Posted by Andy on January 25, 2011
(Thanks to reader Andy P. for emailing in this idea.)
Think of the best defensive players of all time. Now, among them, who was the worst hitter?
There's a decent chance you came up with Ozzie Smith, or one of a few other players we're about to discuss.
Players like Smith, Omar Vizquel, and Phil Rizzuto stuck in the majors for a very long time thanks largely to their glove work.
Here's a very simple list of players since 1901 with at least as many WAR fielding runs as their WAR batting runs career total. The players are ranked overall by their total career WAR.
|4||Pee Wee Reese||66.7||117||51||1940||1958|
I carried this list down to 40 career WAR. Right off, we see all the well-know names of defensive stars who didn't do all that much with the bat: Aparicio, Vizquel, Smith, Peckinpaugh, plus a few others we might add to that list: Rizzuto, Tinker, White, and Fox.
Several of these players were quite good with the bat but were even better with the glove. Ripken leads the charge, and he's joined by Ventura, Evers, Bell, and Nettles.
It's pretty cool to see Tinker and Evers both on this list. Incidentally, Frank Chance was very strong with the bat and so-so with the glove, so he doesn't come close to making this list.
Brooks Robinson is an interesting case. You might be surprised to see him with just 20 WAR batting runs. Despite having some really good years as a hitter (such as 1964 when he had a 145 OPS+ and league-leading 118 RBI), in the end he had just a 104 OPS+ for his career. His career oWAR, however, is 41.8, thanks in large part to the league Runs above Replacement Level, for which Robinson received 17 to 20 runs most years he played. Most players get such a bump during their careers, but Robinson gets a particularly big bonus by virtue of having played so many games and so many seasons.
As a result, Robinson has a higher career oWAR than dWAR, but the batting and fielding runs alone that contribute to the WAR components show the opposite disparity. This is true for a number of players on this list, even Ozzie Smith. Smith gets a ton of additional runs that go into his oWAR total from positional scarcity and overall league runs above replacement level. He also gets runs from being a good baserunner. These all add up to an oWAR of 43.0, which easily beats his dWAR total of 21.6. But if we look at just what he did with the bat and glove, his feats with the glove easily beat his feats with the bat.
There are 64 players since 1901 who fit the bill with a career WAR of at least 30.0. The full list is here. According to Andy P., who sent in this idea, the first guy he thought of was Paul Blair.