ESPN is apparently televising the announcement of one of the most irrelevant awards in sports this year, and in advance of the show, they released a list of “Gold Glove finalists” for every position. The voting for the Gold Glove changed this year, so that outfielders are broken up into left, center, and right instead of lumped all together. Braun was one of the three finalists for left field in the National League, along with Matt Holliday and Gerardo Parra.
Parra was one of the best defensive outfielders in baseball this year, both by the metrics and by the eye test. Braun and Holliday? Not so much. We’re in the first year of breaking up the Gold Gloves into individual outfield positions and we’re already seeing the problem — there just aren’t very many good left fielders. That’s why they play left field.
Braun being named a finalist only really tells us two things — one, the list of good defenders in left (especially in the National League) is incredibly short; two, offensive numbers are still largely being considered for a defensive award.
To be clear: I don’t think Braun was terrible in left this year. He made 20 more Out of Zone plays than he did last year, which could point to him making small strides in his route-running and decision-making. But he still often gets a bad read on the ball off the bat, and while his arm is strong, he still has a hard time firing an accurate throw when third base coaches decide to test him.
Braun’s UZR was much-improved this season, but it was still below average (-3.8, and his UZR per 150 games played was -4.7), and single-season UZR totals are more than a little unreliable on a year-to-year basis, especially at positions like LF. Need an example? Carlos Lee‘s UZR this year was 8.3, and his UZR/150 was 18.1. Does anyone honestly believe Carlos Lee is better than Braun in left, let alone that much better? Delmon Young had a positive UZR with the Twins this year before getting traded to Detroit. Alfonso Soriano was also well-above average in terms of UZR. None of these are names you would confuse with great defense.
Considering defense is one of the big knocks against Braun as an MVP candidate, it seems bizarre that Rawlings would present him as one of the finalists for the award. But hey, if Nate McLouth can win a Gold Glove in centerfield, Braun probably can in left.