What About Player A and B?

The what about series is now dedicated to finding the best player at each position not in the Hall of Fame. Some players on the ballot are very strong contenders for the position, but this time we will focus on wrongs the new Veterans Committee can make right. In order to do that we will delay the index and focus on the offensive and defensive numbers for three players that all played for the Red Sox at one time.

However, we will not reveal names yet in order to protect the guilty. Simply put, there is a difference between perception and reality. One of these three players is in the Hall of Fame. He shouldn’t be and we’ve already established that in a previous article. We will compare him with the players that aren’t and determine whether my previous was in fact correct.

Offensive Numbers

 OPS+RbaserOW%wRC+wOBA
Player A1272.647129.375
Player B13711.693137.379
Player C1285.628128.375

Of course, Player B is the one in the Hall of Fame right? How do we know? Well, he had higher numbers than the other two across the board. However, we should note that all three are fairly close. Since they all played in Boston for a good portion (or all) of their careers and they played in roughly the same era we really don’t have to worry much about context. The case should be closed right?

Well, we have a problem. Player B isn’t the one in the Hall of Fame. We don’t lead with the offensive and fielding numbers for an important reason. We are missing the element of time. Did these numbers come over the course of twelve seasons? Fifteen seasons? Twenty seasons? This is something the index can ultimately tell us where aggregate numbers only tell us one part of the story.

However, ignoring that for a moment we have to evaluate the problem. Either Player A or C is Jim Rice. Rice is in the Hall of Fame. Rice has the MVP award and strong finish in MVP points. Rice was the “feared” hitter in the middle of the lineup. The venerable baseball sages will tell us it wasn’t Rice’s job to get on base. It was his job to drive in runs. Well, he was about as effective at getting on base as the other two, so in that vein he is undersold by the sages.

The difference between our collective understanding of offense during these players’ days and now is immense. We now understand that you are judged by your ability to create runs and not by your ability to drive in runs. You create runs by avoiding outs or collecting more bases for every out you create. Player B was just a little better than the other two in that department. 

Fielding Numbers

 RfieldDWARTZDWSWSGG
Player A66-3.88050.80
Player B783.08148.52
Player C24-8.02235.60

There is a credible argument to be made for both Player A and B as the best defensive players in right field. The differences between sources have more to do with longevity than ability. Player A enjoyed a longer career and therefore had more value when compared with the replacement level right fielder. Without giving away too much of the farm, Player A was renown for his arm while Player B had the ability to play center on occasion. That explains the difference in DWAR and just serves to highlight why Player B looks like the Hall of Famer when compared with this grouping.

You have naturally have guessed that Rice is player C in this tale. In this tale, he appears to lag behind players A and B defensively, but that doesn’t really tell the whole story. The fact is that he was a solid defender while he was healthy enough to play left field (in his case). So, direct comparisons are not completely fair. Left field is more difficult to build value in than right field because there isn’t as much of an emphasis placed on throwing out runners. Combine that with Fenway Park’s short wall and there just wasn’t as much room to demonstrate excellence. 

Still, it is hard to argue that Rice really is a Hall of Famer based on these numbers. We have to do some logical twisting to justify it. Part of that would be simply putting both Player A and B in the Hall of Fame. However, that would serve to bastardize the Hall of Fame. The “if….then” argument becomes impossible to defend when the “if” is based on a false pretense. Simply put, Player A and B have to be judged on their own merits and not whether Player C is in the Hall of Fame or not.

Since we haven’t included the element of time we will now work to include the index for those two players and see where we are. If you wish, you can fish back into the archives to compare these two to Rice, but that just serves to stir up more anger in those of us that care deeply about the Hall of Fame’s standards. We will then finish up with the MVP tests for Player A and B before we reveal who they are.

Career Value

 bWARfWARWS/5Total
Player A67.165.169.4201.6
Player B64.664.665.0194.2

I once got into an argument with the hosts of one MLB XM Radio’s shows about Player A. Player A once said that he remembered when Jim Rice came up and when his career was cut short by knee problems. Somehow, the hosts missed the implication. He (Player A) was there when Rice came up and he was still playing when Rice had to quit. So, he has the slight advantage in longevity even though Player B appeared to be better in both the offensive and defensive departments.

In fact, Player A’s career value was superior to that of Vlad Guerrero and roughly equal to Dave Winfield. Player B was no slouch either. He was also better than Guerrero even if he was a step below Winfield. As we have seen throughout our series, career value is only part of the picture. We include peak value to arrive at the very fact that Player B was a better player than Player A when both were at their best. Any Hall of Fame test that doesn’t include that element is not showing the whole picture.

Peak Value

 bWARfWARWS/5Total
Player A43.042.843.4129.2
Player B48.148.848.0144.9

These numbers have to mean one of two things. Either Player B was more durable than Player A or he was simply just a little better. The aggregate show him to be about a half win better across the board per season. That’s not a whole heck of a lot, but it is something. As you might imagine, it can be as much as two or three wins in any one season. When you get elite performance at the right time it can lead to a championship. As we know, that didn’t happen in the Red Sox’ case, but it can’t be blamed on either of these two.

When we combine peak value with career value we find that Player B is just a tad better than Player A. Yet, the collective difference is not enough to focus this article on Player B. Both players deserve their day in court. Unfortunately, right field is crowded with talented guys and some of them are still on the ballot.

Hall of Fame Index

 CareerPeakTotal
Player A201.6129.2330.8
Player B194.2144.9339.1

The index was designed to create separation. So, when we use three different sources and two different tests we ultimately see more separation on purpose. Of course, there are other benefits. We get a complete picture of a player because of the combination of career and peak value. We get a tidy overview of the sabermetric community’s view of a player as well. The long and short of it is that the separation is closer to one win than the eight-plus you see in the table above.

We would expect two relatively even players to be relatively equal in the MVP tests. Yet, we should expect Player B to be better because he was better during his prime. Since the BBWAA are the group that votes for both awards we would expect to see them both fare better in the BWAR tests than in the BBWAA tests. Let’s see if we are right.

BBWAA MVP Test

 Top 25Top 10Top 5MVPPoints
Player A122017
Player B302013

BWAR MVP Test

 Top 10Top 5MVPPoints
Player A10113
Player B41017

The results are certainly in line with what we expected. We expected Player B to be better because he had more impactful seasons. However, the results would have likely been closer had we included top 25 seasons on the BWAR tests. Player A had five seasons where he garnered top 25 votes and if we added those three top 25 finishes he would have come up close with 16 MVP points.

On the other end, Player B had two seasons where he received votes, but didn’t quite get into the top 25. It is likely the BBWAA missed out on his value in those seasons. All in all we see two very similar players that both deserved better. I know you have been waiting patiently for the big reveal. Player A is none other than Dwight Evans and Player B is Reggie Smith. Both offer different qualities you’d want in a Hall of Famer, but I’d argue that both should be in.

Author: sbarzilla

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

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