The AL Gold Gloves are out, and the Tigers cleaned up the running by snagging two, count ’em, T-W-O of the
somewhat worthlessly determined highly prized awards. No other AL team can claim that, and you all know what that means.
(If you thought it meant “quiet pride in the accomplishments of the darn solid team we put on the field this season”, you are a baseball fan. If you thought it meant “the right to be unbearably smug for a whole year and beyond”, you’re a Yankee fan, and please stop projecting onto us.)
At pitcher we have Kenny Rogers, winning his 5th Gold Glove for handy hand-work on the mound and a persistent ability to not freak the heck out if a ball comes back at him after he’s sent it in the opposite direction. I know these awards look only at the regular season, but we are under no such constraints, and Kenny more than proved his gold gloveworthiness by being the only Tiger to escape the curse placed upon the pitchers and to KEEP HIS BRAIN, EYES, AND HANDS UNINTERRUPTEDLY CONNECTED so that baseball could be played, for one sad cold night, without the crushing embarrassment and disappointment of MANY ERRORS. That’s worth somethin’, kids, that is.
At catcher we have Pudge Rodriguez, winning his 12 (billion)th Gold Glove for inhuman awesomeity in catchin’ gear. Pudge was tops in fielding percentage among AL catchers with over 100 games started. Pudge had the lowest number of bases stolen against him for any AL catcher with over 100 games started (the next closest was KC’s John Buck), in part because his past keeps guys from running on him now, but also in part because he does in fact generally just annihilate runners. Pudge only had 4 passed balls all year (4!!), which is kind of amazing when you consider the collective youth of the pitching staff he had to handle.
Pudge has a rep, for sure, but like fellow midget-height scrapper Wolverine, he is still THE BEST AT WHAT HE DOES. He is the best catcher in baseball, period, exclamation point, several additional exclamation points, final period for emphasis. A couple years back he won a Gold Glove on what even he admitted was mostly reputation. He lost all that weight to regain his mobility behind the plate and to squeeze some more runtime out of his knees and back, and lost out on the Gold Glove last year to Jason Varitek, who, if I remember correctly, actually had worse defensive stats almost across the board.
Now Pudge is back to winning his Gold Glove, and winning it on merit. Not bad for a dude in his 16th season of catching at the major league level.
Of course this just highlights how dearly we’re going to miss him when he finally does retire (or precipitously decline, whichever comes first). Admit it, kittens, much as we all (rightly) moan and cry about his h-h-h-hackin’ ways and his nonexistent on-base percentage, we’ve been spoiled rotten by having him for a catcher. Almost by definition, anyone we have after Pudge is going to be a terrible let-down, even if they’re a very good catcher in their own right.
This is one of the things that concerns me the most. Batters you can get, outfielders and infielders are there to be found, pitching you can get, and we’ve been doing pretty well with internally cultivated pitching lately anyhow. But the market for catchers is SO thin, and our minor leagues aren’t exactly brimming with mini-Pudges either.
The market for catchers is just as thin for everyone else as it is for us, of course, but the thing is, most everyone else is used to dealing with a catcher who is…. well, less than Pudge. Someone who’s not as good offensively, or defensively, or both. Since the Tigers have the best catcher out there, it’s the Tigers who are going to feel it most sorely when their current catcher retires, because it’s the Tigers who will probably be facing the most palpable drop in production in all aspects of the game.
I’ve been kind of paranoidly fixated on this one particular issue for ages now, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a real problem.
Your other AL Gold Glovers are Mark Teixeira at 1B; Mark Grudzielanek at 2B (I can spell it without even looking it up, bow before me); Eric Chavez at 3B; Derek Jeter at SS; Torii Hunter, Vernon Wells, and Ichiro Suzuki in the OF. I’ve got no problem with Ichiro, because of course he’s Ichiro and can do sickcrazy things. Wells is also fine. Tex, Grudzie, well’n’good. Torii I thought was not up to his usual standards this season, perhaps because of the foot injury still, but eh.
Derek Jeter won because he’s Derek Jeter and for no other reason. Even just going by fielding percentage, he was 6th among shortstops who played over 100 games this year. Better than him were Alex Gonzalez (the Red Sox variety), Michael Young, Jhonny Peralta, Juan Uribe, and Orlando Cabrera. But none of them have calm eyes.
Chavez was pretty good from what I saw this season, but I’m still going to maintain that Brandon Inge should have won because, uh, because. Cut the kid some slack; he had the second-highest number of errors among all third basemen, but I think most of us agree that this is because his XTREME ATHLETICISM allows him to get to balls (and thus have near-enough misses that they’re counted as errors) that most other third basemen can’t even approach.
Say you get a weird tweener that the shortstop doesn’t quite seem able to get to. Brandon Inge flings himself at the ball and juuuuuust barely misses it, skipping off the bottom of his glove. It’s called an error. You think Eric Chavez hauls his stiff, injured body after that? No. He takes a few vigorous steps but just can’t get anywhere near the thing, it squirts into the outfield and is called a soft line drive or something. BEHOLD THIS INVENTED YET WHOLLY CONVINCING EXAMPLE.
(Hilarious trivia: if Inge is second in the AL for third baseman errors, who’s first? Answer: ARod. And unlike Inge, who mostly gets errors on weird hops and dives and hard-to-play balls, ARod’s errors often just involved straight-up bobbling. Heh.)
Oh, and we’ve apparently re-signed Dombrowski through 2011. I think it’s mostly a good thing (duh). More on that later.