Defensive rankings will help determine Gold Glove winners

Tampa Bay Manager Joe Maddon said he thinks only a minority of major league managers and coaches will take statistical rankings into consideration when voting for Gold Glove awards.
(J. Meric / Getty Images)

Can a player’s defensive performance be measured with one number that can be used to rank him at his position and others?

The Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) says yes. That number will play a significant role in determining the Gold Glove awards this season, the society, known as SABR, and Gold Glove sponsor Rawlings announced Monday.

Managers and coaches will continue to vote for the Gold Glove awards, but the new SABR Defensive Index (SDI) will count for about 25% of the vote, according to the announcement. Managers and coaches will be provided with the SDI rankings as well and invited to consider them.


“There will be some that would look at it,” Tampa Bay Rays Manager Joe Maddon said. “I think it would be a minority that would actually look at it.”

Maddon said he would find such information “very useful and very helpful.” He is one of baseball’s most statistically minded managers, and his organization uses such metrics to evaluate potential player acquisitions.

He was skeptical the SDI would be widely adopted by most managers and coaches.

“I think staffs are still trained to go by the eye, what they see and who plays well against them,” Maddon said. “Sometimes a major league staff is probably the worst group to ask regarding making a trade, because they’re always going to point out the player that played well against them.

“We’ll see certain teams a limited number of times and we’ll see the Boston Red Sox 19. So you don’t get to see these guys often enough. So I think a more homogenized number permits you to make a more intelligent decision.”

Terry Collins, the manager of the New York Mets, said he would be interested to see the SDI rankings but doubted defensive performance could be distilled into one number.

“It’s very difficult,” Collins said last week at Dodger Stadium. “You can go around and take a look at every shortstop in the league. They’re all different kinds of guys. There are guys that go better to the left. There are guys that go better to the right. There are guys who have great range. There are guys who don’t have great range. How do you gauge how hard the ball is hit? This infield plays fast. Our infield doesn’t play that fast.


“I just look at the guys you don’t want to hit the ball at. That’s how guys like myself and I’m sure a number of other guys look at it. I understand what the numbers say. The best players, they’ll still be in that mix, numbers or not.”

The SDI will combine five kinds of defensive metrics, including three that are familiar to statistically minded fans: total zone rating, ultimate zone rating, and runs saved. The other two, created by members of the SABR defensive committee, are called “runs effectively defended” and “defensive regression analysis.”


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