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.
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