THE BOOK – Playing The Percentages In Baseball

By Tango, Lichtman, Dolphin


The 2005 Scouting Report by the Fans for the Fans

© Tangotiger

Ichiro Suzuki, for the third time - in the three years of the existence of the Fans' Scouting Report - has been voted the best fielder in baseball. Leveraging the power of the world wide web, the fans were asked to evaluate all the fielders they've seen regularly in seven specific categories. Those categories were then weighted based on their relevance, to provide an overall fielding score.

Nearly 1000 fans took the time to participate. This project owes its entire existence to those fans. Listed below are the nine winners of the 2005 Globe Gloves, as the best fielders in baseball. (Thanks to Mick Doherty for the suggestion of the name.)

All commentary for each fielder is provided by a passionate fan for that team. I am fortunate enough that all graciously accepted to be involved, by providing their thoughts on these players.

Ichiro Suzuki By Dave Cameron, Blog

Sometimes I sit and wonder "who made this guy a right fielder?" 5'10, 150 pounds soaking wet, the agility of a gymnast and the footwork of a ballet dancer. Right Field? Really Coach? In a perfect world, Ichiro would be manning shortstop, or, worst case, center field. Among right fielders, he's like the mustached kid in League League who you swear is 16 and never makes an out. It's not even really a fair comparison. Vladimir Guerrero's legs weigh more than Ichiro does, so asking him to compete with him in covering ground is categorically unfair.

I've heard people wonder aloud just how many runs it would cost a team to stick a terrible defensive player at a premium position, and whether it would be worth it to get his bat in the line-up. Well, Ichiro is the exact opposite answer of that question. He is what happens when you take a guy who, physically, should be playing shortstop and stick him in right field. He's a different breed of player, the hare running circles around a field of tortoises.

Have you ever been at the airport and watched the guys going by foot next to the people on a moving walkway? Ichiro's the guy on the walkway. This isn't a competition; it's not even a fair fight. He's a premium defensive player in a non-premium defensive position and saving the Mariners a ridiculous amount of runs with his glove in the process.

Orlando Hudson, By Craig Burley, Blog

Three skills stand out as pre-eminent for when watching Orlando Hudson play second base. First, his ability to field a pop-up or humpbacked liner behind first or second base, or in short right field. Not only does the "O-Dog" make a very large number of catches toward the rightfield foul line, he is often seen calling off the Blue Jays rightfielder (usually Alex Rios) on balls hit to medium-short right field. Second, his ability to smother the ball and record an out on a hard grounder into the 3/4 hole. The greatest practitioner of this art in our era, Roberto Alomar, thrilled Blue Jays fans for years with this ability and Hudson is very nearly his equal in this regard - he makes some outs on these plays that no other second baseman in the game can. Third, his ability to knife into the second-base bag like a ghost and turn a double play without being touched or even seen by an advancing runner. O-Dog largely shuns the phantom double play - his footwork right around the bag, and his speed in reaching it, is so exquisite that he is usually untroubled by the runner even though he has played with some shortstops who were very slow to deliver him the ball.

In all of these plays, his superb footwork and instincts play the largest role. Not blessed with sprinter speed by any means, there are few faster over a distance of 30 or 40 feet. Orlando Hudson often seems to materialize, at the instant the ball is struck, at exactly the right spot to race to and snuff out the well-placed hit. He is a joy to watch and I hope to do so for years to come.

Torii Hunter, By Aaron Gleeman, Blog

Torii Hunter plays center field like a middle linebacker plays a sweep to the outside. He attacks the ball without regard for his own safety and hunts it down. Whether the catch involves scaling the baggy-covered walls in the Metrodome or skidding along the turf face first, he makes the play first and thinks about it later. There is no more spectacular outfielder in baseball, and while the triangle in Fenway Park handed Hunter his first career knockout this season, his overall record against The Wall is second-to-none.

Mark Kotsay, By Ken Arneson, Blog

Mark Kotsay makes extraordinary defense look ordinary. His arm is good, but not a cannon. Yet he can unleash a textbook one-hop throw right on the base with uncanny consistency. His speed is good, but not blinding. Yet he seems to get to every fly ball without ever having to leave his feet. Kotsay is a great fielder, but he is not a reliable source of "web gems". With solid fundamentals, perfect positioning and excellent reads off the bat, Mark Kotsay makes even the most difficult of plays look simple and routine.

Y Betancourt By Dave Cameron, Blog

On June 1st, Mike Morse took over as the Mariners starting shortstop. He held the position down for most of the next two months before his bat cooled off and the team turned to Yuniesky Betancourt, the guy with a questionable stick and a flashy glove. The defensive upgrade of going from Morse to Betancourt, overnight, would be akin to taking your '77 Fiat down to the local dealer and trading it in for a Maserati. Having Morse as your starting shortstop one day and Betancourt the next is the baseball equivalent of a before and after infomercial for the Range-O-Matic 2005.

What makes Betancourt so good in the field? The easy answers would be something like "range, arm strength, footwork, and agility", and they'd all be accurate. YuBet makes plays on balls he has no right even touching. On more than one occassion, he's gotten to a ball where I've commented "man, nice job keeping that on the infield", and then the next thing I know, he's nailing the guy at first base.

Here's the thing, though. Betancourt makes the spectacular plays, the ones that you'll see on highlight shows for years to come, but that's not what makes him great. He routinely makes the play that doesn't look so spectacular but that nobody else alive makes. That ball four steps in the hole? Not only does he cut it off, but he gets there in time to square his body and make the throw without leaping in the air. And he nails the guy every single time.

Yuniesky Betancourt is the Rolls Royce of defensive shortstops. You've seen the rest; now watch the best.

Scott Rolen, By Brian Gunn

Scott Rolen isn't the best third baseman I've seen going back on a ball. That would be Terry Pendleton. He's not the best I've seen charging bunts -- that's Mike Schmidt. The best going to his left? Tim Wallach. The best starting DPs? Graig Nettles. But when you factor in all the variables that go into great glovework at the hot corner -- instincts, arm, range, footwork, surehandedness -- Scott Rolen is the best third baseman I've ever seen. He's got the reflexes of a standout hockey goalie and the balance of a top-flight point guard (as a teenager, in fact, Rolen had scholarship offers to play hoops at Oklahoma State and Georgia). Weaknesses? I don't love Rolen on bleeders to his left, and he doesn't have enough raw speed to cover pop-ups well over his head. But those are quibbles. Rolen is essentially the complete package, and a 5-3 throw from Rolen to Pujols -- which seems to have enough pop and energy to light a mid-sized city for several years -- is one of the game's great enduring pleasures.

Andruw Jones, By JC Bradury, Blog,

The reports of Andruw Jones's decline have been a bit overstated. While he's not the skinny teenager he once was, that doesn't mean he's lost much of what makes him such a great center fielder. While speed is important, if you watch Andruw track down balls in the gap, it seems like he's learned how to fold space to get to balls that he shouldn't, given his speed. To me, what makes Andruw so good is his intelligence. He's not necessarily fast, but a smart fielder. He has the instincts to know where the ball will go, and then always takes the correct angle. He's never out of control and doesn't dive hopelessly if he knows he can't catch the ball. And let's not forget about his arm. Hits become outs and runners who should score easily are gunned down. The thing that gives me such confidence in his fielding abilities is that he always outperforms my expectations, which is hard to do considering how much I've watched him play. Maybe Andruw has lost a step, but he was so good to begin with that he hasn't fallen from the category of elite defenders.

Cesar Izturis, By Jon Weisman, Blog

Cesar Izturis has terrific range, great lateral and vertical reach (while also willing to dive at a moment's notice), a quick recovery and release after fielding a ball upright or on the ground, and a surprisingly strong arm for someone who is 5-foot-9. In 2004, he almost never made an error on a routine play and frequently amazed with his acrobatics on the field. In 2005, his fielding appeared to suffer on two fronts - his concentration early in the season wavered and he made more errors on routine plays than normal, and as the season progressed, back ailments limited his range and effectiveness. He underwent Tommy John surgery on his throwing arm (for reasons relating to a childhood injury) in September. Still in his mid-20s, there is every reason to believe he will return to the top echelon of National League shortstops defensively by the end of 2006.

Adam Everett, By Lisa Gray, Blog

The problem with us people is that we take what works well for granted. We spend FAR too much time complaining about troubles than looking at excellence and praising it.

For example, take the glovework of Astros shortstop Adam Everett.

He's a guy you wouldn't think is even an athlete - maybe 6', 165 lbs (I don't pay NO nevermind to what the media guide says - ballplayers lie more about their height and weight than us girls do.)

He actually reminds me of Fred Astaire - it isn't until he starts to move with such elegance, that you notice him. Same with Adam. He's incredibly quick on his feet, can range REALLY well to either side (you don't hear "juuuuuust past a diving Everett" around here) and catches almost any pop fly almost anywhere in the infield and in shallow center - a VERY useful ability as CF Willy Taveras is TERRIBLE at coming forward to get balls in spite of his speed.

He's a very fast runner, is great at turning the DP, whether 6-4-3 or 4-6-3 and has a strong throwing arm.

I was shocked to see that he has 13 errors for the year. Almost all of his errors are throwing errors - I don't remember ever seeing him boot a ball. Last night, after 2 tremendous plays, he made an idiotic error with a ball hit straight to him - with a runner from first almost already at second, Adam threw the ball past him into shallow center. I have also seen him overthrow first base 4 times this year, and so I guess I would say his weakness is the location of his throws, almost always to first, not his arm strength. He's also an excellent cut off guy, throws well to home.

He also has a surprisingly good vertical leap - I've seen him leap like 3' in the air to catch a liner. In fact, one time this year he actually leaped so high he did a back flip after catching a screaming liner. (NATURALLY, it didn't make Web Gems or Sports Center...)

He makes all the routine plays and makes all the tough ones look routine. He doesn't barehand balls like Omar did, or flip behind his back (which of course makes the News) but he gets the ball, releases it quickly and accurately.

In my opinion, he has the best range of any shortstop in the NL and the quickest feet. Furcal has the strongest arm, but I honestly don't think I've seen anyone I'd trade him for (ignoring everything but defense...) I remember most of the guys who have played SS here and he's the best I've seen (in the past, say, 15 years.)

Honorable Mention

Luis Castillo, C Duffy failed to receive enough votes to qualify.

Youngsters to watch for

These players all finished in the top 20, and have only played for one or two seasons, including a current winner. Betancourt, C Duffy (Pirates), Jeff Francouer (Braves), Joe Mauer (Twins), M Treanor (Marlins).

Dishonorable mention

These are the worst fielders in baseball: Matt Lecroy, J Grabowski, Jason Phillips, J Dubois, Ruben Sierra, Jason Giambi.

Don't know what to do with them

There was great disagreement among the fans in evaluating these fielders: Royce Clayton, M Olivo.

The players with the best and worst tools (ties separated by /)

Instincts: Ichiro/Hudson/Kotsay/A Jones, J Dubois

First Step: Ichiro, Matt Lecroy

Speed: Logan/Crawford, Matt Lecroy

Hands: Hunter/D Lee/Rolen, Mark Lamb/W Pena/Kaz Matsui

Footwork: Rolen, Jason Philips/Mike Piazza

Arm Strength: Furcal/Guerrero, Damon/Gonzo/Bernie/Bagwell

Arm Accuracy: Rolen, Gonzo/Philips/Piazza/Giambi