problem with Bobby Abreu. Any attention we can get this guy, the better. But to give him a gold glove, his first, in a season in which he had a below average range factor and 4 outfield errors to go with only 7 outfield assists is just erroneous when so many other outfielders were more deserving. For example, Cliff Floyd committed half as many errors, had more than twice as many outfield assists, 17 more putouts, and a higher range factor. As another example, Geoff Jenkins, in 14 fewer games than Abreu, had 41 more putouts, 3 more assists, 7 double plays, and a 2.20 range factor, .47 higher than Abreu. Of course, Jenkins had one more error than Abreu. It is not clear which of these alternative choices should have won the Gold Glove instead of Abreu, but it is clear that one of them should have.


-         As if the Gold Glove voters did not need more evidence of having phoned it in, we have this year's winner at second base Luis Castillo. Castillo won in each of the last two seasons, which made him the convenient pick for the Gold Glove for voters unencumbered by the need to refer to defensive statistics before making their pick. However, if these voters would have taken a moment, they would have seen that the second baseman for the St. Louis Cardinals, Mark Grudzielanek, beat Castillo in games played, assists, double plays, fielding percentage, range factor, and innings, while finishing tied with him in putouts and errors. There was simply no good reason to have selected Luis Castillo over Mark Grudzielanek this season, unless of course the voters were intimidated by trying to spelled Mark's last name correctly. And by the way, Craig Counsel was also FAR superior to Castillo.


Let's make no mistake about it judging defense is the most subjective task in baseball. Gold Glove voting is always a subjective task, and it is always hard to know how much faith to put into defensive stats such as errors, fielding percentage, and range factor. But the Gold Glove voters also have a speckled past, voting for players who spent most of their season at DH, players who are past their days as superior fielders, or other silly players. Although voters may be forgiven the occasional misfire, the system needs to be reformed. In addition to creating a system which does not allow multiple centerfielders to win the award, Major League Baseball needs to create a system in which the awards go to the actual best defensive players in the league. Until they do that, the greatness of players will never be able to be judged by the number of Gold Gloves they won.