J.J. Hardy won his first Rawlings Gold Glove Award for his play at shortstop for the Baltimore Orioles this season. The selection left many wondering why Brendan Ryan of the Seattle Mariners did not win the award. Seattle Mariner fans who got to watch Ryan's wizardry at short are screaming the loudest, naturally. But many others are also crying foul. While the awards themselves have been considered flawed for most of its existence, it is the opinion here that Hardy's selection was correct. Let's take a look.
First, Ryan's case is built on the many highlight reels he filled this season. And there is no doubt the guy is a wizard at his position. Others look at the new fielding metrics that try to put an overall fielding number next to a guy's stats to quantify his fielding season. Ryan led all shortstops according to Fangraphs.com with a fielding score of 14.4 runs above average. Hardy finished at a very good 11.4 or three runs less than Ryan.
But Baseball-reference.com has it the other way around. That site gives Hardy 21 total zone total fielding runs above average compared to Ryan's nine. In the pursuit of fairness, B-R does give Ryan the most BIS defensive runs saved among shortstops at 27 compared to Hardy's 18. So here we have two sites with two different fielding metric methods flip-flopping on who the best shortstop was. Whenever you have that kind of thing happening, you have to go deeper into the numbers.
And there is where Hardy takes it over Ryan. Here is a comparison of the two:
- Innings - Hardy (1,439), Ryan (1,170.2)
- Chances - Hardy (779), Ryan (601)
- Putouts - Hardy (244), Ryan (199)
- Assists - Hardy (529), Ryan (396)
- Errors - Hardy (6), Ryan (9)
- Fielding percentage - Hardy (.992), Ryan (985)
- Double plays - Hardy (113), Ryan (108)
- Range Factor/9 - Hardy (4.83), Ryan (4.55)
- Range Factor/G - Hardy (4.85), Ryan (4.29)
Hardy led all American League shortstops in chances, putouts, assists, double plays and fielding percentage and was tied for second in range factor.
Hardy looks rather odd at short. His throwing delivery is odd compared to other shortstops. Ryan makes pretty much everything look terrific. But the numbers say that Hardy had the better season in the field. It has nothing to do with offense. It has nothing to do relative to how the two teams played this season. Hardy has the numbers to justify his award. That does not take away from how good Ryan is. But the award got it right this time.