American League Gold Gloves: Who Needs Numbers When You Have Big Names?

↵MLB announced the winners of the Gold Glove for the American League yesterday and once again, the awards prove that in a sport like baseball – where numbers mean everything – that the numbers, really, mean nothing. ↵

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↵It's easy to take fielding percentage, the number of errors, put outs and assists to figure out who is the best fielder, but that's the equivalent of taking a player's batting average to determine who the best overall hitter is. There are just so many better ways to determine these things now, and for Gold Gloves, I'll take my chances with the UZR – Ultimate Zone Rating -- for each position. ↵

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↵For those unfamiliar with stats like UZR – let's call them the anti-VORP crowd – it's basically the best way to determine now just how good a fielder is with balls hit right to him, but how good that fielder is in his entire area of defensive coverage. Let's just say the numbers don't add up for some of these awards. At some point, people are going to realize that baseball has an award called the Silver Slugger and stop giving the Gold Glove to good offensive seasons. Why then, do we insist on giving the Gold Glove to players who have good seasons overall? Power at the plate should not determine the fielding awards. Granted, this year doesn't have Rafael Palmiero winning the award as a DH, but some aren't even close. ↵

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↵First Base ↵
↵Mark Teixeira won the award with a -3.7 UZR, which is the forth-worst of anyone at the position with more than 50 games played. Sure he had only four errors in 152 games and his fielding percentage was .997, but he had just 49 assists and a Range Factor that is lower than Kendry Morales, Miguel Cabrera, Paul Kornerko or Justin Morneau. By the numbers, Morales had the highest UZR at 4.9 with Cabrera second at 2.8. This one isn't even close. ↵

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↵Second Base ↵
↵This one was right on, as Placido Polanco won the award he rightfully deserved. His UZR was 11.4, which is far better than the second best at the position, Dustin Pedroia who had a 9.8. Polanco had just two errors and 429 assists and had a stellar .997 fielding percentage while helping to turn 100 double plays. ↵

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↵Shortstop ↵
↵Derek Jeter had probably the best defensive season of his long, storied career. It's tough, because he probably did deserve the award based on what people expected of Jeter at the position and what he was able to do for the Yankees. Add the fact that his numbers at the plate were so good and there was no doubt Jeter would the award. But should he have? Well, he had a 6.6 UZR, which is fifth-best in the American League. He did have only eight errors in 150 games, which is a better percentage than anyone else in the league, and his fielding percentage is best in the league despite a range factor that is the worst of all eligible players at the position. A case can be made for Cesar Izturis with a UZR of 10.8 or Elvis Andrus with 10.7. But come on, it's Captain Yankee, so making a case for anyone else is writing to read myself write. ↵

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↵Third Base ↵
↵Another position that was right on, with Evan Longoria winning the award with a 18.5 UZR, better than Chone Figgins and Adrian Beltre. Longoria did have 13 errors, but had one of the best fielding percentages (.970) in the American League. ↵

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↵Catcher ↵
↵There is no UZR for catchers – this thing is ruined!!!! – but Joe Mauer, who is an adept fielder and caller of the game, had the fewest assists (31) of any eligible player. He had fewer assists than Jason Varitek. Gerald Laird, for example, had 78 assists in 26 more games. ↵

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↵Pitchers ↵
↵There is no UZR for pitchers – ruined again! – but Mark Buehrle won the award, and based on the numbers – 41 assists to one error and a .982 fielding percentage – he's as worthy a candidate as anyone. ↵

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↵Outfield ↵
↵Adam Jones, Ichiro and Torii Hunter won the award this year, which based on UZR, seems completely and utterly arbitrary. Torii Hunter's UZR is -1.4, which was lower than Nick Swisher. Adam Jones had a -4.7, which is easily the most definitive disparity between empirical data and 'the eye test.' Ichiro's 10.5 is at least in the top 10 in the AL. Franklin Gutierrez and his 29.1 have grounds to complain, but he did have seven errors and only six assists with a fielding percentage of .985. ↵

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↵But these three? They can complain: Ryan Sweeney had 11 assists and a UZR of 24.0. Carl Crawford had a 17.6 UZR and just four errors. David DeJesus had a UZR of 15.1 and a perfect fielding percentage, committing zero errors with 13 putouts. ↵

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↵Sure, Jason Bay also had no errors and 15 putouts, but his UZR is -13.0 and he played half his games in Fenway. I suppose even numbers tell a different story sometimes. ↵

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This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

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