Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Jackie Robinson By the Numbers

In honor of the new Jackie Robinson biopic 42 (it's about time), here's a look at some of Robinson's statistical achievements from his ten big league seasons:
  • Won baseball's first ever Rookie of the Year award in 1947 after scoring 125 runs, batting .297, topping the National League with 29 steals and leading the Brooklyn Dodgers to the NL pennant
  • Became the first African American to win an MVP award in 1949, when he set career highs in numerous categories, won the batting crown with his .342 average, paced the major leagues in steals (37) and was worth an ML-best 9.6 bWAR
  • Robinson made six straight All-Star teams from 1949-'54, which also happened to be the six years he batted north of .300 and posted an OPS above .900 (coincidence? I think not!)
  • Led the league in bWAR three times from 1949, '51 and '52, but like Chase Utley he did not receive the level of attention he deserved from MVP voters (outside of '49, that is)
  • One of the more impressive feats of his career is that he slugged above .500 five times despite never hitting 20 homers in a season. By comparison, Adam Dunn popped 41 dingers last year and slugged just .468
  • It's too bad the circumstance (team, era, conventions of the time) hindered Robinson's prowess as a basestealer; it would have been fun to see him run wild during the '60s, '70s or '80s alongside speedsters like Lou Brock, Tim Raines and Rickey Henderson 
  • Robinson developed a reputation as a big game player, but you'd never know it just by looking at his World Series numbers: .234/.335/.343 in six Fall Classics, all against the New York Yankees. However, his outstanding performance in clutch situations--.341/.446/.545 in late and close opportunities--indicates that his reputation was hardly undeserved
  • Like most great hitters of the day, Robinson rarely struck out. He never fanned more than 40 times in any season and drew more than 2.5 walks for every whiff. Only five percent of his plate appearances ended in a strikeout 
  • One of the most underrated aspects of his game was his plate discipline. Robinson finished his career with a .409 OBP and walked in 12.8 percent of his plate appearances. He had just one year--1948--with a walk rate below 10 percent
  • He was also a stellar defender who probably would have won his fair share of Gold Gloves based on his strong fielding percentages and range factors
  • Though Robinson was targeted by his fair share of pitchers, he did not get beaned as often as one might expect. Only once--in 1952--was he plunked more than nine times, though he did lead the league in that department in 1948 with seven HBP
  • Offensively he was a lot like Derek Jeter, a high average hitter with good pop who scored a lot of runs while playing premium defensive positions. Furthermore, they were recognized as team leaders and winners. Check out their 162 game averages:
          Robinson:  111 runs  32 2B  16 HR  86 RBI  23 SB  .311/.409/.474
          Derek Jeter: 117 runs  33 2B  16 HR  79 RBI  22 SB  .313/.382/.448
  • Even though he only played ten years and was unable to compile impressive career numbers, he was elected into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot with 77.5 percent of the vote, going in side-by-side with Bob Feller
  • The versatile Robinson played every non-pitcher position except for catcher and center-fielder, where Brooklyn featured two future Hall of Famers in Roy Campanella and Duke Snider
The unfortunate thing about Robinson is that so much of his legacy is tied up in the fact that he was the guy to break the color barrier. People forget just how good of a player he really was, especially at his peak when he was nearly a ten-win player. With an uninterrupted career, he probably would have approached 3,000 hits and challenged Rogers Hornsby, Charlie Gehringer, and Joe Morgan for the honor of best second baseman in baseball history. But unlike Josh Gibson, Oscar Charleston, Cool Papa Bell, and the generations of Negro League stars that preceded him, at least we'll never have to wonder how he would have fared against major league talent.

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