Smizik: Three Pirates vie for defensive honors

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You have to go back to 1992 to find a season in which the Pirates won three Gold Glove awards. The winners that year were center fielder Andy Van Slyke, left fielder Barry Bonds, both perennials, and first-and-only-timer Jose Lind, a second baseman.

In fact, you’d have to go back to 1992 to find the last time just two Pirates won the award, which, as the name suggests, goes for defensive excellence.

But the possibility of there being three Pirates winners this season exists. Three Pirates are among the finalist as their position -- catcher Russell Martin, left fielder Starling Marte and center fielder Andrew McCutchen. The winners will be announced Tuesday.

The award has been a rare honor for a Pirate since 1992.

* In 1993, Jay Bell snapped Ozzie Smith’s 13-year hold on the award by winning at shortstop.

* In 2008, to the surprise of many, Nate McLouth won for center field.

* In 2012, in what also was somewhat of a surprise, McCutchen won for center field.

The people doing the voting are the managers and coaches of each MLB team, who vote for players in their league but not on their team. It should be a highly informed and dutiful electorate, but it has committed some monstrous gaffes over the year, which has led to the belief many of the voters don’t take their privilege very seriously.

Most famously, in 1999 Rafael Palmiero won the award at first base in the American League. By one count, the honor was not surprising: Palmiero had won it the two previous years. But by another it was astonishing: Palmiero had mostly been a designated hitter in 1999 and played only 28 games at first base.

It has been decisions such as that one, and others of a peculiar bent, that have caused the award to be viewed with skepticism. Many critics, understandably, believe offense plays too large a role in determining the winner. Derek Jeter, for example, won the award in 2010 when he was 36 and when it was generally believed he was well past his prime as a defender

Still, it remains the Oscar for defensive performance, which each winner gladly accepts and happily allows that honor follow him throughout his career.

Part of the problem is there are no widely accepted measures for defining defensive excellence, particularly over a one-season period. Which means any player nominated could win.

Of the Pirates, Martin, who won the award in 2007, is probably the most qualified but has the least chance of winning. That’s because he’s up against Yadier Molina, who has won the the past five years. If Molina had slipped, Martin’s exceptional 2013 season might be enough to win it for him. But Molina appeared to be as good as ever. The other catcher nominated is A.J. Ellis of the Dodgers, also very deserving.

In left field, Marte is up against Carlos Gonzalez of Colorado and Eric Young, who played the first half of the season, strangely enough, with Colorado before being traded to the Mets. If Marte has an edge, it's that he was on the field more often. He started 113 games in left field, compared to 88 by Young and 99 by Gonzalez.

In center field, the other nominees are Carlos Gomez of Milwaukee and Denard Span of Washington.

Concerning that competition, Matthew Pouliot of HardballTalk.com wrote, ''McCutchen can have the MVP, but Gomez is far more deserving of the Gold Glove. Of course, that was true last year, too, and McCutchen was still the choice. I’m not sure the analytics component of the vote will sway that. I’m guessing McCutchen.’’

Pouliot predicted Marte would win in left field.

Roberto Clemente is the Pirate with the most Gold Gloves, which first was awarded in 1957. He won for 12 straight years from 1961-72. Bill Mazeroski won eight times between 1958-67. Van Slyke won four straight times from 1989-92.


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