Hall Watch 2004-The Shortstops-The Standards

Wednesday, December 08 2004 @ 10:22 AM EST

Contributed by: Mike Green

Evaluating shortstops is toughest of all. Defence is recognized to be very important, and yet our tools for evaluating defence are rudimentary. Fortunately, for most of today's candidates- Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Nomar Garciaparra, Barry Larkin and Julio Franco, defence is not the major issue. With that in mind, let's look at who is in the Hall and who is not.


I'll divide up the prospective and actual Hall of Famers by their hitting ability:

The hitters

These guys hit so well that they only need to be average fielders to make the Hall, but most were much better than that- Honus Wagner, Arky Vaughan, George Davis, Joe Cronin, Robin Yount, Luike Appling, Lou Boudreau, Hughie Jennings and Ernie Banks. There was little doubt about them when their names came up. Rodriguez, Jeter and Garciaparra are on pace to be in this class. Larkin arguably falls within it, as well, but he can be put in the next class as well.

The combo guys

These ones were above average hitters, but had to be considered above average fielders to be considered. Bobby Wallace, Joe Sewell and Pee Wee Reese are in from this group, but many of the best hitters are not in from Bill Dahlen to Vern Stephens to Alan Trammell. Julio Franco fits neatly in this group. Cal Ripken, believe it or not, fits within this group, but is not yet eligible for the Hall.

The fielders

These shortstops were below-average hitters over their career, but made it with their glove- Ozzie Smith, Phil Rizzuto, Luis Aparicio, Rabbit Maranville.

The incomprehensible ones

Travis Jackson and Dave Bancroft were admitted to the Hall, but why they were is a mystery.

As defence is perceived to be so important here, I've chosen to use evaluation tools that are amenable to combining offence and defence. I'll use Lee Sinins' Runs Created Above Average to break down the retired shortstops by their offensive ability (all figures courtesy of Sinins' Sabermetric Encyclopedia):

the hitters-200 RCAA career or more (all in the Hall of Fame)

Player        RCAA
Wagner 1011
Vaughan 478
G. Davis 379
Yount 284
Cronin 243
Appling 239
Banks 207
Jennings 206
Boudreau 202

the combo guys 0-200 RCAA career-Hall of Famers
Player        RCAA
J. Sewell 124
B. Wallace 37
Reese 13

selected combo guys 0-200 RCAA career-non-Hall of Famers
Player        RCAA
Glasscock 188
Dahlen 186
Trammell 161
Stephens 157
McKean 131
Fregosi 128
Kuenn 111
Wise 94
Pesky 90
Hemus 89
Travis 76
Petrocelli 41
Fernandez 35

the fielders-Hall of Famers
Player      RCAA
Rizzuto -10
Tinker -38
Ozzie -80
Aparicio -180
Maranville -280


Before I start, a warning is appropriate. All defensive numerical evaluations from historical stats are rough approximations.

Unfortunately, there is no Runs Saved Above Average stat for fielders, but we can attempt to fix a range of values. In the New Historical Baseball Abstract, Bill James pointed out that shortstops on average across many decades average 28% of team assists, and that no player's teams over a career has exceeded the average by more than 504 (Ozzie Smith). Let us assume that all of the 500 extra assists can actually be attributed to the shortstop, as opposed to the particular circumstances of the team (3rd baseman, handedness of the pitching staff...), and that each of them would otherwise be a single. How much would that be worth in runs?

We'll try to make an estimate using Tangotiger's 1999-2002 run expectancy tables. If nobody is on or out and the ball is hit toward the shortstop, the difference in run expectancy between an assist (.297) and a hit (.953) is .656. If nobody is on, and there is one out, the difference is .456. If nobody is on and two are out, the difference is .251. It seems safe to consolidate the figures at .45 run/assist.

With a runner on first, the calculation becomes more complicated for the following reasons:

1. we do not know if an assist will lead to a 6-3 out at first, a 6-4 fielder's choice of a 6-4-3 double play, and
2. we do not know if a single will end up as a 1st and 2nd or a 1st and 3rd.

The range of difference is between .466 and 1 run/assist. We can safely consolidate at .73 run/assist.

With a runner on second, the range is between .538 and 1.228 run/assist. We can safely consolidate at .88 run/assist.

The figures increase with multiple runners on, reaching a high of between 1.815 and 2.538 for a bases loaded 2 out situation. Most plays occur with nobody on or one runner on, so I estimate the value of an assist (the out and the lack of a baserunner) at somewhere between .6 and .8 runs.

So, that would mean those 500 assists are worth between 300 and 400 runs; it's a safe bet that they would be worth many fewer runs in the 1960s or in the teens than they are now or as they were in the 20s. Now, there are other elements to shortstop defence- ability to turn the double play and fielding percentage being the two most important. It does seem likely that the very best defensive shortstops could save conceivably 500 runs in a long career above an average one.

The NHBA figures suggest that the numbers are smaller. Ozzie Smith is credited with 329 Win Shares, of which .43 are defensive, for a total of 141.47. 3 Win Shares represent an actual win, so dividing 141.47 gives 47.16. Ten runs is roughly equivalent to a win, so that would have Ozzie at 472 runs saved. Here are the figures for other players using this methodology:

Maranville 430
Wagner 480
Dahlen 470
Reese 368
Wallace 440
Vaughan 263
Banks 222
Cronin 330
Trammell 305
Ripken 447
Scott Fletcher 215
Felix Fermin 108

One has to bear in mind that all defensive Win Share numbers are positive, so the average shortstop will save some runs. Fermin achieved his 108 runs saved in 900 career games. Fletcher's and Fermin's stats appear to be roughly league average, so it is a fair guess that 200 runs saved for a 1800 game career is about average. I've put in Ripken too as a reference point for Trammell.

Putting it all together, I get the following scale:

good solid shortstops (e.g. Banks, Trammell,)- 5-10 runs saved above average/150 games at short
excellent shortstops (e.g. Wallace, Dahlen, Ripken)- 10-20 runs saved above average/150g
the best (Ozzie, Wagner)- 15-25 runs saved above average/150 g

The difference between the excellent and the best is unlikely to be more than 2-3 runs/season.

Summing up

The best hitting shortstops of all time are in the Hall of Fame. The best fielding shortstops, with the exception of Marty Marion (who had a short career) and Bill Dahlen (more on that later), are in the Hall of Fame. It's the fine, but not great, hitters, who are also solid fielders who tend to be on the outside. Trammell and Vern Stephens would be the classic examples of this kind of player. On my club, I'd rather have Trammell than Joe Tinker or Joe Sewell or Luis Aparicio or Rabbit Maranville, and the numbers do suggest that the sum of the runs he created on offence and saved on defence exceed what the others were able to do in combination:

The calculation goes as follows:
              Offence           Defence        Total
Trammell 161 70-140 231-301
Maranville -280 140-280 -140-0
Tinker -38 120-240 92-202
Aparicio -180 170-340 -10-160

Why is Bill Dahlen not in the Hall of Fame?

Here is Bill Dahlen's statistical line. He is one of the top 15-20 offensive shortstops of all time, and one of the top 5 defensive shortstops, and he had a long and productive career. Was he simply overshadowed by Wagner, or what? Perhaps he was just forgotten when the Hall elections began in the 30s. Or maybe it was because he was "Bad Bill".

In Part 2, we turn to today's contenders- Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Nomar Garciaparra, Barry Larkin and Julio Franco. We'll run a full chart then.