Was Mike Trout the best defensive center fielder in the AL?
It's easy to snicker at MLB's Gold Glove Awards each season because they rarely seem to go to the most deserving.
Rafael Palmeiro winning the AL Gold Glove at first base in 1999, despite playing only 28 games at the position, is an oft-cited example used by the award's detractors. Did the managers and coaches who vote on the honor even pay attention that year?
Even though the Gold Gloves might not truly represent the best defensive players in each league for a particular season, they are awards nonetheless. It's a shortcut to explaining that someone is a good defender at his position.
With the increased acceptance of advanced metrics such as FanGraphs' Ultimate Zone Rating, which measures the balls in play that a player gets to in his defensive "zone," we have more of an understanding of what makes a good defender these days.
UZR isn't a perfect measure and probably shouldn't be the only deciding factor in awarding Gold Gloves. But it offers more of a measure of a player's defensive value than anything we had before, such as fielding percentage or the "eyeball test."
So in looking at those advanced metrics and the finalists at each position in Gold Glove voting, these six players were the most outrageous snubs this season.
Maybe the managers and coaches will get it right next year.
Here's the one that made fans, analysts and reporter yell "WHAT?" at their televisions as the Gold Glove Award winners were announced on ESPN2.
No player had more highlights this season on defense than Los Angeles Angels rookie center fielder Mike Trout. His catch to rob J.J. Hardy of a home run in late June at Baltimore was quite possibly the most spectacular play of the season.
No, a player shouldn't win a Gold Glove based on one play. But Trout was the best defensive center fielder in the AL, according to FanGraphs' UZR. He saved almost 11 runs more than the average player at his position and was credited with 23 defensive runs saved, the most among AL center fielders.
What makes Trout's snub worse is that the Baltimore Orioles' Adam Jones, who was awarded the AL Gold Glove in center field, was one of the worst at the position according to UZR. If Trout had to lose, at least Austin Jackson of the Detroit Tigers should have been the winner.
The only reason for Trout not getting the Gold Glove has to be because of his playing time.
Not only was he not called up to the major leagues until late April but he also logged fewer than 900 innings in center field. According to FanGraphs, that wasn't enough to qualify for consideration. Apparently, the cutoff was 950 innings, judging by who was listed without changing the innings limit.
Trout will surely win several Gold Gloves in the future. But, the future should have been now. This was arguably the worst snub among the award finalists.
For all the uproar over Mike Trout's snub for the center field Gold Glove in the AL, Michael Bourn not winning in the NL might be an even more egregious mistake.
Bourn was one of the best defensive players in MLB this season—period.
Going by FanGraphs' UZR, the Atlanta Braves center fielder saved nearly 23 runs more than the average NL player at his position. He was credited with 24 defensive runs saved, nearly three times more than the next closest player.
Bourn was one of the NL leaders in WAR (wins above replacement) throughout the season and an arguable MVP candidate because of his defense. Yet, he's not considered good enough to be a Gold Glove winner?
Andrew McCutchen of the Pittsburgh Pirates won the Gold Glove in center field, despite UZR viewing him poorly this season. While he doesn't seem to be as bad a defender as advanced metrics suggest, McCutchen certainly wasn't as good as Bourn.
Chase Headley of the San Diego Padres was awarded the NL Gold Glove at third base. While he had a good defensive season, according to FanGraphs' UZR, he was nowhere near the player that David Wright was at the hot corner.
UZR viewed the New York Mets third baseman as easily the best defensive third baseman in the NL this year. He saved 15 more runs than any other player at the position. Wright was also credited with 16 defensive runs saved, four times the amount that the Milwaukee Brewers' Aramis Ramirez earned.
Headley winning the award does nothing to dispel the notion that Gold Gloves are often awarded to the best hitters at each position. He hit 31 home runs and led the NL with 115 RBI this season.
Yes, those were far better numbers than Wright had—though he was among the league leaders in batting average, on-base percentage and OPS—but isn't this supposed to be an award for the best defensive player?
Martin Prado might not be perceived as a good defensive outfielder, but advanced metrics like FanGraphs' UZR regard him that way.
The Atlanta Braves left fielder was rated as the second-best defender at that position in the NL this season, according to UZR.
He saved almost 11 runs more than the average left fielder and was also credited with 12 defensive runs saved—easily the most among his peers.
The NL Gold Glove winner, Carlos Gonzalez of the Colorado Rockies, ranked last in UZR. He gave up eight runs more than a replacement-level player at his position. Gonzalez also cost his team 12 defensive runs saved, the worst among NL left fielders.
Even Ryan Braun, the third Gold Glove finalist for NL left fielders, would have been a better choice than Gonzalez. He was credited with seven defensive runs saved this season and saved nearly three runs more than the average left fielder in the league.
Seattle Mariners shortstop Brendan Ryan lost out to the Baltimore Orioles' J.J. Hardy for the Gold Glove at his position in the AL.
That isn't a terrible snub, so maybe Ryan shouldn't be on this list. According to FanGraphs' UZR, Hardy saved 11 runs more than the average AL shortstop. Ryan saved nearly 18. While that is quite a difference, it's not a glaring one.
However, Ryan was credited with 27 defensive runs saved, nine more than Hardy. Perhaps, that should have given him the edge in voting.
But Hardy did have 22 home runs and 68 RBI, while Ryan hit .194 with a .555 OPS this season. Ryan is the prototypical "no-hit" shortstop, and that seems to have hurt him in the voting.
Though the Gold Glove is supposed to be a defensive honor, the award apparently went to the more complete player.
First, we have to ask why Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop Clint Barmes wasn't among the four finalists for the Gold Glove at his position in the NL.
FanGraphs' UZR rated Barmes as the best defensive shortstop in the league, saving 14 runs more than the average NL player at the position. The next closest player, San Francisco Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford, saved eight runs.
By the way, Crawford wasn't a finalist either. So the voting for the NL Gold Glove at shortstop was especially misguided.
But among those who were finalists, Zack Cozart of the Cincinnati Reds was the best defender, according to advanced metrics. The rookie shortstop saved nearly eight runs more than a replacement level player at that position. He was also credited with 12 Defensive Runs Saved.
Reds manager Dusty Baker left Cozart in the lineup, despite a .286 batting average and 113 strikeouts because he provided good defense at a key position every game.
Philadelphia Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins won the Gold Glove, despite inferior defensive numbers. But, he did pop 23 home runs with 68 RBI and 30 stolen bases. That may have given him the edge over Cozart.
Although, if we were going by defense and offense, the winner should have been the Washington Nationals' Ian Desmond.
What a mess.
Follow @iancass on Twitter