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Gold Glove Is Mauer Or Miss

If you’ve watched even a handful of Twins games in 2017, you’ve no doubt witnessed Joe Mauer make difficult plays look routine at first base. He’s an incredible athlete that has transformed himself into an elite fielder at a new position. While there may be some question as to whether or not a Gold Glove push is coming solely from Twins Territory, I’m here to tell you it’s a discussion that should be taking place on the national stage.
Image courtesy of © Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Getting this out of the way early, Joe Mauer went 89 games into 2017 before making an error. He had put together an incredible streak that included something like 600 chances. While those numbers are great, his fielding percentage and lack of errors is just about the last thing you should take into account when understanding why the Minnesota first basemen in Gold Glove worthy.

For those that shy away from sabermetrics, understand this is your warning. For an award that is doled out in relation to defensive prowess, the best measurements of effectiveness are quite a ways down the rabbit hole. While defensive sabermetrics are far from flawless, they go a long way towards explaining what the eye tells us, and are significantly more effective than anything else we have at our disposal. With that disclaimer out of the way, let’s get into it.

First and foremost, let’s take a look at what nabbed the award a year ago. Mitch Moreland grabbed a Gold Glove, and despite the sometimes poor decisions for the award (I’m looking at you Eric Hosmer), was a deserving recipient. Moreland posted 7 DRS (2nd), 6.4 UZR (1st), 9.2 UZR/150 (1st), and a 5.0 RngR (1st) a season ago. While Chris Davis had a solid season of his own, Moreland was clearly the best AL first basemen. Sadly, we again see the flawed process as Hosmer wound up the third finalist. Across the board, he was the worst defensive 1B among qualified players.

So, with 2016 as a bench mark for understanding, let’s take a look at Mauer’s numbers in 2017. For Minnesota, Mauer owns 5 DRS (3rd), 6.5 UZR (1st), 10.6 UZR/150 (1st), 3.9 RngR (1st). Not only is Mauer pacing the American League in virtually every important category, but his numbers are also in line with or better than Moreland’s a season ago. In fact, expanding things a bit further, the only qualified first basemen with better numbers than Mauer in 2017 is the Giants Brandon Belt (who should run away with the NL award).

At this point, we can see what the numbers tell us, it’s also important to understand what they mean. Defensive runs saved (DRS) for first basemen are generally a lower amount and less indicative of effectiveness. Given their opportunities on the field, pushing that number to swell in the same vein as an outfielder like Byron Buxton can accomplish is a difficult task. Ultimate zone rating and range runs are where first basemen can truly separate themselves however.

UZR is blanket stat that values defensive ability as a whole. It’s composed (for a first basemen) of DPR (double-play runs), RngR (range runs), and ErrR (error runs). As the total number rises, it signifies the overall ability of a certain player. As the sum of all components, we have a numerical measurement of how well the player does everything being demanded of them at their position. Range runs are a separating metric at first because it helps to quantify reactions and athleticism. As fangraphs puts it “Is the player an Ozzie Smith or an Adam Dunn.” While virtually all first basemen should be able to make the play charging in, Mauer has shown an exceptional ability to react laterally, as well as cover ground.

For most baseball fans, it’s been relatively easy to see that Joe Mauer is playing well above an average level just simply by watching a game. Whether a Twins fan or not, there’s little room for bias when it comes to just how exceptional the body of work has proven to be. When you dive into the numbers a bit further, it only helps to make the argument stronger and quantify what you should already know.

Over the years, the Gold Glove has become a tainted award criticized for the inclusion of offensive prowess and the marketable name. As mentioned above, Eric Hosmer won three straight from 2013-15, despite never being a top three candidate any of those years. That being said, whether or not Mauer ends bring the award back to Minnesota, he should be considered the frontrunner without a shadow of a doubt.

We can only hope that the voting contingent make the correct decision and award the trophy properly. If they do so, Mauer would join Darin Erstad and Placido Polanco as the only three players to win a Gold Glove at multiple positions. He would obviously be the first to do so at catcher and first base. It’s fair to be a bit down about a lack of thump from a corner infielder, but there’s no denying that Mauer has been a difference maker in the field, and a Gold Glove would only help to cement that notion.

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47 Comments

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AlwaysinModeration
Aug 24 2017 09:20 PM
Who is his competition? Is Moreland playing well again this year?

The part I don't like, and correct me if I am wrong, is that they assume all first basemen can make the scoop on throws in the dirt. If they don't make them it is an error on the guy making the throw with no credit or discredit going to the first base man. I just don't buy it. There are high hops which are easy and short hops which are generally easy but the in between hops can be quite tricky and I believe a guy that does this great vs one that is poor saves many errors and runs and Mauer does this great, not to mention being quite tall with good reach.  I always thought Hrbek was the best first baseman I have seen because he was so steady on the balls in the dirt and it was an injustice he never got a GG. Morneau was very good but not great.  Mauer is great and maybe better than Hrbek for his mobility.  Even more of an injustice if Mauer does not get the GG this year.

    • bdodge22, hybridbear, jimmer and 5 others like this

Interesting the Gold Glove at two positions. I imagine that would be a nice feather in his HOF case, the kind of thing that some voters latch onto.

    • Mike Frasier Law, bizaff, jimmer and 2 others like this
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theBOMisthebomb
Aug 25 2017 07:52 AM
If Joe can notch multiple Gold Gloves at first base and then sneak an outlier productive offensive season, those things would greatly improve his HOF chances. Joe is making quite a case for the Twins to re-sign him at the end of the monster contract.
    • bizaff, jimmer and Ted Schwerzler like this

 

If Joe can notch multiple Gold Gloves at first base and then sneak an outlier productive offensive season, those things would greatly improve his HOF chances. Joe is making quite a case for the Twins to re-sign him at the end of the monster contract.

 

Yeah, something like a 2 year $12 million deal sounds just about right. Good guy in the clubhouse, not going to be threatened by the emergence of new stars, still a fan favorite and a really nice weapon against lefties. Would love to see him get hot and help carry this team into September.

    • bdodge22, jimmer and Ted Schwerzler like this

1 WAR is generally worth $8M on the open market and the Twins market Mauer like crazy. 2 years, $20M would be a lot more likely.

    • Mike Frasier Law and ThejacKmp like this
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Ted Schwerzler
Aug 25 2017 08:55 AM

 

Who is his competition? Is Moreland playing well again this year?

As of right now, the finalists should be Mauer, Moreland and either LoMo or Carlos Santana

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Ted Schwerzler
Aug 25 2017 08:56 AM

 

Interesting the Gold Glove at two positions. I imagine that would be a nice feather in his HOF case, the kind of thing that some voters latch onto.

Hadn't considered that angle, but it definitely doesn't hurt. Catchers generally don't have the athleticism Joe does.

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Ted Schwerzler
Aug 25 2017 08:57 AM

 

If Joe can notch multiple Gold Gloves at first base and then sneak an outlier productive offensive season, those things would greatly improve his HOF chances. Joe is making quite a case for the Twins to re-sign him at the end of the monster contract.

I'd resign him without hesitation. Give him a one or two year deal to finish out his career. The only difference I'd make is that he should be platooned the rest of the way. At this point, he can't hit lefties but mashes righties. Go get a guy like Danny Valencia (ick) and turned the position into a big asset.

    • Dantes929 likes this
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Ted Schwerzler
Aug 25 2017 08:58 AM

 

1 WAR is generally worth $8M on the open market and the Twins market Mauer like crazy. 2 years, $20M would be a lot more likely.

Given that Torii got 1yr/$10m while being a black hole defensively, I'd imagine Joe could command something in the 2yr/$15-18m range.

    • jimmer likes this

 

1 WAR is generally worth $8M on the open market and the Twins market Mauer like crazy. 2 years, $20M would be a lot more likely.

 

Agreed he's worth more. That said, Joe Mauer is not going to be on the open market. He's not going to sign somewhere random - he's got kids, family and a legacy in MN. I don't think you're bidding against the Washingtons, Chicagos or L.A.'s of the league.

 

The only other places I could see him signing is Tampa Bay or Miami since he has a home in FL (and may decide to primarily live there long-term). Miami seems unlikely due to the NL aspect of it. Tampa seems like a better fit but it's still 2 hours from where Joe lives so I'm not sure it's better than MN.

 

Maybe it goes up to 2 years $16 mill?

 

I'd resign him without hesitation. Give him a one or two year deal to finish out his career. The only difference I'd make is that he should be platooned the rest of the way. At this point, he can't hit lefties but mashes righties. Go get a guy like Danny Valencia (ick) and turned the position into a big asset.

 

You're speaking my language. And we need to get over our ick of Valencia. We remember him when he couldn't figure out 3B or right handed pitching. He's not an amazing player but he does two things well and they both fit the Twins - he mashes left handed pitching and he's a very good defensive 1B who can play some 3B and OF as long as it isn't for too long a stretch.

 

That's a nice fit for the Twins unless there's some personality thing that makes him toxic. He has moved around a lot but I imagine that has a lot to do with his skill set, which is not something you commit to long-term.

    • Dantes929 likes this
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Brandon Warne
Aug 25 2017 09:27 AM

 

That's a nice fit for the Twins unless there's some personality thing that makes him toxic. 

 

Yeah, it's Danny Valencia and he's widely hated around the league. 

    • Siehbiscuit likes this

 

You're speaking my language. And we need to get over our ick of Valencia. We remember him when he couldn't figure out 3B or right handed pitching. He's not an amazing player but he does two things well and they both fit the Twins - he mashes left handed pitching and he's a very good defensive 1B who can play some 3B and OF as long as it isn't for too long a stretch.

 

That's a nice fit for the Twins unless there's some personality thing that makes him toxic. He has moved around a lot but I imagine that has a lot to do with his skill set, which is not something you commit to long-term.

 

No thanks on Valencia.  He's played on 7 teams since 2012.  Think there's not reasons for that?  

 

Yeah, it's Danny Valencia and he's widely hated around the league. 

 

No thanks on Valencia.  He's played on 7 teams since 2012.  Think there's not reasons for that?  

 

AJ was universally hated around the league but that doesn't make him a bad teammate. And I don't buy 7 teams in six years as evidence either - lots of guys move around. The common thread is that they're a niche player. A left-handed reliever, a bench bat. That fits Danny V. - he works for your team in the interim but he's not someone you commit to long term.

 

I looked around and didn't see anything too prominent about Danny Valencia being a bad teammate. The one big thing is a fight he got in with Billy Butler in Oakland. If you read about it, Danny V. doesn't seem crazy (and the story is hilarious):

 

Danny V was talking with one of his sponsors about some non-sponsor cleats in his locker. He assured the rep that they were for practice and not games. Billy Butler jumped in and told the rep that Danny V was lying and that the rep should drop Valencia's deal ($10K to $20K per year, not chump change). Danny confronted Butler when the rep left, correctly saying that was a bogus move. Butler turned around and questioned Valencia's manhood. Valencia punched him and a fight broke out in which Butler was concussed.

 

It's not good to punch people but if someone tried to take away a sponsorship from me and then told me I was a wuss and wouldn't do anything about it (you can strengthen the language yourself), I would almost certainly punch that person. Most A's players thought Butler was more in the wrong and it's not like Billy Butler is not Ghandi - he's got a rep as a bad teammate. KC players (Mike Sweeney and Hosmer) concurred after the fight, saying he was selfish and they weren't surprised he got punched.

Most of the bad stuff about Valencia is actually similar - he's into his own stats over team success. That's obviously not great (and kind of jives with what I remember about him from his first tenure) That said, he'd be a bit player in a strong clubhouse and guys on one year deals who mash left handed pitching and can play 1B, 3B and OF don't grow on trees. I wouldn't dismiss him on reputation alone.
 

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Brandon Warne
Aug 25 2017 12:00 PM

Believe what you want. I've talked to enough guys who don't like him at all.

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Bill Brown69
Aug 25 2017 01:04 PM

If Mauer would have moved to first 10 years ago he would be in the discussion with Keith Hernandez and a couple others as the greatest defensive first baseman of all time. 

    • jimmer likes this

Here are the rankings in 4 measurements:

 

Morrison DRS 5th, +/- 1st, RZR 1st, 3rd AVERAGE 2.5 - w/o worst: AVE 1.67
Mauer DRS 3rd, +/- 3rd, RZR 3th, 1st AVERAGE 2.5 - w/o worst: AVE 2.33
MorelandDRS 1st, +/- 2nd, RZR 10th, UZR, 4th AVERAGE: 4.25- w/o worst: AVE 2.33
Santana DRS 2nd, +/- 4th,RZR 6th, 5thAVERAGE 4.25 - w/o worst: AVE 3.67
Valencia DRS 4th, +/- 4th, RZR 2nd, 10thAVERAGE 5 - w/o worst: AVE 3.33

 

So it is pretty close between the top 3, but looks like Morrison is a bit ahead right now.

On the other hand, half the voters cannot pronounce those measurements...

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yarnivek1972
Aug 25 2017 02:10 PM

I still burn over the 1999 gold glove for first base.

 

It went to Rafael Palmeiro.  Now, he was a very good fielder in his prime and I'm sure he fielded reasonably well in 1999.  But he only appeared in 30 some odd games at first in 1999.

 

It is just starting to change, but I paid zero attention to who won the gold glove after that.  That was utter nonsense and an embarrassment to MLB, Rawlings and Palmiero.

    • big dog and VirginSturgeon like this
My three thoughts:

1. They'll probably give it to an offensive 1B. As many of you have mentioned, the award has devolved to the level of the Cable Ace awards
2. 2 years at $7-9 mill per. 3 years at $6?
3. Actually a question: do they give three OF gold gloves, or 1 per OF position?

 

My three thoughts:

1. They'll probably give it to an offensive 1B. As many of you have mentioned, the award has devolved to the level of the Cable Ace awards
2. 2 years at $7-9 mill per. 3 years at $6?
3. Actually a question: do they give three OF gold gloves, or 1 per OF position?

 

1. Lame, but very possibly true.

2. Yes to the first. Probably not 3 three years though.

3. Three gold gloves. According to some quick and dirty research, for about 40 years they didn't specify, but now they give one to each of primarily left, right, and center fielders. Interesting.

I doubt there is a metric for this, but when an infielder knows he can cut loose with out fear of an errant throw automatically hitting a cameraman, he throws with more confidence, and quicker. And probably with more accuracy.

25% of the award includes SDI, which is likely a big reason why most (not all) of the gold gloves nowadays can at least be argued as being correctly awarded.

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Ted Schwerzler
Aug 29 2017 10:56 AM

 

My three thoughts:

1. They'll probably give it to an offensive 1B. As many of you have mentioned, the award has devolved to the level of the Cable Ace awards
2. 2 years at $7-9 mill per. 3 years at $6?
3. Actually a question: do they give three OF gold gloves, or 1 per OF position?

I think Moreland getting it last year suggests the voters are doing better about not completely going offensive.

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Ted Schwerzler
Aug 29 2017 10:57 AM

 

Yeah, it's Danny Valencia and he's widely hated around the league. 

 

Haven't done nearly enough research to see what other platoon options are out there, but yeah, that's why it won't be Valencia.


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