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Did Dunn really cost Zimmerman the Gold Glove?

By Dave Sheinin

In writing about Ryan Zimmerman's failure to win a second consecutive Gold Glove Award for National League third baseman -- here is the blog post, and here is the piece for the dead-tree edition -- I mentioned, somewhat casually, the likelihood that Adam Dunn's presence as the Nationals' first baseman had contributed to Zimmerman's increase in errors in 2010.

I based that assertion largely on memory, as well as the fact that 11 of Zimmerman's 17 errors were on throws. It was understood among those of us who cover the team that Dunn cost Zimmerman a handful of errors by not rescuing slightly errant throws. How many? If pressed, I would've pegged the number at about a half-dozen. Why not investigate further, by checking the video of each error? Because: A) it would still have been a very subjective (or even pointless) exercise, as each errant throw would have to be categorized as being preventable, or not, by a better defensive first baseman, B) I trusted my memory, and C) I didn't believe it mattered in the big picture to come up with a firm number. In other words: How many fewer errors would it have taken for Zimmerman to beat out Scott Rolen for the Gold Glove? There's no way to know.

But one of the great things about baseball writing in the Internet age is that there are plenty of folks out there who will hold you accountable, and a blogger named David Lint, who publishes a blog called For Love of the Nationals, has done exactly that with an excellent post, fashioned as an open letter to me, that breaks down all of Zimmerman's throwing errors. Read the whole thing for yourself, but Lint's conclusion -- which he arrived at by watching video of each throw -- is that Dunn cost Zimmerman only three errors this season.

I won't quibble with his findings, except to point out how incredibly subjective an exercise this is -- the real number may be six, as my memory told me, or it could be zero. How many of the errant throws would have been saved by a Gold Glove-caliber first baseman? By a league-average first baseman? Besides, all of Zimmerman's throwing errors were, by definition, poor throws (either in the dirt, wide of the target, or air-mailed) that don't necessarily require a secondary assignation of blame.

And so, to return to the question posed in the title of this post, did Dunn cost Zimmerman the Gold Glove? I don't think so, and I never said so. I think Rolen's reputation, resurgent offensive season and fielding percentage, in that order -- plus the fact he is really, really good -- won him the award. Rolen in his prime was the best defensive third baseman I've ever seen, though Zimmerman, in my mind, is right there with him.

But I also believe the defensive quality of a first baseman has a major impact on the rest of a team's infielders. And apparently the Nationals do, too -- which is the main reason they don't seem to be highly motivated to re-sign Dunn, despite his obvious (offensive) attributes.

By Dave Sheinin  | November 11, 2010; 9:48 AM ET
Categories:  Adam Dunn, Ryan Zimmerman  
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So, Adam writes, the main reason Dunn is not being re-signed is his defense?

If the Nats could get Dunn for $6 million a year for 4 years, they would gladly do it. It's the price that is the biggest reason he will not be re-signed. If the budget stays about the same as it has been over the last few years, the Nats can't sign Dunn. If they did, then they could not meet other needs. They can't blow their whole unspent budget just on Dunn. So Dunn has to go, unless the Nats want to expand their budget beyond the current small-town-budget level. There is no indication of any willingness to do that.

Posted by: EdDC | November 11, 2010 10:31 AM | Report abuse

Adam didn't write either post on this - both are Shenin's work

Posted by: sjm3091 | November 11, 2010 10:36 AM | Report abuse

I'm for signing Dunn, but fielding is just one of the reasons that give pause. He also fails to put the ball in play nearly half of his at bats (199 strike outs and 77 walks), he does not hit lefties well (.199/.304/.416), and consistently wears down in the second half each year.

I repeat, I'm for signing Dunn. It's just hard to make a strong case for paying over market value for him. And market value seems to argue for less than a 3 year deal.

Posted by: natbiscuits | November 11, 2010 10:47 AM | Report abuse

The fact is that the errors were made by Zim, not by Dunn. Zim had a lousy fielding percentage at .951 -- simply not Gold Glove worthy. It is bad. There's no need to go to "advanced metrics" when the voters can see with their own eyes that the guy is not making the plays he should make. And Rolen's classic stats out-pace Zim and his advanced metrics are also very good.

Dave needs to get over it. Rolen played well enough to earn it on the merits, not because of reputation as the lead factor (as if Zim's reputation would not have been the reason he'd have won it over Headley or Polanco -- new-comers to the position with arguably better stats than Zim -- had Rolen still been in the AL).

Dave's post blamed Dunn for some portion of Zim's reduced fielding percentage -- that was wrong-headed from the start and it did not require a "let's go to the video tape" moment of review. Sure had an error here or there been saved, the fielding percentage would likely be slightly higher. But, because Dunn did not save this or that bad throw does not change the fact that Zim screwed it up in the first place.

But, maybe the better use of the video would be for us to go to the video tape vault and find out if there are reels of Robinson and Schmidt making side/under-arm throws across the diamond for no reason at all a la Zim.

Posted by: dfh21 | November 11, 2010 10:57 AM | Report abuse

Nice post, Dave (S), and nice work by "Linty," too.

Posted by: jca-CrystalCity | November 11, 2010 11:00 AM | Report abuse

Is it possible that Dunn's height and reach enabled him to catch some of Zimmerman's errant throws and prevent them from being errors, or is it assumed that a "better" first baseman also would have saved such throws?

Posted by: arlingtonresident1 | November 11, 2010 11:18 AM | Report abuse

Think what Dunn's market value would be if he were a better fielder--even more unaffordable for this impoverished franchise.

Posted by: EdDC | November 11, 2010 11:31 AM | Report abuse

"A) it would still have been a very subjective (or even pointless) exercise, as each errant throw would have to be categorized as being preventable, or not, by a better defensive first baseman"

"I won't quibble with his findings, except to point out how incredibly subjective an exercise this is."

Dave, it's funny to see you bend over backwards pointing out how "subjective" the process is in reviewing the video of Zimmerman's throwing errors, as if that tarnishes Lint's analysis.

And yet in your post yesterday you pointed to how "Zimmerman scored well in advanced defensive metrics, such as's UZR." You do know how UZR is calculated, don't you? It is a subjective process based on video review by real live people. Strange that you didn't point out the subjective aspects of UZR, huh?

So, is video review only reliable in your view when you can tag a fancy sabermetric name onto the results? Or, without really thinking about what you are saying, are you just trying to denigrate Lint's analysis as "subjective" because you think it's an easy way to try to take a shot at something that undermines your own shoot-from-the hip, unfounded assertions?

Posted by: CoverageisLacking | November 11, 2010 11:39 AM | Report abuse

Not such a great DS post in my mind -- Dave tells us: "did Dunn cost Zimmerman the Gold Glove? I don't think so, and I never said so."

But he clearly intimated that Zim would have had fewer errors without Dunn. DS from his post: “Although Zimmerman's fielding percentage was down . . . that drop is at least partly explained by the presence this season of Adam Dunn, a below-average defender, as the everyday first baseman -- which, presumably, meant fewer of Zimmerman's errant throws were saved.” Presumably, with fewer errors Zim has a better chance to win the GG. So, DS did point a finger at Dunn.

Did he say “Adam Dunn cost Zim the Gold Glove”? No. But he might as well have done so; he said Dunn was partially responsible for Zim’s drop in fielding production, the stat the voters seemingly looked to.

And DS’s dig at the end is a laugher – “But I also believe the defensive quality of a first baseman has a major impact on the rest of a team's infielders. And apparently the Nationals do, too -- which is the main reason they don't seem to be highly motivated to re-sign Dunn, despite his obvious (offensive) attributes.”

That is BS and Dave and everyone else in here knows it – the main reason the Nats are not highly motivated to ink Dunn is MONEY. And there are several other clubs, winning clubs with solid infielders, enduring worse fielding 1B’s than Big Adam (in his first year at the position – an excuse Fielder and Howard and Konerko, among others who stunk it up at 1B this year, cannot make).

Posted by: dfh21 | November 11, 2010 11:40 AM | Report abuse

Adam Dunn did NOT cause Zimmerman to lose the gold glove award. The real reasons Zimmerman lost the GG is because:
1. Scott Rolen has won a bunch in the past and the award clearly is based more on reputation than ability (see Jeter, Derek).
2. Rolen he had fewer errors and a higher fielding percentage. Leading to...
3. By and large, MLB players and certainly coaches/managers have no idea what UZR/150 or field F/x is, and thus have no idea that there are better ways to measure fielding performances.
4. Coaches and Managers probably give Gold Glove votes as much thought as they give to what can of Beer they're quaffing that night.

So, lets not get worked up about the award and whether or not Dunn cost Zimmerman the award. We all have seen Dunn in the field; he's not the best firstbaseman out there and certainly misses some throws in the dirt that better fielders get. However. He's adequate and he mashes the ball and he fields a position that you CAN hide a guy. He's 6'6" and nobody talks about the errant throws he turns into putouts simply because he's a big dude.

Lint's analysis is good and useful. But the fact is Zimmerman airmailed a bunch of throws this year and those impressions add up to ver take all the fantastic plays he makes to save doubles or turn bunts into outs. Life is unfair sometimes.

Posted by: tboss | November 11, 2010 11:53 AM | Report abuse

Zims glove is about the best I have ever seen at that position but the way he's been flipping the ball over to first base is going to be a problem no matter who is our first baseman. Regardless what Riggs and the organization is saying, there has to be some concern with his throwing. He throws as if he is having shoulder issues, but I have not heard that to be the case.

Posted by: Jurgensen9 | November 11, 2010 11:55 AM | Report abuse


since it's now become pretty clear that Rizzo never really intended to keep Dunn (unless on very very favorable terms, which Dunn was likely to reject), what should we make of the fact that Rizzo chose not to trade him??

I just can't figure this one out. By all accounts, Rizzo could have had Daniel Hudson for two months of Dunn (and for maybe two draft picks). Hudson, of course, has been sensational with the Dbacks (WHIP of 0.84 in 79.2 innings) and should be a very solid no. 3 starter.

I haven't been paying much attention the past few weeks, so maybe I missed something, but it is my impression that nobody really wonders about this non-trade. But if I'm to trust Rizzo in the future, I need a good explanation for why he did not trade Dunn. "We preferred the two picks" is not good enough. If they pan out, it'll be years from now. This team, however, absolutely needs to be a contender in 2012, or Zim is gone. Hudson would have been a good piece to the puzzle.

Have you asked Rizzo about it? Do you have an explanation?

Posted by: amo36 | November 11, 2010 12:04 PM | Report abuse

I throw up a little in my mouth each time I have to watch Zim throw the ball to first. The only time that doesn't happen is when he is moving to his left or in towards the first baseman. He's got some serious Steve Sax/Chuck Knoblauch issues. His glove is dynamite but that doesn't make up for his awful throws.

Posted by: NatyPete | November 11, 2010 1:01 PM | Report abuse

Face the facts - The Gold Glove voting is based on the opinions of ML Managers & Coaches; SABR-metric breakdowns of fielding isn't this groups' strong point, and offensive production has always seemed to play a role in the final vote as well. The vote is based more on "who killed us this year" than it is about "who's the best fielder we've seen".

In terms of players, Headley(SD), Polanco(PHI), Rolen(CIN), Wright(NYM), and Zimmerman(WSH) were probably all fair candidates; The votes just fell to the player with the reputation (Rolen) this year, possibly assisted by the fact that his team made the playoffs.

Posted by: BinM | November 11, 2010 1:09 PM | Report abuse

Amo36, regarding your comment:

"I haven't been paying much attention the past few weeks, so maybe I missed something, but it is my impression that nobody really wonders about this non-trade. But if I'm to trust Rizzo in the future, I need a good explanation for why he did not trade Dunn."

As Boz related in a chat last month, the Dunn trade was vetoed by Kasten and the Lerners. Meanwhile, throughout the season, Kasten was pushing the Lerners to resign Dunn and they dragged their feet, waiting for terms more to their liking. The whole situation was dysfunctional, but Rizzo is not at all to blame.

Posted by: MikeH0714 | November 11, 2010 1:42 PM | Report abuse

I'd have to assume the reason Rizzo did not trade Dunn at the deadline is that he thought what was offered was no better than the draft choice the Nats will get for losing a Type A free agent. Which would mean what was offered wasn't very much.

Posted by: nats24 | November 11, 2010 1:47 PM | Report abuse

There's an additional reasons not to re-sign Adam Dunn. Prince Fielder, Adrian Gonzalez and Albert Pujols potentially will all be free agents after the 2011 season, I doubt the Yankees will or can sign all three, save your powder Nats for Nats off season when looking to give 2 4 plus year contract to a first baseman.

Posted by: 4U2Know | November 11, 2010 1:53 PM | Report abuse

Personally, I think Rolen won on reputation. He is much better at catching what he gets to, but Zim is more likely to get you out on the tough plays. Whatever. It's all subjective.

The point is Zimmerman is a much better player than Rolen. MUCH Better. If the Nats went insane and offered Zim strait-up for any other third-baseman in the Majors (outside of Tampa -- and including the Yankees), they would have a deal.

Zim is the best third-baseman in the NL. Who cares if Scott Rolen is more popular?

Posted by: noslok | November 11, 2010 4:52 PM | Report abuse

From how many throwing errors did Dunn save Zimmerman?

Julian Tepper
Placitas, NM

Posted by: jutepper1 | November 11, 2010 4:59 PM | Report abuse

My observation on Zim's year is that he changed his throwing style from overhand to a sidearm or underhanded flip throw. He would have had even more errors if Dunn had not been 6'6" and was able to get the throws that took off high with this throwing style. The flip throw is great for balls that need to be charged but is not so good or reliable for balls back in the infield. As a former third baseman (long ago), I had to learn both kinds of throws and found the flip perfect for double play balls or bunts but not for balls in the hole or back in the infield. I noticed this about Zim in the opening day game (which was awful) and indicated to my friends that I thought Zim would have more errors this year. And he did. I thought Dunn did very well with thrown balls as opposed to covering ground balls. For what it is worth. And I would resign Dunn!

Posted by: pquinlan1 | November 11, 2010 6:53 PM | Report abuse

DEAD LAST 2x with ADAM'll be DEAD LAST in 2011...with or would you rather have $15-20 mil to spend? Because DEAD a gfiven !!!!!

Posted by: GRIMReaper55 | November 11, 2010 8:22 PM | Report abuse

Zim taketh a lot more outs than he giveth away. A whole lot more.

Posted by: 202character | November 11, 2010 8:53 PM | Report abuse

Were you to young to see Brooks Robinson play? He was the best that I have ever seen. No slight intended to Zim, he is young and still has a chance to reach that level. But, Rolen isn't at that level.

Posted by: baseball411 | November 11, 2010 9:07 PM | Report abuse

Brooks Robinson was arguably the greatest defensive player of all time at any position, by eyewitnesses accounts and by the stats.

Posted by: 202character | November 11, 2010 9:33 PM | Report abuse

Keep it simple--Dunn has not and will not play with intensity for Washington. He's not like us, we have DC pride. Dunn plays like it's a pay-check. Everybody wants to ignore the simple failures he completes with no mention from any game commentator or media--Case Closed.

Posted by: CTaylor42 | November 12, 2010 12:16 AM | Report abuse

BS... The reason Zman has so many throwing errors is that he insists on throwing to 1B underarm instead of over the top like your taught when your 8 years old. If he sets his feet and comes over the top he reduces his errors by 50%.

Posted by: clawyyyaolcom | November 12, 2010 7:46 AM | Report abuse

The nationals chatter about Dunn effecting Zimmermans awards is overlooking the Dunn effect on Zimmermans hitting. I suspect Zimm got another 15-20 points in average because of Dunn's presence in the lineup. If they don't sign Dunn and get Pena, I'm betting Zimm hits .275, 15 hr, and 75 RBI's. And the Nat's lose another 90 games. Enough is enough. I'm as mad as a rabid Tea Party fruitcake about the Nat's inability to field a major league team. Whether it's the Lerner's cheapness or the players we put on the field....they just make too many mistakes to compete. Come May the only team in Washington playing for hardware will be the Caps.

Posted by: colonelken | November 12, 2010 9:10 AM | Report abuse

Since when did baseball become about individual statistics? If Zimmerman won a gold glove...would that have improved the Nats in the standings? What is more impt.,
Dunn`s fielding...or the 38 or so home runs he hit? Dunn made Zimmerman a better hitter.
See how he does without Dunn in the lineup next year.
Yes a great fielding first baseman is wonderful to have...but if the guy hits 10
dingers a it worth the trade off?
Dunn...brings fans into the ball park...would the 10 homer guy who is a good that?


Posted by: blazerguy234 | November 12, 2010 9:12 AM | Report abuse

Other things that are subjective in baseball:

UZR & UZR/150 - both of which you had no problem in referencing in your Rolen piece.

The strike zone

Oh, and THE SCORING OF ERRORS. The scorekeeper's determination is based on THEIR JUDGMENT.

What's NOT subjective is your professional responsibility as a journalist to FACT CHECK YOUR ASSERTIONS. I cannot believe you really relied on just your RECOLLECTION of all 162 games. That's shameful. When you conduct interviews, I assume you take no notes and don't record anything, and just reconstruct the quotes to the best of your memory later?

If you're going to throw around advanced metrics in order to demonstrate you want to get beyond Joe-Morgan-esque "I'm not going to read a book about a computer" approach, then do us all a favor and do ALL of the work.

Posted by: neato_torpedo | November 12, 2010 9:18 AM | Report abuse

You're such an ass! You write an article that pretends to be fair and then include with it the most unflattering photograph of Dunn that you could find!

Posted by: SJRose | November 12, 2010 9:31 AM | Report abuse

If Zimm can get his throws under better control he'll win a bunch of these and go to the HOF. If not, probably not. I'm hoping. I'm even optimistic. But I don't think this year was an injustice.

Posted by: markfromark | November 12, 2010 9:36 AM | Report abuse

The majority, of Zimmerman's throwing errors had nothing to do with Dunn. In fact, Dunn saved Ryan from, at least, several additional throwing errors by his ability to stretch and corral sailing throws. While, overall, Ryan's defense is excellent; his major shortcoming is the inability to always make an accurate throw to first base after a _routine_ play.

Posted by: mgilham | November 12, 2010 9:38 AM | Report abuse

Rolen is no Brooks Robinson! Come on - check your sources...

Posted by: DontGetIt | November 12, 2010 10:55 AM | Report abuse

No, he probably did not cost the GG. And he certainly helped get the SS. Any owner who wasn't a hopeless cheapskate would have signed the man to a 3 year contract when he could have last July. But we are stuck with Uncle Teddy. Sad.

Posted by: NatsFly | November 12, 2010 11:13 AM | Report abuse

How about Zimmerman should have made better throws?

Give me a break.

Was Dunn at first base for all the throwing errors?

Were all the throwing errors to first base?

the writer is on something.

Posted by: mrcox54 | November 12, 2010 11:41 AM | Report abuse

This is ridiculous. Scott Rolen probably really deserved the Gold Glove, although I hate the Phillies as much as anybody.

But it isn't Adam Dunn's fault that Zimmerman "lost" the Gold Glove this year (in much the same way that Truman "lost" China in 1949). In fact, Adam Dunn played a passable first base, particularly the part that involves catching throws from other infielders (he's not as strong at picking up grounders and liners hit toward first by the batter). He SAVED Zimmerman maybe as many as 15-20 errors this year with his height and ability to stretch.

I will mourn the loss of Adam Dunn if it happens perhaps a bit less than some others who value homers above clutch hitting and fielding, but his shortcomings didn't cost Zimmerman the Gold Glove this year. That's just nonsense.

Posted by: FergusonFoont | November 12, 2010 11:59 AM | Report abuse

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