Identifying the best and worst defenders at each position (cont.)
The Numbers Say: Beltre's reputation and awards are deserved, but Pedro Feliz and Ryan Zimmerman consistently rate as the Senior Circuit's best despite not having a single Gold Glove between them. UZR liked Feliz more last year, The Fielding Bible preferred Zimmerman. Wright seemed to be gaining on that pair, but a poor first half in the field has set him back this year. Meanwhile, Evan Longoria is emerging as a rival to Beltre in the Junior Circuit, according to UZR.
The Worst: Setting aside Michael Young, who has just a half-season at the position, the Reds' Edwin Encarnacion dominates the bottom spot in both systems. Writes Dewan, "Encarnacion is to third base what the bull is to the china shop."
Biggest Surprise: Chipper Jones, who was once moved to left field because of his miserable defense at the hot corner, was one of the NL's best fielding third basemen last year at age 37, though he's back near the bottom of the list this year. Meanwhile, former Gold Glove shortstop Alex Rodriguez has proven to be no better than average, and often worse, at third base.
The Numbers Say: Beltran, Victorino, and Suzuki were decent selections, but Sizemore grades out as average, Hunter has slipped below average as he's getting deeper into his 30s, and McLouth was actually the worst defensive center fielder in baseball in 2008. More deserving American League picks could have included some combination of Carl Crawford, Carlos Gomez (Hunter's replacement in center for the Twins), Cleveland's Franklin Gutierrez, who now roams the pastures beside Suzuki giving the Mariners an outstanding outfield defense, and Alex Rios, a superior right fielder who also excelled when replacing the injured Vernon Wells in center. Deserving NL candidates from 2008 other than Beltran and Victorino included Randy Winn, Mike Cameron, who unlike Hunter has retained his skills well into his thirties, the Marlins' Cody Ross, former Rockie Matt Holliday, Houston's Hunter Pence and Japanese import Kosuke Fukudome. UZR was also very fond of Phillies right fielder Jayson Werth, the sixth Phillie to be singled out for praise in this analysis.
The Worst: Last year, no team could do worse than an outfield of Adam Dunn in left, Nate McLouth in center and Brad Hawpe in right without playing men out of position. This year, Johnny Damon, Vernon Wells and Andre Ethier are UZR's least favorites, with Wells having a devastatingly awful season in the field.
Biggest Surprise: Eight-time Gold Glover Hunter has led the majors in robbing home runs over the last three years, turning seven taters into outs, but despite all of the runs those seven plays have saved, he still saves fewer runs with his glove than the average center fielder. The speedy Willy Taveras and Curtis Granderson grade out as no better than average, while 2007 NL Gold Glover Aaron Rowand was actually below-average last year (though he's rebounded this year, highlighted by his huge catch in Jonathan Sanchez's no-hitter). Perhaps most surprisingly, while Manny Ramirez was indeed below average last year, he was far from the worst defensive left fielder in the game.
Because range isn't really relevant to catchers and pitchers, there are no UZR stats for those two positions. Nonetheless, here's a quick look at what Dewan's numbers tell us about the best and worst at those positions:
The Numbers Say: Mauer's good, and Yadier is even better, but last year Jason Kendall and Jose "The Other" Molina just might have been the best defensive catchers in their respective leagues. With Jorge Posada back behind the plate for the Yankees (sending Jose Molina back to the bench), new Tiger Gerald Laird could be the incumbent Mauer's new rival for this year's AL award.
The Worst: The Royals' John Buck sits at the bottom of Dewan's list, which may be one reason why Miguel Olivo has taken his job despite Olivo's major league-leading nine passed balls and utter refusal to take a walk (Olivo has drawn just 11 unintentional walks in 560 plate appearances since the start of the 2008 season; that's one every 51 PA.)
Biggest Surprise: Unless any of the above surprised you, there aren't many, though it's worth noting that perennial All-Star Brian McCann has shown considerable improvement behind the plate.
2008 Gold Gloves: Greg Maddux (NL), Mike Mussina (AL).
The Numbers Say: Maddux won more Gold Gloves (18) than any other player in the 42-year history of the award and deserved them. Mussina, a seven-time winner himself, was also an excellent fielder, but he was no match last year or any other in recent memory for Kenny Rogers, who won five Gold Gloves and probably should have won more, including last year's AL hardware. This year, however, all three are retired. Who does that leave? In the NL, Aaron Cook receives high marks, though one wonders if his groundball tendency artificially skew the stats in his favor. In the AL, Mark Buehrle is exceptionally good at holding runners.
Biggest Surprise: From Dewan's essay on pitcher defense: "The Gold Glove voters know what they're doing when it comes to pitchers." Perhaps, but they only got one right last year, and we'll see how well they do without the automatic choice of Maddux this year.
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