The Braves’ OF took one Gold Glove. Shoulda been three

This was one of the few balls these outfielders couldn't snare. (AJC photo by Hyosub Shin)

This was one of the few balls these outfielders couldn't snare. (AJC photo by Hyosub Shin)

There can be, I’ve come to learn, beauty in numbers, and the beauty in advanced baseball numbers is that they can reveal something we saw but didn’t quite see. (If that makes any sense.) For instance: If you asked, “Which Brave was more likely to swing at balls out of the strike zone — Martin Prado or Freddie Freeman?”, I’d have recalled all the times I saw the latter swing really hard at the first pitch and said, in a heartbeat, “Freeman.”

And, at least on this point, I’d have been right. According to Carson Cistulli of the ever-useful FanGraphs, 31.6 percent of Freeman’s swings came at pitches off the plate. (In sabermetric argot, those are known as “O-Swings.”) Prado swung at 26.8 percent of pitches off the strike zone. But if we ask, “Who was the more selective hitter?” … well, here’s where we’d have been fooled.

Cistulli reveals that Freeman swung at 75.4 percent of the strikes he saw,while Prado swung at only 48.4. (A swing at a strike is a “Z-Swing.”) Cistulli — who’s also a poet, FYI — writes: “It seems fair to suggest that a batter who demonstrates the greatest difference between his O-Swing and Z-Swing tendencies would be the league’s Most Selective Hitter.” Using that methodology, Freeman ranked No. 4 on the list of baseball’s most selective hitters. Prado was No. 1 — No. 1! — on the least selective chart.

Maybe you find this stuff unbelievably boring. There was a time, I must confess, when I’d have Z’d out at the mention of a Z-Swing. But the older I get, the more I realize how much I don’t know, and sites like FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus help fill the massive gaps in my knowledge. Which brings me, albeit in a way not unlike the circular routes Ryan Klesko took when chasing fly balls, to the Gold Gloves:

Jason Heyward won one, and he should have. But so should Michael Bourn and the aforementioned Prado. If we consult Baseball-Reference.com, we note that the three Braves’ outfielders led the National League at their respective positions — left, center, et cetera — in “Total Fielding Runs Above Average,” which is to say in runs saved. What’s more, the three Braves’ outfielders were, according to B-R, the three best outfielders at saving runs in the entire National League. Bourn saved 38, Heyward 23, Prado 16. (Actually Prado tied for third with the Giants’ Angel Pagan, who’s a center fielder.)

Back to FanGraphs: All three Braves’ outfielders ranked among the National League’s top 11 players in WAR (wins above replacement) index, by which sabermetricians swear. And here we see that the three Braves ranked 1-2-3 among all NL’ers at all positions in FanGraphs’ overall fielding (FLD) ratings.

The Gold Glove for National League center fielders went to Pittsburgh’s Andrew McCutchen, whose FanGraphs FLD number was minus-6.9. (This isn’t golf; miinuses aren’t good.) The Gold Glove for left fielders went to Colorado’s Carlos Gonzalez, whose FLD number was minus-8.5. Bourn’s number: Plus-22.4. Prado’s number: Plus-17.8. To borrow from the great Tennessee announcer John Ward: “Not … even … close.”

Managers and coaches vote on Gold Gloves, and not many among them are sabermetrically inclined. They use charts and numbers, sure, but they also rely on what their eyeballs tell them. And that’s my point: Sometimes in sports and particularly in baseball, our eyeballs deceive. We who watched the 2012 might not have grasped that we were observing one of the greatest defensive outfields ever assembled. But we were, and we did.

Further reading: Check the comments below this FanGraphs post on the Gold Gloves.

Still further reading: Remembering Pascual Perez, the Brave who made us smile.

By Mark Bradley

90 comments Add your comment

MatthewH

November 1st, 2012
10:44 am

I think the problem is (and maybe this is what you were saying) that Bourn made it look TOO easy. Because of his speed, he was able to get to the balls easier and make the plays, and save runs. Because he didn’t have to dive and go all out all the time, the people who vote didn’t give him a gold glove. Just because he didn’t “flash the leather” doesn’t mean he isn’t worthy!
First again?

Dave

November 1st, 2012
10:46 am

I stopped caring about gold gloves after Palmeiro won in 1999 while playing 3/4 of the season as a DH.

Chipper should have won a gold glove in 2007 but the NY bias gave the award to Wright who had the 5th or 6th best fielding percentage and had over double the errors Chipper had.

Gold gloves are a popularity contest.

Bill

November 1st, 2012
10:49 am

Mark since Bourn is as good as gone thanks to Liberty Media who do you think the Braves can sign as his replacement. Pagan perhaps?

Mark Bradley

November 1st, 2012
10:59 am

Kudos, MatthewH. And I’m not sure that’s what I was saying.

Mark Bradley

November 1st, 2012
11:00 am

Angel Pagan’s price just went up, I think.

Nativebird

November 1st, 2012
11:00 am

Which team advanced 100% of the time to the Divisional round of the 2012 National leaque playoffs? Braves or Cardinals?

gtt

November 1st, 2012
11:05 am

True. And Pascual Perez is dead.

Bahwitdabah

November 1st, 2012
11:06 am

you couldn’t find a better picture than us giving up a home run? #haters

HUH?

November 1st, 2012
11:18 am

That article made my head hurt…but yes the Braves yet again get no love. Granted a Cardinal SS need the infield fly rule to help him make a catch

eastbound and down

November 1st, 2012
11:41 am

another reason to hate sabermetrics. although i suppose is a useful tool for agents to get more money for their players during arbitration hearings

Mark Bradley

November 1st, 2012
11:49 am

Not sure sabermetrics count for much in arbitration. Too esoteric.

Tennessee Joe

November 1st, 2012
12:01 pm

Thanks for the John Ward reference. Takes me back to a real, good time!

TommyP

November 1st, 2012
12:08 pm

I had no idea they were that good as a group. Excellent article.

I knew Bourn was about as good as you can find out in CF. I also felt Heyward was becoming an excellent defender. Prado was one I felt was solid but not great.

That said, I’d still love to see Prado in the infield, preferably 2B. That would mean shipping Uggla out but I’d much rather have someone else with less hollow production. We could definitely use a Beane-like player in his place.

DeepDiver

November 1st, 2012
12:14 pm

Way to go, Mark. You are embracing technology and the new wave of more advanced statistical indicators. You are evolving, and I salute you. I wish some of the people in baseball’s cadre of decision makers would do the same.

/I’m DeepDiver, and I approve this message/

extremus

November 1st, 2012
12:16 pm

Sad word on Pascual Perez. My condolences and prayers go out for his family.

Sonny Clusters

November 1st, 2012
12:17 pm

Arguably, Martin Prado is the most valuable Braves player and he is still a man without a position. The team will see who they can find in left field or 3B and then decide where Martin will play. We’d let him pick his spot – the one where he can flourish – and then we’d find somebody else to play around him. If he wanted 2B, he’d get it. We was thinking he’s a pretty good sport to play everywhere like he does and then enter the new season not knowing his position. He was an All-Star at 2B and they took his job away. Of course, Uggla was also an All-Star even though he was hitting about .207 at the time. Change the culture and change the results. It is time.

Sam

November 1st, 2012
12:21 pm

Yea, while trying to read the article, I got lost somewhere shortly after the Freeman vs. Prado question. Z-Swing, O-Swing, FLD? What has happened to you MB?????

Sonny Clusters

November 1st, 2012
12:23 pm

You know what? If we was Fredi Gonzalez we’d have a different spring training. There’d be no golfing or fishing, just baseball. We’d set our sights on winning the World Series and we’d act accordingly. The best players would break camp and the best lineup would play every day. If somebody was better than somebody else, they’d get to play and they’d bat where they would do the most good, not where their ego said they should bat. We’d teach bunting, and base running, and we’d practice throwing to the cutoff man. We’d learn how to move ‘em over and get ‘em in. Of course, we’re not Fredi and we’re not going to see that from Fredi and the Braves are probably going to win some pretty games in the regular season and be home for the playoffs again.

*{jj}*

November 1st, 2012
12:40 pm

Great job Mark. I always like for you to write about Braves.

Braves should try to make a trade with Padres for Chase Headley who is under contract for three more years at 12 milliom total. This would be a BIG DEAL.
If Braves can’t resign Bourn I would go after Shane Victorino 1st…..Another that I would try to trade for is kid named Ben Revere who is very young and damn good and Braves would have him for 4 years.I would go after Revere even if he was not to be a starter because he will be soon.
.
Another free agent I would be interested in would be Jeff Keppinger who can play all infield positions and back up 3b.
Thanks again Mark…and write more on Braves. All of these would fit Wren budget.

IlliniBrave

November 1st, 2012
12:47 pm

They should have an honorary funeral procession for Perez all the way around I-285.

JoeBravesFan

November 1st, 2012
1:01 pm

mlbtraderumors.com seems to think the Braves could acquire Shane Victorino if we can’t re-sign Bourn. Sadly, I don’t think we’ll have the funds to re-sign Bourn, but the Flyin’ Hawaiian wouldn’t be bad to have out there either. And if Prado moves to 3rd, I would like to see Constanza in LF. That would be a FAST outfield!

*{jj}*

November 1st, 2012
1:03 pm

Mark, Denard Span was another that should have won a Gold Glove but over looked..He had the best over all fielding for AL’ers in cf….maybe Braves should consider him for CF?

braveslover

November 1st, 2012
1:08 pm

Just read about Perimator Perez, sad day for Braves fans and his family. Thanks for the memories and the personality Pascal.

braveslover

November 1st, 2012
1:15 pm

Way to ease in to the 21st century Mark. Sonny you make wayyyy to much sense. Will you clip that post and send it to Fredi and Frank? Thanks for the memories and the personality Peremiter Perez.

braveslover

November 1st, 2012
1:16 pm

Sorry for the double post.

Rick

November 1st, 2012
1:29 pm

JoeBravesFan, Constanza is simply not an everyday ML starter, and one of the bats we add needs to have more pop.

Derwood

November 1st, 2012
1:47 pm

Move Prado to third, trade for Infante from Tigers, ship Uggla to who ever will take him and then try to find someone for left. Uggla has to go. Right fielder (I think) for Marlins is a good player day in and day out.

Derwood

November 1st, 2012
1:51 pm

Sonny Clusters is correct. The veterans use spring training as vacation time wiht family. Gold, beach, shopping. It is about base ball. They should be housed at stadium 24/7. They no longer know fundamentals. Veterans aught to really look at what happened to E-Rod during series. At least Giradi had guts to do what was good for the team. Fredi will never do that

Rick

November 1st, 2012
1:53 pm

Uggla’s not going anywhere Derwood. Teams with payrolls like the Braves’ can afford to eat that big of a contract. I also don’t why the Tigers would trade Infante when he’ll only cost $4mm next year and they just gave up some good players to get him. The Marlins’ starting RF is Stanton, and he’s obviously not going anywhere.

Rick

November 1st, 2012
1:54 pm

Derwood, already forgot that McCann was benched for the WC game?

Mr C

November 1st, 2012
1:57 pm

You lost me at Z-Swing and O-Swing. Do they have A-Swing, to Z-Swing? i know K-Swing means u struck out!!!! :p

Hola BackGrinder

November 1st, 2012
2:05 pm

Gold Glove voting is junk, I mean Jeter won 5 of them, they just don’t mean much. I blogged on them myself here Gold Gloves

gordonguy1969

November 1st, 2012
2:07 pm

Hey Sonny and you other advice-givers: the Marlins, Rockies, and Blue Jays are still looking for managers. Here’s your chance to show us just how good you really are!

JoeBravesFan

November 1st, 2012
2:11 pm

Rick, Constanza won the IL Batting Title last year. If we lose Bourn, we need his speed and ability to get on base on a daily basis. He doesn’t have the “pop”, but he can hit ‘em where they ain’t, which is the ultimate goal. Imagine Constanza getting on base and Prado batting behind him. Prado hits a double, Constanza scores easily from first. And he would have the speed to chase down balls in the outfield, that might have normally fallen for a hit.

glorydays

November 1st, 2012
2:14 pm

Nice article but….arguing numbers is part of the fun of BB. If numbers say that Freeman is more selective than Prado then they are being misinterpreted. Not all strikes are equal, some (perhaps many) should not be swung at as they are the pitchers pitch, the disciplined batter should let it go depending on the count. Prado is excellent at working the count, Freeman is not.

glorydays

November 1st, 2012
2:15 pm

Constanza is fast but he is not an excellent fielder, his routes are often scary.

bulldogbubba

November 1st, 2012
2:19 pm

Prado is your man at third.Put him there and leave him and you have an instant ALL-STAR, period. You have a good outfielder in Jorge Constanza.Take him and use those fantastic hitting instructors we have to improve his hitting and we have another fast runner on base to SCORE some runs and a decent runner in the outfield. Look at Gregor Blanco with San Fran who play here a few years back. He was the same player in Atlanta but we thought Matt Diaz and Grag Norton were what we needed so we traded him to Kansas City and lost a good ball player.We do have a decent team with what we have in players but when does Fredi and Frank start using them instead of finding HAS-BENS to fill positions. GO BRAVES 2013

Rick

November 1st, 2012
2:20 pm

JoeBravesFan, if we lose Bourn, we get a guy like Pagan or Victorino instead. Speed is a great tool, but it doesn’t matter if you can’t hit consistently, which Constanza can not in the ML. He barely can hit the ball out of the infield. The Braves have the money to get someone of worth. Promoting Constanza to full time starter would only be in the name of saving cash and would be a terrible decision. With Chipper gone, a down power year from Uggla, and uncertainties with McCann, another bat with pop is even more necessary for this lineup.

Steve

November 1st, 2012
2:21 pm

This is EXACTLY why I keep saying we need to keep Prado in LF and fixate on a true 3rd baseman. Prado is an elite LF’er. Prado is not quite as good at 3B, though I think he would still be a great starter there.

The OF’s available at a decent price for LF either can’t field or can’t hit, or can’t hit for any pop. Prado can do most of all of those, and the pop is not bad. Why overpay for a middling LF when we already have a potential All-Star there.

3rd base has better options and if the worst case scenario comes to pass we can try Francisco or TP there. Heck, we could put TP in at 2B and move Uggla to third, which I think he might actually be a better fit for given his lack of range but fairly quick hands (he can turn a DP very well, which requires footwork and good hands).

Don’t overspend on a crappy FA crop. Prado in LF, Uggla at 3B, Pastornicky or Janish at 2nd with the other filling a utility role. Go after Bourn for CF. We should be way under budget and we would have a decent ‘contact-hitting’ team with some pop. That is the recipe the Giants and Cards used very effectively.

Rick

November 1st, 2012
2:22 pm

Blanco hit 244/333/344 this year. Yeah he’s a real great player.

Tami

November 1st, 2012
2:23 pm

Sounds like our LFielder (Prado) and our CFielder (Bourn) got gipped!!

Sooooo sorry to hear about the death of Pascual Perez today. I hope they catch the morons who killed him!

Rick

November 1st, 2012
2:25 pm

Steve, there are far more options in FA this year in LF than there are at 3B. Name some specific 3B free agents we should go after if you disagree. And Uggla at 3B would be terrible. The worst part of his defense is his arm.

Steve

November 1st, 2012
2:27 pm

FYI … Prado has played 1359.2 innings at third base and has a .965 fielding percentage. That is nowhere near All-Star or Gold Glove.

People need to stop assuming Prado will be an All-Star or even league average at 3rd. He has had plenty of time to prove it and has NOT.

Give the Prado will be a deity at 3rd base talk a rest folks.

GT Alum

November 1st, 2012
2:28 pm

Well, and part of the problem with having managers and coaches vote on these awards is I wonder how much time they really have to watch other teams’ games. Sure they do it while scouting before they play them and while they play them, but the only players coaches and managers see much of are those in their own division. The rest it’s maybe 10-15 games (including scouting reviews) plus highlights. And we all know highlights, as fun as they are, don’t give a true picture of a player’s abilities and performance.

Bad Dawg

November 1st, 2012
2:30 pm

Transcript from this week’s UGA-Ole Miss Game-Planning meeting with CMR, CMB and CTG:

CMR: Today we have a special guest! I’ve invited Shawn Williams to join us because, as we saw, Shawn did a better job motivating the defense in 10 minutes than we have all year. Personally, I prefer gimmicks, but whatever, it’s our first winning streak vs UF in 25 years!

CTG: Speaking of gimmicks, I’m afraid to ask what are those red bracelets for?

CRM: Don’t be afraid Big Boy, these are WWSWD bracelets and we’ll be wearing them the rest of the year. Shawn, would you say a few words please?

SW: Thank you coach. It’s an honor to be here. I believe strongly in shifting the attitudinal paradigm; not just for the defense, not just for the team, but for the entire program! I believe in personal accountability for players and coaches alike! Many players here harbor dreams of playing in the NFL. Let’s embrace, nurture and build on that! Treat us like the men we are becoming. Decide who will play based on merit, not some seniority-based system that may keep our best on the bench.
(CTG and CMB stare unblinking with eyes big as saucers, mouths agape)

CMR: Whoa there Shawn baby. RELAX! Don’t go all Tony Robbins on us. We’re playing Ole Miss not Bama! I was looking for some positive vibes not a manifesto. What the heck are you majoring in anyway? Pretty words?

SW: I just want to add that the team is looking forward to you taking an active role in coaching the kickers. We’ve just got to fix the kicking game!

CMR: Thanks SW. As mentioned in last week’s presser, I’m going to first learn the ABCs of kicking then I’ll coach my tail off. Got a great head-start as Blair Walsh sent me “Ace Ventura-Pet Detective”. It’s a super-awesome instructional video for kickers and a cautionary tale as well. Seems this poor Dolphins kicker, Ray Finkel, missed a Super-Bowl winning chip-shot when Dan Marino botched the hold and naturally, he wound up turning into a woman. Since Ray, Dan, Blair, Marshall and I are all from South Florida, it really hits close to home. Apparently it’s vitally important to have the laces out when holding for a kick. Who knew, right?

CMB: I really don’t think MM will become a wom…oh, forget it. Let’s focus on the Black Bears.

CMR: Gotta tell ya fellas, just love that Hottie Toddy cheer! Had it stuck in my head all week!

CMB: Thinking we keep the good times rolling this week we are going to cancel practice, talk about how great we are, read our press clippings and watch the WLOCP again! We’ll be fine on Saturday-Murray can’t play worse, right?

CTG: (Red-faced, voice rising) I suggest you practice harder than that, your O managed a whopping 10 points on our 6 turnovers. We can’t gift-wrap games for you every week. On D we are going to keep the intensity up through public insults and

CMR: Don’t be such a Gasbag Todd! Let’s use our inside voices. No more sideline meltdowns either, try to be more like Shawn. Gotta run and talk to Vern and Gary.
Enter your comments here

Rick

November 1st, 2012
2:31 pm

Steve, the league average fielding percentage at 3B is 954 and RF is 2.55. As you pointed out, Prado’s fielding percentage is 965, and his RF is 2.7. So can you please explain how he’s not above league average now?

GT Alum

November 1st, 2012
2:33 pm

Rick -

It’s debatable whether the worst part of Uggla’s D is his arm or his lateral movement. Either way, those are the 2 most important parts of playing defense at 3B. While range isn’t as important at 3B as say SS, being able to move laterally quickly is, and Uggla doesn’t have range or lateral quickness.

Rick

November 1st, 2012
2:37 pm

GT Alum, either way, we agree Uggla is not a good fit for 3B. The reason I think his arm is the worst part of his defense is because it seems like the majority of his errors are on poor throws that sail well wide of 1B. And Freeman has saved his butt more times than I can count. His RF is actually not bad at all.

I say...

November 1st, 2012
2:47 pm

Clusters for manager of the Braves. He sure as hell can’t do worse than what they have. May you be in Gods arms Pascual Perez

SeATLite

November 1st, 2012
2:48 pm

One of your best columns in quite a while, Mark, and all the more enjoyable for being oh so true.