Re-Enter The Hero

This evening, while conducting important research, I learned something that startled me.

I should explain that I’m a lifelong Baltimore Orioles fan, starting from when my dad took me to a Meet the Players event at Southtown Plaza in Rochester NY, and I was greeted by Red Wings players and coaches (including Luke Easter (coach), and possibly Freddie Valentine and maybe Mark Belanger?). My all-time hero was Brooks Robinson.

My Hero, Brooks Robinson
(I know I used to have this baseball card)

Recently I had been hearing talk from the sabermetric community about Brooks — boosting the status of other third basemen, knocking my hero. And I have to admit that his batting skills (wOBA .322) were not to be compared with Schmidt or a handful of others. I thought I had heard that his fielding was over-rated as well — I didn’t look any of this up, because it would be too depressing to see the latest mathematical analysis disclosing that my hero, the great Brooks Robinson, was acclaimed only on the basis of hype, grit, and the other ingredients that the anti-Beane traditionalists held dear.

So when I was, ahem, researching this evening, I was knocked out to discover that Fangraphs lists Brooks as the player who made the single greatest career contribution to his team’s defence — if I read the charts correctly, that’s a calculation of how many runs the balls that he successfully fielded (theoretically) saved his team. His Fld column — based, it must be said, on much less complete statistics as modern fielding measurements, which are themselves not yet a satisfactory measure of a player’s defensive ability — saved the Orioles almost 300 runs. Only four other players saved as many as 200. Four of the top ten are heroes of mine (Robinson, Mark Belanger, Roberto Clemente, and Cal Ripken), and three were Orioles. (My dad’s hero Carl Yasztremski is up there, too, and including Paul Blair four of the top twelve were Orioles.)

Again, there are reservations and cavils to be made. I’m not making the claim that Brooks Robinson was in every respect the greatest defensive player of all time, nor even the greatest defensive third baseman of all time (though the statistics make that an arguable case). It is heartening to see, though, that they don’t smash the reputation of my childhood hero. Well done, Brooks.

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