First Pitch: McCutchen Wasn’t the Pirate That Deserved a Gold Glove

My tweet tonight immediately after Andrew McCutchen won a gold glove: Andrew McCutchen hits his way to his first career Gold Glove. It received several retweets, which I can only assume is other people mocking what has become of the Gold Glove award.

The Gold Glove award is supposed to recognize defense. Unfortunately that defense is only recognized if a player has strong offense to go with his defense. In some cases, good offense can hide poor defense. That was the case with McCutchen. On the year McCutchen had a -7.0 UZR/150. The other candidates for the award — Michael Bourn (22.5 UZR/150) and Drew Stubbs (8.5 UZR/150) — ranked first and second respectively among qualified center fielders in the NL. There were six players between those two and McCutchen.

You might not agree with basing an award off UZR. Even if you think UZR is flawed it’s hard to argue that McCutchen deserved the award over Bourn. I don’t think UZR is perfect, but it’s the best way to judge fielding that we have, and that includes the eye test. The eye test looks at the plays a fielder makes and judges those plays based on what other fielders might have done in that same situation. UZR does exactly that, only it actually considers every other play that was made in that situation. UZR is the eye test, only it actually charts and considers every play, rather than going off an assumption of how likely it is for other players to make each play. There might be some margin for error, but that margin probably isn’t the 29.5 points between McCutchen and Bourn.

Bourn was by far the best fielder in the league. However, he had a .739 OPS, a .274 average, and nine homers. McCutchen had a .953 OPS, a .327 average, and 31 homers. If you don’t think offense played a factor, you’re fooling yourself. Bourn deserved the award without question.

There was one member of the Pirates who deserved a Gold Glove: Clint Barmes. Barmes had a UZR/150 of 15.3, which led the NL. The winner at shortstop this year was Jimmy Rollins, who had a 4.9 UZR/150. That’s not as bad as McCutchen/Bourn, but there were others who deserved the award more than Rollins. Brandon Crawford (9.7), Zack Cozart (9.0), and Ian Desmond (6.5) all rated better than Rollins. Barmes was ahead of all of these guys. His offense was horrible, but defensively he was the best shortstop in the NL. When you have a defensive award, that’s all that is supposed to matter. Barmes wasn’t even a finalist, and neither was Brandon Crawford. But Jose Reyes — with a -2.9 UZR/150, a .780 OPS, and name value — was a finalist.

The Gold Glove awards have been a joke for some time. This isn’t new. We saw Nate McLouth win the award in 2008 with a -12.3 UZR/150, while Mike Cameron posted a 16.6 UZR/150 that same year. Unfortunately credit is still given to these awards. Ever since then we’ve heard about how McLouth was a Gold Glove center fielder. Now we’ll hear the same about McCutchen, which will only make it harder to move him to left field where he belongs and put Starling Marte in center.

The underlying message here is that Andrew McCutchen is getting recognition for being a great player. That’s good to see, but Andrew McCutchen is a great player even with his poor defense in center field. He should contend for the Silver Slugger, the MVP award, and any other award that considers offense and all around performance. The Gold Glove is supposed to be about defense only, and if that were true, McCutchen wouldn’t even be a candidate for the award. By comparison, Clint Barmes had a bad season offensively, but was the best defensive shortstop in the NL. He shouldn’t compete for any awards except for the award that is supposed to be based on defense.

If McCutchen wasn’t a candidate for this award it wouldn’t be a bad thing. It would just mean that his defense wasn’t among the best in the league, which is absolutely true. That doesn’t mean he’s not a great player. It just means he’s not great at every part of the game. If Barmes would have won the award at shortstop it wouldn’t mean he was a great shortstop or that his hitting was good. It would just recognize that his defense was some of the best in the league. If the award was just about defense we could recognize that Barmes was the best defensive shortstop, that McCutchen wasn’t anywhere close to the best defensive center fielder, and it would say nothing about any other part of their game. Unfortunately we live in a world where the most important part of a defensive award is the offense that the player puts up.

Links and Notes

**Andrew McCutchen Wins First Gold Glove.

**The Pirates Have Spent Big in the Draft, But Has it Paid Off?

**AFL Recap: Santos and Gift Have Three Hits Each, Pitch F/X for Black.

**Piratefest to Take Place December 15-16.

**Winter League Recap: Polanco and Marte Have Strong Debuts.

**Pirates Outright Daniel McCutchen, Jeff Clement, and Eric Fryer.

**2012-2013 Off Season Primer.

Tim Williams

Author: Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with AccuScore.com, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

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  • https://profiles.google.com/116255365477483987850 jalcorn

    I think its great that Cutch was recognized, but I share your thoughts, Tim. I spent a few minutes trying to explain how Bourn was robbed to the wife last night when we saw the award announcement.

    The argument that Bourn and Barmes were robbed is strengthened if you look at total zone or defensive runs saved, the two other fielding measures available.

    Cutch 13 TZ, -5 DRS
    Bourn 38 TZ, 24 DRS

    Barmes 11TZ, 13DRS
    Rollins -4TZ, -8DRS

    JRoll likely won on reputation since he has 3 already. The GG has always been awarded on reputation and bat with the exception of extreme cases like Vizquel winning in 1993 and 1994 with a wRC+ of 72 and Ozzie in 1981 with a wRC+ of 65. Those years they won more on reputation than numbers.

    • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 Lee Young

      I am with Tim and jalcorn on this.

      But, as you both point out, the GG has been a ‘joke’ for some time now.

      Can’t wait to see the headline though “BTMIB move Gold Glover to LF to improve defense???”

      At least it’ll provide blog fodder for a day or two….lol

      .

  • NorCal Buc

    I disagree, Tim. SOME people, like yourself, will go the “sabermetric” route with your theorectically accurate statistical analysis. Ultimately, this measure is merely one way to judge performance.

    I just happen to disagree with you that THIS is THE only way to measure performance. Rather, the GG award as been awarded based on the valued judgement by professionals in the game. I prefer this time-tested method, as will also be used in the Cy Young award, and the MVP award.

    As we all watched Clint Barmas all season, none of us saw a GG caliber defender. Alas, as we all watched Andrew McCutchen, we SAW, day-in-and-day-out, an extraordinary outfielder.

    Ultimately, it boils down to the methodology the sport will use to value judgements. There will always be speculation and doubt with the winners, unless there is the rare case of relatively unanimous consent.

    Let the debates continue. The managers have made their call on the GG awards. I trust their time-tested and personal approach, more than a statistical abstraction.

    Imagine, I also want to keep the umpires as the ultimate decision while the game is being played, rather than relying on a computer based strike-zone camera, “Play ball”, as it has been played for generations!

    • https://profiles.google.com/116255365477483987850 jalcorn

      I don’t know, watching Cutch almost every game, I saw a CF with a poor arm in strength and accuracy and a guy who often gets so-so jumps on playable balls. I’d say he is an average CF with potential to be good, but not great.

      Watch Bourn play, the difference is obvious without any stats.

      • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 Lee Young

        Jalcorn…I had the MLB package and you are SO right about Cutch.

        He should switch with Marte (if Marte males it!)

      • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 Lee Young

        I mean ‘so right about Bourn!!’

  • http://www.facebook.com/david.donahue.100 whiteAngus

    “… but Andrew McCutchen is a great player even with his poor defense in center field.”…

    I too agree that Cutch didnt deserve to win the gold glove, but he also doesnt deserve to be called a poor defender. I am not a believer in fielding metrics including the UZR because you can come to the same conclusion if you watch Cutch play on a nightly basis: he makes many mistakes. But I wouldnt have called his defensive season “poor”. He still saved many runs in CF this season.

  • leadoff

    Pirate management is huge on sabermetrics, they buy the best players that their budget can afford based on sabermetrics.
    Baseball is still a game that IMO can’t be narrowed down to stats, if all it took were stats, there would be no reason to vote on a gold glove candidate, just take the guy with the best stats. There would be no need to scout a player, just look up his stats. The “EYE” test is far more than a UZR look alike. I can tell more by watching a player than I can with a stat. The UZR stat does not tell me if a center fielder has a good first step, in, side, back. It does not tell me how good his routes are, it does not tell me the flight of the ball, it does not tell me the wind, it does not tell me when the wind changes during the game, it does not tell me the positioning of the player, it does not tell me how good the players judgements are, it does not tell me how strong his arm is. My “EYE” can tell you more sitting at a game than any stat can and this only part of an evaluation.
    Let me this easy for everyone, if the game is on the line who do you want the ball hit to on the Pirates team? For me it is Barmas.

    • https://profiles.google.com/116255365477483987850 jalcorn

      Your “EYE” can also be deceptive based on preconceived notions and inherent bias as a fan.

      • http://www.facebook.com/richard.yazhynka Richard Ya’Zhynka

        Excellent, jalcorn. Also, one individual’s eye-test does not get to see every play that every CF made over 162 games. UZR does evaluate every play on every ball that comes into a fielder’s zone.

        If the player is taking good routes, correctly adjusting for the wind, getting a good first, making good judgments, etc . . ., he will make the plays on the balls in his zone and all those subjective “eye-test” factors will show up in his UZR.

  • http://twitter.com/jlease717 jlease717

    Mercy, it is the return of UZR, the only metric that shows Barmes as great. It still isn’t reality based though. Bourn was a far superior centerfielder, but the Gold Glove has been based on hitting for a lot longer than 29 years. Carl Yazstemski won one in 1977. One thing that is predictable though is the defense of Clint Barmes, or bringing him into a discussion of something else. I guess with his superior defensive skill it will be easy for the Pirates to trade him this offseason for several prospects…

    • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 Lee Young

      I’m sure Barmes is gonna bring back some prospects in a deal.

      NOT!!

      Even the devil couldn’t spin a lie THAT big!

    • https://profiles.google.com/116255365477483987850 jalcorn

      I guess you ignored total zone and defensive runs saved which also show Barmes as great. Then there is the eye test which was pretty clear ( I doubt anyone wanted to like Barmes with him hitting so bad).

    • http://www.facebook.com/richard.yazhynka Richard Ya’Zhynka

      Barmes was 9.1 Fielding Runs Above Average. Gold Glove winner Jimmy Rollins had an FRAA of negative 8.5.

  • kimbercarry

    I was totally surprised when Cutch was named as a finalist let alone winning the award. I don’t feel he’s a bad centerfielder but I don’t put him in the elite field just yet. I would rather have Trout in centerfield. And just to play devils advocate here…If offense is one of the big deciding factors in the GG then how does Adam Jones get the nod over Mike Trout? Jones line, .287 avg, 32HR, 82 RBI and 186 Hits in 162 games played. Trout, .326 avg, 30 HR, 83 RBI and 182 Hits in 139 games played. Trout played 23 less games. I think he was snubbed.

  • michaelbro8

    kinda goes back to the Art Howe vs Billy Beane in Moneyball

  • https://profiles.google.com/116366873579930999690 Thom Kay

    Tim, I 100% agree.

    Agree on the value of UZR, on the performances of McCutchen and Barmes, of the bias towards hitters.

    I would add that UZR becomes a much more useful metric if you can get a three year average for a player. Rollins has consistently been above average, so I don’t hate that. McCutchen, CarGo, and Adam Jones are the real duds. Completely undeserved.