In the last two days the gold glove awards have been given out for both the AL and the NL. They are supposed to go to the best defensive player in the league at their position and are voted by players and managers. It seems that instead of going to the best defensive players they are going to the players who make the most diving catches. How else can you explain the fact that Nate McLouth won a gold glove?
Does anyone really think that he was one of the top three outfielders in the National League this year? Well, I guess a lot of players and managers do. I don't know exactly what their votes are based on, but they are probably based on two things: errors and spectacular plays. Think about it for a moment, when do you notice a player's defense? Either when he makes a mistake or when he makes a great play. But how often does that happen in a season? Most outfielders don't make a lot of errors, so it pretty much comes down to great plays. And sure McLouth made a lot of great looking plays. But you know why he made a lot of great looking plays? Because he is a bad fielder.
Yeah that's right, he made a lot of diving catches and "hustle plays" because he takes terrible routes to the ball and has poor instincts. He makes a lot of routine plays look more difficult because he puts himself behind the eight-ball from the start. He is to outfielders what Derek Jeter is to shortstops (minus the rings, women, fame and soap opera feuds).
If you look at the numbers, Nate McLouth is not only not among the best outfielders in the league, he is among the worst. Take a look at Bill James fielder rating based on the number of outs a player makes on balls hit in his area. (Here is the link, just click on plus/minus leaders 2008. There is also a more thorough explanation of the statistic on the site.) And what do you know, the lowest outfielder in the entire all of baseball last year was Nate McLouth. And it's not like it was some kind of fluke, he has the worst ratings for center fielders over the past three years. On the positive he did better than such defensive greats as Pat Burrell, Manny Ramirez, and Adam Dunn over the past three years (unfortunately not in 2008 though).
Think about that, one of the worst fielders got a gold glove. It would be like giving Daniel Cabrera the Cy Young. They literally could not have picked a worse candidate. Now that is not true for all of their selections, which did not include any terrible defensive players. Usually they picked average defensive players and not the best ones. Their omission of Chase Utley was particularly glaring.
Now I am not writing this to rag on Nate McLouth, he had an outstanding offensive year last year and is a good overall player who is probably playing out of position at center field. All I am trying to say is that the Gold Glove award seems to be awarded almost at random. All people notice is who makes the spectacular plays, it would be like giving the silver slugger award to whoever hit the most 450 foot homeruns, or the Cy Young to the pitcher who through over 98 MPH the most. Defense isn't about making a few great plays, its about getting outs and until players and managers realize that they are going to lessen the value of the gold glove.