Cards fare poorly in SABR Defensive Index

There is a wide defensive gulf between the two St. Louis Cardinals Gold Glove Award winners and most of the rest of the team, according to new SABR metrics.

Since its 1957 inception, the Rawlings Gold Glove Award has been a welcome addition to Major League Baseball's annual recognition process, while also being source of controversy at times. Those considered to be the best defensive players by position by league had been selected annually via a vote of MLB managers and coaches.

Despite this seemingly-knowledgeable voting constituency, there have been a number of questionable winners over the years. Perhaps most notable was the selection of Rafael Palmeiro following a season in which he was almost totally a designated hitter.

In fact, the difficulty of separating hitting from defense has been perhaps the greatest challenge over time. It has seemed that to win a Gold Glove, one must also have a good season with the bat, and if not, the chance of winning the top defensive award is dramatically decreased.

Recognizing that a lack of readily-available defensive metrics may be one reason offense is being overly-considered, Rawlings and the Society of American Baseball Research (SABR) established a partnership. The idea was to bring in an impartial party to adjust the existing process rather than scrap it entirely.

What is SDI?

A committee of seven sabermetric experts was convened to study the issue and developed what they call the SABR Defensive Index, or SDI. At its essence, the SDI is expressed by a single number – the amount of runs a fielder "saves" his team.

By definition, the construction of the SDI is complicated, however, as it takes into account information from a number of sources - from batted ball, location-based data (70 percent weighting) and from play-by-play accounts (30 percent). The three metrics representing batted ball data include Defensive Runs Saved from Baseball Info Solutions, Ultimate Zone Rating developed by Mitchel Lichtman, and Runs Effectively Defended built by SABR member Chris Dial. The two metrics from play-by-play data are Defensive Regression Analysis, created by Michael Humphreys, and Total Zone Rating.

These fielding metrics capture include a fielder's range, throwing arm, sure-handedness, ability to turn double-plays, ability to convert bunts into outs, scoops of throws in the dirt, as well as the number of "excellent" and "poor" fielding plays.

For outfielders, the ability to prevent runners from taking an extra base is rated. For catchers, blocking balls in the dirt and stolen bases/caught stealing are also included. A pitcher's ability to control the running game by holding runners on base is also measured.

How is SDI used?

In terms of Gold Glove Award weighting, the SDI is worth 30 total "votes". That represents approximately 25 percent of the scoring, which is added to the traditional votes from the managers and coaches.

SDI results were provided up front to help the voters. A statistical resource guide was to accompany the Gold Glove Award ballots sent to managers and coaches. Whether or not they actually used it is unknown.

Prior to the 2013 Rawlings Gold Glove Award winners being announced on October 29, three "finalists" per award were disclosed on the 25th. In reality, the three were just the top scorers by position shared ahead of time to fan interest in the later announcement of the recipients.

The St. Louis Cardinals' only two finalists also won their respective awards, pitcher Adam Wainwright and catcher Yadier Molina.

What are the Cardinals' SDIs?

Now that all winners have been announced, SABR has shared the SDI results with the general public.

In the following table, you can see where Cardinals players ranked in the SDI and their scores.

NL pitchers Gold Glove SDI ranking SDI
Adam Wainwright winner T8th of 44 2.4
Lance Lynn   T38th of 44 -1.5
Shelby Miller   40th of 44 -2.3
NL catchers      
Yadier Molina winner 2nd of 14 9.4
NL first basemen      
Allen Craig non-finalist 7th of 10 1.0
NL second basemen      
Matt Carpenter non-finalist 8th of 11 -2.4
NL third basemen      
David Freese non-finalist 12th of 13 -12.9
NL shortstops      
Pete Kozma non-finalist 2nd of 11 8.7
NL left fielders      
Matt Holliday non-finalist 7th of 8 -3.1
NL center fielders      
Jon Jay non-finalist 10th of 11 -5.4
NL right fielders      
Carlos Beltran non-finalist 13th of 14 -5.4

Those worried about the SDI overly influencing the final vote should probably not worry. Neither Wainwright nor Molina ranked first at their positions in the SDI. Interestingly, Molina was second behind Pittsburgh's Russell Martin.

Offensively-challenged shortstop Pete Kozma was the other highly-ranked Cardinal. Kozma has the second-best SDI among NL shortstops and second-highest SDI among Cardinals after Molina.

On the flip side, the other eight Cardinals to have SDI ratings are all near the bottom of their positional groupings – pitchers Lance Lynn and Shelby Miller, first baseman Allen Craig, second baseman Matt Carpenter, third baseman David Freese and outfielders Matt Holliday, Jon Jay and Carlos Beltran.

Of the eight, only Craig had a positive SDI. Freese, at -12.9 was lowest, followed by Jay and Beltran at -5.4.

From the start, the SDI has been represented as a test, something that could and probably will be adjusted as more experience is gained. However, this view of the defense of the 2013 Cardinals indicates a wide gulf between the club's top three defenders and the rest of the starters.

Premium Article Not yet a subscriber? Join The Cardinal Nation now for the most comprehensive news about the Cardinals system from top to bottom. A seven-day free trial offer is always available.

Brian Walton can be reached via email at Also catch his Cardinals commentary daily at The Cardinal Nation blog. Follow Brian on Twitter.

© 2013 The Cardinal Nation, and All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

The Cardinal Nation Top Stories