Gordon Beckham and Defense: Who to Believe?

Gordon Beckham and Defense: Who to Believe?

I don't think of myself as a particularly strong sabermetric guy, but I also don't write off numbers simply because I'm not familiar with them or I don't quite understand them.  Similarly, I wouldn't say I'm a devotee to traditional notions about baseball either.  Too often that line of thinking relies on outdated and often wrong methods of analysis.  The traditionalist also tend to devolve down to the "You never played" or "You haven't covered" the game line of reasoning which is just worthless.  Of course the number guys also can come from a very high, albeit different, high horse,  the "we figured out these numbers and you can't question math" horse.  They get really bitchy when you say their explanations are lacking and usually dismiss me by calling me stupid or some such thing.

Which leads us to Gordon Beckham, specifically his defensive skills.  Thankfully we don't need to discuss his batting skills much anymore.  Anyway, the radio and TV guys, in-studio guys and other gabbers and writers all comment that Beckham is a superior fielder, a should be gold glover.  I really got thinking about this after Chuck Garfien tweeted "Gordon Beckham = Gold Glover."  Thinking led to writing and here we are.  Is Gordon Beckham a good, nee, great fielder?

Comparing Beckham to the Gold Glove winners in the years he has been a second baseman, the answer to the great fielder question is no.  Since Gold Glove is a bit of an older, traditional award (not to mention biased toward better offensive players) I just compared Beckham's counting/traditional stats to the winner in each year.


Beckham PO: 245 A: 375 DP: 100 E: 12 Fielding %: .981 (games at second 126)

Robinson Cano PO: 341 A: 432 DP: 114 E: 3 Fielding %: .996 (games 158)


Beckham PO 272 A: 443 DP: 84 E: 8 Fielding %: .989

Pedroia: PO 290 A: 425 DP 81 E: 7 Fielding %: .990


Beckham:  PO: 280 A: 411 DP: 110 E: 7 Fielding %: .990

Cano: PO: 285 A: 435 DP: 92 E: 6 Fielding %: .992


Beckham PO: 212 A: 255 DP: 69 E: 12 Fielding %: .975

Pedroia: PO: 254 A: 429 DP: 102 E: 5 Fielding %: .993

Looking at these numbers, Beckham is pretty comparable in 2011 and 2012 but not so much in 2010 or 2013.  Interestingly he played his fewest games in 2010 and 2013, yet had his highest totals in errors which adversely affected his fielding percentage.  Having said that, I don't think, at least in relation to the winners of each respective year, that one could say Beckham was slighted by not winning the award.  In no season that he has been at second base has Beckham been better than the recipient of the Gold Glove.  It's been close for sure, but no injustice.

Other statistics tell a different story.  The first is the Fielding Bible Awards, voted on annually by a bunch of Bill James's buddies.  Before you go all nerdaphobic, well sure some of the guys are saberheads (Bill James, Brian Kenny, Dave Cameron), but not all of them.  The panel also consists of folks like Doug Glanville and Peter Gammons. In 2010, Beckham didn't receive any votes from the panel and had his lowest runs saved, -4.  In 2011 Beckham was ranked 9th for the Fielding Bible and 10th in runs saved; 2012, Beckham missed the top 10 in MLB by one vote.  He also didn't crack the top 10 in runs saved.  In 2013, Beckham only received 5 votes for the Fielding Bible Award, putting him well behind the leaders.  As far as runs saved, he scored his second lowest total -3.  So with the a second body of evidence, (and we could dig deeper into the Bill James Handbook, but I won't) the results a about the same, if not a little bleaker for Beckham.  If I had to place a value on Beckham from what the Fielding Bible folks say, it would be he's ok.  Not an elite and is capable of actually hurting the team, albeit only slightly with his fielding.

The last place to look is in the more other metrics.  According to Baseball-Reference and Baseball Info Solutions, Beckham's career Total Runs Above Average is -3.  His best year was 2011 when he posted a 4, Pedroia that year had a 9.  In his other years at second base he either posted a 0 or a negative number.

The other measure from Saberland is UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating) from Fangraphs, who also use Baseball Info Solutions data.  I found this from the glossary very helpful.  My research-oriented brain wants to understand more, but I'm not ready for that rabbit hole just yet.  If you look at that definition, UZR isn't particularly difficult to understand.  It is just another counting stat, just a really big one.  It also involves averages, but I'm pretty sure that is sixth grade math, so I'm good.  When we start talking linear weights and such my math phobia starts to kick in, damn Sister Mary Monica and her algebra overhead transparencies.

Back to Gordon:  According to the glossary entry, UZR breaks down like this: Gold Glover: 15+, Great: +10, Above Average: +5, Average: 0, Below Average: -5, Poor: -10, Awful: -15.  Beckham finds himself slightly above average for his career with a 3.7 UZR and a .7 for UZR/150.  For a little context, Beckham's best defensive year 2011 he had a 2.8 UZR and 2.7 UZR/150.  The Gold Glove winner that year Dustin Pedroia? 18.1 UZR 19.6 UZR/150.

So, where does that leave us?  Does Chuck Garfien's tweet, "Gordon Beckham = Gold Glove" ring true?  Not really.  Beckham is an average second basemen, has some years better than others, which is the definition of average.  I think it allows for a certain amount of subjectivity which I think is inherent in defensive assessment.  In better years, Beckham has been recognized with some votes for the Fielding Bible Awards and conversely not so much when he's been below average.  Beckham isn't a liability, but he isn't the rock that some people portray him as either.  His defensive play isn't enough to keep Micah Johnson from taking his place and he hasn't earned a gold glove.

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