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Baseball: Hitting, then pitching, then hitting, then pitching, then fielding

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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 this:

Catcher---Jim Sundberg

1B---Charlie Grimm or Jim Spencer


SS---A lot of guys with great gloves and no bat

3B---Cletis Boyer

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

posted on Nov, 8 2005 @ 06:01 PM
there is a book due out in february that takes a statistical look at the value of fielding, should be an interesting read and one that i am looking forward to

posted on Nov, 8 2005 @ 06:08 PM
Who wrote it, if you know? Also, does it look at the value of a great fielder vs. an average fielder (e.g., Clemente vs. the young Ruth), or a great fielder vs. a butcher (e.g., Henderson or Bonds vs. Kingman or Luzinski in left field)?

I guess we'll find out the answer to the second question when it comes out, eh?

posted on Nov, 8 2005 @ 06:16 PM
it is being published by ACTA, here is a post from another forum...

The Fielding Bible is new and will be available in Feb. This will include in depth analysis by position, where hits landed, and analysis of double plays.

hope this helps a bit

posted on Nov, 8 2005 @ 06:52 PM
I will be especially anxious to see the analysis of double plays.

As you know, there is a raging debate--probably the biggest since Cobb vs. Ruth was a serious debate--about whether Mays or Mantle had a better career. The argument for Mantle points out that he had much better peak seasons, which is clearly true, and that his teams fared better in October, which is an understatement. But this stat, which I believe is very important, seems to go overlooked even by Mantle supporters (of whom I'm not one):

(A) Willie Mays grounded into 251 double plays, which is not that many, considering he was a right-handed hitter who hit the ball very hard and played a very long time, but it's still 502 outs; and

(B) Mickey Mantle, incredibly, hit into only 113 double plays, which is a huge difference in outs made.

When you get to the bottom line offensively (including base stealing and other baserunning skills), Mantle created 1,919 runs to Mays' 2,344, but Mantle made 5,899 outs to Mays' 8,056. You don't need a Ph.D. in Math to see the ratio favors Mantle.

On the other hand, Mantle suffered a double whammy of osteomyelitis and an arm injury in the late 1950's which took him from being a very good center fielder to being a subaverage one who eventually had to play his last two years--at ages 35 and 36--at first base. Even if you cut off Mays' career after the same number of seasons as Mantle's, you'll have a huge difference in number of runs prevented defensively. And the same is true if you stop counting two years earlier, so Mantle's two years at first base don't work against him.


For people who are really into the Mays vs. Mantle thing, and have a fair, honest and open mind about it, this analysis of double plays could be very important. No, Mays didn't record many double plays offensively, but this book obviously is going to discuss the value to a team of double plays grounded into, and just as all of Ozzie's defensive pyrotechnics were great assets, the double plays one grounds into are great liabilities.

I don't find it unimpressive that Mays hit into 251 double plays. In fact, I find it fairly impressive. But I find it incredible, and mind-blowingly impressive, that a man whose knees were wracked with pain only grouded into 113 double plays in 18 seasons. (Through his first seven seasons, the total was 26!)

So this book may add fuel to the Mantle supporters' arguments. I suspect it will. And I promise to read the part on double plays with an open mind, despite having grown up in the Bay Area and worshipped Willie from age 5 to age 22.


posted on Nov, 8 2005 @ 09:50 PM
Sheesh! This is what I get for going 6 years without updating my glasses. The above comment should read that Mays didn't record many double plays DEFENSIVELY. He had 195 career assists, but most of those were probably recorded on base hits, not on fly outs.

Tris Speaker is by far the all-time leader in career assists by an outfielder, with 449.

posted on Nov, 17 2005 @ 05:51 PM
BHN, i'm sure that as much into stats as you are you have already seen this. it is a statistical analaysis of catchers, i will be the first to admit that a lot of this is greek to me, what i don't understand is how they can even try to measure a catchers defensive worth using stats, catching is unlike any other position on the field, so many variables, every pitch that isn't hit is a defensive chance...i think that the author made a good start but left out so much...what do you think?

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