Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Jack Splat versus the field

jack wilson
Jumpin' Jack Wilson from Wikipedia

We took a look at Gene Alley yesterday, and as we were tossing the BS around while gulping down the morning's first coffee at work, my hot stove buds debated how Jack Wilson would stack up against the other tenured Pirate shortstops. So we put together what we considered the top half dozen shortstops to wear the Buc uniform. They spent 63 years and 8,380 games representing this town. Here's a chart we came up with of some selected stats to see how these long time Bucco SS's compared:

player yrs games avg obp rs rbi rp field l-avg dp

Wagner 18 2433 .328 .387 88 82 165 .946 +13 49
Vaughan 10 1411 .324 .409 94 76 162 .950 +2 79
Groat 9 1258 .290 .325 62 50 109 .962 +1 97
Alley 11 1195 .254 .310 40 31 65 .970 +6 64
Bell 8 1106 .269 .339 78 53 121 .976 +1 79
Wilson 7 997 .269 .312 65 48 105 .977 +4 102

(The stats are for years as a Pirate, broken down to season average. rp is runs produced = rs+rbi-hr. l-avg is how many percentage points above the league average the player fielded over his career. The fielding stats are for SS only. We didn't show home runs because of the different eras involved, but Jay Bell was the group's top slugger, averaging 10 dingers/year. No A-Rods in this bunch.)

So what's it tell us? Well, we can start with the obvious - Honus Wagner and Arky Vaughan were head and shoulders above the crowd when it came to hitting a baseball. Jay Bell was a pretty good run producer, and in fact fares better overall than we thought he might. Dick Groat was a good stick, but his run production wasn't that great.

The fielding was a surprise, though. The later the era, the better the fielding percentage, with Jack Wilson being the top gloveman and Wagner the worst. That probably has quite a bit to do with the conditions of the fields they played on, and in Wagner's case, the quality of second basemen he played with - he's also dead last in DP's, and it takes two to turn one.

To normalize that, we took the league average and compared it to the individual fielding percentage (l-avg comparison). When we compare apples to apples, Wagner vaults from dead last in fielding to first, finishing his career a whopping 13 points higher in fielding percentage than the league average during his years.

Wagner and Alley also have somewhat deceiving stats because they played for Pittsburgh as their baseball days wound down while everyone else was in their prime as a Pirate. So their numbers may be a bit devalued overall.

To make a long analysis short, we totaled the obp, rp, l-avg fielding comparison and dp's, 1 point for the best, 6 points for the worst. Hopefully this simple formula gives equal weight to glove and bat. Like golf, the lowest score wins. The best of the Bucco's shortstops according to the Green Weenie are *tada*:

Honus Wagner (9)
Arky Vaughan (10)
Jay Bell & Jack Wilson (14)
Dick Groat (15)
Gene Alley (17)

No matter how you slice it, Wagner and Vaughan are the best we've ever had at short. But Bell, Wilson and Groat are so tightly bunched that you can't separate them with a gnat's eyelash. Alley's glove was one of the Buc's better ones, but his bat drops him down to the bottom of the heap.

And to answer the original question, Wilson more than holds his own in some pretty fast company.

Of course, we'd be remiss if we didn't throw one Jumping Jack Flash factoid into the post. When he was a teenager and playing on a summer travel team, Wilson's roommate was his future Pirates teammate Freddy Sanchez. Sanchez played shortstop while Wilson manned second base. Funny how the more things change, the more they say the same. It just took a couple of decades to get them back together and in their right positions.

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