NL Gold Glove voters erred on McLouth

November, 5, 2008
The leaves are falling off the trees, and all the Halloween candy has been eaten, which can mean only one thing: The Gold Gloves are here! The Gold Gloves are here! Tomorrow, the American League. Today, the National League.

In the NL, there are four repeat winners. Not coincidentally, I'm about to repeat some things I wrote last year, and the year before that, and the year before that and …

Greg Maddux wins his 18th Gold Glove, which of course is a record for pitchers or any other fielders. In the past, I had been somewhat critical of Maddux's near-headlock on the Gold Glove -- somehow he didn't win in 2003 -- mostly because he takes a laissez-faire attitude toward fast runners on first base. But otherwise, Maddux really is a great fielder, even at his advanced (i.e., my) age. On my Fielding Bible ballot, I put Maddux first among National League pitchers (and third in the majors, behind only American Leaguers Kenny Rogers and Greg Smith). I suspect the Gold Glove voters didn't really consider anyone else, but in this case, no harm, no foul.

Often, it takes awhile for a player's reputation to catch up to his performance, and there's no better example than Yadier Molina, a truly brilliant defensive catcher who probably should have won his third or fourth Gold Glove this year rather than his first. Anyway, justice has finally been served.

The identity of the best-fielding first baseman in the National League is not completely obvious, but only one man plays excellent defense every year: Albert Pujols. Now, usually the great hitter gets a little bit of a bonus from the Gold Glove voters. Not Pujols, though. Since taking over at first base in 2004, Pujols has won just once, in 2006. In the other years, Todd Helton won once and Derrek Lee twice. And this year? Adrian Gonzalez. He's a fine and terribly underrated hitter, but there's not a great deal of evidence that he's a good fielder, let alone great. I'd like to offer a theory here, but I'm afraid this one has me completely flummoxed.

Brandon Phillips wins his first Gold Glove at second base, wresting the award from Orlando Hudson (who was not having a good season with the glove even before he got hurt in August). I believe Chase Utley was the best defensive second baseman in the National League (and the majors) this year, but Phillips is a solid choice.

As is Jimmy Rollins, who wins his second straight Gold Glove. He wasn't anywhere near my choice last year, and frankly this wasn't a great year for shortstops. But he may have been the best of them.

David Wright is a good third baseman, but I think he's getting those bonus points for being a great hitter. That said, most of the best third basemen were in the American League, and I did have Wright as the second-best third baseman in the National League, behind only Scott Rolen. And considering that Rolen played only 104 games on the field this season, Wright's selection is highly defensible.

So that's six positions, and only one truly questionable choice (Gonzalez).

I'm afraid that the voters' fielding percentage isn't nearly as good in the outfield.

Carlos Beltran? You bet. I'm not sure he deserved his Gold Glove two years ago, but he certainly deserved it last year and this year. A fantastic all-around player, Beltran is the new Amos Otis (who also won three Gold Gloves).

But Shane Victorino? And Nate McLouth? Really?

Victorino is a solid center fielder, strong-armed and sure-handed but without a great deal of range. But again, it wasn't a great year for center fielders in the National League. The voters missed on Arizona's Chris Young, but he's young and eventually will get his due.

Nate McLouth, though? Quite frankly, this is like some horrible joke, roughly on par with giving three Gold Gloves to Derek Jeter (2004 to 2006) or giving one to Rafael Palmeiro (1999) on the strength of 28 games.

According to John Dewan's Fielding Bible data, McLouth was 40 plays worse than average, dead last among major league outfielders. According to Baseball Prospectus, McLouth was 17 runs -- runs, not plays -- worse than an average center fielder. According to Bill James' win shares, McLouth's outfield defense was 46th-most-valuable in the majors. This is exactly the sort of award that only damages the reputation of the honor.

So how on Earth could McLouth win a Gold Glove? The voters aren't talking, and I'm a lousy mind reader, but here's a guess: After the voters settled on Beltran and Victorino, they couldn't figure out who belonged in that third slot. Jeff Francoeur won last year, but he didn't hit this year, so -- as the "thinking" goes -- he must have been a lousy fielder, too (which he was, actually). Aaron Rowand won last year, but his hitting fell off a ton, too. (Plus, he didn't deserve the Gold Glove last year anyway. He won only because he slammed into a wall without dropping a fly ball.)

Who, then? Well, there's this kid in Pittsburgh, looks good in a uniform, is shocking the world with his bat … and did you happen to notice that he made only one error all season long? My guess is that at the end of the season, all the Gold Glove voters -- the managers and coaches -- are supplied with statistics. Just the old standards, of course. Even things like assists and putouts are meaningless to most of the voters. What they can understand, though, are errors and fielding percentage. And if you judge fielders by errors and fielding percentage, you have to allow that Nate McLouth was an excellent center fielder.

Of course, only a fool would rely solely on errors and fielding percentage.

Are American League managers and coaches capable of such foolishness? We'll find out Thursday.

Update/corrections: Yes, you would think I'd know that Scott Rolen did not, in fact, play in the National League this year. You would think I would know it because I wrote extensively about the trade that sent Rolen to the American League, and also because that's just the sort of thing that a professional baseball writer is supposed to know.

And I do know. I just forgot. I saw Rolen's name on my list, pictured him in a Cardinals uniform, and … well, there you have the makings of a silly mistake. All of which only makes the selection of David Wright look all the better, as he is actually my highest-ranked National League third baseman, just ahead of Ryan Zimmerman and Troy Glaus (who, I do now remember, has Rolen's old spot in St. Louis).

Also, I briefly alluded to Victorino winning the Gold Glove "again." But this year's is his first. I'm not sure where that came from, unless I mixed him up with Aaron Rowand, whose job Victorino took and who did win the award last year.


You must be signed in to post a comment

Already have an account?