Jesse Barfield as Seen Through Player Won-Lost Records
Controlling for context, the best non-pitcher in major-league baseball in 1986, as measured by eWins over either positional average or replacement level, was Jesse Barfield. I thought that Jesse Barfield had an interesting enough career that he warranted his own article.
The first table below presents Jesse Barfield's career as measured by Player won-lost records.
Basic Player Won-Lost Records
| ------ || ------ || ------ || ------ || ------ || ------ || ------ || ------ || ------ || ------ || ------ || ------ || ------ || ------ |
|CAREER (reg. season)|| || |
| || || || ------ || ------ || ------ || || || || ------ || ------ || || || |
|PostSeason (career)|| || |
|0.8||0.9||0.446|| ||-0.0||0.9||0.9||0.516|| ||0.1|
| || || || ------ || ------ || ------ || ------ || || ------ || ------ || ------ || ------ || || ------ |
|COMBINED|| || |
Jesse Barfield's Fielding
Jesse Barfield had the best outfield arm I have ever seen. Barfield led all American League outfielders in assists five times and was second twice in nine full major-league seasons. Amazingly to me, Barfield only won two Gold Gloves in his career - in 1986 and 1987 - although this was due, in large part, because outfield Gold Gloves were not position-specific during Barfield's career, so they tended to award Gold Gloves to three center fielders most seasons.
Player won-lost records are calculated in nine components. Component 8 is baserunner outs. Jesse Barfield has the most career net Component 8 fielding wins of any player for whom I have calculated Player won-lost records. The top 10 fielders - across all positions - in net Component 8 fielding wins are shown in the next table.
Component 9 measures baserunner advancement and is closely related to Component 8. Great throwing arms have two effects: the ability to throw out baserunners (Component 8) and the ability to discourage baserunners from trying to advance (Component 9). Jesse Barfield is in the top 10 for career net Component 9 fielding wins as well - again, across all positions.
Note that fielding is measured against average at the same position. Since right fielders, on average, have stronger arms than leftfielders or centerfielders, Barfield is being compared against a stronger-armed average than, say, Carl Yastrzemski, who played mostly left field, or Andy Van Slyke, who was a centerfielder throughout his career.
Barfield's arm was his best defensive weapon, but he was above average at all four fielding components in right field.
The top 10 players in net right field fielding wins among all players for whom I have calculated Player won-lost records are shown in the next table.
Note, in particular, how many fewer fielding decisions Barfield accumulated than the players around him on that list, because of how short Barfield's career was.
Jesse Barfield's Hitting
Barfield was best known, I think, for his fielding. But, at his peak, he was also an excellent hitter. In 1986, he led the American League with 40 home runs. Measured by net batting wins over non-pitcher average, Barfield was the second-best batter in the American League in 1986. He was also among the top 10 AL hitters in 1985. The top 10 American League hitters in both of those two seasons are shown in the next two tables.
Barfield was something of a hacker, striking out more than 100 times all 8 seasons in which he had more than 360 plate appearances including five seasons with 140 or more strikeouts. His walk totals weren't terrible, but were generally nothing special, peaking at 87. Strikeouts and walks are measured within Player won-lost records as Component 3. Barfield was not particularly good at Component 3. Component 4, on the other hand, measures what happens on contact - including home runs, in terms of the types of balls hit (e.g., line drives vs. ground balls, balls hit to the outfield vs. the infield). When he made contact, Jesse Barfield was one of the best hitters of his generation. The next table shows the top 10 batters in net Component 4 batting wins for the seasons for which Barfield played at least 100 games: 1982 - 1990.
The final table of this section presents the top 25 players in batting wins over non-pitcher average from 1982 through 1990. Even with his relatively poor plate discipline, Jesse Barfield was still one of the best hitters of his generation.
Most Similar Players to Jesse Barfield
The next table shows the top 10 players most similar to Jesse Barfield in career Player won-lost records.
This list is mostly very good players, some of whom had periods where they rose from very good to great.
One interesting feature of this list is that Barfield played fewer games than all but one of his most-similar players (Myer and Lazzeri both played over 1,700 games in their careers; the numbers shown above are the total number of their games for which I have play-by-play data and have calculated Player won-lost records).
Jesse Barfield's last season in which he played in more than 84 games was his age-30 season. To be honest, I'm not entirely sure what happened to Jesse Barfield, but I assume it was injuries of some sort (Wikipedia cites "[i]njuries and general ineffectiveness" with no source). It's not that unusual for players to see a sudden decline in their playing time and/or effectiveness in their early 30's; it is somewhat unusual for it to happen to a player so quickly at exactly age 30 and it is actually fairly rare for a player as good as Jesse Barfield was in his prime to be entirely out of baseball by the age of 32.
The next table shows the 10 players most similar to Jesse Barfield in Player won-lost records from age 22 through age 30.
Since I'm not sure exactly what happened to Barfield, I'm not sure how reasonable it is to look at these players as likely "what-ifs" for Barfield. Of course, the very nature of "what-ifs" are that they're purely hypothetical.
Setting aside Hall-of-Fame shortstop Joe Cronin, for whom I am missing data for much of his career, the most similar player to Jesse Barfield, from age 22 through age 30, is a very good match for Barfield (Barfield is also Jones's most-similar player for the same age range): brilliant defensive outfielder with pretty good home run power. Unfortunately, Andruw Jones fell off the same cliff as Barfield at the same time. Jones's last good season in center field was at age 29. He managed to reinvent himself somewhat, as an averageish corner OF/DH for a few years with the Rangers, White Sox, and Yankees, which helped boost his career value a bit vis-a-vis Barfield (Jones was also quite a bit more valuable than Barfield before age 30, including playing over 300 major-league games before age 22). But three more years as a league-average DH probably wouldn't have moved the dial much in terms of how Jesse Barfield's career would be remembered and evaluated today.
So, that was Jesse Barfield's career: one of the best outfield arms in major-league history; brilliant defense; very good hitter, albeit strikeout-prone; very short career for a player of his quality.
All articles are written so that they pull data directly from the most recent version of the Player won-lost database. Hence, any numbers cited within these articles should automatically incorporate the most recent update to Player won-lost records. In some cases, however, the accompanying text may have been written based on previous versions of Player won-lost records. I apologize if this results in non-sensical text in any cases.
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