Baseball historians can be fanatical regarding statistics. They can cite numbers that can rank players throughout time on any number of measures, including defensive ability.
Some statistical historians state that, although Chase was known subjectively as one of the greatest defensive first basemen in history, statistically he is just below average.
They imply that his statistics belie his claim as a great defender because he intentionally “botched” a few plays each year. The standard for fielding percentage is very high. The best performers commit very few errors each year. Botching a few plays each year would drop any player into the realm of the ordinary.
One could counter that what separated Chase from other first basemen was range. He could field balls in parts of the field – the outfield, and behind the catcher, for example – where no other first baseman had ever had the speed or instinct to reach. Those players with exceptional range often make more errors. They get to more balls, but they also make more errors.
Chase’s range could explain the disparity between his public prowess and the objective gauge of statistics. But what’s most important is the performance on the field and how that performance is appreciated by the fans. And many of those fans thought Hal Chase was the greatest first baseman they’d ever seen.