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Who Deserves the Gold Glove?
2003-11-06 08:27
by Jon Weisman

In the wake of the shutout performed on the Dodgers by the National League Gold Glove awards, an interesting discussion with many different subtopics materialized on Baseball Primer.

Besides the usual "Who got robbed?" debate and the struggle to find a winner-take-all defensive statistic, I think people began to realize that the criteria for choosing a Gold Glove winner aren't even clear.

Should the Gold Glove go to the best defensive player, or the player who has the most defensive value?

This question evolves from the fact that three-fourths of the Dodger infield - Alex Cora, Cesar Izturis and Adrian Beltre - led the league at their positions in fielding win shares, but did not lead in any other defensive statistical category.

Because the Dodger hitting was so poor in 2003, a higher proportion of the team's win shares came from pitching and defense. Compared with a heavy-hitting team like the St. Louis Cardinals, which won the same amount of games in 2003, the Dodgers derived more value from an individual fielder, or perhaps more precisely, even an individual fielding play.

Put more simply, if you had two players with the same exact fielding stats, the one on the Dodgers would have more fielding win shares than the one on the Cardinals. He'd have more fielding value.

Therefore, a player with more fielding value on one team is not necessarily the better fielder.

That does not mean value should be dismissed. A player's goal is to help his team win games - that is the underpinning of the Win Share philosophy. A player who boasted the most fielding win shares, even if he was not the most talented fielder in the league, was the most valuable.

Do you see the problem? Whom do we think should win the Gold Glove? Edgar Talent, or Alex Value?

This question even affects the old ironic line that historically, in order to win a Gold Glove, you have to prove yourself as a hitter. This has come about because hitters generally get more attention than fielders. In order to be noticed as a fielder, you have to be first noticed as a hitter.

Many, including me, have found this disheartening, and have assumed that expert fielders like Izturis and Cora wrongfully become de facto ineligible for the Gold Glove because of their poor hitting. After all, it's not like Mike Piazza's shaky defense has prevented him from winning the Silver Slugger 10 times.

But if the argument for giving Cora a Gold Glove is his defensive value, then think how much more value he would have on defense if he hit better. You wouldn't have to platoon him, pinch-hit for him, bench him. Just about the only thing missing from Cora's defense (the value of it) is his offense.

But back to the main topic. What's the Golden answer? Skill or value?

Pragmatically, of course, the people who decide the Gold Glove don't make it this complicated. They are going on looks, with perhaps complimentary help from the worst fielding statistic of them all, fielding percentage.

Philosophically, I'm leaning toward skill, on the theory that if you took the skilled player from St. Louis and moved him to Los Angeles, my addled mind tells me that you'd have a player with the same amount of skills but more value.

I'd be interested in hearing arguments pro or con. At the least, although you can make a case for three Dodgers winning a Gold Glove, I don't know that you can say any of them got robbed.

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