How little can a “good glove, no hit” guy hit?

To be honest, I can’t exactly recount how I decided to look up information on shortstop Ray Oyler, but I did…  Oyler was among the best defensive shortstops to play in the late 1960s, but he was among the poorest hitters to play 100 games in a season.  I could recount his career, but SABR has a really good biography – so if you want to read more about Ray Oyler, read that one.

As a hitter, Oyler’s batting averages were as follows:

DET 1965 – .186
DET 1966 – .171
DET 1967 – .207
DET 1968 – .135
SEA 1969 – .165
CAL 1970 – .083

He also was owned by Oakland for just a brief time between December, 1969 and April 1970, but never played a game for them.

Anyway – the question I had in looking at Oyler’s record was whether his glove was really good enough to carry his inadequate bat and at about what level of production, combining offense and defense, would be enough to keep a job.

What I did was pull the offensive records and defensive records of the ten regular shortstops in the 1967 season.  You can look up the raw data in case you wanted to know what of these guys hit and fielded on your favorite baseball statistics website or an old Baseball Encyclopedia.  From there, I convert the offensive numbers into Runs Created (I use an old Bill James formula and then make adjustments for the park each player played in), and I convert defensive numbers into Runs Saved using my own formula.  The Runs Saved formula looks at how many plays each player makes for every 870 balls in play, and then converts those additional (or missing) plays into hits and convert those hits into runs. A player who makes more plays per 870 balls in play than the average player at his position is removing hits and therefore saving runs.

I digress.  Let’s get to a quick review of the 1967 shortstops.

Shortstop (Team) Off Def Total
Luis Aparicio (BAL) 52.3 -7.1 45.2
Rico Petrocelli (BOS) 59 2.3 61.3
Jim Fregosi (CAL) 87.7 8.9 96.6
Ron Hansen (CSX) 56.5 -1.7 54.8
Larry Brown (CLE) 47.3 -7.8 39.5
Ray Oyler (DET) 27.8 16.9 44.7
Bert Campaneris (KC) 67.5 -4.4 63.1
Zoilo Versalles (MIN) 39 5 44
Ruben Amaro (NYY) 34.6 0.4 35
Ed Brinkman (WAS) 18.7 -1.6 17.1

 

Luis Aparicio was getting old and had lost a step – the Orioles would soon send him to Boston.  I know – Brooks Robinson was cutting off a few balls into the hole, but even then Mark Belanger had proven he had the much better range – enough to offset whatever edge Aparacio had in offense.

Rico Petrocelli was also slowing up some – he was never going to be as good as the really mobile shortstops – but he added a few runs that most shortstops didn’t do, and as such was a valuable entity.

Jim Fregosi had a pretty good year.  He won the gold glove, not because he was better defensively than Oyler, but because he was out there nearly every inning of every game where Oyler was removed for pinch hitters pretty regularly.  They played a comparable number of games in the field, but Fregosi played 260 more innings.

Ron Hansen was just your ordinary glove guy, but his offense looked worse because it was hard to look like a good hitter in Comiskey Park.

I had never heard of Larry Brown until I did this review of the 1967 AL shortstops.  He was a poor man’s Ron Hansen.

This is Ray Oyler’s best season – the only time he cleared .200 as a hitter.  Let’s say that Mayo Smith chose NOT to pull him for pinch hitters and he got 25% more at bats and played 25% more innings.  He would have added another, oh, seven runs on offense and might have saved the team another four runs on defense.  In terms of productivity, he would have been worth nearly 56 runs – which makes him the fourth best shortstop in the AL.  That’s just about good enough to keep a job.  Of course, if Oyler didn’t hit .200, no matter how good a shortstop he was, he wasn’t going to save enough runs to offset that lack of offense.

Campy was still pretty young…  He was learning his way as a fielder, and able to contribute more than most of these shortstops.

Zoilo Versalles was a former MVP winner still able to help with the glove, but his bat completely left him in 1967.

Ruben Amaro was never going to replace Tony Kubek.

When I think of good glove, no hit guys of this period, I think of Ed Brinkman.  In 1967 he didn’t hit and his fielding was just ordinary amongst a bunch of guys with good glove reputations.  My friend, Ike Futch, says that after his rookie minor league season in 1959, the Washington Senators considered making a free agent bid for his services.  This was the Washington Senators that became the Minnesota Twins and not the Senators that played Ed Brinkman, but in either case, had the old Senators or new Senators signed him Futch would have been playing somewhere in either infield by 1967…

*****

Baseball history fans will remember that in 1968, Oyler’s batting average fell off to about .135 and Mayo Smith couldn’t carry his glove in the lineup anymore.  When the Tigers made it to the World Series, Smith chose to play outfielder Mickey Stanley as his shortstop, trading offense for defense.  At the end of games, Oyler would come in as the defensive replacement.  The Tigers beat St. Louis in seven games, and Mayo Smith looked like a genius.

On the other hand, Smith proved that there was a limit as to how much you could tolerate poor hitting.  Granted, they scored fewer runs in the late 1960s than they do today, but the axiom pretty much still holds – If the total amount of your offense and defensive contribution is less than 60 runs, you pretty much won’t be a regular in the majors (unless, of course, you were Ed Brinkman).

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