Rich's Weekend Baseball BEAT
Saturday, January 17, 2004
 
The Bert Alert

The results of Neal Traven's 2004 Internet Hall of Fame (IHOF) vote were released about the same time as those from the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA). Traven, who is the co-chair of the Statistical Analysis Committee of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR), has been conducting a HOF vote online since 1991.

As shown below, the IHOF and the BBWAA voters agree that Dennis Eckersley and Paul Molitor are worthy of enshrinement in Cooperstown. The two factions have not differed all that much over the past 12 years, seeing eye-to-eye on 14 of the 17 honorees. The Internet voters did not view Don Sutton, Tony Perez, and Kirby Puckett as deserving choices, and they saw fit to add Phil Niekro, Carlton Fisk, and Gary Carter one year before the BBWAA.


	        Internet Voting	        Actual Results

Player Votes Pct Votes Pct
Dennis Eckersley 1940 82.1 421 83.2
Paul Molitor 1888 79.9 431 85.2
Bert Blyleven 1717 72.7 179 35.4
Ryne Sandberg 1635 69.2 309 61.1
Rich Gossage 1236 52.3 206 40.7
Alan Trammell 968 41.0 70 13.8
Bruce Sutter 695 29.4 301 59.5
Jim Rice 553 23.4 276 54.6
Andre Dawson 510 21.6 253 50.0
Lee Smith 423 17.9 185 36.6
Tommy John 375 15.9 111 21.9
Jack Morris 368 15.6 133 26.3

Despite the unanimity with respect to Eckersley and Molitor, the Internet voters and the writers have a very different view of the other candidates. The player with the biggest disparity is none other than Bert Blyleven, who received nearly 73% of the online vote and only 35% of the actual vote. The latter, however, was a 6% improvement over the previous year. At that rate of progress, Blyleven will sneak into the HOF in his 14th year of eligibility.

If Blyleven can make it over the 50% hump, he will stand an excellent chance of eventually being inducted based on a study performed by Mike Carminati at Mike's Baseball Rants. According to Mike, Gil Hodges is the only player (other than those still on the ballot) who has received at least half of the votes and not been enshrined at a later date. Should the past be prologue, Ryne Sandberg (61%), Bruce Sutter (60%), Jim Rice (55%), and Andre Dawson (50%) appear to have an excellent shot at being enshrined.

Jay Jaffe, the proprietor of the Futility Infielder, wrote an outstanding and comprehensive two-part series for Baseball Prospectus analyzing the hitters and the pitchers from the Class of 2004. Here are a couple of excerpts from Jaffe's report on Blyleven:

Which brings us finally to Bert Blyleven, the stathead's choice among Hall-eligible starters, and quite possibly the best player not in the Hall of Fame...Hall of Fame voters perform all kinds of gymnastics in attempting to justify why Blyleven doesn't get their vote, most of them fixated on his relatively unimpressive winning percentage (.534), his 250 losses, a win total just shy of 300, and his failure to win a Cy Young award.

One of the traditional complaints against Blyleven is that he didn't win any Cy Young awards, and that he didn't win 300 games while a whole bunch of his contemporaries did. Well, here's how Bert compares to his enshrined contemporaries, ranked by weighted score:



           PRAA   PRAR   WARP3   PEAK   WPWT  PKPCT

Seaver 421 1463 142.9 50.2 96.6 35.1
Blyleven 311 1408 135.8 45.6 90.7 33.6
Perry 255 1434 133.4 47.7 90.6 35.8
Ryan 263 1488 131.1 42.2 86.7 32.2
Niekro 209 1385 130.0 42.2 86.1 32.5
Carlton 222 1357 123.8 38.0 80.9 33.6
Jenkins 236 1234 115.7 43.0 79.4 37.2
Palmer 230 1120 108.9 46.4 77.7 42.6
Sutton 170 1354 117.3 36.3 76.8 30.9
Hunter 38 836 76.0 42.0 59.0 55.3

One of these pitchers is not like the others, but it isn't Blyleven, it's Catfish Hunter, a pitcher who supposedly "pitched to the score" and thus had some high ERAs, not to mention a relatively short career. Blyleven is second among this group in WARP and PRAA, fourth in PEAK, and second in WPWT. At worst, by these measures, he's the fourth most valuable pitcher in this group. If that's not a Hall of Famer, I don't know what is. There isn't a player on the 2004 Hall of Fame ballot who deserves a vote more than Blyleven.

Jaffe is analytical, objective, and thorough. As such, his articles should be a must read by all of the Hall of Fame voters. If nothing else, these writers would at least be better informed the next time around. Quite frankly, basing decisions on memories and stats found on the back of a baseball card is simply an unacceptable method in the Information Age.

Steve Rushin of Sports Illlustrated devoted an entire column to Blyleven in the January 19, 2004 issue. Here is an excerpt from Rushin's "Hotfoot Him to the Hall":

Blyleven ranks fifth in career strikeouts. (Everyone else in the top 10 is or will be in the Hall of Fame.) He ranks ninth in shutouts. (Everyone else in the top 13 is in.) He ranks eighth all-time in games started. (Everyone else in the top 12 but sixth-ranked Tommy John is in.) And he ranks 13th all-time in innings pitched. (Everyone else in the top 16 is in.)

Hmmmm. I distinctly remember making some of those very arguments myself. Oh well, I'm glad to read that a member of the mainstream media is now jumping on the bandwagon. An article on behalf of Blyleven with the circulation of Sports Illustrated can only help his case. As I see it, the more, the merrier.

All aboard!

Richard Lederer
Rich's Weekend Baseball BEAT
www.baseballbeat.blogspot.com

Wednesday, January 14, 2004
 
Sandy Koufax and the 1965 World Series

ESPN Sports Classic replayed the Seventh Game of the 1965 World Series between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Minnesota Twins last Saturday. Watching the videotape of this game was an enjoyable way to spend a weekend morning in January.

Let me set the stage. The Dodgers had won 13 consecutive games in the second half of September, including seven shutouts, to overtake the Cincinnati Reds and the San Francisco Giants (fresh off a 14-game win streak at the beginning of the month). Sandy Koufax beat the Milwaukee Braves, 2-1, on Saturday, October 2 to clinch the National League pennant in the second to last game of the season. Koufax, who led the N.L. that year in wins (26), ERA (2.04), complete games (27), and innings pitched (335 2/3), struck out 13 Braves to increase his then modern single-season record to 382.

Over in the American League, the Twins clinched their first pennant on the previous Sunday when Jim Kaat (18-11, 2.83) defeated the Washington Senators, 2-1. Minnesota dominated the A.L. in 1965. After opening day, the Twins were either in first or second place every day that season.

The linesmakers established the Dodgers as a 7:5 favorite to win the World Series. The Dodgers would have been an even heavier favorite if the first game had not fallen on Yom Kippur, causing Koufax to miss the opener and perhaps a third start should the Series go the distance.



In Game One, the underdog Twins knocked out Don Drysdale in the second inning en route to a 8-2 drubbing over the visitors. When Dodgers manager Walter Alston went to the mound to pull Drysdale, the big righthander reportedly quipped, "Hey, skip, I bet you wish I was Jewish today, too."

Kaat drove in Minnesota's first two runs and went on to defeat Koufax and the Dodgers, 5-1, in Game Two. The Dodgers bounced back and took games three through five in Los Angeles behind Claude Osteen's five-hit shutout, Drysdale's CG victory, and Koufax's four-hit shutout.

The Series returned to Metropolitan Stadium with the Twins down three games to two. Mudcat Grant hit a three-run homer and tossed a six hitter to beat the Dodgers, 5-1.

The Rubber Game of the Match

That brings us to Game Seven. Alston has a decision to make. Go with Drysdale in his normal turn in the rotation or bring back Koufax on two days rest? Alston announces at a team meeting the morning of Game Seven a decision he and his coaches had made the previous evening to go with "the lefthander". By starting Sandy rather than the Big D, Alston reasons that the Dodgers can throw a lefty (Koufax), righty (Drysdale), and lefty (Ron Perranoski) combination at the Twins, if need be.

The black and white telecast begins with Kaat, also back on two days rest, striking out Maury Wills. With Jim Gilliam on first base, Willie Davis tries to bunt for a hit. I can't fathom a number three hitter attempting a bunt single with a runner on first and one out in today's environment. Then again, a hitter of Davis' ineptitude would not be batting third either. I mean, can you imagine filling out the lineup card in the most crucial game of the year and writing down a player's name in the third slot with the following regular season stats?

	G	AB	R	H	2B	3B	HR	RBI	BB	SO	SB	CS	AVG	OBP	SLG

Davis 142 558 52 133 24 3 10 57 14 81 25 9 .238 .263 .346

Yes, that line is correct. The Dodgers #3 hitter had an on-base percentage of .263. The league average was .322 excluding pitchers. He also had an OPS of .609 versus .713 for the league. His OPS+ was 76, meaning he was 24% less productive than the average hitter, adjusted for ballpark conditions. Davis reached base 154 times (including just 14 by base on balls) and made 457 outs! Moneyball, anyone?

In defense of Alston, he didn't have much to choose from. Drysdale was the only player with a higher slugging average (.508) than Lou Johnson's .391 or an OPS (.839) better than Junior Gilliam's .758. And Double D was needed in the bullpen that day. As such, Alston went with Davis, the best "tools" player on the team.

Back to the ballgame. So, what did the "out machine" do? He promptly bunted the ball back to Kaat for an easy out at first. This strategy appears to be predicated on the belief that the Dodgers are looking to score one run anyway they can get it, knowing that Koufax has the potential of whitewashing the Twins once again.

In any event, the Dodgers cleanup hitter Johnson is retired to end the top of the first. Koufax takes the mound for his third start in eight days. The camera pans the field, showing the Dodgers defensively as well as Billy Martin coaching third for the Twins.

Zoilo Versalles, the A.L.'s MVP in 1965, strikes out to lead off the bottom of the first. Joe Nossek steps up and Koufax misses high on more than one occasion--owing to Metropolitan Stadium's "flat mound" as John Roseboro describes it in an audio clip, contrasting the Twins' flatter mound vs. the Dodgers' steeper mound. And you thought ballpark effects were mostly due to the distance of the outfield walls or the amount of foul territory?

Nossek strikes out, but Tony Oliva and Harmon Killebrew draw back-to-back walks. Koufax is clearly laboring at this point, taking his hat off and wiping his brow with his sleeve after almost every pitch. Drysdale starts loosening up in the bullpen. Sandy buckles down and whiffs Earl Battey to end the inning.

The videotape cuts to the bottom of the third inning. Kaat, while at the plate, is described by play-by-play announcer Ray Scott as "very fast...used as a pinch runner...likes to bunt for a base hit". Add in the fact that Kaat earned 16 consecutive Gold Gloves during his career, and it serves as a nice reminder just how good an athlete he was.

After Kaat is retired, Versalles lines a hanging curveball to center field for a single, prompting Drysdale to begin warming up for the second time. Zorro steals second but is sent back to first because the batter, Nossek, is called out for interference. Third base coach Martin walks toward home plate, arguing to no avail that Koufax is not coming to a full stop in his stretch. The Twins strand Versalles on first and the game heads to the fourth with no score.

Sweet Lou

Johnson leads off the top of the inning with a home run off the left field foul pole, giving the Dodgers a 1-0 lead. The "why do they call it a foul pole?" question rings through my mind. Ron Fairly doubles into the right field corner. Al Worthington, the ace of the Twins bullpen, begins to loosen up. Wes Parker follows with a groundball single to right, scoring Fairly with Parker taking second on Oliva's misplay. Dodgers two, Twins nothing. Sam Mele walks to the mound and points to the bullpen, calling for Worthington. Scott acknowledges that it's the "earliest" Worthington has appeared in a game in 1965.

Can you imagine Mike Scioscia bringing in Troy Percival or Joe Torre motioning for Mariano Rivera in the fourth inning of Game Seven of the World Series? Well, that is exactly what Mele did. Worthington had a 10-7 record with 21 saves (good for sixth in the A.L.) and an ERA of 2.14 in 1965. And, unlike a lot of other relievers in those days, Worthington had not pitched an unusually high number of innings during the regular season (only 80 spread over 62 games, for an average of 1 1/3 IP per game). Yet, in the final game of the season, the Twins "closer" was being asked to stop the bleeding right then and there.

Dick Tracewski, starting at second base in place of Jim Lefebvre (the N.L. Rookie of the Year in 1965), tries to sacrifice Parker to third but pops up to Worthington. Tracewski (.215/.313/.263 over the course of the season) goes 2-for-17 with one BB and no extra base hits in the Series. And modern-day Dodgers fans think Alex Cora and Cesar Izturis are pathetic? Worthington walks Roseboro, then retires Koufax and Wills to keep the game from getting out of hand early.

In the bottom of the fifth, Frank Quilici doubles off the base of the left center field fence. A check of Quilici's season stats (.208/.280/.255) makes Luis Rivas look like an acceptable option at second base. Drysdale gets up in the bullpen for the third time. Koufax walks Rich Rollins, who is pinch hitting for Worthington, on a 3-and-2 pitch, then slams his left fist into his glove. Alston walks to the mound while Vin Scully interjects that Koufax has had success with his fastball only. As Roseboro recalls in "True Blue--The Dramatic History of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Told by the Men Who Lived It":

"Sandy's arm was giving him problems in that last World Series game. He couldn't get his breaking ball over the plate. So I finally went out and said, 'Sandy, what's going on?' He said, 'I can't throw the goddamn curveball.' I said, 'Well, what are we gonna do?' He said, 'Fuck it! Let's just blow it by 'em!' "


The next batter, Versalles, then hits a sharp grounder down the third base line and Gilliam makes a spectacular backhanded catch, forcing Quilici at third and preventing at least one run from scoring. The so-called "NBC Instant Replay" allowed viewers to witness for a second time one of the best defensive plays in World Series history. Koufax gathers himself and retires Nossek on a 6-to-4 force out at second base. Nossek (.218/.250/.306), a righthanded-hitting rookie outfielder who went 4-for-20 in the Series with no walks or extra base hits, started in place of the lefthanded Jimmie Hall (.285/.347/.464) five times against Koufax and Osteen, the two Dodger southpaws. Hey, Sam, can you say "over manage"?

Koufax sets down Bob Allison, Don Mincher, and Quilici in order in the bottom of the seventh, and then gets pinch hitter Sandy Valdespino (a lefthanded reserve outfielder who, according to Scully, threw batting practice for the Twins before the game), Versalles, and Nossek 1-2-3 in the bottom of the eighth. With Drysdale, who has perhaps thrown as many pitches as Koufax, and Perranoski throwing in the bullpen behind Koufax, Scully reminds us that the Twins have Oliva, Killebrew, and Battey due up in the ninth.

In the top of the final frame, Koufax leads off and receives a round of applause from the Twins faithful. That would never happen today unless, of course, it was Roger Clemens' last...err, strike that thought. Nonetheless, Sandy swings and misses at a high fastball and laughs, then fails to check his swing on a breaking ball. Koufax pulls back his bat on a two-strike bunt attempt for ball one before feebly swinging and missing for strike three.

Scully, as only Vinny can do, then describes the defensive alignment for Wills, saying he "must feel like (third baseman) Killebrew's dentist". The Dodgers shortstop works Jim Perry for a walk. Scully, speculating as to whether Wills will try to steal, tells us that he has stolen three bases in the Series. Maury runs on the first pitch and is out on a good throw from Battey. Gilliam grounds out to end the inning.

Bottom of the Ninth

John Kennedy replaces Gilliam, the defensive star of the game, at third. Scott takes over the microphone and informs the viewers that the Twins must now face Sandy Koufax, "generally regarded as baseball's best pitcher".

Oliva steps in, swings and misses, losing his bat in the process as he was wont to do back then due to a bone chip in his hand. Tony O. hits an easy chopper to Kennedy for out number one. Koufax has now retired 12 in a row. Killebrew promptly lines a single to left. Battey walks to the plate, representing the tying run. The Twins catcher looks totally overmatched in his first two swings and then goes down looking. With two outs and a runner on first, up steps Allison. Scott chimes in, "It's Koufax's game to win or lose". Koufax blows down Allison swinging for his tenth strikeout of the game and second consecutive shutout, this time for all the grand marbles as the Dodgers beat the host Twins, 2-0, to wrap up the 1965 World Series championship. Game Seven was the only contest won by the visiting team. Alston and the Dodgers had won their fourth World Series title in eleven years.

After witnessing Sandy's clutch performance, I couldn't help but think poor ol' Grady Little must be wishing that he could have kibitzed with Koufax rather than Pedro Martinez in that all-important ALCS game last October. And that thought leads me to believe Sandy Koufax's place in baseball history has actually been undervalued by sabermetricians as a whole.

Brilliant If Not Brief

I recognize that Koufax benefited by pitching during the 1960s when runs were more scarce and by starting approximately half of his games in the expanse of Dodger Stadium, one of the most pitcher-friendly ballparks of the past 40 years. However, sabermetricians routinely undervalue Koufax's counting stats during his peak years and fail to give proper credit for pitching on two or three days rest, especially at critical junctures in the season such as Game Seven of the 1965 World Series.

According to Jane Leavy in her masterfully written book, "Sandy Koufax: A Lefty's Legacy", the Dodger great pitched on two days rest eight times in his career. He had six victories, including three complete game wins with a combined total of 35 strikeouts.

How valuable is it to get one additional game out of a pitcher like Koufax in a seven-game series? That's a 50% increase over the more normal two starts. If that extra game is what makes the difference between winning and losing the World Championship, how do we quantify that?

Since 1950, there have been only three starting pitchers besides Koufax who won Game Seven of the World Series on only two days of rest. All four pitchers won the fifth and seventh games on a Monday and Thursday. In 1957, Lew Burdette of the Milwaukee Braves defeated the New York Yankees, 1-0 and 5-0. In 1964, Bob Gibson of the St. Louis Cardinals beat the Yankees, 5-2 and 7-5. In 1968, Mickey Lolich of the Detroit Tigers beat the Cardinals, 5-3 and 4-1.

You may recall that Josh Beckett pitched a complete-game five-hitter, striking out nine to win Game Six and the 2003 World Series title on three days rest. Beckett's gutsy effort is sure to become part of World Series lore.

I would be remiss if I didn't point out that Christy Mathewson pitched three complete-game shutouts over the course of six days in the 1905 World Series, winning games one, three, and five. Mathewson's totals included three shutout wins, 18 strikeouts, 14 hits allowed, and only one walk in what may be the most remarkable pitching performance in World Series history.

For The Record

In Koufax's case, the two Series shutouts gave him a total of 29 complete games and 10 shutouts for the entire season. He threw 360 innings, striking out 411 batters along the way against only 76 walks. Sandy's won-loss record was 28-9 and his combined ERA was 1.93. He also had two saves in the only two games he didn't start that year.

Koufax's ERA for the regular season was 1.50 below the league average. His 2.04 ERA in a league context of 3.54 is better than a 3.00 ERA in today's league context of 4.50 because the former represents .576 of the league average versus .667 for the latter. Granted, the ballpark effects need to be evaluated but so do the incremental innings that Koufax pitched not only in the regular season but also in the postseason, an area that tends to get very little, if any, attention from the sabermetric crowd.

Factoring in park effects, Koufax's ERA was still an impressive 1.22 better than the league average. Based on the number of innings pitched, Koufax's superiority was worth about 56 runs on an actual basis and 45 runs on an adjusted basis vs. an average pitcher. And therein lies one of the problems when measuring Koufax's greatness. Average pitchers don't throw 300+ innings. A team might be able to change out 10 or 20 or even 25 innings at or close to an average rate, but it becomes a much more difficult proposition to replace the additional 50, 75, or 100 IP that Koufax provided his team.

Now I like Pedro Martinez as much as the next guy. On the basis of adjusted rate stats, Pedro compares favorably to just about any pitcher in the history of major league baseball. However, I think sabermetricians need to make sure they don't overlook just how dominant Sandy Koufax was during his heyday, too.

Soaking up Game Seven of the 1965 World Series 38 years later serves as a beautiful reminder of what once was.

Richard Lederer
Rich's Weekend Baseball BEAT
www.baseballbeat.blogspot.com

Saturday, January 10, 2004
 

Not Your Average Joe

BP's Sheehan Talks Baseball, Prospectus, and More Baseball



Joe Sheehan is a co-founder and author of Baseball Prospectus. Joe writes his Prospectus Today column, which is available to BP Premium subscribers, from the standpoint of the informed outsider. His analysis and opinions are highly entertaining and insightful.

Joe was born and raised in New York City. He graduated from the University of Southern California in 1994 with a Bachelor of Science in Journalism (print emphasis). Joe and his wife Sophia have been married since 1996, and they currently reside in the greater Los Angeles area. Outside of baseball, Joe's interests include cooking, reading non-fiction, golf, and poker although "not in that order".

I had the pleasure of interviewing Joe as part of my offseason series of discussions with baseball's best online writers and analysts. Grab a cup of coffee, settle in, and be sure to take copious notes.

RWBB: When did you begin to follow baseball?

Joe: My earliest baseball memories are of a nighttime Mets game when I was four or five and of playing Wiffle ball on the sidewalk around that time. The first specific memories I have are of the Bucky Dent game, when I was seven.

RWBB: You must not be a Red Sox fan or you would have given ol' Bucky a certain middle name.

Joe: I'm a huge Yankees fan, have been since I was a little kid. My birthday present for a number of years was tickets to a doubleheader, back when they scheduled them. When I got older, I'd go to 20-25 games a summer. To me, no place in baseball will ever be like Yankee Stadium.

RWBB: Who was your favorite player growing up?

Joe: Chris Chambliss was my first. I cried when he was traded after the 1979 season, and I still remember Jerry Girard on WPIX making the announcement.

Starting in 1983, it was Don Mattingly. I imitated his batting style, cheered him like a maniac at the Stadium, and probably saw 80% of his at-bats from '84 through '89.

RWBB: You only followed Donnie Baseball in his good years, ehh?

Joe: Don't make me come over there, Rich. No, it's just that I went to college in '89, so I didn't see as many Yankee games living in L.A. It really hurt to watch the back take him down. 1990 was the worst, but he was such a different hitter after that, lacking the explosion out of the crouch that gave him his power.

Mattingly has talked about how he felt like he found his power late in 1995. The Tino Martinez acquisition forced him out of New York, but I've often wondered whether he might have had a resurgence had he continued playing.

RWBB: Who is your favorite player now?

Joe: I guess if I have to think about it, I really don't have one, huh? It was Greg Maddux for a while. I used to build my schedule to catch his starts. Now...I love watching Mark Prior (Fight On!)...Eric Gagne is a lot of fun.

RWBB: How would you compare Prior to another Trojan great, Tom Seaver?

Joe: I wouldn't. I think there are similarities in that both have excellent, but differing mechanics, and the USC connection works, but I really would be reluctant to compare the guy with 320 major-league innings to the guy with about that many wins.

RWBB: You were one of the five names on the cover of the first Baseball Prospectus book.

Joe: I've been involved with Baseball Prospectus since before it had a name. Gary Huckabay and Clay Davenport had a plan to publish Clay's Translations and Gary's projections along with player comments in a book. They had been doing so on USENET, in the rec.sport.baseball newsgroup, for years.

Rany Jazayerli offered them his Organizational Pitching Reports for use in the as-yet-unnamed book. When Rany--who was a friend of mine though a Strat league--told me this, I offered my services as an editor on the project. Gary, who only really knew me through the newsgroup, invited me on board. I might even forgive him one day.

This all happened in the fourth quarter of 1995. We published BP 1996 just in time for Opening Day.

RWBB: Tell us about BP's original mission.

Joe: To write the book we all wanted to read.

RWBB: How has BP evolved over the years?

Joe: Well, the advent and popularity of the World Wide Web, which really wasn't a factor when we were doing the first book, changed things. We've evolved from a "book with a Web site" to a content provider across all media. Obviously we've grown from a staffing standpoint, from the original five to...oh, geez, we probably have 50 or more people doing some type of work for the company now.

Perhaps the most noticeable change, on a daily basis, is our relationship to the industry. We've worked hard to gain the respect of people within baseball, and we now have relationships with every front office, as well as most major media outlets. Our work has had an impact on the game, and I don't think we could have hoped for more in the winter of '95-'96.

RWBB: How successful has Baseball Prospectus Premium been thus far?

Joe: Very. When we went through the process last winter of setting it up, and making estimates of subscribers and what-not, we had a target number in mind. We passed that number by the middle of spring training, and have left it far, far, behind.

I can't say enough about how gratifying that was for us. Beyond the business success, to know that we'd actually underestimated how much people enjoy the work we do and the number who would pay for it was a great feeling.

RWBB: What new areas can you envision for BP in the future?

Joe: We're going to keep improving the Web site, and as technology and bandwidth allow, we want to develop new features that will enhance the user experience. The success of Baseball Prospectus Radio extends our reach and has created interest in developing a television property, something we're exploring. Syndicated content in print publications, such as last fall's run in the New York Sun, is also coming.

We want to reach baseball fans. Not just statheads, not just number crunchers, but the millions of people who love this game.

RWBB: There's been a lot said recently about the mainstream media vs. the Internet media. Where does BP fit in?

Joe: That's a false dichotomy. It's not about the medium or the characterization of it, but the content, disseminated in all forms to as many people as possible. We had to get our hands around that a few years back, when we realized that the Web site and radio gigs and ESPN.com were bringing more people in than the book was.

I know what you're asking, Rich, and I don't entirely know the answer myself. We're clearly not as mainstream as ESPN or The New York Times, but we're also not just some guys with a Web site. I can make a fairly strong argument that we're the first new-media company to have a claim to a spot next to those established entities, at least in the sports world.

RWBB: With respect to the BP book, you recently decided to change publishers.

Joe: Brassey's was a strong partner for a number of years, and we wish them well. To reach a larger audience, however, we wanted a larger publisher with more experience selling mainstream and sports books. We had interest from many, which was gratifying.

We're excited about the new relationship with Workman; they put out well-designed, eye-catching products, and they've shown a real enthusiasm for Baseball Prospectus 2004.

RWBB: What's in store for this year's edition?

Joe: Let's see...Nate Silver takes a look at PECOTA's performance in 2003, Clay Davenport revisits his Japanese League translations, Keith Woolner on catcher defense, and Doug Pappas on marginal wins per dollar going back 25 years.

That is, of course, in addition to the 30 team essays, the stats, the projections, and the commentary on 1500-odd players.

RWBB: Are you afraid of losing your good, young writers and analysts to MLB a la Keith Law?

Joe: Heck, no. If we were to become some kind of farm system for young baseball executives, that would be all kinds of good. The game would get better, we'd strengthen our ties to front offices, and obviously we would be able to attract new talent. The Baseball Prospectus name can only be enhanced by something like that.

Keep in mind that Keith's career path is a non-standard one. There are few people with his qualifications, which is why he's now part of a young front office just beginning to do great things. But it's not hard to see how people like Clay Davenport, Keith Woolner, and Gary Huckabay could help a team, especially one that needs to maximize its investments in player personnel.

RWBB: What do you see yourself doing in 3-5 years? Writing for BP or working for a major league team?

Joe: Depends on when you ask me. I really do have a cool job, although like any writer, the process can be frustrating. I want to avoid repeating myself, while continuing to do solid analysis and be entertaining.

Sometimes, I do think it would be fun to be putting this stuff into practice, rather than simply writing about it from the outside. I think applying the principles of the informed outsider to team-building, and making those mesh with the best insider approaches--and improving both sides along the way--would lead to better baseball.

So to answer the question, I'd like to be doing either.

RWBB: If you were a GM, would you place more emphasis on "tools" or "metrics"?

Joe: Yes.

You need to know about both. Performance is merely the results gained by applied tools (or skills, if you prefer). Performance is what has value, however; no one wins by having better tools. What I would have to work on is finding people who can evaluate tools outside of the existing biases in the scouting community. Don't tell me about "the good face," or the projectable body or that the guy doesn't look good with his shirt off. Tell me--quantify for me--what his physical abilities are, and how those apply to baseball.

Evaluating scouts--evaluating the entire process of scouting--is long overdue. I don't think anyone, myself included, knows exactly where to start or what that process will look like, but I can tell you that it's one of those "next" areas that progressive organizations will be addressing in the future.

RWBB: Which team has helped itself the most this off-season?

Joe: You have to split this into "AL East" and "Other" categories, don't you? The Yankees upgraded two rotation slots with #1 starters and added Gary Sheffield. Of course, they didn't address their defense. The Orioles made huge gains over their 2003 holes at shortstop and catcher by adding Miguel Tejada and Javy Lopez. The Red Sox fell short on Alex Rodriguez, but added 300 innings of right-handed goodness in Curt Schilling and Keith Foulke.

The Mets picked up a ton of talent up the middle in Kazuo Matsui and Mike Cameron. They could allow 60 fewer runs on defensive improvement alone.

So I'd rank them Orioles, Mets, Yankees, Red Sox, and note that the first two teams appear to be Vladimir Guerrero's biggest suitors.

RWBB: Given the Yankees and Red Sox "can you top this" drama this winter and the Brewers cutting payroll by 25%, do you think the CBA is working to restore competitive balance?

Joe: I think that's a loaded question. Competitive balance wasn't actually a problem under the old CBA; the perception of an imbalance, driven by a number of factors but foremost MLB's interest in the illusion, was. The relationships between payroll and success, or market size and revenue, or revenue and payroll, are much more complex than most fans or media understand.

If anything, the new CBA may be creating a problem, in that there is a set of rules in place that does appear to constrain the activities of 29 teams...but that one team doesn't really give a damn about. It's hard to see the Yankees not being affected by paying $60 million or more in success tax each year, but they're certainly not acting as if that's a deterrent.

RWBB: If the A-Rod-Manny trade doesn't go through, do you think the Red Sox clubhouse can recover from it?

Joe: Absolutely. We make too much of interpersonal issues, and whether one person or another has had his feelings hurt. The Sox will be just fine, because the people involved will behave better than the media covering them, much to that media's chagrin.

RWBB: Who is your best bet among players with fewer than 100 plate appearances last year to have a big season in 2004?

Joe: Jeremy Reed could fill the White Sox' CF hole and be Rookie of the Year. David DeJesus might be blocked in K.C., but he's a very good player who's ready. I have to mention Rickie Weeks as well.

RWBB: Does PECOTA tell you anything about Reed, DeJesus, or Weeks?

Joe: Sure. (Smiles.) But you'll have to check the book or BP Premium to find out exactly what.

RWBB: That's fair enough. Who is most likely in your judgment to be a bust in 2004?

Joe: I don't like any of the Angels' signings much, especially Kelvim Escobar. I worry about the number of pitches Carlos Zambrano threw and think he may decline or be hurt in '04.

RWBB: That would be a major blow to the Cubs.

Joe: They have starting pitching to burn, especially if Angel Guzman makes a quick recovery. I'm more concerned with their offense, which is heavily right-handed and slow. Of course, if two of the big three go down...

RWBB: ...then Dusty Baker will be in big trouble. Along this line of thought, which manager is most likely to be fired first?

Joe: Joe Torre, because Bad George is very much back.

RWBB: Is Brian Cashman just a figurehead or does he have much say in personnel matters?

Joe: "Figurehead" is a strong word. Ah, maybe it's not. Let's just say he'd like to be elsewhere.

RWBB: Where do you think the Expos will end up and when?

Joe: D.C., in either '05 or '06. The rest of the owners are getting sick of paying for the team, and the conflicts that creates are becoming untenable.

RWBB: You coined the term, "There Is No Such Thing As a Pitching Prospect". You don't think it is possible to identify the Mark Priors and Josh Becketts of the world?

Joe: I've become associated with that term, but the credit for it goes to Gary Huckabay.

I place Mark Prior, and what I call "fully-formed" college pitchers, in a category apart from pitching prospects. Mike Mussina, Barry Zito...guys like that aren't ever really "pitching prospects," although they may make 15-20 starts in the minors. I think drafting those guys is usually a good investment; it's like signing a free agent, really.

As great as Beckett was in October, isn't his career path an argument in favor of TNSTAAPP? He's made 44 starts in two seasons, and if the Marlins don't win the wild card, he's just another pitcher with potential and problems.

I'm not taking away from what he did in the postseason but am pointing out that the perception of his status is largely driven by that month. He'd been hampered by nagging injuries, mostly blisters, up to that point.

TNSTAAPP, as I wrote earlier this year, is a shorthand way of making the argument that we underestimate the path to becoming a major-league pitcher. Young men--teenagers, 20- and 21-year-olds--get hurt along the way, and hyping some kid who beats up the Carolina League is a completely unrealistic viewpoint when we know how different baseball is at that level. The necessary skills, the competition, and the conditions just don't compare.

Will the TNSTAAPP viewpoint miss some guys? Absolutely, but it will be right more often because it won't place outsized expectations on minor-league pitchers, and it will correctly assess the risks involved in their careers.

RWBB: What are the most important metrics you use in evaluating whether a minor leaguer can be successful in the bigs?

Joe: The most important ones vary depending on who we're talking about, but the first thing you need to know is age relative to level. Everything spins off of that.

Raw power, as measured by isolated slugging; plate discipline, as measured by K/BB ratio and the rates of both strikeouts and walks; positional value, both what he plays and the likelihood that he'll keep playing it. That last one requires input from people within the game, as well as whatever data on defense, such as Clay Davenport's, you can get.

For pitchers, I look at strikeout, walk, and home-run rates, as well as workload (usually IP/start, for short). How he's getting those numbers is important, too; command guys like the Pirates' Sean Burnett can often do well up to Triple-A, with great rates, but they don't miss enough bats to end up with comparable success.

RWBB: Which metrics do you think are still underappreciated or undervalued?

Joe: We probably need to find better ways to work "outs" into discussions of hitters. At-bats and plate appearances are poor substitutes. If we actually were able to show how many fewer outs that, say, Manny Ramirez made as opposed to Garret Anderson, it would highlight the difference between the two.

RWBB: Which ones do you feel are overappreciated or overvalued?

Joe: We'll probably never be done with RBI, which are a proxy for both "production" and "character." Pitcher wins are still seen as a strong measure of success, and there are few statistics more context- and teammate-dependent.

RWBB: Do you think there are any meaningful statistical areas that still need to be better developed?

Joe: Defense, defense, and defense. There's work being done by so many people now, but I don't think we're there with a silver bullet yet. We might never be, but it's better to see people working on that than on the 413th offensive metric.

RWBB: You're of the belief that the game today is much different than it was 30 or 40 years ago.

Joe: The game is always changing. We're in an era that is very hard on pitchers, with smaller strike zones, smaller ballparks, stronger players--especially at traditional non-hitting positions--and a trend towards working counts. Outs are more valuable than ever, so there's less bunting and stealing. I'm not of the opinion that one style of baseball is preferable to all others; I like that the game ebbs and flows, and I believe that it will change again.

RWBB: You've also talked about the difference in setting up a team for the regular season vs. the postseason.

Joe: Nah, lots of people have done that. I go back to what Bill James wrote: "In the postseason, depth don't count." You win in the postseason with your top 15 guys, and I'm as guilty as anyone of getting too worked up about what a manager does with his last roster spots. So you ride your best pitchers, and you go with guys on three days rest, and you let your top reliever go three innings. None of this is rocket science.

RWBB: Speaking of the postseason, which teams do you predict will make it to the World Series this year? And which team do you think will win it all?

Joe: I'll take the Yankees in the AL. The NL...there are some significant unknowns right now, and no great squads. If (Roger) Clemens were to pitch for the Astros, I might go with them; if the Mets sign Vlad, honestly, they start to look good. The Phillies seem to be a popular pick, but I expect Larry Bowa to screw it up.

Geez, I really don't know. I guess I'll go with the Giants. Yanks in 5.

RWBB: Well, Joe, I think we will leave it at that. Thank you for your time and valuable observations.

Richard Lederer
Rich's Weekend Baseball BEAT
www.baseballbeat.blogspot.com

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.

Best regards,

Richard"

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.

Cordially,

Richard"

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.

Richard Lederer
Rich's Weekend Baseball BEAT
www.baseballbeat.blogspot.com

Friday, December 26, 2003
 

Only The Lonely

The Hall of Fame Trials and Tribulations of Bert Blyleven


Dum-dum-dum-dum-dee-du-wah
Ooh-yeah-yeah-yeah-yah
Oh-woh-woh-woh-o oh-wa-wah
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.


CAREER STRIKEOUTS

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.


CAREER SHUTOUTS

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.


NEUTRAL WINS

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.


CAREER WINS

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.


SIMILAR PITCHERS

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:

Steve Carlton
Ferguson Jenkins
Phil Niekro
Gaylord Perry
Robin Roberts
Tom Seaver
Don Sutton

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.


CLOSING ARGUMENT

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.

Richard Lederer
Rich's Weekend Baseball BEAT
www.baseballbeat.blogspot.com

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?


CATCHER SALARIES

Piazza		$15.0m

Rodriguez $10.0m
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.

Richard Lederer
Rich's Weekend Baseball BEAT
www.baseballbeat.blogspot.com

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):

Hank Aaron
Ty Cobb
Lou Gehrig
Rogers Hornsby
Stan Musial
Babe Ruth
Honus Wagner
Ted Williams

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):

Hank Aaron
Barry Bonds
Ty Cobb
Lou Gehrig
Rogers Hornsby
Mickey Mantle
Willie Mays
Stan Musial
Babe Ruth
Honus Wagner
Ted Williams

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.

Richard Lederer
Rich's Weekend Baseball BEAT
www.baseballbeat.blogspot.com


Powered by Blogger

www.blogwise.com www.baseballblogs.org