Gold Glove Is Mauer Or Miss
Image courtesy of © Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY SportsGetting 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.
- Mike Frasier Law, Oldgoat_MN, Dman and 3 others like this