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Players with -100 career fielding runs

Posted by Andy on March 7, 2011

While researching a Hall of Fame poll post for Gary Sheffield, I discovered that he has more than 100 negative fielding runs in his career. This turns out to be a pretty rare feat. Click through for the fascinating list of players to do it.

Here are all the players since 1901 with at least -100 WAR Fielding Runs in their careers:

Rk Player HR Rfield From To PA AB R RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS Pos Tm
1 Manny Ramirez 555 -111 1993 2010 9757 8227 1544 1830 1329 1809 .313 .411 .586 .998 79D CLE-BOS-TOT-LAD
2 Gary Sheffield 509 -180 1988 2009 10947 9217 1636 1676 1475 1171 .292 .393 .514 .907 975D/63 MIL-SDP-TOT-FLA-LAD-ATL-NYY-DET-NYM
3 Frank Howard 382 -111 1958 1973 7353 6488 864 1119 782 1460 .273 .352 .499 .851 793 LAD-WSA-TOT-DET
4 Dick Allen 351 -109 1963 1977 7314 6332 1099 1119 894 1556 .292 .378 .534 .912 357/468D PHI-STL-LAD-CHW-OAK
5 Bernie Williams 287 -118 1991 2006 9053 7869 1366 1257 1069 1212 .297 .381 .477 .858 *8D/97 NYY
6 Bobby Bonilla 287 -121 1986 2001 8255 7213 1084 1173 912 1204 .279 .358 .472 .829 5973/D81 TOT-PIT-NYM-BAL-FLA-ATL-STL
7 Danny Tartabull 262 -121 1984 1997 5842 5011 756 925 768 1362 .273 .368 .496 .864 *9D/4675 SEA-KCR-NYY-TOT-CHW-PHI
8 Rick Monday 241 -110 1966 1984 7162 6136 950 775 924 1513 .264 .361 .443 .804 *89/73 KCA-OAK-CHC-LAD
9 Jeff Burroughs 240 -104 1970 1985 6449 5536 720 882 831 1135 .261 .355 .439 .795 *97D/3 WSA-TEX-ATL-SEA-OAK-TOR
10 Derek Jeter 234 -131 1995 2010 10548 9322 1685 1135 948 1572 .314 .385 .452 .837 *6/D NYY
11 Howard Johnson 228 -101 1982 1995 5715 4940 760 760 692 1053 .249 .340 .446 .786 *56/789D43 DET-NYM-COL-CHC
12 Bill Madlock 163 -109 1973 1987 7372 6594 920 860 605 510 .305 .365 .442 .807 *54/D3 TEX-CHC-SFG-TOT-PIT-LAD
13 Juan Samuel 161 -117 1983 1998 6664 6081 873 703 440 1442 .259 .315 .420 .735 *48/3D975 PHI-TOT-LAD-CIN-DET-TOR
14 Eddie Yost 139 -113 1944 1962 9175 7346 1215 683 1614 920 .254 .394 .371 .765 *5/39764 WSH-DET-LAA
15 Chris Gomez 60 -111 1993 2008 5143 4604 517 487 408 750 .262 .325 .360 .685 *643/5D DET-TOT-SDP-TBD-MIN-TOR-BAL-PIT
16 Ricky Gutierrez 38 -114 1993 2004 4126 3632 471 357 364 586 .266 .338 .350 .689 *64/579D SDP-HOU-CHC-CLE-TOT
Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 3/3/2011.

Most of these guys stayed in the majors because they produced a ton with their bats. Notice that most of them were moved around defensively quite a bit. In Sheffield's case, his teams tried to stick him wherever he'd do the least damage. So while he started at SS, he quickly moved to 3B, then LF, then RF, and finally DH with the Tigers before the Mets had to put him in the field again.

And then there's Eddie Yost, Chris Gomez, and Ricky Gutierrez. These are guys who didn't produce much with their bats either...

Derek Jeter is not the only Yankee kept far too long at a position he doesn't play very well. Bernie Williams was a good center fielder for the first several years of his career, but starting in 1996 (and continuing every year for the rest of his career) he had negative fielding runs and a negative dWAR. Since 1901, Williams is 98th in WAR Batting Runs, but he's only 166th in overall WAR because of his negative defensive contribution.

62 Responses to “Players with -100 career fielding runs”

  1. aweb Says:

    I'm still on the fence as to how much of this to hold against a player. In Sheffield's case, it isn't his fault that teams thought he would make a passable infielder. Or for Williams, the Yankees could have asked him to move, and frankly it's not his job to tell them to move him (some players do, but should it be a strike against the record of those that don't?). A current player like this is Dunn - if he had been playing 1B, where he wasn't absolutely terrible, his whole career he's looked at a lot differently.

    Sheffield and WIlliams HoF case (judged by WAR) gets killed by fielding value, going from slamdunk and borderline to borderline and outside looking in. But it's not really their fault, at least not entirely.

  2. Dvd Avins Says:

    This in part is evidence of how messed up bb-ref's division of offensive and defensive runs is. If the Yankees moved Williams to left, then his rPos would have been significantly lower. Actual defensive value in this WAR framework is rPos(actual) - rpos(DH with the same PA) + rDef + maybe some fraction of rRep.

  3. Albanate Says:

    How is Mike Piazza not on this list? He was an awesome hitter, but I read somewhere that he was the worst fielding catcher in baseball history.

  4. Adam Says:

    Eddie Yost was a better offensive player than you give him credit for (though not quite as good as many others on the list). Consider these facts:

    Led the league in walks 6 times and in OBP twice.
    Had a .400+ OBP 9 times in his career (8 of those were full seasons).
    80th in career OBP (ahead of Joe Morgan, Rod Carew, and Honus Wagner just to name a few others in the top 100).

    I'm also not entirely convinced that he is as much of a defensive liability as the WAR suggests since he did lead the league in putouts by a 3rd baseman 8 times, assists by a 3rd baseman twice, range factor by a 3rd baseman once, and errors by a 3rd baseman only twice. Looking at all of the numbers together leads me to believe that he was probably right around average or a tick better defensively as a 3rd baseman, but perhaps someone out there who actually was alive to see him play could shed a little more light on that for all of us.

    Overall I'm not arguing that Yost was a GREAT player, but simply that he was a pretty good one. The most comparable player to him is Tony Phillips (someone I have seen play) and if I was managing a team I would certainly want someone like that to put into my lineup.

  5. Mike S. Says:

    Interesting to note that with Manny's 50 game suspension and Sheffield's attachment to BALCO, that the only sure-shot Hall of Famer on the list is Jeter.

  6. DavidRF Says:

    "The Walking Man" Yost was on OBP machine. One of the great outliers in baseball history. Not much power and really slow but TONS of walks.

  7. DD Says:

    Only two of these guys received gold gloves. Take a guess as to whom.

    More fuel to the fire for Yankee/east-coast bias huh? As Andy notes, Bernie's defense, statistically speaking, started to fade in 1996, yet he won 4 gold gloves in a row from 1997-2000. And we already covered Jeter on numerous threads. Let the debate rage on...

  8. Jay V Says:

    Love The Walking Man...he was always a valuable contributor of many of my STATS Classic fantasy teams.

  9. dukeofflatbush Says:

    Juan Samuel and Howard Johnson were part of the same Mets infield in 1989. As was Gregg Jefferries (whom Kevin Elster said it was easier to turn a double play with a bag of sand) and Mackey Sasser (whom had that strange hick-up, where he couldn't throw it back to the pitcher.)
    What a horrible fielding team.

  10. Dr. Doom Says:

    Is it possible that Bobby Bonilla was the most overrated player of all-time? I mean, I know people here like to pick on Jim Rice for being overrated (frankly, I do, too). But at least Rice had some good years, and it's understandable that some people are fooled by park effects, especially at Fenway. But c'mon. What did Bobby Bonilla ever do to become the highest paid player in MLB history (at the time)? He wasn't really that great, even at his best (zero 6-WAR seasons) and was worth only 9.7 WAR his last ten seasons. He could stick pretty well, but his only black ink comes from games (once), doubles (once) and sac-flies (twice). He put up very good OPS+ numbers, but since that stat didn't exist at the time, it's not like that's how people were judging him. If people really judge by the "Triple Crown" stats, Bonilla's not really that impressive, either. It's really a mystery to me.

  11. Mike S. Says:

    @ #9: For the record, Samuel didn't play one game in the infield for the Mets. He played CF. Probably didn't help much. But look it up. Not one of the games Samuel played in for the Mets was spent in the infield.

  12. Dvd Avins Says:

    Bonilla and Bonds broke out at the same time for the same team. Bonilla at the time qwas quite good and people initially thought of them as a pair or as part of an outfield with VanSlyke.

  13. Ken Says:

    The comment on Bonilla led me to look up the worst players (by WAR) with at least 1000 Runs and 1000 RBI. An interesting group, dominated by recent players: Buckner, Sierra, Joe Carter, Carlos Lee, Tino Martinez, Galarraga, Garrett Anderson, and Don Baylor form 8 of the worst 10. Only Jimmy Dykes and Joe Kuhel break up the pattern.

  14. Dvd Avins Says:

    It looks lke players who have seasons exclusively at DH are charged about 1 Rpos run per 43 PA. So to see how valuable someone is compared to a non-fielder with the same offensive stats, we can add Rfield, RPos, and PA/43. Some of the players above actually do look like they should have been kept off the field if the DH was available when they played, but most are better than that.

    Here are the net runs saved (negative is runs lost) by the player fielding his position:
    -67 Danny Tartabull
    -43 Jeff Burroughs
    -39 Frank Howard
    -20 Gary Sheffield
    -8 Manny Ramirez
    13 Dick Allen
    28 Rickey Gutierrez
    28 Bobby Bonilla
    33 Rick Monday
    46 Howard Johnson
    55 Juan Samuel
    59 Chris Gomez
    77 Bill Madlock
    107 Bernie Williams
    111 Eddie Yost
    228 Derek Jeter

    Other players who come to mind:
    -27 Greg Luzinski
    -21 Dick Stuart
    1 Cecil Fielder
    10 Willie McCovey
    11 Dave Kingman
    15 Ken Singleton
    38 Dave Winfield
    42 Ralph Kiner
    67 Harmon Killebrew
    84 Lou Brock

  15. DavidRF Says:

    Sounds like he was overrated in the early 90s by at least one GM but its easy to forget that with time. Jim Rice is in the HOF, Bobby Bo got 0.4% of the vote his first year and left the ballot.

    There were some odd salaries in the early 90s. I don't know if it was supply and demand issues or a backlash against the collusion of the previous years or something else. Danny Tartabull was the AL's highest paid player one year.

  16. aweb Says:

    I never thought Bonilla was overrated, but then I didn't know he finished in the top 3 in the MVP balloting twice in a row. He was a legitimately very good hitter (most comparables over time from Ellis Burks, Fred Lynn, Tony Perez, Reggie Smith), and if he had been providing strongly positive defensive value in his career, he'd be a borderline HoFer - 44 oWAR is squarely in the middle of quite a few borderline HoFers.

    I do recall it being well known that he stunk in the field, at least to me. He certainly looked like a bad fielder out there, to my young eyes.

    Also, Sheffield shows Nolan Ryan like dominance here - Ryan walked way, way more than anyone else, Sheffield is way, way worse here. Is he really far and away the worst defensive player ever?

  17. Adam S Says:

    That's amazing that Sheffield is 50% worse than any other player in baseball history. Jeter doesn't count as he's a result of a player and team too proud/arrogant/stupid to move a guy off a position he clearly can't play.

    It's hard to fathom that some of these guys (Sheffield, Tartabull, Samuel) were (considered) skilled enough defenders that they played middle infield in high school and the minors but then couldn't even play a passable corner outfield in the majors.

    To the first comment, this bad defense really happened so I think you have to count it. The balls Bernie Williams didn't catch hurt the Yankees just like his hits helped them. You also should recognize that playing poor defense allowed him to stay in the lineup as he didn't hit well enough to be a corner OF at the tail of his career. Also except in extreme cases, the position shift is neutral. Move Williams to a corner and he's 10 runs better (less bad) on defense but his offense is worth 10 runs less.

  18. Dvd Avins Says:

    The Mets were desperate to communicate to their fans that they were serious about maintining a good team. They needed a hitter and there wasn't much available. One hopes, though, that he was highly valued by at least 2 teams, or the Mets were even more foolish to pay that money.

  19. Lawrence Azrin Says:

    I am extremely suspicious of these defensive ratings, as there is only one player listed whose career stareted before 1959 (Eddie Yost), and only four before 1970. Are we to believe almost all the worst fielders at their positions happened in the last four decades, and only one in the first seven decades of the 20th century??

    Perhaps there is some bias in the way that fielding is evaluated that tilts it in favor of players from the pre-expansion era.

  20. Dvd Avins Says:

    I think average fielding has gotten better becuse the Luzinskis have been moved to DH. That lets some other players shift leftward on the defensive specturm, too. Since Rfield simply compares to the average at a position, bad fielders show up more starkly as outliers.

  21. Frank Clingenpeel Says:

    I was surprised that neither Dick Stuart {Dr. Starngeglove} nor Marvelous Marv Throneberry {whom Casey Stengel wouldn't give a birthday cake to -- for fear he'd drop it} made this list.

  22. Chuck Says:

    "While researching a Hall of Fame poll post for Gary Sheffield"

    Wow, you must have been REALLY bored.

  23. DavidRF Says:

    Throneberry didn't play long enough and he was only famously awful at the very end. Stuart's career only spanned ten seasons as well, yet I'm surprised his numbers aren't worse. Perhaps the bar was lower at 1B back then. It looks like to really rack up the negative Rfield, you need to play OF-3B-SS.

  24. DavidRF Says:

    Worst career Rfield, pre-1955:

    Cub Stricker -82
    Jim Delahanty -78
    Jim Bottomley -73
    Tommy Dowd -73
    Hans Lobert -65
    Hal Chase -65
    Eddie Yost -65
    Sam Wise -64
    Chick Galloway -64

  25. Dvd Avins Says:

    Career total Rfield for Delahanty is -90. Lobert is -61. Maybe the numbers David listed above for those players exclude pre-1901 seasons? I haven't checked whether that would make them come out right. Yost, as seen above is at -111 if you include his whole career.

    Here's the whole list in comparison to a non-fielder (DH, except there were none back then). All of them come out positive.

    17 Delahanty
    19 Dowd
    35 Bottomley
    59 Stricker
    61 Chase
    89 Galloway
    99 Wise
    105 Lobert
    111 Yost

    It's still interesting that most of them are from the same time period. What happened to all the players from 1910 to 1960?

  26. Morten Jonsson Says:


    Interesting to see Hal Chase there. In his time, he was considered the best-fielding first baseman in baseball. He was a crook, of course, and it's possible that he let balls get by him at strategic moments, enough that it affected his fielding stats. But I wonder if there was also a kind of optical illusion at work--if he had a flair that made people think he was much better than he was.

  27. Dvd Avins Says:

    Oops. Yost's Rfield is -113, not -111. His overall defensive runs is positive 111, which confused me.

  28. DavidRF Says:

    Whoops... the numbers I posted were "TZ" from Sean Smith's download file. I thought that was the same as "Rfield" but I was wrong. Rfield is TZ + IFDP. Here is the modified list:

    Jim Delahanty -90
    Cub Stricker -81
    Fresco Thompson -75
    Jim Bottomley -73
    Tommy Dowd -73
    Rudy Hulswitt -72
    Chick Galloway -71
    Don Gutteridge -68
    Ralph Young -67
    Ed Yost -66
    Hal Chase -65

    Sorry for the error. That's a few more names from the 1910-1950, but still underrrepresented I would bet.

  29. Paul E Says:

    Not for anything, I really believe WAR can't be trusted from a fielding perspective. It's just not as developed/mature as all the batting stats that are utilized. For example, Ryan Howard is a piss-poor fielder (FIRST major league 1b ever to lead his team in errors AND he's done it THREE times). He has a positive "fielding runs" for his career. Prince Fielder sucks equally, yet his numbers are damningly negative.....How is this possible?
    Howard couldn't start a 3-6-3 DP if the VIVID girls were waiting in the dugout to start filming "Beyond the DP"

  30. Dvd Avins Says:

    12 Thompson
    46 Young
    76 Gutteridge

    Being a relatively bad second baseman just doesn't make you a worse defensive player than an above average first baseman.

  31. DavidRF Says:

    Dvd Avins Says:
    Being a relatively bad second baseman just doesn't make you a worse defensive player than an above average first baseman.
    I hope nobody is taking that point home from the tables above. A relatively bad second-basemen certainly costs his team runs in the field. Its up to management to decide if that cost is enough to offset the offensive cost of moving them to an easier position. But it certainly should be stressed that the players at different positions on that list are being compared to different baselines.

    I'm surprised there aren't more long-career OF-ers from the pre-expansion era on the list. Harry Heilmann is often described as a "DH" yet his fielding numbers are only mediocre. Same with Babe Herman. And why didn't Hack Wilson get knocked for playing out of position in CF like Bernie Williams did in the second half of his career?

  32. aweb Says:

    To the first comment, this bad defense really happened so I think you have to count it. The balls Bernie Williams didn't catch hurt the Yankees just like his hits helped them.

    I do see this point, but I'm not sure I wouldn't count some of it against the manager, rather than the player. It just seems off to me - at some point, teams have to stop letting a player do something they can't. I used this example somewhere else recently in a different form, but let's say Sheffield was for some reason the "first guy off the bench to pitch" favourite for his managers, and took the mound 15 times in his career. If he accumulated -3 WAR in that role, would you count it against him, even if he shouldn't have been doing it at all?

    Also except in extreme cases, the position shift is neutral. Move Williams to a corner and he's 10 runs better (less bad) on defense but his offense is worth 10 runs less.
    These are nothing if not the extreme cases...

  33. John DiFool Says:

    Rick Monday is the only real surprise. I didn't get much of a chance to watch him play, but he was an athletic CF with some speed.

  34. Dvd Avins Says:

    Saying someone's offense is more valuable because he's playing a different position is a skewed way of looking at things. His offense is his offense. The combination of him playing a particular defensive position and producing whatever offense he does varies by position. But playing those positions is a defensive act.

  35. Lawrence Azrin Says:

    #31/ DavidRF Says: ..."I'm surprised there aren't more long-career OF-ers from the pre-expansion era on the list. Harry Heilmann is often described as a "DH" yet his fielding numbers are only mediocre. Same with Babe Herman..."

    YES, DavidRF, these are the sort of players I was trying to think of, the sort that were routinely referred to as lousy fielders during their playing careers, and probably would've been DH's if they played post-1973.

    Yet - Babe Herman is -31, Heilmann is -44, Kiner is -40; below-average, but nowhere as bad as more recent OFer's. Ted Williams, whose defensive performance is usually described as "indifferent", or at best "adequate", is -30.

    Rogers Hornsby, who was referred to as an average (at best) second baseman inummerable times, is +54; was he really 170 runs better than Juan Samuel?

  36. John H. Says:

    A great defensive first baseman is worth more than people think. A great 1B man is way more valuable than a below-average middle infielder who is leaking runs. Albert Pujols has way more defensive value than Derek Jeter. It makes no difference where a player is standing on the field or what position he plays. Yes, first base is somewhat easier to play, but the difference in difficulty is greatly exaggerated. The point is that Pujols stops all the balls that get hit near him and saves bunches of runs. Jeter lets too many balls go through. There is no guarantee whatsoever that Jeter would be a good first baseman if you moved him over there to the easier position. Jeter certainly wouldn't be as good as Pujols even if they both played 1st base. For example, even if you say 1st base is easier overall, how is the shorter Jeter going to make up for his disadvantage in reach when receiving throws?
    There is no excuse for a bad fielder to be butchering plays and letting up runs even if he plays a supposedly "key" defensive position. Also, there is no excuse for not giving a player due credit for saving runs even if he plays 1B or LF.

  37. DavidRF Says:

    We've had this discussion here many times before. Someone has to play each position and its harder to find bats at the more skilled defensive positions. On days Joe Mauer plays DH, the Twins effectively swap Jim Thome for Drew Butera in the lineup. So, there is some offensive value to being able to play a certain defensive position. Which column to put that value in the WAR table is not cut and dry because that adjustment is a mixture of both offense and defense.

    I can certainly understand the pain of seeing SS's and LF's on the same sortable fielding chart. Even with the "Rfield" column properly documented, it still looks like apples are being compared to oranges. The fielding leaderboards page solves that by having a separate leaderboard at each position.

  38. John H. Says:

    Some of the negative fielding is certainly the manager's fault. I agree with whoever said that. The managers will too often put a player at a position that he obviously can't handle if you look at his statistics.

    For example, Joe Torre was an absolute idiot for leaving Jeter at SS when ARod came to the Yankees. Every statistic in print pointed to ARod as being the better SS: Range Factor, Zone Rating, and Fielding %. Torre should have said that ARod was the SS from day one! Jeter should have moved to 3B or somewhere else. And if Jeter bitched, then Torre should have shown him a printout of his bad defensive stats.

    The tragedy is that not only was Jeter allowed to keep marauding and letting hits go through at SS, but ARod turned out to be not even a very good 3rd baseman! ARod is better at SS than he is at 3B. He is +18 at SS and -41 at 3B. So much for 3rd base being the "easier" position!

    At the very least, he should have switched them back and forth during their first year together and at the end of the season, he could have analyzed both of their statistics at both positions and made an informed decision about who was the better 3rd baseman.

    It makes me so angry that people like Joe Torre get to become major league managers, when someone like me could do a better job just by paying attention to the statistics and strategy.

  39. John H. Says:

    Just to clarify, I'm not saying that Joe Torre is a bad manager overall, because he's got an awful lot of wins. I'm just saying that he made a very bad decision in the Jeter/ARod situation. He's a good manager, but he'd be a Hell of a lot better if he actually understood and paid attention to the statistics.

  40. Dvd Avins Says:

    #37 On days Joe Mauer plays DH, the Twins effectively swap Jim Thome for Drew Butera in the lineup.


    So, there is some offensive value to being able to play a certain defensive position.

    What a player brings to his team is the ability to play offense and the ability to play defense. There is nothing in the rulebook that prevented Eddie Murray from playing second base. Lou Whitaker's was as valuable a player as Murray because his defensive ability allowed him to field a position at which it's harder to find good hitters.*

    So while some of Whitaker's defensive ability does result in more runs being scored by the Tigers, it is still strictly his defensive ability. If we're going to break out how a player contributes to his team, even mediocre middle infielders should get defensive credit for being better fielders than nearly all first basemen.

    BTW, before James, before the Defensive Spectrum was published, I used to think the Yankees would do well to move Willie Randolph to right field. He had all the skills to be very good there. Better than Reggie, and Brian Doyle could have played second. But even a mediocre DH bats enough better than Doyle that the defensive upgrade at right field would have been comparitively negligible.

    *If hitting were not a factor, I'm not sure good second basemen would be scarcer, but the body types that make for good hitters are more condicive to playing first base.

  41. Lawrence Azrin Says:

    I think what a lot of us here are trying to resolve is the logical contradiction of penalizing an "up-the-middle" defensive player more than a pure DH-type who never takes the field at all, or plays only first base.

    For example, literally _no one_ would put David Ortiz in place of any shortstop, including Derek Jeter. Yet, there are people who suggest that the worst-fielding shortstop (or catcher or center fielder or second baseman) has less defensive value than a DH. There is a lot of value in being able to play {at all} the up-the-middle positions at the major league level.

    I know this is accounted for by the positional adjustments, but sometimes I get the feeling people underestimate the difficulty of finding players who meet the minimum level of play for a defensive position at the major league level.

  42. John H. Says:

    But it's just not true. Mediocre middle infielders are NOT better than very good 1st basemen. An average SS has more value than an average player at any other position except P, that's true. But there is a huge amount of overlap. What you have to do is look at the plays that the fielder is actually making, not where he is standing on the field. If he saves runs, he saves runs, period. If he's way below average, then he's a liability regardless of what position he plays.

  43. John H. Says:

    The fact that David Ortiz would be an awful shortstop is irrelevant. Albert Pujols would probably be a pretty good shortstop. If I had Pujols and Jeter on the same team, I'd consider putting Pujols at short if I didn't have any better options than Jeter. If a guy has great fielding talent, he can excell at any position, even if he normally plays a position that is considered less important. Napoleon Lajoie played well at 1B, 2B, 3B, SS, and OF. Lave Cross was excellent at 3B, C, 2B and SS. Darrell Evans was good on both corners of the infield.

    Every position requires some of the same skills, such as catching the ball, stopping the ball, and throwing, but also each position requires a unique set of skills. The defensive spectrum is an oversimplication.

    Mike Piazza was a below average catcher, but he was absolutely horrible at first base, so bad that his team moved him back to catcher. Now, if 1B is so "easy" to play and catcher is so "hard" to play (based on the defensive spectrum) then how could that be?

    Alex Rodriguez was a good SS (+18) but he is far below average at 3B (-41). Part of the reason is that he is terrible at fielding bunts (check out John Dewan's stats in the Fielding Bible). But he never had to field bunts at SS, even though SS is "harder". You see, you can't just go by the defensive spectrum.

  44. Lawrence Azrin Says:

    #43/... John H. Says: "... Albert Pujols would probably be a pretty good shortstop. If I had Pujols and Jeter on the same team, I'd consider putting Pujols at short if I didn't have I didn't have any better options than Jeter..."

    Well, Pujols might have been a decent shortstop, but I doubt it - he has never played SS, even in the minors, where he was usually a third baseman.

    "..Every position requires some of the same skills, such as catching the ball, stopping the ball, and throwing, but also each position requires a unique set of skills. The defensive spectrum is an oversimplication..."

    No, I do NOT think the defensive spectrum is an oversimplification - players are not interchangeable by position. The 2001 Cardinals (Pujol's rookie yr) had Edgar Renteria as a starting SS and Placido Polanco as a backup, but you'd think that if Pujols showed ANY affinity to play shortstop, he'd have played at least an inning or two there, just to see if he could handle it... Both Mike Schmidt ( 24 games) and George Brett (11 games) played a little shortstop in their early days, which at least gives the impression they could've handled the position, as you are suggesting with Pujols.

    In the lowel levels of baseball (through high school, frequently in college) the best players usually pitch (if they have an arm) or play shortstop or centerfield. They gradually move down the defensive spectrum, usually towards the corners, as they progress up the minors and establish themselves in MLB. I still think you are understating the difficulty of players being able to play up-the-middle positions in the major leagues. As Bill James said, most of major league player's value is in being average (or close to it).

  45. DavidRF Says:

    I still think you are understating the difficulty of players being able to play up-the-middle positions in the major leagues.
    This is just for defense. The premise is that the high minors are filled with decent fielders and its primarily the bat that keeps them from getting to the show. Anecdotally, a team generally has an adequate supply of utility players and defensive replacements. Not all replacement players are the same of course, but its easier to find the good-field/no-hit guys than vice-versa.

    Baseball Prospectus tried using different defensive replacement levels for each position a while back and it ended up being a double-counting of the positional adjustment when they tried to add it up into the final ubernumber. People debated FRAA vs. FRAR for years though. FRAR is nicer when comparing fielding ability across multiple positions (as in the table above) but FRAA eliminates the double-counting for the ubernumber. We could re-open those debates here of course, but thought I'd give the heads up that articles articulating those views by smarter people than me might be out there on the web somewhere.

  46. Morten Jonsson Says:

    Ike Davis is a better-fielding first baseman than Pujols. But I haven't seen any rumors about the Mets trading Reyes and moving Davis to shortstop.

  47. Doug Says:

    @24 and why so few very poor fielders pre-1955?

    My line of reasoning on this is that improvements in players' equipment, training and athleticism have all contributed to better defense. Add to that application of computer analyses of pitchers' and hitters' strengths, weaknesses and tendencies to aid postioning, pitch selection and general game strategy. These factors should all improve defense (e.g. better defensive positioning aided by computer analysis can turn "hard" defensive plays into easier ones).

    All of these changes in the game have allowed the better (i.e. more skilled) fielders today to be that much better than their counterparts were in earlier days. To put it another way, everyone has benefited from these improvements, but the better fielders more so than the worse fielders.

    Why do these changes benefit better fielders more than worse fielders? I think of it like this: put a fancy glove on a bad fielder and position him optimally and what have you got - still a bad fielder, albeit one who may make a few more plays. Conversely, with good fielders you have athletes who can use these modern advantages to their greatest effect.

    There should, therefore, be greater disparity between the best and worst fielders now than in years past. Greater disparity should mean more extreme scores on metrics like this one.

    One way to test the theory, I suppose, is to see the eras that the best fielders (e.g. highest fielding runs scores) have come from. If these players are also disproportionately from recent times, that would tend to support a theory like this.

  48. Doug Says:

    I'm with you John H. on the value of good first baseman.

    To me, it starts with the inescabale fact that the 1st baseman will be involved on more "balls in play" situations than any other defensive position. People, of course, get that but are mostly thinking only about catching the ball and therefore reason that that should be "easy" because major leaguers are making the throws and are doing so accurately a great deal of the time.

    However, when the throws are not perfect, there's a great deal of split-second judgment that has to happen. Do I come off the bag or stretch? Do I stretch to short-hop the bad throw or step back to take the high hop? And so on. Making the right decision in those situations keeps runners off the bases, and runs off the scoreboard.

    But, why does fielding get ignored. First baseman have to field hot shots down the line just like third baseman. They have to field bunts, just like third baseman. They have to track down pop-ups like other infielders. They have to start double plays like other infielders (and almost always have a harder throw to make). They have make plays to pitchers covering first that mostly other infielders don't have to make. Why is all that forgotten, and people only think about the "easy" job of catching the ball?

  49. Doug Says:

    I wouldn't have thought of Frank Howard and Bernie Williams' as being similar hitters, but check out their slash lines.

    Biggest difference is in strikeouts and walks (both big edges to WIlliams) resulting in almost 75% more runs scored, which is huge. Of course, speed, playing on much better teams, and getting 23% more PAs in the same number of seasons also helped a lot.

  50. Morten Jonsson Says:


    Piazza was moved to first base very late in his career--maybe too late to learn it properly. Whether or not first is easier than catcher, the skills are very different. He was also very unhappy about being pressured into making the move, and played the position as if he thought if he played it badly enough they'd move him back to catcher. I wouldn't actually accuse him of thinking that way, but that is of course what happened.

  51. Dvd Avins Says:

    @47 You're making a lot of sense, but remember this is partly about who managers are willing to play. For whatever reason, in the mid-20th Century, managers were not giving long careers to fielders who were much worse than average at the position they played. That may simply be due to a greater tendency to push people toward less demanding defensive positions. I think Davey Johnson (and Bill James) helped change common practice there, allowing for more players who may not be as aesthetically pleasing to watch on the field, but get the job done well enough.

  52. John Autin Says:

    @19, Lawrence: "Are we to believe almost all the worst fielders at their positions happened in the last four decades, and only one in the first seven decades of the 20th century?"

    Three points:

    1. There are far more teams now than there were through 1960. From 1969 on, there have been at least 50% more teams than pre-expansion, and since 1998 there have been almost twice as many teams. This is bound to skew the results towards the last 4 decades.

    2. One group that piles up the negative fielding runs is big slow guys who hit home runs. Until about 1925, those guys were virtually absent from MLB, because it was so hard to hit HRs. They couldn't put enough runs on the board to overcome those they let in.

  53. John Autin Says:

    And ... 3. I don't know how to count. 🙂

  54. Lawrence Azrin Says:

    @52/John Autin - good points*; I had considered the lack of HRs till the 1920s, but not the large increase in teams since 1969. I still don't understand why the likes of Babe Herman and Ralph Kiner do not appear on the list of -100 fielders at the top.

    * especially #3!

  55. flyingelbowsmash Says:

    Paul E @ 29

    Howard would need Prince Fielder to make the movie. . . Though I'm not going to rate anyone's VORP in that one. . .

    So, how do the Yankess win so much with such an awful shortstop who causes all those runs to be be scored? Is SS not as vital as assumed? Or is Jeter over-devalued by these statistical approaches?

  56. dukeofflatbush Says:

    If we allowed BALCO to clone 8 Barry Bonds-es, wouldn't that make a pretty unbeatable team, even if Barry fielded as well as he told the truth?

    Would the 80's Cardinals (pretty good teams) be better or worse if we magically substituted Pujols for Oz?

  57. aweb Says:

    Jeter is less than 10 runs a year negative in the field - he has more than made up for that with a great bat (almost always for a SS, some years for any position).

    Playing guys who would be unable to field a postion properly would be exploited pretty quickly by opposing teams - they don't do so much these days, but if a groundball to the left side produced a basehit/error 30% of the time instead of 15%(both numbers pulled out of the air), major league hitters would hit a lot of balls there. Bonds wouldn't be able to play third and field bunts or play a reasonable SS, so I think there is a chance a team of Ichiros and Juan Pierres could beat the all-Balco Barry team, just by bunting and slap hitting over and over and over.

  58. dukeofflatbush Says:

    @ 57,

    I understand your point, and partially agree, but Bonds was a great fielder, or should I say a potentially great fielder, with an indifferent attitude.
    I think he could of fielded any position, just a bit below average on the left side of the infield (being a lefty and all) - or at least as god as the worst of them. So your arbitrary #'s are twice as 'bad' as the average and I don't think Bonds would be twice as bad; maybe a Thome or a Dunn would.
    But do you guys remember Bill James' Offensive Win Percentage?
    It would assume 8 players with identical offensive #'s played 162 games together vs the league average. Bonds hypothetically 'won' 90%+ of his games, granted that was with his bat alone, but even if you cut that number by a third, 60% is still a playoff team. I wonder if we could extrapolate James' Offensive Win Percentage of 8 identical hitters, but some how give them all a glove and a position and see if offense and defense can be incorporated into that theory.
    I know it is hard to guess or assume a players value at a position he will never play, but guys have switched before. Ruth. Ankiel. Wakefield.
    Or take guys like Robin Yount or Dale Murphy or Craig Biggio. They all played multiple 'high value' offensive positions, with both Yount and Biggio making BIG changes late in their career.
    I think if we had identical pitching and played the 'all bad fielding team'- but guys with great bats, vs. say, GGers with slightly above average hitting, the bats beat the gloves.
    True though, that the pitching could not be identical if the team committed error after error, creating more outs and more pitches, but we can't clone Barry anyway.

  59. stevebogus Says:

    Re: fielding runs before 1955

    I believe the issue is the scarcity of detailed game descriptions (including hit locations) in earlier seasons. Total Zone fielding runs have only been calculated back to the mid-1950s. I'm not sure how Fielding Runs are calculated before then, but that method must be coming up with more conservative figures.

  60. Paul E Says:

    @55 - Senor Flyingelbowsmash

    Point taken. And, I agree that fielding effects are overstated. If UNEARNED runs are less than 10% of all runs scored, how can a 156 OPS+ guy like Dick Allen produce 71 WAR from the offensive side, yet be assessed --10 WAR from the defensive side when playing end of the spectrum positions like LF and 1B? It seems to me these fielding effects are exaggerated at the least.
    I think the NYY have survived their limited range SS in large part by him hitting at a 125 + OPS; batting .315 with 70 BB

  61. Artie Z Says:

    I would almost have to believe a big part is due to the introduction of the DH, as mentioned in post #20. Here are the number of players who had an Rfield <=-20 for each decade:

    1900-1909 3
    1910-1919 2
    1920-1929 3
    1930-1939 4
    1940-1949 4
    1950-1959 4
    1960-1969 3
    1970-1979 23
    1980-1989 14
    1990-1999 38
    2000-2009 33

    It's pretty constant until the 1970s. I understand that expansion and longer schedules will add some players, but probably not triple or 10 times the amount as in earlier seasons. My thinking is this: David Ortiz and Frank Thomas are going to play baseball because there are not many guys who can hit like that. Without the DH, they play first base (or RF, or LF, or maybe 3B if the team is really desperate). We know this to be true because of the Ralph Kiners and Dick Stuarts and Frank Howards of years past - if you can hit 35-50 HR in a year, you tend to play baseball. Without the DH, these players are being compared to each other as fielders so they do not look as bad (perhaps Pujols would look even better if there was no DH as he'd be compared to Ortiz and Thomas). With the DH someone like Doug Mientkiewicz might play 1B, which makes the poor guys who are like Ortiz and Thomas who get stuck playing the field (think Adam Dunn or Manny or Sheffield) look even worse because now instead of being compared to Ortiz they get compared to Mientkiewicz. And now they look truly awful.

  62. Doug Says:

    @61. I think you've got it Artie Z.

    Assuming DHs are DHs because they can't field (almost certainly true), then you're creating selection bias compared to a non-DH environment by removing the worst fielders from the comparison pool. So, the remaining bad fielders who have to play the field (there are more bad fielders than DH positions) will look worse than if they had more of their ilk in the comparison pool.