Lost (perhaps on purpose) in the media storm around the Robinson Cano...
The All-Time Defense Team
Who is the best defensive player at this or that position? How do we judge? Is it single season just as Doc Gooden made a career on two unbelievable years or is it the
culmination of a career of excellence? When we did our All Time Draft, these were questions that were answered on a variety of levels by a variety of different drafters. We learned that Coach K emphasized the whole package by drafting guys like Barry Larkin and Todd Helton and that I was maybe a bit partial to the career long ball numbers. With all these in mind, lets assemble the team that pitchers would love to have behind them from all time. The team is based solely on defense and nods don’t go to guys with better offensive numbers though I’m sure a pitcher would like to have a masher or two to help put up some runs. I’ll be referencing Total Zone Runs (TZR) throughout and in case you were wondering (From b-r.com) Total Zone Runs is a fielding tool that measures the number of runs above or below average the player was worth based on plays made.
Catcher: This one is tricky. Catchers have to do alot from throwing out baserunners to calling games and keeping pitchers from being too big of idiots. The best thrower of all time: Roy Campanella threw out 57.4% of base stealers (Props to Yadier Molina who threw out 64% in 2005). Ivan Rodriguez had 13 Gold Gloves and Johnny Bench got 10. It doesn’t get obvious who the catcher is until you look at TZR. Ivan Rodriguez posts a 167 TZR. Next closest: 114. The pick: Pudge.
First Base: Defense at first base is one of the more overvalued things in the game of baseball. Everytime I hear that Mark Texiera is a great defensive first baseman, a little bit of me dies. That said, Tex does have the fourth best fielding percentage of any first baseman. Ever. As far as TZR, the pick is Keith Hernandez, but since the Seinfeld magic lougee episode, I can’t take him seriously. Next on TZR is Albert Pujols, but that’s not a fun pick. I’m going to go with the guy with 11 errors in 8 years: Casey Kotchman. The all-time leader in fielding percentage for a position player!!!!! That, right there, will win you more than your fair share of trivia questions.
Second Base: The TZR leader is Bill Mazeroski and many consider him the best defensive second baseman ever. He won 8 gold gloves to Ryne Sandberg’s 9 and Roberto Alomar’s 10. The best in terms of fielding percentage? Placido Palanco. But, the guy I want behind me if I’m pitching: Bid McPhee. From Bill James c. 2002:
McPhee never wore a glove until his last three seasons: he was one of the last players to play barehanded. He worked to toughen his hands, and felt that he was more sure handed without the leather. A broken finger finally forced him to wear a glove in 1896, and that year he fielded .978, a record fielding percentage for a second baseman until well into the 1900s. McPhee also recorded 529 putouts in 1886, a Major League record which still stands; no one else is within 40 putouts”
Third Base: This is probably the easiest to answer of all the positions. It’s Brooks Robinson. His TZR of 293 dwarfs Buddy Bells 167. Bobby Cox always said Brooks was the best he ever watched man the hot corner and that’s enough for me. His .971 fielding percentage (behind Placido Polanco again) and 16 Gold Gloves also help. Oh, and his nickname was vacuum cleaner.
Shortstop: To me, when I think defensive wizardry at shortstop there’s only one name. Ozzie Smith. Smith leads with 13 Gold Gloves just ahead of Omar Vizquel’s 11. His TZR at 239 is first, but only by a run over Mark Belanger. Vizquel’s .984 fielding percentage (second all time) makes things tricky but the guy I want back there is Smith. He was flashy and awesome and could do backflips.
Left Field: Would you believe me if I said the answer was Barry Bonds and that its not even close? Ok, maybe its close. Carl Yastrzemski and Carl Crawford have decent cases. Bonds leads in TZR but Crawford sports a .990 fielding percentage. Even when Bonds was at his heaviest (2001-2007) he still posted positive defensive WAR metrics. We will have to see how Crawford ages, but playing in Boston (or not) could have a major effect on his status as the best defensive left fielder ever.
Center Field: I’m clearly partial here, but I’m going with Andruw Jones. He leads the TZR at 220 (to Willie Mays’ 170). He had 10 Gold Gloves to Mays’ 12. Mays played 2832 of his 2929 (97%) of his games in Center contrast that with Jones’ percentage (86 and decreasing) and the gap gets closer. As great as Willie Mays was for so long, Jones’ defensive superiority over the 10 year stretch was unbelievable. His defensive WAR from 1997-2006 was 24. He was worth 24 wins more on defense than an average center fielder (an average of 2.4). Torii Hunter, great defensive CF, highest dWAR season was a 2.0 (next highest 1.1).
Right Field: Right Field belongs to guys with absolute cannons for arms and who are really fast. The three that come to mind are Roberto Clemente, Ichiro, and Vlad. Vlad’s tenure wasn’t long enough in right. TZR gives the edge to Clemente with a 204 score while Ichiro is 5th and still active at 114. Clemente is quite good and edges out Ichiro in the Gold Glove department with 12. Ichiro’s only argument involves his shortened American career, but Clemente’s career was also shortened to only 18 seasons. It’s Clemente.
Pitcher: Greg Maddux has 18 Gold Gloves. I rest my case. Special shout out to Luis Viscaino who has never made an error.
Designated Hitter: Oh… Right… they don’t play defense.