Defensive metrics have evolved considerably as the charting of batted ball types and locations has become common place. PMR, UZR, and the like give us a much better understanding of defensive value, but what about past years. What about the years where there is play by play data, but not with the same level of documentation afforded over the last few years? Sean Smith has devised a way to cull through retrosheet data and present historical fielding data.
With this data in hand, we can take a look for some of the best Tigers defensively. The data doesn’t cover all-time, because retrosheet goes back as far as 1957 with play by play data. Smith has compiled the data for 1957 to 1986, so for at least that 30 year run we can see which Tigers were best at patrolling Tiger Stadium.
The players are ranked by runs prevented.
Best defensive seasons
First a look at who had the best individual seasons by position:
Lifetime achievement award
Now a look at the career run value saved defensively by position:
Whitaker’s double play partner, Alan Trammell tops Tigers shortstops. Ray Oyler bested him on a runs per year basis (16 runs per year versus 7 for Tram), but his bat and .251 career slugging percentage couldn’t keep him in the lineup enough.
Those who saw Aurelio Rodriguez rave about his performance at the hot corner. But at least by this measure Tom Brookens gets the better of him, and by a considerable margin. Over their careers Brookens only had an edge of 3 runs, but he did it in less than half as many chances.
Willie Horton narrowly edged out Larry Herndon in left field. Horton had an additional half season worth of chances, but the two were quite comparable – but I think Willie had him beat with his arm (which this doesn’t measure).
Edit: goof on my part with the data. It was Charlie Maxwell who beat out Larry Herndon. Horton, despite having a very good season in left, actually rated pretty poorly for his career. Rocky Colavito was a solid fielder and deserves some mention here as well.
If you have specific research requests, either about Tigers history or the current team, please let me know. I’ll do my best to turn it into content. I have play by play data back to 1980 loaded and ready to go. I also have all of the pitch f/x (enhanced gameday) pitches stored in a database as well. I’m always looking for new ideas.