Monday, March 2, 2009

Ozzie Smith: Plus Offensive Player

I cannot convey how sick I am of hearing "Ozzie Smith is in the Hall of Fame despite his offense, which was bad," or something to that extent. While the voters may have thought that way, the implications are that either Smith was a mistake or all other all-glove/no-stick players should get in and that Smith was a liability on offense.

He was not. Ozzie Smith was an asset on offense. Not a world-beater, but an asset.

Simple stats just for some simple context, first. Ozzie didn't have a lot of contact ability, average .262 for his career and hitting .300 once, or power, never slugging .400 and going .328 for his career in a .390 league. He was, however, a good on-base player, getting on at a clip of .337 in a .328 league for his career, and, as with all things and all players, better in his all-important peak. And what he lacked in power, he somewhat made up with an ability to steal bases; 580 at a 79% clip for his career, in fact, being over 80% almost every season.

So, in an era of low offense, Ozzie was above average at avoiding outs and helped add bases himself to partly make up for his deficiency. Now for something a little more advanced.

First, EqA by Baseball Prospectus. Remember: league-average is always .260. Ozzie, for his career, was a .262 player. Average. Not bad. Average. And that's career, including a pretty bad decline. Let's look at his peak 10 years.

1983: .257
1984: .277
1985: .279
1986: .278
1987: .289
1988: .284
1989: .273
1990: .252
1991: .294
1992: .287

That's pretty damn good. No worse than almost average other than once, and well above average many others.

Now, via FanGraphs, we'll look at wOBA and wRAA in those same years.

1983: .304/-7.1
1984: .325/2.7
1985: .327/4.4
1986: .329/4.0
1987: .357/18.6
1988: .331/9.4
1989: .323/4.7
1990: .301/-8.0
1991: .352/16.6
1992: .339/9.9

About the same look: never that great, but usually about average and occasionally very good. For his career, Oz was a .311 wOBA guy with -73.6 wRAA. Subtract his awful last four seasons and his first three seasons, though, and you get 23.1 runs above average for his career, and that's with a pretty bad -19.7 fourth year still included.

So, Ozzie Smith was pretty much close to an average offensive weapon, and in his peak pretty well above average.

BUT that's average for a Major Leaguer and Ozzie Smith was a shortstop. Average at shortstop is a plus offensive player. The average shorstop EqA'd .237-.248 from 1983-92, and only three years ('88 .248 and '91-'92 .247 each) were above .243 (and, in fact, six of the ten seasons were exactly .243, this stuff is pretty constant). So, while Ozzie was EqAing typically in the mid .270s or better at his position in his prime and was a .262 for his career, the average player at his position was around .240. So he was not just an average offensive player in Major League terms, WHICH IS NOT BAD, he was well above average for the expectations of his position.

In summary: the next time someone calls Ozzie Smith a liability on offense or anything similar, slap them, tell them to do their home work and about league context, base running and positional value. For most of his career, the Wizard of Oz was a valuable asset on offense. Couple that with mind-bending defense, and he's easily a Hall of Fame caliber player. Maybe not because of his bat, but definitely not despite his bat.

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