The Gold Glove Award, once the standard for defensive excellence, has taken a hit on it’s reputation over the past decade as advanced metrics have taught us more about how to properly evaluate defensive play, and rightly so. What has become painfully obvious, as baseball fans become more and more educated, is just how much popularity and offensive production play into what is supposed to be a defense-only award.
Andrew McCutchen is a good center fielder. He’s not great, by the standards of some of the amazing outfielders currently in the game, but he’s good. Many of the new defensive metrics (of which I am a huge proponent) will argue otherwise, with some classifying him as slightly below average by major league standards. However, even the creators of those statistics would admit that they are hardly a finished product, and are subject to wild fluctuations from year to year.
But what virtually everyone will agree on is that McCutchen is no better of a center fielder than he was last year, or the year before.
Yet this year, the Pittsburgh Pirates centerfielder is one of the finalists for the once-prestegious Gold Glove Award. In fact, if you trust FanGraphs.com’s version of defensive WAR, he was worse than he was last season.
So why the nomination this season?
Again I will point you in the direction of what has become two main criteria for a Gold Glove award – popularity and offensive production. In essence, Andrew McCutchen finally hit well enough this season to win an award for his defense.
This is the problem with the Gold Glove award. The idea is still as solid as the golden trophy awarded to the winners, but the selection process is badly flawed.
McCutchen’s breakout season, along with his second straight All-Star game appearance and participation in the Home Run Derby on a national stage, helped bring him into the spotlight around the game, something that is easily lost when playing in Pittsburgh. For an award that is voted on by major league managers and coaches, that kind of publicity is significant.
But the real problem is due to the fact that managers and coaches are the ones doing the voting. Perhaps decades ago when this award began, managers were among the most qualified to vote on such an award. But gone are the days when major league managers see more baseball than, say, baseball writers. Now, in the age of Extra Innings packages and games on our phones and iPads, writers and even fans get to see many more games than managers and coaches, who are a little busy focusing on the game they’re playing that night.
The fact that McCutchen’s nomination for this award and his emergence on a national stage have followed a parallel path is no coincidence, and it takes away from the prestige of the award. McCutchen is a good outfielder and perhaps deserving of the award, but that decision should be made by those who see him play every day, not by opposing managers who recognize his name on the ballot from the Home Run Derby.