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Tuesday Rockpile: Carlos Gonzalez - Glove of Gold or Pyrite?

Pablo Sandoval earned his <a href="" target="new">historic cycle</a> by hitting a triple at Carlos Gonzalez.
Pablo Sandoval earned his historic cycle by hitting a triple at Carlos Gonzalez.

Carlos Gonzalez sure looks pretty playing the outfield. He has a laser arm (led the league with 12 assists), can play all three positions, has good speed, and isn't afraid to slide, jump, crash or dive in order to haul in a fly ball. He does this. He is all you can want toolwise as an outfielder, and he won a Gold Glove in his first career full season in 2010.

In 2011, Gonzalez was not even named as a finalist in left field (where he played the most innings). Instead, Gerardo Parra deservedly was named a finalist. Matt Holliday is earning a reputation as a horrible fielder due to his recent playoff gaffes, but while he isn't pretty, he is like the Hunter Pence of defense - he's actually pretty effective despite looking disjointed. Oh, and he had a better UZR than Gonzalez. Ryan Braun actually had the 7th worst LF UZR in the league out of 120 players, but a combination of his MVP-caliber season with the bat and one single error gave him the nod.

So the question - why was Gonzalez omitted? CarGo himself assumes it was versatility that killed him. For the first time, MLB will separate the three outfield Gold Gloves into LF, CF, and RF, instead of handing out three OF awards. Gonzalez played roughly half his innings in LF, with the remaining half split between center and right.  The Denver Post's Jim Armstrong agrees CarGo was jobbed.

Granted, Holliday and Braun earned their spot in the finals due to offensive accolades as much as anything. But versatility isn't the "only logical reason for CarGo's omission," as Armstrong suggests.

Perhaps CarGo isn't that fantastic of a fielder after all. /gasp! While playing left field, CarGo put up a UZR of -3.1, good for 110th out of 120 players in the NL. He was worth -0.6 runs overall, good for 70th overall. Yes, yes, you say UZR is bologna. Maybe you prefer RZR, where he ranks 90th? Out of Zone plays (OOZ), where he's 25th? Fielding percentage? 8th. Dewan's Defensive Runs Saved? 15th. Baseball Reference Total Zone? 138th.

There are a lot of statistical methods out there for defense, and many work in completely different ways. While each have their flaws, none of them suggest he was an elite fielder in 2011. None. So what is the only rational, objective conclusion? It isn't to throw out all defensive statistics completely decrying them all as worthless, instead trusting your eyes as you watched 50 or so games on TV, or even 81 in person. Just as watching offense can provide sample size bias and reputation bias, so too can it extend to defense.

Is Carlos Gonzalez a bad fielder? I would definitely say no, and not nearly as poor as UZR and Total Zone (the most cited SABR defensive stats) say. Fans have every right to be suspicious of defensive metrics that don't pass the eye test and fudge the rankings a bit to account for it, as long as all numerical evidence isn't thrown out the window in favor of a much SerSS "eye test."

Gerardo Parra deserves the LF Gold Glove completely, but even if Ryan Braun or Matt Holliday win by virtue of their bats, we shouldn't complain. CarGo got his last year.

More Defense

Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki scoops up another Fielding Bible Award | News Ours eyes don't always disagree with the numbers. Bill James' +/- credits Tulowitzki as making the most plays above average than any player in baseball. Amusingly enough, Tulo's DRS and UZR are both 2nd in the Clint Barmes. But last place teams don't generally see their "converted second baseman" steal hardware from a former teammate. Tulo will win a Gold Glove as well.

2011 Beyond the Box Score Catcher Defense Ratings: Year-End Edition - Beyond the BoxScore Catcher defense is the most difficult to quantify, as it is far more than caught stealing percentage and errors. Mike Fast did a lot with pitch framing, Bojan Koprivica did the same with pitch blocking. Matt Klaassen, also of Fangraphs and @devil_fingers on twitter, has compiled his own method, combining throwing error runs, fielding error runs, caught stealings, and passed ball/wild pitch prevention. Note: pitch framing is not included.

Of the 114 catchers in 2011, Chris Iannetta ranks 10th. That is pretty damn good. Most of his prowess comes from not being especially poor in any area, but his "throwing error runs" term ranks 2nd overall in MLB, nearly eclipsing Matt Wieters for the top. If Mike Fast's conclusions on framing are correct, we should probably add that Iannetta ranked 3rd worst in pitch framing in 2011, enough to push him far down the list.

For the interest of completeness, Klaassen has Yorvit Torrealba ranked 28th, Matt Pagnozzi 45th, Mike McKenry 80th, Eliezer Alfonzo 90th, Jose Morales 98th, and Miguel Olivo 113th.


Off-Season Direction 

The quotes coming out of the front office have been pretty vague so far this offseason. "We could stand pat, sell pieces or buy pieces" tells us nothing. "We won't be getting Jose Reyes" isn't helpful. O'Dowd's latest "We have some guys we have thoughts about as we put a team together" provides zero insight. We are told a "big ticket deal" is "not out of the question" but the absence of a denial is far from proof of committal. Even the specific players the Rockies have been linked to seem to be a product of writers asking Dan O'Dowd, the Monforts or Jim Tracy "Are you interested in Player X" resulting in a "Sure, he's one of the (100 plus) players we're looking at."

All doors are either wide open, or the Rockies' brass want us (and other organizations) to think that's the case. Even after declining Aaron Cook's option for 2012, O'Dowd won't shut the door on re-signing the 2008 All-Star returning, even though the events required to make that a good idea would be a disastrous offseason.

I suppose it's fine this way. After all, they were more specific last year around this time:

"We need an impactful bat, another piece to enhance those guys. It makes so much sense," Tracy said. "We will be looking for something like that."

That ended up being Ty Wigginton. I suppose if we don't know the ultimate goal in the front office, we won't know if they fail to reach it. I just hope the ultimate goal is far higher than Ty Wigginton this time around.