Nate McLouth: Deserving His Gold Glove?

Andrew KaufmanSenior Analyst INovember 10, 2008


Pirates’ center-fielder Nate McLouth won his first Gold Glove last week. The baseball statistics community is not impressed.

ESPN analyst Rob Neyer may have the harshest words for McLouth. At the very least, his sentiments were hard to top: He referred to McLouth receiving the award as a “horrible joke” in a Nov. 5 blog entry.

Neyer cites reliable statistics, such as John Dewan’s Fielding Bible, Baseball Prospectus, and Bill James’ win shares, to make his case against McLouth’s fielding prowess. In fact, all three metrics point to McLouth being a well below-average outfielder.

Neyer is also correct in pointing out that the fact that McLouth made only one error all year probably had a significant impact on voters, perhaps more than it should. That statistic, combined with McLouth’s emergence on a national stage this season and his crucial assist in the All-Star Game, undoubtedly helped sway voters in his direction.

But McLouth’s performance in center field for the Pirates this season has belied the statistics. I realize this argument is almost always made when defending players who have poor statistical years—I’m not trying to make a Jason Varitek “clutch” argument.

What I do know, though, is that I watched a fair amount of Pirate games this season, and I saw very few plays that McLouth failed to make that I thought he should have made.

Granted making such an estimate is sometimes hard to do—if a player gets an awful jump, for example, the camera might not catch this as it is still focused on the batter—but it is not so difficult that one of the league’s worst outfielders would suddenly look like an above-average fielder.

So what do the statistics mean? They likely mean that McLouth didn’t deserve his Gold Glove—a lot of work has gone into the development of these stats and they are usually pretty reliable, so they probably aren’t dead wrong when applied to McLouth.

But at the same time, the fact that McLouth looked good on film throughout the season isn’t entirely worthless. Our eyes don’t just deceive us, and there is some level of arbitrariness in statistics as well.

Instead, McLouth is a relatively average center-fielder. He doesn’t get the best jump off the crack of the bat, but he closes well and hardly ever makes a mistake when he does get to the ball.  

Luckily for the Pirates, McLouth won’t be an average center-fielder much longer—as early as next season, he will become an above-average corner outfielder, as star prospect Andrew McCutchen will take over the reigns in center.

Hopefully McLouth’s statistics will look a little better then.