Was Jesse Barfield One of the Best Outfielders Ever?

With Topps Archive sets coming, we take a look back at a potentially underrated Blue Jay from the '80s.

I wasn’t born until 1986, so I didn’t have a chance to have a favorite Toronto Blue Jay at the time. A lot of SB Nation sites will be talking about their favorite players from the 1980’s this week to celebrate the release of Topps’ Archive sets, which sound pretty cool (Disclaimer: I’m a baseball and hockey card junkie from my childhood).

Anyway, I can’t really lay claim to having a favorite from the time, since three-year olds, however prodigious in their understanding of the game and ability to throw a squishy-ball with late arm-side run, can’t really do that capably. -I do, however, love Jays’ history, and I’ve come across a curiosity when perusing old Blue Jay stats.

Jesse Barfield was really good.

Okay, so what, you might say. People know he was a decent bat for a decade for the team. But he leads all Jays position players in fWAR for the decade at 29.7, a total that indicates he was a three-win player for his entire time with the team (consider, too, that he played just 1018 games compared to, say, Lloyd Moseby, who checks in second with 24.7 fWAR in 1384 games).

Yes, Barfield smacked 179 home runs and added 55 stolen bases while walking enough for it to make a difference. I think people understand he was above-average with the stick.

But Barfield has insane fielding value. According to Fangraphs, he was worth 12.5 wins in the outfield alone over those 1018 games. That’s a run of value every eight games, which is crazy to keep up for a decade. As a comparison, Carlos Gomez has the top Fielding Runs per Fangraphs right now, in a much easier 56 games, and he’s averaging a run of value every six games. Basically, for an entire decade, Barfield was as valuable defensively as Andrelton Freakin Simmons has been this year.

Are you ready for your mind to be blown? Barfield has by far the highest defensive value of any outfielder in the 80’s, per Fangraphs, checking in as worth 20 more runs than Rickey Henderson at number two and nearly doubling Andre Dawson at number four.

But is it real? To try and find out I cross-checked with Baseball Reference, who use a different method of evaluating defense. BRef’s current methods are far more advanced than their old methods, and their methods have him as worth 138 runs in the field over the decade, right in line with Fangraphs’ opinion of him.

If you don’t like advanced defensive stats, consider this: 133 outfield assists in the ‘80s. In 1985, he doubled up EIGHT runners. EIGHT!

To be honest, I only vaguely remember Barfield from my childhood, and right now I feel very frustrated by that. It seems like he was an All-World defender, with a cannon for a right arm, and he maintained it for an entire decade (and then longer with the Yankees).

Were any of our commenters watching back then and willing to risk aging themselves by commenting on his defense? -Man, I’ve gotta dig up some tapes somehow.

Jesse Barfield, perhaps the best defensive outfielder of the 1980’s, enjoy your day of spotlight on BBB.

Topps Archives Baseball is a celebration of the 70s, 80s and 90s, what many consider to be the glory years of card collecting. If you collected Topps Baseball Cards during these years then you will love Topps Archives Baseball. Look for autographs and memorabilia cards from today’s stars and your favorite retired players on classic Topps card designs.

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