Gold Glove Love For Corner Outfielders This Year

SEATTLE: Left fielder Brett Gardner #11 of the New York Yankees makes a sliding catch on a ball hit by Miguel Olivo #30 in the ninth inning against the Seattle Mariners at Safeco Field in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

I'm still searching for official word from Rawlings about this, but Bob Dutton reports that the Gold Glove procedures are different this season:

Royals outfielders Alex Gordon, Melky Cabrera and Jeff Francoeur remain on pace to become the first American League trio in which each member finished the season ranked first or second at his position in assists since the end of World War II.

And maybe that could lead to a gold rush.

Balloting this season for the Rawlings Gold Glove awards, which recognize defensive excellence, will for the first time not lump all outfielders together in balloting by managers and coaches.

The new approach will select a left fielder, a center fielder and a right fielder – and candidates at each position will be limited to those who play a specific number of games at that position.

So I've seen that thing about this being the first time the positions weren't lumped together, but that doesn't mean it's true. And it's not.

The Gold Gloves were first awarded in 1957, with nine trophies: one for each position, regardless of league. And when I say "position" I mean position: Minnie Minoso was the left fielder, Willie Mays the center fielder, and young Al Kaline the right fielder. Beginning in 1958, there were 18 awards, nine in each league ... but the outfield positions were still differentiated. It wasn't until 1961 that Gold Glove voters were allowed to ignore outfielders' specific positions, and since then center fielders have dominated the awards.

I honestly don't know what I think about this return to yesteryear. There have certainly been deserving corner outfielders who didn't win Gold Gloves because undeserving center fielders were getting them instead. But a number of corner outfielders have won Gold Gloves: Ichiro Suzuki's won 10; Barry Bonds won eight; Carl Yastrzremski won seven; Dwight Evans won six. Were those guys generally saving more runs than the third-best center fielders in their leagues? I doubt it. On the other hand, right field in particular seems a different position than center, because right fielders are often selected for their arm strength.

In terms of practical impact, I suppose this is going to cost some center fielders money, because presumably some of them have clauses in their contracts that reward Gold Gloves. Otherwise, nobody's really going to care a whole lot. Has any outfielder ever been elected to the Hall of Fame because he won a lot of Gold Gloves? When it comes to outfielders, Hall of Fame voters seem to have little interest in outfield defense, one way or the other.

Anyway, about this season, Alex Gordon's had an outstanding campaign in left field, particularly considering this is his first full season as an outfielder. But Brett Gardner is a Gold Glove-quality center fielder who just happens to be playing in left field for the Yankees, and is the obvious choice for the award in the American League. In the National League, Gerardo Parra is the only reasonable choice in left field.

Unfortunately, the choices in right field aren't nearly as obvious. I suspect Justin Upton will be the National League winner, in part because he's pretty good and in part because of his hitting stats. In the American League, you might as well throw a dart. Francoeur's got all those assists and he's won before, so he's obviously a candidate. But his range isn't good. FanGraphs' Ultimate Zone Rating loves Nick Swisher this season, but Baseball Info Solutions' Runs Saved doesn't like Swisher at all.

David DeJesus might be a reasonable compromise. But in the absence of an outstanding right fielder, I think I'd rather vote for a second center fielder.

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