Gold Glove voters often get it right (Bourn). But not every time.
Michael Bourn was a deserving winner of his second consecutive Rawlings Gold Glove Award, and given his nearly flawless play in center field for two years running, few, if any, will question that his selection was legit.
But the yearly announcement of Gold Glove Award winners also brings up the yearly argument that certain players got hosed, and that the voting system is flawed. This appears to be one of the few areas of conversation that, seemingly, fans and writers actually agree upon.
I’ve read many columns this week that suggest Gold Glove voting is unfair, broken, inaccurate…pick whatever word you want, the fact is, many believe the system doesn’t work. I tend to agree with this. Voting on defense is extremely difficult, for two reasons: you need to play close attention to each individual player over a long period of time to truly grasp how capable a defender he is, and, more importantly, the numbers you see on a stat sheet regarding defense mean very little. And therein lies the problem.
It drives me absolutely crazy when an infielder’s low error total is used as a barometer for defensive excellence. “So-and-so has made the fewest errors of all NL shortstops and leads the league with a .991 fielding percentage.” In some cases, you can interpret this as “So-and-so has no range and therefore, every ball that is hit five feet to the left or right of him sneaks by for a base hit. Therefore, so-and-so’s fielding percentage is nearly perfect!”
It’s absurd. An older infielder who has limited abilities at his position, and therefore gets to half as many balls as someone 10 years younger, gets the high fielding percentage, while that lightning-fast youngster who gobbles everything hit within two time zones of where he’s standing and makes the occasional bad throw to first gets the shaft because the stat sheet says in plain view that his fielding percentage is *only* .975.
This is the main issue when it comes to voting for Gold Gloves. The sticking point really lies with the infielders more than anyone else. An outfielder’s ability is pretty transparent — he’s either fast, or he’s not. He either takes good routes to balls, or he doesn’t. He can either catch a fly ball, or he can’t. With infielders, it’s different. The balls come at them faster and there are many different types of errors to make — bobbles, bad throws, balls rolling through the legs, etc. Range is hugely important, and when an infielder’s range starts to leave him, it’s obvious.
But range is not something you can read on a stat sheet, and stat sheets are often the only thing the voters — managers and coaches — are using to determine who is deserving of Gold Gloves.
This isn’t a knock on the voters, although I don’t believe they’re all putting in a full effort to make good selections. I’ve been around a bunch of coaching staffs over the years and I’d say 60 percent really put some thought into voting and 40 percent did not. If that’s anything close to a barometer for the rest of the teams, there’s a problem.
To aid the voting process, managers and coaches are given statistical packets full of defensive stats for every player in the league to reference. The problem is, they’re only getting half the story, and if they’re basing it solely on whoever made the fewest errors…well, that’s an issue.
I believe Gold Glove voting can involve the managers and coaches, but it shouldn’t be limited to only them. Perhaps the writers should become involved, but to be honest, the first people I’d add to the voter pool are the broadcasters. Announcers are watching and scrutinizing and talking about every single play made during a game. And they remember what they saw and described. As a reporter, I remember several instances where I’d call Dave Raymond while writing my game story because I couldn’t remember a certain play but I knew he’d recall it instantly.
I also think some consideration should be given to players becoming involved in voting. Not all of the players, but perhaps those who appear on the All-Star ballot. First basemen vote for the best first basemen, second basemen for the best second basemen, and on and on. The only rule is, you can’t vote for yourself.
And let’s not forget the pool of experts that comprise The Fielding Bible committee. Let’s face it — there are a lot of qualified people that can help pick the best of the best defenders. So why aren’t we using them?
Fortunately, we don’t have any such controversy in Houston. Bourn is just really, really good. As Ed Wade said, “You see the ball leave the bat, and you say, ‘No way that one gets caught,’ and then Michael runs it down. Some guys make plays look tougher than they are. Michael makes the impossible catch look routine.”
Some snippets from Bourn’s conference call with the media:
On if he feels that it’s easier to win Gold Gloves once you’ve won one:
“I didn’t expect it. I think you still have to earn it. The first time is the hardest time, but every time you get it, it’s an honor. It can never get old.”
On what it takes, besides speed, to be a Gold Glove center fielder:
“The routes you run. The better routes you take, the easier it is to get to the ball, the less you have to dive. That’s the biggest thing. Jumps are important, too.”
(Bourn also said he gave his parents his Gold Glove Award last year, but this year, he’s keeping it for himself.)
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