Pittsburgh Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen won the National League Gold Glove award for the 2012 season, as announced late Tuesday night, despite the fact that he may not even be the best center fielder on his own team.
Offensively, McCutchen had a phenomenal 2012 campaign. On the other side of the ball, while he did lead all NL outfielders in fielding percentage (which is a relatively meaningless statistic for outfielders that basically measures how many times a player lost a ball in the sun during the season), he lagged way behind in essentially all advanced defensive metrics, such as Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) and Fielding Wins Above Replacement (fWAR).
You see, there is a very basic problem with how the winner of the Gold Glove awards are selected. Jeff Moore outlines it well in this post.
MLB Players and coaches are the ones who vote on the awards, rather than baseball writers and media members. Jeff couldn’t have stated the problem any better:
“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.”
It’s great that McCutchen won the award, and I couldn’t be more thrilled that he’s beginning to get the kind of publicity a player of his caliber deserves. I believe he’d have been the NL MVP had the Pirates qualified for the postseason.
But he doesn’t deserve this. McCutchen is nothing like the best defensive center fielder in the National League. He’s got the range, but that doesn’t make up for his utter lack of an arm or the fact that he still has trouble playing balls off the center field wall in his home stadium.
While they are certainly flawed, advanced defensive statistics support this claim. McCutchen ranked eighth out of nine qualified NL center fielders in fielder rating at -6.9. Fellow Gold Glove candidate Michael Bourne led the entire league at +22.9 and was the only NL player with a number over 10. McCutchen ranked ninth out of 11 qualified NL center fielders and 17th of 20 overall with a -6.9 UZR. Bourne was the only major leaguer with a rating above +8.5, and he finished at +22.4.
As for the claim that McCutchen may not even be the best center fielder on his own team? We all saw the man who played 338 innings in left field for the Pirates this season: 24-year-old Starling Marte. We remember that cannon attached to his shoulder which we call an “arm.” We remember how fast the man is and that his range certainly rivals McCutchens. What we don’t remember, though, is Marte in center field.
In fact, he spent just 13 innings patrolling PNC Park’s central grass this season, despite spending 76 of the 97 games he played for AAA-Indianapolis in center field. Sure, he made three errors compared to McCutchen’s one in about a thousand more innings, but nearly all of that can be attributed to learning a new position at a new stadium in addition to the sheer nerves associated with finally reaching the big leagues.
In the end, I think Marte deserves a shot at taking the all-important center field job away from McCutchen. I’ve heard the argument that this is “McCutchen’s team” and that it would be wrong to remove the team’s leader from his primary position. That’s garbage. As Herm Edwards said, “You play to win the game.” If having Starling Marte in center field gives you the best shot at winning the game night in and night out, he needs to be there. McCutchen’s arm strength is much better suited for left field, and his range will still be a factor in PNC’s wide-open left.
Until then, let’s congratulate McCutchen on winning this thing. Who knows, this may not be his last Gold Glove. If coaches and players continue to decide the award and advanced statistics are essentially ignored, I’m sure he’ll be in the Gold Glove running for years to come.
It just might be as a left fielder, rather than a center fielder.
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