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 Can Tigers' Gerald Laird win Gold Glove strictly on defense?

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PostSubject: Can Tigers' Gerald Laird win Gold Glove strictly on defense?   Mon Nov 09, 2009 11:17 pm

AP Photo - Catcher
Gerald Laird, right, knows his future with the Detroit Tigers could
rest with his offensive improvement. He will become a free agent after
the 2010 season.

Can Tigers' Gerald Laird win Gold Glove strictly on defense?
By Steve Kornacki
November 08, 2009, 10:30PM

DETROIT -- Can a catcher who dominated the American League's defensive statistics but produced little offense win the Gold Glove Award?

Detroit Tigers catcher Gerald Laird will find out at 4 p.m. Tuesday when Rawlings announces its coveted fielding awards on ESPN.

"Laird can very easily be the Gold Glove winner," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "That would be wonderful; he was a real weapon for us. But a lot of times that goes to an offensive player.

"Still, I think he's got a shot. He's a tremendous, tremendous defensive catcher."

The defensive awards for each position are selected by major league managers and coaches, who could not vote for their own players. Leyland said he voted for Minnesota catcher Joe Mauer.

Gold Gloves have been awarded by Rawlings since 1957

Mauer led the majors with a .365 batting average, and had 28 home runs and 96 RBIs.

Gerald Laird vs. Joe Mauer

Fielding percentage
Laird .997*, Mauer .996

Laird 78**, Mauer 31

Caught stealing
Laird 42*, Mauer 19

Caught stealing percentage
Laird 42 pct.*, Mauer 26 pct*

*Led major leagues
** Led American League

Note: Fifty stolen base attempts was the minimum
requirement used in caught stealing percentage leaders. Laird had 101
attempts. Mauer had 73.


Laird hit just .225 with four homers and 33 RBIs.

But nobody compared to Detroit's backstop defensively. He led the majors with a .997 fielding average, 42 caught stealing and a 42 percent success rate on steal attempts (for catchers with at least 50 attempted steals). He also led all league catchers with 78 assists.

New York Yankees catcher Jorge Posada was next in the AL with 31 thrown out, and Rod Barajas of the Toronto Blue Jays followed with a 34 percent throw-out rate.

Laird was among three catchers with only three errors, but he had more total chances than Mauer and Jason Varitek of the Boston Red Sox. Kurt Suzuki of the Oakland A's was second with 68 assists.

"It would mean a lot for me to win," Laird said in a phone interview from Peoria, Ariz. "I take a lot of pride in my defense. Guys have different parts of the game that they do well. But they have the Silver Slugger for the best offensive players at their positions. The Gold Glove should be strictly a defensive award."

Mauer won his first Gold Glove last season. This year, he had a .996 fielding percentage, threw out 19 runners with 26 percent success and had 31 assists. Both Laird and Mauer had nine passed balls.

Their defensive skills are similar, but Laird's arm provided a significant edge when compared to Mauer based on significantly more assists and runners thrown out.

His prowess is due to a rare combination of skills. Laird has a strong arm, but his quick exchange of the ball from glove to throwing hand and accuracy are what sets him apart.

After Laird gunned down speedy Tampa Bay Rays Jason Bartlett and Fernando Perez in a Sept. 4 game, Rays manager Joe Maddon marveled at his precision and said Laird and Mauer are the hardest catchers to run on in the league.

A perfect throw was required to nab Bartlett, and Laird delivered a laser shortstop Adam Everett caught right on the bag a millisecond before Bartlett's sliding front foot arrived. The throw on Perez was nearly as good.

"He does it that quickly with accuracy," Maddon said. "His time from his glove to the fielder's glove is 1.8 or 1.9 seconds and that's exceptional."

He added that the time of the pitcher-catcher-infielder exchange for Laird is 3.2 seconds.

"Even Rickey Henderson couldn't go on that," said Maddon, mentioning the game's all-time steals leader.

Everett said of Laird: "He deserves (the Gold Glove) for sure, with all he did."

But will he win it?

"I saw Brad Ausmus win some Gold Gloves when I played with him at Houston," Everett said, "and he only hit .220 to .230. But in the AL, that's going to be difficult."

Ausmus hit .232 with 5 homers and 34 RBIs -- almost the same numbers Laird had this season -- in winning the first of three Gold Gloves in 2001.

The Tigers have had three Golden Gloves winners: Bill Freehan (five from 1965-69), 
Lance Parrish (three from 1983-85) and Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez (threee, 2004, '06-07).

Laird, who had career highs of .296 with nine homers and 47 RBIs during his last three seasons with the Texas Rangers, did not build off those numbers in his first year with Detroit.

He realizes his future with the organization could rest with his offensive improvement. Laird will become a free agent after the 2010 season, his sixth in the majors.

"This will be a big year for me to do everything I can to have a better year," Laird said. "I'm coming into my free agent year and want to be ready for it.

"I hope to have the year I am capable of. I hope it works out because I want to stay in Detroit. I love it here."

He said he will arrive early to spring training in Lakeland, Fla., and put more emphasis on hitting.

"This year, I will have a little different mindset," Laird said. "I'm going to put more effort into my offense to get it going more. Last year, I put too much emphasis on getting to know the staff. But it paid off. I got the guys to trust me and we all did a good job to improve.

"I'm going to equal that out now because I know the guys on the pitching staff and we're on the same page, respecting each other. I'm going to spend more time in the cage with Mac."

Lloyd McClendon, Detroit's hitting coach, is someone Laird is considering meeting with this offseason to work on his hitting stroke. Tigers third baseman Brandon Inge did that last year and realized a significant offensive turnaround.

Laird said he also will seek out other hitting coaches, and began his offseason workouts and daily cardiovascular work earlier than usual.

"I'm coming into next season in better shape," he said.

Laird turns 30 on Friday.

"That's a big birthday, and some of the guys are coming out to play some golf and have some fun out here," said Laird, noting Tigers pitchers Justin Verlander, Brandon Lyon and Bobby Seay are coming to Arizona for the weekend.

And maybe, just maybe, he will have a Gold Glove on display for them.

It takes pitching, hitting and defense. Any two can win. All three make you unbeatable.
Joe Garagiola
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