November 1, 2012
In A Pickle
Gold Gloves are bunk. Let's talk about them anyway.
Baseball-Reference, because it has everything under the sun, has the lists of Gold Glove winners for the American and National leagues through history. Like other pages on B-Ref, it uses shading to indicate sequences and thus gives the user at-a-glance insight into how often the award at a given position changes hands. (It's also a feature of, inter alia, team defensive lineup pages, so that a position held on lockdown all year by one player is distinguished easily from a rotating cast or platoon situation.)
When you look at the shading of this year's Gold Glove winners, you'll notice just one repeat player in the National League and three in the American. Four out of 18 should not be a surprising number given league turnover and injury and skill erosion and ability whatever-the-antonym-of-erosion-is, but Gold Gloves are, at least to hear statheads tell it, decided on a variety of factors that only partially include actual defensive skill and more importantly deal with questions like "did dude win it last year?" (Or forget statheads -- let's ask a labor economist.)
There have been two-league Gold Gloves since 1958. Here's a list of all the previous years in which there were four or fewer repeaters one year to the next: 2011. FIN.
One time! And that one time is cheating, too, because 2011 was the first year since 1959 that the outfield Gold Gloves were awarded to the three separate positions rather than for all outfielders as a lump. The 2010 NL Gold Glove outfield included both Shane Victorino and Michael Bourn, for instance, and thus 2011 had one nearly guaranteed spot of turnover. ("Nearly" because it's possible that either Victorino or Bourn could have moved to a corner for 2012, though that might typically suggest that the man was not worthy of a Gold Glove the previous year. Nor that unworthiness has ever stopped anyone before.)
I'm not going to quantify anything in this article, but let me explain the process by which I manually compiled the above list-of-one. I started with the page of National League winners and scrolled across in each year counting how many repeaters I saw. If the number was four or fewer, I would flip over to the American League page to continue the count for the year in question. If I got to five before even seeing the American League, then obviously I did not need to flip pages because I was already past four and you can't have negative repeaters.