As Rob noted below, the Gold Gloves process is different this year, with a list of nominees coming out ahead of a televised awards ceremony tomorrow night on ESPN2. This allows us to laugh at more than just the awards that are handed out -- now we can laugh at the awards that were almost handed out. The nominees for the National League, with last year's winners starred:
Pitchers: Clayton Kershaw (Dodgers), Hiroki Kuroda (Dodgers), Kyle Lohse (Cardinals)
At no point have I ever noticed the defense of any of these pitchers. Baseball needs another Jim Kaat or Greg Maddux so we can just fill in this category every year and not think about it.
Catchers: Yadier Molina* (Cardinals), Brian McCann (Braves), Carlos Ruiz (Phillies)
Molina is the incumbent, and all the smart Vegas money is going on him. I can't imagine what McCann or Ruiz would have to do next season to wrest the award away from Molina, who already has three Gold Gloves.
First basemen: Joey Votto (Reds), Gaby Sanchez (Marlins), James Loney (Dodgers)
Last year's winner, Albert Pujols, didn't crack the top three. That's probably because of his missed time, but it's still a little odd. If you have to pick a favorite here, it'd be Votto because he's the best hitter.
Second basemen: Brandon Phillips* (Reds), Neil Walker (Pirates), Omar Infante (Marlins)
Phillips will win, but it's somewhat impressive that Walker, a converted catcher and third baseman, has done enough defensively to impress the coaches and managers around baseball to merit consideration. It's worth noting that his UZR/150 went from -17.1 in 2010 to -2.5 last year, so the eyes and the math are both impressed with how much he's improved.
Shortstops: Troy Tulowitzki* (Rockies), Ronny Cedeno (Pirates), Alex Gonzalez (Braves)
Tulowitzki is the likely winner, and the surprise here is that Cedeno was nominated. Scouts have long been divided on his defense, but just like Walker, his defensive stats jumped way up this year. It's probably not a coincidence that Walker and Cedeno improved dramatically in the same season that pitch-to-contact guys like Paul Maholm, Charlie Morton, and Jeff Karstens all prevented runs from scoring more than they have in the past.
Third basemen: Placido Polanco (Phillies), Daniel Descalso (Cardinals), Pablo Sandoval (Giants)
Last year's winner, Scott Rolen, stunned the baseball world when he was injured, so there will a first-time Gold Glover at third base Polanco has won two in the past, but they were both for second base. Sandoval had a fantastic defensive year, both by ol'-fashioned eyeballin' and by advanced defensive metrics, which all agree that he lapped the rest of the field in the NL. He missed a month, though, which probably means Polanco is the favorite.
Descalso is by far the most random nominee, as he only started 61 games at third this year, and he doesn't hit as well as your typical Gold Glove winner.
Left fielders: Gerardo Parra (Diamondbacks), Ryan Braun (Brewers), Matt Holliday (Cardinals)
An outfield with Braun and Holliday roaming the corners would lead to a staff ERA of 7.04, but this is the first year that the outfield category is being broken up by position, and left field usually isn't the strongest bunch. Still, the inclusion of those two is hilarious. Last year's winner, Carlos Gonzalez, won the award when his competition was every center fielder in the National League. Now he can't beat out Ryan Braun and Matt Holliday? I'll assume that I missed a story about that narwhal bite that took off two of Gonzalez's toes last spring.
Center fielders: Matt Kemp (Dodgers), Shane Victorino* (Phillies), Chris Young (Diamondbacks)
Young almost certainly had the best defensive year among the three, but Victorino is the incumbent, and he's more of a known quantity. Kemp almost certainly has the biggest gap between what UZR indicates and what his reputation is, so he can certainly sneak away with the award too.
Right fielders: Andre Ethier (Dodgers), Carlos Beltran (Mets/Giants), Jay Bruce (Reds)
After years of negative UZRs, Ethier was in positive territory this year, and the coaches and managers noticed, whether they knew it or not. Carlos Beltran did not look especially comfortable in AT&T Park after coming over to the Giants, and the metrics backed that impression up (-12.6 UZR/150 as a Giant, -7.5 UZR/150 with the Mets). That leaves Bruce as the prohibitive favorite, and it comes at the expense of Justin Upton, who was almost certainly the best right fielder in the NL this year. It could have been a clean sweep for the Diamondbacks in the outfield, but Upton wasn't even nominated. Weird.