Friday, September 28, 2007

For Your Consideration

Ryan Zimmerman deserves the Gold Glove. But voting for the Gold Glove makes it clear it's not usually on merit. It takes a lot to depose an incumbent, and in this case, it's Scott Rolen, winner of 7 of the last 9 awards. But the old man with the creaky back has missed roughly 50 games with various injuries, which should preclude him from winning the award. Of course, Raffy Palmeiro once won it at first base despite being a DH, so who knows.

Want some evidence? Go ahead and pop some popcorn. This might take a while.

--Nut-crushing popup catch
--Two great plays, one inning -- hard chopper down the line, quick snare to nab Jose Reyes
--Suicide snare on a liner when he expected a bunt.
--Not a defensive play, but you need a big bat to win the gold glove!
--Playing deep, he charges in after the ball bounces off the pitcher, to barehand and fire a strike against a speedy runner.
--Bob Carpenter completely nonchalants a spectacular defensive play while Sutton says something prophetic.
--Another popup against the railing.
--He can catch with things other than his glove.
--Watch him make sweet love to the tarp.
--A "routine" backhand that Don nails perfectly.
--Watch how far he ranges on this ball, likely saving Felipe from a rushed throw.
--Look where he was when he threw this ball.
--Drawn in, he makes a PERFECT leap to snare a high chopper.
--It was an easy grounder til that last hop.
--His amazing reflexes let him play in shallower, and here he takes away a RBI double. LOVE the sound of the crowd.
--Two things to watch for on this play: 1) the range to take away a likely grounder past the shortstop; 2) he LOVES going for the lead runner and took out a number of runners on second all year that he had no business getting.
--On the replay, watch how quickly he gets up to full speed and transitions from catch to throw.
--This one is obscene. Count the number of steps. Look at the position his body is in when he first makes contact with the ball. Look how he quickly turns his body, getting into a great position to make the tough throw.
--It's a shame that the new park won't let him do this.
--Another tough snare of a liner right at him -- something he's improved upon this year. Sutton's insights are right on.
--Those balls ripped to your shins are tougher than they look.
--Another Heimlich on the railing.
--This is a perfect example of that lead runner thing. 90% of 3B in the league don't make the throw to second. He makes the running snare, throws 180 degrees behind and STEALS a double play, saving a run that most teams would have given up.

You've seen the video evidence. Convinced yet? Well, what do the stats say?
--First in putouts, 20 more than second place and 30 more than any serious competition.
--First in assists, by nearly 30 over his closest competition.
--First in double plays.
--He's turned 7 double plays (where he records an assist AND an out), when nobody else has more than 1. Some of that is his greatness, but also his skill on the extreme lefty shift the Nats employ, where he basically plays shortstop.

The knock on him is his throwing. He's made a slew of errors, many on throws. His 23 errors is tied for first with Miguel Cabrera. But another gold glove candidate, David Wright, has 21, just two fewer, despite having many fewer fielding opportunities. Zimmerman's .954 fielding percentage is 8th in the league among qualified fielders (2/3 of team's games, I believe). But it's higher than David Wright's.

We need to look at those errors a bit more closely. Of his 23, 15 have been throwing errors. 8 came on bobbles/drops, those sorts of plays. He certainly deserves some of those errors, but I'd also suggest that at least 1/3 of them are a function of having Dmitri Young playing first. Dmitri has decent hands for things thrown right to him, but he has the range and mobility of a wounded elephant seal. Some of the errors (and I can't quote you a number, just going off memory) were on tough snares/picks and are throws that a more mobile 1B would've knocked down. In some cases, the batter would have been given a hit instead, but because the ball got past Dmitri and down the line, allowing the runner to advance to second, the error was the correct call.

That's not to excuse his poor throwing, just putting into context that his high throwing error total might be a function of poor help at first.

There are 7 other NL 3B who have more pure fielding errors (ie: not throws) than him, and again, he's had more chances than anyone else. If you want to do something screwy and recalculate his fielding percentage ignoring throwing errors (cheesy, I know), then Zimmerman shoots up to second in the league among qualified 3B. He's sure-handed, if not sure-armed.

One last diversion... on zone rating. I've discussed it a few times before. Nutshell: each fielder is assigned an area of the field (a zone). He gets credit each time he converts a ball into his zone into an out, and the stat measures the percentage of balls hit into his zone that he turns into outs. Zimmerman is third in the league in the stat, converting 71% of the balls hit to the 3B area into outs. He's behind Rolen, who hasn't played much, and well behind Pedro Feliz -- who probably has a decent argument, but I'll rule out because nobody knows who the hell he is... plus he sucks with the bat!

What's interesting, though, is the column next to that, OOZ. That measures those plays a fielder makes that aren't directly apportioned to a fielder's zone. Some of those tough snares down the line from the highlights above are likely out of the regular 3B's zone. So when you say "yeah, but Zimmerman gets to balls other 3B wouldn't," you've got your number: 70 of 'em. That total is good for second in the league, and it's well above those immediately surrounding him in zone rating.

In other words, if you factor those in, it's entirely possible -- likely, in fact -- that Zimmerman has the best range statistically in the league.

The numbers say he's a great candidate.

The video and scouting observations say he's a great candidate.

Ryan Zimmerman deserves the Gold Glove.

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