The Player Comments, Part 2

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

You can find Part I here. Yes, I know the WARP numbers have all changed.

AMOS RUSIE: Rusie broke in at 18, retired by 30 with 248 wins. Not only is he one of the greatest all time Giants pitchers, and the best player on the ballclub every year from '90-95, he was dealt even up for Christy Mathewson at the end of his career; a deal that, since Rusie only pitched 3 games for the Reds and Matty had an elite HOF career for the Giants, is probably the most lopsided in baseball history. Part of that lopsided nature is that the Reds owner was self dealing; the Reds owner was John Brush, he bought the Giants right after making the Rusie trade. Rusie wound up back in New York as the superintendant at the Polo Grounds.

Rusie, with Reds : -.6

Mathewson, with Giants: 132.8

Maybe there's another deal in history with a disparity that large, but none presently occurs to me. Rusie for Mathewson is the Seward's Folly of baseball trades.

JOE GORDON: That deal to Cleveland for Allie Reynolds was a big ole trade, let's run the numbers:

Gordon (w/ Cle) '47-50 29.1

Reynolds (w/NY) '47-54 41.8

So, Reynolds gave the Yanks more value, but Gordon's best Indians seasons were solidly better than anything Reynolds gave the Yankees. And Gordon's best Yankee seasons, as shown above, were MVP quality (he won it in '42). Gordon was replaced by Snuffy Stirnweiss in NY; which presumably was prompted by Stirnweiss having two out of control career years when Gordon was serving in the war. As it turned out, Stirnweiss was an able replacement (although not as good as Gordon) for two years after the deal, but then fell off the table and was replaced by Jerry Coleman (who wasn't as good as Snuffy).

Probably, had the Yankees known Stirnweiss was imaginary, they would not have made the Gordon deal.

Gordon finished 9th in the MVP voting in '39, which was almost certainly too low - but he wasn't quite the best player on his own team as DiMaggio was a tick better. He only finished 23rd in '40 with his second best season, a silly result, obviously. In fact, Gordon reversed the result from '39 and was the best Yankee on the field in '40, a tick better than DiMaggio (who finished 3rd in the MVP). Greenberg (not on the list) won the MVP in '40 0 but his WARP was below 10.0. Hey, maybe we got something here, let's play the game.

Okay, game over. Feller finished 2nd in the voting - and had a WARP3 over 13. Good enough for me; I'll say Bob Feller was the best player in the AL in 1940 - but Gordon was the best Yankee. Gordon finished 7th in '41, DiMaggio had a hitting streak of some type that year that maybe you've read about. More significantly, he had a WARP3 over 14. Gordon was the second best Yankee, however. And then came 1942 when Gordon won the MVP. He was the best Yankee in '42, by a tick over Charlie Keller (he finished 14th in the MVP). Seems unlikely that 10.6 was the best season in the AL in 1942, let's see - hey, Ted Williams finished second that year - and his WARP3 was 14.6.

So, there's that.

In '43, Gordon was the second best Yankee again, Keller having the best season; Stirnweiss, as mentioned, filled in while Gordon was keeping the world safe for democracy with seasons of 12+ and 11+ that paved the way for Gordon to get dealt to Cleveland in '47. As I've mentioned in another entry - the 1948 Cleveland Indians are one of the great teams of all time, with a cumulative WARP3 of 87.9; and the doubleplay combination of Gordon (9.6) and Boudreau (an absolutely historic 15.7) has to be on the short list for greatest SS/2B season of all time. When you add in Ken Keltner's 11.7 - you get a 2B/SS/3B cumulative WARP3 of 37.0 - and I'd be willing to put down a buck or two on that being the all time best season from teammates at those positions in MLB history.

Like Rusie (who came in one spot earlier on this list) it's a short career for Gordon with a lot of big peak seasons. Unlike Rusie, Gordon isn't in the HOF, which, given that he was a Yankee is a curious result. Gordon had a terrific glove, 96 runs over position; and a real good bat - his translated line was .264/.342/.525. Joe Gordon was a slugging second baseman with a super glove and a bunch of WS wins. He absolutely deserves this spot on the list as the 176th best baseball player who ever lived and its only the relative brief career which keeps him this low.

TIM KEEFE: It's important to recognize that an inning pitched in 1883 against 1883 batters is not the same as an inning pitched in 2008. In fact, an inning pitched in 1953 or 1983 is not the same as an inning pitched in 2008 against 2008 batters. The next time some idiot sportswriter (I'm looking at you Bruce Jenkins) criticizes modern pitchers or the use of pitch counts "In my day, Bob Feller threw his whole arm clean over the plate" please note they have no idea what they're talking about. There's no magic number for how many pitches is too many, and as a pitcher gets older the level of harm done to him diminishes, all other things equal, but the idea that we should ignore pitch counts is flat earth stuff.

Tim Keefe was a 19th C. Gilded Age Giant; Tim Lincecum is a 21st C. Gilded Age Giant. In a recent game, he threw 138 pitches, the high for any major leaguer this year, and that surrounded other games in which he was around the 120 pitchcount mark. The Giants are out of the race and the only reason for taking the whip to Lincecum is to push his Cy Young candidacy. As treatment of an asset, this is handing out subprime mortgages in the 9th Ward of New Orleans the day before Katrina hits. Were I a more talented parody song writer, I'd compose a version of Springsteen's American Skin (138 pitches) to reflect my view of the abuse Lincecum's been put through this month.


The adjective always used by Rice supporters to describe him is "feared". Google "Jim Rice"+ feared, you'll get almost 18,000 hits (with safesearch on, of course). Next year, at HOF time, supporters of his candidacy will cherry pick statistics but then rest their case on "fear" - and contemporaneous players will talk about Rice in terms describing how fearsome he was.

Jim Rice was a good baseball player; his translated career line is .290/.350/.535; his WARP3 is just a tick above 80, driven down by his being a really, really bad fielder. His OPS+ is 128 - he had one year where he slugged over .600 (two, translated) he was a good baseball player. Not nearly, not nearly as good as Dwight Evans, but really good.

But the word used to describe him is fear - and my suggestion is it's not a coincidence that in a Boston lineup surrounded by white guys, the black guy would be the one called "fearsome."

Like the white guy being called scrappy. Or cerebral.

When I was 13 in rural Ohio in 1984, there was nothing that changed the tone of a pickup game like the introduction of a black guy. The whispers..the looks of panic - they were impossible not to notice. And when I was 17 broadcasting high school basketball games in rural Ohio, the black guy, regardless of ability, would always draw the most attention - and a team composed of mostly black guys would send a shudder through an opposing gymnasium equivalent to that 9 year old Little Leaguer who got banned from his league earlier this summer when all the other parents refused to let their kids play against him.

Somehow, it was viewed as unfair, all those black kids getting to play together.

There's not any of you who have ever played sports in a largely white environment who don't know what it is I'm talking about. At least none of you who so played before the last decade or so.

It doesn't strike me coincidental that, in the mid 1970s, that the one black guy in the Red Sox lineup was perceived as fearsome by white teammates, white opposing pitchers, white fans, and, most importantly, white baseball writers. It became part of their collective consciousness and then became the narrative used to discuss Rice and, as we've seen time and again in matters even more important than baseball -- narrative is accepted as more true than facts by an unsettling number of people.

The most important political piece written about the Bush Administration was Ron Suskind's NYT Mag. piece before the 2004 election, quoting an Administration official as saying the problem with Susskind, journalists, readers of the New York Times, and democrats as a whole were that they were part of the "reality-based community," those people who "believe that solutions emerge from judicious study of discernible reality....That's not the way the world really works anymore ... when we act, we create our own reality."

As long as you live, if you read a more nakedly honest explanation about the way propaganda works by someone tasked with creating that propaganda, please send it to me. "Facts", the joke from the Daily Show
went, have a "liberal bias."

That story is not this story - this narrative's about a fearsome hitter named Jim Rice who is about to be elected into the HOF despite his WARP3 of 80 and who will be described in every piece with some variant of the adjective fear. It's a reality created for him. The baseball writers, as they often do, will tell my facts to shut up.

And that story has nothing to do with Reggie Smith, the 171st greatest major league baseball player who ever lived, for which I apologize. Reggie Smith was the best position player on those 70s Dodgers teams, and and as a 7 year old Giants fan in 1978, he scared the hell out of me.

And Reggie Smith played for the Red Sox too, back in the 60s. And despite his also being a power hitting African-American corner OF, no one ever calls him the most fearsome hitter of his time.

So, it could be that I'm making all of this up.

JOE TORRE: Incidentally, on there's a piece by Jon Heyman, talking about VORP (the version of WARP3 that doesn't adjust for defense) his view is that VORP shouldn't be used in MVP consideration because it insufficiently considered "clutch".

He's wrong. Sportswriters, as I've mentioned, like to decry the use of statistics that weren't invented by Alexander Cartwright - both because they're incapable of orginal thought, simply parroting the analysis they first learned from The Sporting News when they were eleven - and because the more we can use facts to explain the condition of the world the less we need interpretation.

That's a feature of the Englightenment (and the Reformation) the idea that truth didn't require a filter; we don't need Kings or Holy Men to get to truth (or heaven) there are scientific facts that apply to all people regardless of their genetic circumstance (you don't need the priest to tell you what the bible says). Obviously, the class of interpreters is threatened if their wisdom is unneeded. If I can look at a number and understand performance - then I don't need a baseball writer to explain the game to me.

That doesn't mean there's no room for storytelling, but it makes it harder for sportswriters, very few of which with the ability to combine nouns and verbs like David Foster Wallace. It removes them (or should) from their positions of power in MVP and HOF voting. Every time you hear a baseball analyst torturously trying to define the word "valuable" or explain how there are criteria beyond on field performance for their HOF, it should ring self serving to you. They then marginalize those who actually use facts as opposed to sophistry to support their arguments. "Computer geeks" or 'bloggers in their mother's basement" become the terms tossed around.

The gulf between most of the sports analysis you read, hear during call in shows or games or see on ESPN and quantifiable truth, objectively understandable reality, is vast. This was something I learned from Bill James when I was 11 years old, reading the Baseball Abstract in 1982. The "expert" class lies to you - they lie to you and do so without fear of being caught.

That was a gateway for me - much in the same way I used my 6 year old recognition that there was no Easter Bunny into an understanding that adults created a world of mythical creatures to control the behavior of children - I used my 11 year old recognition that the sportswriters who were my baseball filter didn't know the game as well as I could to understand that those charged with explaining the way the world worked - media and political elite - cherry picked facts to fit their own narratives.

I haven't believed in Beatles in a long, long time. No hocus, no pocus. No mumbo, no jumbo. If you have a claim to make, show me the evidence to support it. Otherwise, I'm movin' on.

DEREK JETER: It's hard to overstate just how bad a fielder Jeter's been over the course of his career - he's 112 fielding runs below position - most of that damage occuring exactly when Jeter was getting most of his glove love from the pundits, the early part of this century. Max Kellerman (Jeter apologist) does a bit on his radio show where he talks about celebrities/athletes who are exactly the opposite of what they are supposed to be (the example he uses is that Sarah Jessica Parker was supposed to be pretty) - Jeter should be on the list twice, once for fielding (known as a good glove, can't field the position) and once for being a "team" guy ('cause the guy they moved to 3B to keep Jeter at SS was a much better fielder; for the good of the team, Jeter should have moved).

PAUL HINES: Hines played for the Washington Nationals in 1872. They went 0-11. They had a cumulative WARP3 of -7.3. One player on the team, Dennis Coughlin, had a positive WARP3 in '72 (.4).

0-11. Imagine Paul Hines, 17 years old, in his rookie season playing baseball in Washington DC, just a few miles from his home in Virginia, a state that was fighting a war against the United States only 7 years before. I'm writing this at the end of 2008; 9-11 was seven years ago; imagine someone from Al Quaeda in middle relief next season.

He made 37 outs in 49 plate appearances that year. Is there any better example of there being more in heaven and earth than is dreamt in your philosophy than considering how far removed it must have been from any element of Paul Hines's 17 year old reality in 1872 - that almost 140 years later, I'd be typing his name into this computer in a tie for the 168th greatest major leaguer of all time.

What would the analogy be in your life? What would have to be happening, 140 years from right now to approach the type of mind blowing that Paul Hines would have gone through had he the awareness of his level of immortality?

JIMMY WYNN: The Toy Cannon's a fun and creepy nickname. Sort of a precursor to the Big Unit.

Wynn's here for his stick; he actually finished a tick below position in fielding runs, albeit that position was center field - and for a center fielder, his career translated slugging of .522 is ballin'. That's about 90 points higher than his actual slugging - which speaks to how circumstance can alter careers; Wynn played in the Astrodome in the late 60s, the biggest park in the worst era for hitters. Sort of an inverse Koufax effect; an arm in a big park in the late 60s becomes an immortal - a bat in a big ballpark in the late 60s gets forgotten.

As mentioned previously, I dislike the semantic games sports pundits play with the word valuable when it comes to an MVP vote - since there is no "best player" award - that clearly is how the vote should be based - but the sports media torturously go through discussions of the true meaning of value every year, injecting their undergraduate levels of linguistic training into what should just be performance analysis. But straight analysis would remove their interpretive skills from the discussion - would place a higher premium on facts than on narrative - and they just can't have that. Sports analysts depend upon obfuscation, turning the clear to cloudy.

However - if you wanted to kick around the word value - consider Wynn's 1965 season - where his 11+ WARP3 was a full 25% of Astros production that year. But Houston lost 97 games and Wynn's offense was hidden by ballpark and time, and the sportswriters didn't notice.

That's why you should stop listening when, for example, a Jim Rice supporter talks about MVP shares - the idea that Rice has a high percentage of career votes for MVP relative to the HOF. It's effectively sportswriters saying their dumbness yesterday should guide their decisions today. It's sportswriter stare decisis. Maybe Clarence Thomas is right after all that precedent should be ignored.

Mays won the MVP in '65 and he was better, with a WARP3 at 13+. But second was Koufax.

His WARP3 was 10+. As you watch the '65 season, seeing Koufax in his reverse-steroid era in his giant ballpark mowing down hitters for the 97 win Dodgers - it makes sense to put him second on your MVP ballot. And when you watch Wynn, 23 years old, hitting .275 with 23 homers and 73 RBI for a 97 loss Astros team, it's understandable that it didn't register.

But now it's 40+ years later. And we clearly put some statistics in context - otherwise, why exactly is Mark McGwire not in the HOF? The proper context for the '65 season recognizes offensive deflation, ballpark impact, and the positional value of 157 games in CF. Jimmy Wynn had his career year in 1965, he had a better season than Sandy Koufax did. Sportswriters in '65 get a pass for not noticing, that's contextual also - but in 2009 (hey, my first post for 2009!) it's inexcusable to use those old MVP votes to make current HOF judgments - and it's just poor performance analysis to fail to understand the terrific career of a guy like The Toy Cannon, the 166th greatest major leaguer of all time.

BOB JOHNSON: Did you ever read Blink? Malcolm Gladwell uses the term "thin slice" to describe thinking without analysis, the idea that those with a very high level of expertise (about 10,000 hours worth, as defined in his subsequent work Outliers) can accurately recognize something within their field of endeavor on a pre-concscious level. I tried to articulate this in my own career inside this month; I've been teaching for ten years; there's not many occurences inside a classroom that I haven't encountered. I'm fairly confident within a pretty small margin of error virtually everything that will happen whenever I present a particular lesson in a particular way. I had an incident recently that went in a completely unpredictable direction; how I wanted to explain its unfolding was that I had thin sliced it in a way that turned out to be entirely wrong and I was without mechanism to categorize the reasons why.

(That's really all the detail I'll write about this for confidentiality reasons. Maybe in another ten years.)

I haven't been looking at baseball statistics long enough to thin slice (I hope) but for as long as I can recall I've really liked Bob Johnson, and solely for the reason that his numbers seem singular to me. He had no apprenticeship period; he slugged .500+ in his rookie year at 28 years old, and slugged .500+ in his next to last season when he was 39. And those are his raw numbers - his translated numbers look even better; here are Johnson's translated slugging percentages for every season in his career:














In 1944, at 39 years old, Johnson had the best offensive season of his career; with a translated line of .307/.416/.613. His OPS+ was 174; he more than doubled his home run total from his previous year.

If those numbers were 2004, instead of 1944, maybe he'd be in today for a failed steroid test instead of ARod.

I'm uncertain why he quit after '45. The War probably plays some role, and his advanced age probably plays some role in his not losing time for the military.

Bill James, quoting Bob Carroll, quoting Ralph Waldo Emerson, got it right about Bob Johnson:

"Consistency may be the hobgoblin of little minds," wrote Carroll, "but it can also make certain ballplayers nigh unto invisible. Indian Bob Johnson never had one of those super seasons that make everyone sit up and whistle. While phenoms came, collected their MVP trophies, and faded, he just kept plodding along hitting .300, with a couple dozen homers and a hundred ribbies year after a guy punching a time clock." – Bill James, in Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame?

WHITEY FORD: Ford got as big a Yankee bounce as any player historically; two top 5 MVP finishes in the years where he had the monster win totals, and a Cy Young in '61 despite a more pedestrian under 7.0 WARP. Ford's 2.75 career ERA jumps over a run, to 3.86 when normalized for ballpark and era and his adjusted hits/9 innings evens out at a hearty 9.0. Ford finished 3rd in the Cy voting in '56, behind Newcombe and Maglie (the Cy wasn't yet given in both leagues). '56 was Ford's career year, but his 8.4 WARP put him behind 4 pitchers in the AL alone (Early Wynn was the AL's best pitcher in '56). Ford won the Cy in '61, finishing 5th in the AL MVP vote. But his 6.4 wasn't even tops for the Yanks in '61 - that honor belonged to Luis Arroyo.

Luis Arroyo?

Luis Arroyo had a career WARP of a little over 14. Over half of that came in 1961 when he pulled a 7.7. Untranslated, Arroyo was 15-5 with 29 saves and a 2.19 ERA in '61 - while Ford was 25-4, but with an ERA over a run higher, 3.21. That's actually a helluva trivia question. In '61, the Yankees had four guys finish in the top 6 for the AL MVP.

You know who went 1-2, it was 1961. Ford was 5th - and Luis Arroyo finished 6th. 4 in the top 6. Oh - Arroyo got a first place vote! Someone, in the year where Roger Maris broke the single season home run record, threw a first place vote to Luis Arroyo. Tell Billy Crystal! That's the HBO movie I want to see.

1*: The Luis Arroyo Story.

Look, Whitey Ford was terrific with a career 133 ERA+; his Palmer number is higher than his WARP, and so he sticks here as the 159th greatest player of all time. But he got a Yankee bounce when he played, huge win totals that gave him end of the year awards juice, and that bounce has carried into our collective understanding of his worth.

Oh - and Ford was a notorious cheater. Constant and unrepentant. Somehow, he escaped our national scorn

RICK REUSCHEL: That's a helluva '77 pitching at Wrigley; untranslated he won 20 with an ERA well under 3.00. He finished 3rd in the Cy balloting, but had better seasons than both Lefty (who just did get over WARP3 of 10) and John (who didn't). Seaver finished 4th, he went 10.1. Candelaria 5th - and his WARP3 was just under 9. I'm gonna call it - Reuschel deserved the NL Cy Young Award in 1977. He finished 21st in the MVP vote; let's see how that turns out: George Foster won in his career year, but had an 11.7; Luzinski finished second but had a 6.5; the Cobra had his career year (Parker and Foster both went over WARP3 of 10 only once in their careers, in 1977) but not close to Reuschel. I'm startin' to tingle a little bit. Reggie Smith (#171) had his only ever 10+ season in '77, but not close. Carlton finished 5th and we just hit him. Garvey and his 5.6 WARP3 finished 6th (helluva job, BBWA!), Sutter, as bad a HOF choice as has been made in my lifetime, finished behind Reuschel in the Cy - but all the way up at 7th in the MVP, he had his career year saving Daddy's games, but under a 10.0 (Reuschel also picked up a save in '77, just for the hell of it). Cey was under 10. So was Ted Simmons. One more - Schmidt finished 10th, but had a WARP3 of 11.0, 'cause, you know, he was Mike Schmidt.

So, here's my NL MVP Ballot for '77:

1. Reuschel

2. Foster

3. Schmidt

At 11.7, Foster's close enough that I'm not hating the decision, but as you sit here looking at Rick Reuschel being called the 164th greatest baseball player ever, consider how your perceptions might be different had he gone Cy/MVP in 1977.

My weight fluctuates...considerably - one day in '96 I was taking a bus to Candlestick to watch the Giants lose, one assumes, and a fellow traveler suggested I resembled Big Daddy. That hurt my feelings at the time, as I was forced to recognize my weight had taken that degree of elevation, causing my neck to subsume my chin. In later years, I would have been grateful to hear such a comparison as John Candy, circa Planes, Trains, and Automobiles seemed more apt. Now, I could fit into Reuschel's pants again, if not his spikes as the 164th best baseball player ever.

No, that should not be read as if I want to get into Rick Reuschel's pants.

And that's your 2009 leader in the clubhouse for oddest sentence I'm likely to write this year.

The Giants have, of course, been to two World Series in my lifetime; Reuschel's the first member of either team to make the list, allowing me to talk about the '89 team.

We weren't any better than losing that series - a total WARP3 of 70, just a tick above the Cubs, who we beat in the NLDS and a tick below the A's (steroids! cheaters! they should have an asterisk and we were the real champions! You're right, that is way more fun than, you know, principled analysis).

Here are your 1989 National League Champion Giants:

C Terry Kennedy 3.7

1B Will Clark 13.2

2B Robby Thompson 7.6

SS Jose Uribe 5.2

3B Ernest Riles 4

LF Kevin Mitchell 13.6

CF Brett Butler 8.4

RF Candy Maldonado 3

Of the bench players, only Matt Williams 3.6 provided any value; we sat through lots of plate appearances by Oberkfell (his OPS+ was good) and Manwaring and Pat Sheridan and Tracy Jones in '89 - that lack of RF production really hammered us. None of the arms gave us much.

1. Rick Reuschel 4.5

2. Don Robinson 2.8

3. Scott Garrelts 4.8

4. Kelly Downs -.3

5. Mike Krukow .1

Cl Craig Lefferts 2.6

Mike LaCoss had a 2.2, Atlee Hammaker a 1.4, no one else had a significant contribution. Probably, there weren't enough moves available to squeeze the Giants past the A's (massive, massive cheaters - where's our rings? Fun!) but research might unearth places that this group could have been aided; two all time great seasons by Clark and Mitch, solid contributions from most of the rest of the lineup - a hole in RF and nothing on the mound - that's the story of the NL Champs from 1989.

The Player Comments, part I

SI just did a piece about sports bucket lists, the suggested answers being sporting events one wants to attend before one dies.  As I've gotten older, my interest in attending live events has diminished considerably; I have a big TV and when I'm not working my interest in wading through social interactions is less than zero.  But I do have a list.  Currently on it is reposting my Top 200 MLB Players Ever.  Those of you from the previous blog recognize that at least half of the posts were dedicated to composing the list, putting up player comments and eventually revealing the entire countdown.  In moving material over from the remnants of that site, I have been aflame with repurposing the list; the metrics have changed more than a little bit to enchance defense and I altered my methodology to take peak value into greater account.  The ordering of the Top 200 is now finished, yes, it's taken an obscene amount of time, so as soon as I can get the statistics in place, the new and improved top 200 will be here.  And my bucket will be empty like Bob Novak's. 

Here are some excerpts of the old player comments.  They use the previous version of WARP3 but the updated and revised list will be current.  Sure, I wasn't in love with putting in crazy work and then having the numbers change.  But it's a better list as a result.  No, I don't know why I'm like this, but I always have been. 

RON CEY: The moral of the story - there's no debate that Cey had the best career, and there's no debate that Lopes was 2nd. Garvey's the one you know; he was a glamor player at a glamor position in a glamor town; I don't know if there were 5 better known baseball players on the planet in the late 1970s than Steve Garvey. But he had no power, didn't walk, and hurt you with his glove; he was just another guy. He was nice to me in 2000; as a guy, I have nothing bad to say about Garvey, but he wasn't as good as we were led to believe. If you're a baseball fan about my age, in your (gulp) late 30s, and your sense of baseball was formed in the late 70s, to learn that not only was Darrell Evans a better baseball player than Steve Garvey - but that it isn't even close is a transformative experience. That's a good litmus test, actually, for your local beat writer (or Bob Costas) ask him who was better, Evans or Garvey. If he gets it wrong, literally never listen to another syllable. The science has left him behind.

BOB LEMON An example of where the Pete Palmer stats from the Baseball Encyclopedia (Total Baseball is gone, taken over by Baseball Encyclopedia, which was taken over by ESPN, regardless, I heart it so dearly and my copy sits beside my computer, well, not this computer, since I'm at work, but the other computer, the one I sit at pantsless, which, I know, is creepy to consider) help to balance WARP3 - the Davenport number for Lemon is low; if BP ever puts out a list of the 200 best MLB players ever, Lemon won't be on it - but Lemon's Palmer number is high, and in the wash, Bob comes out, coincidentally enough, right one spot ahead of Chet. In my head I see them sitting over a beverage of some type, a cool refreshing drink perhaps, chuckling at the result. Of course, even this ranking would take Bob clean out of the HOF (dude had a short career, yo) I don't know where I'd cut off membership to the HOF, but I'm thinking I wouldn't invite all 200 guys - maybe only the top 100 make it, the second 100 wind up celebrated in an auxillary unit - actually, concentric circles make sense - as, while all of the guys at this level are real close - once we get higher, there's real separation among the top guys - not hard at all really to find a top 25, for example. Perhaps you have, I don't know, 9 circles, ever widening, of players in the HOF, maybe for a total of 200, maybe fewer, maybe just 180 - and when a player comes into the list, as obviously will keep happening - that means someone gets kicked out. Why not? Kicked out of the HOF - absolutely. Moved down to a new circle. Sure. Right now, the Lemons are on the edge of this list - but five years from now, certainly they can't keep their spots.

Concentric circles for the Baseball HOF, say 9 of them and a total of 180 guys, and you get moved down once you're passed up. How about that? Lemon's worst season from '48-56 was 1954 (WARP 3 6.2), which was, of course, the Indian team with 111 wins. The Indians lost that WS (the Giants last, as of this writing, WS title) but won in '48 (the last time, as of this writing, the Indians won the WS) which, at 11.2, was Lemon's second best season. 3 Indians were over WARP3 11.0 in '48, Keltner was 11.7 and Lou Boudreau - Lou Freaking Boudreau had a WARP3 of 15.7 in 1948. That means the left side of the Indians infield in '48 had a WARP3 of 27.4; that might be (I'm making this up) the best season for a 3B/SS combo ever. Tack on Joe Gordon's 9.6 from 2B and you see why this was the Indian team that won the whole thing. Only one guy, Bobby Avila, had a WARP3 over 8.2 from that '54 team - perhaps the view that the '54 team was superior needs to be reassessed. Bob Lemon's the first HOF'er on the list, the first pitcher on the list, the first player on the list with 2 seasons of 10.0+ WARP3 and he's the 198th greatest major league baseball player ever.

ALBERT BELLE: 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.

FRANK TANANA: The best criticism of this list is that the WARP3 number focuses on career value as opposed to peak value; which is why, as mentioned elsewhere, when Baseball Prospectus evaluates HOF candidates each year, they combine career WARP3 with the 7 top WARP3 seasons from each player. My use of the Baseball Encyclopedia number is a nod in that direction; you'll note there are guys on the list like Tanana with 100+ WARP numbers but sub 20 PW (Tanana has the lowest PW number on the list) one of those things reflected there is Tanana's main resume strength is he was able to pitch for 21 years. Only 3 of those years, '75-77 were premium years; Tanana was over 10 in WARP3 each of those seasons, almost a third of his career value coming in that stretch - in the rest of his career, he topped a WARP3 7.o just once and 6.0 just two additional times. That's years of mediocre pitching, which is why his PW is so low, and why he's at the bottom of the list.

But he is on the list - and Sandy Koufax isn't.

And that's intentional, that's a methodological choice that I've made in giving great weight to career value. On his best day, Frank Tanana was not as good as Sandy Koufax on his best day.

For one game, take Koufax.

But Sandy Koufax only had 3 seasons above a 10.0 WARP3, just like Tanana. And while his best season (11.9) was better than Tanana's (10.8) those numbers aren't as far apart as one might think. And then the rest of Koufax's career was one year above a 8.0, another year above 7.0, and seven seasons that look a lot like the rest of Tanana's career - except Tanana had twice as many of them.

So, at their best, Koufax was better than Tanana, but not by a substantial margin - what is substantial is that nearly 2000 innings that Tanana pitched that Koufax didn't. Sandy Koufax retired after 12 years with a WARP3 of 68.3. Through Frank Tanana's first 12 years, his WARP3 was 69.5

If Frank Tanana had pitched for only as many innings as Sandy Koufax, he would have had the same career.

But Frank Tanana then pitched for 9 more seasons. Almost 2000 innings more than Koufax.

So, while I recognize that one is in the HOF, one made the ESPN list of the greatest 100 athletes of the century, one is revered, immortalized, considered one of the half dozen greatest pitchers ever - it's the other one who is on my list.

And should be. Frank Tanana was better than Sandy Koufax. The WARP3 for the '75 Angels was 39.1. Tanana was more than a quarter of the value of the entire club. The WARP3 for the '76 Angels was 38.3. Tanana was more than a quarter of the value for that club. Frank Tanana was the 196th best player in MLB history.

BOBBY ABREU: Abreu benefits from a nudge upward that active players are getting. It's a small nudge for Abreu; I'm trying to project just to the end of the 2008 regular season, given that the list, I'm guessing, will run not only through the remainder of this season, but finish up somewhere over the winter. With how close the math is, what I'd like to avoid is not ranking Abreu today - but then having to say he's 190th three months from now. So, it's not a projection to the end of his career - that's not the nudge active players are getting - just what should be expected between now and October. A guy who just misses currently is Andruw Jones, who, when I first took a pass at this, projected as #199 by season's end - but now, with his BA still under the Mendoza line, it doesn't appear he'll make it. Both Abreu and Jones are good examples of guys who have been in sharp decline since the heightened steroid scrutiny, but who haven't been tarred at all with the "cheater" brush. Abreu's power disappeared seemingly overnight, and Jones is in total freefall. This isn't to say they (1) used steroids or (2) gave up steroids or (3) that steroids are a significant factor in their declines even given (1) or (2). It's to say that even within baseball, the tarnishing of guy X as opposed to guy Y has been capricious. And considering the entire sports landscape - Terry Bradshaw has admitted to prescription steroid use and there is a body count developing from that 70s Steeler team - and why is it that Evander Holyfield gets to keep his reputation as a good guy; look at the evidence connecting him with steroids. One of the tests of any system, be it legal or ethical, is its ability to be applied consistently. The scarlet letters we've thrown onto certain baseball players of this era as opposed to other athletes serve as examples of how wrongheaded our approach to steroids has been; and while I'm largely wishcasting with this next part - I think history will not be kind to this period of sports commentary regarding PED use. The hypocrisy is thick; everytime I have heard a fan or analyst call a Barry Bonds a cheater - or, as Brian Kenny did on his New York radio show, "a villain" I wait for the condemnation of their guys. Andy Pettitte? Jason Giambi? Gary Sheffield and Roger Clemens were Yankees for several years. If you're a Pirates fan, harboring anger at Bonds for leaving in '93 and carrying around a big foam asterisk - my assumption is you feel the Steelers 70s dynasty was tainted.

Sports fans are essentially haters - rooting against whomever they don't root for. But to transpose that impulse to the level of ferociousness that has existed in demonizing a Barry Bonds - who sits unemployed, under indictment, a year after a .480 OBP - has amazed me. Bonds has been squarely placed by sports media and other sports analysts in the same category as OJ Simpson - the anger, the hatred, the vitriol that has been spewed in his direction - while a Jason Giambi gets moustache day at Yankee Stadium - is nothing short of shocking.

DUCKY MEDWICK: Oh yeah, he won the Triple Crown in '37, last time it ever happened in the NL. So there's that. His OPS+ that year was 180.

Not much not to like. A slightly above average glove, 35 runs over for his career in LF. A good, good bat - 3 years over 10.0 and the rightful best player in the NL in '37. The deal with the Dodgers was weird; Medwick broke in when he was 20; he was still 28 when he was moved in '40, and in addition to those 3 years of 10.0+ WARPs he had a total of 15.6 in '38 and '39, so the slip shouldn't have been as noticeable as it was.

As it turned out, Ducky left his big years in St Louis; he was just okay/good for Brooklyn in '40-42. But he and Curt Davis for Koy, Doyle, Nahem, and Haas doesn't seem like good value for the Cards. There are numbers that could be researched, I'm thinkin'.

Research done.

Rickey gave Ducky Medwick away. Twice.

This deal looked bad on its face, dealing a guy just a couple years out from his Triple Crown when he was still under 30 for nobody.

It turned out badly; as Dodgers, Medwick and Davis each put up total WARPs in the low 20s, the 4 guys the Cards got back did a total WARP of under 5 in their Cardinal careers.

Rickey followed Medwick to Brooklyn a couple years later - and then in '43 he sold him outright to the Giants.

Rickey gave away Ducky Medwick twice in 3 years.


JACK CLARK: When I was 14, I was skeptical, but didn't automatically hate the trade that sent Clark to the Cards for Green, Rajsich, LaPoint, and Uribe. As I went to write this, I was set tp make the argument that Clark's treatment in San Francisco was an example of the "blame the best player" syndrome, where the club's superstar gets unwarranted blame when his team never wins anything.Well - Clark was the club's superstar, and the Giants never won anything - but interestingly, Clark was only the best player on the Giants for one season, '78, his best year where he finished 5th in the NL MVP vote. Parker won that year - but had a lower WARP3. Garvey finished 2nd, also with a lower WARP3 (could Jack Clark have been the best player in the NL in 1978?) Reggie Smith finished 4th...again, lower than Clark. 7 year old Jim Jividen is very excited; I attended my first ever baseball game at Candlestick Park in 1978; had I known I was seeing the best player in the National League, my entire personal arc may have been altered! Larry Bowa finished 3rd and got 3 first place votes; it was Bowa's career year by a long way, but still - not as good as Clark. Not George Foster. Not Greg Luzinski. Not Gaylord or Winfield. Not Stargell. That's the top ten - I'll look at Rose before I call it - done.
Jack Clark had the best season in the NL in 1978.But in his 6 remaining Giants' seasons he never hit 7.0 again; they had Jeff Leonard/Chili Davis manning the corners, and after a 96 loss 1984, decided to make a move. Perfectly reasonable.
As a Cardinal:Clark: 17.3As Giants:Green: .8Rajsich -.2LaPoint: 3.2Uribe: 28.9Granted, Uribe was in San Francisco 8 years and Clark in StL only 3, but if you just take Uribe from '85-87, Clark's 3 years in StL - Jose's WARP3 total was 14.1; add in the other 3 from the deal (all only wore orange and black in '85) and what you get is:Cards: 17.3Giants: 17.9Even for just the stretch where Jack was in StL - the Giants got the better end. And then they got 5 more years of Uribe after that. Interesting. Sure, they could have moved Clark to first in '85 - he would have been an upgrade, but he with Will on the way, Jack had to go anyway - getting Uribe for him - I gotta say - sorta turned out to be a good deal.Clark was a bad RF, 40 runs under the league for his career - he's here because of the stick; you see the OPS+, his translated OBP/SLG in a career with 8200+ PA was .390/.551. I'm thinking this is going to lead to a piece dissecting all of the SFG RF.

ELMER FLICK: Flick could mash; that's the 39th best adjusted OPS in MLB history. Just a monster bat; the reason Flick is this low on the list is the short career; 1907 was his last productive year; essentially, Flick just spent his 20s hitting the crap out of baseballs and then quit. He was also a real, real good glove, 47 runs above average as a corner OF. You wanted this guy on your club. His OPS+ in his best season, 1900, was 170. His translated line that year was .340/.427/.672. He had translated slugging percentages over .600 four times. His career translated line is .308/.400/.570.

Which translates to awesome. Just awesome.

The Tigers offered a 20 year old Ty Cobb for him even up and were turned down, Flick got into a fistfight with Nap Lajoie and was the subject of a Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision regarding his jumping from Phils to A's. Plus, his name was Elmer. Like Fudd. And that's boss.

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