Why the MLB Gold Glove Award Is the Biggest Farce of End-Year Awards Season

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Why the MLB Gold Glove Award Is the Biggest Farce of End-Year Awards Season
Al Bello/Getty Images
Was Adam Jones really the AL's best defensive center fielder?

Criticizing MLB's Gold Glove Awards is picking the low-hanging fruit. It's shooting fish in a barrel. It's bullying the frail kid using crutches. I understand that.

But if baseball is going to present the Gold Gloves as a major end-of-season honor, decided by MLB players and managers who supposedly know more than writers because they're directly involved in the game, then the award should be held to a high standard.

The winners truly should reflect the best defensive players from each league at each position on the field. Otherwise, what's the point of having these awards?

Of course, any voting process is subjective. Different voters have different criteria when making their selections. And that's how it should be. If not, we could just go to FanGraphs, pull up the leaders in Ultimate Zone Rating and just choose the guy at the top of the list. What fun would that be?

It might be nice to know some of the criteria, however. Perhaps a few of the managers and players could be interviewed about their ballots and explain their choices, just as writers often reveal their ballots after awards like the MVP and Cy Young are announced. 

Maybe players and managers ultimately wouldn't care, but surely someone could be found who just wants to be on camera during the offseason. We might actually learn something if a player revealed what he was talking about with his teammates and peers before filling out a ballot. Maybe we'd find out that they base their votes on watching highlights on ESPN and MLB Network as so many of us do.

And wouldn't it be telling if one of the voters explained his choice by talking about a player's offensive statistics? Hey, wait a minute—isn't this supposed to be a defensive award? Isn't that the prevailing suspicion anyway, that the Gold Gloves are really decided more by how well a player hits than how he fields? 

Rick Yeatts/Getty Images
At least Gold Glove voters got it right with Adrian Beltre.

Yet hardcore fans would love to know if a player or manager also cited the same advanced metrics that we increasingly look at these days.

What if someone tossed a "UZR" or "defensive runs saved" out there? Or what if they somehow revealed data or information an organization uses that might not be available to the general public?

OK, that's probably hoping for too much. But here's the thing: We need something. 

We need to understand why the players and managers who vote for the Gold Gloves seemingly have no regard for the metrics that attempt to explain who is a good defensive player and who isn't. At the very least, explain what we actually see on the field isn't reflected in the final voting for these awards.

When Baltimore Orioles center fielder Adam Jones wins the AL Gold Glove despite FanGraphs' UZR ranking him as the second-worst everyday defender at that position this season, it just looks bad.

When the Los Angeles Angels' Mike Trout is widely viewed as the better center fielder if for no other reason than his highlight-reel catches—not to mention that UZR has him as the far better defensive player—and he doesn't win the award for the best defender at his position, that's a problem. That causes a credibility issue with fans, along with reporters and analysts. 

Why take the Gold Glove Awards seriously if the awards themselves don't seem to do so? 

Trout wasn't the only obvious snub. The Atlanta Braves' Michael Bourn was the best defensive center fielder in MLB this season, according to UZR. His defense was so good that he was actually ranked among the league's top 10 players in WAR (Wins Above Replacement) by Baseball-Reference despite hitting .274 with a .739 OPS. 

Did Pittsburgh Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen get the NL Gold Glove because his batting average, on-base percentage, slugging and OPS all ranked in the league's top three? Was this the voters' way of rewarding McCutchen for his outstanding season when he almost certainly won't win the NL MVP Award? 

Winslow Townson/Getty Images
Michael Bourn was another notable Gold Glove snub.

Does the same hold true for Chase Headley winning the NL Gold Glove at third base over David Wright? Wright rated as the better defensive player by a significant margin in UZR, but Headley had 31 home runs and led the league with 115 RBI. 

So is the Gold Glove basically a consolation prize? Hey, bro, sorry you're not going to win MVP, but you can still take a trophy home this year! Is that what's really going on here?

Some of you might say this is getting far too worked up over a silly award. And I'm inclined to agree with you.

But by virtue of MLB (and Rawlingsahem!) creating these awards, the sport is saying it matters. Gold Gloves are mentioned by broadcasters and reporters when judging a player's defense. They are listed on a player's page at Baseball-Reference. They are cited in arbitration and negotiations for contracts. 

Yet are the Gold Glove Awards taken all that seriously? Are they really?

The announcements on ESPN2 were pre-empted by RallyCross racing on Tuesday night (Oct. 30). The show itself practically had the production value of a cable-access show with cheesy game-show music, Steve Berthiaume and John Kruk standing at a podium in front of trophies, and cricket-chirping silence as former ballplayers opened envelopes. 

If ESPN doesn't treat the Gold Gloves with any respect, why should we? At least let MLB Network make the announcements next year and try to make it look like these awards matter.

Or just, you know, actually give the awards to the best defensive players. That would help too. 

 

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