There were very few things that Seattle Mariners centerfielder Franklin Gutierrez couldn’t catch in 2009; so few things that he earned the nickname “Death To Flying Things.”
A Rawlings Gold Glove award, baseball’s highest accolade for defensive prowess, however, was one of those things Gutierrez just couldn’t snag.
In an announcement made Tuesday, the official 2009 American League Gold Glove outfield consists of the stalwart defensive standards of Ichiro Suzuki and Torii Hunter and first-timer Adam Jones.
Seattle’s Suzuki and Los Angeles’ Hunter both took home the award for their ninth consecutive seasons. Baltimore’s Jones, in just his second full Major League season, earned the Gold Glove despite playing, by all advanced defensive metrics, an average centerfield.
It was an award that Gutierrez, who patrols Jones’ former-centerfield in Seattle’s Safeco Field, should have won.
In 2009, Gutierrez played the best defense of all Major League Baseball players, not just outfielders.
The .985 fielding percentage is not indicative of how amazing Gutierrez was defensively. The almost-antiquated statistic is an effective measure of how well a player performs routine plays, but it doesn’t effectively take into account non-routine plays involving range or arm accuracy or arm strength.
To put the inefficiency of the statistic into perspective, fellow Seattle Mariner Yuniesky Betancourt owned a .968 fielding percentage in 2009. And so did Texas Ranger shortstop Elvis Andrus. Yet, Betancourt is routinely lauded as the “worst defensive shortstop in the history of the world ” and Andrus is heralded as anything but.
Ultimate Zone Rating is quickly becoming the standard for measuring defensive efficiency. According to fangraphs.com, the relatively new metric is: “The number of runs above or below average a fielder is in both range runs, outfield arm runs, double play runs, and error runs combined.”
UZR exposes players’ defensive shortcomings. Yuniesky Betancourt’s negative-23.9 UZR reveals a molasses-like fielder with little range and the inability to make even routine plays. Andrus’ plus-11.7 shows a rookie with above-average range and defensive ability. Betancourt cost his team runs with his lackluster defense; Andrus saved them.
No player possessed a better UZR in 2009 than Franklin Gutierrez. In fact, it wasn’t even close.
Gutierrez saved his team 29.1 combined runs in 2009. Tampa Bay’s B.J. Upton was the next closest centerfielder with a positive-11.0 mark. Among all fielders, Tampa’s Evan Longoria was Gutierrez’s closest contemporary, but still fell 10 points short, posting a UZR of plus-18.5.
His positive-29.3 range runs saved was also 10 points higher than the next closest everyday fielder.
Gutierrez’s UZR was the best in a season since the inception of the statistic in 2002.
When one takes into consideration his solid offensive season, Gutierrez was worth almost six wins over the course of the Seattle Mariner’s 2009 season. His estimated worth was $26.4 million, but he made just $455,000 this season. He’s arbitration-eligible this year and seems destined for a significant pay raise.
Gutierrez’s omission in the Gold Glove vote is just the most glaring gaffe betrayed on the award since Texas’ Michael Young won against a much more deserving field of shortstops in 2008.
The Gold Glove vote needs to be re-evaluated. Instead of taking into account just errors, fielding percentage and personal preference (it should be noted that coaches cannot vote for players on their own team) new and adjusted statistics like UZR and range runs must be included.
How can “Death To Flying Things” not be a Gold Glove winner?
This article can originally be found on Blogging About Baseball.