Friday, January 30, 2015

Will the Pirates Challenge the Cardinals in 2015?

The Pittsburgh Pirates may have finished in second place (88-74) last season - two games behind the Cardinals (90-72) in the NL Central - but they actually were a better team, saber-metrically speaking.  Pittsburgh's Run Differential (+51) was significantly better than the Cardinals' (+12), who really had no business winning 90 games - but they did.  Call it luck or clutch performances or brilliant managing or whatever you want to call it - but according to Bill James' Pythagorean Winning Percentage, St Louis should have won just 83 games.

In fact, the Cardinals' team WAR was just 3.5 (above league average) in 2014 - 5th best in the National League.  The two best NL teams - Washington Nationals (+16.6) and LA Dodgers (+15.8) were both eliminated in the first round of the playoffs - and the third best team - Pirates (+9.2) - didn't get past the wild card game - eliminated by the eventual World Series champions - San Francisco Giants (+5.1) - who "on paper" were just the 4th best team in the NL.  Of course, they took care of the Cardinals in a five game NLCS before eventually knocking off the KC Royals in a seven game Fall Classic.

Much has happened since the Cardinals' season ended in San Francisco last October.  In the wake of  the Oscar Taveras tragedy, the need to fill a glaring hole in right field produced the Shelby Miller (and Tyrell Jenkins) for Jason Heyward (and Jordan Walden) trade.  Last season, the right field position for the Cardinals generated a WAR that was -3.1 (below league average) - only the Cincinnati Reds (-3.3) fared worse in the entire National League.

What was a black hole last year figures to be a shining star this year, however.

With Yadier Molina's injury-plagued season, Cardinals' catching was also significantly below average - but that too, figures to change for the better this season.  Additionally, with Kolten Wong's anticipated improvement at second base, what was once a weakness in 2014 should now be a strength in 2015.  Wong could very well have an All Star-caliber season in 2015; certainly, greatly improved over last year.

Optimistically, it's not unreasonable to anticipate a better offensive season from veteran left fielder Matt Holliday after a down year, as well; and despite the projections for Matt Adams to merely repeat last year's production at first base, I think he'll improve; plus the right-handed swinging backup Mark Reynolds should help spark additional offense against left-handed pitching.

The only position that may see a downward shift in production is at shortstop, where Jhonny Peralta performed far above reasonable expectations in 2014; especially defensively.  It was a career year, so it's unlikely he'll be able to repeat it.  Speaking of "career years", Matt Carpenter had one in 2013 - but after moving from second base to third base last year, his production slipped quite a bit; but it's not unreasonable to expect better numbers from him in 2015.

Despite Trevor Rosenthal's 45 saves last season, the entire bullpen (aside from Pat Neshek) had a down year; it's likely going to be much better (and healthier) this season.

The starting rotation did a good job last season; and with a return to form from a healthy Michael Wacha. he could pick up where he left off in the latter part of 2013.  That, along with injury-free seasons from Adam Wainwright & company, the rotation should be among the best in the league this season.  If Jaime Garcia can contribute even close to 100 quality innings this year, that would be a bonus; an unexpected bonus, actually.

In other words, there is reason for optimism for the Cardinals heading into the new season.  If all goes as planned, the Redbirds should return to the postseason for a franchise-record fifth straight year; and in the process, capture their third straight NL Central title.

If St Louis is going to be challenged in the Central, the most likely candidate is still the Pirates, although they have some issues that may prevent them from making a serious run.

First and foremost, they lost their fine catcher, Russell Martin (5.4 WAR) to free agency (Toronto Blue Jays).  Meanwhile, his replacement - Francisco Cervelli - is going to be adequate, but hardly an All Star caliber player (In a seven year MLB career, Cervelli has appeared in 250 games, posting a career WAR of 4.0).

Like the Cardinals in 2013, the Pirates were an offensive juggernaut last season; in fact, the WAR from their "non pitchers" was 12.3 above league average, which was tops in the NL.  However, the loss of Martin and the recent trade of right fielder Travis Snider to Baltimore (2.5 WAR) for a minor league pitching prospect - is bound to slow down the offense this season.  In Snider's absence, Pittsburgh is planning to use rookie Gregory Polanco, who had limited success in 89 games last year (.235/.307/.363), but may or may not pan out this year.  They've also added Corey Hart (-0.5 WAR) as a possible alternative in right field (or first base) - although his better days are well behind him.

Last season, the Pirates' pitching (-3.1 below league average WAR) was their weak link, and unfortunately for them, it's probably going to be even weaker in 2015, after losing free agent Edinson Volquez (2.0 WAR) to the KC Royals and replacing him with over-the-hill A.J. Burnett (-0.3 WAR with the Phillies), who is now 37 years old and fading fast.  At best, their starting rotation is shaky; at worst, a disaster.

If the Pirates are going to contend, they're going to need stellar seasons once again from guys like Andrew McCutchen (6.0 WAR), Starling Marte (5.6 WAR) and Josh Harrison (5.2 WAR).  Plus, they need Pedro Alvarez to return to 2013 form, when he led the NL with 36 home runs, primarily batting in the cleanup spot in the lineup; however, that's a long shot.  This is a major hole in their lineup as it stands right now; and without a viable number four guy, there's little chance for the Pirates to be raising the Jolly Roger enough times to overtake St Louis.

The Pirates are still a good team, but they won't be as good as they were the last two seasons.

The Cardinals will be better than they were last year; maybe even better than they were in 2013, when they went to the World Series.  Whether or not they make it back to the Fall Classic in 2015 remains to be seen.  Odds-makers are giving them a 12 to 1 shot of winning the World Series.

Odds makers are giving the Cubs the same shot of winning the World Series.  Seriously.  The Cubs.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

2015 NL Central Projections: Cardinals Overwhelming Favorite?

With all the recent hype surrounding the Chicago Cubs (new manager, new left-handed pitching ace, new center fielder, bold new prediction from first baseman to "win the NL Central"), the Las Vegas odds makers have given the lovable losers a legitimate shot to win the World Series (around 12 to 1?).

At the same time, unimpressed with the off-season moves of the St Louis Cardinals, those same odds-makers have downgraded last year's division champions - giving them about the same chance of winning the World Series as last year's cellar-dwelling Cubs.

That's just f***ing ridiculous.

Assuming WAR actually means something (generally speaking, it does), let's take a look at the entire NL Central's off-season moves, from a Wins Above Replacement perspective.  This will tell us if a team's additions, along with their subtractions actually figures to help them win more games in 2015.

Obviously, there are still some free agents floating around out there that could alter these projections; not to mention a few blockbuster trades that may happen before the season begins.  For now, here's the way things have gone for each team:

CARDINALS - 16 players that spent all or part of the 2014 season on the roster are gone.  The most notable subtractions are reliever Pat Neshek (2.3 WAR) and starter Shelby Miller (1.7 WAR).  Neshek - a free agent who had a career year in '14 - signed with the Houston Astros; Miller was traded to the Atlanta Braves in exchange for right fielder Jason Heyward (7.0 WAR) - who becomes a free agent at the end of this season; so this deal is a long term risk, but a short term bonanza.

All of the remaining 14 players that are gone had slightly negative WARs.  In fact, the grand total of the 16 subtractions is NEGATIVE 1.2 WAR.  Branch Rickey used to call the act of dumping a player with declining skills "Addition by Subtraction" - and that concept seems to apply here.

Obviously, the Heyward acquisition is the most significant of the front office's additions during the off-season, but there were four others:  Jordan Walden (0.9 WAR), Mark Reynolds (0.6 WAR), Dean Anna (0.2 WAR) and Matt Belisle (0.1 WAR).

Total WAR for additions:  8.8 - Add in 1.2 WAR from subtractions - NET GAIN: 10.0 WAR

CUBS - 8 players that spent all or part of the 2014 season on the roster are gone.  The most notable subtractions:  Jeff Samardzija (1.8 WAR - now a starting pitcher for the White Sox) and former third baseman Luis Valbuena (1.4 WAR) who was traded to the Houston Astros for center fielder Dexter Fowler (1.8 WAR).  All told, the Cubs gave up a total WAR of 1.8 in their subtractions.

Additions:  The biggest coup in the free agent market - left-handed ace Jon Lester (5.2 WAR) was a step in the right direction for the franchise with the worst pitching in the division last season (707 runs allowed).  They also signed former Cards closer Jason Motte (-0.1 WAR) - trying to make a comeback after TJS - and reacquired starting pitcher Jason Hammel (3.1 WAR) - However, the Hammel signing doesn't add to the team's total WAR since his contribution was already factored in from last season.  Along with the previously mentioned Fowler, the other additions include catcher Miguel Montero (0.6 WAR) and utility outfielder Chris Denorfia (0.1 WAR).

Total WAR for additions:  7.6 - Lost 1.8 WAR from subtractions - NET GAIN:  5.8 WAR

The rest of the NL Central have either regressed or improved only slightly:

REDS - 11 subtractions and 4 additions equals 1.1 WAR 

PIRATES - 11 subtractions and 5 additions equals NEGATIVE 3.9 WAR

BREWERS - 13 subtractions and 4 additions equals NEGATIVE 4.3 WAR

NL Central Projections for 2015 - The "Starting Point" for each team is their Pythagorean Winning Percentage from 2014 (Based on Run Differential).  As we can see, four out of the five NL Central teams won more games than their run differential would normally produce (especially the Cardinals):

Team         W-L in '14 vs Pythagorean  - 2015 W-L Projection

Cardinals         90-72           83-79                   93-69
Pirates              88-74           87-75                   83-79
Reds                 76-86           79-83                    80-82
Cubs                 73-89           71-91                   77-85
Brewers            82-80           80-82                   76-86

It looks like it's going to be a tight race for last place in the NL Central in 2015.  It seems as though the Cubbies might be able to escape the cellar; but just by the slimmest of margins.  Certainly, this isn't what all those delusional Cubs fans are expecting for the upcoming season - not to mention those Las Vegas odds-makers.  Sorry.  Please accept my condolences for another season of futility.

Maybe 2016 will be better.  But don't count on it.


Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Rick Reuschel Won 2 Gold Glove Awards - Deserved 12

What do Andy Messersmith, Jim Kaat, Phil Niekro, Steve Carlton, Joaquin Andujar and Fernando Valenzuela have in common?

They were all NL Gold Glove Award-winning pitchers who didn't deserve the honor.  In each case, the Gold Glove Award should have gone to just one guy:  Rick Reuschel.  All told, ten seasons of Gold Glove snubs are represented by these six fine NL pitchers (Messersmith and Kaat both won two in a row, and Niekro won three in a row).

How did this happen?  It may sound preposterous, but I have it figured out.

Andy Messersmith:  GG in '74 and '75 for no real reason; at least it had nothing to do with actually "fielding" his position well.  His Range Factor of 1.91 in '74 was slightly better than league average (1.88).  He followed that up with a 1.51 in '75, which was significantly worse than league average.  Let's face it:  He was chosen simply because he was a high profile free agent who was signed by the Dodgers in '74 - and they went on to play (and lose) in the World Series.  Somehow, the aura of all that notoriety lasted for another season; hence, the ridiculous second GG.

Rick Reuschel led the NL with a 2.77 Range Factor in '74 and a 2.95 in '75.

Jim Kaat:  GG in '76 and '77 for no real reason; except his reputation from all those GG seasons in the AL carried over in his first two seasons in the NL.  Kaat's Range Factor for both seasons was exactly 1.46.  These would be the last of 16 Gold Glove Awards Kaat would bag.  He actually deserved the first four.

Rick Reuschel led the NL with a 2.63 RF in '76 and a 2.57 in '77.

Phil Niekro:  3 straight GG - '78 (2.21 RF) - '79 (2.29 RF) & '80 (1.90 RF).  Niekro had never won before, so it was simply his time.  He was very good with the glove, but somebody else was better.

Rick Reuschel led the NL with a 2.52 RF in '78, a 2.86 RF in '79 and a 2.94 RF in '80.  Do we detect a trend yet?

Steve Carlton was about as "high profile" as it gets for a pitcher in '81.  He was a taciturn World Series champion in '80 and he was closing in on the 3000 career strikeout plateau.  Of course, that has nothing to do with "fielding" - which Carlton rarely did that season (1.18 RF).

Rick Reuschel led the NL with a 2.59 RF in '81.  Can you believe it?

Reuschel was out of commission for the '82 and '83 seasons.  When he came back in '84, he was still leading the NL with a 2.53 RF, but '82 World Series champion Joaquin Andujar posted a respectable 2.38 RF to take home the Gold.  He was colorful, and that's good enough here, folks.

By 1985, the opposing coaches and managers in the NL finally realized this Rick Reuschel fellow was pretty darned good with the glove.  He won GG number one with a 2.97 RF.

Fernando Valenzuela:  GG in '86 with a very nice 2.54 RF.  He almost deserved it.

Rick Reuschel led the NL with a 2.84 RF in '86, so it appears he should have won back-to-back Gold Glove Awards.  But no.

However, Reuschel led the NL with a 2.50 RF in '87.  Not coincidentally, his team - the San Francisco Giants - just happened to play the Cardinals in that season's NLCS, thus creating the perfect candidate for the GG:  Big Daddy!

For his career, the underrated Reuschel had a career 2.52 RF (compared to NL average 1.89 RF).  In the National League, only Greg Maddux was a better fielding pitcher in the history of the Gold Glove Award.  He was a guy who deserved all 18 of his Gold Gloves; proving that sometimes, they do get it right.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Gold Glove Debate: Was Clete Boyer Even Better Than Brooks Robinson?

Brooks Robinson was considered to be the greatest defensive third baseman in major league history.  Over his career, Robinson saved more runs with his glove at his position than anyone ever has - 293 to be exact (according to  His skills were genuine and widely appreciated by fans and sportswriters, alike - not to mention opposing coaches and managers who rewarded Robinson with sixteen consecutive Gold Glove Awards (1960 - 1975).

Not surprisingly, with 92% of the voters from the BBWAA supporting his inclusion, he became the first third baseman voted into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot, thirty-two years ago today - January 12, 1983.

Interestingly, early in his Gold Glove Award-winning career, there was another great defensive third baseman who may have been even better with the glove than Robinson:  Clete Boyer, of the New York Yankees.

Boyer wasn't much of a hitter, but he was an exceptional third baseman whose defensive skills were under appreciated - due to the fact that his playing days in New York (1960 - '66) happened to coincide with the peak of the Mickey Mantle/Roger Maris Era - with five straight trips to the World Series from '60 to '64.

By 1967, Boyer was playing third base in the National League as a member of the Atlanta Braves.  Despite nagging injuries and declining skills, he was still a top-notch third baseman - finally getting his one and only Gold Glove Award in '69.

He probably deserved a few more, based on a comparison between Boyer and Robinson over that seven year span when both were AL counterparts.  The key defensive metrics - Range Factor (putouts + assists per 9 innings played) and Total Zone Fielding Runs Above Average (Rtot) - obviously favor Boyer; however, Robinson had more playing time at third base, hardly ever missing a game; while Boyer was being used at second base and shortstop, I suppose out of necessity.

The year-by-year comparison:

Yr   Games - Robinson vs Boyer   Range Factor - Robinson vs Boyer    Rtot - Robinson vs Boyer

'60                 152               99                                 3.32              3.65                  17                 15
'61                 163              141                                2.97              3.78                  15                 30
'62                 162              157                                3.13              3.76                  18                 28
'63                 160              141                                3.07              3.43                  12                 14
'64                 163              123                                2.97              3.31                  17                 15
'65                 145              147                                3.05              3.45                   8                   8
'66                 157                85                                3.06              3.80                   4                  11
TOTALS     1102              893                                                                             91                121

Despite playing 209 fewer games at third base, Boyer's defensive skills were worth 30 more runs than Robinson's.  That is obviously attributed to Boyer's overwhelming advantage in Range Factor.  In all fairness, Boyer deserved the Gold Glove Award in '61, '62, '63 and '65.

Whereas Boyer's defensive skills had already peaked by the end of 1966, Robinson's were only getting better.  Over the next three seasons - from '67 through '69 - Robinson's glove work was an astounding 88 runs above average.  By then, there was absolutely no doubt that Brooks Robinson was the best defensive third baseman in the game.

Robinson's durability enabled his career as a third baseman to last for 2870 games - roughly twice as long as Boyer (1439 games).  When Boyer retired, his career Range Factor was 3.42 - compared to 3.20 for Robinson.

In the end, Boyer's glove was worth an extra 162 runs for his teams.  Had he been able to maintain that pace for as long as Robinson's career lasted, he may well have been regarded as The Best There Ever Was at the Hot Corner.

As it was, despite the seven Gold Gloves the other guy won in the seven-year comparison, it seems to me Clete Boyer was in fact, more Golden with the Glove.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Pujols Deserves More Gold Glove Credit

For eight straight seasons - from 2004 through 2011 - the National League's best defensive first baseman was a player better known for his offensive prowess:  Albert Pujols.  Certainly, Pujols was one of the greatest sluggers of all-time during his 11-year reign in St Louis, but he also happened to be the best defensive first baseman the Cardinals have employed since Keith Hernandez was traded away over 30 years ago.

As we have observed time and time again, the best defensive player at any given position is often passed over when the Gold Glove Awards are doled out.  Such was the case with Pujols, who received his first Gold Glove in 2006, then another in 2010.  That leaves six seasons unaccounted for - when players of lesser defensive prowess managed to claim the award.  Understandably, it's difficult for a player to be chosen in their first season at a position; still, the defensive metrics are clearly indicating it was Phat Albert - not Todd Helton, nor Derek Lee, nor Adrian Gonzalez nor Joey Votto - who should have bagged the Gold Glove Award each and every season between '04 and '11. 

Pujols' Range Factor and Defensive Runs Saved - Compared to League Avg & GG Winner is listed below for all eight seasons in question:

Yr   Pujols' Range Factor vs NL Avg (Run Differential)       GG Winner & RF & Run Dif

'04         10.57       vs 9.51    (+15)                                             Todd Helton         10.22      (+10)
'05         11.22       vs 9.65    (+9)                                               Derek Lee              9.38        (-4)
'06         10.55       vs 9.43    (+14)  GG
'07         9.84         vs 9.21    (+25)                                              Derek Lee              8.84         (-1)
'08         10.61       vs 9.34    (+18)                                              Adrian Gonzalez    9.12        (+1)
'09         10.84       vs 9.29    (+12)                                              Adrian Gonzalez    9.00        (+12)
'10         10.53       vs 9.23     (-3)    GG
'11         10.13       vs 9.33     (+7)                                               Joey Votto              9.54        (+7)

Funny how those Gold Glove Awards work sometimes.  2010 was actually a sub-par defensive season for Pujols, so naturally, he wins the Gold Glove Award.  There may have been a better candidate that year, but when you consider the larceny Derek Lee pulled off in two different seasons, we'll let this one slide.

When Albert flew the coop in 2012, his defensive prowess took a bit of a downward spike, which continued over the next two injury-plagued seasons for the now aging first baseman/DH.  It's unlikely he'll spend enough quality time at first base over the remainder of his career to qualify for another Gold Glove Award.  If he does win another, it's more likely his defensive metrics will be closer to Derek Lee's than the younger version of himself.

Re-Evaluating Gold Glove Credentials: Ryne Sandberg & Roberto Alomar

Roberto Alomar is widely regarded as one of the best - if not the best - defensive second basemen in major league history.  He certainly dazzled us with some unbelievable defensive wizardry over the course of his Hall of Fame career.  As his reward, Alomar won ten AL Gold Glove Awards between 1991 and 2001.

There was just one problem:  His defensive skills were actually, on average, below average.

Over the course of his career, his glove work as a second baseman actually cost his teams 30 runs.  His career Range Factor (Putouts + Assists per 9 innings) of 4.97 compares to a league average of 5.06.  Those aren't the types of numbers associated with the "best defensive second baseman of all-time" - but there they are.  This leads me to believe that there's more to great defense than making the isolated spectacular play which will be shown time and time again on ESPN or MLB Network.

It also leads me to believe that Alomar is highly overrated by just about everybody on the planet. ranks him at number 14 all-time for second basemen.

Here's a closer look at each Gold Glove Award-winning season for Alomar compared to who should have won the Gold Glove (if different):

Yr  RF vs League Avg   (Run Differential)   And the Winner Should Have Been...

'91   4.94    vs 5.19            (-5)                       Lou Whitaker      5.21   (+11)
'92   4.69    vs 5.25            (+1)                      Scott Fletcher       5.53   (+8)
'93   4.78    vs 5.15            (-7)                       Scott Fletcher       5.39   (+21)
'94   4.65    vs 5.10            (-7)                       Scott Fletcher       5.69   (+8)
'95   5.10    vs 5.11            (-8)                       Fernando Vina      5.86   (0)
'96   5.35    vs 5.05            (-6)                       Mark McLemore  5.53   (+19)
'98   5.10    vs 4.85            (+11)
'99   5.07    vs 5.13            (+8)
'00   5.02    vs 5.03            (+7)
'01   4.70    vs 4.86            (-4)                      Frank Menechino   5.11  (+8)

Quite honestly, I never even heard of Frank Menechino before today.  Incidentally, neither Fletcher nor McLemore ever won a single Gold Glove Award; Vina won a couple playing for the Cardinals later in his career ('01 and '02).

Strangely enough, Alomar's best defensive season (Range Factor) came early in his career ('88), as a member of the San Diego Padres, but Ryne Sandberg was right in the middle of his nine-season Gold Glove run ('83 - '91).  There was no stopping him.

Sandberg was actually a good defensive second baseman - saving his team 57 runs over the course of his Hall of Fame career ( ranks him at number 9 all-time for second basemen).  His career Range Factor (5.31) beats the league average (5.21), but his best glove work came early in his career.

Here's a closer look at Sandberg's Gold Glove Award-winning seasons:

Yr   RF vs League Avg   (Run Differential)    And the Winner Should Have Been...

'83   6.02    vs 5.33           (+12)
'84   5.70    vs 5.41           (+12)
'85   5.76    vs 5.47           (-4)                          Glenn Hubbard      6.92   (+17)
'86   5.26    vs 5.21           (+3)                         Glenn Hubbard      5.88    (0)
'87   5.31    vs 5.19           (-13)                        Glenn Hubbard      5.78    (+5)
'88   5.39    vs 5.22           (+8)                         Roberto Alomar     5.63    (+7)
'89   5.10    vs 5.12           (-2)                          Robby Thompson   5.28  (+16)
'90   5.11    vs 5.01           (0)                            Jose Lind                5.50   (+6)
'91   5.12    vs 5.14           (+6)                         Robby Thompson    5.60   (+4)

Interestingly, in 1992, Jose Lind won the Gold Glove Award for the first and only time in his career, with a Range Factor of 5.59 (League Average was 5.18).  Strangely enough, his glove actually cost his team (Pittsburgh Pirates) two runs that season.  Meanwhile, Sandberg had a slightly lower Range Factor (5.36), yet he saved his team nine runs.  Why he didn't win his tenth straight Gold Glove Award is beyond me.  Incidentally, Hubbard never won a Gold Glove Award - Thompson bagged just one - in '93.

What does all this mean?  Winning a Gold Glove Award does not always translate into being the league's best defensive player.  On closer review, Roberto Alomar deserved three out of the ten Gold Gloves he actually won, plus another one he should have won.

Meanwhile, Sandberg legitimately earned two of the nine he actually won, plus the one late in his career he should have won.

For the casual fan, the significance of good defense is often lost when evaluating players for Hall of Fame consideration.  Lost in the shuffle are Bobby Grich (ranked number 7 all-time for second basemen) and Lou Whitaker (ranked number 11).  Both were terrific defensive second basemen - Grich saved 71 runs and Whitaker 77 runs for their teams over their careers.  Both are ranked higher than Craig Biggio (number 14 all-time), who just had his ticket to Cooperstown punched.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Did Jim Kaat Really Deserve 16 Gold Glove Awards?

There's very little doubt that Jim Kaat was the best fielding pitcher in the American League from 1962 through 1965.  At the conclusion of each of those four seasons, Kaat was fittingly honored with four consecutive Gold Glove Awards.

The key defensive metric - Range Factor - was significantly better than what was "league average" over that four season span (as shown below):

          Kaat    Lg Avg
1962 - 2.94  -   2.08
1963 - 3.13  -   1.99
1964 - 2.37  -   1.90
1965 - 2.69  -   2.04

For some reason, in 1966, Kaat's fielding prowess diminished significantly.  He was now just an average fielding pitcher, at best; although apparently, no one really noticed.  As he aged, his skills diminished further, and by the early '70's, Kitty Kaat was significantly below average with the glove, as opposed to the guys who should have won the Gold Glove (as shown below):
          Kaat    Lg Avg                   Revised GG Award Winner (Range Factor)
1966 - 1.92  -  1.99              Joe Horlen (3.50)
1967 - 2.02  -  1.96              Tommy John (3.63)  (Also won an imaginary '73 GG in the NL)
1968 - 1.77  -  1.89              Tommy John (3.25)
1969 - 1.41  -  1.88              Mel Stottlemyre (3.33)
1970 - 2.27  -  1.86              Joe Horlen (3.34)
1971 - 1.87  -  1.98              Mike Hedlund (2.76)  
1972 - 1.91  -  1.86              Mel Stottlemyre (2.42)
1973 - 1.44  -  1.86              Mel Stottlemyre (2.47)
1974 - 1.53  -  1.81              Steve Busby (2.37)
1975 - 1.60  -  1.87              Steve Busby (2.56)

Yet, Jim Kaat still managed to win a Gold Glove Award, year in and year out.

In 1976, Kaat moved to the National League, winning his last two Gold Glove Awards - bringing his grand total to sixteen consecutive - a record for pitchers; equaling the major league record for most consecutive Gold Gloves won (Brooks Robinson - the greatest defensive third baseman of all-time also won 16 in a row):
          Kaat   Lg Avg
1976 - 1.46  -  1.88        Rick Reuschel (2.63) (Revised GG Winner)
1977 - 1.46  -  1.85        Rick Reuschel (2.57)

More often than not, the managers and coaches polled for this prestigious award get it right.  They got it right the first four times with the affable Kaat.  Somehow, they failed to notice the regression over those final twelve seasons.  Consequently, they failed to notice the fielding prowess of Horlen (twice), John (twice), Stottlemyre (thrice), Hedlund (once), Busby (twice) and Reuschel (twice).

Kaat is a borderline Hall of Famer, who just missed getting voted in by the latest Veteran's Committee panel (needed 12 votes - got 10).  Certainly, those in favor of his induction cite the 287 career wins he amassed in 25 major league seasons; not to mention his impressive collection of Rawlings' Gold Glove Awards - sixteen to be exact.  Whereas this achievement earned Kaat a place in Rawlings' Hall of Fame in 1991, that grand total needs to be taken with a grain of salt when considering his true Hall of Fame credentials.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

How Bob Gibson Won 9 Gold Glove Awards

Over the years, Gold Glove Awards have been doled out to players with relatively poor defensive metrics.  Here is the first in a series of Gold Glove Award case histories:  

With nine NL Gold Glove Awards to his credit, Bob Gibson was considered to be one of the best fielding pitchers in major league history.  Every year, from 1965 through 1973, Gibson took home the Gold - no questions asked.

In reality, the greatest pitcher in St Louis Cardinals history was far from being the best fielding pitcher in the National League at any time during his career.  This shocking revelation came to me after reviewing his key defensive metric (Range Factor), which was below league average for every season he played - except 1967 and 1972; and even then, it was barely above league average.

For his career, Gibson's Range Factor was 1.80 - compared to a league average of 1.98.

Based on Range Factor (for legitimate starting pitchers), the likely Gold Glove replacements (with Range Factor in parenthesis):

1965 - Don Cardwell (2.77) - This would have been his only Gold Glove Award.

1966 - 1967 - Al Jackson (3.06 - 3.28) - These would have been his only Gold Glove Awards.  Ironically, he was a teammate of Gibson's for just these two seasons.

1968 - Don Drysdale (2.45) - This would have been his only Gold Glove Award in what would prove to be his last great season.

1969  - 1972 - Juan Marichal (2.55 - 2.52 - 2.58 - 2.24) - "Four-Time Gold Glove Award Winner" should have been on his Hall of Fame plaque.

1973 - Tommy John (3.26) - This would have been his only Gold Glove Award, despite the fact that his career Range Factor of 2.42 is well above average (1.88).

Meanwhile, the obvious question:  How did Gibson convince the managers and coaches throughout the National League (who cast the votes for this award) that he was indeed a Gold Glove-caliber player?

It must have had something to do with the events that took place on October 12, 1964 - Game 5 of the World Series vs the New York Yankees.  Staked to a 2-0 ninth-inning lead at Yankee Stadium, the first batter Gibson faced in the bottom of the ninth - Mickey Mantle - reached on an error by shortstop Dick Groat.  Gibson then struck out Elston Howard to set the stage for what was arguably, the greatest defensive play by a pitcher in World Series history.

The next batter - Joe Pepitone - hit a vicious line drive right back where it came from.  Of course, Gibson had a unique follow-though after delivering one of his pitches - falling off violently towards the first base line, with his back almost facing the batter; he was a prime target.  Sure enough, the ball smacked off his hip and careened towards the third base line; a certain base hit.

Gibson may not have been in a particularly good fielding position (he never was), but his superb reflexes made up for that.  Without hesitation, Gibson pounced on the ball - and in one motion, falling into foul territory past the third base line, he whirled around and threw a perfect strike to a flabbergasted Bill White at first base to retire an even more flabbergasted Pepitone by a half step.  Every time I see that replay, I ask myself "How did he do that?"

It was an impossible play which was performed on baseball's grandest stage - at Yankee Stadium, no less.  In that moment, a Gold Glove pitcher was born.  The fact that the next batter - Tom Tresh - tied the game with a home run, really added to the legend.  The Cardinals would regain the lead in the top of the tenth on a three-run Tim McCarver home run.  Gibson returned to the mound to nail down the 5-2 win, and unbeknownst to him, nail down the next nine Gold Glove Awards.

As history has proven, once a player has received that first one, there's a good chance they're in for the long haul - especially for a marquis player like Gibson who exuded confidence; whose athleticism allowed him to make sensational plays from time to time.  The fact that he was actually unable to make plays on balls others may have reached escaped the thought process of those starstruck managers and coaches for nine consecutive seasons.  But really, who could blame 'em?

I don't think Joe Pepitone would argue.

Coming next:  Examining the Jim Kaat Gold Glove Award Mystique