Let us suppose that today's waiver of Orlando Hudson represents the end of the road for the man we rather uncreatively called O-Dog. (Let's in particular note that Hudson's middle name is "Thill." That's way cooler than "O-Dog.") His defense presents another lens through which to examine the way defensive reputations, offensive production, and Gold Glove voting line up.
Hudson was known as a defense-first second-baseman, racking up four Gold Gloves in five years from 2005 to 2009 while hitting respectably but never gaudily.1 He won the first in the AL, taking over for Bret Boone, who won three straight before falling off the map in 2005.2 Hudson's move to the NL was fortuitously timed, as Luis Castillo, who'd won the award from 2003 to 2005, moved to the Twins in 2006, thus leaving the NL without a presumptive winner. FRAA, Baseball Prospectus's fielding system, which does not make use of subjective ball-in-play data, had once thought highly of Hudson, figuring him for +44 runs at second from 2003-2005, but beginning in 2006 and running through the rest of his career, he was merely a tad above average each season. Maybe he really liked the turf in Toronto, maybe his recurring hamstring injuries caught up to him, or maybe it's one of those quirks of fielding stats.
Whatever the case, FRAA rated a couple of players as more deserving than Hudson for the National League Gold Glove in 2006. Notably, Jamey Carroll racked up an astounding +24 runs overall, with about 1/10th of his innings come at short and third. Jose Valentin, despite being a part-timer, came in at +14 for the Mets. Dan Uggla rated a +11 in his rookie season, which makes one wonder if fielding systems are like pitchers: sometimes it just takes time for them to figure a guy out. (Uggla's been solidly below-average by FRAA for the remainder of his career and is generally one of the least-smooth-looking defenders around.)
Hudson won again in 2007 with a +1 FRAA, behind, but the defensive studs that year (Mark Ellis, Aaron Hill, Jose Lopez, Ian Kinsler, Brian Roberts) were all in the American League, and the gap between Kaz Matsui (+7), Chase Utley (+5), Marcus Giles (+4), and so forth is narrow enough that it's hard to complain too loudly.
What happened the next two years was very interesting. Brandon Phillips, who was in the National League in 2006 and 2007, took the award away from Hudson in 2008. One suspects that Hudson missing 45 games with a broke wrist hurt his chances, though nobody tell Rafael Palmeiro that you're not supposed to win a Gold Glove when you don't play the field. By FRAA, Phillips, despite playing a full season to Hudson's 2/3 of one, was barely better than the reigning Gold Glover. In 2009, though, even with the award having changed hands the previous year, Hudson won again, though the FRAA choice would have been Clint Barmes. Barmes, of course, doesn't hit anywhere near enough to win a fielding award.
Hudson, then, earned his reputation as a defender in his first three years and reaped the rewards for that reputation right around the same time that he started making fewer plays on balls that we suspect were hit near him than other players in the league. I guess in fifty years, we'll look back and not really remember the difference between 2003 and 2006, so it all washes out.
The best True Average Hudson ever put up was .271, above the league average, and good for his position, but hardly eye-catching. He topped out at 15 homers and 19 steals (in different seasons). Career highs in traditional counting stats that grab hold of a lot of people: 87 runs, 166 hits, 67 RBI. ↩
After a 5.5 WARP year in 2003, Boone was replacement level in 2004, then played just 88 games for Seattle and Minnesota in 2005, with an OBP well under .300 and a slugging percentage equal to Ichiro's OBP for the season. ↩