Speed in the Hall of Fame: Lou Brock vs. Max Carey
by Keith Glab, Baseball Evolution
January 28, 2006

Asher just realized that Lou Brock was not nearly as good as Cesar Cedeno defensively. For those who haven't checked the numbers themselves, this is something of an understatement; Brock may in fact be the worst defensive outfielder of all-time. Consider:

Brock has 54 more errors than assists for his career. For those unfamiliar withthe A-E stat, it is designed to guage a player's throwing strength and accuracy together while adjusting for era quite simply. The average outfielder with a career length similar to Brock's has about 54 more assists than errors. I have not been able to find a post-1900 outfielder with a worse arm. The closest is fellow ex-Hall of Famer Earle Combs, with a -26 mark.

Brock's .959 career fielding percentage would have been fine for the 19th century, but it ranks 17 points lower than his contemporaries. Now Vladamir Guererro's actually been worse so far at -19, but among post-1900 outfielders who have completed their careers, the next worst that I can find is Rggie Jackson at -13.

But since Brock was so darned fast, we'd expect him to get to a lot of balls, right? Nope. He has a range of 96 (100 being average) according to the 2005 ESPN Baseball Encyclopedia. His range factor (if you like that stat half as much as Asher does) was worse than the league's average, and he recorded over 275 putouts just twice. Comparatively, Reggie Jackson, who was often dogged for lackadaisical outfied play, accomplished that "feat" seven times before becoming a part-time DH.

Brock's great speed not only couldn't overcome his other defensive deficiencies; he couldn't even capitalize on it offensively. He stole bases at a 75.3% clip, which is good, but hardly something for one of the supposed greatest base stealers of all time. His DP rate is excellent, but as a left-handed hitting leadoff hitter, we would expect him to be at least among the top five all-time. But Pete Rose, Stan Hack, Richie Ashburn, Darryl Strawberry, Bill Nicholson and Joe Morgan are among the players who husled down the line a little better than Brock.

Lou did leg out an awful lot of triples, which we would expect from a left-handed pull hitter. He does have over 3,000 hits and a .293 career batting average. But do you know what would make those numbers even better? Not striking out more than all but a dozen players in the history of the game! If speed's your greatest asset, and for Brock it clearly was, you should probably try to put the ball in play so that you can get on base. You should probably also try and walk on occasion, to give you more scoring opportunities. But despite his high batting average, Brock only managed a .343 OBP, ammassing over 61 walks just once.

On the other end of the skill spectrum, there's Max Carey. He was undoubtedly a fast player, and although I couldn't tell you his speed relative to Brock's with any accuracy, I'd guess that he was somewhat slower than Lou. But oh, was he more effective. Carey was certainly one of the worst of the 6 vote Hall of Famers for us, but I wouldn't call him a borderline Hall of Famer, and here's why.

Max's career OBP was .361, and before you say that Carey played in an era more conducive to OBP, realize that Carey was among the top 10 in the NL in OBP on six separate occasions while Brock was just once (9th). Now the fact that Cary never struck out 80 times in a season is an era issue, but that does not completely offset the fact that Brock struck out over 80 times in 12 straight seasons.

Defensively, Carey amassed 104 more assists than errors. That's a better mark than Sam Rice, Jesse Barfield, and Dave Winfield, who are often considered to have some of the best Right Field arms of all-time.

Carey played mostly center field, so it's not really fair to compare his CF putout totals to Brock's. But in Carey's four seasons as a left fielder, he never made fewer that 300 putouts, despite playing a shorter schedule than Brock. Carey had a better than average F%, Range Factor, and a Range of 108. The guy could field.

But more than anything, he could run. As good as Brock was at legging out triples, Carey was better, tripling in 5% more of his non-HR extra base hits than Brock. He also led his league in SB more times than Brock (10 to 8). But the real impressive feat is his SB%. There are only eight players with more career stolen bases than Max Carey. Two of them, Hamilton and Latham, we have no caught stealing data for. Of the remaiing six, only Henderson, Coleman, and Raines had a better SB% than Carey. While most players of his era were strugling to steal bases at a 60% clip, Carey is at 78.4% for the years in which we have caught stealing data for him.

So by my estimation, Max Carey was a good hitter, excellent fielder, and the best base stealer for the first 100 years of organized baseball. Lou Brock was one of the worst outfielders ever, a marginally effective hitter, and a great but not legendary basestealer who happened to hold the all-time steals record for a dozen years before Rickey Henderson grabbed it in half of a career.

This isn't a case of Brock being sorta similar as Carey, who's in the lower eschelon of the Hall of Fame, and possibly getting in as a borderline call. Carey blows Brock away in every facet of the game, and it's real easy to draw the line between the two.

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Disagree with something? Got something to add? Wanna bring up something totally new? Keith Glab resides in Chicago, Illinois, and can be reached at keith@baseballevolution.com.

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