With the announcements that RF Gerardo Parra and 1B Paul Goldschmidt have taken home Gold Gloves for their 2013 play, I thought I might put those achievements in context.  The next post will be Parra, whose achievement is interesting because of how extremely good he was this year, in several components of what makes a good right fielder a good right fielder.  Goldy’s  defensive season is interesting because of how deep the chasm is between different metrics; depending on what you value and how you look at it, Goldy’s play was either above-average, outstanding, or one of the finest defensive seasons of the last ten years (at any position).

Paul Goldschmidt ranked just 8th among 19 qualified first basemen in the UZR/150 metric, which turns the Ultimate Zone Rating stat into a rate statistic.  His 4.4 mark suggests that he was significantly but not overwhelmingly better than other first basemen in the field.  UZR is calculated based on how often a particular play results in an out; if few fielders would have made a particular play, that results in more of a UZR increase than the same fielder making a more routine play.

UZR is based on Baseball Information Solutions data, and it’s keyed to represent runs.  At 4.4 UZR/150, Goldy played defense well enough that if you plugged him into 150 games (to the average extent a fielder gets played at first in 150 games), he’d have saved 4.4 runs more than the average fielder.  But Goldy played more than the average fielder, and so his UZR is 5.4, good for 6th among those 19 first basemen, behind only Anthony Rizzo and Adrian Gonzalez in the NL.

Turning to Defensive Runs Saved reveals a slightly different storyline, as Goldy’s 13 DRS ranks second in that group (behind just Rizzo).  The DRS plus/minus system is similar to UZR in that it rewards players more for more difficult plays, and penalizes more for plays most fielders make most of the time.  It’s not that common for the two numbers to be this far apart for the same player; there are only two other first basemen examples this year for whom UZR and DRS were more than 6 runs apart (Rizzo, whose 16 DRS was well above his third-overall UZR of 8.3; Mark Trumbo, whose 2 DRS came in 13th out of 19, despite a UZR of 8.5 that ranked second overall).  It’s a little more common for DRS to be the stat farthest from the mean when this does happen, though; as +/- creator John Dewan has noted, “Plus/Minus is a little more aggressive in awarding credit/penalty.”

Generally speaking, defensive statistics can be taken with a grain of salt.  Goldy had 1494 putouts this year, but UZR doesn’t include a component for “scoops” or things of that nature.  We’re not talking about a lot of plays.  The opportunities for a first baseman to field a ball in the first instance are infrequent enough that one generally relies on a few seasons’ worth of data before jumping to any conclusions.

So why does +/- love this guy?  And why did The Fielding Bible recognize Paul Goldschmidt as the best defensive first baseman in MLB this year, even though DRS had Rizzo as the superior defender?  Here’s Dewan’s group on why they conferred The Fielding Bible’s award on Goldy:

Baseball Info Solutions Video Scouts cover every pitch and every play of every game and one of the many things they chart are Good Fielding Plays. They’ve been tracking this for ten years now, and in 2013 Goldschmidt was the first player to record over 100 Good Fielding Plays. He had 113. He saved 13 runs with his defense for the Diamondbacks, finishing second among first basemen to Anthony Rizzo (16) with the Cubs. Goldschmidt tallied 110 points to 98 for Rizzo in the Award voting.

So the answer, even for the Gold Gloves, could be that “web gem” factor — making the great plays regularly.  Note that 75% of what goes into deciding the Gold Gloves is still voting by managers and coaches (you can’t vote for your own guys).  The web gems stick with you.  The hard-but-not-too-hard plays that don’t get made might not.

Good Fielding Plays is not the only thing that Baseball Info Solutions can offer about Goldy’s defense.  At the Saber Seminar in Boston this last August, Scott Spratt introduced a new defensive statistic that BIS had been working on in 2013, a “scouting” statistic that is more subjective than the others (which are based on putting different types of batted balls into “buckets” and crunching numbers).  In August, Scott gave us a little preview of how some of the top players were doing according to the stat, and in a list of top ten infielders, Paul Goldschmidt was the only first baseman included — 4th on the list.  The fact that Goldy rated highly this year in subjective measures (Gold Glove voting, the new BIS scouting stat) and objective measures (DRS, and to an extent, UZR) is very telling.

No matter how you look at it, it seems that Goldy was a strong defensive player this season, even deserving of the Gold(y) Glove.  Yet another reason why Paul Goldschmidt is a helluva player.  Not just that he was great in the field, but that it seems like he improved from an average fielder (-1.2 UZR, 1 DRS in 2012) to a great one.  The fact that Goldy did well in the voting is also good news for his MVP chances — to the extent that “Good Fielding Plays” is code for “shows up on TV in baseball highlights,” his season may have been just memorable enough.


For more on the two defensive statistics referenced above, check out this FanGraphs primer on UZR by Mitchel Lichtman and John Dewan explaining the +/- system for DRS at The Fielding Bible.


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