The Padres have ramped up the PR campaign for their third baseman, Kevin Kouzmanoff. The team is sending highlight DVDs to the league's managers to emphasize his defensive prowess in the hopes that they'll vote him in as the Gold Glove winners.
It's an interesting idea, but they're backing the wrong horse. Ryan Zimmerman is a vastly superior defender, and both your lyin' eyes and defensive stats show it.
The only edge Kouzzie has on Zimmerman is errors. Kouzzie's case solely rests with his three errors and his league-best fielding percentage. Zimmerman, on the other hand, has 15 errors and is sixth of 10 qualified third baseman in fielding percentage.
But errors only tell a tiny portion of the story. They're something that's easy to count, so we do. But there's more to defense -- the ball that skips past a fielder with little range is just as costly as an error. We just don't have a handy stat column to put it in.
So some people have tried to figure out stats that work. One is called Zone Rating. Basically, they have people watching each and every play, marking where the ball went. If the ball is hit in the fielder's zone, he gets credit if he makes the play or blamed if he doesn't.
Zimmerman and Kouzzie have both made these routine plays about the same percentage of the time. But Zimmerman has made 84 plays outside the normal 3B zone, compared to just 33 for Kouzmanoff.
That's 51 extra "WOW!" plays by Zimmerman -- plays he's made that the average 3B just doesn't typically make.
So, yes, Zimmerman has 12 more errors, but he's made more than 50 more great plays.
Even more complicated defensive stats paint a similar picture. Kouzmanoff does really well on the routine plays, but Zimmerman does a lot more with the glove.
But in the end, would you rather have 12 fewer errors or 51 more stolen hits?
Ryan Zimmerman's fans certainly hope the league's managers understand those two simple numbers.