Fantasy First Basemen: Five and Six Categories

As we move to the five and six category version of the fantasy rankings, many of you will notice the top eighteen first basemen are different than they were in the total points list. Unfortunately, different formats often produce different results. This is primarily because of the addition of negative events for total points. Players that rack up tons of strikeouts will find themselves out in the cold.

We don’t have those considerations here. When we add in second base next we will catch up and synchronize our lists starting with the third basemen. The rankings here are based on three year data. The wrinkle is that we are projecting playing time based on past performance and the current makeup of the roster the player is a part of. Players will have their past performance projected out over 400, 500, or 600 plate appearances. Later in the offseason we can adjust for roster changes and actual projections. From there, we rank them based on a six category composite ranking. 

Paul Goldschmidt—St. Louis Cardinals

PA: 600

6 Category Projection: .295/27 HR/93 Runs/87 RBI/17 SB/86 BB

You might be tempted to give him extra credit because he moved to the Cardinals. You can get excited over joining Matt Carpenter, Marcell Ozuna, and Yadier Molina. He’s leaving a roster just as talented. He finishes on top because of the combination of power, speed, and patience. That translates anywhere.

Freddie Freeman—Atlanta Braves

PA: 600

6 Category Projection: .300/27 HR/88 Runs/82 RBI/8 SB/72 BB

Does Josh Donaldson add a lot here? Typically, a supporting cast doesn’t mean a whole in terms of additional production. Sure, it might mean more runs and RBI, but it could also mean fewer of one and more of another. It could mean the same. You also have Nick Markakis likely moving somewhere else. In other words, look at past production and go from there instead of forecasting.

Rhys Hoskins—Philadelphia Phillies

PA: 600

6 Category Projection: .249/36 HR/87 Runs/99 RBI/5 SB/85 BB

This is based purely on a little more than one season’s worth of production. They’ve already added Andrew McCutchen and Jean Segura and subtracted Carlos Santana. Could they add Manny Machado? Maybe. Maybe they add Bryce Harper too. Either way, I wouldn’t change these numbers much.

Joey Votto—Cincinnati Reds

PA: 600 

6 Category Projection: .311/23 HR/82 Runs/79 RBI/4 SB/105 BB

And on the eighth day Joey Votto drew a walk. Votto might be the best pure offensive player at this position, but counting numbers are what they are. If you play in a league that counts walks or OBP he is well worth the selection, but in five category leagues it might be better to admire from afar.

Anthony Rizzo—Chicago Cubs

PA: 600

6 Category Projection: .281/26 HR/79 Runs/94 RBI/6 SB/69 BB

Rizzo might be in an opposite category from Votto. He is clearly a step behind the first four guys, but he does enough of what they do well to warrant a selection. The Cubs are still loaded and might be more so if they can get a full season from Kris Bryant and Javier Baez at the same time.

Edwin Encarnacion—Cleveland Indians

PA: 600

6 Category Projection: .256/34 HR/82 Runs/104 RBI/2 SB/77 BB

Welcome to Exhibit A in this article as to why certain statistics matter too much to voters for the Hall of Fame. No one drives in more runs than Encarnacion at this position. Does that make him the best first sacker in the business? Hardly. It does make him the most prolific one though. Will that continue on a diminished Indians roster?

Carlos Santana—Seattle Mariners

PA: 600

6 Category Projection: .249/24 HR/77 Runs/74 RBI/4 SB/88 BB

Sooner or later you stop pining for the player you think a guy should be and start accepting who he is. Santana is a .250 hitter that walks a lot. You would think his BABIP should improve and his average along with it. That thinking makes sense, but it never happens. That makes him a marginal starter in five category leagues, but an underrated player in six category leagues.

Jose Abreu—Chicago White Sox

PA: 600

6 Category Projection: .289/25 HR/72 Runs/87 RBI/2 SB/37 BB

Abreu is an interesting case study. He produced less than two wins a year ago, but he has produced around 100 RBI a year for the past five years. So, do you buy into the fact that he is a proven run producer or the fact that he is a flawed hitter? If you are a GM do you start a young player with no proven track record or try to acquire him? For fantasy players you focus on these numbers because there are few leagues that count WAR.

Eric Hosmer—San Diego Padres

PA: 600

6 Category Projection: .279/20 HR/74 Runs/80 RBI/5 SB/55 BB

There’s the aggregate and then there is reality. Hosmer doesn’t exist in the aggregate. He exists on the extremes between borderline all-star performance and borderline replacement level performance. I’d bet on all-star performance because it’s an odd number year. Like with Microsoft operating systems and Star Trek movies he is good every other time out. Last year was bad, so this year must be good. Sure, makes total sense.

Matt Olson—Oakland Athletics

PA: 600

6 Category Projection: .246/35 HR/80 Runs/86 RBI/1 SB/66 BB

If it weren’t for being an Astros fan, watching the A’s come of age last season would have been a blast. Couple him with Matt Chapman and Khris Davis and they have as potent a middle of the order as anyone. They may not have the pitching next season, but with a new stadium on the horizon they may raise enough money to keep this nucleus together for a while.

C.J. Cron—Minnesota Twins

PA: 600

6 Category Projection: .262/27 HR/69 Runs/86 RBI/3 SB/36 BB

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Cron is flawed but as long as you know that going in you will like what you get. The Twins are okay rolling the dice on him for one season. Heck, maybe they play good enough and the Indians take two or three steps backwards. Maybe the rest of the league drives into a ditch. Anything is possible.

Jesus Aguilar—Milwaukee Brewers

PA: 500

6 Category Projection: .264/27 HR/65 Runs/88 RBI/0 SB/46 BB

Okay, why 500 plate appearances? Well, they still have Eric Thames and there is no telling what happens when he goes through the league again. Sometimes players take a step back and sometimes they emerge again. Thames is a perfect cautionary tale. He still produces, but he has never approached this first few months when the league didn’t know him. I’m betting on regression here.

Justin Smoak—Toronto Blue Jays

PA: 600

6 Category Projection: .248/29 HR/71 Runs/77 RBI/0 SB/75 BB

I like Smoak and the fact that they’ve moved on from so many of their underperforming assets is a positive sign. He might be one of them before the winter is over. He has proven he is productive enough to be a fantasy starter the last two seasons, but with so much in flux it is hard to completely trust him.

Max Muncy—Los Angeles Dodgers

PA: 500

6 Category Projection: .239/28 HR/70 Runs/66 RBI/2 SB/74 BB

See Jesus Aguilar. Heck, see Cody Bellinger. I’m not sure what to make of Muncy and his individual situation. You still have Bellinger there and you have David Freese there as well. Then, you get the rumors surrounding Bryce Harper and it’s impossible to make heads or tails of anyone on the Dodgers.

Jose Martinez—St. Louis Cardinals

PA: 500

6 Category Projection: .309/17 HR/63 Runs/71 RBI/2 SB/45 BB

He is also eligible in the outfield. I throw that out there because I think a lot of people will be surprised to see him rated at any position. Goldschmidt just stole his slot and he is about as viable an outfielder as Nick Castellanos. He would be a very viable DH and if he found himself there he could a very under the radar fantasy star.

Ian Desmond—Colorado Rockies

PA: 500

6 Category Projection: .271/15 HR/71 Runs/64 RBI/17 SB/36 BB

You have to suspend disbelief a little in fantasy sports. First, he is eligible in the outfield in all leagues and could potentially add shortstop and third base if he plays some there. Secondly, he adds some stolen bases. Add those two elements together and you have a valuable fantasy bench player. Additionally, if you are in a five category league you can ignore his lack of patience.

Miguel Cabrera—Detroit Tigers

PA: 500

6 Category Projection: .288/21 HR/58 Runs/70 RBI/0 SB/55 BB

Ah, the perils of long-term contracts. If Cabrera could be counted on to play 150 games he would be a definite fantasy starter. If I had a million dollars in the bank I wouldn’t have to wake up at five in the morning every morning. He might be able to give you 120 good games and if that is the case he would be worth a late round flier.

Yuli Gurriel—Houston Astros

PA: 500

6 Category: .291/13 HR/60 Runs/69 RBI/4 SB/20 BB

Gurriel is slated at 500 plate appearances because there is always the chance that the Astros upgrade at first base and turn him into a utility guy. If that happens becomes valuable as a fantasy bench guy. If he plays full time he adds a few more home runs, runs, and RBI. I’d hope for the flexibility.

Harold Baines? Really? Harold Baines???

During the day, I teach English. Actually, that is a bit of a misnomer. I am a support facilitator and they put me in English classes for the most part. That is fancy speak for someone that assists special education students in regular classes. At any rate, when we teach students to write persuasive essays we usually focus part of our instruction on counterarguments. A counterargument is when we acknowledge the other side, so that we can tear it down.

Generally speaking, we acknowledge the other side so that we can seem even-handed and rational in our own arguments. To say, “I don’t know how in the hell anyone could have voted for Harold Baines” is not exactly a rational statement. Of course there are reasons to support Harold Baines. They usually start and stop with the counting numbers.

Hits= 2866

HR= 386

Runs= 1299

RBI= 1628

BB= 1062

Slash= .289/.356/.365

If we ignore everything else then those numbers seem good enough to get someone in. In particular, there aren’t too many players with more than 2500 hits and 1500 RBI that are not in the Hall of Fame. Of course, when we make such statements we are ignoring a great deal. Primarily, we are ignoring any context to which those numbers may be attached. For instance, in what era did those numbers come? Additionally, how long did it take the player to accrue these numbers? I could just as easily point out the following:

200 or more hits= 0

30 or more HR= 0

100 or more Runs scored= 0

100 or more RBI= 3

100 or more BB= 0

Immediately we see the problem. While Baines’ career numbers would seem to point to greatness they really don’t. They point to longevity. Is longevity laudable? Sure it is. Very few people have played 20 seasons in the big leagues. The problem is that Baines was never great. How do we know he was never great? The numbers above give us a clue. However, we can also consider how the BBWAA felt about him during his playing career with the MVP voting.

Top 25 finishes= 2

Top 10 finishes= 2 (highest finish 9th)

Top 5 finishes= 0

MVP= 0

MVP Points= 8

This is pretty damning. Very few players with this kind of score wind up in the Hall of Fame. It is particularly dreadful for a corner outfielder. Of course, MVP voters can be mistaken. Sometimes they overlook certain players or if a player plays on a bad team he might not get the support he deserves. This is why we started looking at the reputation index. So, how many times did he finish in the top ten in bWAR? Zero. Zip. Zilch. Goose eggs.

So, he was never a top ten performer in his league. Of course, he had only two seasons with more than three bWAR. So, he was never great. He was occasionally good, but throughout most of his career he could be charitably be called solid. There are different ways to look at this, but none of them are particularly good for Baines. However, ask yourself a series of questions about Baines and see if anything turns up.

Was he ever the best player in baseball at his position?

If he played right field for your team back in the 1980s how much better would your team have been? Would they have been better?

How many right fielders would you have taken in a draft before you got to Baines in the 1980s?

I could move into the index, but why bother at this point? This is why I only compare players out of the Hall of Fame with players that have been selected by the BBWAA. Veterans Committee selections are idiosyncratic like this. Who in the heck knows what they were thinking when they made this selection.

Fantasy Catchers: Five and Six Category Rankings

We are taking a step back from total points to bring in the other side of fantasy coverage by looking at five and six category formats. We will go back and hit catcher, first base, and second base before moving on to third basemen. There is always tension between looking back and looking forward when it comes to ranking players. When you choose one or the other you end up skewing the results.

I tend to be someone that likes looking back. Past is usually prologue in this business and while you can never completely count on past results, you often find them more reliable than future projections. We will cover those when they come out later this season, but now we are trying something new. Those of you that have followed me at know I like to tinker and I’ve done it again.

So, what you will see is the latest example of tinkering for me. I am taking the rate at which players produced over the past three years and projecting that over 500, 400, or 300 plate appearances (for catchers) depending on how much we might project them to play. Projections are based on health history and that particular team’s catcher situations. If a player is a free agent we simply project how much he will play based on history. We are including walks as a sixth category to cover six category leagues.

Gary Sanchez—New York Yankees

Projection: 500 PA

5 Category: .252/32 HR/74 Runs/84 RBI/2 SB

6 Category: 61 walks

Last season’s injury troubles are not likely to happen again. However, more than a few of us were burned by them. So, still consider him the best catcher on the board, but they may have to be creative to get him to 500 plate appearances. Sanchez has had his share of defensive issues, so they may want to start Austin Romine more often.

Buster Posey—San Francisco Giants

Projection: 500 PA

5 Category: .298/10 HR/60 Runs/59 RBI/ 5 SB

6 Category: 53 walks

Posey is one of two guys on the board that might push 600 plate appearances because of his time at first base. Furthermore, this might be his last season behind the dish. There is always a tension that comes between getting maximum defensive value from a player and preserving his offensive skill set. Posey’s power has diminished due to the bumps and bruises that come with catching. Hip surgery may help him rediscover some of that, but he is not the force he used to be.

Willson Contreras—Chicago Cubs

Projection: 500 PA

5 Category: .266/18 HR/54 Runs/66 RBI/4 SB

6 Category: 51 walks

The talk of the offseason has the Cubs potentially looking for J.T. Realmuto. Contreras might be a piece going the other way. Hogwash. Obviously, rankings here are based on past results and Realmuto might very well be better than this in reality, but by how much? I’d leave well enough alone if I was them.

Yasmani Grandal—Free Agent

Projection: 500 PA

5 Category: .239/25 HR/57 Runs/69 RBI/1 SB

6 Category: 61 walks

Obviously, there is a lot that is unknown here. We can surmise that he won’t be back in Los Angeles. That might be a benefit to him offensively depending on where he lands. Ultimately, we would expect him to be the primary catcher wherever he lands based on the offensive and defensive production, but if the club has a strong second catcher he could drop to 400 plate appearances.

J.T. Realmuto—Miami Marlins

Projection: 500 PA

5 Category: .286/15 HR/62 Runs/58 RBI/7 SB

6 Category: 31 walks

We reach our first controversial ranking in the battle between past results and future projections. For one, he traditionally has more than 500 plate appearances because he also plays 10-20 games at first base. For another, he has been steadily improving each and every year. So, these composite results over the past three seasons might be obsolete. He also plays in a horrible hitters park. So, if he does indeed get traded he could be better on all counts.

Yadier Molina—St. Louis Cardinals

Projection: 500 PA

5 Category: .282/14 HR/54 Runs/67 RBI/5 SB

6 Category: 30 walks

He is another guy that has averaged north of 500 plate appearances the past three seasons. Can we expect another one as he approaches his later thirties? Eventually, the actuary tables will overcome him, but here is betting for one more good season before he turns into a pumpkin.

Wilson Ramos—Free Agent

Projection: 500 PA

5 Category: .298/21 HR/50 Runs/81 RBI/0 SB

6 Category: 34 walks

Given the uncertainty of where he could land and the fact that he has had a significant knee injury, 400 plate appearances might have been the more accurate adjustment. We can change that depending on where he lands. He will be the primary catcher somewhere, but the longer he waits the less likely 500 plate appearances will be an outcome.

Salvador Perez—Kansas City Royals

Projection: 500 PA

5 Category: .249/25 HR/54 Runs/72 RBI/1 SB

6 Category: 18 walks

There will be no bigger gap than the gap between Perez’s five and six category ranking. If he should find himself enshrined in Cooperstown I don’t know how he will get to the podium. He sure won’t walk there. I have to think the Royals will eventually figure out that he is not quite as valuable as he looks. That will eat into his playing time some.

Robinson Chirinos—Houston Astros

Projection: 400 PA

5 Category: .234/20 HR/53 Runs/57 RBI/1 SB

6 Category: 44 walks

This reflects the situation at the moment. The Astros might add another veteran catcher and if that happens then Chirinos drops to either 300 plate appearances or completely off the fantasy map. So, consider accordingly. That being said, he is a lot more productive than a lot of people think.

Mike Zunino—Tampa Bay Rays

Projection: 500 PA

5 Category: .223/28 HR/52 Runs/69 RBI/0 SB

6 Category: 42 walks

This one was a hard projection to get to. On the one hand, the depth chart in Tampa is not overwhelming. On the other hand, they like to mix and match lineups on a daily basis. When we redo this we might end up taking the 400 plate appearance option. 450 might be more accurate and thus he might drop just a little.

Welington Castillo—Chicago White Sox

Projection: 400 PA

5 Category: .270/16 HR/41 Runs/55 RBI/1 SB

6 Category: 26 walks

The PED suspension killed his three-year average, but the Sox felt comfortable enough to deal Omar Narvaez to the Mariners. That leaves Castillo as the primary guy. Still, I don’t feel comfortable giving him 500 plate appearances right after the suspension. He could be a sleeper though.

Evan Gattis—Free Agent

Projection: 300 PA

5 Category: .245/17 HR/36 Runs/49 RBI/1 SB

6 Category: 23 walks

Gattis may or may not be a catcher in most fantasy formats. He hasn’t caught a game in over a year and may not ever catch another game in his life. At this point, he looks like a part-time DH/first baseman and thus was given the 300 plate appearance designation. If he isn’t eligible at catcher he probably drops to the waiver wire unless he somehow lands as a full time DH somewhere.

Francisco Cervelli—Pittsburgh Pirates

Projection: 400 PA

5 Category: .258/7 HR/42 Runs/46 RBI/3 SB

6 Category: 52 walks

Cervelli plays up in six category leagues. His only true weakness has been his inability to stay in the lineup. Pittsburgh has him on the chopping block, but I don’t know whether that has any bearing on his fantasy value. He is a borderline fantasy regular. If he somehow remains healthy he should be a fantasy regular in a 12 team league. If not then he shouldn’t be.

Tucker Barnhart—Cincinnati Reds

Projection: 500 PA

5 Category: .258/9 HR/41 Runs/53 RBI/2 SB

6 Category: 49 walks

Barnhart has emerged as Gold Glove quality catcher. That and 3.50 will get you a cup of coffee at Starbucks. However, Gold Glove performers tend to play and when you play you accrue counting statistics. Nothing he does will blow your skirt up, but at the end of the day he will put up decent numbers.

Omar Narvaez—Seattle Mariners

Projection: 500 PA

5 Category: .274/8 HR/46 Runs/37 RBI/0 SB

6 Category: 62 walks

Someone has to play in Seattle and if you are in a six-category league you could do far worse when looking for a reserve catcher. I wouldn’t start him myself, but like Barnhart, he will put up numbers by the sheer fact that he should be in the lineup on most nights. The Mariners won’t be contenders, but they won’t be terrible either.

Austin Hedges—San Diego Padres

Projection: 400 PA

5 Category: .224/17 HR/35 Runs/49 RBI/4 SB

6 Category: 23 walks

I couldn’t begin to tell you what to expect from Hedges. He seemed to discover something towards the end last season,  but the Padres also acquired Francisco Mejia and gave him a trial late in the season. So, production and playing time are in flux. Hedges is a much better defender, so I’m betting that alone gets him in the lineup more than half the time. From there It is anyone’s best guess.

Brian McCann—Atlanta Braves

Projection: 300 PA

5 Category: .236/13 HR/35 Runs/40 RBI/1 SB

6 Category: 31 walks

Let’s assume that 2018 was just a season lost to injury and not the beginning of the end. In that case, we can expect him to share time with Tyler Flowers. Based on past production, he should still be a decent fantasy reserve. He’ll produce enough power numbers to keep you afloat. Of course, he could also be done.

Russell Martin—Toronto Blue Jays

Projection: 300 PA

5 Category: .218/11 HR/36 Runs/33 RBI/1 SB

6 Category: 42 walks

Martin is only viable in six category leagues. Then his walks and OBP keep you from completely going in the gutter. He has hit under .200 two seasons in a row. Maybe it’s bad batted ball luck, but two seasons are awfully hard to explain away. So, if we assume the three-year average then he gives you just enough of everything to be decent. Like with McCann, he isn’t likely to get more than part-time duty.

Fantasy Baseball: Second Basemen 2019

Second base is probably the deepest position in fantasy baseball. This presents a bit of an issue when it comes to ranking guys. Every ranking system has holes. When you use multiple seasons of data it can have a chilling effect on younger players. You can handle that one of two ways. You can either openly acknowledge it and simply rank them where they are at or you can leave them out entirely. We will do the latter in this case because it doesn’t make sense to rank Ozzie Albies out of the top twelve or Gleyber Torres not at all.

So, if you see names that don’t appear in the rankings it is not because we have forgotten. Simply put, it doesn’t make sense to put them in when the methodology is stacked against them. We will include them later in the offseason when we start to look at projections rather than the past.

Total points = TB + Runs + RBI + BB + SB + HBP – SO – CS – GIDP

 Jose Altuve—Houston Astros

Points: 1424 (1st)

PPG: 3.16 (1st)

VORP: 172.3 (1st)

He played much of the second half with a broken bone in his leg and he still has lapped the field over the past three seasons. He was built perfectly for total points as he doesn’t strike out often, but he is improving in terms of patience. The question moving forward is whether he will hit for power like he did in 2016 and 2017.

Daniel Murphy—Free Agent

Points: 1143 (3rd)

PPG: 3.03 (2nd)

VORP: 138.3 (2nd)

Murphy is marginally a second baseman at this point, but he will continue to be eligible at the position. He seems destined to be a DH/utility player at this point and that limits the number of teams he can reasonably sign with. Second base is more loaded in free agency than any other position, so it’s hard to firmly rank anyone that is currently a free agent.

Robinson Cano—New York Mets

Points: 1106 (4th)

PPG: 2.83 (3rd)

VORP: 92.7 (5th)

Obviously, the recent trade will rekindle some interest in Cano as he moves back to the Big Apple. However, the production really shouldn’t change. He moves from one pitcher’s park to another and from one marginally competitive team to another. He did show he can still be productive after returning from his suspension.

Brian Dozier—Free Agent

Points: 1234 (2nd)

PPG: 2.69 (4th)

VORP: 88.4 (9th)

Strikeouts hurt in this case as Dozier had a down season last year at the worst possible time. Second base is bound to be a game of musical chairs and there might be more than one on the outside looking in. It’s hard to feel entirely good about Dozier until we see where he lands.

D.J. LeMahieu—Free Agent

Points: 1101 (5th)

PPG: 2.57 (6th)

VORP: 89.1 (8th)

Welcome to the game of musical chairs. LeMahieu has strong defense on his side, so he could land before some of these other second basemen. Unfortunately, it likely won’t be back in Denver, so it’s hard to trust these offensive numbers.

Ben Zobrist—Chicago Cubs

Points: 962 (7th)

PPG: 2.32 (10th)

VORP: 90.4 (6th)

Zobrist might be my favorite non Astro. He can play almost every position and has had to on Chicago because of the presence of Ian Happ and Javier Baez. He is not literally better than any of the top ten second basemen at this point in his career, but he is so darn valuable with his positional flexibility.

Scooter Gennett—Cincinnati Reds

Points: 942 (8th)

PPG: 2.16 (12th)

VORP: 89.2 (7th)

Two consecutive brilliant seasons have put him here. Do you trust the last two seasons or the rest of his career? The Reds do have a nice offense developing and it should only get better as some of those prospects start developing.

Whit Merrifield—Kansas City Royals

Points: 935 (9th)

PPG: 2.43 (9th)

VORP: 71.6 (10th)

Virtually all of that production came from the past two seasons. He likely is a top five guy in reality, but we try to come up with a system and follow it. He could also be dealt which almost certainly would help some of the counting numbers.

Ian Kinsler—Free Agent

Points: 1063 (6th)

PPG: 2.54 (7th)

VORP: 54.2 (15th)

Kinsler is moving in the other direction and it is the worst possible time to be a free agent when your skills are diminishing. It is unclear as to whether he will be a starting second baseman. He is one of the top 30 in the game, but that doesn’t always matter in situations like this.

Asdrubal Cabrera—Free Agent

Points: 895 (12th)

PPG: 2.12 (15th)

VORP: 109.9 (3rd)

He’s an interesting guy. His defense has been far overrated in his career and the VORP shows he is drastically underrated offensively. Unlike Kinsler, he can play multiple positions, so his chances of landing somewhere are greater. Like Zobrist, he should bring some added value because of his versatility.

Cesar Hernandez—Philadelphia Phillies

Points: 883 (13th)

PPG: 1.99 (19th)

VORP: 100.8 (4th)

Hernandez is a stat head’s dream. He gets on base and makes solid contact but doesn’t enthrall fantasy players because he doesn’t hit home runs or steal bases. With a budding superstar lineup he could end up being a beneficiary.

Jed Lowrie—Free Agent

Points: 878 (14th)

PPG: 2.21 (11th)

VORP: 61.2 (12th)

This feels like a reunion should be in order. Lowrie picked a great season to have his best season, but still may be waiting around for that big pay day. There are just too many other guys out there on the market.

Jonathan Schoop—Free Agent

Points: 929 (10th)

PPG: 2.05 (17th)

VORP: 54.4 (14th)

Talk about your classic buy low candidate. He hits 20+ home runs regularly, but that is really all he is good for. He doesn’t draw walks and he doesn’t add any speed. In the right lineup he could be an under the radar choice late in the draft.

Jason Kipnis—Cleveland Indians

Points: 848 (15th)

PPG: 2.16 (12th)

VORP: 41.9 (21st)

Kipnis is eligible in the outfield in addition to second base. That makes him a decent add late in the draft, but he has had a couple of down seasons. The Indians are also paring down their roster, so this is a diminishing asset on all sides.

Dustin Pedroia—Boston Red Sox

Points: 693 (19th)

PPG: 2.65 (5th)

VORP: 34.5 (24th)

Pedroia missed much of the last two seasons with knee trouble. Hopefully, he should finally be healthy again in 2019 and that’s a scary thought for Red Sox opponents. Just adding one more bat to that lineup is a scary thought.

Starlin Castro—Miami Marlins

Points: 813 (16th)

PPG: 1.95 (20th)

VORP: 57.7 (13th)

Castro has seemingly been around forever and he is a lot younger than you think. Still, his best days are behind him. He might be a nice bench piece at the end of your bench, but that’s about it. When we include the youngsters he probably drops off the list.

Joe Panik—San Francisco Giants

Points: 793 (17th)

PPG: 2.16 (12th)

VORP: 41.7 (22nd)

When healthy, Panik is surprisingly productive. Unfortunately, he hasn’t consistently been healthy. The Giants may be looking to upgrade this spot, so Panik may find himself out of a job. So, you can wait for the waiver wire on him in case he somehow magically keeps his job.

Josh Harrison—Free Agent

Points: 692 (20th)

PPG: 1.95 (20th)

VORP: 49.7 (16th)

Everyone is looking for the Marwin Gonzalez type and he is a free agent. Harrison gives teams a cheaper option. In some ways, he is superior. He offers really good speed and might be a slightly better defender at second base. Start warming up the music for musical chairs.

Fantasy Baseball: First Basemen 2019

Very few full season fantasy players carry a backup catcher. So, last time we covered catchers we covered only twelve given that there are usually twelve players in a standard league. With first basemen you almost always carry at least two first basemen. Often times, they serve as your utility player or a key person off of your bench. Sometimes players have multiple positions of eligibility. That obviously depends on the platform you are using.

For those just joining us, our ranking system is based primarily on a total points universe. That is the method of choice for daily fantasy leagues and an increasing number of full season leagues are moving to that as well. We are going back three seasons in total points and in value over replacement player (VORP). The third category is total points per game. The combination gives us a nice cross-section of what the player has done. Obviously, some will criticize based on the absence of a projection analysis. That can always come later when the dust settles from offseason movement.

Total points= TB + Runs + RBI + BB + SB + HBP – SO – CS – GIDP

Anthony Rizzo—Chicago Cubs

Points: 1437 (1st)

PPG: 3.09 (1st)

VORP: 110.6 (4th)

How in the hell is Rizzo the top guy? Well, the first lesson in fantasy sports is that the most productive players in fantasy terms are not necessarily the best players. VORP reveals that nugget. Still, Rizzo plays on a great team and has been fairly healthy the past several seasons.

Paul Goldschmidt—Arizona Diamondbacks

Points: 1382 (3rd)

PPG: 2.93 (3rd)

VORP: 157.9 (2nd)

A lot is made of who surrounds a player. It usually doesn’t make that much of a difference. Goldschmidt will produce whether he is in Phoenix or somewhere else. Others will value him more if he gets traded. That’s just the nature of the beast.

Joey Votto—Cincinnati Reds

Points: 1135 (7th)

PPG: 3.04 (2nd)

VORP: 157.1 (3rd)

Others will be tempted to add Freeman here because of the recent addition of Josh Donaldson. Remember, others rarely have that much of an effect on a player’s performance. Votto is pound for pound the best first basemen in the business. The problem is that the counting numbers often don’t reflect that.

Freddie Freeman—Atlanta Braves

Points: 1284 (4th)

PPG: 2.94 (4th)

VORP: 176.0 (1st)

Speaking of counting numbers, Freeman is one of those guys everyone thinks should produce more. Eventually, you come to go with what a player actually gives you rather than what you think they should give you. That might be a little more based on an improved roster, but I wouldn’t bank on it.

Edwin Encarnacion—Cleveland Indians

Points: 1264 (6th)

PPG: 2.78 (6th)

VORP: 69.1 (7th)

Yes, he is a cut below in actual quality, but WAR is not a fantasy category. He hits home runs and drives in runs as often if not more often than everyone else. True, the Indians are paring down their roster, but he should produce no matter who is there.

Carlos Santana—Philadelphia Phillies

Points: 1282 (5th)

PPG: 2.71 (9th)

VORP: 63.3 (8th)

The Phillies are looking to dump Santana after another productive season. A funny thing happens when you sign someone to a premium contract. You expect premium performance. Santana produced as he always had in Philadelphia, but that isn’t enough for them. He will produce the same as he always has no matter where he is at.

Jose Abreu—Chicago White Sox

Points: 1135 (7th)

PPG: 2.56 (8th)

VORP: 70.0 (6th)

Yes, he doesn’t draw enough walks. Yes, he is on one of the worst teams in the big leagues. One of those might change this winter. Abreu drives in runs when he is healthy and gets on base often enough to keep people honest. Who knows, the Sox may keep him and they may take a significant step forward.

Eric Hosmer—San Diego Padres

Points: 1094 (8th)

PPG: 2.29 (12th)

VORP: 40.9 (14th) 

Hosmer gets a bad rap because the contract he signed was a colossal mistake the moment the ink dried. He didn’t hold a gun to their head. He seems to vacillate between really good seasons and mediocre ones. He’s due for a good one. He won’t ever overwhelm you, but he plays every day and puts up good numbers.

Brandon Belt—San Francisco Giants

Points: 830 (12th)

PPG: 2.23 (14th)

VORP: 77.9 (6th)

We get to the first significant surprise. There is a sizeable gap between Belt’s fantasy reputation and actual production. He doesn’t hit home runs. Sure, that’s a problem in traditional formats, but all of those doubles play well in total points. The key for Belt is always health, but on any given day he is a good value play.

Ryan Zimmerman—Washington Nationals

Points: 786 (16th)

PPG: 2.28 (13th)

VORP: 53.0 (10th)

A true legend in his spare time. When healthy, Zimmerman is one of the top ten first basemen in the game. We saw what he could do for one tantalizing season in 2017. You can probably wait to take him on draft day until the bitter end. It’s still probably a good value play.

Yuli Gurriel—Houston Astros

Points: 755 (18th)

PPG: 2.43 (9th)

VORP: 35.7 (16th)

In two seasons as a regular he has been surprisingly productive for a guy that doesn’t hit home runs and doesn’t draw walks. He will likely be a utility guy next season, but he likely will still get 400 to 500 at bats. That flexibility makes him play up as he could serve as a valuable fantasy bench piece in full season leagues.

Miguel Cabrera—Detroit Tigers

Points: 788 (15th)

PPG: 2.42 (10th)

VORP: 33.0 (19th)

He was off to a really good start last season before he was lost for the season with more injury trouble. If healthy he is a starting quality fantasy player. Sure, wait as long as you can to take him and hope your fellow players forget about him.

Albert Pujols—Los Angeles Angels

Points: 982 (9th)

PPG: 2.35 (11th)

VORP: -4.7 (26th)

No, I wouldn’t take him either. He says another surgical procedure will turn back the clock and make him productive again. We’ve heard that for the past three offseasons. The VORP is probably a lot closer to the truth on him.

Ian Desmond—Colorado Rockies

Points: 828 (13th)

PPG: 2.01 (17th)

VORP: 34.2 (18th)

Desmond is not a guy I would want to be a primary first baseman in even real baseball terms. When you throw in the fact that he might also be eligible in the outfield and other infield positions then he becomes a valuable commodity.

Josh Bell—Pittsburgh Pirates

Points: 740 (19th)

PPG: 2.10 (16th)

VORP: 44.9 (13th)

Pirates fans and fantasy fans alike keep waiting for Bell to take the next step. It might come this year. It might come next year. It might never come. I don’t place my fanstasy hopes on someone taking the next step. However, a late round flier is not placing your hopes. It is a reasonable gamble that it might happen.

Jose Martinez—St. Louis Cardinals

Points: 535 (22nd)

PPG: 1.98 (18th)

VORP: 57.5 (9th)

Take a look at the VORP. Some AL team is going to be smart and trade peanuts for this guy. He is a DH masquerading as a first baseman. The Cardinals play him as often as they can, but he isn’t an everyday first baseman. If he ever becomes an everyday DH he should shoot up the draft board.

Justin Smoak—Toronto Blue Jays

Points: 801 (14th)

PPG: 1.86 (21st)

VORP: 37.9 (15th)

Smoak has been good for two seasons, but the data here is three seasons worth of data. He really should rate higher than this based solely on the last two seasons. He could be moved if the Blue Jays find a package to their liking. I wouldn’t expect that to impact Smoak’s value much.

Yonder Alonso—Cleveland Indians

Points: 837 (11th)

PPG: 1.89 (20th)

VORP: 25.2 (21st)

Like with Smoak, he has made himself a decent fantasy option with two consecutive productive seasons. That narrowly eclipses two prominent candidates (Max Muncy and Jesus Aguilar) who have one productive season to their name. Bench philosophies vary depending on the player. Some want to roll the dice. Others want solid, productive guys that they can count on. I’m usually part of the latter group.

Fantasy Baseball: Catchers 2019

There are any number of ways to tackle fantasy baseball. There are a number of formats to contend with. It isn’t simple enough to cover the basic numbers anymore. Daily fantasy sports have taken the fantasy world by storm. It is a multi-billion dollar business these days as even the hallowed halls of Congress have had to address its popularity. I happen to think that daily fantasy formats can help you in season long formats as well. The numbers are more comprehensive and so it reveals more of the nature of the player.

The general idea across the board is that players accumulate points based on various events. They can also lose points based on strikeouts, grounding into double plays, and getting caught stealing. Daily leagues accumulate points by the day, so matchups are much more important. Yet, some full season leagues are switching to the same format. So, we will look at total points over the last three seasons, total points per game, and we will also include Baseball Prospectus’ value above replacement player. The combination gives us a decent composite of the player.

Total points = TB + Runs + RBI + SB + BB + HBP – SO – CS – GIDP 

  1. Buster Posey—San Francisco Giants

 Total Points- 954 (1st)

PPG- 2.44 (2nd)

VORP- 110.8 (2nd)

Posey had his 2018 season end early with hip surgery. There are a couple of ways to go here. The eternal optimist will say that he should be healthy when he wasn’t this past season. The pessimist might see this as the beginning of the end. Realistically, it might be his last season behind the dish. There is a reason why there are so few Hall of Fame catchers.

  1. J.T. Realmuto—Miami Marlins

Total Points- 874 (3rd)

PPG- 2.17 (6th)

VORP- 127.1 (1st)

This is a great primer for VORP. What is it and why does it matter? Well, it measures how good a player is once you remove the effects of league and park. Miami is a notorious pitcher’s park. There is a reason why Christian Yelich became so good once he left Miami. The answer is that he really didn’t become good. He was always good. A second place ranking is a bet on Realmuto moving on to greener pastures.

  1. Yadier Molina—St. Louis Cardinals

Total Points- 901 (2nd)

PPG- 2.22 (4th)

VORP- 77.7 (5th)

The actuary table on catchers is pretty stark. When they reach their mid-thirties they are usually done. So, I can forgive anyone for dropping Molina on their catcher list. In a vacuum I’d bet on regression too. The problem is that we have been betting on regression for the last three or four years. At some point, you just accept that he is a freak of nature and go with it.

  1. Gary Sanchez—New York Yankees

Total points- 695 (6th)

PPG- 2.63 (1st)

VORP- 74.1 (6th)

This was a lost year for Sanchez, but it says something that he can miss nearly half the season with injuries, play horribly for most of the time he was healthy, and still end up here in the rankings. He would probably DH for most teams, but the Yankees are loaded there. They might be smart to limit him to 100 to 110 games even with his awesome offensive potential.

  1. Yasmani Grandal—Free Agent

Total Points- 729 (5th)

PPG- 1.85 (11th)

VORP- 95.0 (3rd)

We get to an interesting debate in the baseball community: how detrimental is the strikeout? For the stat geeks it is nearly non-existent. For the traditional fan, they are like fingernails on a chalkboard. The strikeout is the biggest difference between Grandal being an elite catcher and being a pretty good catcher. Choose accordingly.

  1. Wilson Ramos—Free Agent

Total points- 659 (8th)

PPG- 2.23 (3rd)

VORP- 71.5 (7th)

Again, what you make of Ramos depends largely on where you stand on the whole traditional versus new-age debate. Sabermetrics are not that kind, but he seems to accumulate numbers in spite of it all. General managers might not pay as much given the shift to data driven decision making, but fantasy owners can’t ignore the results.

  1. Willson Contreras—Chicago Cubs

Total points- 620 (10th)

PPG- 1.87 (10th)

VORP- 82.7 (4th)

Again, we see a case where the hidden numbers say one thing and the conventional numbers say something else. As you can tell, I try to split the difference. I do that because I don’t know what format you are playing in. Five category leagues may not like him as much, but more and more leagues are including either a sixth category or moving to total points.

  1. Kurt Suzuki—Washington Nationals

Total Points- 645 (9th)

PPG- 2.21 (5th)

VORP- 59.8 (10th)

I’ve had an interesting debate with a Nationals’ fan about Suzuki. He seems to believe that the Nats will add another front-line catcher. Suzuki is just a backup he says. Well, he’s pretty damn productive for a backup. So, his situation bears watching. I have no doubt that some in Washington would like another good catcher. It might be a good idea as Suzuki succeeded with Tyler Flowers also in tow.

  1. Salvador Perez—Kansas City Royals

Total points- 778 (4th)

PPG- 1.96 (8th)

VORP- 41.7 (15th)

Catcher is at the heart of a number of debates on the fantasy front. Should you draft someone that plays nearly every day and puts up decent power numbers or would you rather have quality numbers in fewer games? Perez and Suzuki are interesting foils in this regard. I’d rather have quality than quantity, but some people feel differently. Certainly, Perez’s lack of patience doesn’t hurt him in five category leagues.

  1. Evan Gattis—Free Agent

Total points- 694 (7th)

PPG- 2.04 (7th)

VORP- 40.6 (16th)

Gattis is nominally a catcher. Some formats will not recognize him as such after not catching last year. He is either a mediocre bat off the bench or a dangerous offensive weapon behind the plate. He could stick somewhere as a utility guy that catches some, DHs some, and plays some first. He could slip into the waiver wire depending on who signs him and what they plan to do with him.

  1. Francisco Cervelli—Pittsburgh Pirates

Total points- 511 (15th)

PPG- 1.79 (11th)

VORP- 62.0 (9th)

Cervelli is the perfect marriage of going with someone that is destined to get opportunities and someone that won’t kill your percentage statistics at the same time. He sacrifices power, but you can get that at other positions. Everyone has to punt a position or two on draft day and he could be a nice option if you choose to punt catcher.

  1. Robinson Chirinos—Free Agent

Total points- 444 (16th)

PPG- 1.72 (12th)

VORP- 51.9 (11th)

Again, his spot depends on his situation. He reminds you of the kind of guy that puts up numbers on bad teams. You see it in the NBA all the time. You get the guy that average 20 a game on a last place team. Put him on a playoff team and he isn’t even a starter. A return to Texas might be good for him and fantasy owners, but maybe not so good for Texas.

Reputation Index: Catchers on the Outside Looking In

Occasionally, news interrupts the process and we have to stop and acknowledge it. Joe Mauer decided to call it quits after a brilliant 15 year career with the Minnesota Twins. He certainly could have caught on somewhere as a part-time DH and first baseman. If he cast his net out wide enough he could have even served as a regular player for another season or two. Yet, those seasons would have been marginal in nature in terms of replacement value. You have to admire someone that sees the writing on the wall.

Brian McCann is in a similar situation. He could continue as a part-time catcher for another season or two if he wants. He could return to Atlanta and share time with Tyler Flowers or catch on somewhere else and be a veteran caddie for a younger catcher. As of this writing, he has not made any announcements on his future. It is conceivable that he could retire as well. Since this is the case, it is high time we go back to the catchers outside of the Hall of Fame and look at their record with the reputation index.

In the interest of time, we will combine the modern catchers with those on the outside looking in. We are going to include all of the catchers we profiled in earlier posts and at least one more to pique everyone’s interest. Remember, we are only comparing catchers with catchers. Most of them tend to be negative in terms of the reputation index, but that might not always be the case.

MVP Points

  Top 25 Top 10 Top 5 MVP Points
Joe Mauer 1 2 1 1 22
Joe Torre 5 0 1 1 20
Thurman Munson 4 2 0 1 20
Yadier Molina 3 0 2 0 13
Ted Simmons 4 3 0 0 13
Bill Freehan 1 1 2 0 9
Jorge Posada 0 1 1 0 8
Russell Martin 3 0 0 0 3
Brian McCann 2 0 0 0 2
Gene Tenace 2 0 0 0 2

I can’t stress this often enough. MVP points are not about how good a player really is. They are about how good the writers think a player is. That is largely about offensive numbers. Out of the group, it is possible that Molina may add a top 25 finish this season. He certainly put up some of the best offensive numbers of his career. However, the difference between how good these guys are and what people thought they were usually comes at the defensive end. While Molina won another Gold Glove (his ninth), the real numbers will likely reveal something different.

As for Mauer, what we can say is that MVP points are an excellent predictor of what the BBWAA is likely to do. After all, the same group votes for the Hall of Fame. We say Joe Torre is out of the Hall of Fame, but he does have a plaque there as a manager. So, the Veterans Committee has no reason to address his candidacy. We could call him there and leave it at that.

That leaves the tragic case of Thurman Munson. Unfortunately, you can never assume facts not in evidence. It is highly possible that he might have played another several productive seasons had he not perished in that plane crash. We will never know. The BBWAA thought highly of him, so if he had those seasons to his credit he would have likely been in as well. The rest clearly were lagging behind. Was that deserved?

BWAR Top Tens

  Top 10 Top 5 MVP Points Index
Joe Mauer 3 2 0 19 0.86
Ted Simmons 5 0 0 15 1.15
Bill Freehan 2 1 0 11 1.22
Joe Torre 3 0 0 9 0.45
Gene Tenace 3 0 0 9 4.50
Yadier Molina 1 1 0 8 0.62
Thurman Munson 1 1 0 8 0.40
Russell Martin 2 0 0 6 2.00
Jorge Posada 0 1 0 5 0.63
Brian McCann 1 0 0 3 1.50

Calling Gene Tenace the most underrated catcher of all-time is not that controversial. Bill James was making that point all the way back in the 1970s. In his case, it was more about them underestimating the value of walks. The same could be said for Russell Martin. The rest of the bunch fall well within the norm of what you would expect when you are looking at a group of catchers.

There are two big take aways when you look at this second table. First, I’m not quite certain how long Mauer will have to wait to get into the Hall of Fame, but barring anything catastrophic he will get in someday. Secondly, this test confirms our previous contention that Ted Simmons should have gotten in as well.

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.

Reputation Index: Catchers

This is the point in the preparation for a book where we go back and do some lengthy edits. Every once in a while, when we go through the various tests we end up stumbling on a new one. I certainly wish I had thought of it before when I wrote the first book. We have been dabbling in MVP points for several posts and this is nothing new. Comparing those results with the top ten finishes in position player bWAR is relatively new. When we combine those two we get something we could call the “reputation index”.

In short, the MVP vote is not an accurate chronicling of how good the player was. It’s a chronicling of what the writers thought of the player at the time. Like with the index itself, it only makes sense when we compare these position by position. So, we are going back to the beginning (catchers in this case) and applying the test position by position. We would go into the chapters themselves and make the change. Here, we get to simply take a detour out of left field.

It shouldn’t be any surprise that catchers got more love in the MVP vote than they deserved. Ten catchers were voted in by the BBWAA. They shared 12 MVP awards in their respective careers. According to bWAR, they actually deserved one. So, it isn’t that they got more support than they deserved, but by how much. Some players got much more than they deserved, but a few were actually underrated. Like any other test, it isn’t the end all be all, but it is an interesting piece of the puzzle.

MVP Points

  Top 25 Top 10 Top 5 MVP Points
Yogi Berra 7 0 4 3 57
Johnny Bench 5 1 2 2 38
Roy Campanella 3 1 0 3 36
Mickey Cochrane 2 3 1 2 33
Mike Piazza 2 3 4 0 31
Gabby Hartnett 6 2 1 1 27
Bill Dickey 4 2 3 0 25
Ivan Rodriguez 2 3 0 1 21
Gary Carter 3 2 2 0 19
Carlton Fisk 3 2 2 0 19

So, ask yourself this question: how likely is it that Yogi Berra was really among the top 25 players in the league 14 times? The problem with the reputation index is two-fold. First, baseball-reference only tracked the number of times a player was in the top ten in bWAR. That means we don’t know how many times each player finished between 11 and 25 in the league. Secondly, it was a top ten in the big leagues and not the individual league. We could conceivably double the second points total and get an approximate number.

Those are not the only issues. We are not including starting pitchers when there is always at least a couple included in the MVP vote. What we are looking for is a direct comparison of the way a position is perceived with the way these players actually finished. Berra played for the most successful team in professional sports history. They won five consecutive World Series titles and were practically a fixture in the World Series from the late 1940s through the early 1960s. It’s no wonder that all of the Yankee regulars got plenty of love in the MVP vote.

All of the top five players in the table above have similar stories to tell. Naturally, any of our statistical systems (fWAR and win shares included) would give those players a slight advantage. Teams that win get more wins when it comes time to divvy up the results. FWAR and BWAR are more virtual than the literal win shares formula, but even then we would expect those top five to have an inherent advantage. However, even with the inherent advantage we will find some different results.

BWAR Top Tens 

  Top 10 Top 5 MVP Points
Gary Carter 1 7 1 48
Yogi Berra 4 3 0 27
Mickey Cochrane 6 1 0 23
Johnny Bench 2 3 0 21
Mike Piazza 0 3 0 15
Carlton Fisk 0 3 0 15
Gabby Hartnett 5 0 0 15
Ivan Rodriguez 3 1 0 14
Roy Campanella 1 2 0 13
Bill Dickey 4 0 0 12

So, why Gary Carter? Simply put, getting in the top ten in bWAR is a lot about being good offensively and defensively. Carter was a legitimate Gold Glove performer during his prime. Two things happened to Carter in terms of reputation. First, the Gold Glove voters did not recognize him often enough for his fielding when he played. Secondly, he hung on way too long after he was no longer effective as a player.

The rest of the top five rounded predictably according to the actual MVP voting. Berra was consistently good and Cochrane was better in this test than in the index because he was really good for about a decade. The rest of the list is grouped together in a tight grouping. Catchers don’t often finish in the top ten since they normally don’t play much more than 120 games a season.

Does this mean that Carter really was the best catcher of all-time? That’s hard to say. I’ve heard from proponents for Johnny Bench, Carlton Fisk, and Yogi Berra. Each have points in their favor. If someone wanted to argue for Carter they certainly have some evidence now. Unfortunately, reputation index doesn’t tell you anything about longevity or consistency. It just tells you that Carter was the most unappreciated catcher of all-time.

Left Fielders on the Outside Looking In

The index was never designed to be a conversation stopper. Baseball in general and the Hall of Fame specifically is better when there is a conversation. The index pinpoints value, but how one accrues that value matters. Would you rather have a player who was very good for ten to twelve seasons or would you rather have someone that was merely good for fifteen seasons? That obviously depends on the eye of the beholder.

Furthermore, the why and what fors matter too. The index doesn’t tell those stories. So, the index is merely a beginning and not the end. There were five primary left fielders before the modern era that deserve some level of recognition and mention. How they arrived at their value might be as important as the value itself. Let’s begin with career value.

Career Value 

  BWAR FWAR WS/5 Total
Sherry Magee 59.3 63.4 70.8 193.5
Bob Johnson 57.3 57.0 57.4 171.3
Jose Cruz 54.4 50.8 62.6 167.8
Minnie Minoso 50.5 50.8 56.6 157.9
Bobby Veach 47.8 43.7 52.0 144.5

It is theoretically possible to have a higher peak value than a career value, but the practical odds are nearly zero. The index doesn’t automatically qualify anyone, but it can serve to disqualify someone. Veach is destined to finish below 300 and probably well below 300 in total index. The rest are still in the conversation. We will continue to track Veach for the heck of it, but he will not be seriously considered from here on out.

The others have interesting individual cases for enshrinement that go beyond the numbers. Some of those are very compelling. Magee was one of the best hitters from the early part of the 20thcentury. His career slipped through the cracks because the BBWAA started to consider players well after his retirement. His resume just didn’t stack up with the all-time greats.

Indian Bob Johnson got a very late call up, so his shortened career has to be seen in a different context. The question is two-fold. First, were the seasons he had good enough to overcome the shortened career? Secondly, could it be credibly argued that he should have been called up earlier and would have been in a different era? The index can help us with the first question. History will have to help us with the second question.

Finally, we get Minnie Minoso. He was the first significant foreign born player to break through in the big leagues. The big leagues are inundated with players from the Caribbean, Mexico, Central America, and South America now. He could be considered as a pioneer beyond the numbers. That being said, we should finish our cursory look at these players and their peak value numbers.

Peak Value

  BWAR FWAR WS/5 Total Index
Minnie Minoso 50.5 51.1 51.3 152.9 310.8
Sherry Magee 46.8 50.1 52.6 149.5 343.0
Jose Cruz 44.8 44.9 46.0 135.7 303.5
Bob Johnson 44.8 45.4 43.4 133.6 305.3
Bobby Veach 44.5 41.0 47.4 132.9 277.4

The idea behind the index is to find separation. We see two sides of separation here. We see separation between Magee and the others and we see separation between the others and Veach. We can safely eliminate Veach from consideration, but the others find themselves squarely in the borderline zone. We have identified enhancements to the candidacies of Minoso and Johnson.

Cruz may not have a considerable bonus to add to his candidacy, but seeing his name here is surely a surprise. He didn’t hit for extremely high average. He wasn’t a noted power hitter. He didn’t steal a bunch of bases. He didn’t win a bunch of Gold Gloves. What he did was a little of everything and did in a very hostile environment for hitters. Add that all up and you get a much better player than the eyeball test might.

The first significant test we can throw in after the index is the MVP points for each candidate. Unfortunately, we will need to take Sherry Magee and Bobby Veach out because they played at a time when MVP awards were not consistently handed out. Even when they were, the voting was much different, so it would be like comparing applies to cucumbers. So, we will include the other three just as a point of reference. Each top 25 finish is awarded one point, every top ten finish three points, top five finishes are awarded five points, and MVP awards are given ten points.

  Top 25 Top 10 Top 5 MVP Points
Minnie Minoso 2 1 4 0 25
Bob Johnson 3 2 1 0 14
Jose Cruz 2 2 1 0 13

This doesn’t prove that Minoso was the best of the three. It simply proves he was the most highly regarded of the three. If we include the others in here we will see something completely different when we look at the way they finished in single season WAR. Baseball-reference tracks that, so let’s take a look at how each fares in individual season bWAR.

  Top 10 Top 5 1st Points
Sherry Magee 6 1 1 33
Minnie Minoso 5 0 1 25
Bobby Veach 3 3 0 24
Bob Johnson 2 2 0 16
Jose Cruz 3 0 0 9

These numbers are much more meaningful in terms of what the players actually did. The MVP points tell us how they were viewed at the time. We have been ignoring Veach for the most part but he did fare well here. Johnson and Cruz’s teams typically did not win much. WAR is parceled out based on expected runs scored and runs allowed, but that is still dependent on team success. This probably affected Johnson a lot more than Cruz. The Athletics were terrible throughout his tenure, so he would not have been given a lot of extra credit.

No single test gives us a definitive answer, but each one reveals a small piece of the puzzle. Magee and Minoso definitely come out looking better given the fact that they were the best player in baseball in at least one season. We can’t give them the go ahead just yet, but they are both a step closer. Now, let’s look at the offensive numbers.

Offensive Numbers 

  OPS+ Rbaser OW% wRC+ wOBA
Bob Johnson 139 -1 .682 133 .411
Sherry Magee 137 22 .700 134 .381
Minnie Minoso 130 13 .652 133 .382
Bobby Veach 127 -2 .653 124 .383
Jose Cruz 120 2 .610 119 .344

Whether Johnson or Magee is the best hitter of the bunch depends largely on which number you pay the most attention to. Johnson played in the greatest hitter era the game has ever known, so it makes perfect sense that some of his numbers would be superior. I tend to like offensive winning percentage and in that case he is not quite as good as Magee, but both players would be on teams that won more than 110 games.

Everyone acquits themselves well except for Jose Cruz. Granted, he was still a much better offensive player than most people gave him credit for. These numbers don’t eliminate him from Hall of Fame consideration, but they do put him behind the eight ball. He will need to finish strongly in the defensive categories. Either way, it would appear that Johnson, Magee, and Minoso have much stronger cases than they had before.

Fielding Numbers 

Jose Cruz 77 0.2 67 48.8 0
Minnie Minoso 30 -5.3 31 39.6 2
Bobby Veach 30 -6.3 30 47.0 3
Sherry Magee 25 -8.4 37 44.4 2
Bob Johnson 18 -5.8 22 35.4 0

We mentioned this last time, but it bears repeating. Gold gloves (and win share gold gloves) were awarded to the top three outfielders regardless of position. So, that usually meant centerfielders. Maybe these guys would have won more Gold Gloves if they had been parceled out by position. Either way, all of them were positive impact fielders and Cruz was the best of the bunch. It is enough to get him in the Hall of Fame? That might be a tall order.