Advanced statistics confirm some contradict many Gold Glove picks
New stats show better picture of defense than errors and fielding percentage
Derek Jeter's diminished range saved him from errors but hurt Yankees pitchers
Advacned stats show that AL Gold Glove OF winners were deserving of honors
In the 2010 season the left side of the Yankees' infield -- future Hall of Famers Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez -- seemed to have as much defensive range as a pair of statues, forming a new rendition of Monument Park.
Yet on Tuesday Jeter received the American League's shortstop Gold Glove, awarded annually to the best defender at each position, as voted on by league managers and coaches. While his six errors were the fewest among AL shortstops who started at least 50 games or played 400 innings at the position -- Jeter started 150 games and played 1,303 2/3 innings there -- being sure-handed should not be the only statistic taken into consideration.
Jeter's range has diminished from his prime -- and compared to his peers. That means he reached fewer groundballs in 2010, and thus had fewer chances to make errors. But it also meant he saved fewer hits and runs. As a result of his and Rodriguez's reduced range, Yankees' pitchers allowed the second-highest batting average on groundballs of any AL staff.
The National League equivalent seems to be the Gold Glove given to Rockies outfielder Carlos Gonzalez. That award, announced Wednesday, went to an up-and-coming offensive superstar who was given the difficult task of playing all three outfield positions and excelled at only one of them.
Today, new statistics beyond the simplistic count of errors and measure of fielding percentage tell a more complete story of a player's defensive abilities. The two most commonly cited advanced defensive metrics are the Ultimate Zone Rating, devised by statistician Michtel Licthman and publicly available on FanGraphs.com, and The Fielding Bible's Plus/Minus, invented by John Dewan and available behind a pay wall on BillJamesOnline.net.
UZR measures the number of runs saved or lost based on a player's defense; Plus/Minus measures the numbers of plays made above or below average by a fielder. In devising both, each play is studied on video and charted, which lends a little subjective interpretation and thus explains why there are inconsistencies between the two.
Jeter's advanced defensive ratings were both decidedly subpar: a -4.7 UZR and -17 Plus/Minus score and well behind the AL leader in both, Chicago's Alexei Ramirez, who had a 10.8 UZR and a +20 Plus/Minus. Colorado's Gonzalez was more than capable in left field, where he had a 3.6 UZR in only 51 starts, but he had a negative score at the other two positions, ratings that mirror his Plus/Minus results.
So it seems that Jeter's Gold Glove, the fifth of his career, was awarded more on reputation than empirical evidence. Like an elected politician, being the incumbent has the advantage of inertia. While some Gold Glove mainstays -- such as the Mariners' Ichiro Suzuki, who won for a 10th straight season -- remain deserving year after year, the award voters made some mistakes. Let's take a look at those who won and those who should have.
AL winner: Joe Mauer, Twins
AL UZR leader: Not rated
AL +/- leader: Not rated
Most deserving pick: Mauer
The advanced defensive metrics -- of which a key component is range, a mostly irrelevant stat for catchers except when fielding bunts -- don't pertain to the backstops. Two other stats, caught-stealing percentage and pitchers' ERA, are imperfect because of their reliance on the other half of the battery. That said, it's the best we can go on, and Mauer had the second-best ERA behind the plate, had a middle-of-the-pack CS% and had among the fewest passed balls among regulars with four. He was also behind the plate for the fewest wild pitches among catchers with 750 innings played, suggesting he probably saved his pitchers a few times with some tough stops.
NL winner: Yadier Molina, Cardinals
NL UZR leader: Not rated
NL +/- leader: Not rated
Most deserving pick: Molina
Molina ranked second in pitchers' ERA (3.23) and first in CS%, catching 49 percent of all runners on the basepaths. He also logged the most innings of any NL backstop with 1,138. A case could be also be made for San Diego's Yorvit Torrealba, who ranked first in pitchers' ERA (3.14) but whose CS% was a little below league average.
AL winner: Mark Teixeira, Yankees
AL UZR leader: Daric Barton, A's
AL +/- leader: Barton
Most deserving pick: Barton
Barton completely annihilates the competition in both UZR and Plus/Minus. In UZR his 12.1 rating is 12 runs better than Toronto's Lyle Overbay, who finished in second with a 0.1. In Plus/Minus Barton's +27 was 15 points higher than the second-place tie between Overbay and Minnesota's Justin Morneau, who managed his +12 in half of a season.
Incidentally, there does seem to be more inconsistency with the advanced metrics at first base than other positions, as Teixeira has been outstanding (a UZR of 10 or higher) in three of his eight seasons (2003, '04 and '08) and either average or subpar in his other five (UZRs between -2.9 and 3.3).
NL winner: Albert Pujols, Cardinals
NL UZR leader: Ike Davis, Mets
NL +/- leader: Davis
Most deserving pick: Davis
Again, the numbers are convincing at first base. Davis' 10.1 UZR and +14 Plus/Minus are both double the second-place finishers, the Diamondbacks' Adam LaRoche in UZR (5.2) and Pujols and the Giants' Aubrey Huff in Plus/Minus (+6). Davis certainly established himself in his rookie season, proving more than capable on scooping throws and making more than a few highlight reels with his dangling-over-the-dugout-rail foul catches. But he lacked Pujols' name recognition.