Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Best and the Quirkiest Outfields of All Time

What team has the best outfield in baseball? Well, the Texas Rangers have Josh Hamilton (.359, 32, 100 in 2010), and Nelson Cruz (22, 78, .318). But Julio Borbon ain't great. The White Sox have all-round talented but streaky Alex Rios (21, 88. ,284), Carlos Quentin (26, 87, .243) who has a great arm, and Juan Pierre (68 stolen bases) who has a terrible arm. Seattle has two of the three 2010 AL Gold Glove winners (Franklin Gutierrez and Ichiro Suzuki) but only Suzuki hit well last year - and the Mariners finished last. The Red Sox have Gold Glover Carl Crawford (19, 90, .307), Jacoby Ellsbury (72 steals and .301 in 2009), and J.D. Drew (22 homers last year). In the NL the Phillies have Jason Werth (27, 85, .296), Gold Glover Shane Victorino (18, 69, .259), and Paul Ibanez (16, 83, .275). No team has really talented players at all three outfield positions.

What was the greatest outfield of all time? How would the 2011 outfields stack up against them? Not too darn well. Baseball historian Bill James believes that the 1915 Detroit Tiger trio of Bobby Veach in left, Ty Cobb in center, and Sam Crawford in right was the greatest outfield of all time. The league batting average was only .248 that year, but Cobb hit .369 with 99 RBIs and 144 runs, Crawford hit .313 and drove in 112 runs, and Veach hit .299 with 112 RBIs. The three ranked 1, 2, and 3 in total bases and RBIs!

The outfield combination with the highest batting average of all time was the 1894 Phillies. Sam Thompson hit .415, Ed Delahanty hit .404, Billy Hamilton hit .403, and part-timer Tuck Turner hit .418 in 347 PAs. Those awesome numbers are somewhat tarnished, however, by the fact that three TEAMS hit over .330 that year! The Phillies led with .349. It was not the year of the pitcher.

The 1929 Cubs had hard-drinking Hack Wilson (39, 159, .345), Riggs Stephenson (17, 110, .362), and Kiki Cuyler (.360, with 102 RBI and 43 stolen bases). Wow! But that was another time when it seemed like every hitter was putting up big numbers.

What about the '27 Yankees? Slugger Bob Meusal hit .337 and knocked in 102 runs. Centre fielder Earle Combs hit .356, as did the Babe, with a.486 OBP, 164 RBI and I guess you know how many home runs. The outfield they had to roam and had to try to hit the ball over had been shortened from 500 to 490 feet in left center, centerfield was 487 and it was 429 to right center. Modern ballparks are tiny by comparison.

The most successful outfield of all time may have been the Yankees of the 40s. The Yanks won seven of eight penants bewteen '37 and '43. Their famous 1942 outfield featured Joe Dimaggio (30, 125, .357), Tommy Henrich (31, 85, .277), and Charlie Kellar (33, 122, .298).

More recently, the '79 Red Sox fielded Jim Rice (39, 130, .325), Fred Lynn (39, 122, .333), and rifle-armed Dwight Evans who was just emerging as the league's premier right fielder (.274, 21, .287). Yaz hit 21 homers as the DH.

The 1996 Indians featured congenial Albert Belle (48, 148,. 311), speedy Kenny Lofton .317 with 75 stolen bases), and pre-roids Manny Ramirez (33, 112, .309).

The 2003 Atlanta Braves had a pretty fair trio shagging flyballs. Chipper Jones had 27 HR and a .305 average. Andruw Jones (now a Yankee) hit 36 bombs and Gary Sheffield hit 39 and had a .330 average.

And finally, the best in particular categories...

Most home runs: the 1961 Yankees - Yogi Berra (22), Mickey Mantle (54), Roger Maris (61)

Best defensive outfield: the 1912 to 1915 Red Sox - Duffy Lewis, Tris Speaker, and Harry Hooper

Best outfield on an awful team: the 1962 Mets - Frank Thomas, Richie Ashburn, and Jim Hickman

The Most Expensive: the 2011 California Angels - Vernon Wells ($23 million), Tori Hunter ($18m), Gary Matthews Jr. ($11 m) and Bobby Abreu ($9 m). Throw in Reggie Willitis and it comes to $56 million.

Most Closely Related Outfield: September 15, 1963 San Francisco Giants Felipe, Jesus, and Matty Alou

And finally, the Weirdest Outfield - the 1958 Red Sox - proud and moody Ted Williams, Jackie Jensen, who couldn't get on an airplane, and institutionalized Jim Piersall.


Rick Blechta said...

"Most Closely Related Outfield: September 15, 1963 San Francisco Giants Felipe, Jesus, and Matty Alou"

What about Boog? You forgot their brother Boog!!

Rick Blechta said...

So, Will, which 2011 team do you think has the best outfield?

John the Tomahawk Trembath said...

I remember going to a Tigers vs Yankees game in 1961 where Maris hit a home run. It was certainly not uncommon that year on that team. it turned out to be #21. We obviously did not know what that year would mean until then end. BTW I like the 1915 Tigers for best outfield. Lots of grit there.

Yep, the LLAA have to most over paid outfield.

Boog who?

Rick Blechta said...

Come on, John, you've never heard of Boog Alou? Not much with the bat and glove, but he could dance around the on the bases with the best of 'em!

Larry Toman said...

Great read John...you've been doing your homework. I think the 1927 Yankees were probably the best. They don't probably rate in the best always, but Devon White,Jesse Barfield and Lloyd Moseby gave us some real good times.

One of my favourite players retired today ( I'm sure you heard ) Carlos Delgado.

Send this to Daniel and Chris and see what they think.


P.S. - thank goodness Seattle didn't sweep.


Will Braund said...

In response to Rick's question, here are the top outfields this year so far - in my humble opinion. Ethier (.370), Kemp (.425), and Gwynn (.286) of the Dodgers are off to a good start but have a total of just two home runs. Also doing fairly well are Pierre, Rios, and Quentin of the Chisox; Holliday, Rasmus, and Berkman of the Cardinals; and Murphy, Hamilton, and Cruz of the Rangers. But it is not a banner year for outfielders who are providing a lot less power than managers would expect to be getting from their fly chasers.

John the Tomahawk Trembath said...

I agree, Will. Hard to find enough pop and glove in all three positions.

The only solution is to manufacture run in the old way. First, just get on base; walks, dropped third strikes, pass balls, bunts. Then steal everything you can get away with. Sounds like baseball to me.

Is this the year of the pitcher?

Rick Blechta said...

No, John. It's the Year of Late Innings!