Bill James, who needs no introduction here, and John Dewan, author of The Fielding Bible, have assembled a 10-person panel to pick the best defensive players in the majors. According to the Boston Globe:
The panel includes the Baseball Info Solutions video scouts; Strat-O-Matic Baseball creator Hal Richman; Kansas City Star columnist Joe Posnanski; Seattle Mariners scout Mat Olkin ; Chicago sports talk show host Mike Murphy; Nate Birtwell, who oversees the BIS data collection; and ESPN.com baseball columnist Rob Neyer. Results from a poll taken on the fan website Tango on Baseball (tangotiger.net) was also used.
King Kaufman’s Sports Daily at Salon.com has an easy-to-read summary of the project and rundown of the winners:
The alternate universe Gold Gloves are a publicity stunt for the “Bill James Handbook 2007,” where they’ll appear. But I think it’ll be interesting to see how the picks of Dewan and his impressive panel, listed below, differ from the real Gold Gloves. I wish they’d picked the best fielder at each position in each league, like the awards, but for some reason they just went with the best in the majors.
Here they are:
Albert Pujols at first base, Orlando Hudson at second, Adam Everett at shortstop and Adrian Beltre, just beating out Scott Rolen, at third. Carl Crawford, Carlos Beltran and Ichiro, left to right, though the real Gold Gloves generally go to three center fielders, which is dumb. Greg Maddux and Ivan Rodriguez as the battery.
How does this list mesh with this year’s Gold Glove winners? Pujols, Hudson, Ichiro, Beltran, Rodriguez, and Maddux all won Gold Gloves as well as making the panel’s list. But the following Gold Glove winners were left off the list: Scott Rolen, Omar Vizquel, Brad Ausmus, Andruw Jones, Mike Cameron, Torii Hunter, Vernon Wells, Derek Jeter, Eric Chavez, Mark Grudzielanek, Mark Teixeira, and Kenny Rogers.
Adam Everett, Adrian Beltre, Carl Crawford didn’t receive Gold Gloves, but did make the list.
All of this info seems to yield more questions than answers. Are Everett, Beltre, and Crawford just underrated? Or are certain Gold Glovers just overrated? Is Derek Jeter, for instance, really the AL’s best defensive shortstop? (I find this hard to believe. We all know he’ll dive into the stands when he has to, but he’s not the slickest glove out there.) And how much do individual awards matter in a team sport, even a team as individualistic as baseball? (For instance, despite their flamboyant collapse at the end of the season, the Red Sox still finished the year with the fewest errors in the majors. Yet not a single Red Sox was awarded a Gold Glove.)
Does all this mean that the Gold Gloves themselves are irrelevant—meaningless door prizes handed out to star players on winning teams, awarded to the same old saws year after year after year? Or are the metrics used to pick the winners just a titch obsolete?
King Kaufman asked Dewan about the process he used to pick his fielders:
I asked Dewan if anyone other than he used fielding metrics like his, that is, those beyond the ones easily found on numerous baseball-stat sites.
“Statistics, both old and new (for example, fielding percentage and plus/minus numbers), were provided to the panelists for their reference along with this note: ‘Feel free to use it, or not use it, as you see fit,’” he wrote in an e-mail. “One of the main purposes of having an award and a voting procedure was to consider the non-statistical aspects of evaluating defense. While ‘The Fielding Bible’ puts a lot of emphasis on the numbers, I feel that visual observation and subjective judgment are very important parts of determining the best defensive players.”
Non-statistical aspects? Subjective judgment? Visual observation?!
My God, gentlemen—are we returning to the days of guts and instincts and hunches? Is the Bill James of the future a middle-aged scout with a chewed-off cigar in his mouth and a bit of flint in his eye? Has the statistics revolution come full circle?
At any rate, let’s hope The Fielding Bible throws some needed attention on an oft-overlooked part of the game. (Would it kill ESPN.com to have more fielding stats more readily accessible, for instance? Their sortables are killing me.)