One of the things we notice with the Hall of Fame is that everyone has players they are emotionally attached to. It makes perfect sense as we all have our favorite teams, so it only makes sense that this allegiance would transfer to individual players from those teams. Unfortunately, those allegiances don’t always hold up to scrutiny when we remove the emotional blinders.
There is probably no player that personifies this more than Gil Hodges. Sure, the index has its place and normally I would abide by it, but one of the things I’ve learned over time is that there is more than one way to skin a cat. What we are doing in this series is comparing players with another player at their position that they compare to closely according to similarity scores. In this case, we get to go to the top of the list. We often don’t have an emotional attachment to both players, so we can see someone like Hodges in a whole new light when we compare him someone like Norm Cash. Of course, the flip side is that we also get a better view of Cash in the process.
This is usually where the argument starts and ends with Hodges. He drove in more runs than Cash and scored more runs. The object of the game is to score runs and he was responsible for more runs than Cash. Ergo, he was the better player. As we all know, it is never that simple and it gets more complicated when we start to consider the fact that Hodges played in a different stadium, on a different team, and in a different era.
No one would accuse the 1960s Tigers teams of being anywhere near the Boys of Summer. Those Tigers teams had some good players (the previously studied Freehan for instance) but there weren’t any Hall of Famers. The Dodgers had four Hall of Famers in addition to Hodges. They would certainly be considered a better supporting cast and the 1950s was a better offensive era than the 1960s.
Furthermore, when we add hits and walks we see that the two were nearly identical in terms of their ability to get on base. Total bases end up being pretty close as well. So, the main difference comes in their perceived ability to produce runs. This is where we have to ask ourselves whether the players were really that different or whether they were a product of their environment. The percentage numbers can help us there. This is especially true when we add in era adjusted numbers like OPS+. OPS+ not only breaks down OPS by the era the player played, but also their home ballpark. So, if they are roughly equal then we know the run differential is based more on the players surrounding Hodges than on anything extra Hodges brought to the table.
What do you know? Cash was actually a better hitter than Hodges when we distill the effects of time and place. Their percentage statistics were fairly similar and those that are not sophisticated in their analysis would assume they were similar players because of it. This is the reason why we include the numbers from the index. It gives context to the contributions of the player. This includes fielding and baserunning (which we haven’t looked at here).
One of the other things that these numbers don’t show is the distribution in which they were accrued. This is what we might call the Harold Baines effect. Baines recently got elected by the Veterans Committee on the strength of some impressive career numbers. Unfortunately, he never produced any huge seasons. If someone averages 80 runs and 80 RBI for 15 years they will put up roughly the career numbers these two did. If someone produces more than 100 RBI for six or seven seasons (as Hodges did) then they can appear to be more dominant even though the career numbers look the same.
We can distill these effects out by looking at the awards voting. There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to all-star appearances, Gold Glove awards, Silver Slugger awards, and MVP voting, but we begin to see a clear picture when we compare the results with what we currently have. Hodges should have a built in advantage across the board because awards tend to go to teams that win. The Dodgers won far more pennants than the Tigers, so you would expect to see him on the list more.
|All-Star||GG||SS||MVP||Top 5||Top 10|
It’s often difficult to parse these kinds of results out. Hodges went to more all-star games, but the Dodgers were also a better team. Furthermore, he played most of his career with only eight team leagues where Cash played most of his career with ten or more teams in the league. So, that might be a wash.
The Gold Gloves would seem to indicate that Hodges was a better fielder, but the sabermetric fielding numbers would say otherwise. Silver slugger awards haven’t been handed out for very long, so the fact that they don’t have any doesn’t need any. This of course brings us to the MVP voting. Cash had a magical season in 1961 (in which he admitted to using a corked bat) and we have to ask how much one magical season plays into someone’s credentials for the Hall of Fame.
I’ve asked this question before, but it bears repeating for our new readers. When you have great teams you often have to ask whether they are great because of the contributions of any single player or whether that player is great because of the support from great teammates. As you might surmise, the answer depends on the player and the team. In the case of Hodges we find that he always trailed his Hall of Fame teammates in the MVP voting. The MVP voting is not the end all be all of that question. Dodger players and executives swore by Hodges as a key member of that team. It’s just that the MVP voters at the time did not. If you look at other numbers like WAR and win shares they would tend to agree as well.