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Does Angel Pagan Deserve A Gold Glove?

The Gold Glove Award selections are sometimes the butt of jokes, often justifiably so. Rafael Palmeiro won it for first base in 1999 despite playing just 28 games at the position. Derek Jeter won it each year from 2004-2006. Managers vote on the award and they, like anyone, are not immune to bias. Michael Bourn is a great defensive outfielder, but if he made some poor plays against the Mets this year perhaps Jerry Manuel wouldn't vote for him. Reputation also seems to play a role in the voting -- witness Torii Hunter's nine straight Gold Gloves. So after six sentences of arguing that the Gold Glove Awards are a bit silly, I will spend some time explaining why Angel Pagan is worthy of the award.

As a sabermetrics proponent (a "true SABR"?), I must present Pagan's advanced fielding statistics. Rather than going with raw UZR numbers, I combined UZR and the positional adjustment (PA) to account for difficulty of position. Put another way, a +10 right fielder is not as valuable as a +10 center fielder, and this method adjusts for that. Here are the NL leaders, among qualified outfielders (Note: Gold Gloves are awarded to three outfielders in each league):

Rank Player UZR+PA
1 Andres Torres +17.1
2 Michael Bourn +16.3
3 Marlon Byrd +12.5
4 Angel Pagan +12.2
5 Chris Young +8.2

Standard caveats -- defensive stats aren't perfect, especially in small samples. This is just one piece of information to consider, not the only piece. Pagan is fourth best, although it might as well be a tie for third given the imprecision of the stat. DRS agrees that Pagan has been great (+15, third best in the league, including positional adjustment) but I'm sticking with UZR because DRS seems a bit wonky. Across MLB, DRS adds up to +299, strange for a statistic that (I think) should be measuring players against average. For comparison, UZR adds up to 0, as expected. I could be missing something here.

For skeptics who don't care for advanced defensive stats, Pagan's case can be made another way -- he has been the awesome in the field this year. He is perhaps the best athlete on the team, displaying superb range at all three outfield positions. Better in center than Carlos Beltran. Superior to Frenchy in right field. In addition to the tough plays he makes look easy, there are plenty of highlight reel catches. The warning track robbery from the Pirates game two weeks ago comes to mind. Heck, he started a triple play in Washington back in May. He has quietly tallied ten assists as well, tied for second place in the league behind Dicktorino and our old buddy. Of course, I haven't watched non-Mets outfielders nearly as much as I have Pagan, so an extensive comparison would be nigh-impossible. My eyes agree with the metrics though, and the metrics love them some Pagan.

There are several factors working against Pagan. One is the aforementioned lack of reputation. Although non-stars Bourn, Shane Victorino and Matt Kemp won last year, so maybe it's no big deal. Another potential problem is errors -- he has five, not far from Alfonso Soriano's league-leading seven. True SABRs know that errors are a poor gauge of fielding acumen but voters might not. Five errors looks poor on the surface, but given Pagan's extensive playing time, it is actually about average for an outfielder. One other hindrance is the time he spent playing the corner outfield spots. The Gold Gloves are generally given to center fielders -- think Beltran, Andruw Jones, Jim Edmonds and Steve Finley. Corner outfielders have won it before though and 62% of Pagan's innings have been in center.

Whether or not Pagan receives a Gold Glove Award is largely erroneous. If he is denied, it wouldn't take anything away from his performance this season. But in a world where the award is given to the actual three best outfielders in the league, a strong (but obviously not definitive) case can be made.