Gold Glove finalists part II. American League right fielders

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November 6, 2017 by jessepell

(Courtesy of Stan Grossfield/Boston Globe)

Writen By Jesse Pelletier 

This article is a follow-up to my discussion on the AL Gold Glove finalists at center field. If you haven’t already checked it out, you can find it here. In that piece, I discuss why I chose to favor some statistics over others when assessing Gold Glove qualifications, and I’ll bypass that discussion this time. If you get lost, refer back to that piece.

Personally, I don’t think of many names beyond Mookie Betts when I think of the best right fielders in the game. There are guys who are famous for their strong throwing arms, like Jose Bautista, but that doesn’t always equate to overall fielding excellence (that will quickly become apparent). Only eight AL right fielders qualify for being a Gold Glove finalist, and the selected trio may surprise you. The finalists for AL right fielders are:

-Mookie Betts

-Aaron Judge

-Kole Calhoun

I was totally blindsided when I saw this list. I’ll admit I didn’t have any guesses as to who would make the list besides Betts, but I certainly didn’t expect to see Calhoun on there. I don’t watch him play much, but I definitely don’t remember him ever being on SportsCenter’s Top 10… but if he’s on the list, I guess he’s pretty good.

And then there’s Judge.

Judge admittedly caught me off guard. I’ve seen him make some good catches, but we never talk about him as an elite defender. I also just can’t picture him as a guy who can cover a lot of ground. But it looks like his numbers do, in fact, back him up. And you bet I’ve got all the numbers right here to prove it.

A few things stand out right away. The first is that Mookie Betts is going to win the Gold Glove. The second is “who is Max Kepler?” Kepler is the right fielder for the Minnesota Twins, who highly prioritized having an elite defensive squad. By the looks of it, any outfield with Kepler and Byron Buxton roaming around is going to be pretty well covered. The Twins apparently knew something we didn’t.

As you may recall, I eliminated errors and greatly modified assists in my assessment of AL center fielders. Let’s see what happens to these defensive rankings when we eliminate errors from consideration:

UNWEIGHTED RANKINGS:

1.) Mookie Betts

2.) Max Kepler

3.) Kole Calhoun

4.) Avisail Garcia

5.) Aaron Judge

5.) Jose Bautista

7.) Steven Souza Jr.

8.) Matt Joyce

WEIGHTED RANKINGS:

1.) Mookie Betts

2.) Max Kepler

3.) Kole Calhoun

4.) Aaron Judge

5.) Avisail Garcia

6.) Steven Souza Jr.

7.) Jose Bautista

8.) Matt Joyce

Again, if you read my center fielder analysis, you may also recall I adjusted the assists rankings so that Kevin Pillar was ranked first but everyone else tied for second. This was because Pillar had eight and everyone else had either six or five. So everyone essentially tied, with the exception of Pillar. The right fielders have a much wider spread in assists, so I feel fine keeping the assists rankings as they are. However, if we DID adjust assists so everyone tied for second except for the leader (Garcia, by a wide margin), this is what the numbers would look like:

UNWEIGHTED RANKINGS:

1.) Mookie Betts

2.) Max Kepler

3.) Kole Calhoun

4.) Aaron Judge

5.) Avisail Garcia

6.) Steven Souza Jr.

7.) Jose Bautista

7.) Matt Joyce

WEIGHTED RANKINGS:

1.) Mookie Betts

2.) Max Kepler

3.) Kole Calhoun

3.) Aaron Judge

5.) Steven Souza Jr.

6.) Avisail Garcia

7.) Jose Bautista

7.) Matt Joyce

This actually makes the assists leader, Garcia, fall in the rankings because it boosted everyone else up. Like I said, assists are a better metric for right fielders because the spread is wider. The previous rankings are what I’m sticking with.

I’m very surprised at how this turned out! For starters, the numbers suggest Max Kepler should certainly have been a Gold Glove finalist. On the other hand, the numbers also seem to justify Kole Calhoun being a finalist. He’s second in fielding percentage and assists, and comfortably in the top half in range factor. The real concern is that he’s ranked fifth in dWAR among qualified right fielders. How does someone ranking so well in everything else, especially second in fielding percentage, rank fifth in dWAR? Not only that, but how is his dWAR so close to zero? And why aren’t the numbers supporting Aaron Judge more? He’s got the second highest dWAR in the group, despite ranking in the bottom half in all the other stats.

After I wrote my piece on AL center fielders, I felt good about what the analysis said. Sure, part of that was because it helped Jackie Bradley Jr. look good and he’s my favorite player on my favorite team. But part of it was because the stats just made sense. Now, even after I weight dWAR to be twice as valuable as everything else, the numbers still don’t like Aaron Judge as a Gold Glove finalist. Quite frankly, that just feels wrong.

Judge’s numbers seem to indicate something wonky about how dWAR is calculated. And with a little digging, it doesn’t take much to find more suspicion around dWAR. Take a look at the rankings for all right fielders by dWAR:

Mookie Betts stays atop the list, with a Yankee not named Judge oddly ranking second. Even weirder is Yolmer Sanchez having a dWAR of 1.5 and only making ONE OUT as a right fielder. He played TWO INNINGS in right field and has a dWAR in right field of 1.5. So something is clearly wrong with dWAR and defensive sabermetrics altogether, yes? Well… I don’t know. Keep in mind that the whole point of having qualified fielders is to keep the exceptions out of consideration.

By qualifying, you have to play a certain number of innings. This forces a player’s performance to level out and keep those oddities from defining their ability. So while I don’t think the stats are flawed, I think it’s pretty straight-forward to show they require context to have meaning. And in this context, Max Kepler should be a Gold Glove finalist.

(Courtesy of MLB.com)

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