Let me start this post off by offering this: I think Nate McLouth is awesome. I was pumped that he had such a great year this year. The Pirates need more players like Nate McLouth. I'm happy for him that he won a Gold Glove today. Too often, Pirate players are overlooked by the baseball writers when it comes to passing out the yearly awards (see: Jason Bay finishing 12th in the 2005 MVP ballotting) and to see one of them win an award like this is a nice recognition that from time to time, good baseball happens in Pittsburgh.
On the other hand, McLouth winning a Gold Glove for his play in center this year is somewhat akin to WHYGAVS winning a Pulitzer Prize (someday, my friends ...). It's just not what we do here. McLouth is a great offensive center fielder who was qualified by almost every advanced fielding statistic as being wretched. I've already talked a lot about McLouth's defense this year, and my conclusion in August was this:
It seems to me that McLouth is probably slightly below average in center field. Even if most fielding metrics aren't perfect, they all seem to have him below average and even accounting for his high number of out of zone plays, it's hard to reconcile those other numbers completely when I've seen him break very poorly on balls hit over his head with my own eyes.Now that the season has ended and more and more numbers are coming out, I feel like I was probably being generous to McLouth. Justin Inaz's total value system (using zone rating and revised zone rating) rated McLouth -16.8 runs in the field, one of the worst totals in the league. John Dewan's +/- system (which rewards a player a plus for making a play that at least one player at their position failed to make while penalizing them with a minus for failing to make a play that at least one other player made) rated McLouth as the worst center fielder in the NL, with his -40 rating bad enough to make his three-year cumulative -49 also the worst in the NL.
Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR), which is one of the better fiedling metrics out there, rated McLouth as a -14 runs in the field (with even worse numbers in the two years prior to 2008). MGL, who compiles the stat, had this to say about McLouth's choice:
OF McLouth -14 (06 -21 in CF and RF, 07 -16 in all OF positions). UZR hates Nate the Great. Based on that, this is an absolutely terrible choice for the voters. I realize he has a good “rep.”Now, I'm going to repeat what I said during the season when I wrote about this: fielding metrics are far from perfect. MGL himself says as much, if you bother to read the UZR write up. But it seems unlikely to me that so many metrics would measure a true Gold Glove centerfielder as a terrible fielder.
Now, you're probably wondering why I keep hammering away at this point, especially given the fact that I really do like McLouth. In the past, I advocated guys like McLouth and Doumit playing positions like center and catcher because their bats play very well in those positions, even if their defense isn't great. The Brewers and Rays both saw big turnarounds this year speared largely by improvements in defense. The Rays went from last in defensive efficiency in 2007 to first in 2008 and saw a huge reduction in runs allowed. The Brewers moved guys like Ryan Braun and Bill Hall out of positions that they could hurt the team in and saw a big drop in runs allowed, won seven more games, and made the playoffs. How much would a good defensive center fielder help the Pirates? Defense is one of the last great unexplored sabermetric frontiers, and I'm very curious to see how Huntington handles it, starting with McLouth.
But seriously, congratulations to Nate. He deserves SOME kind of award for the season he had.