Rich's Weekend Baseball BEAT
Friday, January 02, 2004
One Small Step For Blyleven...
...one giant leap for blogkind.
With the help of Seth Strohs of Seth Speaks, I sent emails with links to my article on "Only The Lonely, The Hall of Fame Trials and Tribulations of Bert Blyleven" to two voting members of the Baseball Writers Association of America. Both writers--Bill Conlin and Jeff Peek--wrote back to me in a very timely manner. However, their responses were as different as night and day.
Bill Conlin is a longtime sports columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News. He sent me the following email:
"I think (Blyleven) will get in in an off year the way Carter did last year. It's really tough when an Eck and Molitor come along because a lot of us--including me--tend to vote for fewer guys rather than clutter the ballot with names you know have no shot that particular year. That's what happens when guys stay eligible 15 years."
I couldn't resist the temptation to write back to Bill.
"Thanks, Bill. Blyleven has never received even 30% of the votes so he has a lot of ground to make up.
His case can be summarized as follows:
1. Blyleven ranks fifth all time in career strikeouts. All the eligible pitchers among the top dozen are in the HOF.
2. Blyleven ranks ninth in shutouts. All the eligible pitchers among the top 20 are in the HOF.
3. Blyleven ranks 24th in wins. Every eligible pitcher with more wins is in the HOF save one.
Looking at more advanced metrics:
4. Blyleven ranks 14th in Neutral Wins. Every eligible pitcher in the top 20 is in the HOF.
5. Blyleven also ranks 17th in Runs Saved Above Average. Every eligible pitcher in the top 20 is in the HOF.
6. Blyleven ranks 19th in ERA vs. the league average among pitchers with 4,000 or more innings. Every eligible pitcher in the top 20 is in the HOF.
Lastly, I performed a study of Blyleven's seven most comparable pitchers (Carlton, Jenkins, Niekro, Perry, Roberts, Seaver, and Sutton) from a statistical standpoint and determined that he was better than the group average in the three metrics in which the pitcher has control over (strikeouts, walks, and home runs allowed). All seven pitchers are in the HOF and deservingly so.
BB/9 SO/9 HR/9
Blyleven 2.39 6.70 0.78
Group Average 2.47 6.07 0.80
Blyleven's absence from the HOF is conspicuous, and it should be rectified sooner rather than later.
Bill then wrote back a final time with the following beauty:
"I find strikeouts to be the most overrated pitching stat. An out is an out. . .Just as 1-0 and 4-3 are both wins. I don't do cybergeek stuff, so you lost me after point 3."
I guess I could have left well enough alone at this point but his comments just begged a last-ditch effort on my part.
"With all due respect, Bill, I can't imagine that you would place equal value for a pitcher on a 4-3 win as you would a 1-0 win.
I agree an out is an out, but a strikeout is the only out that a pitcher is not dependent on his fielders. As a result, I think strikeouts are an indication of power, dominance, and greatness--and the handful of great pitchers above him and below him are a testament to the importance of this stat.
Re the 'cybergeek stuff', it's not that difficult to understand if you would just take the time. There is no need to feel threatened by it all. We have more information available to us today than ever before so why not take advantage of these facts rather than simply ignoring them?
You know from watching Mike Schmidt that he was a great ballplayer. You also know by measuring him with traditional stats that you grew up with using that he was a great player. But he also is equally, if not even more, outstanding if you throw in on-base percentage, slugging average, on-base plus slugging (OPS), ballpark/era-adjusted OPS (OPS+), runs created, and runs created above replacement or average.
If anything, batting average doesn't do a lot for Schmidt's case and RBI are highly team dependent. Accordingly, if one refuses to look beyond the stats on the back of a baseball card, you're left with HR as one of the only great measures of Schmidt's offensive production when, in fact, he was much, much more than just a home run hitter (as you know).
I don't mean to be argumentative. Instead, I am just trying to point out the virtues of non-traditional baseball stats. But, either way (traditional or non-traditional), Blyleven's name is surrounded with nothing but Hall of Famers.
I wasn't surprised in the least when Bill opted to end our email exchange right then and there. I mean there's no use trying to reason with a "cybergeek", right?
Bill obviously views himself as one of the gatekeepers to the Hall of Fame. That's fine and dandy. I just wish he had a more systematic way of determining when to open and close the padlock. It's much easier to debate Bill's omissions than his choices this year (Dennis Eckersley, Paul Molitor, and Ryne Sandberg), but his reasoning seems old school to me. I don't think he will ever see the light when it comes to using more advanced baseball statistics in evaluating the pros and cons of Hall of Fame candidates.
Jeff Peek is a sportswriter for the Traverse City Record-Eagle. He cast his first ballot this year and wrote an article, entitled "Hall of Fame's Voting Easier Said Than Done". Other than Jack Morris, I can't really find fault with any of his selections. Jeff listed Bert Blyleven as one of his "Near Misses".
"Hi, Richard: Thanks for the e-mail. I read your piece on Blyleven with great interest. Your research is outstanding, and your column is must-reading for every voting member of the BBWAA. Let's face it, I blew it on Blyleven. He'll get my vote next year."
"Let's face it, I blew it on Blyleven. He'll get my vote next year." Did I read that right? Oh my gosh, I think my research and analysis may have had an impact on a voting member of the BBWAA. How flattering. That inspires me to keep up the fight, and it should serve as a reminder for those of us on the outside that we have an indirect say in such matters as the all-important vote for the HOF.
In a follow-up email, Jeff wrote the following:
"I don't have a problem admitting I'm wrong. I'm more interested in getting it right--even if it's the second time around."
I think Jeff's candor and open-mindedness speaks volumes about him. He is the type of writer who takes his voting responsibility seriously and is willing to look at the merits of a player's case utilizing more than just the basic stats now that there is a whole lot more information at hand.
Ken Rosenthal of The Sporting News is another voter who is big enough to right the wrongs of the past based on the metrics that are now available to all of us. As Aaron Gleeman reported last Wednesday, Rosenthal now believes Blyleven should be in the HOF after previously thinking otherwise. "Upon further review, Blyleven deserves to be in the Hall" is a refreshing perspective from a younger writer/voter.
In addition to Blyleven, Rosenthal voted "for Eckersley and Molitor, plus holdover candidates Andre Dawson, Rich Gossage, Ryne Sandberg, Lee Smith, Bruce Sutter and Alan Trammell". Fine candidates all. But, in this case, it's not so much who he voted for or who he didn't vote for. Instead, it's all about how he determined his vote, which can be summarized with the following excerpts:
"But after considering the work of sabermetricians who insist Blyleven is Cooperstown worthy, I'm checking the box next to his name...Advanced statistical analysis offers fresh insight into the careers of pitchers such as Blyleven, providing richer context...Put it all together, and I'm finally sold."
Believe me, I'm not optimistic about Blyleven's chances this year at all. However, my sense is that he will take another small step and garner more than 30% of the votes for the first time ever. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if the support for Bert reaches the mid-30s or almost half of the percentage required to gain admission to Cooperstown.
Year Election Votes Pct
1998 BBWAA 83 17.55
1999 BBWAA 70 14.08
2000 BBWAA 87 17.43
2001 BBWAA 121 23.5
2002 BBWAA 124 26.27
2003 BBWAA 145 29.23
It will be a tough, uphill battle for Blyleven, but I am more confident today than ever before that he will eventually make it. Why? Two sentences. Old school is on its way out. New school is on its way in.
Keep the faith.
Rich's Weekend Baseball BEAT
Friday, December 26, 2003
Only The Lonely
The Hall of Fame Trials and Tribulations of Bert Blyleven
Only the lonely, only the lonely
Roy Orbison and Joe Melson
In my most recent article, I pointed out that catchers and third basemen are underrepresented in the Hall of Fame. I specifically mentioned Ted Simmons, Wally Schang, and Joe Torre as among a group of catchers who deserve a second look. There are a few third basemen, most notably Ron Santo, who have been ignored and warrant inclusion. However, none of the players mentioned are on this year's ballot so a discussion of their merits can be saved for a later day.
In the meantime, I would like to review the candidacy of a Hall of Fame-worthy player who is on the ballot for the seventh time. With that in mind, ladies and gentlemen of the selection jury, I hereby introduce Exhibit One in The Case For Bert Blyleven.
1 Nolan Ryan 5714
2 Steve Carlton 4136
3 Roger Clemens 4099
4 Randy Johnson 3871
5 Bert Blyleven 3701
6 Tom Seaver 3640
7 Don Sutton 3574
8 Gaylord Perry 3534
9 Walter Johnson 3509
10 Phil Niekro 3342
11 Ferguson Jenkins 3192
12 Bob Gibson 3117
Every pitcher with 3,000 or more strikeouts who is eligible is in the Hall of Fame except for one pitcher. His name? Well, for those of you who may be color blind, the lone exception is none other than Rik Aalbert Blyleven. As shown, the Holland-born righthander ranks fifth all time in strikeouts. Other than Mr. Blyleven, there are only two pitchers--Roger Clemens and Randy Johnson--on the above list who are not in the Hall, and both will surely be inducted on the first ballot. Bert Blyleven, Only The Lonely.
Maybe strikeouts are not all that important as a standalone measure, you say? Well, you may be right. The object of the game is to shut down the opposing team no matter how you get them out, correct? With that understanding, ladies and gentlemen, I hereby present Exhibit Two for your consideration.
1 Walter Johnson 110
2 Grover C Alexander 90
3 Christy Mathewson 79
4 Cy Young 76
5 Eddie Plank 69
6 Warren Spahn 63
T7 Tom Seaver 61
T7 Nolan Ryan 61
9 Bert Blyleven 60
10 Don Sutton 58
11 Ed Walsh 57
T12 Three Finger Brown 56
T12 Pud Galvin 56
T12 Bob Gibson 56
15 Steve Carlton 55
T16 Jim Palmer 53
T16 Gaylord Perry 53
18 Juan Marichal 52
T19 Rube Waddell 50
T19 Vic Willis 50
Bert Blyleven ranks ninth in career shutouts. Other than Mr. Blyleven, every pitcher with 50 or more shutouts has been enshrined in Cooperstown. Nineteen pitchers on the inside, one pitcher on the outside. Bert Blyleven, Only the Lonely.
Still not convinced, ehh? Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce into evidence Exhibit Three. Runs Saved Above Average (RSAA) represent the number of runs that a pitcher saved his team versus what an average pitcher would have allowed, adjusted for ballpark effects.
ALL-TIME RUNS SAVED ABOVE AVERAGE
1 Cy Young 813
2 Kid Nichols 678
3 Lefty Grove 668
4 Walter Johnson 643
5 Roger Clemens 613
6 Greg Maddux 540
7 Grover C Alexander 524
8 John Clarkson 508
9 Randy Johnson 461
10 Pedro Martinez 453
11 Christy Mathewson 405
12 Tom Seaver 404
13 Tim Keefe 377
14 Amos Rusie 370
15 Carl Hubbell 355
16 Bob Gibson 350
17 Bert Blyleven 344
18 Phil Niekro 322
19 Whitey Ford 321
20 Warren Spahn 319
Every pitcher in the top 20 who is eligible for the Hall is in with one exception. And who might that pitcher be? Once again, it's none other than the Only The Lonely man himself, Bert Blyleven.
What about ERA? Well, thank you for asking. Ladies and gentlemen, I take this opportunity to introduce Exhibit Four.
ERA VS. LEAGUE AVERAGE (MINIMUM 4,000 IP)
DIFF PLAYER LEAGUE
1 Roger Clemens 1.20 3.19 4.39
2 Walter Johnson 1.07 2.17 3.24
3 Kid Nichols 0.94 2.95 3.89
4 Cy Young 0.92 2.63 3.54
5 Grover C Alexander 0.83 2.56 3.39
6 Warren Spahn 0.81 3.08 3.89
7 Tom Seaver 0.79 2.86 3.66
8 Christy Mathewson 0.78 2.13 2.91
9 John Clarkson 0.73 2.81 3.54
10 Tim Keefe 0.71 2.62 3.34
11 Ted Lyons 0.68 3.67 4.34
12 Red Faber 0.64 3.15 3.79
13 Old Hoss Radbourn 0.59 2.67 3.26
14 Red Ruffing 0.56 3.80 4.36
15 Gaylord Perry 0.53 3.11 3.63
16 Eddie Plank 0.53 2.35 2.88
17 Nolan Ryan 0.53 3.19 3.72
18 Robin Roberts 0.51 3.40 3.91
19 Bert Blyleven 0.50 3.31 3.81
20 Eppa Rixey 0.50 3.15 3.64
Nineteen of the top 20 pitchers have had their day in upstate New York or, in the case of Clemens, have already made reservations. The omission this time? You got it. Bert Blyleven, Only The Lonely.
For those of you who still need more information, I would like to present Exhibit Five. Neutral Wins is a statistic that projects the number of victories the pitcher would have if he was given average run support, considering his total number of decisions.
1 Cy Young 533
2 Walter Johnson 470
3 Grover C Alexander 374
4 Kid Nichols 373
5 Christy Mathewson 361
6 Pud Galvin 359
7 Warren Spahn 353
8 Tim Keefe 346
9 Phil Niekro 337
T10 Gaylord Perry 336
T10 Nolan Ryan 336
12 Steve Carlton 327
13 John Clarkson 323
14 Bert Blyleven 313
15 Tom Seaver 312
16 Eddie Plank 311
17 Don Sutton 310
18 Roger Clemens 306
19 Old Hoss Radbourn 300
20 Lefty Grove 298
Please excuse Mr. Blyleven for feeling a little paranoid at this time but, as you can see, he is the only pitcher in the top 20 in Neutral Wins who is eligible for baseball's highest honor but has not yet been voted in. Only The Lonely.
Think the above stat is a little too theoretical? Well, members of the selection committee, let's take a look at Exhibit Six. Actual wins. Nice and simple, just the way you guys and gals like it.
1 Cy Young 511
2 Walter Johnson 417
T3 Christy Mathewson 373
T3 Grover C Alexander 373
5 Warren Spahn 363
6 Kid Nichols 361
7 Pud Galvin 360
8 Tim Keefe 341
9 Steve Carlton 329
10 John Clarkson 328
11 Eddie Plank 326
T12 Nolan Ryan 324
T12 Don Sutton 324
14 Phil Niekro 318
15 Gaylord Perry 314
16 Tom Seaver 311
17 Roger Clemens 310
T18 Mickey Welch 309
T18 Old Hoss Radbourn 309
T20 Early Wynn 300
T20 Lefty Grove 300
22 Greg Maddux 289
23 Tommy John 288
24 Bert Blyleven 287
25 Robin Roberts 286
T26 Ferguson Jenkins 284
Although the number of wins is not the end all for evaluating pitchers, I am proud to say that our man once again finds himself in the company of nothing but Hall of Famers with just one other exception. Furthermore, there are dozens of pitchers who have won fewer games, yet you have found reason to induct each and every one of them.
Who would some of those fortunate souls be? None other than famous oldtimers such as Mordecai "Three Finger" Brown (239), Bob Feller (266), Carl Hubbell (253), and Joe McGinnity (246); greats from the '50s and '60s like Jim Bunning (224), Don Drysdale (209), Whitey Ford (236), Bob Gibson (251), Sandy Koufax (165), Juan Marichal (243), and Robin Roberts (286); and more decorated contemporaries over the first half of Mr. Blyleven's tenure such as Catfish Hunter (224), Ferguson Jenkins (284), and Jim Palmer (268).
Speaking of Mr. Blyleven's peers, I thought it might be instructive to compare how he ranks in RSAA over the course of his career. I would like to offer Exhibit Seven for your review.
RUNS SAVED ABOVE AVERAGE, 1970-1992
1 Bert Blyleven 344
2 Roger Clemens 329
3 Tom Seaver 321
4 Jim Palmer 289
T5 Dave Stieb 241
T5 Phil Niekro 241
7 Steve Carlton 239
8 Gaylord Perry 228
9 Nolan Ryan 215
10 Dennis Eckersley 204
Not only is Mr. Blyleven number one but he is the only pitcher on this list who has come before you and not been so honored. I recognize that the time period chosen favors our man because it conveniently covers his entire career. Nonetheless, if you run the same screen ten times using the various career lengths for each of the above moundsmen, the pitcher ranked first in every sort is in the HOF or will be in the HOF (in the case of Clemens, who is #1 over his playing days as well as Dave Stieb's career).
Want a "cleaner" period like the decade of the 1970s instead? Ladies and gentlemen, I provide you with Exhibit Eight.
RUNS SAVED ABOVE AVERAGE, 1970-1979
1 Tom Seaver 281
2 Jim Palmer 280
3 Bert Blyleven 261
4 Phil Niekro 248
5 Gaylord Perry 237
6 Ferguson Jenkins 195
7 Steve Carlton 176
The top seven are all in the HOF except for the fellow with the initials "BB", who ranks third. The two hurlers ahead of him--Tom Seaver and Palmer--are multiple Cy Young Award winners and first-ballot HOF inductees. Bert Blyleven. Only The Lonely (Know How I Feel).
Bert Blyleven also ranks in the top ten for the decade of the 1980s, and he is second for the ten-year period (1975-1984) overlapping these two decades--behind only Steve Carlton, who is also a multiple Cy Young Award winner and first-ballot HOF inductee.
In addition to the above qualifications, Mr. Blyleven meets or exceeds three of the four Hall of Fame measures established by Bill James, one of baseball's foremost analysts. Only 21 pitchers in the history of the game have met all four standards, including just nine who began their careers after World War II. I present Exhibit Nine for your consideration.
Black Ink: Pitching - 16 (128) (Average HOFer ~ 40)
Gray Ink: Pitching - 239 (22) (Average HOFer ~ 185)
HOF Standards: Pitching - 50.0 (36) (Average HOFer ~ 50)
HOF Monitor: Pitching - 120.5 (65) (Likely HOFer > 100)
Overall Rank in parentheses.
Furthermore, as displayed in Exhibit Ten, eight of the most similar pitchers according to Baseball-Reference.com (one of the most widely used and highly respected baseball statistical sources) are in the Hall of Fame.
Don Sutton (914) *
Gaylord Perry (909) *
Ferguson Jenkins (890) *
Tommy John (889)
Robin Roberts (876) *
Tom Seaver (864) *
Jim Kaat (854)
Early Wynn (844) *
Phil Niekro (844) *
Steve Carlton (840) *
*Denotes Hall of Famer.
The two pitchers not in the HOF are most similar to Mr. Blyleven in terms of their number of wins, but neither ranks among the top 20 in any of the other Exhibits that I have presented before you. Seven of the remaining eight show up not only on the career wins table alongside my client but at least once more. As such, I would contend that the following seven pitchers (Hall of Famers all) are the most statistically comparable to Mr. Blyleven:
Herewith is Exhibit Eleven in The Case For Bert Blyleven.
IP H ER BB SO HR ERA W L PCT
Blyleven 4970 4632 1830 1322 3701 430 3.31 287 250 .534
Group Average 5032 4577 1800 1379 3396 448 3.22 316 239 .569
As detailed, Bert Blyleven's stats are roughly in line with the average of these seven pitchers across the board with the possible exception of wins, losses, and winning percentage. However, as shown in Exhibit Twelve below, his rate stats for the three areas controlled by the pitcher are actually better than this exclusive group.
BB/9 SO/9 HR/9
Blyleven 2.39 6.70 0.78
Group Average 2.47 6.07 0.80
How was it possible that Mr. Blyleven could have better rate stats yet have 22 fewer wins and five more losses than the group average? Well, ladies and gentlemen, I submit to you that the difference in my client's won-loss record was nothing more than being a victim of poor support. For example, do you realize that his team scored just 18 runs in his 15 losses in 1971? In fact, I would argue that Mr. Blyleven is one of the "unluckiest" pitchers in the history of baseball.
To compare "apples to apples", I hereby offer Exhibit Thirteen, which reveals the won-loss records of Mr. Blyleven and the group average by equalizing the run support for my client and the same seven starters, all of whom are among the elite group of pitchers in the Hall of Fame.
NW NL PCT
Blyleven 313 224 .583
Group Average 316 239 .569
Neutral Wins and Losses prove my point that the only differences in Bert Blyleven's actual won-loss totals and winning percentage are a function of run support (or lack thereof). Recall that Mr. Blyleven broke in with the Minnesota Twins after the franchise's hey day in the second half of the 1960s, then played for the Texas Rangers, Pittsburgh Pirates, Cleveland Indians, the Twins again, and the California Angels.
Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to summarize Bert Blyleven's qualifications for the Hall of Fame.
1. Mr. Blyleven ranks fifth all time in career strikeouts. You have seen the virtues of electing the top dozen other than the man known as Only The Lonely.
2. Mr. Blyleven ranks ninth in shutouts. You have seen the virtues of inducting the top 20 other than our subject.
3. Mr. Blyleven ranks 24th in wins. You have seen the virtues of honoring every eligible pitcher ahead of him save one.
4. Looking at more advanced metrics, Bert Blyleven ranks 14th in Neutral Wins. You have voted in every pitcher in the top 20 other than Mr. Blyleven.
5. Mr. Blyleven also ranks 17th in Runs Saved Above Average. You have enshrined every pitcher in the top 20 other than him.
6. Among pitchers with 4,000 or more innings, Bert Blyleven ranks 19th in ERA vs. the league average. Once again, you have found a spot in Cooperstown for every pitcher in the top 20 other than Mr. Blyleven.
For some icing on the cake, may I point out that Bert Blyleven was named American League Rookie Pitcher of the Year in 1970 at the age of 19, threw a no-hitter in 1976, and was voted Comeback Player of the Year in 1989? I might also add that Mr. Blyleven pitched on two World Series Championship teams, compiling a 5-1 won-loss record and a 2.47 ERA in the postseason.
By the way, I would like to bring to your attention, ladies and gentlemen, the little-known fact that you haven't honored any pitchers born since 1947 (Nolan Ryan), yet you have felt compelled to induct eight hitters (George Brett, Gary Carter, Eddie Murray, Kirby Puckett, Mike Schmidt, Ozzie Smith, Dave Winfield, and Robin Yount) born since then. Furthermore, every pitcher that has been elected since Mr. Blyleven became eligible six years ago, as well as the two immediately preceding his candidacy, has won 300 or more games. In fact, Rollie Fingers in 1992 was the last pitcher that was voted into the Hall of Fame without 300 wins and he, of course, was a reliever.
Based on the above, one can't help but think that winning 300 games has become the de facto standard for pitchers. As a point of clarification, had you held to that magical mark all along, there would only be 20 pitchers currently in the Hall of Fame with another one on his way (Clemens) and perhaps a second one on the horizon (Greg Maddux). A total of 22 starting pitchers would be comparable to only four or five position players. The fewest number of HOFers at any one position is 11 (3B). As such, holding starting pitchers to a minimum of 300 victories is overly strict and unfair. Focusing exclusively on wins is also a mistake as this stat is as much dependent on the pitcher's team as it is on the pitcher himself.
Ladies and gentlemen of the selection committee, I believe the facts in The Case For Bert Blyleven are indisputable. The evidence presented clearly indicates that Mr. Blyleven has all the qualifications necessary for you to finally reward him with his own plaque in Cooperstown.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
Sources: Sabermetric Baseball Encyclopedia and Baseball-Reference.com.
Rich's Weekend Baseball BEAT
Tuesday, December 23, 2003
Can't Wait 'Til Next Year to Comment on This One
Not only do I like to research and write articles about baseball, but I also enjoy reading a number of other baseball blogs on a regular basis. One of the bloggers that has differentiated himself from the masses is Bryan Smith, the proprietor of Wait 'Til Next Year, a site focused on the future of baseball, today.
In Bryan's most recent post, he takes an interesting look at Javier Lopez' gaudy numbers in 2003 and forecasts how he will fare for the Baltimore Orioles in 2004. Bryan points out rather astutely that Lopez will face the triple challenge of hitting in a more difficult home ballpark, playing in a division loaded with baseball's best pitchers, and facing an age that has not been all that kind to catchers in the past.
I would beg to differ with Bryan on two matters though. He states Lopez has been "far and away the 3rd best catcher in the last 20 years, and probably top 20 all-time". I would rank Lopez as no better than the fifth most productive catcher during the past two decades, and I would not place him in the top 20 all time--at least not as this point in his career.
Although Bryan didn't actually list his top two catchers, I believe it is safe to say that he rates Mike Piazza and Ivan Rodriguez numbero uno and dos. I don't think he would find much debate there. However, I contend that there are two other active catchers who deserve to rate higher than Lopez and a few more retired backstops who I could argue on behalf of, too.
Piazza and Rodriguez clearly stand out as the two best catchers over the past 20 years or since the Johnny Bench, Gary Carter, Carlton Fisk, and Ted Simmons era of the late 1960s through the early-to-mid 1980s.
Piazza is unquestionably the best hitting catcher not only of this era but all time. He ranks among the top ten across the board in career totals and in the top two in every important rate-based stat. Piazza also sits atop the leader boards for catchers when it comes to BA, SLG, OPS, and Total Average vs. the league average. I believe Piazza's superior production at the plate more than makes up for his defensive deficiencies. In fact, the latter have been so well chronicled over the years that his overall value has been unfairly tainted in my opinion.
Rodriguez shows up on many of these top ten lists, plus he is one of the best defensive catchers of all time (as attested by several fielding metrics as well as his 10 Gold Gloves).
Beyond Piazza and Rodriguez, there may not be any more Hall of Famers in our midst. However, there have been two catchers--both of whom are still in their primes--who have produced at a higher level than Lopez over the course of their careers.
Although Lopez (.502) has a higher career slugging average than Jorge Posada (.474) and Jason Kendall (.422), he has a much lower on base percentage (.337) than both (.375 and .385, respectively). Lopez simply makes too many outs compared to Piazza, Posada, and Kendall, and he doesn't rank anywhere near I-Rod when it comes to defense.
These on base and slugging averages are important as they relate to creating runs, which is what it is all about, right? The following table probably summarizes it best.
RUNS CREATED ABOVE POSITION, 1984-2003
1 Mike Piazza 528
2 Ivan Rodriguez 244
3 Jorge Posada 181
4 Jason Kendall 178
5 Mickey Tettleton 177
6 Chris Hoiles 167
7 Darren Daulton 159
8 Mike Stanley 137
9 Javier Lopez 127
10 Gary Carter 108
As shown, Piazza has created more than twice the number of runs as Rodriguez. I-Rod, in turn, has generated one third more runs than Posada and Kendall and nearly twice as many as Lopez. Posada's advantage over Lopez is eye-opening given that he has played in nearly 200 fewer games with over 1,000 fewer at bats.
Does this all mean that Baltimore made a mistake? Well, not really. The Orioles signed Lopez to a three-year deal for $22.5 million, or $7.5 million per year. How does that compare to the other active catchers on the above list?
Posada $ 8.0m
Kendall $ 8.7m
Lopez $ 7.5m
Lopez' contract was about in line with what one would expect given his production. Mike Lieberthal is the next highest paid catcher in baseball at $7.25 million. Slotting Lopez in between Posada/Kendall and Lieberthal seems right on the money.
Will Lopez be worthy of his contract? Now that is a totally separate question. As Bryan details, the going is gonna get a lot tougher for Javy in 2004 than it was in 2003. I hope Oriole fans are prepared.
THE REST IS HISTORY
As far as all time goes, let's not get ahead of ourselves here by annointing Lopez as one of the 20 best catchers ever. Using Runs Created Above Position once again as our metric of choice, let's see just where Javy ranks among catchers:
1 Mike Piazza 528
2 Bill Dickey 473
3 Yogi Berra 430
4 Mickey Cochrane 425
5 Gabby Hartnett 364
6 Carlton Fisk 360
7 Johnny Bench 347
8 Ted Simmons 321
9 Gary Carter 251
10 Wally Schang 249
11 Ivan Rodriguez 244
12 Ernie Lombardi 241
13 Joe Torre 222
14 Roger Bresnahan 214
15 Roy Campanella 206
16 Smoky Burgess 194
17 Darrell Porter 193
18 Jorge Posada 181
19 Jason Kendall 178
T20 Gene Tenace 177
T20 Mickey Tettleton 177
32 Javier Lopez 127
Half of Javy's RCAP were generated in 2003, an indication of a high peak value but also a more mediocre career otherwise. His only other double-digit years were from 1997-1999 when he averaged 18 per season. If Lopez can string together three similar campaigns for the Orioles, then--and only then--might one be able to make a case for him being included in a discussion about the top 20 catchers of all time.
Excluding Piazza and Rodriguez, both of whom will surely be enshrined in Cooperstown upon retirement, it is interesting to note that all but three of the top 15 catchers have a plaque in the Hall of Fame. Catchers are the second most underrepresented position in the HOF (behind third basemen only), an oversight that needs to be corrected by adding a few deserving candidates. Ted Simmons may have hurt his standing among voters by prolonging his career as a designated hitter and first baseman, but his numbers as a catcher appear much more worthy than the one-year and out look he received from voters. Wally Schang, a switch-hitting catcher from 1913-1931, played on seven pennant-winning and five World Series championship teams, yet never received more than 11 votes for the HOF. Joe Torre's totals above only tell part of the story as he created an additional 92 runs above the league average at his position as a first baseman and third baseman. His overall total of 314 is good for 87th on the all-time list of modern-day players.
Rich's Weekend Baseball BEAT
Sunday, December 21, 2003
Mantle's Stats and Rankings Unplugged
I received several e-mails about the Mickey Mantle article, questioning his place in history. As a result, I decided to take a look at Mantle's career from different vantage points other than Win Shares and Runs Created Above Average and Above Position on a year-by-year basis.
Only eight players in the history of baseball rank higher than Mantle in all four of the Hall of Fame criteria (Black Ink, Gray Ink, HOF Standards, and HOF Monitor) established by Bill James.
ELITE EIGHT (in alphabetical order):
Of the eight players, all but Aaron have also earned The QUAD Award for leading the league in the two most important counting stats (times on base and total bases) and the two most important rate stats (on base percentage and slugging average). Capturing the QUAD demonstrates sheer dominance over the league and is a good measure of peak value, validating the appropriateness of the Elite Eight. Furthermore, all but Hornsby led the entire major league in each of the four categories rather than just their league. The Rajah was victimized by having a concurrent career with Ruth. Cobb (2x), Hornsby (4), Musial (2), Ruth (5), and Williams (5) have been bestowed QUAD honors for their individual league multiple times.
Based on the Jamesian standards outlined above, the Elite Eight would rank ahead of Mantle given that they all beat him out in each of the four categories. But one could make a strong case for placing Mantle ninth on the all-time list of players with the greatest career achievements. An argument could also be made on behalf of Willie Mays, who ranks ahead of his counterpart in three of the four areas (including two top fives). Mays comes up a little short in the Black Ink test (65 for the Oklahoma Kid and 57 for the Say Hey Kid).
There are only seven other players who outpoint Mantle in two of the four lists. By definition, it means that The Mick ranks higher than them in two of the four as well. However, in the case of Mantle, he places no lower than 18th in each of the rankings. Of the seven, only Barry Bonds and Nap Lajoie rate in the top 20 in all four standings. The other five (Jimmie Foxx, Charlie Gehringer, Mel Ott, Frank Robinson, and Tris Speaker) are not only Hall of Famers but among the best ever at their position.
Bonds, of course, is still active and is likely to continue climbing the leader boards every season between now and his retirement. Bonds needs ten more Black Ink and four more Gray Ink to surpass Mantle. In defense of Bonds, he has played his entire career with at least 12 teams in his league whereas Mantle spent half of his career with only eight and the other half with ten. As a result, Bonds has competed against more players than Mantle (and all of the other players from the pre-expansion era), making it more difficult for him to acquire Black and Gray Ink.
Based on the above discussion, there are 11 players who stand out in the all-time rankings offensively, at least in terms of the Black and Gray Ink, HOF Standards, and HOF Monitor lists.
ENORMOUS ELEVEN (in alpha order):
Interestingly, these 11 players also rank among the top 17 in batting Win Shares. I had mentioned three (Ott, Robinson, and Speaker) of the remaining six previously. The others are Eddie Collins (who ranks in the top 20 in three of the four tests), Rickey Henderson (no top 20s), and Pete Rose (two top 20s). Like Bonds, Henderson and Rose (to a lesser extent) have been disadvantaged by playing during the post-expansion era.
Given that these rankings are all based on cumulative stats, a review of a rate-based stat such as Adjusted OPS might provide some further color on the subject.
TOP 20 OPS+
Babe Ruth 207
Ted Williams 190
Barry Bonds 179
Lou Gehrig 179
Rogers Hornsby 175
Mickey Mantle 172
Joe Jackson 170
Ty Cobb 167
Jimmie Foxx 163
Mark McGwire 163
Frank Thomas 162
Stan Musial 159
Hank Greenberg 158
Johnny Mize 158
Tris Speaker 158
Manny Ramirez 157
Dick Allen 156
Willie Mays 156
Hank Aaron 155
Joe DiMaggio 155
Mel Ott 155
Only Honus Wagner (T28th at 150) from the list of 11 fails to place among the top 20 in OPS+. Interestingly, if we use the 11 players as a baseline for the top offensive performers, we can then rank them using OPS+ to get a feel for the best ever on a combined quantitative and qualitative basis.
Babe Ruth 207
Ted Williams 190
Barry Bonds 179
Lou Gehrig 179
Rogers Hornsby 175
Mickey Mantle 172
Ty Cobb 167
Stan Musial 159
Willie Mays 156
Hank Aaron 155
Honus Wagner 150
That's not a bad list, and it may serve as a ballpark ranking of the top offensive players of all time. We can create groups within groups, too. For example, Ruth, Williams, Gehrig, Hornsby, and Cobb are the only players who place among the top ten in all four of the Bill James HOF standards as well as Adjusted OPS. Musial and Aaron rank among the top ten in the HOF standards and 12th and 19th, respectively, in OPS+.
Getting back to the issue of Mantle, only four players--Ruth, Williams, Gehrig, and Hornsby--rank higher than him in all five areas. This does not mean that Mantle is the fifth most productive offensive player ever. It just suggests it would be difficult to argue that he deserves to be listed among the top four. Nonetheless, I think it is fair to place Mantle somewhere between #6 and #11 on the all-time list of hitters. The upper end would be determined more on peak value, rate stats, and relative rankings whereas the lower end would be predicated more on career totals.
RUNS CREATED ABOVE AVERAGE
1 Babe Ruth 1795
2 Ted Williams 1475
3 Ty Cobb 1369
4 Barry Bonds 1344
5 Lou Gehrig 1247
6 Stan Musial 1204
7 Mickey Mantle 1099
8 Rogers Hornsby 1084
9 Tris Speaker 1053
10 Hank Aaron 1032
11 Willie Mays 1008
12 Mel Ott 989
13 Jimmie Foxx 985
14 Honus Wagner 938
15 Frank Robinson 852
16 Frank Thomas 770
17 Rickey Henderson 763
18 Eddie Collins 747
19 Joe DiMaggio 708
20 Johnny Mize 667
Voila! The top eight in RCAA are among the top 11 discussed throughout. Looked at another way, the 11 players I've identified all rank among the top 14 in RCAA. More impressively, 10 of these 11 players comprise the top 10 in Runs Created Above Position (RCAP). Aaron is the only one of the Enormous Eleven outside the top 10 in RCAP, and he is not far back in a tie for 12th place.
RUNS CREATED ABOVE POSITION
1 Babe Ruth 1594
2 Ted Williams 1246
3 Barry Bonds 1218
4 Rogers Hornsby 1094
5 Ty Cobb 1078
6 Mickey Mantle 1009
7 Honus Wagner 994
8 Stan Musial 992
9 Lou Gehrig 988
10 Willie Mays 856
11 Mel Ott 831
T12 Eddie Collins 822
T12 Hank Aaron 822
14 Joe Morgan 820
15 Tris Speaker 777
16 Jimmie Foxx 700
17 Frank Robinson 674
18 Rickey Henderson 636
19 Eddie Mathews 633
20 Joe DiMaggio 629
What Does It All Mean?
From my vantage point, these lists suggest that no matter which metrics (HOF standards, OPS+, Win Shares, and/or RCAA and RCAP) or style (counting, rate, and/or relative stats) one uses, the best offensive players identify themselves. This study also goes a long way in proving that Mantle has unquestionably earned his status as one of the very best hitters ever. Choosing the best overall players is more problematic, given the need to account for positions, defensive performance, and baserunning skills. Having said that, I wouldn't dismiss any of these 11 from, say, a list of the top 15 overall players (excluding pitchers) as none of them are so poor defensively or on the base paths as to detract materially from their production at the plate.
Williams is probably the worst combination of position (LF), defense ("C") and baserunning (24 career SB, 17 CS; 58%), followed by Ruth (corner OF w/ "C-" grade and 110 SB vs. 117 CS in the years both were counted) and Hornsby (2B w/ "C" and only 56 SB vs. 64 CS in the years both were counted). Gehrig (1B, "B-", 102 SB/101 CS) and Musial (corner OF, "B", 29 SB/31 CS in the years both were counted--which unfairly penalizes him by excluding the first nine years of his career) were above-average defensively and on the basepaths. Aaron and Bonds rank surprisingly low defensively ("C") but both were fast with high stolen base totals and outstanding SB percentages. As corner outfielders, I believe Win Shares undervalues their defensive contributions by comparing them to CF. Aaron won three Gold Gloves and had a 2.08 range factor vs. 1.88 for the league average and a .980 fielding percentage vs. .976. Bonds has won eight Gold Gloves and has an above-average range factor (2.24 vs. 1.92) and fielding percentage (.985 vs. .981).
On the other hand, Wagner and Mays rank high defensively ("A+") and both were among the fastest and most successful base stealers of their time (Wagner, 722 SB--10th all time--with limited CS data; Mays, 338 SB/103 CS, 76%). Cobb ("B+" defensively with 892 SB--4th all time--and a 72% success rate during the only three years in his prime in which CS were kept) would rate right behind Wagner and Mays in these peripheral areas. A case could also be made on behalf of Mantle ("B+" and considered one of the fastest runners in the history of baseball in his early years plus an astounding 80% SB rate) ranking on the heels of this trio.
Among the players on the fringes, Collins (2B, "A-", 744 SB--7th all time) and Speaker (CF, "A+", 432 SB--54th all time--but only a 56% success rate in the years in which CS were maintained) would rate best based on a combination of defense and baserunning. One might be able to make a case for DiMaggio (CF, "A+"), too, although it is difficult to give him as high of a mark for his baserunning given his lack of stolen bases (30) although he was effective (76%). Adding these three players into the mix produces a total of 14. Throw in the next top three sluggers (Foxx, Ott, and Robinson) plus several players (Lajoie, Henderson, Mike Schmidt, Eddie Mathews, Joe Morgan, Johnny Bench, Mike Piazza, and Alex Rodriguez come to mind) from positions (3B, C, and SS) or eras (decade of the 1900s plus 1970s-on) that are under represented and one can come up with the makings of a pretty good top 25 list (excluding pitchers, 19th century performers, and Negro League players).
Sources: Baseball-Reference.com (Black Ink, Gray Ink, HOF Standards, HOF Monitor, and OPS+), the Sabermetric Baseball Encyclopedia (RCAA and RCAP), and Win Shares by Bill James and Jim Henzler.
Rich's Weekend Baseball BEAT
Friday, December 19, 2003
A Gleeful Interview With The New Aaron of Baseball
Up until the summer of 2002, if a baseball fan mentioned "Aaron", you knew they were referring to baseball's all-time home run king. Well, things have changed over the past 16 months. Online baseball fans now know that the name "Aaron" is none other than Aaron Gleeman, the proprietor of Aaron's Baseball Blog. Aaron's blog is arguably the most widely read one in existence, and it is inarguably the most entertaining.
Aaron was born and raised in Minnesota. He is an undergrad student majoring in journalism at the University of Minnesota. In addition to maintaining his blog, Aaron has written articles for Baseball Primer, InsiderBaseball.com, and is currently working with RotoWorld.com on its fantasy baseball annual.
I corresponded with Aaron by email and instant messaging during the past week during his winter break. Not surprisingly, Aaron responded with a Gleeman-length interview.
RWBB: How long have you been a baseball fan?
Aaron: I really wish I had a cool story to tell, like how I went to my first game and saw Kirby Puckett hit a game-winning homer and I fell in love with the sport or something, but I really don't have a good story.
My mom's side of the family is really into sports and so I guess I just got into it that way. I do remember my grandmother (on my dad's side) buying me my first baseball cards. 1987 Topps, with the borders that looked like wood paneling. I had three stacks, held together by rubber bands.
In my early days as a sports fan, baseball was probably #3 on the list, behind basketball and football. My uncle, who is the biggest baseball lover I have ever met, used to always tell me that one day I would see the light and see that baseball is the sport to fall in love with. Sometime around my 15th or 16th birthday, I saw the light.
RWBB: Being from Minnesota, what do you remember about the 1987 and 1991 Minnesota Twins world championship teams?
Aaron: Sadly, I remember absolutely nothing about 1987. I was only four years old then. I'm sure I watched (or slept through) the games, but I have no memory of them.
1991 is right around the time I started to follow baseball, which is pretty convenient. I remember I used to watch the playoff games with a notebook in my hand. I would keep my own stats for all the players, a stat-head from the very start. I have fond memories of watching Game Seven in 1991. I remember how incredibly happy everyone around me was and I don't think I quite grasped it at the time. As far as I knew, winning championships was a yearly thing for the Twins.
RWBB: Who is your all-time favorite Twin?
Aaron: I go back and forth on this one. The easy answer is Kirby, but he stopped playing when I was 11 and it turns out he isn't such a wonderful guy. I took a liking to Torii Hunter after Kirby, because he seemed to me to be sort of a similar guy. Outgoing, funny, full of smiles, exciting on the field. Hopefully, Torii doesn't chase his wife around the house with a power-saw like Kirby.
But really, if I'm being honest, I'd say my favorite Twin is Johan Santana. I sort of feel like I have watched him grow up, which is funny for a 20-year old kid to be saying. But it's true. I am proud to say I was on the bandwagon right away and I am very excited to see how his career plays out. Plus, Johan seems like a pretty good guy, and I like his demeanor on the mound and the fact that he can make hitters look absolutely ridiculous at times.
RWBB: You list Ted Williams on your "about me" page as your favorite ballplayer of all time. That's heady stuff for a 20-year-old.
Aaron: For whatever reason, I tend to take a liking to guys who are portrayed as jerks. To me, there is something interesting about someone like that. Someone like Cal Ripken or A-Rod or some other "perfect" guy just isn't that interesting to me. But Ted Williams? That's a guy I could read about forever. And really, what does it matter if we hear he wasn't nice to the media or that he didn't tip his cap to the fans in Boston? Kirby was loved by the media and fans like no other player I have ever seen and he turned out to be 100 times the jerk Ted Williams ever was.
I like personalities, good or bad. Plus, the man can flat-out hit and, beyond that, he has thoughts about hitting that are incredibly interesting to hear/read about.
RWBB: Barry Bonds is another one of your favorites.
Aaron: See, Bonds is just like Williams, another guy I love who is supposed to be a jerk. I like a guy who wants his own recliner in the locker room. I like a guy who hits a ball 500 feet and stands at the plate admiring it. If you hit the damn thing that far you should be able to do whatever you want. We need more Jeffrey Leonard doing one-flap down, if you ask me. If the pitcher doesn't like it, tell him not to let him hit it that far.
RWBB: Let's say you're putting together a team and you need a left fielder. Who would it be, Ted Williams or Barry Bonds?
Aaron: I don't get a DH? This is really tough, but I think I would go with Barry for his defense. If you ask me next week though, I may give a different answer. It's like asking me to pick between Heidi Klum and Jessica Alba. I'd rather let Heidi DH and not have to make the choice.
RWBB: Did you play baseball as a kid?
Aaron: Yeah, I did. I played Little League until I was like...I don't know...I think maybe 15 or so. When I started I couldn't hit at all, but I was a good fielder. Then, as I got older, I still couldn't hit, but I wasn't absolutely horrible at the plate. My final year I batted fifth and played second base. We had a couple of future Golden Gophers on that team.
I hit right-handed and my offense was all singles. I'd love to say that I walked a lot, but I honestly don't think that I did. My specialty was blooping singles into right field. At second, I had very good hands, very little range and zero arm.
RWBB: Sounds like the Twins could use you.
Aaron: Trust me, the Twins have all the no-range, no-hit second basemen they need as it is.
RWBB: Good point.
Aaron: I actually got beaned right in the forehead when I was like 13 or so. The ball was thrown way behind me and I instinctively jumped back, which actually was really dumb. If I had just stood there, it would have hit my back or maybe missed me completely. Instead, it went under the brim of my helmet and nailed me right in the forehead. I had a really good bruise/egg for like a week. After that, I was scared of the ball in a lot of ways, which is just about the worst thing you can be in baseball (besides Neifi Perez).
RWBB: Other than to rag on poor Neifi, what made you decide to create Aaron's Baseball Blog?
Aaron: Well, I was home for the summer in 2002 and I started checking out some blogs like David Pinto's Baseball Musings, Mike's Baseball Rants and Only Baseball Matters. One day David posted something about how some of his readers were creating blogs and he showed how to sign up for one. So, I went and did it and had my first post up that night. It was about A.J. Burnett and how I was worried about his health, which turned out to be a pretty good little prediction! As for why I did it, I have no idea. I guess I was just bored one summer day and I wanted to talk baseball.
RWBB: You have received over 300,000 hits since your blog's inception on August 1, 2002. That's a lot of clicks of the refresh arrow.
Aaron: Believe it or not, the thing that tracks the hits allows you to "block" certain IP addresses, so I blocked my mom's computer at home and at work, because I know she probably checks it like 10 times a day and I didn't want a fake count.
The fact that the site cracked 300,000 is absolutely unbelievable to me. I remember that first week or two, I would sit around all day and stare at the "Site Meter" thing, just waiting for someone to show up. I think I got a plug on Pinto's site after a few days and I got 35 hits. I was in heaven.
Now I am averaging somewhere around 1,500-2,000 per day. Some days it reaches over 3,000. It's pretty crazy. I still get a kick out of seeing the visitor counts everyday and I love finding out where people are coming from, what sites have linked to my blog. I am a night-owl, so it is fun to check the visitor count at like 2 am and see that 243 people have already stopped by. Hopefully that will never stop giving me a thrill.
RWBB: What do your Mom and Dad think about it all?
Aaron: At first my mom loved it, because it was something to take up my time. I think parents' #1 goal in life is to get their child to do stuff, no matter what it is, just so they aren't sitting around doing nothing. She's very supportive of what I do. She's always telling people to go to the site, people I have never met before.
My dad thinks it's cool, I guess. He asks me about it once in a while, but I'm pretty sure he doesn't read it. He is not a sports fan at all, but he tries to fake it sometimes. He'll often ask, "Did you watch the game last night?" I'll say, "Which game?" He'll sort of confess and say, "I don't know, I just figured you watched a game."
RWBB: How is college life at the University of Minnesota treating you?
Aaron: It's not bad. I like the whole living on my own thing. I'm not such a fan of the going to class everyday thing though. My main problem with school is that someone like me, who has known for years that he wants to do nothing but be a writer, is forced to take math classes and science classes and foreign languages classes. That's fine for people who want a well-rounded education or for people who don't know what they want to be, but I want to write and I want to do nothing but take classes on writing. A journalism class here is 3 days a week. A foreign language is 5 days a week. It doesn't make sense to me.
RWBB: Habla Espanol or sprechen sie Deutsch?
Aaron: I have enough trouble with English as it is. Trying to get me to master another language is like trying to teach Rey Ordonez a better home run trot. It's just not needed and there are plenty of other areas to work on first.
RWBB: You're majoring in journalism, you have one of the most widely read baseball websites in the entire blogosphere, and yet you have not been able to land a job with the student newspaper. What gives?
Aaron: Kind of weird, isn't it? I'm a little limited in what I can/should say, because the MN Daily is already very angry at me, apparently.
But I will say the bare facts, which is that I applied for an entry-level position in the sports department at the all-student newspaper here at the U of M on four different occasions, spread over three years. Sometimes, I applied for an unpaid internship, other times for a low-paying beat writing position covering one of the lesser sports like volleyball or track and field or gymnastics, etc.
Twice I went in for interviews with the sports editors and another time I did a phone interview. And I didn't get the job any of the four times. There are some other details that make the situation more frustrating for me, but I should probably keep my big mouth shut for once. I wrote about getting rejected for the 4th time on my blog some time ago, because I was upset that they didn't even let me know that I hadn't gotten the job. Over a month had passed and I hadn't heard anything from them, so I wrote about my frustration on the blog. And then, wouldn't you know it, I got an email from them the very next day.
It's very frustrating, because all I want to do in life is write about sports and the MN Daily is a very good and respected student paper. My aunt wrote for them and she loved it, and it was a big part of my plans when I started school here. Plus, it sucks getting asked all the time if I write for the student paper and having to say no. It's a great paper and I would be honored to write for them. For whatever reason, they don't want me.
RWBB: Have you ever had a real job?
Aaron: Sort of. When I was in junior high and high school I used to do sports card and memorabilia shows all across the country. I did shows in all over Minnesota and in California, Georgia, Ohio, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Illinois - all sorts of places. They were on the weekends and I would buy a booth and set up my merchandise. It was a lot of fun and very good money for a young kid. I think it was a good experience, having to manage a little business. You had to invest in product and you had to manage your resources.
After that, I worked for a little while recording stats for NBA games for STATS Inc. Of late, I wrote prospect reports for InsiderBaseball.com last season and am planning on doing that again this year.
I've had some jobs. No 9-5 stuff and no stuff that isn't related to sports. I'd like to keep it that way for as long as possible.
RWBB: What year are you and when do you plan to graduate?
Aaron: I am officially a junior, but more accurately I am in my third year. I plan on graduating at some point in the next 10 years. I'd say I'm on the "five-year plan," but that might be kind.
I'm in no hurry to leave. I've heard the real world is kind of scary. I'll say this though, if someone were to offer me a nice job doing something interesting, I would accept it immediately and quit school. It's the same reason I am in favor of high school players going to the NBA. If you have a chance to do something you want to do, don't wait around because of school. You can always go back to school.
RWBB: What would you like to do when you "grow up"?
Aaron: There have only been three jobs I have ever wanted in my entire life. One was to play major league baseball. That was done as a possibility when I was born, pretty much. The second is to write about sports, either for a newspaper, magazine or website. As long as I can remember, I would reply "sports writer" to anyone who asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up. It has never changed. No "fireman" or "astronaut" or anything like that.
And then the third thing would be to work in an MLB front office. I think that's the dream of anyone who follows baseball like I do. You want to be the guy making the moves, instead of the guy talking about the guy who made the moves. If there are any teams out there, I will work for free. Seriously. Zero pay and I'll quit school immediately.
RWBB: You turn 21 on January 3rd. Do you have any plans to celebrate your big birthday?
Aaron: Oh yeah! I'm heading to Vegas on the 4th for a week. My first trip there. I can't wait. If anyone reading this is out there, look for me at the MGM Grand sports book. I'll be the guy with the blue Twins hat and no money.
RWBB: Maybe that PayPal button you have displayed will come in handy between now and then. By the way, are these donations treated as income for tax purposes?
Aaron: (Nervous laugh) I don't know what you're talking about...
Actually, that Paypal thing is basically just there for the look of it. I figure if I keep it there maybe some rich baseball fan will decide to give me a million bucks some day. But it's not exactly a money-maker, which is fine. I mentioned it one day and asked for donations and I was incredibly surprised by how many people donated. But I feel wrong bringing it up on a regular-basis, so I have just done so that one time.
RWBB: To your credit, you list some of the negative as well as positive comments about your blog in the sidebar.
Aaron: I actually just added that a couple weeks ago. I thought it might be funny and the blank space on the sidebar was bugging me.
RWBB: Will Carroll has said, "Gleeman is prolific, yes, but a factory that churns out lots of crap is still a crap factory." Do you care to respond?
Aaron: Will's quote is the reason I thought to add that stuff. Will and I have become good buddies over the last few months. We are both usually up very late, so our paths cross at like 3 am a lot of the time. He's usually the only guy on my buddy list at that point and I suspect I'm probably one of the only guys on his too, so we've become friends. That quote was from a year or so ago, when we didn't know each other so well.
I like it, mainly because it is a really awesome line. And then also because I think it's somewhat truthful. I have a bit of a rep for churning out lots of "stuff." I talked about it with Will the other day and I can't remember exactly what he said. I'm glad he didn't try to take it back or something like that. I like a guy willing to rip someone and then stand by his ripping.
RWBB: Al Bethke, on the other hand, calls Aaron's Baseball Blog "the best baseball weblog out there".
Aaron: Al is a good guy, despite being a Brewers fan.
My favorite quote on there is from the Chicago Tribune, just shortly after I started the blog back in the middle of 2002. The article was about various baseball blogs and there was a description of www.TwinsGeek.com that was very glowing and complimentary. And then there was a quick mention of my site that said it was, "Nearly as prolific but less intriguing."
On one hand I was likely holy shit, I just got mentioned in the Chicago Tribune. It's the sort of thing you tell someone about, but leave out the actual quote. If Aaron's Baseball Blog were a movie, I would use that quote in the preview and it would say, "The Chicago Tribune says it is Prolific....Intriguing..."
RWBB: Others have compared you to a young Rob Neyer.
Aaron: That is a huge compliment. Rob was probably the first sabermetric writer I came across. Either him or the Prospectus guys. Even before Bill James. Rob does what I try to do, which is blend numbers into baseball, while maintaining a conversational, informal style.
Rob has my dream job, without a doubt. He writes about baseball for a great website, he (presumably) gets a nice chunk of change, he can work on other projects, and he has the freedom to write about whichever subjects come to mind. He's a lucky man and he deserves it.
RWBB: You've got a great knack for it all, especially being so young.
Aaron: I used to be young. Now there are a whole bunch of bloggers out there younger than me! Blogging is a kid's game, I think. Who else has the time to spend on baseball everyday? Has to be someone with no life or family. Someone who can skip their biology lecture so they can write about Mike Cameron.
RWBB: What do you say to those who think you are cocky or arrogant, especially for someone your age.
Aaron: Hmm...Well, as you can probably tell by my liking guys like Williams and Bonds, I don't necessarily think cocky and arrogant are horrible things to be. That said, before I started this blogging thing, I never would have guessed that I came off cocky or arrogant. I think people would get a very different impression of me in person. I have never, in my entire 20+ years on this earth, been said to be cocky, arrogant or anything at all like that by someone who has actually met me. At least not to my face.
I'm not entirely sure where I get that rep from. I suppose it has to do with having strong opinions or my willingness to "pick on" other writers? I don't know. A weak opinion isn't interesting and how can you resist Joe Morgan? I mean really, Joe is so wonderful, but he is just asking to be ripped apart sometimes. And people have ripped me plenty. It's only fair.
RWBB: Speaking of Li'l Joe, you love to give him and Tim McCarver a hard time.
Aaron: Yeah, I do. I try not to sometimes, but it's really difficult. With Joe it has to do with what he writes for ESPN.com and what he says in his ESPN.com "chats." I don't have a problem with him as an announcer or as a player. When he is asked to put his opinion down on paper, that's when I think he gets in trouble.
With McCarver, I have no idea whether he is able to even put his ideas down on paper, but I have heard him speak enough so that my ears begin to bleed at the very mention of his name. I am told that at one point people thought McCarver was a pretty good announcer. Having been forced to listen to him do the most important baseball games of the entire year, year after year, I have to wonder about that. At this point all he really does is repeat tired cliches, kiss certain players' asses and make what he thinks are brilliant points about things that don't particularly make much sense.
If Saturday Night Live were to do a parody of an old announcer, McCarver would be it. The one thing McCarver and Morgan have in common as announcers (and it isn't much, which is a compliment to Morgan) is that they both subscribe to the "everything was better when we played" theory. I'd say about 95% of all their thoughts and opinions come from that starting point.
RWBB: You recently created the Gleeman Production Average or GPA. Please explain.
Aaron: My stat of choice for measuring offense is Baseball Prospectus' Equivalent Average (EqA). The stat of choice for more and more casual fans these days is becoming OPS (on-base % + slugging %). I find OPS to be somewhat useless and in fact hardly ever use it. At the same time, I found myself wanting something that was simple to calculate and use like OPS, but that added more value and told me more. So, I came up with GPA, which fit what I was looking for perfectly.
It is like a cross between EqA and OPS, giving you some of EqA's value and some of OPS' speed and simplicity. You can not only use it for full-season numbers or career numbers, but also stuff like lefty/righty splits, home/road splits and stuff like that. I have found it to be very handy for me to use.
RWBB: Don't you think we have enough baseball metrics for evaluating performance already?
Aaron: Yeah, we probably do. Part of the reason I love baseball so much is the numbers though. I think the numbers in baseball can tell you more about the game and about the teams and players than the numbers in any other sport.
GPA is definitely not here to replace EqA or Win Shares or Linear Weights or any of that other stuff that is good to use. It's just here because I couldn't find a stat to use in some situations that I found myself in, and GPA fills that void for me. If other people also find it useful in similar situations, that's a bonus.
RWBB: I'm as guilty as the next, but I fear that it's all beginning to look like alphabet soup to the more casual fan.
Aaron: Definitely. The casual fan, for the most part, isn't even ready to use OPS yet. GPA isn't for the guy who argues about who the MVP should be by using his batting average and RBI-totals. It is for guys like me, the Baseball Prospectus/Baseball Primer/Bill James crowd, who like to look beyond simple stats.
RWBB: Having said all that, who would comprise your all-GPA team?
Aaron: Here's the starting lineup from last year, using the best GPA at each position:
C - Javy Lopez (.341)
1B - Todd Helton (.363)
2B - Marcus Giles (.305)
SS - Alex Rodriguez (.328)
3B - Bill Mueller (.312)
LF - Barry Bonds (.425)
CF - Jim Edmonds (.327)
RF - Gary Sheffield (.340)
If we're in the AL, you can stick Albert Pujols (.364) in at DH.
RWBB: Which players show up as the most undervalued?
Aaron: The guys who show up as undervalued are the high-OBP guys, which is how it should be. The 27 outs in a game are like a team's currency. Once you spend it, you're done.
If you ever find yourself saying "Yeah, he gets on base a lot but he doesn't hit for much power" about a player, he's probably undervalued.
RWBB: Who would GPA identify as overvalued?
Aaron: I would say the overvalued guys with GPA are the same guys who are, for the most part, overvalued in baseball. Guys like Juan Gonzalez or Juan Encarnacion or Shea Hillenbrand or Jacque Jones. Basically, guys who are very good hitters for average and power and everything like that, but who simply make a ton of outs.
This is part of the problem with OPS. If you say there are two guys who each have an .850 OPS, they are equals. But if one of them gets his .850 OPS from a .330 OBP and a .520 SLG, he isn't nearly as valuable as the guy who gets the .850 OPS with a .400 OBP and a .450 SLG.
RWBB: Multiplying OBP by SLG works better than adding them and, in fact, would identify the latter player as more valuable. In any event, who is your best bet as a breakout player this year?
Aaron: Mike Cameron, without a doubt. I've been singing his praises on my blog for some time now and I think he is set for a big year, simply because he'll be away from Safeco Field, which has destroyed his offense.
Some other guys who I think could breakout in a big way this year: Mark Teixeira, Adam Dunn, Nick Johnson. On a lesser scale, I think Michael Cuddyer, if given the playing time, will finally have the year I've been waiting for with the Twins.
For pitchers, it's definitely Johan Santana, although I guess his "breakout" came last year. The big breakout pitcher this year might be Rafael Soriano, who looks like "the next" Santana to me. If he gets a chance to start, he could be incredible. Other pitchers I like to breakout are Jake Peavy and Grant Balfour.
RWBB: You were an early supporter of Bobby Kielty. Do you feel vindicated given J.P. Ricciardi's and Billy Beane's subsequent interest in him?
Aaron: Well, I think they see in him what I see in him, which is a switch-hitter who plays good defense at all three outfield spots, has incredible plate discipline and some good power. Now, Kielty definitely had a sub-par year last season, but I still think he can be a special hitter.
He's the type of guy the Twins almost never have, which is maybe why I took a liking to him immediately. And, of course, they only had him for a little while. It was tough to see him go, but the deal (for Shannon Stewart) has turned out about as well as the Twins could have hoped. I still think they should have kept Kielty though.
RWBB: Do you think Joe Mauer will become a better player than Butch Wynegar, another highly touted Twins catcher from a previous generation?
Aaron: Yeah, I think Joe Mauer is going to be very special. Maybe not immediately, because the guy is actually like 6 months younger than I am, but at some point. Everyone seems to think his defense is great, right now, and his offense has been spectacular in every area except power. I think his pessimistic projection is someone like Jason Kendall - a high AVG/high OBP/low power guy with good speed. His high-end projection? Who knows? There aren't a whole lot of Gold Glove catchers who hit .330 with good power and tons of walks.
I still think about Mark Prior and Johan Santana in the same rotation though. Hopefully Mauer will make me forget all about that.
RWBB: What do you see for Justin Morneau?
Aaron: Hopefully a lot of home runs. Morneau is the first Twins prospect in a long time who has a chance to be a legit slugger. Since I've been following the team and actually long before that, they've been built around batting averages and gap hitters. The Twins haven't had a 30-homer season from anyone since 1987, which is pretty amazing considering the rise in homers that has gone on of late.
Morneau has a chance to be an elite offensive player. He's not ready to do that right now, but I am hoping he'll be starting at first base in 2005.
RWBB: Very enlightening, Aaron. One final question: Which teams are you going to place bets to win the World Series when you go to Vegas next month?
Aaron: The Twins, of course. I might go with Boston, just because I like to suffer along with them and because I think they are the best team right now, on paper. For a sleeper team in the mold of Florida and Anaheim the last two years, I think maybe Toronto or San Diego, or maybe even the Mets.
I have no patience for long-term bets though, so I'll probably just stick to putting ridiculous amounts of money (for me, at least) on whatever college basketball game happens to be on the big screen while I'm there.
RWBB: If Vegas would book it, I would load up on a long-term bet on Aaron. Now.
Rich's Weekend Baseball BEAT
Monday, December 15, 2003
Items on Mickey's Mantel Draw Millions of Dollars
"I measure it by Cadillacs. I used to pay $5,000 for mine. They pay $20,000 now. So if they make three times as much as I did, what's the difference?"
--Mickey Mantle, 1979
Guernsey's conducted an auction of Mickey Mantle memorabilia at Madison Square Garden last Monday that raised $3.25 million. The items were affixed with a "Mickey Mantle Auction" tag and accompanied by a certificate signed by a member of the Mantle family certifying that the items came directly from the family's archives. The proceeds from the auction are slated to pay for the college education and first homes for each of Mantle's four grandchildren.
There were no 1952 "rookie" cards or any other pieces of cardboard. Instead, the family disposed of Mickey's trophies, plaques, rings, gloves, bats, balls, and other personal belongings of the legendary baseball player. Mantle's 1957 MVP trophy took high honors at $319,250. Mick's Silver Slugger bat for leading the league in batting average in 1956 sold for $313,500, his 1962 MVP Award went for $290,500, his Rawlings glove drew a bid for $212,400, his 1956 Babe Ruth Sultan of Swat award was hammered down at $198,500, and his 1962 World Series ring was purchased for $165,200.
Although the hardware was the primary focus of the auction, it was Mantle's original baseball contracts that caught my attention. There were 20 in total, including Mickey's first professional contract in 1949, every major league season (1951-1968), plus an agreement for 1969 that was never signed due to Mantle's retirement that March.
The Commerce Comet signed his first professional contract on June 13, 1949, the night he graduated from high school. The terms of the contract were agreed upon in the back of the scout's car. Mickey signed with the Independence Baseball Club of the National Association, a Class D minor league farm team of the New York Yankees. The contract called for Mantle to receive $140.00 per month plus it had a provision that "player is to receive a bonus of $1150.00 to be paid by the Independence Club as follows: $400.00 upon approval of contract by the President of the National Association and the remainder, $750.00 payable on June 30th 1949 if player retained by Independence or any assigned club."
1951 $ 5,000
1952 $ 7,500
1953 $ 17,500
1954 $ 21,000
1955 $ 25,000
1956 $ 32,000
1957 $ 60,000
1958 $ 65,000
1959 $ 70,000
1960 $ 60,000
1961 $ 70,000
1962 $ 90,000
Mantle earned a total of $1,123,000 during his major league career, ranging from his rookie salary of $5,000 to his peak of $100,000 for the final six seasons of his career. Mickey received his biggest percentage increases after his outstanding sophomore season at the age of 20 and on the heels of winning the Triple Crown in 1956. Mantle's other raises were fairly pedestrian for a player of his accomplishments, especially when you consider that the Yankees were the best team in baseball during his career and regularly led the league in attendance throughout the 1950s and early 1960s. In fact, the $10,000 paycut that Mantle took for the 1960 season seems rather harsh given his production the previous year.
Mantle's 1959 Counting Stats:
G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO
144 541 104 154 23 4 31 75 21 3 93 126
Mantle's 1959 Rate Stats vs. the League Average:
BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+
Mantle .285 .390 .514 .904 150
League Avg. .257 .328 .393 .720
Mantle ranked 2nd in the A.L. in runs and stolen bases; 3rd in walks; and 4th in home runs, times on base, extra base hits, and total bases. The Yankees slugger also placed 2nd in the league in OPS and OPS+. Moreover, Mickey led the league in Runs Created Above Average (RCAA) and Runs Created Above Position (RCAP).
1959 A.L. RCAA
1 Mickey Mantle 54
2 Tito Francona 48
3 Harvey Kuenn 43
4 Al Kaline 42
5 Eddie Yost 37
6 Gene Woodling 34
7 Minnie Minoso 30
8 Harmon Killebrew 27
9 Pete Runnels 26
10 Rocky Colavito 25
1959 A.L. RCAP
1 Mickey Mantle 43
2 Tito Francona 40
T3 Eddie Yost 33
T3 Harvey Kuenn 33
5 Yogi Berra 32
6 Pete Runnels 31
T7 Al Kaline 29
T7 Nellie Fox 29
9 Gene Woodling 25
10 Harmon Killebrew 23
Source: Sabermetric Baseball Encyclopedia
Mantle also tied for the league lead in Win Shares along with Nellie Fox, the MVP honoree that year.
1959 A.L. WIN SHARES
Mickey Mantle 30
Nellie Fox 30
Rocky Colavito 29
Minnie Minoso 29
Tito Francona 27
Al Kaline 27
Eddie Yost 27
Harvey Kuenn 25
Jim Landis 25
Camilo Pascual 24
Pete Runnels 24
Given that the Chicago White Sox won the pennant in 1959, I don't really have a problem with the writers voting for the slick-fielding second baseman despite his inferior offensive stats (.306/.380/.389). To Fox's credit, he hit over .300, had 71 walks against just 13 strikeouts, captured a Gold Glove, and was the best player on the best team.
Nevertheless, it makes absolutely no sense whatsoever that Mantle ended up 17th in the MVP balloting in 1959. Mantle was simply held to a higher standard than his peers and almost anyone else who ever played the game. The Yankees finished in third place that year, one of only two times between Mickey's rookie year in 1951 and his last great year in 1964 in which the team did not win the American League pennant (1954 being the other). Rather than winning three MVPs, Mantle could have won as many as ten based on the fact that the Yankees center fielder led or tied for the league in Win Shares every year from 1954-1964, except 1963 when he was injured and played in only 65 games.
Win Shares MVP Actual MVP
1954 Mantle Berra
1955 Mantle Berra
1956 Mantle Mantle
1957 Mantle Mantle
1958 Mantle Jensen
1959 Mantle/Fox Fox
1960 Mantle Maris
1961 Mantle Maris
1962 Mantle Mantle
1963 Yaz/Tresh Howard, E.
1964 Mantle Robinson, B.
As Bill James wrote in The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract, "Of course, Mantle didn't win all of those awards, as the writers went through an annual process of figuring out, (a) who do we give the MVP Award to this year, other than Mantle, and (b) why is it we're snubbing Mickey this year?"
Mantle was not only snubbed by the MVP voters in 1959, but he was slighted in 1954 (15th), 1955 (5th), and 1958 (5th) when he failed to pick up a single first-place vote in any of these four years. Mickey earned some respect in 1960, 1961, and 1964 when he trailed the winner only. However, one could argue that he deserved better in 1960 when he was the recipient of more first-place votes (10) than Roger Maris (8), yet finished three points behind his teammate.
Mantle's Runs Created Above Average and Runs Created Above Position yearly rankings also validate his greatness.
1951 23rd 24th
1952 1st 1st
1953 3rd 4th
1954 2nd 2nd
1955 1st 1st
1956 1st 1st
1957 1st 1st
1958 1st 1st
1959 1st 1st
1960 1st 1st
1961 2nd 1st
1962 1st 1st
1963 10th 9th
1964 1st 1st
1965 15th 28th
1966 5th 6th
1967 7th 11th
1968 9th 11th
As detailed, Mantle topped the A.L. in both categories nine times (1952, 1955-1960, 1962, and 1964). He also led the league in RCAP in 1961 when he finished second (behind Norm Cash) in RCAA. Whether Mickey earned ten MVPs (based on Win Shares and RCAP) or nine (RCAA), this study at least points out that Mantle was robbed of as many as seven MVP Awards during his career.
As another indication of Mantle's lack of proper respect, he received raises of only $5,000 and $10,000, respectively, after his MVP campaigns in 1957 and 1962. Furthermore, he topped out at the $100,000 mark and made the same salary for each of his final six seasons. In fact, his 1968 contract had a special covenant that read as follows:
"It is specifically understood and agreed that of the $100,000.00 provided for, $25,000.00 shall be paid during the 1968 year. The remaining $75,000.00 shall be paid as follows: $25,000.00 on January 15, 1969; $25,000.00 on January 15, 1970; and $25,000.00 on January 15, 1971. The above sums cannot be withdrawn before the maturity date."
Can you imagine a player of Mickey Mantle's stature today getting three quarters of his pay deferred without even any interest? Don't get me wrong, Mantle was paid as well as any player in the game in the early 1960s. I recognize that Mantle's seemingly "paltry" salaries and increases were more a function of the times than anything else. However, it is still a fun exercise to compare his pay back then to the players of today. Even if you exclude the salaries that were negotiated at the top of the market a few years ago prior to the establishment of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, it would be safe to assume that Mantle would be "worth" at least $15 million per year in today's world. That is 150 times Mantle's highest annual level. Using Mantle's reasoning about the correlation between Cadillacs and salaries, that would mean General Motors should now be charging $750,000 for its luxury automobile.
Given that most Caddies go for about $50,000 now, one can deduce that Cadillacs were either overvalued back then or are dramatically undervalued today. Alternatively, one could argue that Mickey Mantle was either unbelievably underpaid in his playing days or the current superstars are overpaid. No matter where your opinion falls, there is no doubt that Mantle--even as great and as beloved as he was--was still underappreciated throughout his Hall of Fame career.
Rich's Weekend Baseball BEAT