posted on Nov, 2 2005 @ 07:10 PM
There is a growing tendency for people who listen to ESPN's talking heads to think baseball players' defensive skills are as important, or nearly as
important, as their offensive skills. Many--including, let me confess it, me at one time--consider Ozzie the greatest shortstop of all time, simply
because he is the greatest defensive shortstop ever. Bill Mazeroski hit the most important home run in baseball history, but otherwise was an
offensive zero with a career on-base percentage under .300 (!!!) and a career slugging average of .367, yet he's (laughably) in the Hall because he
was arguably the greatest defensive second baseman ever.
I wised up on this stuff when I started reading piles of stats Bill James published, demonstrating the limited value of even one so defensively great
as Ozzie Smith, in terms of runs saved per year. Now, in fairness, Ozzie saved a hell of a lot more than Maz, plus he learned to walk later in his
career and stole a ton of bases, so he's a clear Hall member. But if you went by strictly defensive skills, you could have the Hall full of guys like
1B---Charlie Grimm or Jim Spencer
SS---A lot of guys with great gloves and no bat
And so forth (e.g., Tommy Agee, whom James rates ahead of Mays defensively, in CF).
Today I saw the latest proof of the limited value of defensive skills. Y'all surely will recall this year's Giants' team--my Giants, no less--um,
stunk. Playing in a laughable division, they finished well under .500 and could not mount a serious challenge down the stretch. This, in a division
where all one had to do to win was be less terrible than the opponents.
Well, guess what?
Two Giants won Gold Gloves, and they weren't just any Gold Gloves. One was at shortstop. The other was at catcher.
Those HAVE to be the two most important defensive positions, and I would argue catcher is more important defensively than SS, though it depends on how
much responsibility/authority is delegated to the catcher. But you know S.F. is not a team where phony awards are going to get handed out to
undeserving players, so it's fair to figure Matheny and Vizquel deserved their awards.
And their defensive brilliance did the Giants HOW much good? Maybe it kept them from being 22 games under .500, instead of 12, and seriously
challenging the putrid Rockies for last place in a division where finishing last was quite a statement.
Personally, I doubt it made anywhere near 10 games' worth of difference. You win baseball games by hitting, running and scoring runs, and with
pitching which keeps the other team's scoring below yours. Obviously you can't have a team full of defensive bozos like Lonnie Smith, Dave Kingman,
Greg Luzinski, D!ck Stuart, etc., but filling your team with the great fielders, but punchless hitters, I listed above wouldn't begin to win you a
division title. It would probably get you deeply ensconced in last place.
Baseball History Nut