ARLINGTON, Texas — Kevin Kiermaier knew the question was coming. How did he feel about not being named a finalist for the American League Gold Glove in center field?
“My first reaction was very surprised,” Kiermaier said before taking the field for the Tampa Bays Rays in Game 3 of the World Series on Friday night. “I was disappointed; I was upset. I feel like what I did out there defensively was underappreciated this year. I thought I was darned good out there.”
Rays manager Kevin Cash, as you might expect, expressed similar sentiments.
“As far as I’m concerned he’s the best defensive player on whatever field you’ve got,” Cash said.
Kiermaier and Jackie Bradley Jr. of the Red Sox have set the standard in the American League for several years. But Byron Buxton (Twins), Ramon Laureano (Athletics), and Luis Robert (White Sox) were selected as finalists.
Kiermaier was careful to say several times that his focus was on the Series and beating the Dodgers. But he was clearly annoyed. So was Bradley given his reaction on Twitter after the announcement was made on Thursday.
"I just don’t understand, and I have yet to have anyone from any analytics department explain to me how they “calculate” the “numbers” or better yet how can you physically improve on them as a player," Bradley wrote.
How the Gold Gloves are awarded has long been a controversial subject.
The Baseball Writers' Association of America isn’t involved. Rawlings has sponsored the awards since 1957 and runs it.
Managers and coaches vote on the winners and for years the results were often based on reputation or, quizzically, on all-around skills beyond defense.
Rafael Palmeiro won a Gold Glove in 1999 after playing only 28 games at first base. Derek Jeter, at best an adequate shortstop, won five times. Greg Maddux won 18 times between 1990-2008. He was probably getting votes after he retired.
Rawlings incorporated a statistical component — the SABR Defensive Index — in 2013, which accounts for 25 percent of the vote.
But this season, with teams playing 60-game regionalized schedules because of pandemic, the SDI alone determined the winners.
The SDI is an aggregation of five statistics and the computer spit out Buxton, Laureano, and Robert.
Bradley played 157⅔ more innings that Buxton, by the way.
“There were some interesting names that caught me off-guard,” Kiermaier said. “Some exclusions that caught my attention as well … I think guys like Jackie Bradley Jr. are probably thinking the same things that I’m thinking of right now and other guys who thought they were deserving.”
Given the small sample size, Rawlings should have added a human element. A panel of five national baseball writers and broadcasters would have provided needed balance to the data.
Analytics are a valuable tool to dispassionately assess players. Our ability to understand the true value of hitters and pitchers is better than it ever has been.
But while gains have been made, defense remains less quantifiable for many reasons. Some statistics, such as Defensive Runs Saved, are a product of analysts watching games and determining the quality of a particular play.
And it’s difficult to factor in alignments. Where Bradley sets up in center field is different if Andrew Benintendi is playing left field as opposed to J.D. Martinez.
Bradley often saves runs because opponents are afraid to test his strong arm. How can that be measured?
“In center field, I like to see where I rank in certain categories,” Kiermaier said. “Defense is my bread-and-butter, I take a lot of pride in it. I like looking into the metrics and analytics. I try to be educated … But it’s hard to know where you stand.”
Tampa Bay didn’t have any finalists, which was a surprise given their exemplary defense as a unit.
“I think there needs to be a utility award as well,” Kiermaier said. "I’m biased because a guy like Joey Wendle plays Gold Glove defense at second base [and] third base any given night.
“I’m not saying that because he’s my teammate. I’m being very realistic, dead honest with you. If you watch our games you’d agree with me.”
Kiermaier and Bradley can be comforted in knowing that the winner isn’t going to get much of a spotlight.
Rawlings and ESPN decided to announce the winners on Nov. 3 at 7 p.m. Is there anything else going on that day?