A Golden Evaluation

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Last week I looked at the Gold Glove Awards and surmised that while in years past the award wasn’t always about defense, the voting was improving and worthy defenders were being honored for their use of the leather. One of the biggest hurdles for me to jump around was how reputation played a big part in how some of the picks were chosen.

At the time I figured I was done discussing this topic for at least another year, but then mere days after I wrote the piece I stumbled across some numbers to back up my claim:

Over a span of 25 years, the winners of a Gold Glove were handed out to one of the top two defenders of their position only 38% of the time. Since Rawlings began working with SABR and SDI (SABR Defensive Index) was created to help evaluate, that number has jumped all the way to 88%! So over the last six years, voters have done 50% better than they did from 1988-2012. That is a massive improvement that speaks volumes of how far defensive metrics have come in such a short span of time. In fact, looking back at previous winners and losers really paints a better picture.

Credit: MLB.com

Before we go any farther, a great job has been done by Chris Dial, who is on the Board of Directors for SABR and his creation of RED (Runs Effectively Defended) helped form SDI. My stumbling across Chris’s twitter account pretty much has led us to this point.

So looking back, there were certain positions that voters actually did a fair job at when it came to picking a correct winner, most specifically catcher and third base. But there were some huge gaps in who won and who should have won at a couple of big positions. First base was a position that really showed a leaning toward reputation:

1B
Credit: SABR.org

While guys like Mark Grace, John Olerud and Rafael Palmeiro (yes, Palmeiro had a number of years he was worthy, dismissing 1999) were rewarded for the most part for their defensive excellence, it also shows how the perception of Don Mattingly, J.T. Snow and Eric Hosmer guided them to gold despite not being one of the top two defenders at their position.

SS
Credit: SABR.org

Shortstop also honored some greats, like Ozzie Smith and Cal Ripken while Omar Vizquel apparently won a number of Gold Gloves that he probably shouldn’t have.

Credit: Nick Laham/Getty Images

The two most notable miscues on this list are Derek Jeter and Barry Larkin, a current Hall of Famer matched in with a future one. Most have rallied against Jeter’s victories in the past, as it was very obvious his range (or lack thereof) was not of the top shelf variety. The fact these two won eight Gold Gloves while never finishing in the top two of their position speaks volumes of how the voting used to be handled.

There was one more position that I found to have a large gap between the should’s and should not’s, and that was the outfield:

OF
Credit: SABR.org

Just looking at this list about made my jaw drop. While Griffey, Hunter and Walker were always thought of as defensive studs, the fact is they were only in the top two of their positions five times. Even more shocking is that Luis Gonzalez and Sammy Sosa should have won a couple of Gold Gloves rather than the zero they compiled.

This would probably be a good time to point out that none of this is saying that all of these players were bad defensively if they won and didn’t finish in the top two. Mr. Dial actually did a good job of pointing that out:

So you can see where adding something like SDI has drastically changed the defensive landscape and showed who the real elite truly are when it comes to glovework. So with the awards handed out just last week, lets see how the voters did:

AL leaders
Credit: SABR.org

In the American League, outside of pitcher (Dallas Keuchel won despite being 8th in SDI among pitchers) and center field (Jackie Bradley, Jr. won and was 3rd in SDI at the position) the voters got it right. Both Royals that won (Alex Gordon and Salvador Perez) were in the top two at their position, with Salvy only behind Mike Zunino and Alex having the highest SDI among left fielders.

Meanwhile in the National League:

NL Leaders
Credit: SABR.org

Catcher and first base were the two positions voters missed on, as Yadier Molina was 6th in SDI behind the dish and Anthony Rizzo won while finishing 4th. Molina once again points out how reputation wins out over numbers some times and while he is still a good defender at the age of 36, he shouldn’t have even been one of the finalists.

So out of 18 awards, only four of the winners were not in the top two at their respective positions. That means that the voters were 78% correct, which is probably about as good as we should expect when there is a human element involved. It is definitely a big improvement over what we saw for years and Rawlings should be commended for wanting to make this whole process more accurate.

The big thing for me is that the stigma of ‘The winners aren’t being honored for their defense’ is starting to fade away. These awards have been looked at as almost a joke for so long that it’s been hard to do a 180 degree turn and applaud the work done to make the honor mean something.

While defensive metrics are still a work in progress, they are improving every day and painting a different picture than the one we sometimes see with our eyes. So while these awards aren’t quite the Fielding Bible Awards, they are getting a little bit closer every day.

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From the Bleachers: Walk-Off Thoughts

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It’s never a dull week in Major League Baseball and last week was ready to bring the excitement. With that said, lets start with an exciting finish for the Rockies on Sunday…

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The Walk-Off Cycle

There is nothing quite as exciting in baseball like a walk-off home run, but a walk-off to complete hitting for the cycle does take it up a notch. That is exactly what Nolan Arenado of Colorado did on Sunday, the first Rockie to do that since his teammate Carlos Gonzalez in 2010.

It was a great moment for a Rockies team that currently sits in first place in the National League West and has been one of the bigger surprises so far this year. Even better was how it showcased one of the best players in the game in Arenado. Arenado is having another stellar season, near the top of the league in RBI’s, Slugging Percentage, Win Probability Added and fWAR. Arenado is still only 26 years old and while continuing to get more attention year by year, is still flying under the radar a bit while playing in Colorado. Hopefully this shines a bit of a brighter light on one of the best players in the game. Speaking of flying under the radar…

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Good as Goldy

There might not be a more underrated player in baseball than Arizona’s Paul Goldschmidt. Goldschmidt continues to go out, put up MVP type numbers while not getting the media attention that a Rizzo or Harper normally gets. So far in 2017, Goldy is in the top ten of the NL in RBI’s, Walk rate, Slugging Percentage, wOBA, wRC+ while leading the league in On-Base Percentage and fWAR. Oh, and he sits in 11th place in home runs. Goldschmidt is not only a great hitter, but is above-average defensively and holds his own on the base paths as well. In many ways, he reminds me of former Astros first baseman Jeff Bagwell, and we all know how his career turned out. Playing in Arizona seems to keep him out of the limelight but I also feel like his personality does as well. He appears to be very low-key with a workman’s attitude when it comes to taking care of business and doing what needs to get done on the field. The glitz and glamour aren’t there for Paul, but mark my words, barring an injury, he will continue to be in the MVP discussion when September rolls around later this year.

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Elite Company

While I have long been in the camp of #TeamTrout when it comes to the Harper/Trout discussion, it’s hard not to notice what Bryce is doing this year that feels very similar to 2015. In fact, at this pace Harper could be joining some elite company:

Back at the end of 2015, I really broke down how big of a season that Harper had just compiled. Here is an excerpt from my year-end awards column:

The one stat that blows my mind more than any is his OPS+, a staggering 195(remember, 100 is average). His season is the 71st best in baseball history, which seems great but not out of this world stupendous. If you take out all the players in the ‘Dead-Ball Era’, Harper’s season is the 50th best of all-time. I decided to go a step further, going off of seasons since 1950. Taking that into effect, Harper had the 24th best season by a batter in the last 65 years!

The interesting part is that Harper currently doesn’t lead in any of the major offensive categories and teammate Ryan Zimmerman is in the lead when it comes to slugging, wOBA and wRC+ in the NL. There is no doubt that Harper is a legitimate star and a key part of Washington’s team…when he is healthy. There was quite a bit of scuttlebutt that he spent most of last year hurt and if that was the case, it is easy to see why his numbers took such a dive in 2016. I’m interested to see where his numbers are in a couple of months, as the season wears on and the Nationals make a run at another playoff appearance.

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The Weight of it All

I am always on the lookout for a new stat to dive into and figure out how it breaks down a players value. To me, there is never enough learning I can do. Recently, I’ve been enamored with wOBA, or Weighted On-Base Average. Here is a bit lengthy description of its definition:

wOBA is based on a simple concept: Not all hits are created equal. Batting average assumes that they are. On-base percentage does too, but does one better by including other ways of reaching base such as walking or being hit by a pitch. Slugging percentage weights hits, but not accurately (Is a double worth twice as much as a single? In short, no) and again ignores other ways of reaching base. On-base plus slugging (OPS) does attempt to combine the different aspects of hitting into one metric, but it assumes that one percentage point of SLG is the same as that of OBP. In reality, a handy estimate is that OBP is around twice as valuable than SLG (the exact ratio is x1.8). In short, OPS is asking the right question, but we can arrive at a more accurate number quite easily.

Weighted On-Base Average combines all the different aspects of hitting into one metric, weighting each of them in proportion to their actual run value. While batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage fall short in accuracy and scope, wOBA measures and captures offensive value more accurately and comprehensively.

Now, for some that is going to feel a bit heavy. But here is the cliff notes version: wOBA entails a hitters entire offensive value. The one thing it does not do is take into the park effects, so a hitter that plays his home games in a hitter friendly park would probably see his wOBA a bit more inflated. Keeping that in mind, here are the top five hitters in baseball according to wOBA:

  1. Aaron Judge-.468
  2. Ryan Zimmerman-.433
  3. Paul Goldschmidt-.430
  4. Bryce Harper-.422
  5. Joey Votto-.420

There is no shock here, as a power hitter like Judge will get a higher number due to the amount of extra base hits he accumulates, plus he hits in a hitters park, Yankee Stadium. I do find it interesting that four of the top five hitters in on-base percentage this year are on this list, with Buster Posey the lone player left off, coming in at number seven. It shows getting on base in general is a plus, no matter which way it happens (hit, walk, hit by pitch, etc.). It does value extra base hits more, which makes sense to me. The more extra base hits, the more runs scored and more to the point, the more opportunities to score runs. A single wouldn’t hold the same weight as a home run, as we as fans don’t even view them the same way. It would only make sense to make a home run worth more than every other hit, with a triple and double following a bit behind. If a team is looking for someone who creates runs, a stat like wOBA is a good place to start. It obviously leans more toward the power hitters, but the overall context of getting on base helps just as much in the long run. I will probably still tend to lean more toward a stat like wRC+ for overall value, but wOBA can be a nice side item. So use it, get acquainted with it and hope your team has a number of guys near the top of the leaderboard. Unfortunately, my Royals don’t have anyone until the 51st spot, as Eric Hosmer has a .357 wOBA. Alas, hitting in Kauffman Stadium will do that to a hitter.

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Putting the Fun Back in the Game

Finally, I was elated with the news last week that Major League Baseball is allowing the players to have a ‘Player’s Weekend’ on August 25-27. What will this entail?

 This season from August 25 to August 27, the MLB will allow players to wear nicknames on the back of their jerseys for the one-of-a-kind Players’ Weekend.

Players will be limited to one nickname on their jerseys, and the names cannot be inappropriate or offensive. The personalized patches — which will feature names of inspirations — are to be used as a tribute to an individual or organization instrumental in each player’s development.

To say I like this idea is an understatement. In truth, I LOVE the idea. One of the big issues I have had with the hierarchy of baseball has been the lack of flavor allowed to be shown on the field. To me, this stifles the individuality of the players and has made the game appear not as fun to fans who are just casual bystanders of the game we love. Allowing guys to not only put a nickname on the back of their jerseys but also personalized patches really will let them have a bit more fun and allow the fans to appreciate these players even more. I have long felt like MLB does NOT market their players well and wish they would allow a bit more flair into the game. You see a lot of it during the World Baseball Classic, but there is more ground that can be covered. How about make this every weekend instead of just one weekend out of the year? Maybe let the players celebrate after doing something exciting, rather than expecting retaliation if another guy feels like they are being ‘showed up’? The sooner the game embraces the fun aspects of the sport, the sooner fewer people say this game is ‘boring’. Now, if we can just get rid of those damn unwritten rules…

 

What the Royals Managerial Candidates List Should Look Like

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It is a well known fact I dislike Kansas City Royals manager Ned Yost. I’ve been saying for years that the Royals will never reach the promised land as long as he is in charge, and so far he has proven me right. This isn’t an(other) article explaining why Yost should be vanquished. Ken Rosenthal appears to be doing that for me. And Craig Calcaterra. No, his time is getting closer every day. With the Royals continuing to struggle during a season where many feel they should be sniffing the playoffs, and no help in sight in the minors or in a trade, there is an outside chance(albeit it a very outside chance) that Yost could find himself in the unemployment line soon. So if that happens, here are five managerial candidates that the Royals should be considered, at least in my eyes.

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Mike Maddux

Sure, Maddux has the pedigree to help any team with their pitching. Being the older brother of Hall of Famer Greg Maddux helps, but Mike has done a great job on his own with Texas’ pitching staff and Milwaukee’s staff before that. Maddux has been mentioned in the past as a managerial candidate for the Red Sox, Cubs and Tigers, and it’s conceivable that in the right situation he would be a perfect fit. Mike is a smart baseball man who is hard working, dependable, well liked and respected by his players. He also seems to be a calming influence on the clubhouse, which could go either way for a team like the Royals. Some might say the Royals would be better off with a guy who has a bit more fire, but my gut tells me the Royals should go with the best candidate. Maddux appears to be in that upper echelon and should be at the top of most lists for managerial openings.

Dave Martinez, Joe Maddon

Dave Martinez 

There is something to be said for coaches that have worked for smaller market teams. A lot of times those coaches have had to do more with less to get their team to be contenders. One man who fits that criteria and is heavily underrated is Tampa Bay’s bench coach, Dave Martinez. It’s almost amazing at this point that Martinez has never managed in his career, especially while spending so much time under the tutelage of Joe Maddon. Martinez has an array of positives; he is willing to think out of the box(he is supposedly the mastermind behind the Rays defensive shifts), has worked as a translator before for the Rays young Latin players and has worked with many of the younger talent that has come through Tampa’s system. Add in that he thinks a lot like Maddon and you have a guy that could be very successful if given the chance. Martinez seems like a great fit for the young Royals team and would definitely bring a different vibe to the Royals clubhouse. I would not be surprised to see him get a managerial job sometime within the next year; I can only hope it will be with Kansas City.

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Dale Sveum

Look, the Royals like to hire from within. I like minor league manager Vance Wilson, but he is probably still a few years away from being ready to manage a major league club. From the minute Sveum was hired it was hard not to see that he could be a possible future Royals manager. Hell, he was the guy who took over for Yost when he was fired from Milwaukee! Sveum has the managerial experience the team likes, as he was the Cubs manager the last few years and was well liked by the players and staff. There has been some concerns about his helping player development, or more to the point, the development of Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo for the Cubs. Sure, both regressed last year. But I tend to think part of Castro’s problems were that the team was trying to change his approach at the plate(take more pitches, work the count, not swing at so many pitches outside the zone,etc.), which was more of an edict of upper Chicago management, not Sveum. Castro has gone back to his old ways this year and has been vastly improved, which would seem to back up this point. Either way, he would be a solid candidate if Yost was yanked and would be a new voice in the clubhouse. When it comes to in house candidates, Sveum is a much better option than say, Jason Kendall. That thought frightens me.

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Tim Wallach

Wallach is another former player that has turned baseball into a lifetime career, albeit now coaching. Wallach is currently a coach for the Dodgers but has managed before, in the minors for the Dodgers AAA team. Wallach managed for two seasons in Albuquerque and was named the Pacific Coast League Manager of the Year in 2009 as well as Baseball America’s “Best Manager Prospect” .  Wallach has also been interviewed by both the Tigers and Mariners this past year for their managerial openings. When Wallach interviewed for the Tigers job, their GM Dave Dombrowski(who was also Wallach’s GM in Montreal when he was a player) had nothing but positive things to say about him: “Quality person on and off the field, good family man, good work ethic, and a knowledgeable baseball person.” Wallach had been asked how he would describe his managing style and he said “Work at it, interact, communicate, and hopefully guys will take to what I’m saying. That’s pretty much what it comes down to. It’s about the players. You have to put them in the right spots to succeed. That’s probably my biggest job. Have them play hard every day and put them in the right spot so they can be successful.” It seems as if nothing but positives come out when people around baseball talk about Wallach. He has been on countless managerial lists, so it’s only a matter of time until someone gives him a chance. I could easily see him in Royal blue, managing the Royals.

MLB:  Greenville Drive

Gabe Kapler 

Kapler is my dark horse candidate and one that I think will have a successful career managing if he ever decides to do just that. He managed one season in the minors, for the Boston Red Sox as manager of their Single-A affiliate, the Greenville Drive, for one season in 2007. He didn’t have a successful campaign(58-81) but he learned a lot that one season and used that to return to the big leagues in 2008. Since he retired in 2011 he has worked around baseball, whether it be as a television analyst or as a coach for Team Israel in the World Baseball Classic in 2013. What intrigues me about Kapler is his solid baseball mind. Kapler penned a column last year where he discussed how many current and former players would be wise to smarten up to advanced metrics. It is that forward thinking that I like and is of a guy who doesn’t seem to be trapped into a box with his way of thinking. Kapler might not have much experience, and might very well need a few more years managing in the minors, but with managers getting hired today with no experience whatsoever, it’s not completely foolish to keep Kapler in the conversation. To add to that, I have to feel that him being retired from the game for only a few years makes him more likely to understand the current player and his plight. If Kapler decides he wants to manage, I’m pretty convinced he will be one of the good ones.

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That is my top five list. You can play at home and add yours as well. I know guys like Joey Cora and Manny Acta came to mind for me as well. If you noticed I picked a few guys with no big league experience and I did that for a reason; I just don’t think it is that important. There is a bunch of former big league managers that get cycled in and out of jobs only for the reason that they have experience, even if it is not a good one. The game is evolving and even the guy in the dugout needs to evolve. Managers like Mike Matheny of St. Louis and Brad Ausmus(who I’ve always liked, even back when he was a player) have shown that you don’t need managerial experience to succeed in the big leagues. In no way am I saying this entire fiasco in Kansas City is Yost’s fault, either. The hitters aren’t hitting and at some point they have to take the blame for it and GM Dayton Moore should shoulder part of the blame. But the Royals appear to be going nowhere fast with Yost in charge and if things don’t get better I can see a change happening. If that happens, I would like to see a fresh young face take over the ballclub. Unfortunately, I have a feeling it will be someone like Yost who doesn’t challenge the status quo. That is unfortunate, because the option is there; you just have go out on a limb and take it.

 

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