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Zimmerman, Wright and the Gold Glove

So let's get this Gold Glove nonsense out of the way by saying this: It is an offensive award. The more I talked to people about Ryan Zimmerman's chances of winning the Gold Glove for NL third baseman, the more people drilled into my head that playing good defense is great and all, but really, to get into the minds of voters - and in this case, it's the managers and coaches in your league - you have to hit. Then, when the managers and coaches are handed the ballots, they kind of go, "Man, that David Wright's a good player."

I have very mixed feelings about writers voting on awards. The Post doesn't allow its staff members to vote on such things as MVP, Cy Young, rookie of the year or Hall of Fame. More papers are following suit. Think about the potential for conflict brought up by, say, Curt Schilling's contract with Boston, which awards him $1 million if he gets even one third-place vote for the AL Cy Young award in 2008. What's to prevent him from going over to any writer and saying, "Hey, you want $100,000? Put me in third place"? The writer doubles or triples his/her salary, and Schilling still pockets $900 large.

An extreme example, to be sure, but lots of players have incentive clauses, and that puts the press that covers them in position to impact their bank accounts. Not cool.

Still, here's an instance where it's possible the press might put more thought into voting than, say, the Marlins' first base coach.

First, a disclaimer: I do feel like familiarity goes a long way toward determining how you feel about a player's defense. You appreciate the above-average plays a guy makes when you see him every day. I certainly feel this way about Zimmerman. There were so many plays the guy makes that very few, if any, other third basemen make that they got to the point where they didn't seem newsworthy.

That said, because I know he can be so good, I hold him responsible for all those errors (23). Only one NL third baseman, Milwaukee's Ryan Braun, made more. And for voters who want an easy stat to look at, that certainly could have been enough to make them turn to Wright over Zimmerman, even though Wright made 21 errors. Some of the errors, particularly throws to first base, seemed careless and were clearly avoidable.

Let's look at straight stats among NL third basemen, though defensive stats are a little weird. Here we go:

1. Ryan Braun, Milwaukee - 26
T2. Miguel Cabrera, Florida - 23
T2. Ryan Zimmerman, Washington - 23
4. Kevin Kouzmanoff, San Diego - 22
5. David Wright, Mets - 21

Fielding percentage:
1. Pedro Feliz, San Francisco -- .973
2. Aramis Ramirez, Cubs -- .972
3. Chipper Jones, Atlanta - 971
4. Scott Rolen, St. Louis -- .969
5. Garrett Atkins, Colorado - .963

8. Ryan Zimmerman, Washington -- .955
9. David Wright, Mets -- .954

Total chances
1. Ryan Zimmerman, Washington -- 511
2. David Wright, Mets -- 452
3. Pedro Feliz, San Francisco -- 406
4. Miguel Cabrera, Florida -- 389
5. Jose Bautista, Pittsburgh -- 361

Total chances/9 innings
1. Abraham Nunez, Philadelphia - 3.41
2. Ryan Zimmerman, Washington - 3.21
3. Scott Rolen, St. Louis - 3.09
4. Jose Bautista, Pittsburgh - 3.05
5. Pedro Feliz, San Francisco - 3.00

7. David Wright, Mets - 2.87

Double plays:
1. Ryan Zimmerman, Washington -- 39
2. Garrett Atkins, Colorado -- 34
3. Miguel Cabrera, Florida -- 33
4. Pedro Feliz, San Francisco -- 28
5. David Wright, Mets - 24

Range factor/game (Putouts/assists divided by games played):
1. Ryan Zimmerman, Washington -- 3.03
2. Scott Rolen, St. Louis -- 2.78
3. Pedro Feliz, San Francisco -- 2.76
4. Aramis Ramirez, Cubs -- 2.76
5. Jose Bautista, Pittsburgh -- 2.75
6. David Wright, Mets -- 2.71

Range factor/9 innings (Putouts/assists divided by innings played times 9):
1. Abraham Nunez, Philadelphia -- 3.27
2. Ryan Zimmerman, Washington -- 3.07
3. Scott Rolen, St. Louis -- 2.99
4. Jose Bautista, Pittsburgh -- 2.92
5. Pedro Feliz, San Francisco -- 2.91

7. David Wright, Mets -- 2.73

Zone rating:
1. Pedro Feliz, San Francisco -- .852
2. Scott Rolen, St. Louis -- .847
3. Ryan Zimmerman, Washington -- .811
4. Abraham Nunez, Philadelphia -- .810
5. Chipper Jones, Atlanta -- .797

8. David Wright, Mets -- .771

So let's make one thing clear: David Wright committed two fewer errors - in 59 fewer chances - than did Ryan Zimmerman. That, however, is the only statistical measure in which Wright beat out Zimmerman.

Range factor should be explained well enough above. Basically, the idea is that the more outs a player is involved in, the more balls he gets to. Obviously, this could be skewed by a team that allows more balls to be put in play - such as the Nationals - but it's fairly reliable and accepted.

Zone rating is explained here, but it's basically a way to quantify the percentage of grounders hit into an infielder's zone of responsibility on which he makes a play. It's based on dividing the field into pie slices, as seen here.

The bottom line: If Zimmerman makes, say, four fewer errors - or, shoot, just two fewer errors, putting him in a tie with Wright - then I'd say he wins the Gold Glove going away, because the coaches and managers doing the voting can't hold that against him.

For what it's worth, guru Bill James, who came up with "The Fielding Bible," commissioned a 10-member panel to pick defensive awards at each position, and they gave it to Pedro Feliz, who, as you can see above, had a fine defensive year.

(James, as many of you have noted, also had Zimmerman ranked No. 11 in his young talent rankings, just behind Cole Hamels and just ahead of Troy Tulowitzki. And, as some of you have noted, he accompanied it with this comment: "A Ken Boyer, Scott Rolen-type third baseman. You'll know if the Washington press corps ever starts going to baseball games, because if they do, Zimmerman will be more famous than Britney Spears." Ouch. As someone who has attended, oh, let's say a handful of games over the past few years, I'm doing my part to get the word out. Maybe he means Tim Russert and the like.)

Anyway: Zimmerman vowed to me yesterday that he would cut down his errors - way down - next season. It seems to me that he's going to take this as a personal challenge to beat Wright and then win the award for the next eight seasons or so. He already makes the most jaw-dropping plays night-in, night-out, of any third baseman in the league - and, some might argue, of any player at any position. Now, if he just concentrates on making all the routine ones, the Washington press corps could have an annual "Zimmerman Wins Gold Glove" story in its collective laptop and just recycle it each November.

By Barry Svrluga  |  November 7, 2007; 2:27 PM ET
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