Major League Baseball announced Friday night that Indians shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera won the 2011 Greatness in Baseball Award for being the game’s best defensive player. As a Cleveland fan I’m thrilled, and I’m very happy that Cabrera is getting some national attention. But as a baseball fan, I’m absolutely shocked.
I’m not saying Cabrera’s that bad of a fielder. You shouldn’t take his -19.1 FRAA at face value, and even his -11.8 UZR should be taken with a grain of salt. But even if you don’t put any stock in any of the five most popular sabermetric defensive stats—all of which put Cabrera at least five runs below average on defense this year—does anyone really think he’s the best fielder in all of baseball?
Yes, he makes some great web gems, but he also makes his share of errors (for those who prefer to judge fielders that way). And despite his great athleticism he really doesn’t have very good range compared to his peers. I realize much of fielding analysis is just subjective, but there’s a difference between good defense and flashy defense, and that shouldn’t be too controversial a concept for fans to grasp.
Brett Gardner, Peter Bourjos, Chris Young—these are some names of players who were better fielders than Cabrera this season. What, in the eyes of the fans, media members, front office personnel, and former MLB players, made Cabrera better than Austin Jackson and Franklin Gutierrez? What did he have on Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Gomez?
Prefer to stick to the infield? Fine. Pablo Sandoval? Adrian Beltre? Ian Kinsler? Howie Kendrick? I’ll take Dustin Pedroia‘s or Placido Polanco‘s glove over Cabrera’s any day. Same goes for Ben Zobrist and Evan Longoria.
Even keeping it to shortstops, Cabrera falls pretty far down the list of the league’s best fielders. Alexei Ramirez? Elvis Andrus? Troy Tulowitzki and Clint Barmes are pretty slick with the leather, as are Paul Janish and J.J. Hardy. I’m not saying Brendan Ryan‘s glove really gave the Mariners three more wins than Cabrera’s defense gave Cleveland, but how do you explain Ryan’s 32-run lead over Cabrera in FRAA in any way other than that Ryan is a better fielder?
Cabrera’s a great player. He’s incredibly fun to watch, and as a biased fan I’m ecstatic about seeing an Indians player take home an award of any kind. But even forgetting sabermetric stats and the differing definitions of good defense, I ask those who voted just based on what they saw: Have you really seen enough of every other shortstop in the league (let alone every other fielder) to declare that Cabrera is the best? Or is it just that you’ve seen him make diving plays on SportsCenter a lot?
I apologize for my stridence. I don’t mean to sound as though I am attacking Cabrera or those who think differently than I do, and it’s not as though the GIBBY is a particularly prestigious award. But I’m just not sure how a man with negatives in every major defensive metric can be called the best fielder in baseball.