When it comes to baseball, there are casual fans, hometown fans, old-school fans, know-it-all fans, rabid fans and people like me. I'm a 365 day-a-year fan who enjoys all the nuances of the actual game as well as all the minutia of the hot stove season. A day doesn't go by when I don't check the transactions or think about free agent signings or muse about the topic of my next column. And, I'm not at all apologetic about my passion for the game because it has been a wonderful distraction in my life. As a wise man once said, "Life is more worthwhile when you can be passionate about something trivial."
For me, being a member of The Society of American Baseball Research (SABR) is a delightful extension of my fandom. The brilliant people who write for the Society always make me think and open my eyes to the endless history of this great game. So, when they recently published their "SABR Defensive Index" (SDI) for 2013, it got me thinking about how far we've come in the last 30 years in regards to judging defensive excellence on the field. For many years, I was a critic of the annual Gold Glove awards because they never seemed to be based on reality, only reputation. The final straw was in 1999, when Rafael Palmeiro only played 34 games at 1B (and 128 at DH) but still won the AL Gold Glove. Of course, he won it in '97 and '98, so he must still be the best 1B in the league, right?
Since then, researchers have created defensive metrics that quantify the performance of major league players on the field, so we're getting closer to the truth. Currently, the SDI ratings are incorporated into the Rawlings Gold Glove selection process and account for about 25% of the results when added to the votes from managers and coaches. So, let's look at the SDI results and how they compare to the actual Gold Glove winners for 2013. The SDI numbers represent defensive runs saved relative to the league average at the position.
* C - Salvador Perez - At age 23, the Royals backstop won his first Gold Glove, and it was richly deserved...his 7.6 SDI was far and away the best rating and while Joe Mauer finished 2nd, he won't even be a catcher in 2014.
* 1B - Mike Napoli - Amazingly, this former catcher was extraordinarily good at 1B for the Red Sox with a 7.8 rating, but his lack of reputation probably worked against him. Nick Swisher and Eric Hosmer were very close and Hosmer captured the Gold Glove.
* 2B - Dustin Pedroia - Another World Series winner, he clearly outdistanced the field with a rating of 11.6 and was rewarded with the Gold Glove.
* 3B - Manny Machado - Here's a case of perception being reality. If you watched the highlights all season, you just knew he was the best. Machado lapped the field with a 32.4 rating and was justly awarded the Gold Glove. The next highest rating at the position was 11.0.
* LF - Alex Gordon - Clearly the best at this position with a 10.5 rating, he captured his 3rd consecutive Gold Glove.
* CF - Lorenzo Cain - This is a definite head-scratcher. Cain only played 115 games, so you can see why voters might have shied away despite his 12.1 rating, but there were 11 more players who finished ahead of Gold Glove winner Adam Jones, including Jacoby Ellsbury at 10.4.
* 3B - Nolan Arenado - The type of player who might have been ignored 20 years ago, his 21.5 SDI was impressive and the voters agreed.
* SS - Andrelton Simmons - In similar fashion to Machado, his 29.3 rating was more than 20 points ahead of the next SS. His first Gold Glove probably won't be his last.
* RF - Gerardo Parra - Won the Gold Glove in LF for the 2011 season and his 18.9 rating propelled him to another for 2013.
In case you're curious, here's a list of the defensive players with the worst ratings. In other words, their defense was "offensive."
What about pitchers, you ask? Well, R.A. Dickey had the best rating in the AL and won the Gold Glove while Adam Wainwright captured the hardware in the NL despite finishing behind eight other hurlers, including SDI leader Patrick Corbin.
Don't forget to take your glove to the ballpark.