Sunday, January 11, 2015

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.

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