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Ozzie Smith’s Fielding Win Shares

Ozzie Smith’s Fielding Win Shares

January 26, 2007

Does Win Shares give Ozzie enough credit?

One of the more controversial aspects of Win Shares is the way in which it gives credit to fielders (and pitchers).  In a nutshell, Bill James wasn’t sure enough of his system to let it really work.  He put boundaries on the overall impact fielding could have for a team, and he also didn’t give fielders any negative fielding claim points.

As a result, it seems that Win Shares doesn’t truly value great fielders.  It recognizes them, but doesn’t credit them with enough impact.  To look at this a bit more closely, I thought we might use the case of Ozzie Smith.

Now, Win Shares certainly does recognize that Ozzie Smith was a great fielder.  He racked up 139 fielding Win Shares in his career, which is the fourth-highest total ever (behind Rabbit Maranville, Bill Dahlen and Honus Wagner).  But we can dig deeper than that, thanks to some research conducted by Chris Dial a few months ago.

Chris took Ozzie’s Zone Ratings for the years 1987 to 1996 (the second half of his career).  Using the data, Dial estimates that Smith saved 156 runs over how an average shortstop would perform in the field.  That’s a tremendous total for a fielder, particularly considering that this represented the “decline phase” of Ozzie’s career.

How can we use this to evaluate Win Shares?  Well, let’s first take a specific year, 1988.  No reason; just a good year.  Dial estimates that Smith saved 23 runs more than the average shortstop in 1988.  Let’s translate.

In Win Shares, an average shortstop who played every inning of every game would accrue six fielding Win Shares.  In 1988, Smith was credited with eight Win Shares, two more than average.  Is two enough of an edge for the Wizard of Ahs?

As a general rule, ten runs saved adds a win to the team.  Smith saved 23 runs, or contributed 2.3 wins more than the average shortstop.  Each win equals three Win Shares, so Smith actually contributed 7 Win Shares above average.  Add back the six Win Shares of the average fielder and you can see that Ozzie should have been credited with 13 fielding Win Shares, not eight.  He was shortchanged five Win Shares.

Win Shares provided a great public service by including the impact of fielding, something that only a few other statistics do.  But for the Ozzie Smiths, Rabbit Maranvilles and Adam Everetts, it didn’t get it right.

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