If Gordon, Then Why Not Grich?
If you're reading about baseball and come across the abbreviation "GG," what do you think of? Gold Glove, right? I mean, that's what would occur to me.
That said, there are two comparable second basemen in terms of hitting and fielding whose last names start with the letter "G," and, to be honest, I can't think of one without the other. The GGs in this case are Joe Gordon and Bobby Grich.
Gordon was elected to the Hall of Fame yesterday. He was named on 10 of 12 ballots by an odd Veterans Committee charged with the responsibility of reviewing ten candidates who began their careers prior to 1943.
I am happy for Gordon, who died in 1978, and his children. He was an outstanding player for the New York Yankees and Cleveland Indians from 1938-1950. Gordon was named the American League's Most Valuable Player in 1942 and played in nine All-Star Games and for five World Series champions.
Gordon's induction should open up the doors to Cooperstown for Grich. Not to take anything away from Gordon but Grich was every bit as good as the Hall's newest member, both defensively and offensively. If you don't believe me, then stick around and take a look at the facts.
Let's start off with their basic counting stats:
G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO
Gordon 1566 5707 914 1530 264 52 253 975 89 60 759 702
Grich 2008 6890 1033 1833 320 47 224 864 104 83 1087 1278
Grich had 1684 more plate appearances than Gordon. The extra playing time should be viewed in a positive light but, in all fairness, it must be pointed out that Gordon missed the 1944 and 1945 seasons while serving in the U.S. Army during World War II. As such, he may have lost out on about 1275 plate appearances (his combined total in the previous two years).
Given the disparity in opportunities, it may be instructive to examine their career rate stats:
AVG OBP SLG OPS+
Gordon .268 .357 .466 120
Grich .266 .371 .424 125
As shown, Gordon and Grich had similar batting averages while the latter had a better on-base percentage and the former had a superior slugging average. However, it is important to note that Gordon played during an era of higher offense than Grich. For example, the league-wide, park-adjusted averages during Gordon's career were .271/.350/.395. The only major difference between Gordon and the league average was in SLG where he out-slugged his fellow players by .071. On the other hand, the league-wide, park-adjusted averages during Grich's career were .258/.324/.384. Grich outperformed his peers across the board with significant advantages in OBP and SLG.
While Gordon out-OPS'd Grich .823 to .795, Grich actually had a higher OPS+ (which adds context to OPS by adjusting for park factors and league averages) than Gordon (125 to 120). In other words, Grich was 25 percent and Gordon 20 percent better than average when normalized to the league.
Grich (164) also had a higher peak OPS+ than Gordon (155) and had more seasons in the 140s (two to none) and 130s (three to two). Grich, in fact, led the AL in OPS+ in 1981 in a 14-team league whereas Gordon's highest ranking was fourth in 1942 and 1947 in an 8-team environment.
The bottom line is that Grich had better counting and rate stats, as well as a higher peak, than Gordon.
Moving to the defensive side of the equation, Grich and Gordon were two of the best second basemen in the game's history. Using traditional fielding statistics, Gordon posted a .970 fielding percentage over the course of his career, leading the AL in assists four times and double plays three times. Grich had a .983 fielding percentage while leading the AL in assists, putouts, and double plays for three straight seasons. He committed only five errors and set a then major-league record with a .995 fielding percentage in 1973 when all 12 AL fields were grass.
Grich earned four consecutive Gold Gloves, tied for the seventh most among second sackers. Gordon may have also won multiple awards had he played in the Gold Glove era (1957-on). Although Boston's Bobby Doerr would have provided stiff competition, it doesn't take away from the fact that Gordon was one of the slickest fielders of his generation. In the book Win Shares, Bill James assigned Gordon and Grich with letter grades of "A" for their defensive work. It's hard to say with any authority that one was better than the other in the field. We'll say "too close to call" and rate them a push with the leather.
Speaking of Win Shares, this measure is as reliable as any other when combining offense and defense to compare two players such as Gordon and Grich. Let's take a look to see how they stack up in Win Shares:
Career WS Top 3 Top 5 Per 162
Gordon 242 31-28-26 134 21.07
Grich 329 32-31-29 143 26.54
No matter how you slice it, Grich tops Gordon when it comes to Win Shares. He had 36% more career Win Shares with better peak seasons and a much higher rate per 162 games. Whether your preference is quantity or quality, Grich gets the nod here.
Grich also compares more favorably to Gordon using Wins Above Replacement Player (WARP), a Baseball Prospectus stat designed to measure player value in terms of wins above a marginal big leaguer at the same position.
WARP3 Top 3 Top 5 Per 162
Gordon 94.2 11.5-11.1-10.6 53.3 9.74
Grich 123.9 11.8-11.6-11.0 55.6 10.00
If Grich bests Gordon offensively and hangs with him defensively while generating more career and peak value, then why doesn't he get the same respect as his fellow second baseman? Well, I believe it comes down to two things:
1. Gordon won a Most Valuable Player award and Grich never won an MVP.
2. Gordon played for five World Series champions and Grich never played in the World Series.
Gordon won the AL MVP in 1942 even though he finished fourth in Win Shares. In fact, he had FIFTEEN fewer Win Shares than Ted Williams, who just happened to capture the Triple Crown that season. Gordon hit .322/.409/.491 with an OPS+ of 155, while Williams hit .356/.499/.648 with an OPS+ of 217. Although Gordon had a great year, two of his Yankees teammates – Charlie Keller (34) and Joe DiMaggio (32) – had more Win Shares than he did that season.
In Grich's best offensive season, he finished FOURTEENTH in the MVP voting even though, like Gordon, he was fourth in Win Shares. In 1981, Grich led the league in home runs, slugging average, and OPS+ (did I mention that he was a second baseman?), yet a relief pitcher (Rollie Fingers) was named MVP and 12 of the 13 players who received more points than Grich were either pitchers or played a corner defensive position. Only center fielder Dwayne Murphy (.251/.369/.408), who placed three spots ahead of Grich in the voting, played one of the four up-the-middle positions.
If the truth be told, voters did a better job of evaluating the merits of middle infielders and catchers during the 1930s through the early 1960s than in the more modern era when a fixation on RBI has overpowered defensive position and value. It says here that Grich would have had a better chance of winning the MVP had his 1981 season taken place during Gordon's era and Gordon would have had almost no chance of winning his MVP had it taken place in Grich's era. Think about it for a second . . . Can you imagine a second baseman who didn't lead his league in any category other than SO (95) and GIDP (22) being named MVP in the same year when another player won the Triple Crown? Unfathomable.
Gordon also had the good fortune of playing in a smaller league and on more dominant teams than Grich. Gordon's teams won five World Series championships, whereas the clubs Grich played for went 0-5 in the American League Championship Series. As such, while Grich may not be perceived as a "loser," it is safe to say that Gordon is thought of as a "winner."
Maybe Grich will also get his due one day. If so, let's just hope that it doesn't take 58 years after the time of his retirement or 30 years after his death for him to be honored in Cooperstown along with Gordon, a fellow second baseman who, at best, was no better than Grich.
Correction: Grich won a World Series with the Baltimore Orioles in 1970 even though he did not appear in a World Series game that year.