The 200 Greatest Major League Baseball Players of All Time, 2012 Edition.

Monday, October 3, 2011

The 2011 version of this list is here.

In the latest incarnation of this list, we're combining two numbers - the Baseball-Reference version of WAR and Clay Davenport's version of WARP3.  Each is designed to give the number of wins a player earned in his career above a freely available replacement player.  So - if my career WAR was 50, that means I'm David Wells (50.1) or Doc Gooden (49.9).  I'll take WAR; I'll take WARP - I'll divide by 2 - leaving you with the number of wins that player was responsible for over the course of his career above freely available talent.

(B-R WAR)+(CD WARP3)/2=the metric we're using to rank the players here.

Why the B-Ref WAR and not the Fangraphs WAR?  The historical ability to measure UZR (the fangraphs defensive metric) isn't at the level of reliability of the B-Ref metric.

Why Davenport's WARP and not Baseball Prospectus?  When BP overhauled WARP for its most recent incarnation, they stopped at 1950.

So - I'm slapping the numbers together (Davenport doesn't have a top WARP ever list, so its entirely possible I'm missing people) and coming up with the top 200 players of all time.

It's a career value list - but I'm including adjusted OPS/ERA and translated OPS/ERA numbers to get a measure of yearly productivity.

As in previous builds of this list, I'll go 10 at a time.

Here's who just missed - this is the bar that must be cleared for inclusion on the list.

201. (tie)
Jack Clark 53.65
Jose Cruz 53.65
Bill Terry 53.65

204. (tie)
Mickey Cochrane 53.6
Dave Stieb 53.6

Clark never had what I call a "Most Valuable Player Quality" year, that's a year where his combined WAR/WARP hit 16 (meaning, if you divided by two, 8 wins above replacement - and that's all an MVP is, 8 wins above replacement).  His best year was an 11.8 in '78 (meaning, at his very best, Clark gave his team a little less than 6 wins more than a guy they could have found on the waiver wire).  His career OPS+ was 137 (average is 100, so his bat was 37% better than average) and his translated slashline was .277/.391/.527 (his career BA/OBP/SLG adjusted for era and ballpark).

Cruz also never had a MVPQ season, his best year was '84 (13.6, meaning his best was better than Clark's best; incidentally, Jose Cruz was 36 years old in '84.)  Cruz didn't have Clark's bat, his OPS+ was 120; his translated slash is .303/.373/.473.  Cruz is a legit career .300 hitter, but Clark had a higher OBP and a significant advantage in slugging, making him a better offensive player.  Cruz was a better defensive player.  It took Cruz 700 more plate appearances to reach the same value as Clark.  Cruz had about 8900 PA, Clark about 8200.

Terry had only 7100, so his value was accrued in significantly fewer plate appearances than either Cruz or Clark, and its reasonable to immediately think of him as a better player.  His OPS+ was 136, just about the same as Clark's; and you can see that his slash only significantly varies from Jack's in batting average: .324/.384/.528, giving him a minor edge - you'd rather have a single than a walk, given its greater chance of advancing a baserunner an extra base.  Knowing that Terry had the same value as Clark and Cruz - but in much less time, you'd be right in thinking that he must have been a better player at his best than were they; Terry had an MVPQ season, 1930 (16.3).  Terry's in the Hall of Fame, neither Cruz nor Clark joins him, and you can see why that might be.

Note - I'm a Giants fan, so seeing that neither Clark nor Terry makes this list of the 200 greatest baseball players of all time should be some evidence of my objectivity in putting together this list.

These are regular season numbers only.  My apologies for not mentioning that previously.

Cochrane's value was in even fewer plate appearances, only 6200; so he only played less than 75% of Cruz's career to accumulate the same value.  He's a catcher, giving him significantly more defensive value than anyone already discussed, so you'd expect he'd have less bat, his OPS+ was 128, his slash was .289/.387/.465 - meaning he was a better bat, by a little, than Cruz (who played some center, giving him more defensive value than the corner OF Clark, but not as much as the catcher Cochrane).  No MVPQ seasons for Cochrane (his best year, 13.5, was '32 - one of the areas of evaluation where WAR trails WARP is in the defensive value of catchers; subjectively, I'd tick every catcher up a little bit as you look at the list).

And finally, the one pitcher who just misses our list - Stieb. No OPS or translated slashline for Steib, instead it's ERA+ (his was 123, making him 23% better than the average pitcher) and his translated career record was 177-146 (not his actual record, the record he would have had normalizing for run support).  Stieb missed on an MVPQ season in '84 (his best, 14.9).  Stieb threw about 2900 innings.

And that's 201-5.  All essentially the same value for their careers, worth 53+ wins.  At their best - the best was Terry, the only one who had an MVPQ year.  And per season, the best player was Cochrane.

So - coming up next, players 200-191.

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