Fielding


Fielding Player Won-Lost Records



Fielding, including pitcher fielding, accounted for 18.2% of all Player decisions across all seasons for which I calculate Player won-lost records. An increase in the numbers of strikeouts and home runs in recent seasons has made fielding slightly less important; since 2000, fielding has accounted for only 17.4% of all Player decisions.

Fielding decisions are accumulated in seven Components:

Component 1: Stolen Bases

Component 2: Wild Pitches and Passed Balls

Component 5: Hits vs. Outs

Component 6: Singles v. Doubles v. Triples

Component 7: Double Plays

Component 8: Baserunner Outs

Component 9: Baserunner Advancement

The table below shows how fielding decisions break down by Component and by Position over the full Retrosheet Era.

Breakdown of Fielding Decisions by Component by Position

Position Component 1 Component 2 Component 5 Component 6 Component 7 Component 8 Component 9 Total All Position (excl. P, C)
Pitcher 3.5%0.1%0.2%0.2%1.0%5.0%
Catcher 2.9%0.9%0.6%0.0%0.1%0.1%0.1%4.6%
First Base 4.5%0.1%0.1%0.3%0.9%6.0%6.6%
Second Base 9.7%0.0%1.1%0.5%1.4%12.7%14.1%
Third Base 9.6%0.2%0.1%0.3%1.4%11.6%12.8%
Shortstop 11.0%0.0%1.3%0.4%1.7%14.4%16.0%
Left Field 7.9%2.8%1.6%3.3%15.5%17.2%
Center Field 7.9%1.6%1.4%3.6%14.5%16.1%
Right Field 8.1%2.3%1.6%3.5%15.6%17.3%
Total by Component 2.9%0.9%62.8%7.2%2.9%6.4%16.9%


The numbers in the bottom row show the percentage of total fielding decisions accumulated by Component. The numbers in the two right-most columns show the distribution of total fielding decisions accumulated by position (the latter column excluding Pitchers and Catchers).

Component 5, which measures whether a ball is a hit or an out, given where and how it is hit, accounts for just over 60% of all Fielding decisions. Most defensive metrics based on play-by-play data – e.g., UZR, PMR, +/-, TotalZone – match up with this measure, that is, they only look at whether balls-in-play become hits or outs. Of course, by my estimate, this means that such measures miss nearly 40% of all defensive value.

The allocation of fielding decisions across the defensive positions is discussed a bit more by me in my discussion of the general allocation by component of Player decisions. Relative fielding across positions is discussed later in this article, as is the relative fielding of center fielders vs. corner outfielders.

For most of the Components for which Fielding Player decisions are awarded, fielders share these decisions with their pitchers. The exact extent to which fielders and pitchers share these decisions varies by fielding position, by component, and by season. The average percentage of defensive Player decisions assigned to fielders by position and component over the Retrosheet Era are shown in the next table.

Percentage of Total Defensive Decisions assigned to Fielders

Position Component 1 Component 2 Component 5 Component 6 Component 7 Component 8 Component 9
Catcher 47.9%23.7%100.0%0.0%16.1% 100.0% 100.0%
First Base 60.2%92.3%34.1% 100.0% 100.0%
Second Base 66.9%45.5%59.6% 100.0% 100.0%
Third Base 69.7%53.8%35.5% 100.0% 100.0%
Shortstop 72.7%27.3%56.1% 100.0% 100.0%
Left Field 61.1%86.7% 100.0% 100.0%
Center Field 67.7%74.6% 100.0% 100.0%
Right Field 64.0%69.1% 100.0% 100.0%


Combining the results from the above two tables, fielders' overall share of responsibility on Components 1-2 and 5-9 is as follows.

Pitcher 100%*
Catcher 42.6%
First Base 65.4%
Second Base 69.4%
Third Base 71.7%
Shortstop 73.5%
Left Field 74.0%
Center Field 76.9%
Right Field 73.6%
*Obviously, pitchers as pitchers can't really "share" decisions with pitchers as fielders. Defensive player decisions associated with plays in which the pitcher is the fielder of record are all counted as "fielding" decisions. This distinction is purely semantic.

Fielding Player Won-Lost Records: Best and Worst

Before getting into too much boring detail about the math underlying Fielding won-lost records, let’s look at some fielding records for major-league players.

Here are the top and bottom 10 fielders by position for their careers as measured by net Fielding Wins (Fielding Wins minus Fielding Losses) for the seasons for which Retrosheet has play-by-play data available (1930 - 2017).

Pitcher
Net Pitcher Fielding Wins
Top 10 Players
          Net Pitcher Fielding Losses
Top 10 Players
Player eWins eLosses           Player eWins eLosses
1Greg Maddux12.09.6
2.3
1Nolan Ryan4.97.2
-2.3
2Tom Glavine7.35.0
2.2
2Sam McDowell3.45.7
-2.3
3Hal Newhouser5.83.7
2.1
3Matt Garza1.83.9
-2.1
4Bret Saberhagen4.82.8
2.0
4Johnny Vander Meer3.95.8
-1.9
5Ken Dayley2.60.7
1.9
5Chuck Finley2.84.6
-1.8
6Phil Niekro8.06.2
1.8
6Hank Aguirre1.63.4
-1.7
7Livan Hernandez5.84.1
1.7
7Steve D. Barber3.55.1
-1.6
8Kirk Rueter3.92.3
1.6
8Ed Whitson2.43.8
-1.5
9Heath Murray1.60.1
1.6
9Matt J. Young1.63.0
-1.4
10Zack Greinke3.72.1
1.6
10Ray Sadecki4.15.5
-1.4


The top player on the above list, Greg Maddux, holds the major-league record for most Gold Gloves with 18. So that's encouraging. On the other hand, 16-time Gold Glove winner Jim Kaat does not make my top 10 list.

In fact, Jim Kaat actually scores as very slightly below average for his career, with a career fielding winning percentage of 0.495. Kaat was brilliant when he was young, leading the major leagues in net fielding wins (among pitchers) in 1962 (the year he won his first Gold Glove), and amassing 1.0 net fielding wins through age 29. His fielding slipped as he got older, however, and was mostly below 0.500 after he reached the age of 30 with an overall fielding winning percentage over this time period of 0.426.

Catcher
Net Catcher Fielding Wins
Top 10 Players
          Net Catcher Fielding Losses
Top 10 Players
Player eWins eLosses           Player eWins eLosses
1Ivan Rodriguez29.223.7
5.5
1Mike Piazza18.122.0
-3.9
2Gary Carter33.228.1
5.2
2Frankie Hayes12.114.9
-2.8
3Yadier Molina20.115.8
4.3
3Dave Duncan9.711.8
-2.1
4Jim Sundberg25.621.7
3.9
4Dick Dietz5.16.9
-1.8
5Bob Boone29.626.2
3.4
5Bob Tillman7.08.6
-1.6
6Johnny Bench21.318.2
3.1
6Todd Hundley11.513.1
-1.6
7Tony Pena Sr.28.425.3
3.1
7Ozzie Virgil Jr.9.411.0
-1.6
8Rick Dempsey20.918.0
3.0
8Alan Ashby18.019.5
-1.5
9Al Lopez18.715.8
2.9
9Joe Nolan4.86.3
-1.5
10Steve Yeager16.213.4
2.8
10Mike Stanley7.38.8
-1.4


The numbers shown here for catchers only include traditional fielding measures: stolen bases, wild pitches, and catchers' ability to field balls-in-play. These numbers do not attempt to measure play-calling ability or pitch-framing.

The top six catchers listed here won 13, 3, 6, 7, 6, and 10 Gold Gloves, respectively. Perhaps the biggest surprise here is that Johnny Bench, winner of 10 Gold Gloves only ranks 6th. A comparison between Gary Carter and Johnny Bench is interesting, I think, in this regard. The vast majority of catcher fielding decisions (about two-thirds) is what I call Component 1, stolen bases and caught stealings.

Johnny Bench caught 14,488.1 (regular-season) innings in his career. For his career, Bench allowed 610 stolen bases, caught 469 baserunners stealing, and picked off an additional 62 men. Gary Carter caught about 20% more innings in his career, 17,369.0. He caught would-be basestealers at a considerably lower rate than Bench (35% vs. 43%), but at a rate that was better than league-average (32% during Carter’s career). But Gary Carter caught 62% more would-be basestealers than Johnny Bench (810 CS, 51 PO). Why? Because Carter faced more than twice as many basestealing attempts as Bench (2,359 vs. 1,141). Bench's arm was so good and so well-respected that teams mostly didn't try running on him nearly as often as they ran on other catchers.

For most seasons for which I have calculated player won-lost records, the actual stolen base success rate has tended to be very close to the break-even success rate. This means that, on average, never stealing a base is very close in net value to stealing bases at a league-average success rate. The same, then, is true for catchers as well: never having anybody attempt a stolen base has roughly the same net value as throwing out baserunners at a league-average rate. In other words, shutting down the opponents’ running game doesn’t really show up as that big of a positive in Johnny Bench’s fielding record – not that having the 6th-best fielding record of the past 65+ years is at all negative, of course. There could also be ancillary benefits to completely shutting down an opponents’ running game; but in my system, any such benefits aren’t necessarily going to show up directly in Bench’s fielding record, but could instead be showing up in the pitching and/or fielding records of his teammates.

First Base
Net First Base Fielding Wins
Top 10 Players
          Net First Base Fielding Losses
Top 10 Players
Player eWins eLosses           Player eWins eLosses
1John Olerud33.829.5
4.3
1Prince Fielder20.323.8
-3.5
2Albert Pujols32.127.9
4.2
2Fred McGriff33.736.8
-3.1
3Mark Grace40.035.7
4.2
3Jason Giambi19.021.4
-2.4
4Vic Power19.515.7
3.8
4Frank E. Thomas14.116.5
-2.4
5Adrian Gonzalez29.926.2
3.8
5Dick Stuart14.817.1
-2.3
6Will Clark34.931.4
3.5
6Willie McCovey27.229.4
-2.2
7Gil Hodges27.724.2
3.5
7Cecil Fielder14.016.1
-2.2
8Keith Hernandez34.030.9
3.1
8Pedro Guerrero9.411.5
-2.1
9Tino Martinez29.126.4
2.7
9Carlos Delgado29.531.6
-2.1
10Frank McCormick23.721.1
2.6
10Mo Vaughn19.321.3
-2.0


Fielding Player won-lost records for first basemen do not include any attempt to estimate the ability of first basemen to reach errant throws from other infielders.

Comparing the above list to a list of Gold Glove winners shows a few misses: 9-time winner Don Mattingly and 7-time winner Bill White, among others, don’t make the list. Perhaps more surprising, 11-time winner Keith Hernandez, who is considered by many to be the finest defensive first baseman ever, is only 6th on the list. In the case of Hernandez, I think there could be a similar phenomenon to what I observed above with respect to Johnny Bench: Hernandez was such a good fielder that opposing teams avoided testing him, e.g., bunting less often or more toward third base than expected, thereby limiting his opportunities.

Overall, however, the top 10 players generally all had reputations as good fielders during their careers with 8 of the 10 winning at least two Gold Gloves in their careers.

On the other side, the bottom 10 list includes some notoriously bad fielders, such as Frank Thomas and Pedro Guerrero, and several long-career below-average players who make the list more for being fairly bad for a long time (McGriff, McCovey) than for necessarily being truly awful.

Second Base
Net Second Base Fielding Wins
Top 10 Players
          Net Second Base Fielding Losses
Top 10 Players
Player eWins eLosses           Player eWins eLosses
1Nellie Fox74.769.2
5.5
1Rickie Weeks32.638.4
-5.9
2Dustin Pedroia48.142.6
5.5
2Steve Sax57.863.6
-5.8
3Lou Whitaker76.170.8
5.3
3Craig Biggio64.368.3
-4.0
4Mark Ellis46.541.7
4.7
4Juan Samuel41.845.7
-3.9
5Lonny Frey36.231.8
4.4
5Johnny Temple39.843.1
-3.3
6Willie Randolph73.769.3
4.4
6Dan Uggla42.245.5
-3.3
7Ryne Sandberg74.970.7
4.2
7Jorge Orta20.123.4
-3.3
8Chase Utley56.552.4
4.1
8Todd Walker29.632.4
-2.8
9Frank White69.965.8
4.1
9Alfonso Soriano25.027.8
-2.7
10Orlando Hudson47.143.2
3.9
10Tony Taylor45.247.9
-2.7


Lou Whitaker won 3 Gold Gloves in his career. Major-league baseball began awarding Gold Gloves in 1957, when Nellie Fox was 29 years old and in his 8th season as a starter. Even with the late start, Fox proceeded to win 3 of the first 4 Gold Gloves at second base (including the first one in 1957 when only one Gold Glove was awarded for all of major-league baseball). Seeing those two at the top of the list here, therefore, is encouraging and not terribly surprising. The rest of the top 10 list also consists of players with strong defensive reputations.

There are a few notable omissions, however. Probably the most significant names missing are 10-time Gold Glove winner Roberto Alomar and 8-time Gold Glovers Frank White and Bill Mazeroski.

Frank White rates among the top 25 players in net fielding wins among players for whom I have calculated Player won-lost records. His career record is hurt by sub-.500 seasons at the beginning and end of his career. From 1975 through 1988, White amassed a Fielding won-lost record at second base of 62 - 56.7, 0.521 (5.0 net fielding wins).

Mazeroski rates as above average in fielding won-lost records. Mazeroski’s record is very likely understated a bit here, however, because Retrosheet has fairly spotty records (e.g., uncertainty even regarding which fielders made some outs) for several games through Mazeroski's career. If I were to judgmentally create a list of the best fielders of the Retrosheet Era, Bill Mazeroski would definitely be a strong candidate to receive a positive judgmental boost. I discuss Mazeroski a bit more below when I compare my Fielding won-lost records to other fielding measures, specifically DRA and DRS.

Roberto Alomar, on the other hand, simply isn’t that well-regarded by my system. He scores out as slightly below average overall for his career, with a fielding record of 77.5 - 77.9. The reason why Alomar scores out as a net negative for his career is because his fielding got distinctly worse starting around 2000 (age 32). Based purely on net wins, he scores as deserving of a Gold Glove in 1994 and close to one in several other seasons. Even before 2000, however, Alomar had several seasons where his fielding record was below 0.500. Outside of Gold Gloves, my assessment of Roberto Alomar’s fielding is actually pretty much in line with most other analysts.

The worst fielding second baseman of the Retrosheet Era by this measure is Steve Sax, who had infamous throwing issues through much of his career. The top 10 list here includes several other players who I remember as having good-hit, no-field reputations at second base through their career, including Jorge Orta, Juan Samuel, Dan Uggla, and Todd Walker. The list also includes 4-time Gold Glove winner Craig Biggio although, like Alomar, my rating of Biggio's second-base defense is not out of line with other statistical measures.

Third Base
Net Third Base Fielding Wins
Top 10 Players
          Net Third Base Fielding Losses
Top 10 Players
Player eWins eLosses           Player eWins eLosses
1Brooks Robinson84.672.6
12.0
1Todd Zeile47.352.9
-5.6
2Adrian Beltre85.477.0
8.4
2Dean Palmer33.338.6
-5.3
3Robin Ventura59.051.6
7.4
3Bill Madlock39.144.2
-5.1
4Tim Wallach67.260.0
7.2
4Pinky Higgins34.839.4
-4.6
5Terry Pendleton65.057.8
7.2
5Aramis Ramirez58.762.7
-3.9
6Buddy Bell69.662.5
7.1
6Butch Hobson17.921.7
-3.8
7Aurelio Rodriguez58.251.3
6.9
7Nick Castellanos14.318.0
-3.7
8Evan Longoria41.735.0
6.7
8Jim Presley26.930.6
-3.7
9Mike Schmidt74.167.4
6.7
9Ty Wigginton19.222.8
-3.7
10Scott Rolen64.157.9
6.1
10Eddie Yost56.760.2
-3.5


Brooks Robinson won 16 Gold Gloves and was elected to the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility, largely on his reputation as the greatest defensive third baseman in major-league history. My Player won-lost records agree that Brooks Robinson was the best defensive third baseman of the past 65+ years, and by a substantial margin.

The rest of the top 10 are players with strong defensive reputations. Eight of the 10 won multiple Gold Gloves. The exceptions were Clete Boyer and Aurelio Rodriguez, both of whom spent their fielding prime in the American League during the time when Brooks Robinson held a monopoly on Gold Gloves.

Boyer put together a 16-year, 1,725-game career, despite a career batting line of .242/.299/.372 (OPS+ of 86). He finally left the American League in 1967 at the age of 30 and managed to win the only Gold Glove of his career at age 32 in 1969.

Rodriguez managed to put together an even longer career than Boyer - 17-years, 2,017-games - despite being an even worse hitter - career batting line of .237/.275/.351 (OPS+ of 76). Like Boyer, Rodriguez did win one Gold Glove. In Rodriguez's case it came in 1976, when he had the distinction of being the first American League third baseman not named Brooks Robinson to win the award in 17 years, since Frank Malzone won the first three such awards from 1957 - 1959.

Shortstop
Net Shortstop Fielding Wins
Top 10 Players
          Net Shortstop Fielding Losses
Top 10 Players
Player eWins eLosses           Player eWins eLosses
1Ozzie Smith110.998.6
12.3
1Derek Jeter87.896.0
-8.1
2Mark Belanger67.357.4
9.9
2Ivan DeJesus, Sr.47.151.3
-4.2
3Pee Wee Reese76.967.8
9.1
3Kurt Stillwell22.726.6
-4.0
4Lou Boudreau53.445.2
8.2
4Rafael Ramirez55.259.1
-3.9
5Cal Ripken90.683.3
7.3
5Jose B. Reyes56.359.9
-3.6
6Alan Trammell77.471.9
5.5
6Ricky Gutierrez28.932.4
-3.5
7Luis Aparicio98.893.4
5.4
7Jeff Blauser36.740.1
-3.4
8Tim Foli58.553.6
4.9
8Hanley Ramirez37.240.5
-3.3
9Omar Vizquel98.793.8
4.9
9Mario Guerrero18.321.5
-3.2
10Eddie R. Miller50.245.4
4.9
10Miguel Tejada71.974.9
-3.0


Pee Wee Reese’s career mostly pre-dated Gold Gloves, but he probably would have won his share. The next five players on the above list won 13, 8, 2, 9, and 4 Gold Gloves, respectively. Of course, Derek Jeter also won as many Gold Gloves as Dave Concepcion (5). Fielding won-lost records are not the only fielding metric that shows Derek Jeter as being a bad fielding shortstop.

Left Field
Net Left Field Fielding Wins
Top 10 Players
          Net Left Field Fielding Losses
Top 10 Players
Player eWins eLosses           Player eWins eLosses
1Barry Bonds108.199.0
9.2
1Ralph Kiner53.061.5
-8.4
2Joe Rudi48.140.6
7.4
2Greg Luzinski42.049.9
-7.9
3Rickey Henderson95.489.2
6.1
3Frank Howard30.538.1
-7.7
4Willie Wilson34.328.3
6.0
4Gary Matthews Sr.56.061.8
-5.8
5B.J. Surhoff35.329.3
5.9
5Don Baylor22.227.4
-5.1
6Bernard Gilkey41.836.3
5.5
6Leon Wagner33.738.7
-5.0
7Alex Gordon44.039.1
4.9
7Al Martin30.835.8
-5.0
8Jo-Jo Moore36.531.6
4.9
8Carlos Lee65.470.3
-4.9
9Geoff Jenkins37.332.4
4.9
9Ted Williams75.280.0
-4.8
10Indian Bob Johnson63.459.4
4.0
10Jason Bay45.949.9
-4.0


Barry Bonds won 8 Gold Gloves in left field. Greg Luzinski was a comically bad outfielder who became a full-time DH at age 30.

Center Field
Net Center Field Fielding Wins
Top 10 Players
          Net Center Field Fielding Losses
Top 10 Players
Player eWins eLosses           Player eWins eLosses
1Amos Otis73.764.6
9.1
1Juan Pierre38.744.2
-5.5
2Willie Davis84.575.5
8.9
2Dexter Fowler34.238.8
-4.6
3Andruw Jones70.862.5
8.3
3Earl Averill Sr.50.154.6
-4.5
4Curt Flood65.257.1
8.1
4Bernie Williams62.966.8
-3.9
5Duke Snider54.346.9
7.4
5Al Oliver30.834.3
-3.5
6Paul Blair57.351.2
6.0
6Gus Bell30.634.1
-3.5
7Joe DiMaggio63.757.8
5.9
7Richie Ashburn82.685.8
-3.2
8Jim Edmonds65.059.9
5.1
8Preston Wilson31.734.8
-3.2
9Dave Henderson42.137.5
4.7
9Ellis Burks35.038.0
-3.0
10Leonys Martin22.417.9
4.5
10Johnny Damon42.645.6
-3.0


I am missing 217 games from the early part of Joe DiMaggio's career. As those games are added, I would expect to see DiMaggio move up this list a bit. Although I have at least basic play-by-play data for every game of Willie Mays's career, I suspect that I may also be under-rating him a bit here. For many of the early years of Mays's career, some of the play-by-play data which I have used here is fragmentary and limited. In these cases, I could be inadvertently sharing credit that ought to be Mays's with some of his teammates (some early play-by-play data does not identify the player responsible for recording all batting outs) or, perhaps more likely, blaming Mays unfairly for hits allowed by his teammates (it is not uncommon for early play-by-play data to have no information regarding hits in terms of where these hits landed). Another reason for Mays's relatively low (but still top 10!) ranking is that he scored fairly poorly later in his career. Through 1968 (when Mays was 37 years old), Mays had amassed 1.6 net Fielding wins in center field, which would push him into the top 5 in the above table.

Right Field
Net Right Field Fielding Wins
Top 10 Players
          Net Right Field Fielding Losses
Top 10 Players
Player eWins eLosses           Player eWins eLosses
1Ichiro Suzuki78.268.2
10.0
1Jeff Burroughs29.836.7
-6.9
2Roberto Clemente106.897.0
9.8
2Ken Singleton44.349.7
-5.5
3Carl Furillo62.452.7
9.7
3Danny Tartabull31.737.0
-5.3
4Al Kaline79.870.1
9.6
4Jay Buhner48.553.1
-4.5
5Jesse Barfield59.550.1
9.4
5Ken Griffey Sr.38.943.1
-4.2
6Tony Oliva49.041.7
7.3
6Claudell Washington39.443.4
-4.0
7Mel Ott63.756.6
7.1
7Brad Hawpe28.232.1
-3.9
8Brian Jordan39.333.0
6.3
8Dante Bichette34.938.8
-3.9
9Johnny Callison71.765.4
6.3
9Shawn Green59.363.1
-3.8
10Ellis Valentine35.629.4
6.2
10Jim Lemon16.820.6
-3.8


Ichiro Suzuki, Al Kaline, and Roberto Clemente each won at least 10 Gold Gloves. Jesse Barfield only won 2 Gold Gloves in his relatively short career (only 6 seasons where he qualified for a batting title) but had the best outfield arm I ever saw (Clemente was a bit before my time). Carl Furillo’s career mostly pre-dated the Gold Glove award, but his nickname was the “Reading Rifle” and he was good enough to play over 300 games in center field in his career, so his appearance at the top of this list is no real surprise, either.

There are, however, a few multiple Gold Glove winners missing from the above list, including Dwight Evans (8), Dave Winfield (7), Larry Walker (7), and Tony Gwynn (5), although all four of these players rate as above-average rightfielders for their career.

The next several sections of this article take an analytical look at several aspects of Fielding won-lost records. The article then concludes with comparisons of Fielding won-lost records to some other sabermetric fielding measures.
Comparing Fielding Won-Lost Records Across Multiple Positions
For my work, I calculate Positional Averages for players based largely on a comparison of offensive performance by position. As an alternative, however, one could try to compare defensive value across fielding positions by analyzing the performance of a single player at multiple positions.