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Play Indexing Ozzie Smith

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Twenty-eight career home runs can go a long way.

Taco Bell All-Star Legends & Celebrity Softball Game Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

If you fool around long enough on Baseball-Reference’s invaluable Play Index feature, certain names inevitably show up at or near the top when you’re searching for greatness. These are the kings of the Play Index. Guys like Barry Bonds for hitting. Clayton Kershaw for all pitching stats since 1988 when reliable pitch-by-pitch data first began being tracked. Get a bit more creative with the search feature and you’ll start bumping into Ozzie Smith, truly one of the more unique players to ever put on a uniform.

It’s no secret that Ozzie never hit for power. (It’s also no secret that calling him simply “Smith” never sounds quite right, so this will be on a first name basis.) I’ve mentioned before that he’s the only player in the top 145 of fWAR rankings for position players to have a wRC+ below 100. In fact, his career wRC+ of 90 is well below the mark. Using the Play Index and searching for Hall of Famers since 1947 when the league was integrated (which returned a sample of 62), you’ll find that only two players had a worse OPS+ than Ozzie’s 87: Luis Aparicio (82) and Bill Mazeroski (84). And Ozzie’s 28 home runs ranked dead last.

Comparing Ozzie to other players who also had a propensity to not hit the ball over the fence is where things get fun. Again, using 1947 as the benchmark via the Play Index, here’s where Ozzie stands with all position players who hit exactly 30 or fewer career home runs.

Plate Appearances

  1. Ozzie Smith – 10,778
  2. Richie Ashburn – 9,736
  3. Larry Bowa – 9,109
  4. Don Kessinger – 8,530
  5. Maury Wills – 8,306

Batting Average (minimum 5,000 plate appearances, sample of 31)

  1. Richie Ashburn - .308
  2. Billy Goodman - .300
  3. Juan Pierre - .295
  4. Luis Castillo - .290
  5. Johnny Temple .284

(18. Ozzie Smith - .262)

Hits

  1. Richie Ashburn – 2,574
  2. Ozzie Smith – 2,460
  3. Juan Pierre – 2,217
  4. Larry Bowa – 2,191
  5. Maury Wills – 2,134

Doubles

  1. Ozzie Smith – 402
  2. Richie Ashburn – 317
  3. Billy Goodman – 299
  4. Ozzie Guillen – 275
  5. Jody Reed – 263

Triples

  1. Richie Ashburn - 109
  2. Larry Bowa - 99
  3. Juan Pierre - 94
  4. Vince Coleman - 89
  5. Don Kessinger - 80

(7. Ozzie Smith - 69)

Runs Scored

  1. Richie Ashburn – 1,322
  2. Ozzie Smith – 1,257
  3. Juan Pierre – 1,075
  4. Maury Wills – 1,067
  5. Luis Castillo – 1,001

Runs Batted In

  1. Ozzie Smith – 793
  2. Ozzie Guillen – 619
  3. Billy Goodman – 591
  4. Richie Ashburn – 586
  5. Tom Herr – 574

Walks

  1. Richie Ashburn - 1,198
  2. Ozzie Smith - 1,072
  3. Luis Castillo - 800
  4. Don Kessinger - 684
  5. Billy Goodman - 669

On-base Percentage (minimum 5,000 plate appearances, sample of 31)

  1. Richie Ashburn - .396
  2. Billy Goodman - .376
  3. Luis Castillo - .368
  4. Johnny Temple - .363
  5. Phil Rizzuto .357

(12. Ozzie Smith - .337)

Slugging Percentage (minimum 5,000 plate appearances, sample of 31)

  1. Richie Ashburn - .382
  2. Billy Goodman - .378
  3. Ken Oberkfell - .362
  4. Juan Pierre - .361
  5. Dave Cash - .358

(18. Ozzie Smith - .328.)

On-base Plus Slugging

  1. Richie Ashburn - .778
  2. Billy Goodman - .754
  3. Luis Castillo - .719
  4. Ken Oberkfell - .713
  5. Johnny Temple - .713

(14. Ozzie Smith - .666)

Wins Above Replacement (Baseball-Reference Model)

  1. Ozzie Smith – 76.5
  2. Richie Ashburn – 63.6
  3. Mark Belanger – 41.0
  4. Maury Wills – 39.6
  5. Luis Castillo – 28.9

As shown by the last category, of the field Ozzie was worth the most wins and because of his glove was able to endure for 19 seasons and see more plate appearances than anyone in the modern era who hit for such relatively low power. The other takeaway is that Hall of Famer Richie Ashburn may have been the best offensive yet dinger-challenged player of the modern era.

For single seasons, Ozzie’s value while hitting very few, if any, home runs, is also reflected by the Play Index. To that end, in a News and Notes post earlier this week I highlighted that Andre Dawson should not have won the 1987 National League MVP Award. There were plenty of other better candidates, including Ozzie, even though he didn’t hit a single home run that year.

Cherry-picking a few categories to show just how interesting Ozzie’s 1987 season was, here are the results for position players with at least 500 plate appearances in a season since 1947 who hit exactly zero home runs (sample: 124):

Wins Above Replacement (Baseball-Reference Model)

  1. Ozzie Smith - 6.4 (1987)
  2. Lance Johnson - 6.1 (1993)
  3. Ozzie Smith - 5.6 (1986)
  4. Richie Ashburn - 5.5 (1957)
  5. Rod Carew - 5.4 (1972)
  6. Matty Alou - 5.3. (1968)
  7. Maury Wills - 5.2 (1965)
  8. Ozzie Smith - 5.1 (1992)
  9. Ozzie Smith - 5.0 (1980)
  10. Greg Gross - 4.7 (1974)

Runs Scored

  1. Johnny Pesky - 106 (1947)
  2. Ozzie Smith - 104 (1987)
  3. Billy Goodman - 100 (1955)
  4. Richie Ashburn - 99 (1960)
  5. Juan Pierre - 96 (2007)

Runs Batted In

  1. Ozzie Smith - 75 (1987)
  2. Billy Goodman - 56 (1949)
  3. Ozzie Smith - 54 (1986)
  4. Willie Randolph - 54 (1991)
  5. Jason Kendall - 53 (2005)

Doubles

  1. Dave Cash - 42 (1977)
  2. Ozzie Smith - 40 (1987)
  3. Billy Goodman - 34 (1951)
  4. Frank Taveras - 31 (1978)
  5. Billy Goodman - 31 (1955)

As shown above, Ozzie has four of the top ten best seasons by WAR for players who didn’t hit a single home run, with his 1987 season leading the pack. Of the 124 players, Ozzie’s 1987 season also ranked sixth in slugging, walks, and OPS.

And then there’s this:

For players with a sub-.090 ISO, Ozzie owns 20% of the most valuable seasons by WAR.

Is all of this just another way of saying that Ozzie was, at best, a very pedestrian hitter? Sure. Home runs are great, no question, but Ozzie Smith’s career remains revered because he showed that it was possible to consistently be one of the most valuable players in the league even without them. He was pretty unique in that regard.

Also, if you haven’t already, subscribe to the Play Index or ask for a subscription for the holidays. It really might be the best $30 I spend every year.