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200 Best Major League Baseball Players Ever, #197 ALBERT BELLE

Friday, July 11, 2008


#197 ALBERT BELLE LF Indians
1989-00
OPS+ 144
BFW 29.5
WARP3 89.6

Albert Belle's untranslated slugging percentages in the mid 90s:
'94: .714
'95: .690
'96: .623

Dude could rake. He's the first name on the list from the "steroid" era, and he fits the profile. My feelings about steroids, mentioned in other places of this blog are that we can adjust for the offensive inflation of this era the same way we can adjust for the inflation that produced Hack Wilson's 191 rbi or the deflation of the 1960s; era adjustments and ballpark adjustments are not new; it's an easy fix. While the "steroid" era had a spike in offense, it wasn't an unprecedented one; simple research shows that the view that somehow all baseball until 1998 was played on a level field is demonstrably untrue. Offense goes up, offense goes down. Happens. The degree to which a smaller strike zone, smaller ballparks, changes in bat and ball, and other non steroid related factors influenced the most recent offensive spike are hard to quantify, but obviously they play some role. It's reasonable to think that steroids played some role too; all medical science has, be it in training or recovery - be it in radically improved surgical procedures and preventive medcine, be it the incredible monetary increases in the game that allow teams and players to focus 365 days a year in improving their bodies - whether it's Curt Schilling's ability to get his tendon sewed to his sock or Kirk Gibson having gallons of cortisone poured into his body - or player X getting lasik eye surgery, all technology, presumably, plays some role in increasing performance. We do adjustments for era and let the numbers speak. The pre-1947 players on the list are all white - and all Americans; the game not only opened up to African-Americans, but has evolved to mine global talent; the available pool of pitchers against hitters, hitters against pitchers, is exponentially deeper in 2008 than was it in 1988, 1968, 1948 or 1928. To my way of thinking, the reaction that allegations that player Y used some type of performance enhancing drug for some measure of his career invalidates that career is not supportable.

I don't have the slightest idea if Albert Belle took steroids. I don't have the slightest idea if he did take steroids to what extent that increased his performance. I don't have the slightest idea the extent to which we should invalidate any of those performance gains, even if we were able to specifically segregate them. I don't have the slightest idea how we can pretend that a home run hit while a ballplayer was "on the juice" did not happen. Does that mean the pitcher should have it removed from his record? What if the pitcher was "on the juice" - then is it okay? What if the pitcher was - and the batter wasn't? Does Babe Ruth get to keep all the home runs he hit against pitchers who would not have been in the league had African-Americans been allowed to pitch to him? Does Hank Aaron get to keep all the home runs he hit against pitchers who wouldn't have been in the league had all of the Latin American arms which have now been found, been mined, by MLB been available in the 1960s? Does Todd Helton give up home runs because the offensive spike for pre-humidor Coors Field was significantly higher than the leaguewide spike of the "steroid" era? Do we take away home runs hit in small ballparks and add home runs hit in large ballparks?

We make adjustments for era. Good adjustments. Significantly better adjustments to factor in the impact of inflation than does the consumer price index. To single out steroids (and then, just a handful of players suspected of using steroids - as I write this the Yankees just had Jason Giambi moustache day at the Stadium - when does Raffy Palmeiro get his moustache day? Why is it some suspected "users" are pariahs and others are celebrated?) as the one variable which invalidates facts.

Facts are good. They don't disappear because we don't like them.

Albert Belle's WARP3 in 1995 was 14.3. That's better than any year of Lou Gehrig's career.

Facts. Facts are good.

4 comments

crimsonjoe said...

Two comments:

1) One difference between steroids and the other factors you mentioned. All of the players in 1968 faced the same pitcher-friendly conditions. All of the players on the Colorado Rockies had to play in Denver and play away games. In these cases, there's a large enough sample size that we can make good adjustements.

With steroids, because we don't know who took them or when they were taken, we don't have that information. Sure, Bonds probably did and McGwire probably did and Sosa probably did- but did Ken Griffey, Jr? Did Jeff Bagwell.

The adjustments work if you assume everyone took steroids. But without knowing who did or didn't, it makes it tougher to adjust.

2) Even adjusting for steroids... I'm really having a hard time not coming to the conclusion that Barry Bonds might be the greatest ballplayer of all time. In 2001, when he hit 73 home runs, he did so in a pitcher's ballpark. 7 MVPs, multiple Gold Gloves... he took steroids in a hitter's era. But even with reasonable adjustments, it's hard to knock him out of the top slot.

Just my $0.11...

Jim said...

1. Agree within eras - easier to measure Ruth v. Gehrig, recognizing neither had to face black pitchers; than Belle v. Palmeiro, not knowing which took steroids.

2. But when crossing eras, which is what this list does, that doesn't help us. My primary point is that saying, for example, Roger Clemens isn't a HOFamer but Cy young still is, is goofy.

3. And the first doesn't help us much, because even if we decide that Frank Thomas didn't and Sammy Sosa did - we don't know what that means. Not at all. There's absolutely no way to determine an adjustment - or if an adjustment should be used - or if that type of adjustment should be used, what other adjustments should then follow. I don't view a "clean" Frank Thomas any differently than a "dirty" Frank Thomas. The difference between steroids and Tommy John surgery, and painkillers, and speed, in terms of their performance enhacing nature does not strike me as significant.

joepet said...

Would Gehrig have had a chance to catch Mr. Belle's 1995 WARP3 with an extra 8 games in a season?

Jim said...

No - WARP3 is adjusted for era, Gehrig's season has already been normalized to 162 games, that's the distinction between WARP3 and WARP2 (I think it's the change from 2, it might have been the change from WARP to WARP2).

Regardless, nope - that adjustment's built into the system.

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