The list of finalists for the Rawlings Gold Glove award has been released, with the official Awards being announced Tuesday on ESPN2. You should know before you read any further that your chirping about the defensive prowess of Gordon Beckham over the course of the season was not heard, he is not among the finalists. Nor are Alexei Ramirez and Alex Rios, other White Sox players that have earned a certain level of respect for their abilities on the defensive end. The White Sox “finalists” for the award are Jake Peavy at Pitcher and A.J. Pierzynski at Catcher. The remaining competition at their positions, with Defensive Runs Saved (according to FanGraphs) in parenthesis:
The Catcher candidates are kind of funny, being that they are the only 4 catchers that logged enough innings to qualify, and the range of the range (heh) is pretty far reaching. Rather than discuss who deserves the award let’s look a bit more at the process instead. There really isn’t any quality way to determine with any level of certainty who the best fielder is using statistics. The advanced statistics aren’t very reliable as they need a much larger sample size than a single season supplies to determine much of anything. The eye test is applied by all, for pretty much everything, but that’s always cloudy since we don’t watch every play of every game for every player, and typically have a rooting interest somewhere that skews how we view things.
The Gold Glove Awards are voted on by each manager and up to 6 members of his coaching staff, voting for the eligible players in their league only and they can’t vote for a player on their own team. It’s my understanding that this is the only award in which the Managers and Coaches really have a say. In other words, it is their opportunity to reward players they feel should be rewarded, with perhaps a slight emphasis on defensive ability. This is how we end up with the Derek Jeters of the MLB world winning defensive awards while struggling throughout his career to be even an average defensive shortstop. A player that just doesn’t commit many errors tends to get overvalued, even though he is failing to reach balls that many other players at that position will, while committing the occasional error. Many times once a player wins one, they just get penciled in for years to come. Remember Rafael Palmiero? He played 28 games at first base in 1999, the rest he played at DH, yet he won an award that year, presumably based on having won it in ’97 and ’98 as well.
I’m not going to sit here and tell you it’s completely useless, but it should be kept in mind that sometimes Gold Glove awards are just a way for Managers to say, “that guy plays the game the right way.” If we can’t do a better job of figuring out who is actually the best fielder at each position, that’ll have to do. Some may say that The Fielding Bible is a bit more respected in that regard, but since at the time of this writing the 2012 winner for Pitcher is listed as Mark Buehrle of the Chicago White Sox, I can’t really call it definitive, can I? But Rob Neyer supports it, if you’re into that sort of thing, and has can speak about that process better than I can.