Chicago Cubs: Ron Santo’s career took a while to appreciate

(Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images) /
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Ron Santo, Chicago Cubs (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) /

Chicago Cubs: Ron Santo’s defense mattered

Ron Santo was not recognized overall during his playing days, as he never finished higher than fourth in MVP voting and only had three top-ten finishes. However, his defense was recognized by his peers, as he won five straight Gold Glove Awards between 1964 and 1968. He was the dominant defensive player at his position in the National League in the 1960s (while Brooks Robinson dominated in the American League).

However, when we look at the defensive metrics, they also show just how good he was with the glove. He made a lot of errors – 317 in his career – yet that was because he got to so many baseballs. When we look at Santo’s range factor – which measures how many plays he made per nine innings – he was routinely well above league average. For example, during his incredible defensive season of 1967, he was at 3.62, while the league average was 2.96.

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Throughout the 1960s, he was also routinely well above average in Total Zone Fielding Runs Above Average; for example, he was worth ten defensive runs above average in 1963 and a whopping 18 in 1967. Overall, Santo posted a decisive defensive WAR every year from 1962 to 1972, including a tremendous 2.7 in that 1967 season.

While Santo might not have been the gloveman that the Robinson mentioned above was, he still was an incredible defensive talent. It’s hard to measure a player’s true defensive worth, yet if he had played today, we’d be able to get a better picture of just how good Santo was on defense due to all the latest technology. Thankfully, more understanding of the game has allowed us to appreciate it.