St. Louis Cardinals utility player Brendan Donovan’s Gold Glove acquisition could make people question what goes into the award.
The best play Cardinals’ Brendan Donovan made this year was robbing Tommy Edman of a Gold Glove Award. That may sound harsh, but the league’s refusal to give Edman another Gold Glove makes me raise an eyebrow in how it’s judging utility players in its first distribution of the award.
In defensive statistics between Edman and Donovan, Edman’s fielding grades out as significantly better in nearly every category. In Ultimate Zone Rating, Edman’s highest mark was 5.8, with 11 defensive runs saved at shortstop. Edman thrived defensively at a difficult position. Meanwhile, Donovan’s highest UZR was 3.8, at third base. His most defensive runs saved were eight, also at third base.
It’s clear that Edman was a far superior defender to Donovan in 2022. In my mind, the only reason Donovan won the award was his versatility. He played every position save for pitcher and catcher last year, although Edman wasn’t far behind in positions, playing everywhere except pitcher, catcher and left field. Donovan did have a more balanced spread of innings throughout his positions, though, and that could have been the determining factor.
While sabermetrics account for 25% of the Gold Glove Award vote, coaches and managers make up the other 75%. Although versatile players are valuable because of smaller benches than in the past, voters seem to be putting an emphasis on where they play, not how they play. Donovan was mediocre in the field at several positions, while Edman was excellent, but at slightly fewer positions.
The promotion for the new utility award mentioned that it “recognizes players with the superior defensive ability to play multiple positions,” and if that is what goes into the selection, you might be able to squint and see Donovan deserving it. But then it raises the question of the American League utility Gold Glove winner, D.J. LeMahieu, who mostly played second base and first base and was slightly above average but trailed Whit Merrifield in most categories. Merrifield also played two more positions than LeMahieu, so this wording for the award seems to be applied inconsistently.
The other Gold Glove positions appear to be determined partially by status and offensive ability alongside, of course, defense, but if the criteria for the utility Gold Glove are just to play a bunch of positions and deliver league-average performance at best there, I don’t think the Gold Glove is the right award for that. Maybe they can make some sort of versatility award and have a new sponsor for it. Revenue for everyone!
Perhaps the Fielding Bible Award will gain more mainstream approval in the coming years. Edman deservedly emerged victorious at the utility position in its voting, which has a more statistical bend to it than the Gold Glove Award. With the defensive statistics that exist now, the Gold Glove could be on its way to obsolescence, and that might be for the best.