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How good was Joe Morgan at fielding his position?
Posted: 22 July 2009 04:36 AM   [ Ignore ]

I’m trying to accurately get a picture of Joe Morgan’s fielding prowess.  5 Gold Gloves.  Pete Palmer’s Total Baseball has him as a near disaster (decent hands but BAD range - odd for a burner like Joe).  bbref has him above average from age 27-31, and below average every other season except for 1980. 

Is there some consensus for his actual defensive value?  What do the other fielding metrics say?

Posted: 23 July 2009 10:17 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]

The current gold standard in pre-PBP/hit location defensive metrics (in my near-worthless opinion) is Sean “CHONE” Smith’s Retrosheet-based TotalZone. If you look on his historical WAR (Wins Above Replacement) page for Morgan (, you find that Morgan is -43 runs (below average) for his career in TotalZone, and -4 runs for double play rating. He had some seasons where TZ has him as very good, particularly in the early 70s, and some seasons just as bad.

All defensive metrics at this point have some questions, especially one that isn’t based on specific hit location data (which is the case for TotalZone in Morgan’s era). Still TotalZone’s more recent years usually match up fairly well, overall, with stuff like UZR. I think it does pretty well with infielders in general. And MGL (the inventor of UZR) alsno notes that non-PBP metrics get more accurate over a longer stretch of time.

-47 runs defensively overall might seem pretty bad overall, but that also includes Morgan’s decline years, etc.  It’s in 2649 career regular season games, or a bit under 20 full seasons full-time. So that’s more like 2 runs below average per season… And given the error bars for defensive metrics, I think it’s fair to say that overall he was average.

But smarter and more informed people may have different opinions on how to interpret that stuff.

Posted: 24 July 2009 12:44 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]

Great info, and I don’t think you have a near-worthless opinion.  Gold Gloves are popularity contests, and once bestowed, they seem, barring injury, to be a birthright (I, along with most, have serious doubts Maddux and Kaat were the best at their position every season for a decade or more).  If your thoughts on his skills are accurate (I thought the same thing before I posted), I really have trouble with the Bill James rating of Morgan ahead of Hornsby, and I’m not sure he would even beat out Collins on my second base list.  I will have to go back to see if Collins measurements are equal to his reputation on defense.

Posted: 01 August 2009 07:24 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]

Like any long-career player, Morgan had several different periods in his career.  Totalzone would show him as a pretty rough fielder when he came up very young.  He was making progress tillthe devastating knee injury in ‘68 set him back a great deal in terms of lateral motion and pivot at 2B.  And then he made his way back steadily.  By 1973 there is no question that he was earning his Gold Glove, or at least a strong enough candidate that he didn’t steal the Gloves; it wasn’t just his turn or due to his bat or something.  And then, in the late 70s, he got old. 

In terms of career defensive value, that may work out to average, but it’s an odd and inconsistent path toward average.  From 1973-76 (when I saw him play a lot, incidentally), Morgan was really fine in the field, and he was also a very great offensive player at that time.  He had astonishing peak value.

Posted: 24 February 2010 12:16 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]

Morgan played 14 games in the outfield in 1969, his fifth year in the majors.  He and Astros manager Harry “The Hat” Walker didn’t get along and maybe that was part of the reason for trying him in the outfield Morgan has accused Walker of racism and The Hat could get on people’s nerves even if he wasn’t a bigot..But in his prime with the Reds, Morgan had good range but wasn’t overly great turning the double play. But that didn’t really hurt the team too bad.  But I’m not really sure who was a better defensive second baseman to win a Gold Glove. Davey Lopes? Converted outfielder. Felix Millan? Dave Cash? Manny Trillo?  Morgan may not have deserved GG but he may not have been a really bad choice either.

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