Baseball BeatOctober 31, 2008
The New Testament of Fielding Stats and Awards
By Rich Lederer

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.


Correction: my involvement with that page is simply as host, and minor editorial review. As a wiki, that page, and every page on that site, should be considered a collaborative effort.

As for Garrett Anderson, it is not so much an indictment against the voters for choosing GA, but simply the incredible dearth of fielding talent in LF, as well as the way Dewan provided the ballot.

For example, Schumaker was not on the ballot in LF. Indeed, he was nowhere on the ballot in any OF position. Same deal with Gary Mathews. I registered my complaint on this matter with Dewan. My preferred route is to find all players with at least 500 innings, then find his primary position. Dewan choses instead to find all players with at least 500 innings at one position. Endy Chavez is an annual loser in this method.

Anyway, if I do it as I propose, of the top 30 players I place in LF based on total innings played anywhere, GA is ranked 13th, comfortably behind the top 10.

Josh Willingham and Luke Scott are not thought of highly by their fans, according to the Fans Scouting Report. And yet Poz put them ahead of GA. That's not to say he is wrong or right, but you have to be careful to indict or praise someone based on the single selection or non-selection of GA.

Compared to the Angels fans who evaluated GA on my site, Rich Lederer would fall on the low-side of their opinions. Again, not to say that Rich is wrong or right. He probably doesn't have much support from the Angels fans, vis-a-vis the other fans of other teams evaluating their own LF.

As for the indictment against Murphy, that certainly seems reasonable. Adrien Beltre ranked #1 by 8 of the 10 panelists, he was #2 by the Fans (just a smidge behind Rolen FWIW), and Murphy put Beltre tenth. He put Crawford 9th, as 8 of the 10 panelists put him #1 or #2.

Perhaps the best way to handle the situation is that you have 12 voters, and the 2 voters who are most at odds with the other 10 doesn't get to count his ballot that year.

Yes, I agree that you have to be careful about criticizing a certain player being included among the best or a certain voter's selections. The whole reason you have 10 or 12 voters is to get a smattering of selections and then to look for a consensus. If you start dismissing or discarding individual selections that you don't "agree with" or even individual voters who occasionally seem to have bizarre picks or even reasonable ones that you don't "agree with," then you taint the whole process.

I have GA as +5 (per 150) in 08 and solidly positive in most other years, so I think he is pretty decent although fairly obviously not one of the best outfielders. As Tango says, LF is becoming or is presently almost a DH storage facility, with players like Manny, Dunn, Bay, Burrell, Cust, etc.

I do agree about Murphy though. You definitely want to keep the integrity of the list intact, and if any one of them seems to have consistently anomalous selections, they should get the boot. I have never heard of him before, but given his selections, you do have to wonder why he was chosen in the first place.

Mike Murphy is, to put it kindly, not the sharpest tool in the shed. He's a host on WSCR's The Score, and maybe my opinion of him would be a little higher if I was exposed to him in some other format (I loathe almost all sports talk radio) but I've never been impressed.

Dewan appears on Murph's show every week for his "Stat of the Week" segment (the Stat of the Week section on his website is just a transcript of that), which is probably why he was picked.

First of all, as an Angels fan, I would say GA is pretty decent for a defensive LF when 100% healthy. (I think 2008 was the most healthy he was in years.) Keep in mind that players like Pat Burrell, Adam Dunn, and Manny Ramirez are LF.

Also, I would never discount a voter's rankings, the whole point is to get a range of intelligent opinions. But a good talk radio host's job is to provoke and be fired up, not to be educated. I understand the rationale with Dewan wanting to get wide exposure. I think Murphy should be told to educate himself better for next year's voting, and if he blows it again, then he has to go.

And whoever voted for Casey Blake as a top 10 3B should lose their vote. Its no surprise or defense and team improved after he was sent out. He only caught balls hit right at him, he can't move right or left.

Ha, I find it amusing that Murph is getting ripped on.
I think him and Dewan are friends. Dewan is on Murph's show on The Score every week during baseball season.
Murphy is known as one of the original "Bleacher Bums" from the 60's.

Casey Blake: From 2003-08, UZR has Blake as a shade below league average. The Fans Scouting Report has Blake as a shade below league average.

While not a top 10 3B, it's not "fireable" offense.

This is just more evidence how we simply need to ignore the evaluations of any single person, regardless of how highly regarded that person may be.

While I understand that you want to chose voters who can give another opinion, if any voter consistently across the board thinks he knows defense more than the consensus, I think that indicates he isn't adding to the process, he is tainting the process.

Outliers like him would be more tolerable when there are a lot more voters, say 40 and above, but when there is only 10-12 voters, if he is consistently thinking differently on who is the best defensively, it brings to question his qualifications to cast a vote.

And given the info above on why he probably was chosen...

I liked this one--

"his 36-point margin of victory, 90 points compared to 64 points for second-place finisher Evan Longoria"

Otherwise, great article, great picks!

I'm surprised to see Ryan Braun so low for left fielders (ie. below Pat Burrell). While he wasn't a very good 3rd basemen, he has great range and an above average arm. I even would say he has the potential to win a Gold Glove some day when he gets more familiar with the position.

The credibility of these fielding awards is very suspect. Its web site says that "I appointed a panel of ten experts". After reviewing the votes of each expert, it is very obvious that many of the panel members are not experts. One member's votes were completely off the wall. Also a panel appointed by one person is not independent. If this award is going to compare itself to and criticize the Gold Glove award, it should require that each of the panelists see all 30 teams play at least 20 times during the season.
Not to hard to do with MLB EI.

However, they did get Jimmy Rollins right. Rollins has been the best defensive shortstop in the major leagues for the 2006 - 2008 period.
Carlos Beltran has not been a number one CF for the last two years. Victorino was much better than Beltran in 2008. Victorino has better tools.
Better arm and more speed.

I am not positive on this, but I think that when I read the first edition of the Fielding Bible they sampled a lot of the defensive plays throughout the season. But maybe I am mistaken...

Any fielding survey among "experts" that does not include Adrian Gonzalez receiving votes at 1B speaks more to the "experts'"lack of knowledge than it compliments the winner of the actual award.

I found it strange that Rod Barajas finished sixth in voting and Carlos Ruiz did not get one vote. The Phillies did not pick up Barajas' option
last year because he simply was not as good as Ruiz. I saw about 150 Phillies games in 2007 and it was very clear that Ruiz was better than Barajas. I saw Barajas play about 10 times in 2008
and his skills had not improved over 2007. So why did this happen? Is this just a matter of the panelists not seeing enough baseball? With the gold glove voting, the managers and coaches actually get to see all the players when they
compete head on. I highly doubt that the ten
panelists have seen all the players. The web site
says visual obeservation is very important, but are the ten panelists really seeing all the players?

jmahonxx, Beltran is the best CF in baseball, and it's not even close. I love how you question the credibility of these awards, then complain that Beltran won instead of an obviously inferior defender in Victorino.

When say visual observation, I think they may mean they may have access to the video from which +/- is compiled.

While I think these awards do an excellent job with fielders in fair territory, there is a lot of debate on how to rank catchers. The only stats we have are enormously dependent on the pitchers and park they play in, and we're not even sure how much to weight the various aspects of catching. Many people believe "handling the staff" is the most important thing, and that is almost impossible to get a number on.

But no defensive metric can accurately grasp how a catcher "handles the pitching staff." So that is nothing new, they are just doing their best trying to evaluate a catchers defense knowing that they are going to miss some things.

Steve, its a matter of opinion, but Beltran is not the best CF in baseball and Victorino is not
inferior. I have seen both players over the past two seasons many many times.