Vampires, Ventriloquists, and NL Gold Gloves: What the %$@! Is Going On?
There are lots of worldly occurrences that make absolutely no sense to me. For instance, popular American culture is apparently obsessed with vampires at the moment.
Vampires? Really? Who signed off on this?
My faith in a benevolent Higher Power has me convinced there's a bunch of television executives somewhere laughing themselves silly at the gag. The phenomenon has to be a perverse bet between suits a la the Duke Brothers in Trading Places—"I'll bet you a dollar we can get the masses to go crazy about anything if we throw enough production behind it."
Or what about a ventriloquist-comedian getting his own show? What's next, a mime?
(Quick aside—he might actually be funny as I've never seen his stand-up, but that's low hanging fruit. I mean, a ventriloquist? C'mon...)
The sports world is rife with offerings of its own. Mid-November sees an annual rite of "what the hell is going on here?" passage in Major League Baseball—the awarding of Gold Gloves to the game's so-called best fielders at each position.
The American League went first and, to be fair, the real carnage is in the Junior Circuit. Fellow Bleacher Report writer PJ Ross does an excellent job of describing precisely how badly the voters jammed up the works—if you want to stew over a real con-job, check that disaster out.
Of course, they also nailed some of the spots—the St. Louis Cardinals' Yadier Molina was a no-brainer at catcher. The only reasonable alternatives based on innings-played and defensive prowess would be another Flying Molina Brother (Bengie of the San Francisco Giants) or the Los Angeles Dodgers' Russell Martin, but Yadier's got both beaten rather easily when you add in the eyeball test.
Furthermore, reputation is a key ingredient to backstop defense because perception can change the opposition's running game. Yadier Molina's an intimidating name if you make a living off fleet feet.
Likewise, the San Diego Padres' Adrian Gonzalez and the Washington Nationals' Ryan Zimmerman were outstanding choices. They weren't the only worthy candidates—first base could've rightfully gone to the Chicago Cubs' Derek Lee or the Redbirds' Albert Pujols, and the New York Mets' David Wright is stellar at the hot corner. Still, die-hard Giants fans get a yearly eyeful of Gonzalez' mitt and it's quite a sight.
The same is true of Zimmerman (absent the familiarity since he's on the other coast), who makes some of the most ridiculous degree-of-difficulty plays the diamond has ever seen.
In the outfield, it's tough to argue with the Bums' Matt Kemp. It pains me to say so, but the kid can go and get it. He's got a pretty good arm and covers an impressive amount of real estate given his size—the dude's a tank in center field, but he motors like a coupe.
The Houston Astros' Michael Bourn seems a fine choice as well—although I'd have no problem putting an argument together for the Nats' Nyjer Morgan or the Pittsburgh Pirates' Andrew McCutchen given a larger body of work. Maybe next year fellas.
Handing the hardware to the Cards' Adam Wainwright just feels bizarre because I've never read or heard anyone mention his glove. Contrarily, I've seen the Giants' Tim Lincecum make exceptionally athletic plays from the bump and I've heard the Cincinnati Reds' Bronson Arroyo lauded for his leather.
In the end, though, I've got to defer because I haven't observed anything that argues against Wano—he didn't make any errors, he made the most put-outs, his range factor was amongst the best, and he threw the most innings. That's a strong case against nothing but a funny feeling.
Cue the ominous music because the rest isn't so pretty.
The other winners aren't exactly undeserving. Instead, they're significantly flawed and suspiciously conservative choices.
The problem is that defensive ability is really something that needs to be seen with the naked eye to gauge accurately. A defender's value hasn't yet been reduced to the box score with any firm credibility.
New metrics are emerging and some are even beginning to catch the mainstream's eye. Ultimate zone rating (UZR) seems to be getting play and for good reason—as explained (A and B), it seems like an appropriately sophisticated and extensive model of a complex system. However, even it is plagued by considerable frailties (e.g. small sample sizes for a model with so many confounding variables, omitted variables, etc.) such that it can only be thought of as an additional data point rather than a probative final stop.
Consequently, determining the best gloveman at a position is the ultimate in subjective assessment—mixing first-hand observation with tradition stats like fielding percentage and innings-played, then sprinkling in a hint of the novel sabermetrics like range factor and UZR.
Nevertheless, the remaining honorees range from shaky to criminal compared to an also-ran.
In the outfield, nobody registered more put-outs than the Milwaukee Brewers' Mike Cameron, his UZR was much higher than that of Philly's Shane Victorino, and the Brewer had a superior range factor. The Flyin' Hawaiian made only one error to Cameron's four, but defensive errors can be a function of range i.e. a player who covers more territory will expose himself to more error potential—he will make more plays and more difficult plays.
Watching both men patrol the big green is a treat, but Cameron is the more dazzling of the two while sharing Victorino's blue-collar, do-or-die mentality. Of course, Victorino went home with his second consecutive award and Cameron gets a pat on the butt.
At second base, the Bums' Orlando Hudson had the advantages of being flashier and a mantle already boasting Gold Gloves. Unfortunately, neither counter the notion that the Phils' Chase Utley was better in 2009.
The Phillies' keystone had an embarrassingly superior UZR (O-Dawg's was actually negative), a lead in range factor, made more put-outs, played more innings, had more assists, and turned more double plays. In Hudson's corner, you had four fewer errors for a whopping .003 lead in fielding percentage and history—tremendous.
Again, the eyeball test operates in both slicksters' favor—Giants die-hards saw a lot of the Dodger in 2009 and the Phils were a fixture under the national spotlight so most should be familiar with Utley's efforts. Both are fantastic; Chase Utley was better.
So naturally Hudson's mantle has a new Gold Glove on it.
Forget all the numbers because they're close enough to do so. Forget them because the eyeball test is the only bad rider you need for this particular contest.
Troy Tulowitzki is quite possibly the best shortstop in the show, as in both leagues. The Texas Rangers' Elvis Andrus might warp by him in 2010, but not yet.
The guy is a wizard-monster in the hole—there might be better pure defenders, but nobody combines his elegant glovework with a truly horrifying cannon (unless you happen to root for the Rox). It's not easy to distinguish yourself based on arm strength from short when you toil in the same division as LA's Rafael Furcal.
Tulo's done it. Without too much problem.
There's a reason Colorado's season ebbs and flows with Troy Tulowitzki, and the reason isn't exclusively related to his bat. With this gem in place, the rest of the Rockie defense clicks into place and becomes a formidable asset.
Rollins is nice, no doubt about it. He's just not nice enough, not any more. Maybe the voters will catch on eventually, but we'll have to wait 'til next year to find out because Jimmy got the gold in 2009.
When all is said and done, hitting pay dirt on six-outta-nine winners ain't too shabby for National League voters. Judging from the American League reception, things could've been a lot worse.
But never fear, if vampire fads and comic dummies prove anything, it's that more insanity is always right around the corner.
Just wait 'til next year...
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