Last week the Gold Gloves awards came out and American League center fielders Adam Jones and Torii Hunter were both honored.  Hunter won his eighth Gold Glove and Jones won his first.

However, neither did well in the Fielding Bible Awards.  Hunter finished ninth in the voting among all MLB center fielders.  The four AL center fielders that finished ahead of Hunter were 1-2-3-4 in the voting: 1-Franklin Gutierrez, 2-Carlos Gomez, 3-Curtis Granderson and 4-Rajai Davis. Jones did even worse.  Ten Fielding Bible Award panelists cast 10! 0 votes overall (10 each) for center fielders and Adam Jones received only one ninth place vote.

Interestingly, there is one area where Hunter and Jones are the absolute best in baseball.  And an important area it is, as it is the most valuable defensive play a player can make: making home-run saving catches.  Torii Hunter has the most in baseball over the last three years with five.  Adam Jones had the most this past season with four.  Based on our methods, Hunter saved eight runs over the three years on these plays and Jones saved six in 2009.

That’s impressive.  It’s an important part of the defensive profile of an outfielder, but it is only a part. We also measure two other areas of defense for outfielders, their ability to cover ground and the strength/accuracy of their throwing arm.

Let’s look at their throwing arms first.  Based on our methods, Torii Hunter is nearly the exact definition of average.  Over the last three years he did not hurt or help his team and had exactly zero defensive runs saved, based on how many runners he threw out and how many runners advanced extra bases on plays to center field.  In 2009, Hunter had one defensive run saved. But Adam Jones is a different story. This is another area where he excelled.  Jones saved 12 runs with his arm and was the best in all of baseball in 2009.  Again.  The best outfielder in all of baseball at making home run saving catches and the best outfield throwing arm.  No wonder he won a Gold Glove.  But should he have?

Let’s look at the final area, covering ground in center field. The method we use is the Plus/Minus System.  We measure plays made compared to what an average center fielder would make on the balls hit to each player.  Once again, Hunter is the definition of average.  Over the last three years he saved zero runs defensively covering ground in center field.  His +4 runs saved mark in 2009 was better than the previous two years.  Hunter didn’t make any more plays than the average center fielder, but he performed better on plays that were hit deep into center field.  He saved 17 bases on deeply hit balls, while he cost his team 9 bases on shallow and medium hit balls, for an overall enhanced plus/minus of +8, ranking him 12th in baseball.

Covering ground in center field is not Adam Jones’ forte.  The 11 runs he cost his team defensively in center field was the second worst in the American League (Vernon Wells was the worst in baseball with -17). He was the opposite of Hunter.  He was okay on shallow hit balls with two bases saved (+2), but he was very poor on medium hit balls (-7) and atrocious on deeply hit balls (-16).  That gives him an overall enhanced plus/minus of -20.

Should Adam Jones, being the best in baseball in two areas on nearly the worst in a third, win a Gold Glove? Let’s compare him and Torii Hunter to the three AL players that the Fielding Bible Award panelists like.  Overall, while they came at it from totally different directions, Hunter and Jones had the same number of defensive runs saved in 2009, seven.  That tied them for 11th among all center fielders.  The Fielding Bible panel would have given the AL Gold Glove Awards to Franklin Gutierrez (31 runs saved), Carl Crawford (24) and Ichiro Suzuki (11 runs saved).  Here are their totals by defensive category! :

2009 Runs Saved

HR Saving Catches

Plus/Minus

Arm

Total

Torii Hunter

2

4

1

7

Adam Jones

6

-11

12

7

Franklin Gutierrez

3

24

4

31

Carl Crawford

0

18

6

24

Ichiro Suzuki

0

12

-1

11

I think it is fair to speculate that Gold Glove voters are influenced by defensive plays that look great.  The home-saving catch and, to a lesser extent, the great throw to nab a runner.  But there’s more to defense than that.  It’s like saying the league MVP should be the guy who leads the league in grand slam homers.  It’s a big deal to hit grand slam homers (or to make home runs saving catches), but it doesn’t show the whole picture.

Runs Saved leaderboards can be found in the Bill James Handbook 2010.

“Used with permission from John Dewan’s Stat of the Week®, www.statoftheweek.com.”

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Joe Aiello is the founder of View From the Bleachers and one of the lead writers as well as host of VFTB Radio. Growing up in Chicago, he fondly remembers attending games in the bleachers before that was the popular thing to do. Currently Joe resides in North Carolina with his wife and three kids. Connect with Joe via Twitter / Facebook / E-mail