Year Inducted: 2001 (BBWAA, ballot #1, 435/515)
There are some players that get treated somewhat unfairly due to defensive metrics. A player like Reggie Jackson, for instance, provided a ton of value for the bat, but his defensive stats show that he gave up quite a bit of value with the glove. Most sluggers, actually, give up a lot of value defensively. Players like Willie McCovey, Harmon Killebrew and Ralph Kiner all had at least -100 defensive runs in their careers, and in cases like McCovey -200. Is that fair? Well, to a degree it is as not many people would say that any of the above mentioned players were good fielders, so they must have given something back with the glove. However they were each paid to hit the ball hard, which they did incredibly well. This is all equally the case as a guy like Dave Winfield, another big slugger who has a claim as one of the worst fielders ever.
Winfield played in the bigs for 22 seasons, mostly with the Padres and Yankees. A dominating and opposing force in the batter’s box, Winfield had a career slash line of .283/.353/.475 with a wRC+ of 128. Winfield was actually drafted in three sports (baseball, football and basketball) out of college, but chose baseball as his profession. His athleticism helped him collect many great numbers, including: 3110 hits, 465 homers, 540 doubles, 88 triples and even 223 steals. He stood well over six feet tall, and swung with a large black bat that struck fear in the hearts of opposing pitchers, especially with men on base. The strong swing that he uncoiled helped him drive in 1833 runs, with 11 years of driving in 90 or more runs. Winnie’s speed also aided him on the bases, where he was worth +6 runs (impressive for a giant like he was) and scored 1669 runs. Offensively, he could not be stopped.
Defensively, Winfield was poor. He looked graceful and strong, but let a lot of balls fall into play that other outfielders would have gotten. As such, he ended his career with -244 defensive runs, which hurt a lot of his overall value stats like fWAR. In his prime years, however, he was a solid outfielder, a skill that deteriorated quickly with age and injuries. Nevertheless, the total package of Dave Winfield was that of a Hall of Fame player.
Easily inducted on first ballot, Winfield’s selection of the Padres for his cap sent ripples through the baseball world. While they were his first team, and one that saw him put up some great seasons, many writers and fans thought that Winfield’s prominence came while with the Yankees. While there is some truth to that, Winfield and Yankees’ owner George Steinbrenner had a long simmering feud that Winfield never fully got over. Steinbrenner did many things to ruin Winfield’s reputation after signing him to a 10-year deal, and tried many times to trade him and avoid making payments to Winfield’s charity. The attacks on his character left Winfield frustrated and angry towards the Yankees for many years after his departure.
Winfield was one of the best hitters of all-time. But, why does he rank ahead of players that seem similar to him in McCovey or Killebrew? Well, part of that is the offensive environment that they played in. Most of McCovey’s and Killebrew’s peaks were during high periods of offense, while Winfield played during a more moderate offensive era for the most part. Winfield’s baserunning also helps put him ahead of those two, but so do his great RBI totals and the fact that he had over 1000 extra base hits in his career (McCovey had 920 and Killebrew had 887). Winfield was an excellent player and dominated the game like few ever had.
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