Predicting Every 2013 Gold Glove Award Winner
Few awards in baseball are as overlooked—and disrespected—as the Gold Glove.
Its critics will claim that the award is meaningless, that defense cannot be evaluated by statistics and that the voting, by and large, is nothing more than a glorified popularity contest.
To be sure, past winners have an advantage over those who have never won before. History has proven that voters tend to favor those who already have a Gold Glove over a player looking for his first, even if the numbers show the newcomer having a better season than the old guard.
Defense is an incredibly difficult thing to evaluate, and when you take advanced defensive metrics into account, it's easy to become more confused than you were when you only looked at things like error totals and fielding percentage.
That said, there's value to be found in that new school of defensive grading, and chances are that those tasked with voting for the award see that as well.
With that in mind, let's take a look at how we see the voting playing out when this season's Gold Glove Award recipients are announced.
*Unless otherwise noted, all statistics courtesy of FanGraphs and are current through games of Sept. 14.
AL: Salvador Perez, Kansas City Royals (Career Gold Gloves: 0)
Only 23 years old, Salvador Perez has already established himself as the best defensive catcher in the American League. His performance behind the dish has as much to do with Kansas City remaining in the thick of the playoff race as anything.
Not only has Perez handled Kansas City's pitching staff well, but his powerful, accurate throwing arm is a legitimate weapon. He has thrown out 35 percent of would-be base stealers on the season, trailing only Baltimore's Matt Wieters in the American League.
Honorable Mention: A.J. Pierzynski (TEX), Matt Wieters (BAL)
NL: Yadier Molina, St. Louis Cardinals (Career Gold Gloves: 5)
Need we say more about Yadier Molina and his freakish abilities behind the plate?
There's really nothing that he doesn't do as well as, if not better than, every other catcher in baseball. While the competition among backstops on the Senior Circuit this season is as fierce as its been in years, Molina will still emerge victorious, bringing home his sixth consecutive Gold Glove Award.
Honorable Mention: A.J. Ellis (LAD), Russell Martin (PIT)
AL: Mike Napoli, Boston Red Sox (Career Gold Gloves: 0)
The first base Gold Golve competition has been weakened by injury, especially with perennial favorite Mark Teixiera out for the year. However, Mike Napoli stands above the rest when it comes to flashing the leather at the position.
Amazing as it may seem, Napoli's 12.1 UZR/150 is the highest of any first baseman in baseball, while his nine defensive runs saved is tops in the American League.
Honorable Mention: James Loney (TB), Mark Trumbo (LAA)
NL: Anthony Rizzo, Chicago Cubs (Career Gold Gloves: 0)
While it has been a disappointing season for Anthony Rizzo at the plate, the 24-year-old has lived up to expectations in the field. Rizzo's 15 DRS gives him a five-run lead over Paul Goldschmidt in second place among all first basemen, and his 7.4 UZR/150 is tied with Brandon Belt and Adrian Gonzalez for the National League lead.
Sure, the Cubs would have a few more wins on the season were Rizzo producing with the bat, but the team's record would be far worse than it is without his terrific play in the field.
Honorable Mention: Brandon Belt (SF), Paul Goldschmidt (ARZ), Adrian Gonzalez (LAD)
AL: Dustin Pedroia, Boston Red Sox (Career Gold Gloves: 2)
One of the smartest players in the game today, Dustin Pedroia is seemingly always in the right place at the right time when a ball is hit anywhere near second base.
While he holds a minuscule advantage over Ben Zobrist for the UZR/150 lead among American League second basemen (12.9 to 12.8), he has a commanding 16-to-2 edge over his AL East counterpart in DRS and a six-run lead over the next closest second baseman in baseball.
Going by advanced metrics, Pedroia is having the second-best defensive season of his career, trailing behind his Gold Glove-winning campaign of 2011. That won't be lost on the voters either, who will award the former AL MVP the third Gold Glove Award of his career.
Honorable Mention: Brian Dozier (MIN) and Ben Zobrist (TB)
NL: Darwin Barney, Chicago Cubs (Career Gold Gloves: 1)
Barney is not on a record-setting pace like he was in 2012, when he set new team and National League records for consecutive games without committing an error. However, he is still the best defensive second baseman in the National League, and perhaps in all of baseball.
Barney covers a ridiculous amount of ground in the middle of the field, as you can see in the video above. His 16.1 UZR/150 leads all qualified major league second basemen, though his 10 DRS puts him in a three-way tie with Brian Dozier and Mark Ellis for second place behind Pedroia—a far cry from the 28 that he saved a year ago.
Still, you can't dispute that Barney has otherworldly range, as evidenced by the video above. That, along with the rest of his skills, will result in the 27-year-old taking home his second consecutive Gold Glove Award.
Honorable Mention: Mark Ellis (LAD) and Brandon Phillips (CIN)
AL: Alcides Escobar, Kansas City Royals (Career Gold Gloves: 0)
It's a weird year for defensive shortstops in the American League. Last year's winner, J.J. Hardy, is having a down season with the glove and nobody else is really distinguishing himself as an obvious choice for the award.
While Pedro Florimon has more range and Yunel Escobar has committed less than half as many errors, Alcides Escobar is the most complete fielding shortstop in the American League this season. He has above-average range and a strong throwing arm, two assets that have played a major role in Kansas City's return to contention in 2013.
Honorable Mention: Yunel Escobar (TB) and Pedro Florimon (MIN)
NL: Andrelton Simmons, Atlanta Braves (Career Gold Gloves: 0)
There isn't a better defensive shortstop in baseball than Andrelton Simmons, who is rewriting the record books when it comes to advanced defensive metrics.
Going back to 2002, the earliest season that FanGraphs has advanced defensive data on, Simmons' 26.5 UZR/150 and 40 DRS are the highest marks that any shortstop has ever put up, beating Adam Everett's totals of 25.7 and 34, set with the Houston Astros in 2006.
Honorable Mention: Troy Tulowitzki (COL)
AL: Manny Machado, Baltimore Orioles (Career Gold Gloves: 0)
Like Andrelton Simmons at shortstop, Manny Machado, a former shortstop himself, is on pace to beat the previous records for advanced metrics at the hot corner, both set in 2004. His 30.5 UZR/150 is higher than Adrian Beltre's 26.8 mark set with the Dodgers, while his 34 DRS are four more than Scott Rolen's 30 with the Cardinals.
Only 21 years old and two years into playing the hot corner, Machado is only going to get better from here on out. That's a scary proposition for the rest of baseball.
Honorable Mention: Josh Donaldson (OAK) and Evan Longoria (TB)
NL: Nolan Arenado, Colorado Rockies (Career Gold Gloves: 0)
The Rockies' decision to break camp without Nolan Arenado, Colorado's top prospect heading into the season, was a head-scratching one. Not only had the 22-year-old third baseman produced with the bat, but he flashed some impressive leather at third base as well.
It didn't take long for the Rockies to realize the error of their ways. Since making his MLB debut on April 28, Arenado hasn't disappointed.
As with Machado, Arenado's defensive prowess this season puts him in some rarefied air, trailing only Beltre's 2004 campaign in UZR/150 (25.2) while tying Rolen's 30 DRS as the best numbers in the National League since 2002.
Honorable Mention: Todd Frazier (CIN) and Chase Headley (SD)
AL: Alex Gordon, Kansas City Royals (Career Gold Gloves: 2)
Here's where the advanced metrics stop mattering as much as a player's history and name recognition do.
Going on metrics alone, David Murphy is arguably the best defensive left fielder in the American League this season, yet it's Alex Gordon who will take home his third consecutive Gold Glove Award.
Their numbers, both old-school and new-school, are close:
The largest gap between the two is in UZR/150, and according to the explanation provided by FanGraphs (a great read if you aren't familiar with the statistic), Murphy's 16.3 mark is Gold Glove-caliber, while Gordon's 7.2 falls somewhere between above-average and great.
I'm not trying to say that Gordon isn't a terrific fielder, because he is. But this season, Murphy should win the award, even though Gordon will.
Honorable Mention: David Murphy (TEX)
NL: Carlos Gonzalez, Colorado Rockies (Career Gold Gloves: 2)
The same issues that we ran into with Gordon and Murphy arise again in the National League, where I fully expect last year's winner and perennial MVP candidate Carlos Gonzalez to beat out a more deserving Starling Marte for the honor.
Here, it's a clear battle between old-school statistics and the new way of thinking about defense:
Marte leads all left fielders in DRS and UZR/150 while posting the lowest fielding percentage among qualified left fielders. Fielding percentage penalizes him for being able to get to balls that other left fielders (CarGo included) cannot, but the advanced metrics reward him for that.
Yet CarGo will win his second consecutive Gold Glove while Marte is forced to wait until voters begin putting more stock into advanced statistics.
Honorable Mention: Starling Marte (PIT)
AL: Jacoby Ellsbury, Boston Red Sox (Career Gold Gloves: 1)
While his .991 fielding percentage is only tied for fourth-best among American League center fielders, Jacoby Ellsbury leads the group in DRS (14) and UZR/150 (14.7). Like Michael Bourn, Ellsbury's biggest defensive asset is his speed, which allows him to get to balls that other center fielders cannot.
That said, his throwing arm resembles a wet noodle. His critics say that he dives for balls that don't require him to lay out, making routine catches look like they have a higher degree of difficulty than they actually do.
Still, Ellsbury's reputation as a plus defender, along with the relative anonymity of the other top defenders at the position in the AL, will lead to the soon-to-be free agent picking up the second Gold Glove Award of his career. His agent, Scott Boras, will certainly point to that in negotiations for his client's next deal this winter.
Honorable Mention: Lorenzo Cain (KC) and Leonys Martin (TEX)
NL: Carlos Gomez, Milwaukee Brewers (Career Gold Gloves: 0)
Center field in the National League might be the most difficult position in baseball to anoint a clear-cut "best defender" label to, with multiple players, either in the prime of their careers or just starting out, all having a legitimate claim to the title.
Among qualified center fielders, only A.J. Pollock (33.2) and Carlos Gomez (23.6) have posted double-digit UZR/150s, but Gomez's 31 defensive runs saved blow Pollock's 14 out of the water.
There isn't another center fielder in baseball who fields balls hit over his head as well as Gomez, with all the evidence we need provided in the video above. That, along with the name recognition, will land Gomez the first Gold Glove Award of his career.
Honorable Mention: A.J. Pollock (ARI)
AL: Shane Victorino, Boston Red Sox (Career Gold Gloves: 3)
I trashed Boston's decision to sign Shane Victorino this past offseason, and the Flyin' Hawaiian has made me eat those words, both at the plate and in the field.
Victorino is on pace to set a new right field record with a 34.4 UZR/150, besting former Red Sox outfielder Trot Nixon's 27.4 mark in 2005. And he trails only Gerardo Parra in DRS, posting an American League-best 22. The veteran also finds himself tied with Alex Rios for the league lead in assists at nine.
While his fielding percentage (.989) is less than some of his counterparts, there's no denying that Victorino's athleticism and fearlessness in right field has helped Boston leave the disaster of 2012 in the rear-view mirror.
Honorable Mention: Josh Reddick (OAK) and Ichiro Suzuki (NYY)
NL: Gerardo Parra, Arizona Diamondbacks (Career Gold Gloves: 1)
One of the worst-kept secrets in baseball over the past few years has been just how phenomenal of a fielder that Gerardo Parra is.
Finally given a chance to play on a daily basis this season, Parra has shown just how good he is, on track to set a new right field record with 34 defensive runs saved, four more than Ichiro Suzuki saved for Seattle in 2004.
His UZR/150 of 30.0 would be a National League record, breaking Jayson Heyward's mark of 23.3 set last season.
Honorable Mention: Norichika Aoki (MIL), Jay Bruce (CIN) and Hunter Pence (SF)
AL: R.A. Dickey, Toronto Blue Jays (Career Gold Gloves: 0)
While things haven't gone according to plan one for the reigning NL Cy Young Award winner in his debut season with Toronto, the 38-year-old knuckleballer has remained one of the premier defensive pitchers in the game.
His seven defensive runs saved leads all American League pitchers, as do his 38 assists. Without his ability to make plays with the glove, both Dickey's record (12-12) and Toronto's record in games that he started (15-16) would be far worse than they are.
Honorable Mention: Mark Buehrle (TOR) and Hiroki Kuroda (NYY)
NL: Zack Greinke, Los Angeles Dodgers (Career Gold Gloves: 0)
It was so much easier picking a winner when Greg Maddux was still playing, as the future Hall of Famer was a lock to take home the Gold Glove for NL pitchers every season.
Like Maddux, Zack Greinke fields his position like a shortstop, with his seven defensive runs scored trailing Patrick Corbin by one for the top spot on the Senior Circuit and his 31 assists five behind his younger NL West counterpart.
If I had a vote it would go to Corbin, but Greinke's got the "superstar" label and name recognition, which will land him the first Gold Glove Award of his career.
Honorable Mention: Patrick Corbin (ARZ), Julio Teheran (ATL) and Adam Wainwright (STL)