Baseball Crank
Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
May 2, 2007
BASEBALL: One of These Things Is Not Like The Others

So Rawlings wants your vote for its "All-Time Rawlings Gold Glove Team," to consist of the best defensive player at each position since Rawlings initiated the Gold Glove awards in 1957, in commemoration of the award's 50th anniversary. The ballot includes a number of players who I would not regard as defensive stars of historic magnitude - Yaz, Larry Walker, Eric Chavez, JT Snow, Kirby Puckett - but there's no serious dispute that these were all good defensive players (at least for the earlier parts of their careers).

And then: Derek Jeter. Jeter is popular and sells gloves, which is probably why he is on the list, and yes, he is a smart player and a fine athlete. But his fielding percentages have never been consistently good, and pretty much every other defensive stat/metric ever invented - Range Factors, Zone Ratings, David Pinto's probabalistic range models, Baseball Prospectus' defensive stats - shows that Jeter has spent multiple seasons of his prime at or near the bottom of the major leagues in his ability to turn batted balls into outs, which at least in theory is the job of a Gold Glove shortstop. This is like taking votes for an all-time Silver Slugger team and putting Bucky Dent on the ballot. Jeter has shown some signs of improvements in recent years since A-Rod arrived, but try watching a few Yankee games and count the number of balls that go by him that you would expect to be outs; there's usually at least one a game.

Anyway, my votes:

P - Kaat, though I don't have strong feelings on this. Seems like there should have been more choices - based on reputation I might have voted for Bobby Shantz, who won the first 4 Gold Gloves at the position. No-windup guys like Shantz and Kaat have a natural advantage over guys like Bob Gibson who have to drop to fielding position from the conclusion of a huge leg kick.

C - This is a really tough call. I think Pudge Rodriguez has a fearsome arm but is overrated as a handler of pitchers, plus he hasn't had to contend with the havoc on the basepaths that existed in the 70s and 80s. It's close between him, Bench, Boone and Sundberg; I'm voting for Sundberg but catch me another day and I could answer one of the others.

1B - Keith Hernandez, of course. There's some good fielders here but Keith played the position in a way that nobody else did.

2B - Mazeroski, hands down.

SS - Ozzie. Another easy one.

3B - Brooks Robinson. If these aren't the four infielders chosen, something has gone very wrong.

OF - Clemente, Mays, Andruw Jones. Jones is the best I have ever seen, and the other two have reputations that speak for themselves. I'm not sure Mays was any better than Garry Maddox or Devon White, but it's a close call and aside from Yaz there aren't any career leftfielders on the list to justify trying to balance. Dwight Evans would crack the top if it weren't for Clemente.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:54 PM | Baseball 2007 | Comments (22) | TrackBack (0)

A few comments here.

Pitcher: Kaat is a good choice, but I could be inclined to go for Maddux or Seaver.

Second: Maz gets the press, but truly, I'm not sure he was better than Frank White. Yes he made the pivot, but White was the best on short pop ups into right that I ever saw.

Outfield: Since you picked two center fielders and a right fielder, I guess that means you can go to any outfielder. Left is almost always going to be left out (no pun intended). Yaz was probably the best left fielder I saw, and Bonds in his younger days, but they simply can't be compared to a great center fielder, or a great right one either.

Mays: Willie Mays was the best outfielder I ever saw, and had the best overall arm I remember either. Yes Clemente could air it out, so could Colavito. Mays could too, but did it from deep center. He didn't throw as far as Clemente on any given play, because he only did what he had to do. Clemente could throw wide, could throw long, couuld miss the cutoff man, but still be short (great on right to third though). Mays just go the out. He was better, at least in my memory than Maddox and White. I grant you, Mays had guys like Bobby BOnds there, while Maddox had Luzinski. So Maddon's job was impossible. My three: Mays, Flood and Jones. And I would put Kaline there before Dwight Evans. Partly though, I am not aClemente fan. A great player, but too much a legend over ballplayer for me.

Catcher. I guess I'm older, so I actually saw Bench's arm, which, after 1970, nobody did. Ty Cobb wouldn't have run on him. Plus his pitcher handling was incredible. You want to argue how great the Big Red Machine was? Look at the pitchers. Not only not one HOFer, but not even close.

Posted by: Daryl Rosenblatt at May 2, 2007 1:59 PM

Growing up in Baltimore in the late 60's I remember that there was a certain status to having a Rawlings glove because that was Brooks's brand. I think I only had MacGregor's.

Posted by: soccer dad at May 2, 2007 2:37 PM

Ozzie has more gold gloves, but Omar Vizquel's career fielding percentage is better than Ozzie's (.984 vs .978).

Posted by: Mark at May 2, 2007 2:43 PM

As good as Clemente apparently was, I doubt the best-ever RF would be more valuable than the third best CF. And was there a start date on this ? Tris Speaker was widely regarded as the greatest ever CF prior to Mays, and would likely merit consideration.

Posted by: Jerry at May 2, 2007 3:00 PM

"3B - Brooks Robinson If these aren't the four infielders chosen, something has gone very wrong."

I think you can make a very strong case for Mike Schmidt at 3B, but I can't disagree wth your selection of Brooks Robinson. What I disagree with is your statement to the effect "case closed! As if the issue isn't the least bit debateable. It's very arguable at the hot corner.

Posted by: Mark D at May 2, 2007 3:33 PM

I love these things. A good round of opinion and debate:

C - Bench - hands down. Nobody put the entire package together like Bench. Daryl is right, he was the man

1B - I agree with Hernandez. had the pleasure of watching him with the Cards.

2B - I think Sandburg was the best I saw. White was outstanding, but he played on turf most of the time.

3B - Robinson, but Rolan is in the same class

SS - Probably Ozzie, but Belanger was very good and my Dad said that Marty Marion, who played for the Cards in the 40's, was better than Ozzie.

OF - I think everyone on the list is deserving. I saw all of them play and they are all special. TO pick three I would have to go with Mays, Edmunds and White, but if I had to put them in position I would go Yaz, Mays and Clemente.

P - All three of these were great fielders, but I have enjoyed watching Gibson. I think he is the best athlete of the group and was able to do things that Kaat and Maddux can't.

I look forward to reading other opinions.

Posted by: maddirishman at May 2, 2007 3:38 PM

Never saw Mazeroski except in clips but I have a hard time imagining him as the best 2nd baseman of all time. There have certainly been players with more range, speed and quicker hands. See this as an argument against:

Frank White was mentioned and I would think I would rather have Lou Whitaker or Joe Morgan manning second.

It is also easy to now dismiss how amazing Ken Griffey, Jr. was in the 90s. At one point it was Jr. who was mentioned as the next Mays and the one who would surely break Aaron's HR record. Jr. brought a lot of balls back from over the fence and he made some of the greatest catches I have ever seen. Does that make him better than Edmonds, Mays, etc? No, but I think when you are talking about those elite guys you are splitting hairs.

Posted by: jim at May 2, 2007 6:30 PM

Forgot Robby Alomar who, in his prime, was a base hit stealing witch.

Posted by: jim at May 2, 2007 6:36 PM

One flaw of this survey is that there are people missing from the ballot who should be on it. Graig Nettles at 3B, who should have won several of the GG's awarded to Brooks - but one of the problems with the GG is that it's the most subjective award and people keep winning them long after their prime just on reputation.

Non-stars are underrepresented; Gary Pettis was the best CF I ever saw (I started watching games in 1969).

And another flaw is, what are we voting for, best peak or best career? If Bench is the best C, then best peak, I guess. BTW, I don't suppose at this point anybody thinks much of Pete Palmer's Fielding Runs, but in 1969 Bench was -3 whereas Jerry Grote was 19 (one of the best marks of the 20th century); 1970: Bench 4, Grote 10; career: Bench -80 (!), Grote 85. And for what it's worth, Lou Brock called Grote the hardest catcher to run on. But Grote never won a GG, which I suppose guaranteed he wouldn't even be considered for nomination.

How can they leave off Tony Pena, anyway?

Posted by: Steve H at May 3, 2007 8:45 AM

Steve, the Palmer issue was addressed in depth by Bill James, and I must say I agree. I saw Grote and Bench play, and it's not even close. I don't mean as hitters, where of course it's not close. Bench was the best defensive catcher I ever saw, he was like Ozzie. A Hall of Famer on defense alone. The fact that they could both hit makes them special (I am NOT comparing Ozzie and Bench as hitters).

In evaluating defense (and guys, remember what Crank posted, it's for defensive play ONLY, and when the Gold Glove award started), it's difficult to isolate, but I think it's important to look at how they did things compared to others at the same position, and then relative to the league. Ozzie for instance, did play on turf. Belanger and Brooks played next to each other; Maddox played next to Luzinski.

For instance, as a pitcher (not as a fielder but the guy dong the throwing), how much credit does the defense get. Think of John Tudor. I can tell you as a Met fan in the eighties, more than Mike Scott, I hated Tudor. A sinkerball throwing pitcher where you had to hit the ball up the middle, where Ozzie Smith, Tommie Herr and WIllie McGee were waiting for you.

As a catcher, guys like Jim Hegan got fame, but Johnnie Bench played for a team that might be the greatest of all time. Yes he had Morgan, Rose, Perez and Concepcion. Also Geronimo. SO the middle defense was very good to great. Here are the pitchers for one of the all time dynasties: 75 and 76, they had Gullett, Billingham, NOlan and Norman. In the pen, Borbon, Eastwick and McCenaney. Name one of those who is going to Cooperstown.

The Yankees of the mid 90s had Cone, Wells, Key, and of course Mariano. And Cone would probably be considered more if he wasn't a mercenary, and Mariano is, well Mariano. The Yanks of the 20s had Pennock and Shawkey, in the 30s Gomez, the 50s had Ford and Reynolds.

Steve, you compared Grote to Bench. I saw them both. Sparky was insulted to compare Munson to Bench, and he was right. It's insulting to compare Grote to Munson.

For shortstop, if you want to look at historical figures who compare to Ozzie, you probably need to go to Maranville. Light hitting shortstops keep their jobs on great teams that can afford them (like Baltimore, or even the Mets with Ordonez for a few years). Other great ones who I think fall short are Vizquel, who didn't have the range of Ozzie, or Aparicio. Maybe Groat.

Third base is tougher. The great fielders were really great: Nettles, the Boyer boys, Aurelio Rodriguez, Brooks. I do think that Nettles might have been a better fielder, but it's really close, isn't it?

I understand the sentiment for Griffey, a great fielder, but honestly, I'll go with Roger Kahn on this one. There has never ever been anyone in center field quite like Mays. Few were faster, few more sure handed, and he had the most miraculous cannon out there (everyone forgets it, but it was the perfect arm, really and truly).

Posted by: Daryl Rosenblatt at May 3, 2007 10:43 AM

SS has to be Rey Ordonez, right?

Posted by: A.S. at May 3, 2007 11:31 AM

We know Hernandez wasn't particularly fast, but was he quick? I don't think so much. I'd suggest he just had superior anticipation and very sure hands.

Aparicio is a good cal.

Re Grote: Daryl, the guy does make his argument with the numbers in hand.

Best OF arm I ever saw was Jesse Barfield. More laser-ish than cannon.

Posted by: spongeworthy at May 3, 2007 1:14 PM

I was surprised in comparing Kaat and Maddux on a fielding basis. I assumed Kaat would have more putouts and assists (figuring there was a greater degree of small ball in his era). However, Maddux has far more assists, putouts (nearly 100% and 50% more respectively) and double plays and less errors despite nearly the exact same amount of innings pitched.

It was also interesting to see that they had each one Gold Gloves in years when they committed a ton of errors ('69 Kaat won a GG with 8 errors and a fielding % of .826 and '93 Maddux got his with 7 errors and a .933).

Seems like Maddux is the clear choice here.

Posted by: jim at May 3, 2007 3:21 PM

Sponge, simply listing a result of a number doesn't mean anything. It depends on how it's derived. If someone made a case to compare Bench to, say Pudge, OK, I could buy the argument. But Grote is not close to Bench in any type of catcher skill. He was pretty good, for sure. But I saw them both play, and a lot. I can tell you that Palmer's arguments, which lists Bench as mediocre is seriously flawed.

The comparables for him are Berra, Cochrane and Josh Gibson. Cochrane really wasn't comparable. He's listed as an all time great for the same reason Piazza is, and it's a good one. When he came up as a catcher (he started as an infielder BTW), catchers always batted 8th, the pitcher 9th. Cochrane was such a great hitter he batted third. Considering how glacially things change in baseball, that's quite an impression. Piazza the same thing. His defense was always adequate at best, but the man hit like Josh Gibson!! In Dodger Stadium and Shea.

Clearly things are not right when you don't evaluate Bench as in the top 5, and a fairly mediocre catcher, with Birdie Tebetts skills rates higher. Bench was the greatest catcher I ever saw, and by a large margin. He had the greatest arm any catcher in the history of this planet ever had; he handled mediocre pitchers into rings; he could hit homers in the 40s, which at the time is like hitting them in the 50s now. Strictly as a defensive catcher, he was mind blowing. Coupled with his batting, he's the best. Second place? Not really sure there is one. He's the Honus Wagner of catchers.

Posted by: Daryl Rosenblatt at May 3, 2007 3:45 PM

Ozzie has more gold gloves, but Omar Vizquel's career fielding percentage is better than Ozzie's (.984 vs .978).

Fielding % can be and is manipulated by official scorers, and even if it was completely honest, it is still not as important as range. I heard Kruk say that Vizquel was just as good as Ozzie on BBTN last week, and cited fielding % as the reason.

Omar's BEST seasons for putouts and assists don't compare favorably to Ozzie's career AVERAGES. Ozzie made so many more plays than Omar that it hardly matters if Ozzie mishandled a few more that were in his range. Ozzie had 9 seasons where he threw out 500 or more runners, compared to zero for Omar. So in terms of throwing arm, there was simply no comparison.

Posted by: Chris at May 4, 2007 7:53 PM

I assume this list limits the field to only those guys who played after 1957, right? If we extend it further back, we could play devil's advocate and add a few others:

1B: McCormick. Even aftre '57, Vic Power & Wes Parker come out on Keith's level. But I never saw any of tese guys except Hernandez, and he was better at his position by a greater degree than anyone else I ever saw at theirs. So, I'll go with Mex.

2B: Maybe Eddie Collins, but from what I know of Maz, I'm taking him. I want my 2Bman to turn two.

SS: Ozzie has to be the man, but I think Honus, Maranville, Marion, and maybe The Scooter belong in the discussion.

3B: Had to be Robinson, but Nettles, Buddy Bell & Schmidt were all great.

C: Sundberg didn't only have the great arm, he was quicker than Pudge. I only saw Bench once he got a little older. Too young to see him in the late 60s'/early 70s.

OF: Andruw Jones is a clear choice, and how can you argue with Mays? But from what I know about Clemente I can't go there: great arm (though erratic), and solid range, but a right fielder's range. If we're sticking to just legit RFers, I can't imagine that Clemente had more range than Ichiro, and Ichiro's arm is breathtaking: strong & he hits the cutoff man.

Devon White was unbelievable, and so was Maddox. So was Flood, from what I've read. I take Devon along with Mays and Jones.

And if we go back to pre-'57, you have to consider Speaker, Dom DiMaggio (not to mention one or both of his older brothers), & Terry Moore.

P: I missed Kaat in his prime, but I can't imagine him being better than Maddox. Ron Darling was a fine fielder & had a great pickoff move. But I'm going with Maddux.

Posted by: Mike at May 6, 2007 10:02 AM

Mike, Wes Parker was a good first baseman, but not even close to Keith. His fame as a defensive player rested on his abilty to field some bad throws, especially from Maury Wills, who was, well not terrible, but not great either. That's the Keith problem. Most first basemen with reps for being good defensive players do it generally by not screwing up. Keith was the most "offensive" defender at first I ever imagined. He forced plays more than any first basemen I ever saw; actually, he was the only one I knew who did that.

For Maz at second, I am trying to really figure out if we are snowed by his grace on the pivot. He has a lot of DPs, but how much of that was Pirate pitching putting lots of guys on. Jim levebre and Jim Gilliam would never have nearly as many runners to double up. Doesn't mean he isn't the best, but that other factors to figure in. I was young when he played. Frank White was the best I saw on a more constant basis.

Mike, since I saw Bench, I can tell you; Sundberg was a very good defender. He was not Johnny Bench. Nobody was. I didn't use Honus' name in vain.

Posted by: Daryl Rosenblatt at May 6, 2007 11:56 PM

I was born in the 50's in an American League city (Detroit) so for me to vote for or against guys whose primes were the 50's or 60's (let's face it,how qualified is a 15 year old kid to judge who's good or not?) is somewhat of a joke.On the other hand,my dad would take my brother and me to Tiger Stadium maybe a dozen times a year,as well as down I-75 to Crosley Field in Cincinnati(so we'd be able to say we saw NL legends like Mays,Aaron,&Koufax play ball when we were old men bragging to our grandkids-like now)so I have seen virtually all these guys play at least once in person.TV coverage wasn't as ubiquitous then-with the exception of the NBC game on Saturdays and the World Series,there weren't many opportunities to see games on television.
It's easier to pick players who shouldn't be on the list.Any leftfielder(easy to hide guys with short arms).Derek Jeter(most overrated player in baseball,especially from a defensive standpoint-would be just another guy if he played in Cleveland or Pittsburgh-Alex Rodriguez is more deserving to be on this list than Jeter).Edmonds(also overrated as a defensive player-has a good arm,but his reputation comes from making plays look harder than they are,assuring him spots on SportsCenter).Bill Freehan(arm too weak).
My list,with input from my old man,who really has seen all these guys in their primes:Maddux,Bench,Hernandez,Maz,Smith,Robinson,Mays,Kaline,Jones.
By the way,my dad has always told me that Yogi Berra was not a particularly gifted defensive catcher,Mr.Rosenblatt.

Posted by: AnonE.Mouse at May 7, 2007 2:34 AM

Maz not only gets huge raw numbers of DPs, but James' Expected DPs Metrichas him looking good: he exceeded his expected number year-after-year.

Posted by: Mike at May 7, 2007 8:39 AM

Anon, as a Met fan, I have little reason to say nice things about Yankees, but I have to defend Derek Jeter. He makes all the plays he should make, misses the ones Ozzie would have, or Vizquel. He is an adequate defensive shortstop at best. Until you really need an out in the worst way. Or a big hit. Or a walk. Or something.

The closest analogue to Jeter I can think of is Pee Wee Reese. Except Jeter is better.

Posted by: Daryl Rosenblatt at May 8, 2007 7:34 PM

To say that Derek Jeter would be just another guy if he played in Cleveland or Pittsburgh is just ignorant. Is he overrated defensively? Yes. He's overrated offensively, too. But he's still a very good/great (probably closer to great) player. According to his Baseball Reference page, he's a career .317/.389/.463 hitter. That's very good for a shortstop. His power isn't that great (although it's certainly good for a shortstop) but on base percentage is far more important. He also has 2193 career hits. His career OPS+, which adjusts for era and ballpark, is 123. His ability does not match his fame and reputation but he is a legitimate Hall of Famer. Saying he would be just another guy if he wasn't on the Yankees underrates him as much as Tim McCarver and Joe Buck overrate him.

Posted by: waitingforthecall at May 9, 2007 1:37 AM

He'd be just another guy to casual fans(or non fans,like my wife,who is able to recognize him instantly due to his Yankee derived overexposure)like Travis Hafner or Jason Bay are just other guys outside of Cleveland or Pittsburgh.Would I want any or all of them of them on my team?Hell yes.Do any of them set the bar for excellence?Nope.Fame and reputation that exceeds ability is pretty much the definition of overrated,youmissedyourcall(sorry,man,but I don't like being called ignorant).Because of his offensive numbers at the position he plays,I agree he probably belongs in the HoF.It's also my opinion that currently,he's the third best shortstop in the city of New York(both at the plate and in the field)and that his defense is average,making his inclusion on the Rawling's ballot just another example of his being overrated.Alan Trammel,who also does not belong on the list,was a superior defensive shortstop.(On the other hand,his running mate,Lou Whitaker,probably should have been included.)
Mr.Rosenblatt,you seem to be citing his "clutch" ability,which frankly,I don't believe exists(I think the whole clutch thing comes from watching sports with a movie mentality).He did his job a couple times when the spotlight was on him(and failed just as often),which is when he was knighted,or sainted,or whatever his title is,by the run-with-the-pack,cliche-fueled,NY-centric media.One of the worst things about the Yankees making the playoffs(other than the Yankees making the playoffs)is having to listen to Tim McCarver swoon over Derek Jeter.He's good,probably great,but the only indispensible Yankee over the past decade is Mariano Rivera.

Posted by: AnonE.Mouse at May 9, 2007 11:00 AM
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