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Highest career WAR with more fielding runs than batting runs

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.

Rk Player WAR/pos Rfield Rbat From To
1 Cal Ripken 89.9 181 181 1981 2001
2 Brooks Robinson 69.1 294 20 1955 1977
3 Ivan Rodriguez 67.7 162 71 1991 2010
4 Pee Wee Reese 66.7 117 51 1940 1958
5 Ozzie Smith 64.6 239 -140 1978 1996
6 Graig Nettles 61.6 141 102 1967 1988
7 Buddy Bell 60.8 176 111 1972 1989
8 Andruw Jones 59.9 240 97 1996 2010
9 Willie Davis 57.2 106 64 1960 1979
10 Robin Ventura 55.5 162 146 1989 2004
11 Luis Aparicio 49.9 149 -235 1956 1973
12 Joe Tinker 49.2 180 -20 1902 1916
13 Johnny Evers 48.4 127 115 1902 1929
14 Mike Cameron 47.4 99 71 1995 2010
15 Dave Bancroft 46.4 93 18 1915 1930
16 Bobby Wallace 46.3 110 35 1901 1918
17 Bert Campaneris 45.3 62 -114 1964 1983
18 Nellie Fox 44.4 112 -54 1947 1965
19 Matt Williams 43.9 97 94 1987 2003
20 Travis Jackson 43.3 139 9 1922 1936
21 Omar Vizquel 43.1 138 -213 1989 2010
22 Art Fletcher 42.8 144 7 1909 1922
23 Adrian Beltre 42.5 101 59 1998 2010
24 Phil Rizzuto 41.8 121 -10 1941 1956
25 Devon White 41.3 137 -52 1985 2001
26 Roger Peckinpaugh 40.4 100 -104 1910 1927
27 Red Schoendienst 40.4 79 -66 1945 1963
28 Gil McDougald 40.0 99 94 1951 1960
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 1/23/2011.

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.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, January 25th, 2011 at 7:25 am and is filed under Season Finders. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

20 Responses to “Highest career WAR with more fielding runs than batting runs”

  1. Frank Clingenpeel Says:

    Not sure how to determine this, so I'll ask; where does Mazeroski rate on this list?

  2. Robinson's defensive value also detracted from his offensive totals. The last 3 years of his career, Robinson put up rbats of -32,-11 and -5. I don't know that a worse fielder would have held on that long. Without those seasons he wouldn't have qualified for the list.

  3. Frank, you can determine it by going here:

    http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/m/mazerbi01.shtml#batting_value::none

    That's the Batting Value section of Mazeroski's main page.

    He has -206 batting runs (a really bad total consistent with all the guys above who stuck in the majors due to their defense and not their bat work) and his fielding runs are 147. So he was a good defensive player, and certainly qualifies for the list above. The problem is that his oWAR and dWAR are both pretty low (15.0 and 11.9 respectively) such that his total WAR of 26.9 puts him way, way down this list.

    Now that I think about it, I realized you might simply be asking where Maz places on that list, and the answer is #79, just behind Frank White and Phil Garner.

  4. My comment made no sense. Please ignore it.

  5. Another question would be who has the greatest value of (Rfield - Rbat).

    Mark Belanger would be a good candidate... +241/-248... a difference of 489. It'll be hard to top that.

  6. dukeofflatbush Says:

    Very surprised to see Nettles and Williams on this list. I guess I always imagined them as offensive players.
    I know in Matt Williams case his lack of walks and the RBI being overrated probably led to his appearance as a one-dimensional player.
    Ditto Ventura...
    I guess 3B is an underrated defensive position?
    SS & 3B seem to be the glut of players on this list.
    Strange, but I was just looking at Brooks' fielding the other day. He had some amazing numbers. I thought it was strange that he would have several top ten finishes in MVP that always baffled me. Then when advanced fielding became available, I saw just how much value the guy had. And wouldn't you know it, his WAR, which wasn't around then, now accurately reflects his MVP rank.
    Andruw Jones just had a sick six year stretch. He averaged 3 Rfield a year.

  7. dukeofflatbush Says:

    #5
    Thinking the same thing...
    Funny they all had years that overlapped in Baltimore?

  8. I did the search of largest (Rfield - Rbat). I used Sean Smith's data file which look like they match here but can't be 100% sure. Also... only through 2009.

    Mark Belanger 489 ----- +241/-248
    Ozzie Guillen 409 ----- +106/-303
    Germany Smith 393 ----- +160/-233
    Tommy Corcoran 386 ----- +80/-306
    Luis Aparicio 384 ----- +149/-235
    Ozzie Smith 379 ----- +239/-140
    Rabbit Maranville ----- +130/-238
    Everett Scott ----- +95/-269
    Ed Brinkman ----- +79/-277
    Rey Sanchez ----- +141/-212
    Bill Mazeroski ----- +147/-206

  9. Oops... forgot to add the totals after a while...

    Mark Belanger 489 ----- +241/-248
    Ozzie Guillen 409 ----- +106/-303
    Germany Smith 393 ----- +160/-233
    Tommy Corcoran 386 ----- +80/-306
    Luis Aparicio 384 ----- +149/-235
    Ozzie Smith 379 ----- +239/-140
    Rabbit Maranville 368 ----- +130/-238
    Everett Scott 364 ----- +95/-269
    Ed Brinkman 356 ----- +79/-277
    Rey Sanchez 353 ----- +141/-212
    Bill Mazeroski 353 ----- +147/-206

  10. Regarding Belanger, I think he has the most career WAR of anyone with more dWAR (20.9) than oWAR (11.6).

  11. The reverse sort of the list above is pretty boring. Its just the greatest hitters of all time with some mild corrections due to fielding. The best values of Rbat ever are well over a thousand.

    To make the list interesting, I decided only to include guys with worse than -100 for Rfield. Turns out there's only 16 of those guys ever. Its a fairly interesting list:

    Gary Sheffield -762 ------ -180/520
    Manny Ramirez -753 ----- -104/649
    Dick Allen -570 ----- -109/461
    Frank Howard -462 ----- -111/351
    Derek Jeter - 443 ----- -121/322
    Billy Williams -426 ----- -118/308
    Bobby Bonilla -370 ----- -121/249
    Danny Tartabull -347 ----- -121/226
    Rick Monday -309 ----- -110/199
    Bill Madlock -297 ----- -109/188
    Jeff Burroughs -279 ----- -104/175
    Eddie Yost -275 ----- -113/162
    Howard Johnson -230 ----- -101/129
    Juan Samuel -106 ----- -117/-11
    Ricky Gutierrez -34 ----- -114/-80
    Chris Gomez +8 ----- -111/-119

    A lot of those names are understandable. Teams knew they couldn't field very well, but hoped their bat made up for it. The names at the bottom are surprising though. I suppose Juan Samuel was speedy and teams hoped he could learn to steal first. Its hard to explain how Gutierrez and Gomez kept finding work though. Each had fairly long careers and were fairly well paid... making $20M and $16M respectively... but each finished with negative career WAR. Goes to show that the line between riding a bus in AAA making peanuts and career earnings in the tens of millions is very small.

  12. @ Artie

    You're right, Belanger and Blair are the only two players with a career WAR over 30 with a higher defensive WAR then an offensive, interesting how long they played together as well.

  13. #6 Flatbush

    I'm not so surprised to see Nettles and Williams on the list- or Brooks Robinson. These guys were all great fielders, had a handful of great offensive years and a bucketful of mediocre ones. All three were awesome players.

  14. I like the list in 11 - about Juan Samuel ... in the mid-late 1980s there was an "article" in the TV Guide around the time of the All-Star game (I think). In that article knowledgeable baseball men were asked questions about who they thought were HOFers. The three names (voters or analysts) that I remember were Gammons, Ringolsby, and Bill James (not sure if they were all voters in this small study or just commented on it). At any rate, the interesting things I remember from that little blurb are that Tom Seaver was only named on 5 out of 6 ballots (I think Carlton had 6/6) and Mattingly and Gooden were named on the most ballots for "young players" or "non-eligible players because they had not played 10 years".

    What does this have to do with Juan Samuel? I believe Gammons had him as a darkhorse HOFer because he had 3 (or 4 depending on when it was written) straight seasons of 10+ 2Bs, 3BS, HRs, and SBs. He may have been the only person to ever do that to start his career if I'm recalling the article correctly.

  15. Lawrence Azrin Says:

    #14/... Artie Z Says: "I like the list in #11 - about Juan Samuel ... in the mid-late 1980s there was an "article" in the TV Guide around the time of the All-Star game (I think). In that article knowledgeable baseball men were asked questions about who they thought were HOFers. The three names (voters or analysts) that I remember were Gammons, Ringolsby, and Bill James... What does this have to do with Juan Samuel? I believe Gammons had him as a darkhorse HOFer because he had 3 (or 4 depending on when it was written) straight seasons of 10+ 2Bs, 3BS, HRs, and SBs..."

    Bill James wrote (in the NBJHA?) about how Samuel was overrated, because people gave him credit for his strengths without considering the corresponding weaknesses:

    - he played an important position, second base, but not very well
    - he had some power, but not enough to be real valuable playing a lesser position (15 HR/162 games, .420 SA)
    - he had great speed, but didn't get on base enough to take full advantage of it (41 walks/162 games, .315 OBA)

    He compiled some impressive counting stats his first four years by virtue of playing every day and leading off for a very good offensive team* (above NL-average except 1987). He was good, but not in the same league as Rogers Hornsby, with whom he was compared because of some impressive counting stats his first four years as a second baseman .

    He had some obvious tools, but it wasn't clear how to best use those tools.

    * Plate Appearances 1984-87: 1st, 2nd,1st, 3rd
    Out Made 1984-87: 1st,1st, 6th, 1st

  16. Samuel's similarity scores are interesting. Through 1988, he has 2 HOF'ers on his list (Morgan and Sandberg) and some other pretty good players (McCaulliffe, Durham, Grich). By the end of his career, he has this really weird mix of guys who could RUN - Lloyd Moseby, Andy Van Slyke, Shawon Dunston, Davey Lopes - and people like Phil Garner, Don Money and Ken Keltner. his age 37 list (his last year) has Brian Downing and Hubie Brooks.

  17. I just looked up Peter Bourjos and after 51 games he has rfield of 16 and rbat of -10! That would translate to a difference of about 78 in one full season. Hopefully his batting will improve though.

    I don't know the relationship between rfield and rbat but does this show Aparicio, Campaneris and Vizquel have had an overall negative contribution for their careers?

  18. Johnny Twisto Says:

    Basmati, no, but I guess it depends on what you mean by negative -- negative compared to what?

    What the above numbers show is that Aparicio, Campy, and Vizquel were all further below average as hitters, compared to all hitters (rbat), than they were above average as fielders, compared only to other shortstops (rfield). But this does not include the inherent defensive value of playing shortstop (rpos), which is an "above-average" position. Plus value they added as baserunners (rbaser, rroe, rdp).

    If by negative you mean "below average," you can compare their career Rrep to their career RAR. Rrep is the value an average player would have in that amount of playing time. Everything else is the amount the player is above- or below-average in various parts of the game. By looking at RAR minus Rrep, you can calculate Runs (or Wins) Above Average. Aparicio was 201 runs above avg, Campy was 170 RAA, Vizquel has been 68.

  19. @9

    Ozzie Guillen was the 1st name I looked up after reading the 1st few

    His fielding # & took such a hit because of the knee injury in '92. I remember that game when on the short pop to LF Raines went low to get it & cut out Ozzie at the knee.

  20. [...] Highest career WAR with more fielding runs than batting runs (Baseball-Reference). Here’s a fun list that includes former Padres Ozzie Smith, Graig Nettles, and Mike Cameron. [...]