MLB Players Who Will No Longer Win Gold Glove Popularity Contests
The Rawlings Gold Glove Award, voted on by MLB managers and coaches, is considered the standard for fielding excellence in baseball.
But for many, it simply doesn't accurately reflect defensive dominance.
Back in 2010, the Associated Press characterized the Gold Glove Award as more of a popularity contest than an award given out for great glove work.
For years, some fans have viewed the Gold Gloves as mostly a popularity contest, even suggesting that a player's performance at the plate helped draw extra attention to his glove.
Serious questions about the Gold Gloves have stirred for more than a decade, growing ever since Rafael Palmeiro won the award at first base in 1999. He played there only 28 games for Texas that season, spending most of the year as a designated hitter.
Now, Rawlings is looking to change all that.
They announced on Friday that they are adding a special defensive sabermetric called SDI, or SABR Defensive Index, to more accurately determine the Gold Glove Award winner at each position.
Managers and coaches will still have their say, but once the SDI has been fully created and instituted, it too, will become part of the voting criteria.
So, just what does this all mean for current players who were previously considered to be defensive wizards by managers and coaches?
Here is a list of players who could easily be affected by the addition of defensive sabermetrics to the Gold Glove Award equation.
Note: All defensive statistics courtesy of FanGraphs.com unless otherwise noted.
Adam Jones: Baltimore Orioles
Baltimore Orioles center fielder Adam Jones has won two Gold Glove awards during his career, including last season.
But the defensive metrics clearly show that Jones wasn't even close to being the best defender in center field in the American League.
According to FanGraphs, Jones' UZR, which calculates the number of runs above or below average a fielder is in both range runs, outfield arm runs, double play runs and error runs combined, is not even close to the top center fielders on the list.
Jones posted a minus 6.7 UZR during the 2012 season. By comparison, Los Angeles Angels rookie center fielder Mike Trout posted a 10.6 UZR. Only Curtis Granderson of the New York Yankees posted a worse UZR than Jones among qualified center fielders.
FanGraphs ranks Trout No. 1 in defensive runs saved (DRS) with 23, while Jones was dead last with minus 16.
I'd say that a difference of 39 runs saved between the two clearly shows the need for a change in how the Gold Glove Award is voted on.
Derek Jeter: New York Yankees
New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter has captured five Gold Glove awards during his outstanding career.
However, if the new SDI being instituted by Rawlings were in place over the last decade, Jeter likely wouldn't have won any Gold Glove awards at all.
Jeter first won the award in 2004. However, Tampa Bay Rays shortstop Julio Lugo posted a 12.2 UZR that season with a DRS of plus 4. Jeter registered a minus 0.7 UZR with a minus 13 DRS, the third-worst among qualified shortstops that season.
In 2010, Jeter was awarded his fifth Gold Glove Award. But he posted a minus 4.7 UZR with a minus 9 DRS. By comparison, Chicago White Sox shortstop Alexei Ramirez registered a 10.8 UZR and plus 20 DRS.
Jeter has consistently been rated among the worst shortstops in terms of overall range, yet by current Gold Glove standards, he's considered a defensive whiz.
Andrew McCutchen: Pittsburgh Pirates
When Atlanta Braves center fielder Michael Bourn wasn't awarded the Gold Glove Award last year in the National League among center fielders, it was largely considered to be a complete snub.
In fact, when Pittsburgh Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen won the award, even a popular Pirates blog couldn't believe the outcome.
McCutchen is certainly not a terrible fielder. Not by any means. But he's no Michael Bourn.
Last year, Bourn registered a 22.4 UZR. That wasn't just the highest among center fielders—it was the highest among all fielders with the exception of Jason Heyward.
McCutchen posted a minus 6.9 UZR by comparison.
Just another example of why the SDI being prepared by Rawlings is sorely needed.
Carlos Gonzalez: Colorado Rockies
Colorado Rockies left fielder Carlos Gonzalez ended up dead last among qualified outfielders in both UZR and DRS last season, according to FanGraphs.
Gonzalez's minus 8.5 UZR and minus 13 DRS lagged far behind Martin Prado (10.7 and 12).
Baseball-Reference.com agreed, giving Gonzalez a minus 1.9 dWAR compared to Prado at plus 1.7.
No matter how you slice it, Gonzalez was nowhere close to deserving of last year's Gold Glove Award.
Jimmy Rollins: Philadelphia Phillies
When shortstop Jimmy Rollins won the Most Valuable Player Award in 2007, he was also named the Gold Glove Award winner for the first time in his career.
It was even debatable then that he was the best defender at his position.
Rollins posted a 2.7 UZR and plus 5 DRS that season. Omar Vizquel of the San Francisco Giants led the league with a 23.1 UZR while Troy Tulowitzki of the Colorado Rockies topped the league with a plus 31 DRS.
Last year, Rollins won his fourth Gold Glove Award. But again, he lagged behind league leader Clint Barmes of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Barmes logged a 14.4 UZR and plus 13 DRS, Rollins came in at 4.4 and minus 8, respectively.
Rollins at 34 years of age is still a gifted shortstop. But the metrics clearly show a dropoff defensively. Barmes probably didn't help his cause by hitting just .229. But the Gold Glove Award up until now has simply never rewarded players based purely on defense.
Chase Headley: San Diego Padres
San Diego Padres third baseman Chase Headley was a first-time Gold Glove Award winner last year. But based on defensive metrics, New York Mets third baseman David Wright should have won his third Gold Glove Award.
Headley posted a 6.0 UZR with a minus 3 DRS. Baseball Reference gave Headley a dWAR of 0.0, essentially saying that he was no better defensively than any replacement.
By comparison, Wright topped the National League with a 15.4 UZR and plus 16 DRS. Baseball Reference gave Wright a 2.1 dWAR rating.
Headley is a capable third baseman defensively. But once again, his torrid second half offensively seemed to sway voters, while Wright's superior glove work went by the wayside.
Rawlings made a good change to their rules in 2011 when they specified that outfielders would be judged based on their specific outfield position.
Now, Rawlings is taking another important step towards revising the criteria with the creation of the SDI.
It wasn't in time for Wright in 2012, however.
Doug Mead is a featured columnist with Bleacher Report. His work has been featured on the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, SF Gate, CBS Sports, the Los Angeles Times and the Houston Chronicle.