Bill James on Fielding, Part 5 (Joe Torre Special!)

More from Bill James’ series of articles introducing his new methodology for figuring Win and Loss Shares for fielders. He’s been focusing on catchers, particularly…

Joe Torre won the Gold Glove at catcher in the National League in 1965, but is seen by my system as the 12th-best catcher in the league (actually the 12th most valuable catcher.)

Occasionally, historically, the Gold Glove voting system just goes haywire and somebody wins the award who obviously shouldn’t.  I think that’s happened about six times in the history of the award, not counting pitchers, and … this is one of them.   Torre was never regarded as an outstanding defensive catcher, and Whitey Herzog said in one of his books that his friend Joe Torre was the worst defensive catcher he ever saw.   He was the best hitting catcher in the league, and apparently the vote split wildly and allowed the "attention effect" of Torre’s bat to pull in enough voters to carry a split vote.   As to who should have won the award:  John Roseboro in a landslide.

You just know that someone, at some point, argued for Torre as a Hall of Fame player and said, "Hey, he couldn’t have been that bad of a catcher. He won a Gold Glove!" Anyway, that story did have a happy ending. And Roseboro did win a couple of Gold Gloves (according to Bill’s methodology, though, he should have won a couple more).

Later, Bill expresses some mild disagreement with the Gold Glove awarded to Benito Santiago in 1990, but saves the big ammo for Sandy Alomar that same year …

That award is good, however, compared to the American League Award, which went to Sandy Alomar Jr.   Alomar was a rookie that year, and for some reason everybody loved him, but the data doesn’™t know why.   He led the league in errors at catcher, 14, and had the lowest fielding percentage of any catcher save one.   He had 11 Passed Balls, third in the league, and a very low assists total.    He threw out 34% of base stealers, not a notable number.   Indians pitchers, who had been 5th in the league in ERA in 1989 with Andy Allanson catching, dropped to 13th in a 14-team league with Alomar, and their strikeout/walk ratio deteriorated.

As to who should have won that Award — ”Lance Parrish of the Angels, probably, or Tony Peña of Boston.  We use eight "Winning Percentage Indicators" to evaluate a team’€™s catchers.   Boston (Peña) is not only ahead of Cleveland (Alomar) in all eight categories, but far ahead of them in all eight.   Anaheim (Parrish) is ahead of them in seven categories, losing Passed Balls.   I have Alomar that season as the 12th-best defensive catcher in a 14-team league.

As someone did point out, Alomar was catching Tom Candiotti that season, and I’m almost certain that Bill’s system doesn’t account for knuckleballs. It does seem unlikely, given what we can glean from perfectly traditional and accessible statistics, that Alomar was actually the American League’s best catcher that season.

Either way, Alomar might be the only rookie Gold Glove winner who never won another one.