This debate was a topic of discussion on last week's Baseball Tonight podcast with Buster Olney: Would you rather have a lineup of eight 25-homer players or eight Gold Glovers? Fun question. With eight 25-homer dudes you're going to hit 200 home runs, although 200 home runs isn't what it used to be -- 11 teams reached that figure in 2018. The Gold Glove team is going to be brilliant on defense, but you have no idea what kind of offense they bring to the table.
Buster, Tim Kurkjian and myself went with the Gold Glovers. Producer Josh Macri went with the 25-homer team. So did the listeners, as the 25-homer lineup easily won the poll on Twitter with 65 percent of the vote.
Well, I looked into this ... and let's just say that Buster, Tim and myself were correct and Josh and the rest of you were wrong. I was surprised the poll results (with over 11,000 votes) weren't closer, because when I think of Gold Glovers, the first names that pop into my head are Nolan Arenado, Mookie Betts, Yadier Molina and Andrelton Simmons, two superstars with the sticks and two solid hitters with legendary gloves.
Anyway, let's take a closer look, starting with just the 2018 season. Only six players hit exactly 25 home runs, so our "25-homer player" list for consideration included all players who hit 23 to 27 home runs. As you might expect, we can field two teams with a wide variance in value, a "good" 25-homer team and a "bad" 25-homer team:
Our good team hit 200 home runs and was worth 34.8 WAR. Our bad team hit 201 home runs and was worth 9.9 WAR. As a point of comparison, our good team compares to the Dodgers, who led the majors with 34.1 position player WAR in 2018 (via Baseball-Reference.com), while our bad team is near the bottom, sandwiched between the Giants and Tigers.
Now our good and bad Gold Glove lineups from 2018:
Our good Gold Glove team is better than our good 25-homer team and our bad Gold Glove team is much better than the bad 25-homer team.
This isn't enough data to answer the question, however. It's just one season. So I examined the past 10 seasons. Once again, I looked at all players who hit 23 to 27 home runs (there were 66 players who hit exactly 25, but that list didn't give us enough position variety) and all Gold Glove winners.
Here are the good and bad 25-homer teams, once again showing an extreme range in value:
The good team is full of excellent all-around players. The bad team is full of mostly slow sluggers with low OBPs and terrible defense. The good and bad Gold Glove teams:
Once again, the Gold Glovers fare better. Of course, the bad Gold Glove team is nowhere near as strong as the good 25-homer team. I suspect that the reason the Gold Glovers lost the poll is voters think of many Gold Glovers as good-field, no-hit types more akin to the second team above rather than a team of MVP candidates.
So, in a sense we haven't really answered the question yet. What we're trying to answer is whether a lineup of random 25-homer guys would be better than a lineup of random Gold Glovers. If you knew nothing else about the players, in other words. To do this, I merely figured the average WAR at each position from 2009 to 2018. For the Gold Glovers, this gave us 20 players at each spot (actually, 21 at first base since Freddie Freeman and Anthony Rizzo tied for the award in 2018). The 25-homer selections ranged from 20 catchers to 52 first basemen.
The 25-homer team:
The Gold Glove team:
The "average" Gold Glove team has 11.7 more WAR. The Gold Glove team is still better.
Now, I suppose the 25-homer defenders could make this argument: Gold Glove winners are often selected because they had good seasons at the plate that aren't necessarily representative of their true ability. That might be somewhat true (although more so before they reworked the way Gold Gloves were awarded a few years ago). For example, Jacoby Ellsbury's lone Gold Glove came in 2011, which also happened to be his best offensive season, as he hit 32 home runs.
Most Gold Glovers, however, have long careers. Probably the most obscure Gold Glove winner over the past 10 seasons was Darwin Barney, the National League Gold Glover at second base in 2012. He spent three seasons as a regular, with eight seasons total in the majors. On the other hand, many members of the 25-homer club have brief careers or short stints as regulars or just one fluky 25-homer season.
So I'll stick with my guess: Go with the Gold Glovers. Trust your old baseball writers, my friends.