Saturday, January 08, 2011

All-Time Player Ranking Project Part 4

Part 1 & 2

Second Basemen

  1. Eddie Collins - Collins is a slightly controversial selection for first overall, as anyone with only 47 career home runs would be. The top three second baseman are just incredibly close and I'm giving Collins the edge because even with his lack of power he posted a 142 career OPS+.

  1. Joe Morgan - Morgan was just the perfect top of the order hitter; a guy with speed, patience and enough pop to be dangerous. He was the engine that powered the Big Red Machine

  1. Rogers Hornsby - Certainly the best hitter ever to play second base, Hornsby's one dimensional game drops him to third in my eyes when combined with his shorter career.

  1. Napoleon Lajoie - Three of the top four second baseman are pre-WWII players. I do not believe this is a bias in my system; in that era you put an offensive player at second base and a defensive player at third base, at some point those roles reversed and this will be evident when looking at the top ten third basemen.

  1. Jackie Robinson - A difficult player to evaluate for obvious reasons. His game was similar to Morgan's and a good argument could be made that he belongs with the top three. In the end I chose to slot him in at five because we don't know if he would have been one of the best players in baseball from age 22-27, we do know that Lajoie was one of the best players in baseball for 15 years.

  1. Charlie Gehringer - Gehringer's peak can't match up with those ahead of him but he was consistently great, with seven season's of at least a 6.0 WAR.

  1. Rod Carew - As people slowly began to realize that batting average was not the best way to evaluate a player, Carew started tumbling down all-time best player lists. I feel like these people are forgetting his .393 career OBP. He would rate ahead of Gehringer if he was even an average defensive second baseman or had stayed there longer.

  1. Craig Biggio - Bill James received a great deal of criticism for his praise of Biggio and while he was right that Biggio had been seriously overlooked, he probably went a bit overboard. Watching Biggio struggle to get his 3,000th hit, it was easy to forget what a dynamic player he was during his prime.

  1. Frankie Frisch - Frisch showed up just as the lively ball era was taking off but was more the type of player you would see 15 years earlier, boasting a high batting average and mostly doubles power. He routinely had over 600 plate appearances but never had more than 28 strikeouts in a season.

  1. Joe Gordon - Gordon had a very short career, partially due to the war. With seven 20+ home run seasons he was one of the last offensive second baseman before the transition, however he was also one of the best defenders the position has ever seen.

Other players of note: Ryne Sandberg (11), Lou Whitaker (12), Bobby Grich (13), Roberto Alomar (14), Jeff Kent (15). Sandberg, Alomar and Kent I expected to be in the top 10. Sandberg missed because his career is a bit on the short side, his OBP was never that great and he only broke 20 home runs five times. Alomar also was mostly finished as a player after his age-33 season and the new numbers do not look kindly upon his defense. Kent has the opposite problem; he was never more than an average hitter until he turned 30 and was also rough with the glove.

In my opinion you can debate the top three second baseman endlessly and never come to a firm conclusion, but if I was picking a team, this is the order in which I would select them. The majority of these players fell pretty much where I was expecting, with Gordon being the one obvious exception. Joe Gordon was a lot like Chase Utley, an excellent hitter who was also the best defensive second baseman in the game. Utley, by the way, will easily make this list if he puts up solid numbers in 2011 and 2012 but the late start and small injuries will prevent him from ever making the top five.

Friday, January 07, 2011

2011 Mets Calendar

So, for Christmas, I got a 2011 Mets Calendar. Nice gift, you know, kinda thoughtful. Anyway, it's endorsed by the MLBPA and such, seems legit. Probably one of the few licensed full sized twelve month calendars with Mets on it. But here's the amazing part -- you have to see what players are on it.

And I must emphasize -- this calendar is for 2011:

January- Daniel Murphy
Okay, a little unexpected to see Murph here since he didn't play last season and isn't projected for a starting role in 2011 (yet). But he is recognizable and fans like him, so fine.

February- Ike Davis
Now we're talking

March- Luis Castillo
Seriously, LUIS CASTILLO. What's April going to be, Oliver Perez in a swimsuit?

April- John Maine
Already non-tendered.

May- Jose Reyes
Alright, back to reality. There are definitely seven more Mets who won't make you want to vomit, so this calendar looks like a success.

June- Johan Santana
Now we're clicking on all cylinders. What could possibly go wrong?

July- Jeff Francoeur
WHAT?!?! He was traded LAST SEASON! Not to mention he's terrible -- but more importantly, he wasn't even a Met in September of last year.

August- Francisco Rodriguez
Eh. I guess you have to include him.

September- Carlos Beltran
So damn cool.

October- Jason Bay
Yes, he of the six home runs.

November- Mike Pelfrey
'Atta boy.

December- David Wright
He's good.

My question for you is this: Was this calendar done by someone who knows nothing about the Mets? Or are there just SO FEW players on the team worthy of even putting on a calendar? Who would you have included? Here are my big-time oversights:

- Angel Pagan, because he's awesome
- R.A. Dickey, who by the way, would make an EXCELLENT candidate for this in general because of his insane facial expressions
- Pedro Feliciano, because it's forgivable to have thought late last year that he would be returning
- Bobby Parnell, young, throws 100 mph, and definitely a Met

I could understand that a guy like Josh Thole or Jon Niese, despite being personal favorites, probably wouldn't sell too many calendars -- but some of these choices, my goodness.

All-Time Player Ranking Project Part 3

Part 1 & 2

First Basemen

1.Lou Gehrig - Another one that I expected, but I was surprised just how big of a lead Gehrig has on everyone else. Often in Ruth's shadow, Gehrig's quiet personality may have worked against him and kept him from getting all the credit he deserved.

2.Albert Pujols - No first baseman has ever been both the best hitter in baseball and had a long career, ever, (except Cap Anson but we'll get to him). Gehrig, Foxx, Greenberg, and even Bagwell all had relatively short careers for one reason or another and players like Murray or McCovey never quite hit well enough at any point in their careers. Pujols may change that.

3.Jimmie Foxx - The 1930s were the decade of the first baseman, and Foxx's career mirrors Gehrig's in many ways, but even at his best, he was not quite as good as Gehrig at his best.

4.Jeff Bagwell - Almost no one realizes that through the first 10 years of his career, Bagwell was 90% the hitter Pujols was, an equal defender and a better baserunner. There were a lot of sluggers who peaked around the late-90s but Bagwell's patience and baserunning separated him. The gap was only increased by the fact that he played his prime in the Astrodome, the PetCo Park of the 90s.

5.Johnny Mize - Mize hit his prime just as Gehrig was leaving the game and lost three and a half prime seasons to the war. Even if I did not make any adjustment for this, he would still rank seventh all-time among first baseman.

6.Frank Thomas - A better hitter at his peak than Bagwell but nowhere near the defender or runner. Even with his deficiencies, Thomas' bat could have carried him ahead of Bagwell if not for his balky feet.

7.Jim Thome - A classic slugger with power and patience to spare. Thome should reach 600 home runs in 2011 and should stroll into the Hall of Fame five years later.

8.Cap Anson - Anson posted an OPS+ over 100 for 26 straight seasons. Unfortunately he did all of that before 1900 when the game was in its infancy and nowhere near as competitive as it is now.

9.Dick Allen - I don't know if it was his attitude or people's inability to evaluate players properly 30 years ago, but it is hard to find a more under appreciated player than Allen, who was simply the best hitter in baseball for multiple seasons.

10.Dan Brouthers - Brouthers led the league in OPS six straight seasons during the 1880s, like Anson it is impossible to know just where to rank him, but dropping him any lower seems like a disservice to someone who dominated his league so convincingly.

Other players of note: Willie McCovey (11), Todd Helton (12), Eddie Murray (13), Keith Hernandez (14), Hank Greenberg (15), Rafael Palmeiro (16), Harmon Killebrew (20+), Mark McGwire (20+), George Sisler (20+). McCovey was all bat and had a very short prime while Murray never really had a prime in a sense. Hernandez ranks way higher than I expected but the guy was a wizard with the glove and always had great OBPs. Killebrew and McGwire never did much with the glove and in Mcgwire's case his career was also short. Sisler was singled out by Bill James as the most overrated players ever and I do not see anything to refute that comment.

Pujols and Bagwell continue to amaze me with how well they rate historically. I do think the general public took Bagwell for granted and that is happening, albeit to a lesser degree, with Pujols as well. If the next eight years of his career are half as good as the last eight we are watching the best player since Aaron/Mays... or Bonds depending on your perspective. I was really surprised how poorly Palmeiro and Killebrew ranked in particular, they both have some crazy good raw numbers but took awhile to get there and sacrificed other parts of their game on the way.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

All-Time Player Ranking Project Part 1 & 2


I was recently leafing through my New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract, easily my favorite baseball book ever and one that I've read so much it is now being held together with duct tape, when I realized how badly it was in need of an update. The bulk of the book was James' ranking of the top 100 players ever at each position and that was the part that felt somewhat dated to me, even though it was released only 10 years ago. I made it my mission to update that part of the book in several ways.

First of all I should mention that I stopped my lists at the 10 best players ever for each position, save pitchers, (although I will throw a couple other interesting names on the back end) to save time. Maybe someday I will continue working on this and take each to 100 but that seems extremely unpractical right now.

James used Win Shares as his primary statistic for evaluating a player. While I still consider win shares to be a major breakthrough, I think most experts would agree that WAR (Wins above replacement) has surpassed it and is now the yardstick for overall player evaluation. War expresses a player's value in a single number that is logical and easy to work with. The first way I updated James' lists was to use WAR instead of win shares.

I also disagreed slightly with the methods James chose to come up with his way of evaluating the "best" player. For each player, James combined their top 3 seasons, their best 5 year stretch, their win shares per game played and their total career win shares, as well as a subjective element to come up with their ranking.

I liked the concept of a multi-pronged approach like this and kept some elements (I used a player's top 3 seasons and career value in terms of WAR as well as the subjective element) but changed others. I dropped the best five year stretch in favor of a best eight year stretch, because I wanted the gap between that measure and a players top 3 seasons to be greater. Five years to me is a small stretch in a players career, and eight would hypothetically represent the entirety of their prime. I also removed the value per game played element because it seemed superfluous to me.

A brief word about the subjective element before I continue. This is my personal adjustment of a players value for obvious reasons that cannot be evaluated in statistics. Examples of this would include increasing Jackie Robinson value because he was not allowed to play in the majors for a chunk of his career, increasing Ted Williams' value because he missed several prime seasons while fighting in a couple of wars, or lowering Cap Anson's value because he was playing a game without modern rules and against lesser competition. This is also where I can give players some credit for post-season statistics that would not show up in the raw numbers.

Finally, and perhaps the biggest update is the inclusion of all the recent players on my lists. There are some obvious ones like Albert Pujols but there are a couple that might surprise some people. This was the tipping point that finally made me decide to sit down and start doing this, I wanted to see where guys like Albert Pujols and Derek Jeter stacked up against the all time greats.

Part 2


1. Johnny Bench - One of the most predictable rankings in the entire list, Bench was an outstanding hitter and defender. I was actually surprised just how close some other players were to him, I thought he would have a much larger lead.

2.Mike Piazza - The best hitting catcher ever by a huge margin. Although never a great thrower, Piazza was underrated as a receiver and game caller throughout his career, masking some of his value.

3.Gary Carter - From age 23 to 33, Gary Carter was remarkably productive. He was the total package as a hitter and excellent behind the plate as well.

4.Ivan Rodriguez - The exact opposite of Piazza defensively, one of the best throwers ever but overrated otherwise, Rodriguez' offense has been helped by playing in friendly hitting environments for most of his career.

5.Carton Fisk - Fisk had double digit home runs in 19 different seasons and earned more WAR in his three best seasons than Rodriguez did.

6.Yogi Berra - Berra did strongly on a rate basis but his career is not long enough to match up with those ahead of him and he is also hurt by playing 1/6 of his below average defensive innings in the outfield.

7.Bill Dickey - Berra's equal as a hitter and a little better defensively, but Dickey's career is shorter, even if we give him credit for time missed during the war. The gap between Berra and Dickey is the largest gap between any two players on the list.

8.Joe Torre - A better hitter than several ahead of him, but Torre's defense bordered on problematic, he actually spent more time as an infielder than a catcher, but this is where he was most valuable.

9.Mickey Cochrane - Played at a level comparable to those in the 3-6 range but only 65% as long and never had the monster seasons to make up for it.

10.Ted Simmons - Simmons was a solid all around player who often gets lost a bit in the Bench/Carter/Fisk generation.

Other players of note: Joe Mauer (11), Jorge Posada (12), Roy Campanella (15), Thurman Munson (16) - Mauer has only played seven years and is a lock to jump into the top 10 with even a mediocre 2011 season. Posada may creep into the top 10 but probably needs two more productive years. Short careers partially hurt Campanella and Munson but both were hurt more by being very inconsistent.

I was surprised how highly Carter ranked. I don't think there are many that would consider him top three all time. His raw stats do not jump off the page but when you dig deeper there are some really impressive performances in there. Berra ranking at six is a shock to me, I would have thought he'd be top three somewhere. He could really hit but not better than Bench, Torre or Dickey and certainly nowhere near the level of Piazza. Once you factor in career length, I think he ended up pretty much where he belongs, even with his post season statistics.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Being "For" or "Against" Sabermetrics

[This post was started a few weeks ago when the Hall of Fame debates were raging. I never got a chance to finish the post to my satisfaction, but since I already put a lot of time into it, I figure that I'll publish what I have anyway. Hope you all enjoy.]

Over the last few years, the term "sabermetrics" and the concepts related to it have started to seep into the mainstream baseball consciousness. The now-famous book, Moneyball, is what truly ignited interest in the media and among the common fan, and now, years later there are varying degrees of awareness, comprehension, and acceptance of these ideas.

On the one side are the sabermetric experts, the men and women who pioneered the research providing the foundation of sabermetrics, as well as forward-thinking blogs and those who now might be employed in baseball to do this kind of statistical analysis. On the complete opposite end of the spectrum are "average joe" types of fans who have never heard of "sabermetrics" as well as those who have and have decided that they don't provide any positive value to the game. At this point, most writers, even mainstream writers, have at this point at the very least acknowledged the existence of sabermetrics, and many have written primers on the topic or go so far as to use them themselves.

The group that you seem to hear from the least, ironically, are those in the middle - people who would take sabermetrics and use them as a rational compliment to everything they already know about baseball. Most discussion of sabermetrics, as a field in general, has been very dogmatic. Much like politics here in America, most of the discussion is dominated by extremes. So, why all this by way of introduction?

Last week, I posted a lengthy (probably too lengthy) write-up of Dillon Gee and explained why I think the mainstream expectations of Gee resulting from his successful major league cameo were too high. I looked at some minor league numbers, his pitches and velocity, and some comparable players, and tried to temper everyone's expectations a little bit. As I am lucky enough to have traffic to this blog, and a lot of interesting, critical, insightful readers, I got some feedback on the article which disagreed with me. That's great -- in fact, the rapid exchange of ideas and viewpoints is exactly what makes blogs the incredible medium that they are.

In this case, however, the person who responded went by the handle "AgainstSabermetrics" said something which I felt compelled to address:
How many would love to be good enough to beat the Phillies starting on the bump? Why do you sabermetric guys all cover each other's backs? The results will come. The Mets minor league blog said that if Gee got to start in the Show, it probably would not go well. That statement was all based on sabermetrics. As the previous responder showed very well, the percentages(numbers) don't always add up. The results are real. It will be interesting to see how scientifically viable the sabermetrics are with this player. Even more interesting, how will the sabermetric scouts respond to the results that defy their science?
Like I said, it's cool if you want to disagree with the conclusions I've drawn. However, I see a few things in Dillon Gee that make me think he'll have a harder time than most in transitioning to the major leagues -- maybe you don't. The part of the response that I excerpted above, however, is a common attitude and one which I think is silly.

There's no reason to be "against" advanced statistics, sabermetrics, or its derivatives, for exactly the same reason why a person who is into advanced stats shouldn't be "against" batting average, or scouting, or RBIs. They exist - regardless of our personal opinions - and it is simply up to us to decide for ourselves how important we think they are.

It's unnecessary to make it a binary "for" or "against" sabermetrics argument. It is a false dichotomy. As a matter of fact, in this case, I didn't simply use sabermetric stats to make my decision. If you click through to the article, I look at ERA, strikeouts, reports of his pitches and their velocity, and comparisons to pitchers who I considered to be similar major leaguers. Here is my conclusion in a nutshell:
In summary, there are three things that Petit, Bannister, and Gee have in common that make me wary about Gee's ability to strive in the majors.

1. Low-minors success based on excellent K/BB ratios
2. Right-handers with low-velocity fastballs (topping out around 89)
3. Escalating HR/9 ratios, particularly in Triple-A

When you throw soft, and depend on location, it is a very bad if not fatal sign when more advanced hitters can start taking you yard with regularity.
These are not advanced sabermetric concepts -- and in fact, I try to keep away from FIP, WAR and similarly advanced statistics in my writing to keep it accessible. I'd like for my Dad to be only somewhat confused at what I'm talking about as opposed to completely lost.

But back to the original point: the battle between scouts, and statistics, and advanced statistics is really a silly one. Each of those angles provide you with a different kind of insight, and they should all be considered. All of them reveal something, and all of them, I don't care which one you like, will sometimes mislead you. It is up to you - the reader, the writer, the fan - to try and give each its appropriate weight.

I've heard a lot of people - from big-time writers down to bloggers and commenters - say that they "reject" sabermetrics. One obvious example of a writer who has rejected the idea of advanced statistics is Murray Chass, who used to write for the New York Times. Murray went so far as to say silly things like this:
I suppose that if stats mongers want to sit at their computers and play with these things all day long, that’s their prerogative. But their attempt to introduce these new-age statistics into the game threatens to undermine most fans’ enjoyment of baseball and the human factor therein.

People play baseball. Numbers don’t.
Ouch. He later on called those who enjoy sabermetrics "devotees" of the concept and "followers" of those who have studied it. Creepy, huh? If you're going to bash sabermetrics, you should eat least do it in a way that's funny, like Jon Heyman did when he called those who follow those numbers VORPies:
Sorry VORPies, Rollins was the right choice... I wasn't shocked that stats people have taken issue with Rollins winning the MVP award. There are numbers crunchers out there [] who believe baseball writers rank somewhere between morons and idiots for voting Rollins as MVP over David Wright, who had a higher VORP. The stat people seem to believe VORP [] defines a player...
It gets a little crazy down there in the trenches, I guess, and people always act scared when they are confronted with something that they don't understand. Even in a children's game like baseball. But there's no reason why a professional writer, broadcaster, or scout, can't make a slight effort to learn a thing of two about the advanced stats and what they have to say and enlighten their own point of view. A great, great example of this is what Bill Simmons did a few short months ago:
See, I stopped writing about baseball these past two years when the sabermetrics movement became too complicated for my liking... I just hated the finality of it, the concept that numbers could trump anything I was watching with my own two eyes. If numbers always prevailed, what was the point of watching baseball or having arguments about it?

Thirty-five years later, those numbers don't tell us nearly enough... Throw everything together (visual and sabermetric), and 1975 Freddie Lynn stands the test of time. But I had to do some work to prove it. And that's what this is all about: work. Not everyone wants to work to follow sports. This isn't school. We don't want to do homework. We don't want to study. We just want to watch games.

I spent March reading and surfing sabermetrics for mostly selfish reasons ("I want this column to be better," "I want an edge for fantasy purposes," "I'm bored"), but also because the advanced formulas weren't nearly as intimidating as I had expected. Full disclosure: I, um ... I-I kinda like them. I even understand why stat junkies take it so personally whenever a mainstream guy spouts out an uninformed baseball opinion. It's too easy to be informed these days. Takes a lot less time than you might think....These stats make understanding baseball more fun. At least for me.
And they make them more fun for me as well. I love baseball, and one of the most interesting and unique things about it is that it is a sport in which everything can be measured. There are statistics for the National League on dating as far back as 1876! Yes, you read that right. There are statistics for the National Association which go back even further - there are stats and standings from 1871. Do you want to know how many hits Harry Wright had in 1871? Well, you can find out by clicking here. He was born in 1835.

The point is, baseball is a beautiful game which can be summed up by statistics in a way that no other sport can. In football, every play is affected by dozens of people. In basketball, there are ten men on the court at any moment and the numbers you derive from that are affected by those around you, the offensive scheme you're running, etc. But in baseball, it's just you. The batter and pitcher face off in a miniature play we've seen a million times. So when you look at that Harry Wright player card, you're not just going to see hits. You're going to see walks. And strikeouts and stolen bases and grounded into double plays. By the time 1894 rolled around, they had started counting sacrifice hits. For pitchers, they were already keeping track of complete games, home runs allowed, wild pitches, and balks. None of those are essential to the enjoyment of the game - but all of them were tracked shortly after the American Civil War, and before the telephone, and before electricity, and before homes had running water.

Sabermetrics are an interesting tool. And for me, I like them because they allow me - if I am willing to do the work - to look at a player who I may not have had the opportunity to see play very much on television and help me develop an informed opinion of them. I don't consider them to be the be-all-end-all of player evaluation. I believe that most of the intelligent folk who follow advanced statistics feel the same way.

One of the major criticisms you hear from those who dislike sabermetrics is the idea that someone can look at WAR, or wOBA, or some other number and immediately decide that one player is better than another because of it. That's not what it's all about. It's simply a way that we can take the information that we have and put it into perspective - across leagues, across generations. When you think about it, even batting average is a derivative stat: H/AB = BA. Is that much more outlandish than OBP? Or SLG? Or OPS, which is simply OBP+SLG?

As for the reader who commented and disagreed - thank you for putting my idea on trial. In doing so, one would hope that we can come to better, more accurate, and more useful answers. For instance, if anyone clicks through to the article and reads the comment in its entirety they can see it themselves, the commenter mentioned that Gee could touch 95 with his fastball but was operating around 88 in an effort to work the corners of the plate. I thought that the excerpt from the behavioral doctor was interesting as well.

Being for or against sabermetrics is a silly concept. Mainstream writers who poke fun at saber-style writers and articles should be ashamed of themselves. Sabermetricians have done some truly incredible and interesting research over the years, and reading it has greatly expanded my appreciation of the game. The statistics available to me on Dillon Gee and of players who I thought were similar based on actually watching him, allowed me to form a more well-educated decision than if I had simply watched him pitch four games in September.

If you're trying to make an informed decision, you should take all the information available to you and decide yourself what you think is the most important.