On Tuesday night Eric Hosmer and Alex Gordon won Gold Gloves; Lorenzo Cain and Salvador Perez were finalists, but missed out. Like most awards, the people who win them shouldn’t take themselves too seriously and the people who didn’t win shouldn’t be too disappointed.
They’ve added a sabermetric element to the Gold Glove Awards — it counts for 25 percent of the voting — but the awards are still very subjective.
Managers and coaches make up the rest of the voting, but talk to some of the coaches who do the voting and they might admit that, at times, it can be a bit less than scientific.
Coaches are pretty wrapped up in the work they have to do and the opposing players they have to be aware of and might not spend much time worrying about opposing players they seldom see. So when they get their ballots it’s not unheard of for coaches to ask each other who won the year before and then vote for that guy again.
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If the guy already won once, maybe he deserves another one.
That method can backfire; Rafael Palmeiro won Gold Gloves as a first baseman in 1997 and ’98 and then played very few games at first base in ’99 and still won the Gold Glove at that position.
The sabermetric element, added in 2013, is supposed to help prevent stuff like that from happening, but there are a quite a few knowledgeable baseball people who don’t put a lot of faith in what they call “boutique” stats; too many moving parts, too many chances to make a mistake and create something that leads you to the wrong conclusion.
The Gold Gloves’ sabermetric element
Read about the “SABR Defensive Index” and you fall down the rabbit hole fairly quickly. According to the Society for American Baseball Research website, the “SDI” is made up of two types of defensive metrics; “batted ball location-based data” and “play-by-play records of games.”
The SABR website page on SDI does not provide much information about how that information is collected or how accurate it’s believed to be. There’s also not much information on why “batted ball location-based metrics” count for 70 percent of the SDI and “play-by-play metrics” count for 30 percent.
When creating something like SDI you have to decide what factors to include and how to weight those factors; leave something out that should be included, include something that should be left out or weight the factors incorrectly and you’re going to reach some odd conclusions.
That’s the kind of thing that worries the people who play the game and have their lives influenced by these numbers.
What makes Alex Gordon a good defender?
I’ve written most of this before, so if you’ve already read what I have to say on the subject, feel free to skip it and get on with your day.
If you’re skeptical of the SDI numbers that say Gordon saved precisely 11.1 runs in 2017 and just watch Gordon play, what will you see?
Gordon isn’t that fast, but he makes up for it with great routes. A ball hit down the left-field line often results in a double, but Gordon can turn them into singles by running a curved route that has him headed toward second base when he fields the ball.
Base runners often shut it down and settle for a single when they see Gordon fielding the ball headed toward second base; that gives him momentum on the throw and Gordon is known for having a quick and accurate release. It’s one of the reasons outfield assists aren’t be best measurement of an outfielder’s arm; people don’t run on the good ones.
Gordon also has no fear of the wall.
Some outfielders slow down when they hit the warning track and play the carom; Gordon keeps going. And after catching the ball, slamming into the wall and getting knocked flat, Gordon is not above milking the moment. He’ll lie there like he’s unconscious and then lift the glove with the ball in it to show everyone he’s made the catch.
Gordon’s teammates give him a hard time about it, but he just won another Gold Glove, so Gordon’s doing something right.
How about Eric Hosmer?
Of the nine American League Gold Glove Awards given out on Tuesday night, seven went to the guy who ranked first at his position in SDI, one went to a guy ranked second and only one went to a player ranked 12th.
That player was Eric Hosmer.
SDI does not love Hosmer; last year he was once again ranked twelfth, but having watched Hosmer play since 2011, I can tell you why the other infielders like having him at first base: Hosmer’s big, has great hands and footwork around the bag and all that allows him to reach more off-line throws and saves his teammates from making errors.
When Billy Butler was playing first base his teammates felt they had to hit him in the chest with their throws; with Hosmer at first base his teammates feel that all they have to do is get the throw in his general vicinity and Hosmer will take care of them. Eric Hosmer makes the entire infield better because he allows his teammates to attempt plays they might not attempt with a lesser first baseman.
And whatever you think of the coaches’ and managers’ voting methods, it’s clear they did not believe there were 11 American League first basemen better than Eric Hosmer.
So whether they deserved them or not, Alex Gordon and Eric Hosmer now have new Gold Gloves to put in their trophy cases and the only downside is Eric Hosmer might have just gotten a bit more expensive for the Royals to re-sign.
And if that depresses you, go see Thor… Jeff Goldblum will cheer you up.