If you read my debut piece regarding Mike Trout and the historic start he has had to his career, you will know I like to look at things from a statistical and analytical perspective. Until now, my experience with that stayed mostly in the modern era, where one can find data for almost anything they require. Everything is measured in this day and age. But, while many of these technologies and methodologies were not around until fairly recently, some can allow us to retroactively take a closer look at the past.
So today, I want to use some of our more modern tools to look at Pete Rose and his defensive value. Rose is obviously best known for his 4,256-hit career (or his gambling scandal, unfortunately), but he was also versatile in the field, playing first, second, third and all three outfield spots. That is something not many players can say, and most who can are simply bench players who don’t do much at the plate.
However, that doesn’t necessarily mean he was of positive value defensively. Of course there is something to say for someone who can go out there and play multiple spots, giving a team more flexibility. But any player can stand in a spot and fake it; there’s a difference between that and being able to play the position. So let’s look at where Rose stands on that spectrum using Total Zone (TZ), which uses data available from box scores to give a more complete view of a players defense. It isn’t UZR or DRS, but it adds some value.
Rose spent the most time at first base, and that is generally an easier spot to handle, at least comparatively. Despite that, TZ has Rose as a -44 first baseman over his 7857 career innings. That comes out to about -7 runs per 1,300 innings (the estimate used for a season). That’s not very good, but let’s keep going.
He put in 5408 innings at second base, and it’s a similar story. He posted a -21 TZ there for his career, coming out at about -5 per 1,300 innings, slightly better than his performance at first base, which is fairly rare. At third base, he was a -35 defender over 5236 innings, or -8 runs per 1,300, making it his worst position by TZ.
On the other hand, left field was by far his best position, putting up +51 TZ in 5841 innings, or +11 per season which would put him pretty close to Gold Glove left fielder, Alex Gordon. Right field was his only other positive position, at a modest +1 TZ, which means he didn’t do any damage, and was simply average. But, his performance in center field was less-than-respectable, with -8 TZ in 631 innings, less than half a season’s worth of time.
I think what we are finding, is that he had more of an outfield skill set, without the speed to handle center field. Of course, TZ is far from perfect, and there could very easily be issues with the data. That said, because of the large sample sizes in addition to the extreme numbers, be it positive or negative, I feel pretty confident that we have a good idea of the kind of defender Rose was. Whether this effects your view of him as a player or not is up to you. It’s just more information for you to consider, and a modern look at history.