Note: I realize that Revere also plays strong enough defense to be considered for a Gold Glove. However, he split his time between right field and center field to the point where he likely just didn't have the innings to qualify at either.
Rawlings and Major League Baseball released the finalists for this year's crop of Gold Glovers yesterday. I don't think I'm alone in that I was very surprised to see Denard Span's name was absent from the list of three finalists for the honor among AL center fielders.
Controversy surrounding the Gold Glove isn't really anything new. Scouts have long lamented Derek Jeter's defense, yet he has four Gold Gloves to his credit. Nate McLouth won a Gold Glove in 2008 despite grading out as MLB's worst center fielder according to John Dewan's Fielding Bible. And of course, Rafael Palmeiro won a Gold Glove at first base in 1999 despite the fact that he played only 246.1 innings in the field that season. Is Span's snub on that same level of absurdity?
Admittedly, no. For one, it'd be hard to say that he deserves to win the award for center field over Mike Trout, who is unsurprisingly on the ballot. The second finalist, Austin Jackson, is a pretty solid fielder in his own right as well. However, the third name on the ballot is Adam Jones, who grades out as one of the game's worst defenders in center according a number of statistics.
Defensive metrics are an imperfect science, but Jones' numbers in that regard are miserable. The Fielding Bible rates his defense at -16 runs, which places him dead last among AL center fielders. Ultimate Zone Rating says that Jones was 5.6 runs below average per 150 games played.
By those same metrics, Span was one of the best fielders in the game at any position. The Fielding Bible notes that Span saved 20 runs compared to the average center fielder, and UZR/150 pegs him at 9.6 runs above average. The Fielding Bible credits only Brendan Ryan (27), Alex Gordon (24), Mike Trout (23) and Josh Reddick (22) with more runs saved at any position. Brett Lawrie tied Span's mark of 20.
So the question remains, why the snub?
Jesse and I chatted briefly over Twitter yesterday, and he speculated that perhaps it was due to the fact that Span isn't in the same offensive category as the other center field nominees. If not that, perhaps simply that the Twins were once again a lousy team in 2012.
If that were the case though, how could four Royals be nominated for Gold Gloves? Their team record was scarcely better than that of the Twins.
The offensive component has long been believed to play a factor in the award (hence Jeter's quartet of trophies), but if that were the case how could Jeff Francoeur of all people be a finalist? Frenchy hit an abysmal .235/.287/.378 in 2012. Granted, he clubbed 16 homers. So maybe power plays a role? Hard to believe, given that Brendan Ryan's three homers and .194/.277/.278 triple slash line didn't prevent him from being listed.
Jesse did offer another suggestion which would make some sense -- the perception of possessing a great arm. Most of the outfielders on the list -- Gordon, Francoeur, Reddick, Shin-Soo Choo, etc. -- are reputed to have absolute cannons for arms. As we've seen around Twins Territory, many people are still hesitant to buy into the belief that outstanding range will trump the value of a strong arm. That's been a consistent gripe surrounding Ben Revere, and it could have also played into Span missing the ballot. While Jones grades out significantly worse than Span in terms of range, he does possess the stronger throwing arm of the two.
It could also be that Span appeared in far fewer games than Jones, Trout and Jackson. That wouldn't be entirely logical, as he still totaled more innings in center than Trout (who saw plenty of time in left), but the narrative surrounding Trout and the admittedly outstanding quality of his work probably sealed him a spot in the final three.
Whatever the reasoning behind his absence from the ballot, Span deserved to be on there. I'd be curious to see the rationale for Jones over Span, but when it comes down to it I don't think anyone would (or should) beat Trout for the title of the league's best center fielder. However, it'd be nice to see Span get the recognition he deserves for turning himself into one of the best defenders in the game out in center. Maybe if he were flashier out there he'd get more recognition, but Span has simply made a habit of making tough plays look fairly routine.
All things considered, that's far from the worst trait your favorite team's center fielder can display.
Steve Adams also writes for MLBTradeRumors.com, RotoAuthority.com and MLB.com Fantasy Baseball. You can follow him on Twitter: @Adams_Steve