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Friday, January 10, 2014
Beltre, Utley among all-time great gloves

By Mark Simon

There is an interesting common thread among some of those under consideration for the Hall of 100 this season, and that's how much defensive play impacted their overall value.

Baseball Info Solutions has been tracking defensive runs saved as a statistic since 2003, and in that time, the top three players in that stat are three players who were under Hall of 100 consideration this year: Adrian Beltre (165 DRS), Chase Utley (141 DRS) and Albert Pujols (131 DRS).

Granted, that is partly due to their having been in the majors 11 years ago when the stat was devised, but it also speaks to their consistent defensive success.

I was asked to rank the players on the Hall of 100 ballot by their defensive value and I'm fairly comfortable with that trio being my 1-2-3.

Beltre slipped a little bit last season but has averaged 15 DRS per season in this 11-year stretch. That sort of success has propelled Beltre to be ranked among the elite third baseman in the sport's history (a drum Dave Cameron of FanGraphs and ESPN Insider has been beating for some time).

Consider this: If you look at Baseball Reference's all-time wins above replacement leaders for third baseman (using 40 percent of games at third base as the standard), the top eight are Alex Rodriguez, Mike Schmidt, Eddie Mathews, Wade Boggs, George Brett, Chipper Jones, Brooks Robinson and Beltre, with Ron Santo a little behind.

By the formulas used for defensive WAR, which take into account both DRS and a pre-2003 metric, total zone runs, Beltre's defensive value is nearly 22 wins.

Were Beltre worth half of what he has been worth defensively in his career, his overall rank among third basemen in WAR dips to the 16-17 range, alongside Darrell Evans and Robin Ventura.

My educated guess is that most fans perceive Beltre as being closer to the latter players in stardom, but when you dig deeper into the numbers (including the defensive ones), he fits in with the best of the best, and worth of Hall of 100 consideration.

Utley's glove

If you had asked me which player ranks closer to the top of the all-time list in WAR at their position, Beltre or Utley, I'd have guessed Utley ... and been wrong.

Utley ranks 15th, right behind Jackie Robinson and just ahead of Jeff Kent. Three more 3-WAR seasons and Utley will be the virtual equal of Ryne Sandberg and Roberto Alomar, even though he'll be considerably behind them in base hits.

Utley can thank his defensive performance for that. He currently ranks 10th in dWAR among second basemen (17.1), though he'll have to work to maintain that. Last year was the first season of Utley's career in which he didn't rank as strongly above average in DRS.

Pujols and adjustments

The way that dWAR works with regard to adjusting for position played, first basemen don't get a great spike from being great defensively. But when we consider Pujols, we should consider him to be among the best of the best.

From 2004 to 2010, he was among the top five in DRS every season. Total zone, which works off 60 years of data rather than 11, has Pujols as one of only three players with at least 100 runs saved at that position (one run behind Todd Helton and 15 behind Keith Hernandez).

Pujols ranks behind Lou Gehrig and Jimmie Foxx in overall WAR among those whose primary position was first base, and you could make a legit case if you put a premium on defensive value, that Pujols is the No. 2 first baseman of all-time right now, and worthy of his No. 16 rankings in the Hall of 100.

The rest of this year's ballot

Carlos Beltran: His defense has slipped with age and knee injuries, but in his prime, he was a great center fielder, who made difficult catches look easy because he could glide to the ball. Beltran won three Gold Gloves and has a good but not great dWAR and DRS totals. His defense should definitely be worth a slight bump, though probably not enough to get him into the top 100.

Alex Rodriguez: A-Rod has bigger problems than how his defense impacts his overall value, but he should rate pretty well, considering that he handled two of the toughest positions in baseball very well. He rates solidly in dWAR, though chances are not many people are going to remember that when his career is done.

Joe Mauer: The good perception on Mauer's defense doesn't quite match up with his career DRS of minus-6. (For the record, he does rate very well at limiting stolen bases.) The perception of his defense rates as an incomplete, though, as he'll write an additional chapter with his move to first base this spring.

David Wright: Wright is an interesting defender because he has had years where he has looked great (16 DRS in 2012) and been Gold Glove worthy (he has improved since Tim Teufel became Mets infield coach), and had other years in which he has rated poorly (-14 in both 2009 and 2010). It will be interesting to see how Wright rates against Beltre when their careers are done. Beltre probably should rate better overall, but I'm not convinced that public perception will match that.

Derek Jeter: His defense is a polarizing topic, and without getting into a full-fledged discussion about it, I'm inclined to buy into the numerical assessments, which don't treat him well.

Those who rank Jeter as this generation's Honus Wagner need to take this into consideration. Jeter rates as the second or third-best offensive shortstop of all-time (depending on whether you consider A-Rod a shortstop), but his dWAR ranks next-to-last. His Hall of 100 rank of 33 is probably just about right for him. Were he as good a defender as some perceive, I'd argue he’d be worthy of the top 15.

Miguel Cabrera: He is going to put up amazing offensive numbers by the time he's done, but those classifying him as a future top-20 player in our Hall of 100 assessment should consider that he's already in the bottom 100 in dWAR. The move back to first base and the DH role may eventually save him from descending much further.