Monday, January 12, 2015

Gold Glove Debate: Was Clete Boyer Even Better Than Brooks Robinson?

Brooks Robinson was considered to be the greatest defensive third baseman in major league history.  Over his career, Robinson saved more runs with his glove at his position than anyone ever has - 293 to be exact (according to Baseball-reference.com).  His skills were genuine and widely appreciated by fans and sportswriters, alike - not to mention opposing coaches and managers who rewarded Robinson with sixteen consecutive Gold Glove Awards (1960 - 1975).

Not surprisingly, with 92% of the voters from the BBWAA supporting his inclusion, he became the first third baseman voted into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot, thirty-two years ago today - January 12, 1983.

Interestingly, early in his Gold Glove Award-winning career, there was another great defensive third baseman who may have been even better with the glove than Robinson:  Clete Boyer, of the New York Yankees.

Boyer wasn't much of a hitter, but he was an exceptional third baseman whose defensive skills were under appreciated - due to the fact that his playing days in New York (1960 - '66) happened to coincide with the peak of the Mickey Mantle/Roger Maris Era - with five straight trips to the World Series from '60 to '64.

By 1967, Boyer was playing third base in the National League as a member of the Atlanta Braves.  Despite nagging injuries and declining skills, he was still a top-notch third baseman - finally getting his one and only Gold Glove Award in '69.

He probably deserved a few more, based on a comparison between Boyer and Robinson over that seven year span when both were AL counterparts.  The key defensive metrics - Range Factor (putouts + assists per 9 innings played) and Total Zone Fielding Runs Above Average (Rtot) - obviously favor Boyer; however, Robinson had more playing time at third base, hardly ever missing a game; while Boyer was being used at second base and shortstop, I suppose out of necessity.

The year-by-year comparison:

Yr   Games - Robinson vs Boyer   Range Factor - Robinson vs Boyer    Rtot - Robinson vs Boyer

'60                 152               99                                 3.32              3.65                  17                 15
'61                 163              141                                2.97              3.78                  15                 30
'62                 162              157                                3.13              3.76                  18                 28
'63                 160              141                                3.07              3.43                  12                 14
'64                 163              123                                2.97              3.31                  17                 15
'65                 145              147                                3.05              3.45                   8                   8
'66                 157                85                                3.06              3.80                   4                  11
TOTALS     1102              893                                                                             91                121

Despite playing 209 fewer games at third base, Boyer's defensive skills were worth 30 more runs than Robinson's.  That is obviously attributed to Boyer's overwhelming advantage in Range Factor.  In all fairness, Boyer deserved the Gold Glove Award in '61, '62, '63 and '65.

Whereas Boyer's defensive skills had already peaked by the end of 1966, Robinson's were only getting better.  Over the next three seasons - from '67 through '69 - Robinson's glove work was an astounding 88 runs above average.  By then, there was absolutely no doubt that Brooks Robinson was the best defensive third baseman in the game.

Robinson's durability enabled his career as a third baseman to last for 2870 games - roughly twice as long as Boyer (1439 games).  When Boyer retired, his career Range Factor was 3.42 - compared to 3.20 for Robinson.

In the end, Boyer's glove was worth an extra 162 runs for his teams.  Had he been able to maintain that pace for as long as Robinson's career lasted, he may well have been regarded as The Best There Ever Was at the Hot Corner.

As it was, despite the seven Gold Gloves the other guy won in the seven-year comparison, it seems to me Clete Boyer was in fact, more Golden with the Glove.






1 comment:

  1. Boyer was better. I saw plenty of them both. But Boyer was NOT a weak hitter. Remember that he mostly batted eighth in the lineup for the Yanks and had to deal with taking pitches to rest the pitcher if outs were made fast, and he had to deal with being fed garbage when men were in scoring position with two outs. The flip side is that pitchers were loath to walk an 8th batter with 2 out and none on because they wanted the pitcher leading off. When he got traded, Clete hit THIRD in a Braves lineup that included Matthews and Aaron!

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