Rich's Weekend Baseball BEAT
Saturday, January 31, 2004
Power-Hitting OF Ranks Among the Game's Elite
My eight-year-old nephew opened up a pack of baseball cards on Christmas Eve. My brothers and I gathered around him as he shuffled through the cards. When he came to Gary Sheffield, I said, "Future Hall of Famer". I proceeded to grab the card so I could inspect it further. One of my brothers looked at me in disbelief as if I were holding a Matt Stairs card.
Well, as it turns out, my baseball fan brother isn't the only one who thinks Sheffield isn't worthy of such status. Two weeks later, ESPN's Jayson Stark, in Explaining My Hall Ballot, wrote the following in justifying his decision not to vote for Jim Rice:
"He was a power hitter who barely cracks the top 50 all-time in homers (382) and RBI (1,451). In fact, his career numbers (.298 avg., 382 HR) are almost identical to Gary Sheffield's (.299, 379 HR). And does anyone out there see Sheffield as a Hall of Famer?"
Yes, I do. Why not? The case for Sheffield is certainly a much easier one to make than the one against him. Don't believe me? Let's take a look.
First of all, I would like to point out that Rice appears to be a borderline Hall of Fame candidate who, in time, may be selected by either the Baseball Writers Association of America or the Veterans Committee. Rice has garnered more than 50% of the vote in each of the past five years. According to a study by Mike Carminati at Mike's Baseball Rants, every player who has ever received at least 50% of the votes from the BBWAA has eventually been enshrined in Cooperstown other than Gil Hodges.
Rice's HOF qualifications can be summarized as follows:
Black Ink: Batting - 33 (49) (Average HOFer ~ 27)
Gray Ink: Batting - 176 (56) (Average HOFer ~ 144)
HOF Standards: Batting - 42.9 (116) (Average HOFer ~ 50)
HOF Monitor: Batting - 147.0 (75) (Likely HOFer > 100)
Overall Rank in parentheses.
Rice meets three of the four standards as developed by Bill James, and he falls just shy of the fourth. I recognize that these metrics were designed by James to measure how likely a player is to gain admittance to the Hall of Fame and not necessarily how good they were. In any event, I believe these standards are a handy tool when reviewing the candidancies of retired players due to the fact that they encompass a wide range of quantitative and qualitative achievements.
Given James' follow-up work, it may make sense to add Win Shares to the above criteria when evaluating the worthiness of Hall of Famers. Rice ended his career with 282 Win Shares or 55 below the HOF average of 337 (as determined by Mike C.). As such, an argument regarding Rice's Hall worthiness can be made logically on or against his behalf.
With that behind us, let's now compare Rice to Sheffield.
CAREER COUNTING STATS
G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO
Sheffield 1882 6729 1190 2009 356 23 379 1232 1110 796
Rice 2089 8225 1249 2452 373 79 382 1451 670 1423
Although the two sluggers have almost identical home run totals as Stark pointed out, Rice has played 207 more games and has had 1,496 more at bats than Sheffield.
CAREER RATE STATS
BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+
Sheffield .299 .401 .527 .928 147
Rice .298 .352 .502 .854 128
Yes, Jayson, Rice and Sheffield have virtually the same batting averages, too. However, is batting average the end all when it comes to measuring the prowess of hitters? Is it really a better gauge than on-base percentage and slugging average? Welcome to the 21st century. Sheffield beats Rice in OBP and SLG and, by definition, OPS. For those of you who may be concerned about context given the fact that Sheffield has played in a higher run-scoring environment than Rice, the former's adjusted on base plus slugging (OPS+) is 47% above the league average whereas the latter's is 28% above the norm.
Get the broom out. It's a clean sweep. Sheffield has higher OBP, SLG, OPS, and OPS+ totals. To the extent that Sheffield's rate stats decline slightly as he ages, he will more than make it up in his mounting cumulative totals. In fact, based on hitting 31 HR per year (a more than 10% regression from his five-year average), Sheffield will pierce the magical 500 plateau in 2007.
A season-by-season review of Rice's and Sheffield's OPS+ numbers shows that Sheff has topped his counterpart 12 out of 13 times (based on 300 or more plate appearances).
(Ranked from High to Low)
Sheffield has produced six seasons with OPS+ totals over 150 whereas Rice only had two such years. (I have found that the number of campaigns of 150 or more for corner outfielders and first basemen an interesting guide for comparing and evaluating players. There are usually just a handful of players with OPS+ ratings of 150 each season.)
The biggest difference between Rice and Sheffield is in the number of outs that these two players have generated over the course of their careers.
Sheffield 8035 5067
Rice 9058 6221
Rice has created 1,154 more outs than Sheffield in only 1,023 more plate appearances. What does that all mean? Although I'm quite sure Yankee fans wouldn't be happy about it, Sheffield could basically go could oh-fer the next two seasons and not be any worse than Rice for his career. In a nutshell, the huge disparity in the number of outs between these two is the reason why Sheffield has been the more valuable offensive player. With respect to the rest of their games, Sheffield is by no means a lesser defensive player or baserunner than Rice. Therefore, his offensive superiority makes him the better overall ballplayer.
If Rice is a borderline Hall of Famer and Sheffield is shown to have superior credentials, then what does that make Sheffield? To borrow a page out of former vice presidential candidate Lloyd Bentsen's playbook: "Jayson, I have studied Gary Sheffield. I know Gary Sheffield. Gary Sheffield is a great offensive player. Jayson, Jim Rice is no Gary Sheffield."
I'm sure some of you may be thinking, "That's great. Sheffield is better than Rice. But how does Sheffield compare to others?" For that, let's take a look at the incomparable Baseball-Reference.com's listing of similar batters through the age of 34.
Duke Snider (922) *
Reggie Jackson (900) *
Billy Williams (898) *
Jeff Bagwell (885)
Dale Murphy (880)
Rafael Palmeiro (879)
Jim Rice (872)
Orlando Cepeda (865) *
Dave Winfield (864) *
Dick Allen (863)
* Signifies Hall of Famer
Based on James' definitions, Duke Snider and Reggie Jackson have similarity scores that can be described as "truly similar" to Sheffield through the age of 34. The remaining players can be described as "similar" or "essentially similar". Five of the eight players on the above list eligible for the Hall of Fame have already been inducted. The two active players stand an excellent chance of being voted in five years after their retirements. As such, seven of Sheffield's ten most similar players are either in the Hall of Fame or are HOF bound. (Interestingly, Rice is among the three who have not been enshrined. He could easily make it eight-for-ten, and it is not unreasonable to assume that Dale Murphy and/or Dick Allen may one day gain admittance to Cooperstown.)
OK, Sheffield is similar to these players but is he better? Good question. For the answer, let's turn to two of my favorite stats--Runs Created Above Average and Runs Created Above Position (both from Lee Sinins' Sabermetric Baseball Encyclopedia).
RUNS CREATED ABOVE AVERAGE
RCAA OBA SLG OPS
1 Babe Ruth 1795 .474 .690 1.164
2 Ted Williams 1475 .482 .634 1.116
3 Ty Cobb 1369 .433 .512 .945
4 Barry Bonds 1344 .433 .602 1.035
5 Lou Gehrig 1247 .447 .632 1.080
6 Stan Musial 1204 .417 .559 .976
7 Mickey Mantle 1099 .421 .557 .977
8 Rogers Hornsby 1084 .434 .577 1.010
9 Tris Speaker 1053 .428 .500 .928
10 Hank Aaron 1032 .374 .555 .928
11 Willie Mays 1008 .384 .557 .941
12 Mel Ott 989 .414 .533 .947
13 Jimmie Foxx 985 .428 .609 1.038
14 Honus Wagner 938 .394 .468 .862
15 Frank Robinson 852 .389 .537 .926
16 Frank Thomas 770 .428 .568 .996
17 Rickey Henderson 763 .401 .419 .820
18 Eddie Collins 747 .424 .429 .853
19 Joe DiMaggio 708 .398 .579 .977
20 Johnny Mize 667 .397 .562 .959
21 Mark McGwire 665 .394 .588 .982
T22 Joe Morgan 663 .392 .427 .819
T22 Harry Heilmann 663 .410 .520 .930
T22 Jeff Bagwell 663 .411 .549 .959
25 Eddie Mathews 655 .376 .509 .885
26 Edgar Martinez 651 .423 .525 .948
27 Nap Lajoie 649 .381 .455 .835
28 Mike Schmidt 623 .380 .527 .908
29 Willie McCovey 606 .374 .515 .889
30 Sam Crawford 594 .362 .452 .814
31 George Brett 593 .369 .487 .857
32 Paul Waner 588 .404 .473 .877
33 Joe Jackson 580 .423 .518 .941
T34 Gary Sheffield 565 .401 .527 .928
T34 Reggie Jackson 565 .356 .490 .846
36 Rafael Palmeiro 562 .373 .522 .894
37 Wade Boggs 556 .415 .443 .858
38 Willie Stargell 553 .360 .529 .889
39 Hank Greenberg 549 .412 .605 1.017
40 Carl Yastrzemski 547 .379 .462 .841
41 Al Kaline 546 .376 .480 .855
42 Ken Griffey Jr. 535 .379 .562 .940
43 Jim Thome 528 .411 .568 .979
44 Manny Ramirez 524 .413 .598 1.010
T45 Tim Raines 516 .385 .425 .810
T45 Harmon Killebrew 516 .376 .509 .884
47 Dick Allen 511 .378 .534 .912
T48 Tony Gwynn 504 .388 .459 .847
T48 Al Simmons 504 .380 .535 .915
T50 Larry Walker 492 .400 .567 .967
T50 Pete Rose 492 .375 .409 .784
RUNS CREATED ABOVE POSITION
RCAP OBA SLG OPS
1 Babe Ruth 1594 .474 .690 1.164
2 Ted Williams 1246 .482 .634 1.116
3 Barry Bonds 1218 .433 .602 1.035
4 Rogers Hornsby 1094 .434 .577 1.010
5 Ty Cobb 1078 .433 .512 .945
6 Mickey Mantle 1009 .421 .557 .977
7 Honus Wagner 994 .394 .468 .862
8 Stan Musial 992 .417 .559 .976
9 Lou Gehrig 988 .447 .632 1.080
10 Willie Mays 856 .384 .557 .941
11 Mel Ott 831 .414 .533 .947
T12 Hank Aaron 822 .374 .555 .928
T12 Eddie Collins 822 .424 .429 .853
14 Joe Morgan 820 .392 .427 .819
15 Tris Speaker 777 .428 .500 .928
16 Jimmie Foxx 700 .428 .609 1.038
17 Frank Robinson 674 .389 .537 .926
18 Rickey Henderson 636 .401 .419 .820
19 Eddie Mathews 633 .376 .509 .885
20 Joe DiMaggio 629 .398 .579 .977
21 Nap Lajoie 617 .381 .455 .835
22 Arky Vaughan 598 .406 .453 .859
23 Frank Thomas 594 .428 .568 .996
24 Charlie Gehringer 581 .404 .480 .884
25 Mike Schmidt 576 .380 .527 .908
26 Wade Boggs 575 .415 .443 .858
27 Edgar Martinez 568 .423 .525 .948
28 Ken Griffey Jr. 532 .379 .562 .940
29 Mike Piazza 528 .388 .572 .959
30 Jeff Bagwell 513 .411 .549 .959
31 Johnny Mize 512 .397 .562 .959
32 George Brett 508 .369 .487 .857
33 Mark McGwire 503 .394 .588 .982
34 Gary Sheffield 487 .401 .527 .928
35 Barry Larkin 481 .371 .446 .817
36 Rod Carew 476 .393 .429 .822
37 Alex Rodriguez 474 .382 .581 .963
38 Bill Dickey 473 .382 .486 .868
39 Harry Heilmann 469 .410 .520 .930
40 Willie McCovey 468 .374 .515 .889
41 Reggie Jackson 458 .356 .490 .846
42 Joe Jackson 449 .423 .518 .941
43 Willie Stargell 448 .360 .529 .889
44 Craig Biggio 445 .375 .432 .807
45 Manny Ramirez 444 .413 .598 1.010
46 Yogi Berra 440 .348 .482 .830
47 Joe Cronin 431 .390 .468 .857
48 Mickey Cochrane 425 .419 .478 .897
49 Paul Waner 415 .404 .473 .877
T50 Robin Yount 408 .342 .430 .772
T50 Cal Ripken 408 .340 .447 .788
T50 Jim Thome 408 .411 .568 .979
Sheffield ranks 34th in RCAA and RCAP. Of Sheffield's ten most similar players, only Bagwell ranks higher in RCAA or RCAP. That is, Sheffield has already surpassed the retired Snider, Jackson, Billy Williams, Murphy, Rice, Orlando Cepeda, Dave Winfield, and Allen in both key stats, and he has a lead over the still active Rafael Palmeiro.
Importantly, all the players eligible for the Hall of Fame who rank above Sheffield have already been inducted. In fact, every player listed in the Top 50 in both rankings has a plaque in Cooperstown with the exception of Allen.
Only 15 of the players ranked ahead of Sheffield in RCAA and 14 in RCAP have also produced career OBP of .400 or better, SLG of .500+, and OPS of .900+. It could be argued that Sheffield is among the best and most balanced hitters of all time.
Sheffield has also been a very consistent hitter. He is one of only ten players who have had six or more consecutive seasons with a batting average of .300+, OBP .400+, and SLG .500+.
NUMBER OF CONSECUTIVE SEASONS
BA >= .300, OBA >= .400, SLG >= .500
1 Lou Gehrig 1926-37 12
T2 Babe Ruth 1926-33 8
T2 Stan Musial 1948-55 8
T4 Harry Heilmann 1921-27 7
T4 Frank Thomas 1991-97 7
T4 Edgar Martinez 1995-01 7
T7 Babe Ruth 1919-24 6
T7 Tris Speaker 1920-25 6
T7 Rogers Hornsby 1920-25 6
T7 Chipper Jones 1998-03 6
T7 Gary Sheffield 1998-03 6
All of the players eligible for the Hall of Fame listed above were enshrined long ago. Five of these six players (Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth, Stan Musial, Tris Speaker, and Rogers Hornsby) are considered to be "inner circle" types. Of the three active players, Frank Thomas and Edgar Martinez should be shoo-ins for the Hall, and Chipper Jones is in the process of building a resume worthy of such hallowed status. (Interestingly, if not for Ruth's shortened season in 1925, he could have strung together a record 15 straight seasons of .300/.400/.500. In the meantime, the Babe will have to settle for second and seventh best--the only player to make the Top Ten twice.)
No matter how one slices or dices it, Gary Antonian Sheffield is in pretty exclusive company. Based solely on the numbers, it looks like the Sheff's Hall of Fame qualifications are made to order.
Rich's Weekend Baseball BEAT
Sunday, January 25, 2004
The Grooviest Lefty of All Time
"I'll tell you about fastball pitchers. One day we were playing the Athletics in Yankee Stadium. We were behind by one run in the last of the ninth. We loaded the bases with nobody out. Connie Mack signaled his pitcher off the mound and we all looked toward the bullpen to see who was coming in. But nobody was coming in from the bullpen. Grove walked out of the dugout, threw five warmup pitches, then proceeded to fan the side on ten pitches. The last three he threw to me. I haven't seen any of them yet. Don't ever ask me about fastball pitchers again."
--Bill Dickey, New York Yankees Hall of Fame Catcher
Rob Neyer recently wrote two columns earlier this month regarding "quality of competition". In the first article, Rob mentioned that Lefty Grove was rarely allowed to pitch against the Yankees for a stretch in the early 1930s. In the next paragraph, Rob proceeded to write the following:
"As a practical matter, it doesn't really matter if maybe Lefty Grove was slightly less brilliant than we think he was."
Based on my research, Grove may have started two or three fewer times against the Yankees than would be expected in 1930 and perhaps another time in 1931 and 1935. All told, the number of games that Grove may have been held back during that period is not statistically significant. If anything, it is important to note that Grove started a disproportionate number of games against the Yankees over the course of his career. As such, I don't think Grove deserves to be thought of any less brilliantly now than ever before.
Thanks to Retrosheet, I checked the game logs for each of Grove's 17 seasons in the major leagues and found that Lefty faced the Yankees 69 times out of a total of 457 games started. In other words, Grove went head-to-head vs. the Yankees in 15.1% of his outings. Given that there were eight teams in the league throughout Grove's career, it would be expected that he would start one-seventh or 14.2% of his games against each of the opponents. As it turned out, Grove actually drew the Yankees four more times than projected.
Year GS vs. NYY % GS % vs. NYY
1925 18 4 22.2 18.2
1926 33 7 21.2 31.8
1927 28 5 17.9 22.7
1928 31 7 22.6 31.8
1929 37 5 13.5 22.7
1930 32 2 6.3 9.1
1931 30 3 10.0 13.6
1932 30 4 13.3 18.2
1933 28 4 14.3 18.2
1934 12 1 8.3 4.5
1935 30 3 10.0 13.6
1936 30 7 23.3 31.8
1937 32 5 15.6 22.7
1938 21 4 19.0 18.2
1939 23 4 17.4 18.2
1940 21 2 9.5 9.1
1941 21 2 9.5 9.1
Total 457 69 15.1 18.4
A cynic might point to the fact that Grove only started 18.4% of his team's games vs. the Yankees when, in fact, he should have been expected to start 20%-25% given the four and five-man rotations of the day. Such reasoning would be faulty due to the reality that Grove only started 17.5% of his team's games during his career. As a result, no matter which way one looks at it, Grove actually started more than his fair share of games vs. the Bronx Bombers.
Hall of Famers Galore
There was one particular game in which Grove started against the Yankees that is worth delving into in more detail.
In the first game of a doubleheader between the visiting New York Yankees and the Philadelphia Athletics on May 24, 1928, a record 13 future Hall of Famers took the field. An additional six HOFers either didn't play or were managers or umpires.
Miller Huggins of the Yankees featured a lineup of Earle Combs, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Tony Lazzeri, Leo Durocher, and Waite Hoyt. Connie Mack countered with Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker, Mickey Cochrane, Al Simmons, Eddie Collins, Jimmie Foxx, and Grove. In addition, Herb Pennock and Stan Coveleski of the Yankees were in uniform but didn't play. Tom Connolly and Bill McGowan umpired the game and later were enshrined in Cooperstown.
Cobb, Speaker, and Collins were all over 40 years old, and they were only remnants of their old selves. In fact, 1928 turned out to be Cobb's and Speaker's final year. Cobb and Speaker were part-time players, and Collins was nothing more than a pinch hitter.
Cobb played in 95 games and had an adjusted on-base plus slugging average (OPS+) of 112, the lowest since his rookie season in 1905. Speaker played in 64 games and had an OPS+ of 95, his third consecutive yearly decline and the lowest since 1908 when he had only 125 plate appearances in his second big league season. Collins played in 36 games and had 33 at bats that year.
Foxx, on the other hand, was 20 years old. He wasn't even old enough to vote, yet was in the midst of his fourth season in the big leagues (albeit the first with over 100 games). Foxx played 60 games at third base, 30 at first, and 19 as Cochrane's backup at catcher.
Cochrane won the first of his two Most Valuable Player Awards in 1928 despite not finishing in the top ten in batting average, on base percentage, or slugging average. He ended the season eighth in base on balls and tenth in runs scored and triples. Cochrane was an odd choice for MVP, but previous winners Ruth (1923) and Gehrig (1927) were ineligible under the rules of the day (later changed allowing Cochrane to win a second MVP as a Detroit Tiger in 1934).
By comparison, Ruth and Gehrig were one-two in runs, home runs, extra base hits, times on base, on base percentage, slugging average, and OPS, and they tied for the league lead in RBI. The Bambino also led in walks and total bases, while the Iron Horse tied for the lead in doubles.
Clash of the Titans
The Yankees (26-6) and A's (21-8) were in first and second place when the teams squared off at Shibe Park. The Yankees were coming off a 110-44 record and a sweep of the Pittsburgh Pirates in the World Series in 1927.
There was a lot of excitement in the air. The home team Athletics were on a five-game winning streak and Grove, the starting pitcher, had won six straight. Fans flocked to the stadium from far and wide with 500 "motor cars" bearing identification from such places as New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Delaware, and Washington D.C. according to Joseph J. Dittmar of the Baseball Records Registry. The reported paid attendance was nearly 42,000, the largest crowd to date in Philadelphia baseball history.
Lazzeri spoiled the afternoon for the home faithful with three hits and six RBI, leading the Bronx Bombers to a 9-7 win over the A's. Grove, who led the A.L. with 24 wins and 183 strikeouts, was tagged with one of his only eight losses for the year.
The A's won the nightcap of this landmark doubleheader, 5-2. However, the Yankees went on to win the American League pennant and sweep the National League champion St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series. Gehrig led the way, going 6-for-11 with four home runs, nine RBI, and six BB in four games. Ruth went 10-for-16 with three homers and nine runs scored.
Grove definitely did not duck out against the Yankees that season. He started seven times or in nearly one-third of the match-ups between the rivals, including opening day and the first game of the series three other times. Although Grove didn't fare particularly well (winning only once), he definitely took the ball every time it was his turn to pitch.
According to Don Malcolm of the Big Bad Baseball fame in a post on Baseball Primer, Grove was 30-25 with an ERA of 3.82 as a starting pitcher vs. the Yankees, including 18-16, 4.34 with the A's and 12-9, 3.11 with the Red Sox. Those numbers are well below Grove's record vs. the rest of the league but that is not surprising given the fact that the Yankees were the best team in baseball for much of his career.
Holy (Robert) Moses!
Grove had an overall won-loss total of 300-141 with an ERA of 3.06. Lefty was named the Most Valuable Player in 1931 and captured the so-called Triple Crown of pitching in 1930 and 1931. From July 25, 1930 through September 24, 1931, he went 46-4. Grove led the league in ERA a record nine times, including four straight from 1929-1932. Grove also topped the circuit in strikeouts in each of his first seven seasons.
Based on the way staff aces are handled now, it might surprise some to learn that Lefty was one of the best relief pitchers of his day as well. Of Grove's 616 appearances, 159 were as a reliever. He saved a total of 55 games and finished in the top seven every year from 1926-1933, including a league-leading nine in 1930.
Grove became just the fifth pitcher to win 300 games in the modern era even though he didn't make it to the majors until he was 25 years old. Prior to that, he accumulated a record of 109-36 for the independently owned Baltimore Orioles of the International League. The O's won the pennant all five years Grove played for them with Lefty posting records of 12-2, 25-10, 18-8, 27-10, and 27-6 while leading the league in strikeouts in each of the final four campaigns. After the 1924 season, Connie Mack of the Philadelphia A's agreed to pay $100,000 for Grove's contract plus an extra $600 to make the purchase higher than the amount the Yankees paid the Red Sox for Babe Ruth.
An article featuring Robert Moses "Lefty" Grove would not be complete without the following lists:
RUNS SAVED ABOVE AVERAGE
1 Lefty Grove 668
2 Walter Johnson 643
3 Roger Clemens 613
4 Greg Maddux 540
5 Grover C Alexander 524
6 Randy Johnson 461
7 Pedro Martinez 453
8 Christy Mathewson 405
9 Tom Seaver 404
10 Carl Hubbell 355
ADJUSTED EARNED RUN AVERAGE (ERA+)
1 Pedro Martinez 174
2 Lefty Grove 148
3 Walter Johnson 146
4 Hoyt Wilhelm 146
5 Ed Walsh 145
6 Randy Johnson 143
Greg Maddux 143
8 Addie Joss 142
9 Roger Clemens 140
10 Mordecai Brown 138
EARNED RUN AVERAGE MINUS THE LEAGUE AVERAGE
DIFF PLAYER LEAGUE
1 Pedro Martinez 1.87 2.58 4.46
2 Lefty Grove 1.36 3.06 4.42
3 Randy Johnson 1.25 3.10 4.35
4 Hoyt Wilhelm 1.24 2.52 3.76
5 Roger Clemens 1.20 3.19 4.39
6 Lefty Gomez 1.16 3.34 4.50
7 Greg Maddux 1.16 2.89 4.05
8 Kevin Brown 1.12 3.16 4.29
9 Whitey Ford 1.10 2.74 3.84
10 Walter Johnson 1.07 2.17 3.24
EARNED RUN AVERAGE AS RATIO OF THE LEAGUE AVERAGE
RATE PLAYER LEAGUE
1 Pedro Martinez 173 2.58 4.46
2 Ed Walsh 152 1.82 2.76
3 Walter Johnson 149 2.17 3.24
4 Hoyt Wilhelm 149 2.52 3.76
5 Lefty Grove 144 3.06 4.42
6 Addie Joss 144 1.89 2.72
7 Mordecai Brown 140 2.06 2.89
8 Randy Johnson 140 3.10 4.35
9 Greg Maddux 140 2.89 4.05
10 Whitey Ford 140 2.74 3.84
Based on these various ways of measuring runs saved versus the league average, Grove ranks anywhere from first to fifth all time. Of note, Pedro Martinez is the only pitcher who places higher than Grove more than once, sitting atop three of the four leader boards. Furthermore, Grove, Martinez, Walter Johnson, and Hoyt Wilhelm are the only pitchers listed in the top five at least three times. Finally, Grove, Martinez, W. Johnson, Greg Maddux, and Randy Johnson are the only pitchers who rank in the top ten in all four methods. Roger Clemens deserves special mention, placing in the top five twice and top ten three times. Wilhelm's top ten ratings are based solely on rate stats and are not validated by the RSAA counting stat. As a result, I would tend to discount his standing relative to the other six.
Sources: Sabermetric Baseball Encyclopedia and Baseball-Reference.com. The above lists are based on career totals (modern 1900-on) and 2,000 or more innings pitched.
Photo Credit: Baseball-Library.com/Matt Fulling.
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.
Rich's Weekend Baseball BEAT
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.
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.
Rich's Weekend Baseball BEAT
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"?
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.
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