The New Testament of Fielding Stats and Awards
With the World Series behind us, the baseball world now turns its attention to award winners, free agents, the Rule 5 draft, and the hot stove league. We will cover all of these matters &ndash and much more – this off-season.
The Fielding Bible Awards, chosen by a ten-man panel, were announced yesterday. The balloting is distinct from the Rawlings Gold Glove Awards. The latter has been in existence since 1957 and the voting has been conducted among MLB managers and coaches since 1965. In addition to the makeup of the voters, the Fielding Bible Awards are different from the Gold Gloves in that the former is designed to honor the best defensive player at each position in the majors (as opposed to naming winners for each of the two leagues) and the outfield spots are broken down by left field, center field, and right field.
Here are the Fielding Bible Awards for the 2008 season (with commentary provided by John Dewan of Baseball Info Solutions):
First Base – Albert Pujols, St. Louis
He was the only repeat winner last year, and now Albert Pujols is the only three-time winner of the Fielding Bible Award. But this time it wasn’t so easy. Mark Teixeira gave him a run for his money. Pujols finished with 90 points while Teixeira pulled in 88. One flip-flop would have garnered Teixeira at least a tie for first. Five panelists gave first place to the slugger from St. Louis while the late-season Angels star earned four. Former Angel Casey Kotchman received the final firstplace vote.
Second Base – Brandon Phillips, Cincinnati
This one surprised me, but it shouldn’t have. Brandon Phillips finished third in our voting last year and now has won his first Fielding Bible Award with 86 points. I voted for Chase Utley, who had the highest Plus/Minus figure at any position this year (+47 – see the Kenny Rogers discussion below for more information about the Plus/Minus System). But the panelists who watched Phillips play more regularly have seen what he can do on the field and rewarded him accordingly.
Third Base – Adrian Beltre, Seattle
It was a runaway victory for Adrian Beltre. Beltre won the award two years ago in the closest vote we’ve ever had (the tiebreaker was invoked) but this year his 36-point margin of victory, 90 points compared to 64 points for second-place finisher Evan Longoria, was the second largest margin of victory in this year’s voting. Longoria showed that the rookie hype for him wasn’t just about his prodigious bat. He can flash the leather as well.
Shortstop – Jimmy Rollins, Philadelphia
Jimmy Rollins won his first Gold Glove last year, and this year he wins his first Fielding Bible Award. The year started slow for Rollins. He didn’t begin to show up on the Plus/Minus leaderboard at shortstop until well into the season, thanks primarily to his early-season injury. But he got it going and overtook Yunel Escobar in the last week of the season to win the Plus/Minus Crown with +23. Rollins also led all shortstops with the most Good Fielding Plays (65) by a good margin over Orlando Cabrera (55) and Erick Aybar (55). Rollins’ 88 points in the voting, compared to 59 points for runner-up J.J. Hardy, represented this year’s largest margin of victory. Escobar finished third in our voting, Aybar fourth and Cabrera sixth.
Left Field – Carl Crawford, Tampa Bay
He’s baaack! And he didn’t even have to play a full season to win it. Carl Crawford missed most of the month of September but still wins the Fielding Bible Award in left field for 2008 with 87 points. It’s his second award, having won it in 2006. In 2007, he finished second to Eric Byrnes by a mere three points. Despite the missed time, Crawford held off Willie Harris’ late run for the highest Plus/Minus total in left field (+23 to +22).
Center Field – Carlos Beltran, New York Mets
Like Carl Crawford in left, Carlos Beltran won the award for center fielders in 2006, but he finished second to Andruw Jones in a close battle in 2007. Now he wins his second Fielding Bible Award with 82 points. Minnesota’s rookie speedster Carlos Gomez (74 points) finished second. Unlike Crawford, Beltran played injury free in 2008, starting 158 games in center field for the Mets, the highest total of his career.
Right Field – Franklin Gutierrez, Cleveland
Franklin Gutierrez led all right fielders in Plus/Minus last year with +20, although he did not win the Fielding Bible Award. To show that 2007 was no fluke, however, Gutierrez led them again this year with +29. Here’s the amazing part: he did it while playing only 88 games in right field in 2007 and only 97 games this year. Gutierrez received 85 total points from our panel and is a first-time Fielding Bible Award winner in right field.
Catcher – Yadier Molina, St. Louis
Maybe his brothers are getting jealous; they’re creeping up on him. But it’s a repeat Fielding Bible Award for Yadier Molina in 2008 (88 points). Jose Molina finished tied for second with Jason Kendall of the Brewers this year at 63 points. With Bengie Molina placing eighth in the voting, it’s the first time any set of two brothers, much less three, have cracked the top ten in our Fielding Bible Award voting. That record may stand for quite some time.
Pitcher – Kenny Rogers, Detroit
Greg Maddux of the Dodgers has won the National League Gold Glove Award for pitchers in 17 of the last 18 years. The American League Award has gone to Kenny Rogers of Detroit in five of the last eight years. But are they truly the two best fielding pitchers in baseball? Were they really the best in each and every year that they won? Aren’t these two guys getting pretty old? Aren’t there some younger studs out there to take their places?
The complete vote tally can be viewed here.
While in general agreement with the voters as to the winners, I was surprised to learn that Garret Anderson placed fifth among left fielders. I can't imagine that he deserves to rank in the top half of his peers, much less fifth. The good news is that no single voter rated him higher than fourth. Rob Neyer and Joe Posnanski earned even more respect from me (although I don't know if that is possible given how highly I think of them) as the only two panelists who didn't vote for GA at all.
As opposed to Neyer and Posnanski, I have to wonder about Mike Murphy. Not only did the latter rank Anderson fourth but he had Robinson Cano as his No. 2 second baseman (while listing Chase Utley ninth, Dustin Pedroia tenth, and excluding Mark Ellis altogether). Murphy's credibility as a voter can also be questioned by virtue of his rankings for Fielding Bible Award winners Albert Pujols (fourth), Brandon Phillips (third), Adrian Beltre (tenth), Jimmy Rollins (third), Carl Crawford (ninth), Carlos Beltran (fifth), Franklin Gutierrez (sixth), Yadier Molina (second), and Kenny Rogers (second). Furthermore, the top players Murphy voted for at second base, third base, and shortstop didn't even rank in the top ten in total points. I have no idea why the Chicago sports radio host was asked to be on the panel, but he should be removed prior to next year's balloting if it is the goal of the Fielding Bible Awards to be taken seriously as the preeminent word on defensive excellence.
Most of the panelists value the Plus/Minus System that was developed by Dewan. A check of the 2008 and 2006-08 leaders and trailers passes my smell test. The bottom line is that fielding systems employing play-by-play data such as Dewan's Plus/Minus, David Pinto’s Probabilistic Model of Range (PMR), and Mitchel Lichtman's Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) are much more accurate than traditional defensive statistics like putouts, assists, errors, fielding percentage, and even range factors. For more on advanced defensive metrics, be sure to check out Evaluating Fielding by Tom Tango, the noted sabermetrician.