We can call it the Brooks Robinson Era

January 19, 2018
  

85.  Rosen

              Did you know that Al Rosen’s mother was named Rose Rosen?   After she was married.

              Al Rosen was a player of such tremendous ability that he should, with normal luck, have been a ten-time All-Star.   Although his period of brilliance was brief, I have no hesitation in describing Rosen as a "great" player.   He drove in 100 runs the first five years he was in the lineup, and in that period he was better than Brooks Robinson at Brooks’s best, or Santo, or Boyer, or Rolen or Pie Traynor or Stan Hack.    He was tremendous. 

              Rosen’s entry to the major leagues was delayed by:

              a) A four-year commitment to the United States Navy,

              b) The clogging of minor league systems in the first years after the war,

              c)  An unusual trade that the Indians made with the Yankees, and

              d)  The fact that the Indians already had a very good third baseman, in Ken Keltner (although Rosen was much better than Keltner.)

              The unusual trade. . .the Indians made a trade with the Yankees in which, as a condition of the trade, the Indians loaned Rosen to the Yankees’ top American Association affiliate for a year.   The Indians figured "We have Keltner, it doesn’t matter whether Rosen spends the season with our minor league team or the Yankees", so they loaned Rosen out for a season, basically for nothing.  Such a trade would be prohibited by organized baseball rules now or at any time in the last 50 years, and it was very uncommon even then, although there were some other cases in which it was done. 

              After he worked through all of that and reached the majors he was great for five years, then had back trouble and was forced into an early retirement.   Between those walls, he was the best third baseman in baseball, although in 1953 there were really two obvious #1s.

              Probably should talk a little about George Kell.   George Kell’s peak was in the Al Rosen era, and Kell is in the Hall of Fame although he was nowhere near the player that Rosen was.   But:

              a) Kell was around a lot longer than Rosen was,

              b) Kell was a batting champion and a lifetime .306 hitter, which was a huge thing in that era, when batting averages were considered to be THE measure of a hitter’s place in the world, and

              c) Kell was a very fine defensive third baseman.              

              Kell was the first Hall of Fame third baseman since Pie Traynor.  He should not be in the Hall of Fame, or anyway he should have been in line behind Stan Hack and Bob Elliott and some other guys, but he was a very good player despite a career secondary average not much over .200. 

YEAR

Rank

First

Last

HR

RBI

Avg

OBA

SPct

Value

1950

1

Al

Rosen

37

116

.287

.405

.543

24.86

1950

2

Bob

Elliott

24

107

.305

.386

.512

24.55

1950

3

George

Kell

8

101

.340

.403

.484

23.67

1950

4

Eddie

Yost

11

58

.295

.440

.405

22.45

1950

5

Johnny

Pesky

1

49

.312

.437

.388

20.50

 

     

 

     

 

 

1951

1

Al

Rosen

24

102

.265

.362

.447

27.07

1951

2

Eddie

Yost

12

65

.283

.423

.424

24.75

1951

3

Bobby

Thomson

32

101

.293

.385

.562

24.05

1951

4

George

Kell

2

59

.319

.386

.400

22.14

1951

5

Minnie

Minoso

10

76

.326

.422

.500

22.11

 

     

 

     

 

 

1952

1

Al

Rosen

28

105

.302

.387

.524

31.77

1952

2

Eddie

Yost

12

49

.233

.378

.359

23.81

1952

3

Eddie

Mathews

25

58

.242

.320

.447

22.15

1952

4

Bobby

Thomson

24

108

.270

.331

.482

22.08

1952

5

Gil

McDougald

11

78

.263

.336

.369

19.51

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1953

1

Al

Rosen

43

145

.336

.422

.613

34.61

1953

2

Eddie

Mathews

47

135

.302

.406

.627

32.87

1953

3

Ray

Boone

26

114

.296

.390

.519

23.81

1953

4

Eddie

Yost

9

45

.272

.403

.395

23.48

1953

5

Gil

McDougald

10

83

.285

.361

.416

21.83

 

 

86.  Eddie Mathews

              For ten solid years Eddie Mathews was the best third baseman in baseball, and he should be regarded as the greatest third baseman in baseball before Mike Schmidt.   He was not a particularly good defensive player, just adequate, but he was a major league bomber.  He was a B-17.   The other top third basemen of the era:  Eddie Yost, Willie Jones, Frank Malzone, Ken Boyer, Don Hoak. 

YEAR

Rank

First

Last

HR

RBI

Avg

OBA

SPct

Value

1954

1

Eddie

Mathews

40

103

.290

.423

.603

33.88

1954

2

Al

Rosen

24

102

.300

.404

.506

28.36

1954

3

Ray

Boone

20

85

.295

.376

.466

22.79

1954

4

Eddie

Yost

11

47

.256

.405

.380

22.04

1954

5

Hank

Thompson

26

86

.263

.389

.482

20.12

 

     

 

     

 

 

1955

1

Eddie

Mathews

41

101

.289

.413

.601

34.48

1955

2

Ray

Boone

20

116

.284

.346

.476

21.41

1955

3

Al

Rosen

21

81

.244

.362

.402

20.61

1955

4

Eddie

Yost

7

48

.243

.407

.371

19.43

1955

5

Willie

Jones

16

81

.258

.352

.401

17.53

 

     

 

     

 

 

1956

1

Eddie

Mathews

37

95

.272

.373

.518

31.08

1956

2

Ray

Boone

25

81

.308

.403

.518

20.17

1956

3

Ken

Boyer

26

98

.306

.347

.494

19.75

1956

4

Willie

Jones

17

78

.277

.383

.429

18.19

1956

5

Eddie

Yost

11

53

.231

.412

.336

18.11

 

     

 

     

 

 

YEAR

Rank

First

Last

HR

RBI

Avg

OBA

SPct

Value

1957

1

Eddie

Mathews

32

94

.292

.387

.540

31.87

1957

2

Al

Smith

11

49

.247

.348

.377

18.80

1957

3

Frank

Malzone

15

103

.292

.323

.427

18.62

1957

4

Don

Hoak

19

89

.293

.381

.482

17.92

1957

5

Eddie

Yost

9

38

.251

.370

.372

16.82

 

     

 

     

 

 

1958

1

Eddie

Mathews

31

77

.251

.349

.458

29.72

1958

2

Ken

Boyer

23

90

.307

.360

.496

23.59

1958

3

Frank

Malzone

15

87

.295

.333

.421

19.45

1958

4

Don

Hoak

6

50

.261

.333

.376

16.61

1958

5

Eddie

Yost

8

37

.224

.361

.323

16.26

 

     

 

     

 

 

1959

1

Eddie

Mathews

46

114

.306

.390

.593

34.87

1959

2

Ken

Boyer

28

94

.309

.384

.508

25.14

1959

3

Eddie

Yost

21

61

.278

.435

.436

21.62

1959

4

Frank

Malzone

19

92

.280

.323

.437

20.33

1959

5

Harmon

Killebrew

42

105

.242

.354

.516

20.20

 

     

 

     

 

 

YEAR

Rank

First

Last

HR

RBI

Avg

OBA

SPct

Value

1960

1

Eddie

Mathews

39

124

.277

.397

.551

35.11

1960

2

Ken

Boyer

32

97

.304

.370

.562

28.05

1960

3

Don

Hoak

16

79

.282

.366

.445

19.59

1960

4

Brooks

Robinson

14

88

.294

.329

.440

18.49

1960

5

Frank

Malzone

14

79

.271

.313

.398

18.35

 

     

 

     

 

 

1961

1

Eddie

Mathews

32

91

.306

.402

.535

33.88

1961

2

Ken

Boyer

24

95

.329

.397

.533

26.93

1961

3

Brooks

Robinson

7

61

.287

.334

.397

19.80

1961

4

Al

Smith

28

93

.278

.348

.506

19.74

1961

5

Frank

Malzone

14

87

.266

.314

.386

18.65

1961

6

Don

Hoak

12

61

.298

.388

.451

18.47

 

     

 

     

 

 

1962

1

Eddie

Mathews

29

90

.265

.381

.496

29.42

1962

2

Ken

Boyer

24

98

.291

.369

.470

24.55

1962

3

Brooks

Robinson

23

86

.303

.342

.486

24.22

1962

4

Don

Demeter

29

107

.307

.359

.520

22.13

1962

5

Rich

Rollins

16

96

.298

.374

.428

21.19

1962

6

Frank

Malzone

21

95

.283

.319

.426

19.31

 

     

 

     

 

 

1963

1

Eddie

Mathews

23

84

.263

.399

.453

28.52

1963

2

Ron

Santo

25

99

.297

.339

.481

24.72

1963

3

Ken

Boyer

24

111

.285

.358

.454

23.47

1963

4

Brooks

Robinson

11

67

.251

.305

.365

23.29

1963

5

Pete

Ward

22

84

.295

.353

.482

21.93

1963

6

Rich

Rollins

16

61

.307

.359

.444

20.71

             

              Mathews’ .399 On Base Percentage in 1963 led the National League.

 

 

87.  The Best Third Basemen in Baseball, 1900 to 1963

              As measured by the Years of Position Dominance Index, the top 25 third basemen of the years 1900 to 1963 were:

Rank

First

Last

1

2

3

4

5

YOPDI

From

To

1

Eddie

Mathews

10

1

1

0

0

111

1952

1968

2

Pie

Traynor

7

2

2

0

0

92

1920

1937

3

Stan

Hack

4

5

2

1

1

86

1932

1947

4

Home Run

Baker

6

2

1

0

1

79

1908

1922

5

Heine

Groh

6

1

1

2

0

75

1912

1927

 

   

 

     

 

   

 

6

Bob

Elliott

5

1

2

0

0

65

1939

1953

7

Jimmy

Collins

2

6

0

1

0

59

1895

1908

8

Al

Rosen

4

1

1

0

0

51

1947

1956

9

John

McGraw

3

0

4

0

1

47

1891

1906

10

Ken

Boyer

0

5

2

0

1

46

1955

1969

 

   

 

     

 

   

 

11

Art

Devlin

3

1

1

1

1

44

1904

1913

12

Harlond

Clift

2

0

3

4

0

40

1934

1945

13

Bill

Bradley

3

0

2

0

0

38

1899

1915

14

Freddy

Lindstrom

2

2

0

1

0

36

1924

1936

15

Whitey

Kurowski

1

3

1

0

0

35

1941

1949

 

   

 

     

 

   

 

16

Mike

Higgins

2

1

0

2

3

34

1930

1946

17

Eddie

Yost

0

2

1

5

3

31

1944

1962

18

Larry

Gardner

0

0

4

3

2

24

1908

1924

18

George

Kell

0

1

3

2

1

24

1943

1957

18

Pepper

Martin

1

1

1

1

1

24

1928

1944

 

   

 

     

 

   

 

21

Red

Smith

0

1

3

2

0

23

1911

1919

21

Pinky

Whitney

0

2

1

2

1

23

1928

1939

23

Ray

Boone

0

2

2

0

0

22

1948

1960

24

Red

Rolfe

0

2

1

1

1

21

1931

1942

25

Jimmy

Johnston

1

1

0

1

1

20

1911

1926

 

              Hall of Famers in Gold, of course.  Two notes:

              1)  The totals for John McGraw and Jimmie Collins are adjusted to include their 19th century accomplishments, and

              2)  Two players on this list, Eddie Mathews and Ken Boyer, were still piling up YOPDI points after 1963. 

              In terms of Peak Value, these are the top third basemen of the 1900-1963 era:

YEAR

Rank

First

Last

HR

RBI

Avg

OBA

SPct

Peak

1912

1

Home Run

Baker

10

130

.347

.404

.541

37.32

1960

2

Eddie

Mathews

39

124

.277

.397

.551

35.11

1953

3

Al

Rosen

43

145

.336

.422

.613

34.61

1938

4

Mel

Ott

36

116

.311

.442

.583

33.89

1917

5

Heine

Groh

1

53

.304

.385

.411

32.47

1919

6

Rogers

Hornsby

8

71

.318

.384

.430

30.60

1906

7

Art

Devlin

2

65

.299

.396

.390

30.26

1912

8

Heinie

Zimmerman

14

99

.372

.418

.571

29.37

1941

9

Cecil

Travis

7

101

.359

.410

.520

28.66

1945

10

Stan

Hack

2

43

.323

.420

.405

28.46

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1908

11

Tommy

Leach

5

41

.259

.324

.381

28.11

1903

12

Bill

Bradley

6

68

.313

.348

.496

28.06

1960

13

Ken

Boyer

32

97

.304

.370

.562

28.05

1903

14

Jimmy

Collins

5

72

.296

.329

.448

27.42

1928

15

Freddy

Lindstrom

14

107

.358

.383

.511

26.96

1900

16

John

McGraw

2

33

.344

.505

.416

26.51

1945

17

Whitey

Kurowski

21

102

.323

.383

.511

26.25

1948

18

Bob

Elliott

23

100

.283

.423

.474

26.01

1921

19

Frankie

Frisch

8

100

.341

.384

.485

25.98

1906

20

Harry

Steinfeldt

3

83

.327

.395

.430

25.93

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1937

21

Harlond

Clift

29

118

.306

.413

.546

25.93

1908

22

Hans

Lobert

4

63

.293

.348

.407

25.51

1914

23

Ed

Lennox

11

84

.312

.414

.493

25.03

1927

24

Pie

Traynor

5

106

.342

.370

.455

24.81

1951

25

Eddie

Yost

12

65

.283

.423

.424

24.75

1963

26

Ron

Santo

25

99

.297

.339

.481

24.72

1902

27

Lave

Cross

0

108

.342

.374

.440

24.46

1910

28

Bobby

Byrne

2

52

.296

.366

.417

24.38

1928

29

Jimmie

Foxx

13

79

.327

.416

.547

24.36

1939

30

Red

Rolfe

14

80

.329

.404

.495

24.36

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1962

31

Brooks

Robinson

23

86

.303

.342

.486

24.22

1951

32

Bobby

Thomson

32

101

.293

.385

.562

24.05

1913

33

Red

Smith

6

76

.296

.358

.441

23.92

1912

34

Larry

Gardner

3

86

.315

.383

.449

23.83

1953

35

Ray

Boone

26

114

.296

.390

.519

23.81

1949

36

George

Kell

3

59

.343

.424

.467

23.70

1911

37

Harry

Lord

3

61

.321

.364

.433

23.61

1919

38

Buck

Weaver

3

75

.296

.315

.401

23.59

1940

39

Bill

Werber

12

48

.277

.361

.416

23.51

1948

40

Johnny

Pesky

3

55

.281

.394

.365

23.09

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1914

41

Bill

McKechnie

2

38

.304

.368

.377

23.05

1942

42

Arky

Vaughan

2

49

.277

.348

.341

22.89

1933

43

Pepper

Martin

8

57

.316

.387

.456

22.27

1939

44

Buddy

Lewis

10

75

.319

.402

.478

22.15

1948

45

Andy

Pafko

26

101

.312

.375

.516

22.13

1962

46

Don

Demeter

29

107

.307

.359

.520

22.13

1951

47

Minnie

Minoso

10

76

.326

.422

.500

22.11

1934

48

Mike

Higgins

16

90

.330

.392

.508

21.98

1906

49

Jim

Delahanty

1

39

.280

.371

.364

21.94

1963

50

Pete

Ward

22

84

.295

.353

.482

21.93

 

              A couple of players on this list—Brooks Robinson and Ron Santo—will have higher peaks post-1963. 

              There are numerous players on the peak value list who were not career third basemen, but who played third for a year or two and played well enough there to rank.   Among these are Mel Ott (4th), Rogers Hornsby (6th), Cecil Travis (9th), Frankie Frisch (19th), Jimmie Foxx (29th), Bobby Thomson (32nd), Buck Weaver (38th), Johnny Pesky (40th), Arky Vaughan (42nd), Andy Pafko (45th), Don Demeter (46th), Minnie Minoso (47th), and Jim Delahanty (49th). 

              I probably should fix the formulas so that the Federal League one-year stars don’t appear on this list.  Ken Keltner, although regarded by some as a major star, actually does not make either of these two lists—the top 25 in Years of Position Dominance, or the top 50 in Peak Value. 

 

88.  King Richard the Controversial

              In 1964 the two Most Valuable Players, Brooks Robinson in the American League and Ken Boyer in the National League, were both third basemen.   In my system, they rank third and fourth at the position. 

              One of the two men ranked ahead of them, Ron Santo, is not too surprising.   Santo in 1964 hit .313, hit 30 homers, drove in 114 runs, drew 86 walks and won a Gold Glove.    He had 33 doubles and 13 triples.   It’s a lot to sell—buttressed by almost equally strong seasons in 1963 and 1965.   It’s not too controversial that he would rate ahead of the MVPs. 

              Dick Allen, on the other hand, will kick up some dust.  Nobody could kick up dust like Richie Allen.  

              I’d explain it this way:  they had an opinion; we have an opinion.  The opinions of MVP voters—and all other contemporary observers—are entitled to respect, because they knew millions of things about these players that we have since lost.   They saw them run the bases; they saw them throw the ball from third to first.   They saw them hustle; they saw them loaf.  They talked to them after the game.  They saw them shorten up and go to the opposite field; they saw them lunge for pitches they should have taken. They had information that doesn’t exist anymore.  Their summation of that information is entitled to respect.

              But we are also entitled to look again at the evidence that we have, so let’s do that.  

              Hits:

              Dick Allen                         201

              Brooks Robinson            194

              Ken Boyer                         185

 

              Doubles:

              Dick Allen                         38

              Brooks Robinson            35

              Ken Boyer                         30

 

              Triples:

              Dick Allen                         13

              Ken Boyer                         10

              Brooks Robinson               3

 

              Home Runs:

              Dick Allen                         29

              Brooks Robinson            28

              Ken Boyer                         24

 

              Walks:

              Ken Boyer                         70

              Dick Allen                         67

              Brooks Robinson            51

 

              Allen didn’t do more of something than the MVPs; he did more of everything, or more of each thing. . ..more hits, more doubles, more triples, more homers.  He did have three fewer walks than Ken Boyer.   He didn’t do these things because he had more at bats; he did have a few more at bats, but not really.   He had 632 at bats, to 628 for Boyer and 612 for Robinson.   Stolen bases are really nothing; 3 for Allen, 3 for Boyer, 1 for Robinson.  Allen was a vastly better baserunner, at that point in his career, than either Boyer or Robinson.  Robby was slow; Boyer was a good runner when he was younger but was 33 by then.   Allen was 3/7 stealing bases in 1964 but 15 for 17 in 1965.   Allen, whatever his faults, was a tremendous baserunner.   Allen grounded into 8 double plays, as opposed to 17 for Robinson and 22 for Boyer.  Allen made fewer outs than either Robinson or Boyer.

              Park effects?   St. Louis (Boyer) had a Park Run Index of 127, Baltimore (Robinson) of 108, and Philadelphia (Allen) of 96.   Allen was the only one playing in a pitcher’s park.  The National League ERA and runs scored were slightly lower than the American League, providing Allen with another small statistical edge over Robinson.  Even the team performance does not, on a superficial level, weigh heavily in favor of the MVPs; the Cardinals won 93 games and the pennant to the Phillies’ 92 games, one game back. 

              In looking at all of these facts, then, Allen does not come out slightly ahead of Robinson or Boyer; he comes out far ahead—so far ahead that it much more than overcomes the inherent disadvantages that a rookie has in this analytical structure.  Baseball Reference has Allen at 8.8 WAR, third in the league behind Willie Mays and Ron Santo, but far ahead of Boyer at 6.1.  Robinson led the American League, but with 8.1.

              Why, then, did Allen finish 7th in the MVP voting? 

              I don’t think controversy had much to do with it.  The controversies about Dick Allen really started in July, 1965, when he had a fight with a teammate.   I don’t remember there being a lot of concern about Allen’s behavior in 1964.  

              There are four things:   Leadership, Defense, Clutch Hitting and Team Performance.   Let’s leave Brooks Robinson out of it, because that’s really a different argument, since Allen and Robinson were in different leagues and not directly competing for the same award.  

              Leadership.   Late in 1963, with the Cardinals in a pennant race against the Dodgers, I remember reading newspaper articles saying that "Ken Boyer has become the leader of the Cardinals."  Of course, Stan Musial had been the leader of the Cardinals for more than 15 years, but with Musial in his 40s and near retirement, Boyer became the veteran leader of the team.  When the team won the pennant in 1964, Boyer received some of the credit for that.  I don’t know whether the BBWAA voters of 1964 believed more in veteran leadership than we do now or less, but I certainly do think that belief in Boyer’s leadership had something to do with the way the vote went.  I don’t know whether this is proper or improper.

              Defense.  Boyer won five Gold Gloves (1958-59-60-61-63); ironically 1964 was the year in which he surrendered the Gold Glove to Ron Santo.   Allen was never a good defensive third baseman.   Allen committed 17 more errors than Boyer in 1964 (41-24), and Boyer had 12 more assists.   Allen did have 23 more putouts.  I do believe that Boyer was a better defensive third baseman in 1964 than Allen was, but I also believe that the media in that era focused on errors, and sometimes exaggerated their significance. 

              Clutch Hitting. Probably the one largest reason that Boyer won the MVP Award in 1964 is that he led the league in RBI, with 119, 28 more than Allen.  In that era, when no records were published of batting with runners in scoring position or opportunities with runners in scoring position, RBI were routinely equated with clutch performance, and the league leader in RBI was often the MVP.

              But looking at the facts. . . Allen hit .306 with the bases empty, .335 with men on base, although "only" .301 with runners in scoring position.   Allen homered a little more often with men on base than with the bases empty.   Boyer hit .269 with the bases empty, .319 with men on base, and .321 with runners in scoring position, and also homered a little more often with men on base than with the bases empty, although Allen homered more often than Boyer both with the bases empty and with men on base.  

              Dick Allen hit .385 in the late innings of close games; Boyer, .333.  The real difference, though, is that Boyer batted 193 times with runners in scoring position, whereas Allen batted only 147 times with runners in scoring position—a 31% advantage for Boyer, which led to a 31% advantage in RBI.  

              It is my opinion that Boyer won the MVP Award in 1964 substantially because of the exaggerated importance given to RBI.   The NL leader in RBI won the MVP Award in 1957, 1958, 1959, 1964, 1967 and 1969; the AL leader in RBI took home the Award in 1956, 1958, 1960, 1961, 1964, 1966, 1967 and 1969.   Some of those players were deserving of the Award; some of them may not have been.  It was just the thinking of the time.

              Team Performance.   The Phillies collapse/Cardinals streak to the pennant, of course, hurt the Phillies and helped the Cardinals in the MVP voting.   If the Phillies had won, I believe that Johnny Callison would have been the MVP.  

              Dick Allen hit .341 in September-October, 1964, scoring 28 runs in 33 games.  Boyer hit .270 in September-October, 1964, but did drive in 26 runs in 32 games. 

 

              Well. . .you can think whatever you want to think about Allen ranking ahead of the MVPs.  I’m not trying to convince you; I am just trying to explain why the calculations come out the way they do. 

              Allen had his problems; Dick Allen was either a troubled personality or a troublemaker, depending on which way you want to see it.   He was not a team-oriented player, but he was a historic talent.  As a hitter, Dick Allen was on the same level as Henry Aaron, Willie Mays and Joe DiMaggio.  When he was good, he was really, really good:

 

YEAR

Rank

First

Last

HR

RBI

Avg

OBA

SPct

Value

1964

1

Dick

Allen

29

91

.318

.382

.557

35.81

1964

2

Ron

Santo

30

114

.312

.398

.564

30.99

1964

3

Brooks

Robinson

28

118

.317

.368

.521

28.52

1964

4

Ken

Boyer

24

119

.295

.365

.489

23.68

1964

5

Pete

Ward

23

94

.282

.348

.473

23.61

1964

6

Eddie

Mathews

23

74

.233

.344

.412

23.50

 

 

 

 

 

     

 

 

1965

1

Dick

Allen

20

85

.302

.375

.494

34.70

1965

2

Ron

Santo

33

101

.285

.378

.510

32.38

1965

3

Brooks

Robinson

18

80

.297

.351

.445

26.95

1965

4

Jim Ray

Hart

23

96

.299

.349

.487

25.20

1965

5

Deron

Johnson

32

130

.287

.340

.515

23.27

1965

6

Eddie

Mathews

32

95

.251

.341

.469

21.70

 

 

 

 

 

     

 

 

1966

1

Dick

Allen

40

110

.317

.396

.632

37.83

1966

2

Ron

Santo

30

94

.312

.412

.538

32.34

1966

3

Harmon

Killebrew

39

110

.281

.391

.538

30.84

1966

4

Jim Ray

Hart

33

93

.285

.342

.510

26.12

1966

5

Brooks

Robinson

23

100

.269

.333

.444

25.66

1966

6

Joe

Foy

15

63

.262

.364

.413

18.64

 

 

 

 

 

     

 

 

1967

1

Dick

Allen

23

77

.307

.404

.566

38.08

1967

2

Ron

Santo

31

98

.300

.395

.512

33.67

1967

3

Jim Ray

Hart

29

99

.289

.373

.509

26.19

1967

4

Brooks

Robinson

22

77

.269

.328

.434

24.12

1967

5

Tony

Perez

26

102

.290

.328

.490

20.69

1967

6

Maury

Wills

3

45

.302

.334

.365

20.05

 

              I know that some people believe that Brooks Robinson was the greatest third baseman in baseball history; I know that because, in the last week, two people on Twitter have told me that they believe that Brooks Robinson was the greatest third baseman in baseball history.  To me, saying that Brooks was the greatest third baseman in history is just like saying that Pie Traynor was the greatest third baseman in baseball history.   It’s OK with me if you want to say that, but I don’t see any evidence to support your case. 

              Defense is always popular with the coach mentality.  Defense wins championships; it is the cliché recited by parents in the Progressive Insurance commercial.  Defense is inherently difficult to measure, in all sports, and this enables casual analysts to defend any proposition they choose to advocate by waving the word "Defense" as if it was a magic wand that guarded all the doors. 

 

89. The Time of Four Emperors

              In Roman history the year 69 AD is known as the Year of Four Emperors, as Galba, Otho, Vitellius, and Vespasian took control from one another in quick order.  (193 AD is known as the Year of Five Emperors, but that’s a different thing.)  In 1968 Dick Allen went to left field, and the Phillies moved the 33-year-old veteran infielder Tony Taylor to third base.

              A word about the scale.  A score of "20". . .a "value" of 20. . .represents a relatively good player, but a very, very weak #1.   A score of "25" indicates a sort of normal first-place player or a little bit weak, but Pie Traynor and George Kell never reached a peak value of 25, and they’re in the Hall of Fame.  A score of "30" indicates a strong first-place player, while a score of "35" indicates a player of historic stature.  

              Dick Allen’s scores as a third baseman in 1966-67 were the highest in the history of the game up to that point.  This fact is a little bit misleading, as we are using a 162-game standard after 1961 and a 154-game standard before then, but that’s a detail, not a denial of the fact that our system shows Allen performing at a historic level.

              We have, then, a problematic contrast:  that our system shows Dick Allen to have been the greatest third baseman in half a century, or near to that, while the Phillies chose to play an aging second baseman at third base.  In part we can mitigate this discrepancy by pointing out that Allen’s value was not in his glove, but in his bat.   When he went to left field, he was still in the batting lineup.  Part of the real explanation is the complicated drama of Allen’s volatile personality—and 1968 was a very odd year, a very intense year.  You can make of this what you want; I am merely acknowledging the problem.

              Once Allen was out of the position, we went through a quick succession of third base emperors.   The position was not weak; it was relatively strong.  Two of the #1 third basemen of that era, Harmon Killebrew in 1969 and Joe Torre in 1971, were Most Valuable Players—and they were not weak MVPs, they were strong MVPs.  While Tony Perez in 1970 did not win the Most Valuable Player Award, he did have a season of comparable quality, and was third in the MVP voting. 

              But while Killebrew, Perez and Torre were really great hitters in those seasons, they were not really third basemen.  They were guys that you had to play somewhere, and they could play third if need be.    Darrell Evans, who came to the top in 1973 and might have stayed there had it not been for the emergence of the next generation, was a real third baseman; he was an excellent defensive third baseman and a hitter ahead of his time.  He was what we now dream of finding: a left-handed hitter with great natural plate discipline and near-optimal launch angles.  A player of ordinary ability, he hit the ball in the air 300 times a year, probably, reaching the seats often enough that his walks, homers and fielding made a valuable combination.  He was Eddie Mathews-Light, but with a better glove.  

              There were many other good third basemen in this era.   Sal Bando was excellent, Graig Nettles was, Bill Melton, Brooks Robinson was still around, Doug Rader, Don Money, Richie Hebner, Rico Petrocelli, Santo was still around (and drove in 123 runs in 1969).  Jim Ray Hart could hit; Aurelio Rodriguez and Clete Boyer were brilliant fielders.  The position was very, very deep—but the emperors were on a short rotation:

YEAR

Rank

First

Last

HR

RBI

Avg

OBA

SPct

Value

1968

1

Ron

Santo

26

98

.246

.354

.421

28.91

1968

2

Tony

Perez

18

92

.282

.338

.430

25.21