Ex-Pittsburgh Pirates Shortstop Jack Wilson an All-Time Underrated Defender
By Noah Wright
While guys like Ozzie Smith and Andrelton Simmons are hailed as some of the best defenders of all time, former Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop Jack Wilson should not be overlooked
When you think of the best defensive players of all-time who do you think of? Probably Ozzie Smith, Brooks Robinson, Omar Vizquel, or more modern like Andrelton Simmons, Adrian Beltre, or Yadier Molina. All of those are good answers. Do you know who you probably don’t think of? Former Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop Jack Wilson. Wilson is one of the best defensive infielders of all-time, yet he’s rarely talked about when you bring up the best defensive shortstops in the history of the game.
Wilson has an impressive 21 defensive WAR. That ties him with Hall of Famer Nellie Fox for the 47th spot to ever play the game. He surpasses many other names that are considered some of the best with the leather in baseball history. That’s higher than the likes of Johnny Bench, Mike Schmidt, and Willie Mays. Wilson also falls just behind Pittsburgh Pirates legend Honus Wagner (21.3), and Alan Trammel (22.7) in dWAR, showing he can field it with some of the best. Since World War II, he ranks as one of the best defensive shortstops of all time.
Throughout his career Wilson was worth +116 defensive runs saved. Since the stat was introduced, only 14 players have reached the 100+ plateau. Wilson ranks 8th all-time in the stat, and 2nd among shortstops.
Before UZR, we had total zone. Wilson also is among the best in that stat, having 81 total zone runs. That’s in the top 100 of all-time, and exactly 81st. In terms of ultimate zone rating, Wilson was top 10. His 43.7 UZR, he ranks 6th all time. He also ranks 6th in UZR/150 at 5.3.
Jumping Jack Flash was not the rangeist defender, having only 2.6 career range runs saved, but in terms of error runs saved, he was among the best. Wilson had 25.3 error runs which ranks 5th all-time. Good fielding plays runs saved above average put Wilson at +11. That’s just another stat Wilson ranks top 5 in, coming in 4th. In fielding runs saved plus/minus above average, Wilson had saved 90 runs compared to the average shortstop. That also ranks 2nd all-time.
Wilson had the opportunity to become a top-5 defensive shortstops of all-time, but fell short of becoming just that. So what happened? Wilson was the Pittsburgh Pirates primary shortstop from 2001 to 2008. In 2009, Wilson was traded to the Seattle Mariners, but injuries had other plans for the elite defender.
In 2009, Wilson had missed a good chunk of April and May because of a stint on the then disabled list. In 2010, Wilson landed on the DL twice. Once in May that lasted until June, and again in August which ended his season.
The former All-Star played just 61 games in 2010. In 2011, Wilson entered the year as the M’s primary second baseman, and was forced into a bench role after posting an OPS below .600. He was eventually traded to the Braves where he was mainly used as a defensive replacement. This was the second season in a row he had played fewer than 100 games, clocking in at 79. 2012 was the last year Wilson played in the bigs, and he played just 40 games. Not only did Wilson get injured again, but he was released at the end of August.
Had Jack Wilson stayed healthy throughout the latter part of his career, I believe he could have been a modern-day Mark Belanger. He definitely had the defensive chops to do so. While he wasn’t a great batter throughout his career, only having two seasons where he was an above average contributor with the bat (104 OPS+ in 2004, 106 OPS+ in 2007), Wilson had consistently posted DRS totals in the double digits throughout his career. If he played regularly, or even just semi-regularly throughout 2010-2012, Wilson could be much higher in terms of dWAR.