Preface: For those of you who did not make it over to Mad Em Dashes during the VEB hiatus - for lack of better term - I posted over that that I have a baseball blog, per se, on Facebook entitled Flyover Country Baseball. On that site, I look mostly at the Cardinals, but also put up posts about the Royals and other "Flyover" teams on occasion. Here is one of those:
I thought it would be a fun idea to look at some of the best major league baseball players from the 1980 season to 2009 season (30 seasons of baseball to begin my life, personally) that played here in the state of Missouri at least part of the time - obviously for the Kansas City Royals or St. Louis Cardinals.
Today's look is going to be at purely some of the best defensive players during that time. I will not care about offense, I just want to know what the best defensive lineup I could field would look like. I know that defensive statistics are not perfect, nor do they claim to be. However, I will largely be looking at the "Def" statistic on Fangraphs, along with UZR numbers, errors, and caught stealing percentage (for catchers.)
At catcher, it is an obvious choice, despite there being some incredible defensive catchers in my lifetime in the state of Missouri. According to that statistics, John Wathan (for the Royals) was the worst defensive catcher to accumulate at least 1,200 plate appearances as a Cardinal or Royal - and he was +9.4 fielding during that time! Incredible. Tom Pagnozzi led the board at +94.0 in 3,142 plate appearances and 927 games played. However, Yadier Molina wins the starting job by being a +90.3 in just 2,458 plate appearances over 669 games played in that span.
From Mike Sweeney to Mark McGwire, the state has seen some incredible hitting at first base, but they've seen their fair share of inept defense at that position as well. Only 3 out of 17 qualified players even have a positive number on defense at 1B; those three are Jeff King for the Royals and Keith Hernandez and David Green for the Cardinals. While Keith Hernandez was probably the best defensive player out of the three, going by Def alone, Green was behind by just 0.3 in nearly 900 less plate appearances and nearly 100 less games played. Green played only 120 games at first base for the Cardinals, however. Hernandez had an error every 170+ innings in the field from 1980 until he was traded to the Mets, whereas Jeff King had an error only every 200+ innings. King also had around 1 assist every 10 innings; however, Hernandez's mark was a bit higher than 1 every 10 innings. It may seem a travesty by looking at Gold Glove awards, but we're giving this one to Jeff King of the Royals.
At second base, I almost wanted to give the award to Mark Grudzielanek due to him playing for both squads late in his career and playing a darn good second base in that time. However, this one is obvious to me as well. Frank White is one of only 3 numbers retired for the Kansas City Royals and he did almost all of his damage with the glove, considering he was a weak hitting second baseman for the majority of his career. There are some circles (although I don't see it, and I've discussed it before) who believe he should be a Major League Baseball Hall of Famer.
Shortstop is another one that seemed obvious to me before I started looking into it - and proved to be just as easy then. Ozzie Smith had a 300.3 Def score for his Cardinals' career - all of which was between the dates above. If you add together the 12 other shortstops to accrue enough time at the position to count, they add up to 361.1, together. Yes. Ozzie Smith was that good at defense.
Like first base, we've seen our fair share of laughable third basemen defensively. George Brett, as gifted as he was with a bat in his hand, has more than 75 def in the negative direction. Mark Teahan was -45 in his time in KC. Fernando Tatis was -31 in St. Louis. TOP PROSPECT (!!!) Todd Zeile was -27 at third, after supposedly being the next great catcher...a more difficult position. That said, Gary Gaetti was close to +50 for the two teams combined. Joe Randa was over +30 for the Royals. Placido Polanco was over +40 for the Cardinals. Scott Rolen and Terry Pendleton take the cake, though. Pendleton was about a +14.5 player PER SEASON for over 6 years. Scott Rolen was nearly a +18 defensive third baseman per season for about 4.5 full seasons. The award has to go to Scott Rolen, who I believe is the best third baseman I have ever seen defensively.
These two clubs have had LOADS of talent in the outfield defensively. It's sad, but in a good way, when guys like David Dejesus, Ray Lankford, JD Drew, Andy Van Slyke, Willie McGee, Rick Ankiel (arm only really), and Jermaine Dye (again with the arm) aren't even a part of the discussion. Here's why - a list of players, games played, and Def scores:
- Brian Jordan - 643 games - +65.1
- Jim Edmonds - 1,105 games - +48.4
- Milt Thompson - 514 games - +28.8
- Carlos Beltran - 795 games - +54.2
- Willie Wilson - 1,481 games - +44.9
If you divide those up on a 150 games per season basis and look at the "per season" def totals, this is what they look like:
- Brian Jordan +15.2
- Carlos Beltran +10.2
- Milt Thompson +8.4
- Jim Edmonds +6.6
- Willie Wilson 4.5
This list is probably not fair to Willie Wilson or Jim Edmonds, as Carlos Beltran and Brian Jordan's decline phases are not a part of the time period allowed and the Cardinals only got Milt Thompson during his prime years. If you were to take out Jim Edmonds age 36-37 seasons, per game he'd be at +8.4 in center field through age 35! Willie Wilson had a four year stretch in which he averaged 18.05 Def! Edmonds is thought of as one of the best of all time in center field and had one season at 15. That was high highest. That tells you how good Willie Wilson was in those 4 seasons. In any case, Brian Jordan is the obvious right fielder in any case. Since we're going with this span and not any others I've laid out, I'll say Carlos Beltran is the center fielder. While I would take Willie Wilson's 4 year stretch over anyone on the list, he did go on to have 6 out of the next 8 years under 3.0 def. The consistency wasn't there after those 4 seasons, whether due to injuries or whatever, I have no idea. Since Milt Thompson was in his prime at that time, I'll go with him in left field - plus, I have a sneaky suspicion that we will see Edmonds' name later anyway.
At pitcher, I will take one Royal and one Cardinal who were very good at fielding their position on the bump. Zack Greinke leads all Royals' pitchers in that time with the best at keeping runners from stealing bases and the highest defensive runs saved, by far. For the Cardinals, Chris Carpenter was the best at keeping runners from stealing, but Mark Mulder fielded his position the best. They were also both in 2nd place on the other list. Since he just retired, we'll give it to Chris Carpenter. There we go, your best defensive team in Missouri over the 30 year stretch encompassing 1980-2009:
- Catcher Yadier Molina
- First Baseman Jeff King
- Second Baseman Frank White
- Third Baseman Scott Rolen
- Shortstop Ozzie Smith
- Left Fielder Milt Thompson
- Center Fielder Carlos Beltran
- Right Fielder Brian Jordan
- Pitchers Zack Greinke and Chris Carpenter