Reputation Index: First Basemen

Reputation index is one of our newer tests and as such it seems like a good idea to go back and look at each position with the new test. Like all of the other tests, they only make sense when we compare players from the same position. Also, no test is the deciding point between the Hall of Fame and not. The general idea is to get a consensus among most of the tests before we say yay or nay.

First basemen should finish better in the MVP voting because the award has typically been dominated by hitters. First basemen tend to put up better offensive numbers in general and better power numbers specifically. So, the reputation index is taken by comparing the MVP points and the points garnered from BWAR’s top ten position player numbers from season to season.

As we said last time, this is not perfect. Position player top tens take the top ten bWAR from all position players in the big leagues that season. So, we are including both leagues, but we are not including any pitchers. Still, since we are applying the same standard to all players and positions we will simply take the position top ten score and divide it by the MVP points. The higher the score the more adversely affected the player was by their reputation. The lower the score, the more they benefitted from their reputation. Naturally, a simple breakdown of the rankings in both categories also tell us the same thing.

MVP Points 

  Top 25 Top 10 Top 5 MVP Points
Lou Gehrig 2 1 6 2 55
Frank Thomas 2 3 4 2 51
Jimmie Foxx 4 2 1 3 45
Harmon Killebrew 4 1 5 1 42
Hank Greenberg 2 2 2 2 38
Eddie Murray 1 2 6 0 37
Jeff Bagwell 3 2 2 1 29
Willie McCovey 5 2 1 1 26
Tony Perez 3 2 2 0 24
George Sisler 0 0 0 1 10

Normally, we wouldn’t include someone like Sisler in the comparison. The Chalmer’s Award was not an MVP award in the traditional sense. Players could only receive it once and they didn’t have the same kind of voting procedure as the modern award. So, he might have been the best player more than once and we have no way of knowing how often he would have finished in the top ten or top 25.

Otherwise, these numbers reveal the kind of problems that relying on MVP points can cause. Is Frank Thomas really the second best first baseman of all-time? Is Eddie Murray really better than Jeff Bagwell? You are getting the idea. The idea is that looking at MVP voting tells us what the BBWAA thought of the player at the time. As we know, our collective understanding of player performance has become more sophisticated over the years. So, let’s take a look at the BWAR top tens and see where the players finished according to their BWAR. The index column will be the top ten scores divided by their MVP points.

BWAR Top tens  

  Top 10 Top 5 MVP Points Index
Lou Gehrig 0 9 3 75 1.36
Jimmie Foxx 2 6 3 66 1.47
George Sisler 0 4 2 40 4.00
Jeff Bagwell 2 2 2 36 1.24
Hank Greenberg 1 6 0 33 0.87
Willie McCovey 3 2 1 29 1.12
Frank Thomas 2 4 0 26 0.51
Harmon Killebrew 4 2 0 22 0.52
Eddie Murray 3 1 0 14 0.38
Tony Perez 3 1 0 14 0.58

The first thing we notice is that these ten first basemen won 13 MVP awards between them. They deserved 11 awards, so the voting is really not that far off collectively. We do notice a lot of shifting though. Universally, the difference is fielding. With the exception of Gehrig, all of the players in the top five or even six were known as solid to very good defenders. The bottom four were not.

The first base chapter saw me doubt to qualifications of George Sisler and Tony Perez. This test would seem to vindicate Sisler. It does not vindicate Perez. In terms of reputation index, he is not the most overrated player of the bunch (congratulations Eddie Murray) but he is among them. Again, this doesn’t prove anything. It is simply one test among many.

Unfortunately, baseball-reference did not rank players through the top 25 or in the top ten of their league. Some of these players might have garnered numerous more votes that way. We also have to remember that average players have value. If Eddie Murray turned in four such good seasons as we see above that is one thing. If we add ten above average seasons to that tally then we have something completely different than if we added only say five or six such seasons.

So, we have to look at the rest of their careers before we have a context for Murray and Perez. Getting that context allows us to differentiate between which one really deserves to be in Cooperstown and which one doesn’t. As we know, Murray ended up with 500 home runs and more than 3000 hits. If we take the number of wins and win shares we get a similar breakdown. So, this begs the question of what real value a test like this might have.

Well, when a player like Sisler comes up short we immediately start asking some very difficult questions. The first question is why they came up short. We answered that one last time. The second is whether their peak value is enough to overcome the lack of career value. The MVP points and bWAR top tens can help answer that question. Finishing third in bWAR top ten points is quite a feat for any player and keeping someone like that out of the Hall of Fame is very difficult.

Author: sbarzilla

I have written three books about baseball including The Hall of Fame Index. I also write for You can follow me on twitter @sbarzilla.

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