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Has Rawlings finally fixed the Gold Gloves?

Jonathan Ernst

Last spring, Rawlings and the Society for American Baseball Researched announced a collaboration: SABR would develop a system to rate fielders, which Rawlings would somehow incorporate into the system used to determine winners of the annual Gold Glove Awards. There weren't any details, though.

Well, now we've got details and they're encouraging:

Rawlings and SABR tasked the new committee to define a single measure of a player’s defensive performance that could be incorporated into the Rawlings Gold Glove Award selection process to complement the judgment of the managers and coaches, who continue to comprise a majority of the election system. The SABR Defensive Index accounts for 30 total “votes” — or approximately 25 percent of the Rawlings Gold Glove Award selection process — that will be added to the votes from the managers and coaches. The exact number will be based on the total number of managers and coaches’ ballots received each year.

Rawlings will include the SDI as part of the revamped statistical resource guide that will accompany the Rawlings Gold Glove Award ballots sent to managers and coaches in September.

First, there's no way around this ... After many years of criticizing the process -- criticizing the managers and the coaches for their collective choices, and criticizing Rawlings for allowing that to happen -- I have to give Rawlings a great deal of credit for finally bowing to the obvious and incorporating modern analysis. I do not mean this as a backhanded compliment; I am utterly sincere: Rawlings is doing the right thing, and kudos are deserved.

There are more details here, but essentially SABR has collected seven really smart people and five sophisticated defensive metrics, which is just the way these things should be done. Two or three of the people and one or two of the metrics might be "wrong" about a certain fielder, but the crowd will generally constitute a collective wisdom that arrives at the "right" answer.

Granted, you might argue that the SABR Defensive Index should account for more than 25 percent of the Gold Glove selection process ... and the good news is that it will. In case you missed it up there:

Rawlings will include the SDI as part of the revamped statistical resource guide that will accompany the Rawlings Gold Glove Award ballots sent to managers and coaches in September.

I have very little idea of how many of the participating managers and coaches will pay any mind at all to the Defensive Index. We know it won't be all of them, but we also know it won't be none of them:

“There will be some that would look at it,” Tampa Bay Rays Manager Joe Maddon said. “I think it would be a minority that would actually look at it.”

Maddon said he would find such information “very useful and very helpful.” He is one of baseball’s most statistically minded managers, and his organization uses such metrics to evaluate potential player acquisitions.

He was skeptical the SDI would be widely adopted by most managers and coaches.

“I think staffs are still trained to go by the eye, what they see and who plays well against them,” Maddon said. “Sometimes a major league staff is probably the worst group to ask regarding making a trade, because they’re always going to point out the player that played well against them.

“We’ll see certain teams a limited number of times and we’ll see the Boston Red Sox 19. So you don’t get to see these guys often enough. So I think a more homogenized number permits you to make a more intelligent decision.”

You can probably guess that I agree 100 percent with Joe Maddon. Just looking at the process, we have to figure the SABR Index will effectively account for more than 25 percent of the results. If a manager is convinced that Derek Jeter is the best-fielding shortstop in the league, the SABR Index probably won't change his mind. But if he's wavering between Jeter and Jhonny Peralta, it might be the tie-breaker. And I suspect the SABR Index rankings will definitely influence the down-ballot choices for many voters, which will in turn influence who actually wins a number of the awards.

I don't think the SABR Index is going to effectively account for 50 percent. But I'll bet it's somewhere between 30 percent and 50 percent, and probably closer to 40 than 30.