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  • Writer's picturePaul Semendinger

Head-to-Head Nettles or Brooks?

Head-to-Head Nettles or Brooks?

by Paul Semendinger

Originally Published: March 7, 2022

***

Growing up, Graig Nettles was my favorite player. I am also a huge Yankees fan, but I am also an honest baseball historian. When I write articles like this, I don’t know the outcome until I do the research. I then publish my findings whether I am happy or not with what I found.


Going into this exercise, I am hoping to find that Graig Nettles had multiple seasons where he was a better defensive third baseman (as measured by dWAR) than Brooks Robinson.


This was a quick and simple exercise - comparing one fielding metric between two players. I welcome other studies on this topic.


Going into this exercise, my hopes are that I can prove that, as great as he was, Brooks Robinson did not deserve all those Gold Gloves, especially over Graig Nettles. I feel that if Nettles had won a few of these awards, his career would be considered a bit differently and he might have more support to be in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Nettles’ two Gold Gloves doesn’t seem all that impressive, but if he had a few more…


Let’s take a look:


1970: Brooks Robinson = 0.8 / Graig Nettles = 2.6

Take that Gold Glove and give it to Nettles!


1971: Brooks Robinson = 2.8 / Graig Nettles = 3.9

Take that Gold Glove and give it to Nettles!



1972: Brooks Robinson = 2.6 / Graig Nettles = 1.4

Brooks Robinson keeps his Gold Glove


1973: Brooks Robinson = 2.6 / Graig Nettles = 2.7

Take that Gold Glove and give it to Nettles!


1974: Brooks Robinson = 2.2 / Graig Nettles = 2.0

Brooks Robinson keeps his Gold Glove


1975: Brooks Robinson = 2.5 / Graig Nettles = 1.7

Brooks Robinson keeps his Gold Glove (this was the last one he won)



***

Total dWAR 1970-1975

Graig Nettles – 14.4

Brooks Robinson = 13.2


***

In those six seasons, Brooks Robinson won the Gold Glove every single year.


It seems clear that Graig Nettles was, at least, his equal, and in some years, and for the entire period, was a better defensive player (as measured by dWAR) than Brooks Robinson.


If Nettles gets the three Gold Gloves above, he would have had five for his career. He certainly deserved these. No?

***

Notes – There were other excellent third basemen in this era including Aurelio Rodriguez, Buddy Bell, and more. This was not a comparison between Nettles and the rest of the league.


This was strictly comparing the defacto winner year-after-year (Robinson) and drawing a conclusion that he probably won some of those Gold Gloves on reputation rather than merit, and at the expense of a player whose legacy would possibly be regarded differently if he has earned a little more hardware.


Graig Nettles’ career has been vastly underrated and unappreciated.


The more one looks at Graig Nettles’ career, the more it looks like he belongs in the Hall of Fame.


(Again, I didn’t know the results of this before I wrote this piece. I am glad it turned out the way it did.)


17 Comments


Thomas Cassidy
Thomas Cassidy
Jan 13, 2023

Baseball Prospectus' FRAA gives an even more convincing argument about Nettles in those days: https://www.baseballprospectus.com/player/26748/graig-nettles/ vs. https://www.baseballprospectus.com/player/28104/brooks-robinson/ My favorite quote by Nettles about those leaping catches he used to make was "I never felt the dirt the times I made the catch.'

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Paul Semendinger
Paul Semendinger
Jan 13, 2023
Replying to

From that article:


"Of course, that production coincided with his move to third base, where he also proved to be the best defender in the American League almost right away. He wouldn’t pile up Gold Glove awards during his career, thanks to Brooks Robinson (who kept winning the award even after Nettles clearly passed him by)..."


"None of that means he doesn’t belong, though. As DRC+ helps make clear, bad timing and bad math made him out to be merely good, but the truth is that Nettles was a two-way superstar for a decade or more, and that he would be a very well-qualified addition to the undermanned third base roster in Cooperstown."

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Lyle Weiser
Lyle Weiser
Jan 12, 2023

Ridiculous comparison based upon dWar when Brooks Robinson was 34 years old in 1971 and Craig Nettles was 26. That’s like comparing Whitey Ford when he was 25 to Sandy Koufax when he was 33!!!

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Paul Semendinger
Paul Semendinger
Jan 12, 2023
Replying to

I'm sorry, I don't understand your logic.


Should a player not be compared to his peers when giving post-season awards?


The award should be awarded to the player who was better that year.


And there were years when Nettles was better than Brooks Robinson. That's just a fact. As I showed below...


In 1971, Nettles led the league in putouts (Brooks was 4th), assists (Brooks was 3rd), and Double Plays (Brooks was third).

Nettles also had a higher fielding percentage that year, .973, to .968.

By what measure was Brooks Robinson better than Nettles in 1971?


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Lyle Weiser
Lyle Weiser
Jan 12, 2023

Nettles wasn’t even the Yankees best fielding 3B; it was Clete Boyer!

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Paul Semendinger
Paul Semendinger
Jan 12, 2023
Replying to

Clete Boyer was a great fielding third baseman. That also wasn't the argument here. It was simply the question of whether or not Nettles was better than Brooks in a given year or in given years.


Nettles ranks as a border-line Hall of Famer. I researched this to see if voters might look at his candidacy differently if he had a few more awards. I think they would. But, at the time, the writers didn't look at the stats, they just gave the award to Brooks. It was his award, which wasn't fair to other players (like Clete Boyer, Nettles, Aurelio Rodriguez, Buddy Bell, maybe even a guy like Max Alvis).


If we go year-by-year throughout Robinson's career, there were…


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jjw49
Jan 12, 2023

Sportswriters back then had far greater influence than today and Robinson was the beneficiary. Brooks Robinson was the golden boy in the 70’s. He was beloved unlike Nettles but as you show Graig was his equal defensively. As Yankee fan watching him play 3B the memories for me alone earned him a spot in the hall… one of the great underrated Yankees of his era. I hope he gets in!

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cpogo0502
Jan 12, 2023

I am old enough to have seen both players, a lot. Nettles was Brooks Robinson's defensive equal. Actually, I should have said Robinson was Nettles' defensive equal. The data Paul presented tells the story. Why the press was so in love with Robinson and ignored Nettles can most likely be explained by the Orioles success while the Yankees struggled until 1975. Taking nothing away from Brooks Robinson, Nettles' dWAR tells the story.


Thanks, Paul. Nettles was one of my favorites. Thank you, Lee MacPhail wherever you are.

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