Andrew McCutchen's dream 2012 season continued Tuesday, when it was announced that he had won the Gold Glove for National League center fielders.
McCutchen played exceptional baseball throughout 2012 and is deserving of nearly all the accolades that have come his way. However, it is unlikely that he was the league's best center fielder this season.
Statistical measurements of individual defense are still very imperfect tools at this time. As batted-ball data continues to improve and park dimensions and shift data are analyzed more effectively, defensive metrics will become more useful. Currently, they provide some meaningful information but are rather imprecise.
That said, advanced defensive metrics rate Andrew McCutchen as a distinctly below-average center fielder. This does not actually mean he is a below-average center fielder: PNC Park may not allow McCutchen to showcase his range, for example, and the eye test would imply that he is at worst, closer to average given his speed.
What it does mean is that McCutchen probably is not the best center fielder in the National League. When compared to a player like Michael Bourn, who combines the exceptional plays McCutchen makes with statistical excellence, it is hard for McCutchen to stack up.
McCutchen likely received the reward because of his hitting breakout this season. While hitting should have no effect on Gold Glove award decisions, it clearly does year after year. McCutchen will not be the last player to benefit from this support, and in his case he is also being rewarded for the excitement he generated in Pittsburgh throughout 2012.
An interesting side-note to McCutchen's Gold Glove honor is that if McCutchen truly was the National League's best center fielder in 2012, he almost certainly deserves to win the MVP award as well. However, the writers who vote for the MVP likely do not share the managers' view regarding McCutchen's fielding, so the Pittsburgh center fielder remains an underdog for that award.