The idea for the post you are about to read has been percolating in my mind for at least a couple years.
Up until recently, however, I hadn't had the inspiration (see: I was too lazy) to put it together. I came across the idea again early last week and figured it was a good way to spend a couple chilly, rainy Midwestern evenings this past weekend. So let's get to it...finally. I hope it was worth the wait.
I'm probably in the minority here, but I enjoyed fielding way more than hitting when I was in Little League. Most of my friends thought I was crazy. I guess that's part of the reason I'd kept a special eye on any cards I owned of guys fielding over the years.
Somewhere along the line, I noticed that flashing the leather was a relative rarity on cardboard. Most card companies seem preoccupied with hitting, hitting, and hitting. So, this weekend, I decided to investigate just how sparse fielding shots were by calculating the "fielding percentage" of a few select players in my collection.
For the purposes of this post, I consider a "hitting" card to be either an in-action photo of a player at the plate or running the bases, or a posed portrait that involves hitting paraphernalia of some sort (bats, batting helmets, etc.). "Fielding" cards are anything that features a mitt. ("N/A" cards are standard head shots with no emphasis on either action...think Heritage.)
Note: I cannot guarantee the accuracy of my math.
I wanted to have a good sample size at hand for each player I selected, and you won't find a bigger sample than Vlad in my collection. Let's see how his fielding percentage broke down, both on the team-by-team and overall levels.
EXPOS: 72 fielding cards, 345 hitting cards, 31 N/A -- 72 fielding / 448 total = 16.1% Expos fielding percentage
ANGELS: 18 fielding, 283 hitting, 22 N/A -- 18 / 323 = 5.6%
RANGERS: 0 fielding, 30 hitting, 5 N/A -- 0 / 35 = 0
ORIOLES: 0 fielding, 14 hitting, 0 N/A -- 0 / 14 = 0 (he was exclusively a DH with the O's)
90 fielding / 820 total cards = 11% overall fielding percentage
I knew fielding cards were rare, but I didn't think they were this rare. Vladimir Guerrero, a guy that was known almost as much as his glove as he was for his bat, came in with an 11% fielding percentage. Only about one out of every ten cards I owned of him showed him in the field.
That fact staggered me, and I knew I had to do a little more research.
My mind jumped to Ichiro, another slick fielder and the man behind my second-largest player collection.
MARINERS: 82 fielding, 393 hitting, 49 N/A -- 82 / 524 = 15.6%
YANKEES: 0 fielding, 9 hitting, 1 N/A -- 0 / 10 = 0
MARLINS: 1 fielding, 1 hitting, 0 N/A -- 1 / 2 = 50% (both from 2015 Donruss)
83 fielding / 536 total cards = 15.5% overall fielding percentage
A little better than Vlad, but still a lot lower than I would've guessed.
Soon, I decided to investigate the fielding percentages of other spots on the diamond.
Catchers easily sport the coolest gear out of anyone on the defensive side of things, and I figured card companies would place a little more emphasis on shots showcasing the tools of ignorance. I decided to take a look at my Gary Carter cards, since I had an ample sample to work with.
EXPOS: 34 fielding, 42 hitting, 8 N/A -- 34 / 84 = 40.5%
METS: 16 fielding, 67 hitting, 8 N/A -- 16 / 91 = 17.6%
GIANTS: 5 fielding, 5 hitting, 0 N/A -- 5 / 10 = 50%
DODGERS: 8 fielding, 2 hitting, 3 N/A -- 8 / 13 = 61.5%
63 fielding / 198 total cards = 31.8% overall fielding percentage
Going into my research, I thought one fielding card out of every three was going to be about average. It turns out that I vastly overestimated the numbers, as even a catcher like Gary Carter couldn't crack that barrier.
Though his totals were considerably higher than Vlad or Ichiro.
I also wanted to sample a little of every era of cardboard.
Gary Carter was a fair representative for the '70s and '80s (and a sprinkle of the early '90s), but I was eager to find a subject to research the more modern years. I decided to make Joe Mauer my lab rat.
41 fielding, 97 hitting, 12 N/A -- 41 fielding / 150 total cards = 27.3% overall fielding percentage
A slight step down from The Kid, but not a huge difference overall.
Next on the checklist was calculating the fielding percentage of a guy who was actually known for flashing the leather.
Ozzie Smith basically made it all the way to Cooperstown on his shortstop's glove alone, so he seemed like the obvious choice.
PADRES: 4 fielding, 17 hitting, 3 N/A -- 4 / 24 = 16.7%
CARDINALS: 41 fielding, 49 hitting, 22 N/A -- 41 / 112 = 36.6%
45 fielding / 136 total cards = 33.1% overall fielding percentage
Surprisingly, even the great Wizard of Oz couldn't crack the one-third barrier.
I decided to tab Chase Utley as the subject for the other middle infield position.
76 fielding, 114 hitting, 10 N/A -- 76 fielding / 200 total cards = 38% overall fielding percentage
Lo and behold, Mr. Utley was actually the first to surpass the one-third mark, with 38 percent of his cards depicting him in the field.
The ultimate all-hit, no-glove position in baseball is first base.
I'll admit that I actually tried to fudge the results a bit in this case by selecting Casey Kotchman, a rare first sacker who was better known for his fielding prowess and the subject of one of my oldest player collections. How would he fare in the fielding percentage department?
ANGELS: 33 fielding, 79 hitting, 4 N/A -- 33 / 116 = 28.5%
BRAVES: 10 fielding, 10 hitting, 0 N/A -- 10 / 20 = 50%
RED SOX: 0 fielding, 3 hitting, 0 N/A -- 0 / 3 = 0
MARINERS: 0 fielding, 3 hitting, 0 N/A -- 0 / 3 = 0
RAYS: 4 fielding, 3 hitting, 0 N/A -- 4 / 7 = 57.1%
INDIANS: 6 fielding, 9 hitting, 1 N/A -- 6 / 15 = 40%
MARLINS: 4 fielding, 0 hitting, 0 N/A -- 4 / 4 = 100% (all variations of same card)
57 fielding / 168 total cards = 33.9% overall fielding percentage
Kotchman just barely cracked the magical one-third fielding percentage line.
Note to self: Choose a guy who played for fewer teams next time.
Lastly, I wanted to look at a guy who absolutely mashes the cover off the ball at the plate.
Giancarlo Stanton is arguably the best pure power hitter in the game right now, and there's really no reason for anyone to make a card of him with a glove since he's a Hitting God. But I decided to investigate anyways.
12 fielding, 80 hitting, 5 N/A -- 12 fielding / 97 total cards = 12.4% overall fielding percentage
As expected, Stanton hung right around the ten-percent mark, although he shockingly still had a better overall fielding percentage than my man Vlad.
So, after all that, I have to say that I'm extremely glad I finally decided to tackle this topic after a couple years of mere pontification. All things considered, fielding percentages never seemed to be very high in the hobby.
Players spend much more time in the field than they do at the plate during a game, but, granted, they don't see as much action on defense. Every pitch is an opportunity for a stellar baseball card photo, and I don't know that you could say the same for fielding. But I still say fielding is more exciting.
My Little League self will back me up on that.