Defensive Studs in the Hall: Did their Value in the Field Make Up for their Lack of Offense?

When a player hits a ton of homers or has an incredibly high batting average over a long period of time, it usually (not always) is an indication that he was a great hitter and perhaps deserves induction into the Hall of Fame. Offensive value is (relatively) easy to spot. Well, how about defensive value?

There are quite a few Hall of Famers that were inducted, for the most part, because of their defense. Often, the candidacy of these players comes into question because their value has traditionally been much more difficult to quantify (particularly as decades pass since we saw them play). Now that we have Sean Smith’s WAR database, we actually can begin to quantify defensive value.

There are really two questions to answer about these players who were inducted for their defense:

  1. Were they really that good defensively?
  2. Was their defense value enough to compensate for their lack of offensive value?

It is possible to have a great defender who was such a bad hitter that he doesn’t make up the diffrence lost on offese. However, you can also have a defender who is so good that he not only makes up for his defensive woes, but he also propels himself into startdom, bad bat be damned. In this article, I’m assuming that the players who hold the 15 lowest career OPS marks in the Hall of Fame were inducted for the most part because of their defense. The goal here is to see if their defense made up for their lack of offense.

Bottom 15 Hall of Fame Hitters in OPS

Luis Aparicio SS .653 -235 95 18 10 144 5 0 0 164 -112 313 49.8
John Ward* SS/P .655 -20 56 0 0 75 0 0 0 58 36 133 39.1
Ray Schalk C .656 -98 -10 0 0 0 0 0 46 85 -108 131 22.7
Rabbit Maranville SS .658 -238 19 0 0 123 7 0 0 158 -219 288 38.0
Joe Tinker SS .661 -20 21 0 0 157 23 0 0 114 1 294 49.0
Ozzie Smith SS .666 -140 82 27 -16 214 25 0 0 147 -47 386 64.7
Bill Mazeroski 2B .667 -206 -6 -3 16 110 37 0 0 57 -199 204 27.0
Bobby Wallace* SS .690 51 -26 0 0 128 5 0 0 138 25 271 60.4
Johnny Evers 2B .690 115 16 0 0 101 26 0 0 2 131 129 48.3
Phil Rizzuto SS .706 -10 32 -1 1 60 61 0 0 105 22 226 41.6
Nellie Fox 2B .710 -54 32 14 -13 103 9 0 0 83 -21 195 44.6
Dave Bancroft SS .714 18 2 0 0 100 -7 0 0 124 20 217 46.3
Brooks Robinson 3B .723 20 0 -35 -2 268 26 0 0 69 -17 363 69.2
Red Schoendienst 2B .724 -66 33 -1 -5 65 14 0 0 70 -39 149 40.3
Bid McPhee 2B .727 150 37 0 0 154 0 0 0 42 197 196 57.8

* John Ward also accrued 25.4 WAR as a pitcher (in 2461.1 IP). Bobby Wallace compiled 5.4 WAR in 402 IP.

I’ve used most of these column heads before, but “OFF” is total runs created above average on offense (batting, baserunning, GIDP, and reach on error) while “DEF” is total runs prevented above average on defense (range, arm, double play, catching, and positional adjustment).

Let’s tackle them in order by career WAR. In the case of Ward and Wallace, I’ll include their pitcher WAR here (though it is not included in the totals above).

Brooks Robinson (69.2 WAR)
Robinson had 2848 career hits. At first glance, it’s hard to believe that for his career he was 17 runs below average on offense. Those hits were spread out over a ton of plate appearances and his OPS+ is a near-average 104. Add to that his poor baserunning and knack for grounding into double plays and he finishes slightly below average. But even today you hear people talk about his defense all the time. And his glove was worth 363 runs above average, a ridiculous number considering he doesn’t have the shortstop positional adjustment to his advantage. League average offense for a long time plus the best fielding metrics ever at his position make him a 69.2 WAR player, an awesome total that places him 57th all time among hitters.

Bobby Wallace (65.8)
I wasn’t all that familiar with Wallace until a recent post by Erik Manning compared him to George Sisler (they aren’t similar at all, but it was interesting to see two completely different players in the running for “The Greatest St. Louis Brown”). Wallace, like Robinson, hovered around league average on offense (25 runs above average) for a very long time. His sparkling defense (271 runs above average) raised his value immensely. Add in the fact that he was a two-way player who even picked up a few WAR on the mound, and Wallace undoubtedly stands up as a worthy Hall of Famer.

Ozzie Smith (64.7)
Ozzie was clearly elected because of his glove, so I was really looking forward to seeing how he measured. With the bat, he was a whopping 140 runs below average. His legs did make up for some of that and he finished at -47 runs on offense. But 386 runs above average on defense raise him way up to 64.7 WAR. That 386 is the highest combined defensive value I’ve seen thus far. Ozzie was, indeed, a wizard and deserves all the accolades he received.

John Ward (64.5)
Ward is very interesting. Hitters with 39.1 WAR aren’t typically Hall of Famers (though some are). Pitchers with 25.4 WAR generally aren’t either. But combine them? You have John Ward. Ward was slightly under average with the bat, but his speed brings his offensive value to 36 runs. He was a smooth shortstop when he wasn’t on the mound, totaling 133 runs above average. Then add the pitching value and you have a unique and very much deserving player.

Bid McPhee (57.8)
McPhee has the highest OPS on this list (highest of the lowest, got it?). The 19th century second baseman was worth 197 runs above average on offense, 150 of those with the bat. So, McPhee is not like some of the others guys on this list who simply didn’t have it offensively. However, 197 runs above average does not a Hall hitter make, so what did he do with the glove? Well, a remarkable 154 total zone gave him 196 runs above average with the glove. His total value is essentially split 50/50 and his 57.8 WAR is very much Hall-worthy, though there are many players ahead of him not enshrined.

Luis Aparicio (49.8)
Aparicio’s bat was worth -235 runs. That’s a hard spot to come back from. But his speed brings is offensive value “up” to -112 runs. Luckily, his defensive numbers live up to his reputation. He combines a positional adjustment of 164 (for playing SS for so long) with range of 144 runs. He finishes at +313 on defense, boosting him to 49.8 WAR. While that’s not a dominating total (he’s actually tied with Chet Lemon, believe it or not), it will often get you in the Hall of Fame.

Joe Tinker (49.0)
Tinker’s defensive total of 294 runs nearly matches Aparicio. What Tinker did do, though, was remain league average on offense. His total offensive value is one run above average. Aparicio did have over 4000 more plate appearances though, and therefore their WAR is very similar (just 0.8 apart).

Johnny Evers (48.3)
Does anyone else find it awesome that Tinker, Evers, and Frank Chance sit just 1.1 WAR apart for their career values? That’s just crazy. Evers, who played second while Tinker was at short, was worth 131 runs on offense and 129 runs on defense. While part of his induction may stem from his inclusion in a famous poem, he was a very compelling player who was well above average in both aspects of the game.

Dave Bancroft (46.3)
Bancroft’s offense hovered around average (+20 runs for his career). His defense, as with everyone we’ve seen so far, was excellent. His 217 runs above average push him to the mid-40s in WAR. Is he a Hall of Famer? Well, he’s certainly not the worst player in the Hall. It seems like 40 WAR at least gets you discussed while players with 60+ WAR really need to have a good reason to not be inducted. Bancroft—along with Aparicio, Evers, and Tinker—is far from a slam dunk. But he’s good enough to be talked about.

Nellie Fox (44.6)
Fox is another weak hitter (-54 runs) who made up for it a bit with his legs (total offense of -21 runs). He was worth 195 runs on defense, leading to a WAR of 44.6. Fox ranks 222nd all time among hitters, and we’re getting to the point where there are Hall of Famers with lower WAR, but they’re getting to be less prominent. Fox is tied with Hall of Famer (and Hall of Merit inductee) Earle Combs, but also is tied with turn-of-the-20th-century players Lave Coss and Herman Long. As for modern players near him in career WAR, the list includes Kirby Puckett (of course, a Hall of Famer), Lance Berkman, Gil Hodges (who can’t get in via the Veterans’ Committee), Dale Murphy (hanging around on the ballot with low percentages), and J.D. Drew.

Phil Rizzuto (41.6)
Quite often I’ve heard Rizzuto brought up as a questionable Hall of Famer. And his offense was just a bit above average (22 runs). His defense was impressive as he accumulated 226 runs with the glove. What’s most remarkable about that is his nice range of 60 runs is actually exceeded by his double play ability. His DP skills actually rated as 61 runs above average, the highest total I’ve seen. The next highest total on this list from a shortstop is Ozzie Smith with 25 runs. Does he belong? Well, it’s your call. He’s certainly on the bottom rung of the Hall. But guess what? His career WAR of 41.6 is precisely tied with… Jim Rice. So, take that as you wish.

Red Schoendienst (40.3)
Schoendienst, a second baseman, was below average offensively, with -39 runs. Defensively, he was worth 149 runs. Not a huge amount. How did he compile 40.3 WAR? He had over 9000 plate appearances. And after all, he was above average when you combine his totals. If you play a long time as an above average player, you’re going to compile quite a few wins above replacement. Remember, this is wins above replacement, not above average. The longer you perform above average, the more you keep piling up the wins. If the stat was wins above average, Red would sit at 11.0. Compare that to Robinson, who would have 34.6. Like Rizzuto, Red is near the bottom of the barrell for HOFers. I’m more likely to lean towards Rizzuto, as he packed more production into less time an anchored an infield that won seven titles.

Rabbit Maranville (38.0)
Maranville was a horrid hitter. He rates as a whopping 219 runs below average on offense. That is the lowest on this list. He did, however, compile 288 runs on defense above average. That comes out to 38.0 WAR. You’re really getting low, now. Hack Wilson is the closest HOFer to him, with 38.8. Of course, Hack has the single season RBI record, which is worth something in the “Fame” part of Hall of Fame. There are a few HOFers behind Rabbit—Pie Traynor (37.0), Roy Campanella (36.3 because of a delayed start due to the color barrier), Ross Youngs (36.2 in a career cut short at 29 because of illness), George Kell (33.5), Jim Bottomley (32.3), Chick Hafey (29.4), and Freddie Lindstrom (29.1). Of course, the last two guys on this list are also behind him.

Bill Mazeroski (27.0)
Wow, considering his reputation, I assumed Mazeroski would rank higher than this. You’ve probably heard that he’s “in the Hall of Fame for one home run.” My original thought was that we simply undervalued him because his defense wasn’t measurable by the metrics of the day. Well, it turns out he was a good defender. Really good. He was worth 204 runs above average (tops among 2B on this list). Offensively, he was worth -199 runs. That’s a net gain of 5 runs above average for his entire career. Yes, his defense was great. But it was only good enough to offset his batting woes, making him a league average player. He’s a pretty terrible Hall of Fame choice.

Ray Schalk (22.7)
I’m even willing to rank Schalk ahead of Mazeroski. I believe there are things a catcher can bring the table that we just don’t have metrics for. But we do have metrics for quite a few catcher traits, and Schalk did rank quite well (46). How good is 46? It’s good, but it’s far from legendary. It’s pretty much on par with Lance Parrish, a three-time Gold Glover. Schalk’s defense was worth a total of 131 runs, which offset his -108 offense, but not by much. I’d say Joe Torre, Ted Simmons, Gene Tenace, Wally Schang, Bill Freehan, Thurman Munson, Darrell Porter, Charlie Bennett, Parrish, and Jim Sundberg at the very least are more deserving inductees than Schalk. One could include several other catchers who eclipse Schalk in career WAR.

To me, it is pretty obvious that Mazeroski and Schalk do not belong. There’s also no question that Robinson, Wallace, Smith, Ward, and McPhee belong. Everyone else at least warrants discussion. I’d be far more inclined to induct some (like Aparicio) than others (like Maranville).

Let’s take a look at a value breakdown for those five with “no question”:

Undisputed Hall of Fame defensive wizards

Man, those first three had some unbelievable defense, huh? This chart necessitated the inclusion of a new color—orange. Wallace and Ward had fairly significant stretches as pitchers (good ones at that). While I’m not as well-versed on pitching WAR, I believe I’m using the right figures here for pitching runs prevented above average. If not, please let me know.

Here are the last ten guys, crammed onto one graph. I’ve shrunk it here, but you can click for a larger version. Pardon me for opting to go baseball card-less on these:

Ten Hall of Famers, by offensive and defensive value breakdown

Yes, Tinker does have a blue bar. It is just one pixel tall.

Interestingly, just Evers is a balanced player. From the “average offense, but good glove” crew, you have Tinker, Bancroft, Fox, Rizzuto, and Schoendiest. From the “bad bat, great glove” crew you have Aparicio, Maranville, Mazeroski, and Schalk. From the “bad bat” crew, I think the only one that makes a valid Hall case by having that good of a glove is Aparicio. You can also make a case for Tinker, Evers, Bancroft, Fox, and perhaps even Rizzuto as Hall of Famers.

If X, why not Y?

“If this guy, then why not that guy?” arguments can be dangerous in the Hall of Fame. The truth is, there are some lousy choices in there. But the fact that Ray Schalk is in the Hall of Fame should not be a free pass to induct that long list of catchers I posted above. It just means somebody screwed up.

However, there are guys who have been left out so far who rate so well defensively that they are thrust into the Hall-worthy category. Just a few of these are Bill Dahlen (75.9 WAR, +213 on offense, +279 on defense), the dynamic duo of Lou Whitaker (69.5 WAR, +249 on offense, +128 on defense) and Alan Trammell (66.8 WAR, +176 on offense, +194 on defense), Bobby Grich (67.6 WAR, +259 on offense, +136 on defense), Ron Santo (66.4 WAR, +253 on offense, +72 on defense), Graig Nettles (61.3 WAR, +92 on offense, +183 on defense), Buddy Bell (60.7 WAR +89 on offense, +203 on defense), Willie Randolph (60.4 WAR, +145 on offense, +172 on defense), Jack Glasscock (58.6 WAR, +124 on offense, +257 on defense), Ken Boyer (58.3 WAR, +186 on offense, +107 on defense), Willie Davis (57.1 WAR, +158 on offense, +88 on defense—quite a bit for an outfielder), and Robin Ventura (55.1 WAR, +112 on offense, +177 on defense).

The top five on that list, in particular, I feel should definitely be in the Hall of Fame. Let’s plot them:

Five guys who should be Hall of Famers, by value breakdown

Wow, they look good. They also happen to be five of the top non-Hall of Famers by WAR. Let’s add them to the end of the graph of ten lower tier Hall of Famers. They stick out like a sore thumb:

Ten Hall of Famers, by offensive and defensive value breakdown with five guys who should be Hall of Famers

I believe Dahlen (who I admittedly didn’t know much about before starting this research), Whitaker, Grich, Trammell, and Santo are five of the top offensive players not inducted. On the graph above, Aparicio, Tinker, and Maranville at least have one column that can compete with the non-Hall of Famers, but it’s just the defensive side. Their offense is negative (except for Tinker, who is league average). They just don’t stack up to these five (and many others) who are not inducted.

While not every player inducted primarily for defense is among the most deserving candidates, some most definitely are. If you asked baseball fans to name the best defensive third baseman and shortstop of all time, I’m sure the most popular answers would be Brooks Robinson and Ozzie Smith, respectively. The fact that the numbers back that up means a couple of things—(a) that the numbers work and (b) so do our eyes.