Offense/Defense number (Part 2)by Brandon Isleib
November 19, 2009
Last installment, we looked at infielders who were the most balanced two-way players in a season, using the idea behind Bill James' Power/Speed Number (taking the harmonic mean of homers and steals, which weights the lesser number significantly) to make an Offense/Defense number (harmonic mean of Batting and Fielding Win Shares). It generated a fair bit of discussion about who would make the outfield lists, and so I'm proud to give the outfielders and catchers this time around.
As a general note, the corner outfield spots appear to have generated slightly more Fielding Win Shares in the 19th century than later. I do not know why this is, but each side of center field has five 18xx performances in the top 25, while center field has none. I also would not have guessed that left fielders would do better in this measurement than right fielders. Given how defense-oriented these lists are and the traditional roles of left fielders and right fielders, it's easy to forget how valuable a defensive left fielder can be. Sure, you can stick an oaf there if first base already has one, but it's handy to have a guy who can catch the ball in a big area, especially the area to which right handers will pull. I could be wrong or at least have heard about Jason Bay too much (for what it's worth, he and my sister-in-law have similar faces), but the emphasis on defense in recent years seems to be largely about left field and teams thinking it a key defensive spot.
Now that's a fairly random list of names. Wilson and Henderson in 1980 kindasorta go together; guys who played center field later on but for now were just very fast left fielders. Vosmik was inconsistent from season to season but extremely useful in his good ones; 1935 was his best year offensively, but in his second season, 1932, he apparently was quite the two-way left fielder. Sheckard, Mr. Honorable Mention himself, is in the
Other than that, though, you get a bunch of question marks. I was expecting Fred Clarke a lot more and maybe Sherry Magee and Duffy Lewis. Eric Byrnes? Consecutive Sam Mertes? Elmer Smith? Jim Russell, whom I hadn't heard of before this list? And Hank Sauer on fielding prowess? Left field is easily the most confusing list of the bunch; I have no idea if these results mean anything.
Honorable mentions: Jimmy Sheckard for 1910; Ken Williams for 1922; Willie Wilson for 1982; Jimmy Sheckard for 1912; Minnie Minoso for 1954.
Center field was a spirited debate in the comments from the last article as to the many players who might be on this list, but the list, reasonable as it is, still packs plenty of surprise. Mantle only once, Dom DiMaggio without Joe, Willie Mays twice in the top five but nowhere else . . . and then there's Speaker and the later Jones taking nine spots between them. Although Jones' batting numbers aren't the best on this list, he graces this list so often that perhaps baseball was slightly underrating him for several years. (That's not so much an issue anymore, it would seem.)
But like left field, it's the one-hit wonders who surprise. Charlie Hanford's season is probably the only time you'll see an all-time list involving the Federal League's Buffalo entry (the Buffeds, as in Buf-feds, not as in getting rebuffed or the Vampired Slayered), Dwayne Murphy shows how he was good enough to keep Rickey in left, while Marquis Grissom and Devon White caught everything. Not just everything in sight. Everything. (Whenever I think of Torii Hunter, I automatically think of Devon White. Does anybody else do this? They're not in each other's similarity batters lists, but I've just always put them together.)
Here we get an ancientfest, with two seasons from 1888. Fogarty and McCarthy were similar with the bat that year in terms of raw stats, the only difference being McCarthy getting more hits. Still, right field must be different now than then for Fogarty's .236/.325/.300 line to place this high. I've assumed without inquiring too much that several listed seasons take place next to an immobile fielder, i.e. Devon White caught everything while Candy Maldonado and Joe Carter stood there in immobile appreciation. Fogarty's experience would corroborate, as his 2.33 range factor per game (RF/G), which came exclusively from right field, was significantly better than his center fielder, Ed Andrews (1.88), or his left fielder, George Wood (1.81). But this matches very few of the other players, at least in right field. Slaughter played alongside Terry Moore, perhaps the Devon White of his day (yes, I can work him into anything); Walker in 1993 was playing next to Marquis Grissom in his list-making year; and Armas joined Murphy and Henderson in 1980 as an all-list outfield, which is not who I would have named as the best two-way outfield of history. Maybe that was another thing about Billy Martin's managing style. Maybe it wasn't, but as Chris Jaffe was talking about him earlier, I've been thinking about him.
(Another aside: In my one year on a town baseball team—I went 0-4, with my one hit ball a foul off a left hander, sealing my fate as an eternal platoon player—our coach looked very much like the mustached version of Billy Martin. He kinda acted like him too. Not only was he generally a crab, but the longest outing from any of our starting pitchers came on the hottest day of the season. I'm guessing I was the only 12-year-old in 1998 who compared my coach to Billy Martin. I'm also guessing that he still coaches a team, making him and me the only two people from that team still involved in baseball. If he was Billy, I was the crazy straw that sat in the package.)
Honorable mentions: Owen Wilson for 1914; David Justice for 1993; Paul Waner for 1928; Jeff Francoeur for 2007 (I can't make this up); Roberto Clemente for 1968.
Without knowing, my guess is that Mauer's 2009 of preposterous offense gets on here somewhere, but it's a tough list to crack. Almost entirely a function of playing time, the list starts at 1930, easily the latest start at any position. As noted in a column of mine awhile back, Connie Mack loved him some durable young catchers, and Cochrane followed Cy Perkins in that role, filling both halves of the inning with quality ball in a way not seen before . . . but it was seen in the NL that year, as Hartnett makes this list for his 37-homer season.
This list makes much more sense than the corner outfield ones, and Mauer's excellence makes this an exciting position to watch, but I would not have guessed Piazza fielded enough his rookie year to make the list, nor would I have guessed that Rick Wilkins' season of glory was as glorious as it was. And for all McCarver's foibles, he led a fairly fast-era league in triples as a catcher, while getting second place in MVP voting for the 1967 above. (Teammate Orlando Cepeda unanimously won.) He may not have droning rights—no one has those—but he has a small measure of bragging rights, for what it's worth.
ConclusionKeeping in mind that fractions of Win Shares aren't much of a difference, these lists look sufficiently reasonable to be useful generally. Only a few of these players looked out of place on the list, even as I expected others to show up more often, and most of the trouble was in the corner outfield slots. If the "fielding revolution" is as pervasive as the talk makes it out to be, maybe we'll see more players make these lists in the near future. If nothing else, it'll be fun to watch.
References and Resources
Baseball Reference, Bill James and Amos Otis. Otis not only kept Willie Wilson in left field, but guess who has him as his most similar batter?
Brandon Isleib is a lawyer and writes about stuff sometimes. He can be reached via the electronic mails.