Derek Jeter won his 5th gold glove today, underscoring both the absurdity of the award and the inability of a few subjective eyes to pick up differences in players over the course of a season. Managers and bench coaches of each league vote for the gold glovers every year, and it is apparent that most simply think about web gem nominees they see on Baseball Tonight and fielding percentage.
Derek Jeter did beat out all other AL shortstops in fielding percentage, indicating that he doesn’t make a lot of errors, but errors don’t tell the whole story. Consider two shortstops: the first covers very little range, but makes a high percentage of those plays. Of 277 potential plays, he made 98.9% of them successfully. Shortstop number 2 gets to more balls, but according the subjective eyes of the stadium statistician, makes errors a little more often than the first shortstop. In 365 chances, this shortstop only made 97.5% of the plays successfully. But wait, I’m pretty sure shortstop 2, otherwise known as Alexei Ramirez, got to 88 more balls than shortstop 1, who is of course Derek Jeter. So instead of looking at conventional fielding percentage, we really should give errors to Jeter on all 88 balls that he didn’t get to, balls to which Ramirez did make it. Those balls likely became hits, but were never counted against Jeter because he wasn’t athletic enough to get there. This seems screwy to me.
While this isn’t a completely fair way to deal with the discrepancy between each shortstop’s range, I think my scenario highlights the need for more descriptive data. Enter Fangraphs. The UZR rating that Fangraphs uses analyzes how many successful plays a fielder makes in any number of zones on the field (up the middle, for instance, is a zone). In addition to this “range factor,” UZR measures how efficiently an infielder turns double plays. Though it’s not perfect, we can already see how UZR might be able to give us a better idea of a fielder’s value.
Out of 9 qualifying shortstops in the AL, Jeter ranked 7th in UZR with a score of -4.7. This indicates that Jeter cost his pitchers an estimated 5-ish runs this season. I have preached before, however, that one season of UZR data is shaky at best. UZR is not computed like a batting average or an ERA, and thus it is smart to regress toward past results. Well, Derek Jeter’s past results are mostly negative. Since the advent of UZR in 2002, Jeter has put up just 2 positive seasons (2002 and 2009). His net runs saved from 2002 through2009 was -37.8, meaning, again, that he actually cost his team about 4.7 runs per season. Therefore his -4.7 score in 2010 is likely a very accurate representation of how he played defense this year, shittily.
The winner at shortstop in my mind should have been Cesar Izturis, who has saved runs defensively by UZR’s standards for 5 consecutive years now, including a 5.1 figure this season.
These awards are starting to become a joke. For every seemingly defensible selection, there’s another award given that makes very little sense.