2013 Gold Gloves, part 2: Hindsight, '02 - '07

Ichiro Suzuki won a Gold Glove in each year from 2002 through 2007 - Otto Greule Jr

2002 was the first year that UZR data was made available. Were the years prior to 2013 as backwards as many believe?

In part one of this series, we took a look at the 2013 Gold Glove awards, which were selected, for the first time ever, in part, using modern defensive metrics to judge the worthiness of potential recipients. Considering the level of derision that the Gold Glove award has suffered over the years for purportedly being given out with more regard for offensive performance than defensive excellent, the initial results looked positive, with half of the winners ranking first in at least one of the two metrics we looked at, and nine of fourteen players ranking in the top three of both metrics (pitchers and catchers being excluded due to UZR data not existing for those positions).

It all sounds quite promising, but the only way to know what, if any, improvement has really been affected by the inclusion of the new metrics, we'll need to compare the 2013 awards to those from 2002 through 2012, the years in which advanced metrics were kept on players but not used in the selection process. These next two parts of the series will split that era in half and focus on collecting data from each year, while making some initial observations about said data's possible implications.

Methodology

For gathering OPS data, I'm setting the plate appearances floor down to 450; some guys won't show up otherwise despite being primarily at that position. Primary focus is on their defense with the award, so PAs as an offensive player should not matter if what their being judged on really is their defense and they had enough defensive innings to qualify. Lowering to 450 allowed them to appear while still not including guys who could have affected the OPS rate stats with small sample sizes.

In any case that the award winner did not rank first in both of the metrics, I'll follow up with the player or players who did rank first in the two metrics for comparison and context.

Outfield awards can be tricky as they aren't always awarded to guys who only or primarily played one of the three positions. From 1961 through 2010, for some baffling reason, voters were allowed to vote for any three outfielders they wanted, irrespective of the position they played. This led to a huge number of center fielders being selected. There will be many instances, therefore, where there is no left fielder awarded a Gold Glove, and sometimes not even a right fielder.

And just for clarity's sake, yes, a player being highlighted gold indicates that they won a gold glove award in that year.

2002 Gold Glove Awards

2002_medium

Winners who:
ranked 1st in a metric: 6-of-14 (43%)
ranked 1st in both metrics: N/A
ranked top three in both metrics: N/A

ranked 1st in a metric and below top three in OPS: 1-of-6 (17%)
ranked 1st in a metric and below top five in OPS: 1-of-6 (17%)
ranked top three in both metrics and below top three in OPS: N/A
ranked top three in both metrics and below top five in OPS: N/A

rated below-average in a metric: 3-for-14 (21%)
rated below-average in both metrics: N/A
rated below-average in a metric and top three in OPS: 1-of-3 (33%)
rated below-average in both metrics and top three in OPS: N/A

Immediately, even as far back as 2002, we see that, according to advanced metrics, it wasn't a complete trainwreck. Six winners (non-pitchers and catchers, of course) were the top ranked UZR performers at their positions; that's 43%. Just two posted below-average UZR ratings

The Vina pick in the NL is one of those that's truly baffling no matter how you look at it. By the numbers, he wasn't a good enough defender, but even the snark about voting based on offense fails here. He was the second-worst keystoner in the entire league in OPS, just below the guy that was the best defender UZR-wise, and this was even the year that Jeff Kent won the MVP award as a second-baseman, a guy that would have been the clear choice if you believe the selections were heavily influenced by offensive performance.

On the bright side, the AL outfield looks really good. While those who are convinced the award is a sham might point out that Hunter and Ichiro were some of the top offensive-performing outfielders of that year, the fact remains that they were also very good on defense, and Erstad was thoroughly mediocre with the bat.

2003 Gold Glove Awards

2003_medium

Winners who:
ranked 1st in a metric: 6-of-18 (33%)
ranked 1st in both metrics: 1-of-14 (7%)
ranked top three in both metrics: 8-of-14 (57%)

ranked 1st in a metric and below top three in OPS: 5-of-5 (100%)
ranked 1st in a metric and below top five in OPS: 4-of-5 (80%)
ranked top three in both metrics and below top three in OPS: 7-of-8 (88%)
ranked top three in both metrics and below top five in OPS: 6-of-8 (75%)

rated below-average in a metric: 6-of-18 (33%)
rated below-average in both metrics: 1-of-14 (7%)
rated below-average in a metric and top three in OPS: 4-of-6 (67%)
rated below-average in both metrics and top three in OPS: 0-of-1 (0%)

Once again, the outfield awards seem to be awarded fairly well, especially in the AL. At a glance overall, however, we see a bump in winners who rated below-average in at least one metric. But take a look at the jump in guys who ranked first in a metric but weren't top offensive performers; a massive jump in the number of winners who clearly had good defensive seasons and didn't have league-leading offensive seasons as well that could have had an influence.

Here's one thing to think about and watch going forward; repeat winners. Eleven of the eighteen winners in 2003 also won a gold glove in 2002 (including Bengie Molina for catcher in the AL, not shown in 2002 due to the lack of DRS). Of those eleven, eight failed to rank first in either of the two metrics, and some of them appear to be really egregious, like both of the third base awards and first base in the NL.

2004 Gold Glove Awards

2004_medium

Winners who:
ranked 1st in a metric: 7-of-18 (39%)
ranked 1st in both metrics: 2-of-14 (14%)
ranked top three in both metrics: 8-of-14 (57%)

ranked 1st in a metric and below top three in OPS: 4-of-6 (67%)
ranked 1st in a metric and below top five in OPS: 3-of-6 (50%)
ranked top three in both metrics and below top three in OPS: 5-of-8 (63%)
ranked top three in both metrics and below top five in OPS: 3-of-8 (38%)

rated below-average in a metric: 6-of-18 (33%)
rated below-average in both metrics: 2-of-14 (14%)
rated below-average in a metric and top three in OPS: 2-of-6 (33%)
rated below-average in both metrics and top three in OPS: 0-of-2 (0%)

Compared to 2003, we see a slight increase in metric leaders being given the award, but there's also a drop in those winners being poorly ranked OPS-wise, so we can't definitly say that the increase in metric leader wins is due in fact to their defense and not offense, and the drop is fairly significant, percentage wise, although in just a given year the individual sample size is too small to draw any conclusions.

2005 Gold Glove Awards

2005_medium

Winners who:
ranked 1st in a metric: 5-of-18 (27%)
ranked 1st in both metrics: 2-of-14 (14%)
ranked top three in both metrics: 5-of-14 (36%)

ranked 1st in a metric and below top three in OPS: 2-of-4 (50%)
ranked 1st in a metric and below top five in OPS: 1-of-4 (25%)
ranked top three in both metrics and below top three in OPS: 2-of-5 (40%)
ranked top three in both metrics and below top five in OPS: 1-of-5 (20%)

rated below-average in a metric: 6-of-18 (33%)
rated below-average in both metrics: 3-of-14 (21%)
rated below-average in a metric and top three in OPS: 2-of-6 (33%)
rated below-average in both metrics and top three in OPS: 1-of-3 (33%)

Another drop in guys with good metric scores winning, and a small dip in good metric award winners who didn't also have a good OPS, further casts uncertainty as to why they may have actually be awarded the hardware. The number of winners who posted below-average metrics has remained very consistent so far; enough to indicate some definite possible bias, but perhaps not enough to justify all the flak the award has gotten over the years.

2006 Gold Glove Winners

2006_medium

Winners who:
ranked 1st in a metric: 3-of-18 (17%)
ranked 1st in both metrics: 1-of-14 (7%)
ranked top three in both metrics: 6-of-14 (43%)

ranked 1st in a metric and below top three in OPS: 1-of-2 (50%)
ranked 1st in a metric and below top five in OPS: 1-of-2 (50%)
ranked top three in both metrics and below top three in OPS: 4-of-6 (67%)
ranked top three in both metrics and below top five in OPS: 3-of-6 (50%)

rated below-average in a metric: 4-of-18 (22%)
rated below-average in both metrics: 2-of-14 (14%)
rated below-average in a metric and top three in OPS: 2-of-4 (50%)
rated below-average in both metrics and top three in OPS: 1-of-2 (50%)

Fewer than 20% of the winners led their league in even one of the defensive metrics, though there was a small boost in guys who ranked well, but not nessicarily the best, in both metrics winning. A noticable drop this year in good metric ranking winners who didn't also rank well in OPS, but also a slight drop in the number guys with poor metrics and good bats, the "butchers" that rob the rightful winners based on offensive bias.

2007 Gold Glove Awards

2007_medium

Winners who:
ranked 1st in a metric: 4-of-18 (22%)
ranked 1st in both metrics: 2-of-14 (14%)
ranked top three in both metrics: 6-of-14 (43%)

ranked 1st in a metric and below top three in OPS: 2-of-3 (67%)
ranked 1st in a metric and below top five in OPS: 2-of-3 (67%)
ranked top three in both metrics and below top three in OPS: 4-of-6 (67%)
ranked top three in both metrics and below top five in OPS: 4-of-6 (67%)

rated below-average in a metric: 5-of-18 (28%)
rated below-average in both metrics: 1-of-14 (7%)
rated below-average in a metric and top three in OPS: 1-of-5 (20%)
rated below-average in both metrics and top three in OPS: 0-of-1 (0%)

The good metric performers got a bit of a boost back up this season, and overall there wasn't a big increase in poor performers who got in ostensibly by the merits of their offensive performance.

Closing Thoughts

In-depth comparisons between years and eras will come in the fourth and final piece of this series of articles, but a few things jump out to me already, having completed only the first half of the years with metrics available. For one thing, there were tons of repeat winners; from 2002 through 2007, 24 different players won multiple Gold Glove awards. 18 awards available per season gives you 108 total awards (109 thanks to the tie that led to four OF awards for the NL in 2007).

Of those 109 awards given out, 85 of them were won by guys who won multiple awards, and that's just counting those six years; some of them won others in other years, and nine of the guys who won in 2007 (so half of 2007's winners) went on to win another award within the next few years, as we'll see later. 85 out of 109; that's 78%. Say that again; seventy-eight percent. Again, well get into this more in the fourth and final piece to wrap this all up, but to me, that's a huge red flag there that the old snark about Gold Gloves just being awarded to the best hitters might not hold water.

Part three will cover 2008 through 2012, and then we'll take a look at all the numbers and percentages in part four and see if we can figure out what might really be going on.


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