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November 4, 2004

National League Gold Glove Awards

What the Numbers Say

by Clay Davenport

Yesterday, we looked at the recently awarded AL Gold Gloves, and how they compared to the statistics at hand. Today, let's look at the National League.

Pitcher: Greg Maddux. Maddux had won the award 13 years in a row before being upended by Mike Hampton last year, but the voters put him back on top this year. Our stat sheet says that his longtime teammate Tom Glavine had the highest ranking in the NL, with a 6/5 (runs above replacement/runs above average) score, but Maddux is one of four pitchers right behind him at 5/4 (along with Livan Hernandez, Steve Trachsel and Kirk Rueter). Considering that Maddux is the all-time leader in both RAR and RAA (even though Glavine also ranks in the top 10 all-time), and was right on Glavine's heels, Maddux is a solid pick.

Catcher: Mike Matheny. With his second Gold Glove in a row and third overall, Matheny is a good choice, but perhaps not the best for this year. His 36/9 is solid enough, but doesn't quite stack up to what Brian Schneider was doing up in Montreal. Base stealers went 38-for-54 off of Matheny--the caught-stealing percentage isn't that good, but the attempts were low. That counts in his favor, even after allowing for the fact that trailing teams don't try to steal as much, and opponents trailed the Cardinals a lot last year. Off of Schneider, they were only 36-for-72; he was the only regular or part-time catcher in the league who had as many CS as SB against. Schneider's season scored a 44/13, and fits right in with how he's played the last three years. In my opinion, he would have been the better choice.

First base: Todd Helton. Helton, like Maddux, was a repeat winner (albeit only two times in a row, not 13) who got knocked off in 2003 but has been restored in 2004. We can't disagree, since Helton has the best BP marks in the league for the fourth time in five years, missing the fifth year by two runs. He's got a 24/18, in part due to a league-leading 144 assists. Watch out for Lyle Overbay (20/14) and, as he showed in the playoffs, Albert Pujols (17/11) to contend for future Gloves, along with last year's winner Derrek Lee (a solid 14/8).

Second base: Luis Castillo. Castillo had the advantage of being last year's winner. He's a solid choice for the award, no question, but as with Matheny I don't think he was the best option. The best statistics for any second baseman this year, offensively or defensively, belong to Mark Loretta. His 45/20 score stands far above a trio of contenders for second place, one of them is Castillo at 33/9. Despite a generally low consensus opinion of his fielding ability, Jeff Kent continues to compile good numbers in Houston, just as he did in San Francisco, and his 33/11 looks a touch better than Castillo's. Then there's Placido Polanco, who is recognized as a good fielder, and who put a 33/15 on the board to take second at second in my rankings. They're all good, but they can't touch Loretta this year.

Third base: Scott Rolen. Ho-hum. Rolen put up a 39/18, after a 30/7 last year, a 42/19 the year before that, a 36/13 before that, and on and on. He's up to 284/105 for his career and the 105 RAA places him 16th on the all-time list, with no active players ahead of him.

How about an off-the-cuff estimate of his final all-time position? He's 29 now, so I'm going to guess that he'll play another eight years, or 1,100 games, probably at a declining rate of performance. He's averaged +9 per 100 games so far, let us say he'll average half that for the remainder of his career. That would imply another 50 RAA for his career, and 217 RAR, for a career total of 501/155. Brooks Robinson (634/204) and Mike Schmidt (504/178) are the only third basemen above 500 RAR; Buddy Bell, Gary Gaetti and Clete Boyer are the other members of the +150 club. So, Rolen is roughly competitive for the spot of second-best fielding third baseman, ever. Yeah, he deserves the award, easily leading Adrian Beltre (36/13) and the incredible Tony Batista (33/10). Everyone says what a terrible fielder he is, but he's put up numbers like this in Toronto (40/17 in 2000), in Baltimore (37/13 in 2002), and now Montreal, too. The odds of it being some sort of teammate or pitcher interaction are getting pretty low.

Shortstop: Cesar Izturis. It is pretty shocking to me that a player who's won the award two years in a row, plays for a championship team, and just had his best season ever in terms of most assists and fewest errors doesn't get the award, but the coaches did not bestow honors upon Edgar Renteria this year. Not that they should have, since despite his personal bests in assists and errors he gets a mediocre 17/-12 from me, and a statement that I don't think he should have won either of the last two. Izturis put up a decent 32/1 this year, after 41/11 last year, so maybe they were making up for 2003. The best stats for this year belong to the Pirates' Jack Wilson, with a 47/16; Craig Counsell did just as well on a rate basis, but with 25 fewer games he comes in at 38/13. They are a clear top two among NL shortstops, and either Izturis or Rafael Furcal (29/4) would get my nod for #3. Bottom line: I'd have voted for Wilson.

Outfield: Andruw Jones, Jim Edmonds, Steve Finley. The first two are no-doubt Gold Glovers. Both have won the award repeatedly (this makes seven apiece) and both solidly deserve it, for their careers and for this season. The best score among outfielders in the NL this year belongs to Edmonds, a 33/12; Jones' 31/8 is third-best. That gives Jones 122 RAA for his career, placing him fourth all-time behind Tris Speaker, Curt Flood and Willie Mays in center field. Edmonds is "only" +77 career, but that is enough to place him between Devon White and Jimmy Piersall, in the unlucky 13 spot; if he can manage a +5 next year he'll enter the top ten. Finley, though? At 39, he doesn't have the steps he used to, and he only scores a 19/-6 combined between Arizona and Los Angeles. The system gives Jay Payton a very strong 31/13, second-best among NL outfielders; that is doubly odd because he has a poor reputation and because he was a career -2 coming into this year. But San Diego had more center field putouts than any other team in the NL, and they had a bigger gap between the number of plays made by center fielders and corner outfielders than any other team in the NL, and that is usually a sign of a good center fielder. Usually. Payton also led NL center fielders with 11 assists, which didn't hurt his rating. Taking season and career into account, I probably would have taken J.D. Drew (22/8, mostly in right field) ahead of Payton.

--

Baseball Prospectus' Gold Glove Awards, as named by Clay Davenport:

P: Tom Glavine, Mets
C: Brian Schneider, Expos
1B: Todd Helton, Rockies
2B: Mark Loretta, Padres
3B: Scott Rolen, Cardinals
SS: Jack Wilson, Pirates
OF: Andruw Jones, Braves
OF: Jim Edmonds, Cardinals
OF: J.D. Drew, Braves

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