Ozzie Albies didn’t win a Gold Glove yesterday at second base.
And that’s okay.
I’m a huge fan of Ozzie Albies and have been for years. Ignoring his offense, which was a huge improvement in 2019, his push to become the best defensive second baseman he can be has been amazing. Of course, we all know about the work he puts in with Ron Washington to improve. The results are definitely there. He’s one of the best second basemen in baseball when it comes to defense.
But he’s not as good as Kolten Wong was and that is a difficult bridge to cross for many Braves fans out there. To be fair, Albies is very deserving of being in the conversation, but picking Albies over Wong comes down to one of two factors. Either the choice is driven by personal preference or an unwillingness to accept the litany of defensive metrics that show that there really was one choice here.
Many Braves fans might even throw a picture like the one to the right at you if you suggest that Albies wasn’t snubbed for the award. It’s a screen capture from late September on Braves television that promoted the idea that Albies was the clear choice for Gold Glove. If you find a lot of value in those numbers that were shared – I like the DRS afterthought, Fox Sports – you might be confused as to why Wong was selected.
As for me, I have seen this image a number of times and my response remains the same – a shrug followed by “meh.” Let’s start with games played – a completely nothing stat in this context. Sure, you don’t want to award a player with a Gold Glove despite playing only 50 games in the field at that position, but does it really matter when deciding the better defensive second baseman that Albies played in 158 games at second base while Wong played in 147 or Cesar Hernandez played in 157 games? No, not at all. And this gets at a problem with this image – nothing stats made into something.
Let’s come back to errors later and look at double plays. Does this stat really matter? Again, not so much. I have to add that they are using the wrong terminology here. While Double Plays Turned is a stat, they are using just Double Plays – which includes Double Play Started and unassisted double plays. If you’re curious, Albies did turn more double plays than anyone, though only five more than Wong. Regardless, we’re inviting in a host of variables out of the second baseman’s control when we start pushing double plays (team pitching style, the abilities of the other players around him, and so on).
The other thing here is that double plays are largely a volume stat. The top six among 2B, with the exception of one, all played in 142 games at second. We already know than Albies played in the most games. It’s reasonable to assume that he’d among the leaders, if not the leader,
That brings us to fielding percentage. This simplistic stat is one of the numbers that people simply have retired out of their minds in recent years and with good reason. After all, all good stats need to be comparable and help you form a conclusion. Dansby Swanson had a better fielding percentage than Javier Baez and Brandon Crawford. Hard to imagine anyone truthfully believing Swanson played better defense in 2019 than either. Fielding percentage is like batting average or ERA. If it’s all you have access to, okay, I get it. But it’s 2019. We have better, more dynamic, and just more accurate numbers to look at now.
And that gets us to errors. Using both fielding percentage and errors is like using both games played and double plays. You’re grouping up stats that have a correlation to one another to boost your argument. When it comes to errors, Albies had a fantastic year. As did Jason Kipnis, by the way. Both only had four errors. Joe Panik and Brian Dozier had only five! Strangely, none of the other three were even finalists.
Errors are one of those stats that should matter but don’t nearly as much as we want them to. Two reasons – the first is the more practical one. Better range means harder balls that plays were made on which, in turn, makes for greater difficulty in plays made. But the second reason is simply human error. I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase, “it’s being scored as a hit” with the analyst saying something like, “must be that home cooking.” Errors are subjective and, while most errors are fairly easy to judge, the borderline ones are a coin flip. Besides, as a good follow on Twitter, Lee Trocinski said, “the ‘few errors’ argument is how we got (Derek) Jeter winning so many (Gold Gloves).”
One stat on that picture does get us closer to making a good decision – Defensive Runs Saved. Sure, it was included at the bottom of the picture in a tougher-to-see yellow, but it’s without a doubt the best stat that was shared. As I’m sure you remember from the Andrelton Simmons-era when we all learned what Defensive Runs Saved was, this stat is very useful. It’s essentially attaching a value to the old cliche, “he has RBI in his glove.”
The graphic pointed out that Albies was third in DRS among 2B. That’s where he would finish – with 8 DRS. It matches his output from 2018 and represents the second-best total by a Braves second baseman in the DRS era (Marcus Giles in 2003 had 19 DRS and was truly snubbed of an award). Eight DRS is a fantastic season. Again, at no point do I want the takeaway to be “Albies sucks” because, counterpoint, he’s incredible. And that’s why Wong’s 14 DRS is even more incredible – especially since it came in roughly 200 fewer innings.
But one stat can lie to us. We need more. For infielders, I like to look at UZR/150 and rPM. UZR/150 is ultimate zone rating in terms of range runs, double play runs, and error runs per 150 games. Don’t get bogged down by the term “runs.” It’s just a way to gauge a player’s value over/under the average fielder. I also like rPM, which is simply a running tally during the seasons on Plus/Minus Runs Saved. It’s a similar stat to DRS and helps us compare the two to make sure something’s not funny in the numbers.
Wong finished with a 4.9 UAR/150, good for second. Don’t get excited – the AL Gold Glover, Yolmer Sanchez, is #1. Albies finished 7th, 5th among NL contenders behind Wong, Adam Frazier, Panik, and Dozier.
In rPM, Wong finished with 13 – the top mark in baseball. Hernandez of the Phils was second with 10 and then Albies was third with 7. Notice that even though Albies was third, he was still 6 behind. That’s also comparable to how many DRS he was short.
In the end, we’re left with another traditional vs. analytics argument. As you can probably tell, I have very little interest in giving traditional fielding stats much value in this discussion. That makes the decision simple – Wong. If it were close, I would probably go with Albies out of personal preference, but the difference between the two players is so notable that it’s hard for me to ignore that.
But I get it. The Cardinals getting another win over the Braves isn’t exactly…fun.