Both the Oakland Athletics shortstop and Chicago White Sox shortstops Alexei Ramirez have legimitate gripes after they were both snubbed in favor of the renowned but defensively overrated captain of the New York Yankees.
Ichiro Suzuki won his 10th straight Gold Glove for a full season of fielding excellence. Mark Buehrle won again, perhaps clinching his spot with an acrobatic play on Opening Day.
Derek Jeter, well, his selection is likely to set off another loud round of dispute over whether the award is relevant anymore.
Also chosen were first baseman Mark Teixeira and second baseman Robinson Cano of the New York Yankees; third baseman Evan Longoria and outfielder Carl Crawford of the Tampa Bay Rays; Minnesota catcher Joe Mauer and Seattle outfielder Franklin Gutierrez.
The Tucson Citizen points out that Ramirez and Pennington both finished as the top two in AL shortstops in Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR). Jeter finished in the bottom third. Yikes.
What is this fancy UZR stat? Bless You Boys (the Detroit Tigers SB Nation blog) has more.
What is Ultimate Zone Rating?
In its simplest terms: Just a statistic that values how much a player contributes to his team defensively. It's graded above/below the positional average. One thing I've seen is people comparing different positions. Average at shortstop is not the same as average in right field just like hitting a home run isn't the same in Coors Field and Comerica Park.
How does it work?
It's complicated, I won't lie. This isn't something the average fan is going to be able to calculate on the fly with an excel spreadsheet. You can, but it's a lot more work than it's worth, so-to-speak. That is why the sabermetric community is so important. Mitchel Lichtman (who goes by MGL if you see him referenced on places like Fangraphs or The Hardball Times) has already done the heavy lifting for us.
UZR splits the field into 78 different slices called zones. Don't worry, only 64 of those are used in the UZR formula. You figure out the average number of balls in play in each zone and then the rate at which plays made are recorded in each zone. This will give you a baseline average for the position. Now, you do this on an individual basis and graded against what the average fielder would do. If a player comes out with less plays made recorded in their zone compared to league average, they have a negative zone rating. As well, they'll have a positive zone rating if the player records more outs in the zone than the average defender at the position.
Do that for every zone the position you're looking at is responsible for.
But that's just a fraction of the process. You then take that unadjusted UZR and, well, adjust it. Because, like I noted above, you need to contextualize it so you can understand what may be the true talent of the player. Some pitching staffs may give a player more balls to field. For instance, Brandon Inge would likely have more grounders to him if the Tigers had a staff full of left-handed pitchers. The opposite would be true if the staff was filled with righties.
What do we need to adjust for? The ballpark (more-so for the outfielders), handedness of the pitcher and hitter, the number of outs, the number of base runners, which bases those runners are on, and batted ball speed. A long fly ball from Miguel Cabrera into the left-center gap in Comerica Park off of a right-handed pitcher is not going to be the same as a long fly ball by David Eckstein into the left-center gap in Petco Park off of a right-handed pitcher.
Once you've adjusted for all of those factors that can greatly impact the raw, unadjusted UZR, you now have a viable defensive metric that can be misused and misquoted across the internet!
I'm guessing the people who vote on this award don't care for acronyms that aren't HR or RBI.