Friday, November 08, 2013

The most accurate shortstop arms

When I was a kid, my brother and I made up this game called, "Ground ball to first." We would stand on opposite sides of the street about 70 to 90 feet apart and each half inning of a nine inning game consisted of us taking turns playing shortstop and first base. The first baseman was on "offense" and would throw grounders to the other. An out required a perfect field of the baseball and a perfect throw back to the first baseman. Errors were the only way to score. It was from that game that I have always appreciated the strong, accurate throw from the shortstop position.

I had the idea to go through the list of shortstops in the last fifty or so years who are on's assist leaders. I also took a look at those with the top fielding percentages and zone ratings. Please note that I am not looking for the best fielding shortstops here. I am only looking for the most accurate arms. If you dig down enough for each player, you can find out how many of his total errors were throwing errors and then it is a simple case of dividing the throwing errors by throwing errors plus assists.

I know this is not perfect because some of the throws might have been relay throws and some benefited from year to year by who played first base and that first baseman's scooping ability (or height!). But I would assume all of that stuff evened out over the length of each player's career. I also know that I did not get everyone. I added to my list at least four times and am sure I missed a couple.

But the list became interesting as it is and gives a pretty good snapshot of what shortstop's arm was accurate or not. Here are my numbers from best to worst:
  1. Larry Bowa - .0022
  2. Dave Concepcion - .0037
  3. Mark Belanger - .0041
  4. Bill Russell - .0046
  5. Bucky Dent - .0048
  6. Don Kessinger - .0053
  7. Leo Cardenas - .0057
  8. Bert Campaneris - .00596
  9. Robin Yount - ..00599
  10. Bud Harrelson - .0067
  11. Roy McMillan - .007105
  12. Cal Ripken, Jr. - .007108
  13. Omar Vizquel - .00711
  14. Chris Speier - .007198
  15. Ozzie Smith - .007199
  16. Alan Trammell - .0073
  17. Garry Templeton - .0075
  18. Luis Aparicio - .008638
  19. Rey Sanchez - .008647
  20. Tony Fernandez - .0090
  21. Jimmy Rollins - .0104
  22. Ed Brinkman - .0119
  23. Ozzie Guillen - .0126
  24. Alex Rodriguez - .0134
  25. Royce Clayton - .0144
  26. Barry Larkin - .0158
  27. Miguel Tejada - .0164
  28. Edgar Renteria - .0167
  29. Derek Jeter - .0178
Larry Bowa was amazingly accurate and tops our list of modern shortstops with the most accurate arm. Eight of his sixteen full seasons at shortstop had zero throwing errors. Zero! And five others included only one throwing error. He made only 15 throwing errors his entire career. Eight of those were in the first two seasons he played. He went from 1974 to 1980 without a single throwing error. Amazing.

Of course, throwing accurately is only part of a shortstop equation. B-R also tracks something called Percentage of fielded balls that turned into outs. Throwing is only a part of that equation. Release and simply catching the ball cleanly also play a part. During all seasons I looked at, 89 or 90% was the league average.
  1. 95% - Mark Belanger
  2. 93% - Leo Cardinas, Rey Sanchez, Bud Harrelson, Roy McMillan
  3. 92% - Larry Bowa, Bert Campaneris, Alan Trammell, Cal Ripken, Jr., Alex Rodriguez, Luis Aparicio, Bucky Dent, Robin Yount
  4. 91% - Conception, Templeton, Speier, Jeter, Ozzie Smith, Omar Vizquel, Brinkman, Guillen
  5. 90% - Tejada, Russell, Rollins
  6. 89% - Clayton, Renteria, Fernandez
  7. 88% - Kessinger
So the old saw would apply that most of these long-time shortstops "made all the plays."

For 2013, the top five in throwing accuracy from shortstop were:
  1. Stephen Drew - .0030
  2. Jose Iglesias - .0057
  3. Asdrubal Cabrera - .0095
  4. Jhonny Peralta - .0101
  5. Troy Tulowitzki - .0104
Please remember that I am not saying this makes the best shortstop. Good old Asdrubal points that out in this list. But it is interesting to see who has the most accurate arms from the shortstop position. Larry Bowa should be smiling at Stephen Drew.

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