Best infield defensive seasons, 1957-1969
Last Spring I used Retrosheet data to create a play-by-play defensive system, Totalzone. I used the years 2003 to 2006, and while I don't have detailed hit location for those years, I was able to come pretty close to the ratings of a more advanced system like UZR, especially in the infield. For the 2003-2006 the batted ball type is reasonably complete, and it tells you who fielded every out or hit. Its enough to make a pretty good, though certainly not perfect system.
For the older seasons its a lot tougher. Batted ball type is generally available only for outs, and a lot of the time the position that fielded hits is incomplete. I was able to find some work arounds for these, which I may go into later. What I did was:
1. Look at how many plays an infielder fielded a ground ball and turned it into outs. By using retrosheet I can get this number exactly, as opposed to estimating based on assists and putouts. This is especially true for 1st basemen.
2. Look at how many errors and infield hits are allowed at each position.
3. Estimate how many hits went to the OF for each spot. I apply the team groundball ratio (which is based on outs, usually missing for hits) and a position percentage based on the batter's handedness. For example, third basemen make only 7% of infield plays against lefties, but 34% against righties.
4. Calculate a zone percentage on plays/opportunities, compare to league average, and convert to runs. I looked at separate averages for each year and for right and lefthanded batters.
The results passed the smell test. Here are the best and worst seasons, by position, from 1957 to 1969:
Don Mincher, 1966 +16
Ernie Banks, 1964 +15
Vic Power, 1959 +14
Dick Stuart, 1964 -17
Nate Colbert, 1969 -15
Jim Gentile, 1964 -15
All of this was before I was born. I don't know if Mincher showing up at the top speaks good or ill of my system. I know Power was considered a great gloveman, and Banks moved from shortstop due to injuries, but he must have been much more athletic than a typical 1B. Dr. Strangeglove shows up last, and I don't think anyone will find fault with that.
Bobby Knoop, 1964 +25
Nellie Fox, 1959 +24
Bill Mazeroski, 1958 +20
Nothing wrong with this list. Nice to see one of the early Angel stars at the top of the list, and Fox and Maz are in the Hall of Fame mostly due to their glovework. Maz also gets the #4 season.
Glenn Beckert, 1966 -18
Tony Taylor, 1964 -16
Felix Milan, 1969 -16
I really don't know much about any of these guys.
Mark Belanger, 1968 +29
Ernie Banks, 1959 +28
Belanger, 1969 +25
Belanger was the Adam Everett of his day, though he was even worse as a hitter. Ernie Banks was a truly great player back then, he also hit 45 homers and 143 RBI that year. Luis Aparicio didn't make the top single season list, but was above average 12 of the 13 seasons, with a high of +14, and about 100 runs above average over the period.
Freddie Patek, 1969 -35
Dick Howser, 1961 -31
Roberto Pena, 1968 -30
I'll have to see what Patek did when I get to the 70's. He was +5 in 1968, his first year.
Brooks Robinson, 1967 +46
Brooks, 1969 +40
Brooks, 1968 +38
Over the 13 years, Brooks was +273. There were only 3 seasons in the infield over +30, and Brooks had them all. These stats back up everything you've ever heard about the defense of Brooks Robinson. Thanks to him and Belanger mostly, the Orioles of this period had DER's around .740 - about .710-.720 was average during this period.
Dick Allen, 1967 -24
Richie Hebner, 1969 -22
Doug Rader, 1969 -22
Allen was 10 runs or worse every year from 1964-1969. I don't know enough about the others to say this list is good or not.