So, every year, since 1958, two baseball pitchers have won a Gold Glove award. This is despite the fact that most of them field about 200 (these days) to 300 (in the old days) innings, where most of the other Gold Glove winners have over 1000. The award is voted on by managers and coaches, which also helps explain why the award is a bit idiosyncratic. You can imagine that half the coaches in the league probably see, for example, Clayton Kershaw, in the field for maybe 6, 7 innings, which isn’t a strong sample size to go on. That’s probably why when the voters find a pitcher they like, they tend to stay with him over, and over, and over, and over again. (And only 27 different pitchers have won the 109 Gold Gloves awarded.)
So when I look at the numbers, I’m not really suggesting the voters looks at the numbers (because I doubt they do), or that the decision should match the numbers more closely (because with such a small sample size, I’m not sure it’s all that important). I’m merely looking at whether the numbers reflect the kind of fielding that the voters tend to go for. I mean, it’s not that big of a deal. You’ll see that Gold Glove winners generally have a lot of assists, which you know, means that the pitcher fields a lot of ground balls, and people are going to see that. So, I’ve put a bunch of information in giant chart which is mildly color-coded. You are welcome.
So, that’s a really big chart. I mean, putouts, assists, and fielding percentage aren’t the most compelling fielding statistics out there, but considering that pitchers these days tend to participate in about 60 plays in the course of a year, you’re limited on meaningful data anyway. I also just wanted to include some SB and PickOff numbers, just to indicate how well the runner controlled the running game.
Mostly, I think the Assists number is a pretty strong indicator, but that may just be because Greg Maddux was excellent at fielding groundballs, and the voters were really addicted to him. Maddux tended to make an error or two, but if you’re trying to slip in to the voting, having a 1.000 fielding percentage can’t hurt you. Mussina, you can tell, had a great three consecutive years with no errors, which pretty much cemented his defensive reputation for the rest of his career – even winning him a Gold Glove in 2008, when nothing really indicates he had a very good fielding year.
Although, theoretically, a pitcher’s ability to control the running game and pick runners off the bases is a relevant fielding consideration, I don’t think it looks like the voters really give it much consideration. To the extent that Gold Glove winners do have good baserunning numbers, I think it’s more that left-handed pitchers have better fielding numbers and control the running game better. Again, though, the case of Greg Maddux is either instructive or obstructive – Maddux clearly couldn’t care less about the running game, but he was great at getting assists.
So, for example, Johnny Cueto probably isn’t going to be able to count on the sweet-pickoff-move part of his Defensive Runs Saved to win him a Gold Glove. That is, of course, what the original idea on this article was – Who is Going To Win the NL Gold Glove Award in 2012? But with a little research, it becomes obvious. Now that Maddux is out for good, the NL voters have been flailing around, selecting Kershaw, Arroyo, and Wainwright in the last three years. These are all ok choices. (I love Bronson, I really do. I don’t know how good a fielder he, though.) They don’t generally have very good assist or putout numbers, but maybe most importantly, none of them made any errors. A safe method of choosing the best fielding pitchers, generally speaking. Of course, there are generally at least five starting pitchers every year with a perfect fielding percentage, so it still seems a bit arbitrary.
(Incidentally, the leading pitchers in Defensive Runs Scored in the NL for the last three years have been RA Dickey, Jon Garland, and a Zambrano/Wolf/Garland tie. The AL voters have actually selected the AL leader in DRS for 8 out of the last 9 years. The NL voters have done so once.)
That’s why I think voters in the NL will leap at the chance to vote for Mark Buehrle, three time AL gold glove winner, this year. Buehrle, coincidentally, still has great fielding numbers, and his DRS of 12 is number 1 in the NL. All around, it’s a choice that makes sense. Sorry, Johnny, you really did have a great year both in fielding batted balls and picking off runners, but maybe when Buehrle retires.
Of course, that leads to the somewhat more interesting question – Who is Going to Win the Gold Glove in the American League This Year?
(I have no idea)