If you live in the Kansas City area, and I suppose to narrow the population band down, if you listen to sports talk radio, you've probably heard some discussions regarding Alex Gordon recently. Though some of it has been centered around the idea of trading Alex Gordon while he is at his peak (which, I would point you to this article by the venerable Jeff Sullivan), a good portion of it has also been extended to peering through the mists of Sabermetria and wondering whether or not his defense is being overrated by the advanced metrics.
I'm not really sure what the impetus behind the discussion is. Very little of it seems to be focused on giving Gordon due credit, but is more intent upon regurgitating a national perspective that Gordon is not an MVP candidate because he draws so much of his value from a much maligned aggregation of defensive prowess.
For background, Alex Gordon is currently being rated at 16.8 Fielding Runs Above Average and 22 Defensive Runs Saved above average, based on UZR and Total Zone respectively. It's a remarkable amount of consistency between the two metrics, as opposed to, say, Alcides Escobar, who is rated out at 6.9 and -1, respectively.
Going just by Wins Above Replacement, Gordon is having the fourth-best season among AL position players by rWAR, and the second-best season by fWAR. He derives nearly a third of his value from defensive metrics, while other players in the MVP race not named Josh Donaldson accrue most of their value from their offense. Aside from the fact that offense is definitively more quantitative, there is still bias, manipulation, shifting, and certain other factors that come into play in regard to how a defensive play is recorded, scored, and measured, giving even less certainty.
So how good is Gordon? Or, more appropriately, is he having the best defensive season of any American League outfielder this year? According to UZR, yes. According to DRS, he's not. And therein lies the discrepancy between whether or not we should view him as an MVP candidate, or just a guy having a pretty good season.
That doesn't mean we should discount defensive statistics altogether. They certainly give a better measure than errors and fielding percentage, but there is also no tried and true method for regressing defensive statistics across multiple players currently available to the public. So, we're left in the lurch about whether or not Gordon's defense alone should be enough to push him into the MVP race.
Then again, four of the top six position players by fWAR are getting at least a Win from their defense. Maybe it's not so far fetched after all.