How do you rank the best defensive teams in the history of Major League Baseball?
That was the task put to David Schoenfield of The Sweet Spot on ESPN.com. But as Schoenfield points out, for defense there aren’t the exact measurements that offense offers for such comparisons. Some metrics only go back a decade or so, which again complicates the matter. But for the sake of his rankings, he relied on Total Zone rankings from BaseballReference.com along with the reputation teams had earned with their defensive prowess.
As expected and rightfully so, both the 1982 and 1985 St. Louis Cardinals teams were mentioned in the piece.
“I think one advantage, Terry Pendleton may be a little better than Ken Oberkfell,” argues Schoenfield. “And I think the outfield with Andy Van Slyke in right field instead of George Hendrick probably pushed them over the top, but again that ’82 team–you’ve got maybe the best defender ever at shortstop in Ozzie and the best first baseman ever in Keith Hernandez. Probably not too many teams that have two ‘best-ever’ at a position on one team.”
The Cardinals were +50 in Total Zone in 1985 and +32 in 1982.
Taking a look at some of the other great–and not-so-great St. Louis teams, their Total Zone numbers may surprise you.
The 1964 World Series Champions with the likes of Lou Brock, Ken Boyer, and Curt Flood were +19 but in 1967 that number dropped to +8 and was actually a -3 in 1968.
The 100-win team of 2004 with a defensive core of Mike Matheny, Albert Pujols, Edgar Renteria, Scott Rolen, and Jim Edmonds was +72. That number climbed to +85 in 2005 as Yadier Molina moved behind the plate and Mark Grudzielanek taking over at second base. The World Series champions in 2006 had only a +38.
Schoenfield chose the 1986 St. Louis Cardinals, with a +94 rating, as third all-time best for his list.
“People sometimes forget the ’86 team because they didn’t win the division,” he said with some humor. “But the defensive numbers say they were great. But Cardinals fans–if you want to say ’85 or ’87 was better, I won’t argue too much with you.”
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