2002 Gold Glove Review
Comments on 2002 Gold Glove Awards
December 5, 2002
Each year, usually in November, Rawlings announces the winners of their annual Gold Gloves for the best fielder at each position in each league. The announcement is normally carried in your local paper or on your favorite web site as a brief Associated Press story that tells us who won, which players are repeat winners, and how many times each player has won the award.
The selections are made by a vote of managers and coaches that is taken before the end of the regular season. I'm not aware of any guidelines that are provided to the voters, so I don't know how much weight they put on great range versus soft hands or a strong and accurate arm or the ability to turn the double play. One hopes that the voters take all of those things into consideration, with the proper weight placed on each skill, when they arrive at an overall assessment of each player's performance in the current season.Each year, usually in November, Rawlings announces the winners of their annual Gold Gloves for the best fielder at each position in each league. The announcement is normally carried in your local paper or on your favorite web site as a brief Associated Press story that tells us who won, which players are repeat winners, and how many times each player has won the award.
But we don't know how they made their decisions because the announcement story doesn't provide any justification for any of the selections. We never see any relevant numbers (except the occasional error total) or comments from the voters. Nothing.
So for the past several years, we've been offering up our own brand of analysis as we review the Gold Glove selections. What sort of analysis are we talking about? We look at defensive performance from several angles in our attempt to form the clearest possible picture of what each player contributed to his team's defensive effort. In the remainder of this article, you'll see the phrase "according to our analysis" a few times, and by that we mean a combination of the following:
- we evaluate team defense using statistics such as the percentage of batted balls turned into outs (for overall team defense) and the percentage of grounders and fly balls turned into outs (for evaluating infield and outfield play)
- we look at range factors, keeping in mind that they can be severely biased by variations in the nature of a team's pitching staff such as the left/right mix, strikeout rates, and tendency to generate ground balls versus fly balls
- using play-by-play data licensed from STATS, Inc., we compute adjusted range factors that take these potential biases into account and focus only on those putouts and assists that provide the best indication of fielding skill (catching a popup on the infield or taking a throw on a force play are examples of plays that generate assists and putouts without telling us much about fielder skill)
- using play-by-play data, we divide the field up into zones and measure each fielder's ability to turn batted balls into outs in each zone, and by aggregating the data from each zone and comparing it with the league-average rates, we can compute the number of plays each player made above or below the norm for his position given the mix of balls hit his way; we call this our "net plays" analysis
- we look at the STATS zone rating and our own zone rating to get another look at individual fielding performance, being careful not to be fooled by zone ratings that are significantly affected by error rates (because our job is to come up with separate measures for range and error rates)
- to assess the interaction between neighboring fielders, such as a third baseman cutting off grounders that might otherwise be handled by the shortstop, we examine the number of plays made by each fielder in the zones where the responsibility overlaps
- we measure the percentage of batted balls turned into outs in home and road games to assess how each park might be influencing our measures of team and individual defense
- we use play-by-play data to measure other skills that are specific to certain positions, such as the ability of middle infielders to turn double plays, the ability of pitchers and catchers to shut down the running game, and the ability of outfielders to prevent runners from taking extra bases on hits and fly balls
- after all of the individual players have been rated using these methods, we cross-check them against our team defense measures to make sure they are consistent
We believe very strongly that it is only through a combination of these methods that one can accurately evaluate defensive performance. (For a more detailed description of this approach, see our Evaluating Defense article, which was first published several years ago and has been substantially updated for 2002.)
I'd be absolutely amazed to discover that the Gold Glove voters have any of this information at their disposal when making their selections. My assumption is that their votes are based on traditional fielding statistics, reputations, and appearances. That's not necessarily a bad thing. In a good number of cases each year, our analysis concurs with the Gold Glove selections, in part because the best fielders are going to look good no matter what methods you use to evaluate them.
But there are some differences, and we'll go through each position and discuss the players we view as being the most worthy candidates. At the end, we'll compare our Gold Glove choices to the official winners and offer a few comments on other players who caught our eye as we did the fielding ratings for our 2002 Season Disk.
There's a very strong tendency for Gold Glove voters to fixate on one guy and keep giving him the award year after year after year, as long as he doesn't get hurt or do anything to make it clear that something has changed. This tendency is especially strong for pitchers, perhaps because the voters don't get to see them as often as position players.
At other positions, we can judge performance over a span of 1,000 to 1,400 defensive innings, but even the most durable starting pitchers are in the field only for 200-250 innings. And relievers get only a fraction of the innings of a starting pitcher.
With 14 or 16 teams in the league, a voter might get to see a certain shortstop play 80 innings in the field. That's not much in the context of a whole season, but it sure beats the 10-20 innings they might see of a starting pitcher or the 4-5 innings a reliever might pitch in those games.
So it's hard for anyone to evaluate pitcher defense just by watching, because none of the voters is in position to watch enough pitchers in enough situations to get a complete picture. And it's hard to evaluate pitchers just by looking at their putouts and assists because a pitcher's tendency to induce ground balls can have a major impact on those numbers. Even if you're a brilliant fielder, you're not going to look good next to an extreme ground-ball pitcher like Greg Maddux if you're a fly-ball pitcher and they're using traditional fielding stats to evaluate you.
This year, Kenny Rogers was chosen for the second time in three years, and he's a good pick. He handled 62 chances successfully while participating in 5 double plays. He won despite making three errors. In fact, only eight pitchers had more errors than that. But Rogers was quite agile, earning our top rating for range, and didn't allow a single stolen base. (I don't know whether the voters consider holding runners as a factor in their voting, but it certainly adds to his value as a pitcher.)
Other worthy candidates include Steve Sparks, Mike Mussina (last year's winner), Corey Lidle, Mark Buehrle, and Roy Halladay, but I believe Rogers was the right choice.
In the NL, Greg Maddux won his 13th straight, and there's no question that he's a very good fielder. This year, he handled 69 chances successfully, making only one error in the process. Maddux gets a lot of assists because he's an extreme ground ball pitcher, but he's not the best in the league, at least not any more.
Kirk Rueter handled 53 chances without an error and took part in five double plays. He hasn't made an error in three years, he consistently converts more batted balls into outs than does Maddux, and he is almost impossible to run on. But he may not be the best this year, either.
At the top of the list of pitchers who bested Maddux in converting opportunities into outs are Steve Trachsel, Livan Hernandez, Rueter, and Tom Glavine.
Trachsel has consistently looked good in our fielding analysis, but this is the best he's looked. He made two errors and was involved in three double plays. I'd like to see him perform at this high level for another year before I believe he's really as good as the others on this list.
Hernandez is a great athlete who always makes a lot of plays. This wasn't his best year, but he handled 71 chances successfully and led the majors with seven double plays while making three errors.
Glavine handled 71 chances without making an error, turned three double plays, and held runners well. Hernandez and Rueter usually rank higher than Glavine in converting batted balls into outs, and while I'd pick Rueter as the league's best fielder over the past five seasons, I think Glavine was slightly better this year, and he would have received my vote.
Ivan Rodriguez has owned this award for a long time. Even though he threw out only 36% of opposing runners this year, he was still intimidating enough to deter enemy runners from challenging him in the first place, so he was a strong candidate again. But he also made seven errors and missed time due to his knee problems, opening the door for someone else. In a year when many teams split the position among several players and nobody stood out, Bengie Molina emerged as the deserving winner. Molina gunned down 45% of the runners who tried to steal and made only one error on the season.
In the NL, I'd second the selection of Brad Ausmus, too. He threw out only 32% of opposing runners this year, but he has a history of throwing very well and now plays for a manager (Jimy Williams) with a track record of advising pitchers to focus more on the hitter than on the runners. The only serious challenger would be Jason LaRue, who's arm didn't get tested very often and who threw out 45% of the runners who dared. But LaRue allowed 20 passed balls to Ausmus's two, made one more error than Ausmus, and was involved in four fewer double plays. Charles Johnson had a good year throwing but didn't play nearly enough to be a serious candidate.
In a down year for AL first basemen, Doug Mientkiewicz should have been a slam dunk winner, and I don't understand the selection of John Olerud. For the second year in a row, Mientkiewicz turned a higher percentage of batted balls into outs than any other AL first sacker, and he matched Olerud in fielding percentage.
Olerud has been a very good fielder in the past, and before he went to the Mets and got noticed, we singled him out as someone who consistently looked very good in our ratings despite getting no credit for his defense. But he's getting up in years and we just don't see any evidence that he's making enough plays at this stage in his career. It's true that the other Seattle infielders made only 47 errors this year, the fifth lowest total in baseball, suggesting that Olerud may have bailed out his mates by scooping throws on more than a few occasions. But that's a very inexact measure. And Minnesota was one of the three teams that was even better on this score, so Mientkiewicz gets the nod here, too.
There was more competition in the NL, but Todd Helton stood out anyway, and I agree with this selection. Helton turned far more batted balls into outs than the other guys at this position, and that in my mind is enough to overcome a quite ordinary record in starting double plays and the seven errors he committed.
Tino Martinez, a contender in the AL a year ago, exhibited very good range and made only five errors, but didn't excel in starting double plays, either. Derrek Lee led the league in starting DPs and got to a lot of balls, too, but tarnished that record by making 12 errors. Travis Lee's defense must have been the main reason he was playing as much as he did, because he didn't have a great year at the plate. His range was good, his fielding percentage above average and his DPs nothing to write home about, but didn't do enough to match the year Helton had.
If Helton had a weakness this year, it might be found in the fact that the Rockies led the majors in errors (75) made by their other infielders, perhaps indicating that Helton wasn't taking care of as many bad throws as his counterparts. On the other hand, the Rockies have the 7th-lowest 2B/3B/SS error total over the five years that Helton has been the regular first baseman, so his track record doesn't indicate a problem in this area.
Unfortunately, we don't have good data on how well first basemen scoop throws. We can count the throwing errors made by other infielders, but the play-by-play files don't tell us how many errors were saved by a good scoop, a great stretch, or a clever sweep tag on a wide throw. And if there are runners on base, we can't tell from the data whether the throw went to first or some other base. Certain first basemen like J.T. Snow make their name on these plays, but it's difficult to measure just how valuable they are in that way.
With Roberto Alomar plying his trade in the other league this year, the battle for the AL Gold Glove was a fair fight for the first time in a long time. Last year, I committed several paragraphs to a detailed evaluation of Alomar's defense in 2001, concluding that his ability to cover ground had diminished with age to a degree that outweighed his excellent fielding percentage.
I believe Adam Kennedy deserved the honor last year, and Kennedy came through with another terrific defensive season in 2002. If it was my call, he'd have a Gold Glove for each hand right now. According to our analysis, Kennedy made 37 more plays than the average 2B this year, and when he got to a ball, he was above average in starting double plays and getting force outs. Other fielders were a little more inclined to settle for the out at first. And there were no weaknesses to offset these pluses; Kennedy was at or a little better than the league in making the pivot and avoiding errors.
Bret Boone was every bit as steady as he's been in the past, and that's likely what convinced the voters to give him his second Gold Glove overall and his first in the AL. Boone led the position in fielding percentage with only seven errors on the season, but he didn't get to nearly as many balls as did Kennedy and he was below average in turning double plays.
In my view, Texas's Mike Young was a slightly better candidate than Boone, nearly matching Boone's fielding percentage while getting to a few more balls and having a better pivot percentage on double plays. For the second year in a row, Jerry Hairston looked quite good in our analysis, and would have been a better selection than either Boone or Young.
But neither player came close to making as many plays as Kennedy. At age 26, he's young enough to get more chances, but there are some terrific young players who are ready to challenge him. I'm thinking of Cleveland's John McDonald and Oakland's Mark Ellis, both of whom looked terrific this year but didn't play enough to challenge Kennedy for the top spot in my mind. Both played shortstop almost exclusively in the minors, and it's not at all uncommon for converted shortstops to become outstanding second basemen very quickly.
Last year, I wrote that if Pokey Reese had played the entire year at second, instead of splitting his time between second and short, he would have gotten my vote. But he didn't, so I opted for Fernando Vina instead. In 2002, Vina repeated as the Gold Glove winner at this position. But Reese did play the entire year at second this time, and he would have been a much better choice, in my opinion.
Vina had a disappointing year at the plate, losing 33 points off his batting average and much of his extra-base power. I'm not saying this because I think hitting stats should be considered when picking Gold Glovers. I mention it because we saw a noticeable decline in his range as well, and sometimes these things are connected. His 13 errors and .981 fielding percentage were merely average, and while he continues to be terrific at turning the double play, he didn't create enough extra outs that way to make up for the many extra balls that Reese gets to.
According to our analysis, Reese made 26 more plays than the average 2B, while Vina was near the average. Reese made only 8 errors and posted a .988 fielding percentage, besting Vina in both categories. And Reese was above average in making the pivot, too. Not quite at Vina's level but close enough to make it clear that Reese was the better overall player this year.
Mark Grudzielanek, like Reese a converted shortstop, was another player with a strong all-around season, getting to plenty of balls (even allowing for the help given him by Dodger Stadium), notching a very impressive .989 fielding percentage, and turning double plays at an above-average rate.
At third base, the voters selected Eric Chavez and Scott Rolen. Both are repeat winners, with Rolen riding a three-year streak and picking up his fourth overall.
Rolen is a perennial standout who has made far more plays relative to the norm for his position than any other NL fielder over the past four years. For the second year in a row, Rolen is my choice for NL Defensive Player of the Year. You might argue that someone at a more demanding position, a shortstop or center fielder, should be given preference over the top third baseman. But Rolen has dominated his position like nobody else. And it's not as if third base is an easy position to play; it requires great reflexes, a strong arm, and the versatility to handle a wide variety of plays.
But he wasn't the only NL third baseman to have a very good year in the field. In the wake of Robin Ventura's move to the other league, Rolen's main rivals were David Bell, Placido Polanco (the man Philly received in the Rolen trade), Craig Counsell, and Aaron Boone.
Bell was on my short list of candidates for the AL Gold Glove at this position in 2001, but I gave the nod to Chavez partly because Bell didn't play as much (26 fewer starts). Bell played more often this year, but some of that time was spent at other infield positions, so his time at third was about the same. And he was better this year in both range and sure-handedness.
Polanco has played second, third and short for Tony LaRussa's Cardinals since his debut in 1998, but third base appears to be his best position. He covered a lot of ground, posted a fielding percentage that was 24 points better than the average, and was fifth in the majors in double plays despite playing at least 200 fewer innings at third than the four guys ahead of him. With the recent free agent signing of David Bell, the Phillies now have two of the league's best defensive 3Bs on the same roster. One, most likely Polanco, is expected to play second next year.
Counsell had a terrific defensive season at second base in 2001, and when he was moved to third to fill in for Matt Williams in 2002, Counsell excelled there, too. He might have given Rolen a run for his money had he been able to stay healthy all year. With Williams having vetoed his proposed trade to Colorado, we may not get a chance to find out what Counsell can do at third over a full season. Like Polanco, Counsell is a three-position player who may be best suited for third base defensively while hitting more like a typical second baseman.
According to our analysis, Boone has been less consistent than the other players just mentioned. He was terrific in 1999 and very good again this year, but didn't make as many plays in the two intervening seasons. He tied Rolen for the major-league lead in DPs this year with 42, but he made 20 errors and didn't cover quite as much ground as the other guys on this list. All in all, he's not really a serious challenger for the Gold Glove, but he is one of the league's better defensive 3Bs.
The AL produced three strong candidates, Robin Ventura, Corey Koskie, and Eric Chavez (the winner). According to our analysis, Koskie outplayed Chavez by a small margin this year, making a few more plays, posting a higher fielding percentage, but trailing in double plays. Ventura's range was quite a bit better than either of the other two, but his 23 errors were quite a bit worse. Overall, even with the errors, Ventura made a few more plays. Chavez led the other two in assists by a big margin, but that's largely a function of playing behind a ground ball staff with one of baseball's highest percentages of innings thrown by left-handed pitchers.
So the choice comes down to how much weight you put on range versus fielding percentage. If you don't care too much about the errors as long as a guy is making loads of other plays, Ventura's your guy. If you put a premium on fielding percentage, then Koskie's the pick. If you're looking for a blend of the two, it could go either way. My vote would go to Koskie, but only by the slimmest of margins.
When the Gold Gloves were announced, Omar Vizquel expressed surprise that (a) he didn't win it again and (b) it wasn't Mike Bordick who got it. Here's what he said, as reported by ESPN.com: "I didn't think I was going to lose the Gold Glove this year. I don't think I gave it up. I know I had the numbers to compete."
Vizquel's comments fit neatly with two longstanding patterns in the Gold Glove voting. First, when the voters settle on a player, he tends to get the award year after year as long as he doesn't give them a reason to change their minds, even if he's not the most deserving candidate that year. Unlike batting and ERA titles, you don't see two or three great players duking it out for the top spot year after year, with the lead changing hands based on which of them had the better year. The process of measuring fielding performances is murky enough that the voters often can't figure out which of the best players actually had the better year, so the incumbent has a big advantage.
Second, a lot of weight is placed on errors. When Vizquel was talking about having the numbers to compete, he was talking about errors. When he mentioned Bordick as a viable candidate, he was referring to the fact that Bordick ended the season with only one error in 569 chances, for a remarkable .998 fielding percentage, and a record-setting streak of 110 consecutive errorless games.
Because I have long attributed these beliefs to the voters, I was surprised to see these comments come from a player, especially a player who in his prime had as much or more range at shortstop as anyone in the league. I would have expected someone like Vizquel to look at the "numbers" more broadly than he apparently did. And I'm a little surprised that he talked as if the award was his to lose. Everything else in baseball starts over at zero on Opening Day. Nobody is supposed to have a head start on anything; you're supposed to earn it all over again.
So I was pleasantly surprised when the voters chose Alex Rodriguez despite all of this. Even though Vizquel did have a good year in the field, making only seven errors, his range was only slightly above average. It's impressive that a 35-year-old like Vizquel can still cover as much ground as his younger counterparts, but that's not the same as saying that Vizquel is still as good as he was ten years ago or that he's a Gold Glover at this stage of his career.
Like Vizquel, Bordick is getting up in years (he turned 37 in July), his range was only a little above average, and his main asset was reliability. That his reliability was of historic proportions makes him a Gold Glove candidate even though injuries limited him to 117 games.
But Rodriguez also had a very good year in the field, and I think he deserved the award. Awards should go to the player who accomplished the most that season, so it matters that A-Rod was able to play in every game while Bordick's season was truncated. Rodriguez was very steady, compiling an impressive .987 fielding percentage at a position where the norm is .973. And Rodriguez got to a higher percentage of balls than either Vizquel or Bordick.
In recent years, there hasn't been a huge gap between the best and worst fielders at this position. Teams have always been unwilling to trade off too much defense for offense at short, so you don't see awful fielders with big bats like you sometimes do at less challenging positions. With the emergence of a young crop of great-hitting shortstops, it seems as if fewer teams are willing to go with great-glove no-hit Mark Belanger types. Some of the more defense-oriented shortstops (like Bordick and Vizquel) are past their primes, while others (like Rey Sanchez and Pokey Reese) have moved to second base.
So it wouldn't be accurate to say that Rodriguez was far and away the best at his position this year. David Eckstein, Nomar Garciaparra, Royce Clayton, Chris Woodward, Carlos Guillen, and Miguel Tejada also played quite well. Nomar and Guillen covered a lot of ground but made too many errors. The others were steadier, but nobody rose to A-Rod's level this year.
It was much harder to pick out the strongest NL candidates. Juan Uribe and Jack Wilson were at or near the top in the range factor rankings, but their putout and assist totals were inflated because both played behind ground ball staffs. Last year's winner, Orlando Cabrera, led the majors with 29 errors, so he took himself out of the running in a hurry. Uribe tied with Rafael Furcal for second with 27 errors each. Cesar Izturis made a lot of plays, and could be the best fielder at this position, but he started only 109 games at short. Rey Ordonez and Jose Hernandez showed very good range but hurt their cases with 19 errors each. The voters' choice, Edgar Renteria, also made 19 errors.
I think I would have picked Ordonez, but because nobody really separated themselves from the pack, I can't really argue with the selection of Renteria.
In the third base comments above, I named Scott Rolen as my choice for the fictional NL Defensive Player of the Year award. Darin Erstad is my nominee in the AL. He led all major league outfielders with 452 putouts despite starting only 142 games. Mike Cameron was a distant second with 415 even though he played 90 more innings than Erstad. Andruw Jones was third with 404 in 129 more innings than Erstad. If all three had played 1357 innings, as Jones did, the numbers would have been 499 for Erstad, 427 for Cameron, and 404 for Jones.
Erstad and Cameron got a boost from playing behind fly ball staffs, but Erstad was the top outfielder even after you take this and all other factors into account. This shouldn't come as a surprise. Erstad won a Gold Glove in 2000 and, in my opinion, should have received one last year, too.
The Seattle outfield turned a higher percentage of fly balls and line drives into outs than any other team this year, with Anaheim and San Francisco tied for second and Minnesota fourth. The difference among these four teams was quite small, only about 7 batting average points, so the order could change if we took park effects into account. What is clear, however, is that these four outfields were the clear leaders in this category.
For Seattle, Mike Cameron and Ichiro Suzuki were responsible for their place in this elite group. Eight players shared left field, with Mark McLemore and Ruben Sierra getting about 70% of the playing time between them. Ichiro was selected as a Gold Glover for the second year in a row. We thought highly enough of Ichiro's defense to assign him our top rating for both range and throwing this year, but if you can only justify picking one player from the Seattle outfield, Cameron's my choice. Cameron made 44 more plays than the average center fielder given the array of chances presented to him, the second-highest figure in baseball this year behind Erstad, and well ahead of Ichiro's mark in right field.
The debate about the relative value of a center fielder and corner outfielder also applies to Minnesota's Torii Hunter (CF) and Jacque Jones (LF). According to our analysis, Jones was the top left fielder in baseball this year. (Rondell White was second.) Jones is a legitimate center fielder, too; in 147 games at that position from 1999 to 2001, he was among our top-rated players at that position.
Casual fans may remember Torii Hunter's 2002 season based on two plays, his spectacular homerun-saving catch in the All Star game and the ball he misplayed into an inside-the-park homerun in game three of the AL division series. But we can't define a player's entire season based on two plays. Overall, our analysis indicates that Hunter was one of the better center fielders in the league but trailed Erstad and Cameron.
In my view, the three AL Gold Gloves must come from the group that includes Erstad, Cameron, Jones, Hunter, Ichiro, and Johnny Damon of the Red Sox. With three teams dominating the league in outfield defense, it makes sense to pick the best outfielder from each team. Erstad's the easy pick for Anaheim. Cameron gets the nod for Seattle. The Minnesota pick is a tossup, but I think Jones had a slightly better year, so I'll go with him over Hunter.
As I mentioned a few paragraphs back, San Francisco's outfield turned more fly balls and line drives into outs than any other NL team. The next three teams in this category were St. Louis, Arizona, and Cincinnati.
The spacious dimensions of Pacific Bell Park boosted the San Francisco percentage a little, but the players deserve most of the credit. Specifically, center fielder Tsuyoshi Shinjo and right fielder Reggie Sanders were among the top-rated fielders at their positions this year, and both are Gold Glove candidates in my mind.
The St. Louis outfield was led by Jim Edmonds in center and JD Drew in right. Over the years, Edmonds has shown above-average range in the years when he's been healthy and below-average range when he's been playing with one of his many ailments. One constant is an athletic ability that often allows him to make memorable plays on the balls he does get to. In the past, Drew has shown terrific range in right field and below-average range in center. He was still above average in right this year even though he was playing with a bad knee, but didn't turn in the kind of performance to justify a Gold Glove.
Arizona's top outfielders were Steve Finley and Luis Gonzalez. Finley is quite similar to Edmonds in that his ability to get to balls is exceeded by his ability to make great catches when he gets there. That may sound like a back-handed compliment, but it's not meant that way, and Finley's range was above average this year. Gonzalez has always shown very-good-to-great range in left and still looks good even though he turned 35 in September.
Cincinnati's outfield defense was led by Austin Kearns, who topped our net plays rankings in right field and also played a little left and center. Kearns was fifth in the majors in putouts per nine defensive innings; all four of the guys ahead of him played behind staffs that generated a higher rate of fly balls, including three who played behind two of the more extreme fly ball staffs in the game.
We didn't find any NL left fielders who stood out this year. Geoff Jenkins has been very good for several years and was on pace to be the league's top LF again before he destroyed his ankle and missed 90 games. Luis Gonzalez played well, but left field is the easiest of the three positions, and he didn't do enough to be compared with top players at the other two spots.
The top center fielders were Shinjo, Jay Payton, Finley, Andruw Jones, and a bunch of part-timers who didn't play enough to be seriously considered for a Gold Glove. Shinjo lost his job because he didn't hit, but his defense was never a problem, and you could make a very good case that he was the league's top defensive CF in 2002.
Before taking ballparks into consideration, the top right fielders were Kearns and Sanders, with Drew a distant third. Colorado's Larry Walker is a difficult player to judge because he often plays hurt and his park makes outfielders look bad.
One way to judge the impact of a park on outfielders is to compare the percentage of batted balls that become hits in that team's home and road games, excluding homeruns. Coors Field yielded 897 more hits from 1999 to 2002, with 321 of them on ground balls and the remaining 576 on fly balls and line drives. That's 144 extra fly-ball and line-drive hits per year for both teams, or 72 per year for the Rockies alone, or 24 per year per position. In other words, in any fielding analysis that measures the percentage of batted balls turned into outs, Colorado's outfielders begin the season with a deficit of 24 plays compared to players in normal parks.
Without adjusting for his home park, Walker ranked in the bottom third in our net plays analysis. Take the park into account and Walker ranks in the top third of the game's right fielders, and we rated him accordingly.
The voters awarded the three outfield Gold Gloves to Andruw Jones, Larry Walker, and Jim Edmonds, and all three were worthy of consideration. The pool of candidates is limited by the fact that some of the top outfielders didn't play enough. Neither Shinjo nor Kearns started 100 games in the outfield this year. Jay Payton had a very good year but started only 83 games in center and 109 overall. It would be a reach to pick any of them despite their fine defensive play.
All things considered, including playing time, my choices are Andruw Jones, Reggie Sanders, and Steve Finley. I believe Finley was a little better than Edmonds in center field, while Sanders showed just enough extra range to make up for Walker's superior throwing arm.
Here's how my selections compare with those of the voters:
------- American ------- ------- National ------- Pos Voters Diamond Mind Voters Diamond Mind P Rogers same Maddux Glavine C Molina same Ausmus same 1B Olerud Mientkiewicz Helton same 2B Boone Kennedy Vina Reese 3B Chavez Koskie Rolen same SS Rodriguez same Renteria Ordonez OF Erstad same AJones same OF Ichiro Cameron Walker Sanders OF Hunter JJones Edmonds Finley
We agree on eight of the eighteen selections. Last year we agreed on twelve, and at the time, I wrote that it was the highest number of matches I could remember. So I'm not surprised to see that we differed on a few more choices this year.
Here are a few other players whose defensive performances seem worthy of mention:
Eric Chavez, 3B -- In 2001, Chavez won his first Gold Glove, largely (I would guess) because he led the league in fielding percentage while making an above-average number of plays. Prior to that season, our analysis indicated that his range was slightly below average, and we had given him mostly Average and Fair ratings. He got to a lot more balls in 2001, however, and he was right at the boundary between our Excellent and Very Good ratings. It was a tough call, but we decided to take a chance and give him an Excellent rating even though his history didn't really support it. It now appears that a Very Good rating would have been a better choice, as his range reverted to the league average in 2002.
Tony Clark, 1B -- Clark has generally received our Very Good rating but dropped to Fr in 2001 because back problems limited his mobility. We predicted that he'd bounce back to the Very Good level if he was healthy, and he did just that. Of course, he didn't hit a lick, so his playing time was severely reduced despite his skills in the field.
Jermaine Dye, RF -- Dye has been one of our top-rated right fielders for years but struggled to come back from a severely broken leg. He missed the first few weeks of the season and after his return admitted that it was affecting his play in the outfield. His bat came around in the second half, suggesting that he may be on his way to better things for 2003, but his overall defensive numbers in 2002 were low enough to earn a Poor rating.
Brian Giles, LF -- Pittsburgh's outfield was by far the worst in the majors at converting fly balls into outs, so it's no surprise that Giles, the only Pirates outfielder to start more than 77 games, has to shoulder a major part of the blame. As a result, his range rating dropped to Poor.
Ken Griffey, CF -- For the second year in a row, Griffey tried to play through some leg injuries. He didn't play much, and when he did, he wasn't anywhere near his usual self. So he gets a Fair rating again. I'm hoping we get to see him back at 100% in 2003, and look forward to seeing how well he performs if he's healthy.
Derek Jeter, SS -- Once again, Jeter was at or near the bottom in just about every measure of range that we use. As was the case with Scott Brosius from 1998 to 2000, his raw numbers were hurt by playing next to a third baseman (Robin Ventura this time) who cuts off a lot of balls that might be playable by the shortstop. Without taking Ventura's impact into account, it would be tempting to rate Jeter's range as Poor. But he's better than the raw numbers indicate. Not enough to earn an Average rating, though, and we have again assigned him a Fair range rating and a better-than-average error rating.
Raul Mondesi, RF -- Once had a very good reputation for defense, mostly based on his great arm. In terms of range, our analysis shows that he's been slightly above average throughout his career. In 2001, it was reported that Mondesi came to camp carrying some extra weight, and his defensive numbers took a big dive. Coincidence? Maybe, but we felt a Fair rating was an accurate reflection of his 2001 performance. We thought he might rebound in 2002, but he continued his slide instead. As a result, we dropped him to a Poor rating.
Manny Ramirez, LF -- Ramirez has been an adequate corner outfielder in the past, but you wouldn't know it from his performance in 2002. Chronic hamstring problems have made him very cautious in the field and on the bases, and his Poor rating in left field reflects that. If Ramirez can find a way to overcome his hamstring problems and get back to playing at full speed, his rating might improve. But he's such a great hitter that he and the team may not feel it's not worth taking the chance to find out lest he pull another hammy and take his bat out of the lineup for a few weeks.
Rey Sanchez, 2B -- I fully expected Sanchez to emerge as a Gold Glove candidate this year. He's been one of our top-rated shortstops for several years. Most shortstops shine when they make the move to second, and Sanchez had the edge of having played second quite a bit in the past, so the transition should have been an easy one. For a couple of months, he did look like a Gold Glover, but then he pulled a hamstring and missed several weeks. The highlight film plays weren't nearly as abundant after that, and his overall numbers were quite ordinary in the end. As a result, he earned our Average rating for range.
- Tags: Defensive Analysis Gold Glove