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Shin-Soo Choo is Gold Glove Finalist…But Why?


On Monday, Rawlings announced the finalists for its annual Gold Glove awards (three at each position) in preparation for the announcement of the winners Tuesday night. As far as awards go, it’s not exactly a momentous occasion—the Gold Gloves are perhaps the most frequently misappropriated major award in baseball, and these weren’t even the actual awards.

David Richard-US PRESSWIRE

But there was something noteworthy about the release for Tribe fans: Shin-Soo Choo is a finalist for the Gold Glove in right field. And I doubt I’m alone among those who follow the Indians in my confusion about his inclusion.

Let me preface this by saying that I am a huge fan of Shin-Soo Choo. You could say that I’m a Choo hipster—I liked him before he was cool. He earned a place in my heart very quickly after he came to Cleveland in 2006, and though my image of him was tarnished by his DUI arrest last May he remains one of my favorite players. That’s why it pains me to say that Choo has absolutely no business being in a discussion of the best defensive outfielders for the 2012 season.

Just from a scouting perspective, it was clear that Choo had a few steps in the field this year. Visual perception is subjective and maybe some will disagree, but Choo’s reactions, routes, and range all seemed decidedly unimpressive in 2012. He just didn’t look fully comfortable out there. That he finished the season second in the game in fielding percentage among right fielders shows that fielding percentage is misleading, not that Choo wielded an extraordinary glove.

Better stats bear this out as well. UZR, perhaps the best-known of the newer sabermetric defensive statistics, estimates that Choo cost the Indians a full 17 runs (roughly the equivalent of two whole wins) with his glove as compared to a league-average right fielder. Such statistics require more than a full season of data to stabilize and should thus be taken with a grain of salt, but for a result this extreme the smallness of the sample size is not a sufficient explanation. For what it’s worth, UZR had Choo at better than +10 runs for his career before 2012, and he earned positive marks in both 2010 and 2011, so it’s not as though the system has a systematic bias against him.

UZR is the harshest of the defensive metrics, but it is far from alone in casting a negative view of Choo’s glove. DRS has Choo at -12 runs this year, while Total Zone, which put him at +11 runs in 2010, pegged Choo at -15 runs for 2012. Baseball Prospectus‘ FRAA is kinder, pegging Choo at +0.2 runsi.e., almost exactly average—but even that is quite unbecoming of a Gold Glove nominee.

I don’t mean to assign these measures more weight than they are due; they are far harsher than I would be just from judging with my eyes. But that three out of four major defensive systems say Choo cost the Indians more than a win with his glove and that none of them sees him as a significantly above-average fielder ought to mean something. Even using the 50 percent rule of thumb for single-season UZR regression, Choo comes out at a discouraging -8.5. Simply put, I’m not sure how one could make the argument that Choo was an above-average fielder this year, let alone worthy of a Gold Glove.

David Richard-US PRESSWIRE

The Gold Gloves are a joke—it’s hard to get too worked up over an award that said Rafael Palmeiro was the best first baseman in the league in 1999 when he played only 28 games in the field—and again, these were only the nominees. Moreover, I doubt Choo will win the hardware against Josh Reddick, who is both a seeming favorite among baseball people and a genuinely worthy candidate. But, much as I love Choo, I don’t see why he should even be in the conversation for the Gold Glove this year.