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.

What about Pete Rose?

One cannot simply start talking about Pete Rose and the Hall of Fame. The debate has layers, sections, and detours that are destined the derail your conversation if you aren’t careful. The conversation has to be divided into three separate discussions that all have equal weight and intrigue. I know it can be frustrating not to jump into the meat of the discussion, but if we don’t organize our thoughts we won’t get anywhere.

Where does he stand in the history of the game?

Even this question is loaded. There is nothing that is simple and that includes statistics. Opinions on Rose range anywhere from him being one of the greatest players in the history of the game to being one of the more overrated players in the history of the game. A chronicling of him being one of the top ten players is based on very simplistic methodology. It starts and usually stops with 4256.

Yet, the naysayers might also might be overlooking some things. Still, we start with the obvious question: what in the hell is he doing in a discussion about left fielders? Well, the question of what position to consider someone at can be tricky too. Usually we go with the position played more often, but that is not universal. Sometimes we have to consider where the player was better defensively and other times we need to consider the value they brought to the table at that position. We will analyze all three methods and show why he lands in left field.

  Games TZ Runs BWAR
First Base 939 -44 1.9
Second Base 628 -21 13.3
Third Base 634 -35 17.4
Left Field 673 51 25.1
Right Field 590 1 21.0

This is the first and best example of not always getting the facts right. The anti-Rose crowd point to his shoddy defensive numbers and certainly that might be true overall, but the numbers here show he was a pretty gifted left fielder and at least mediocre in right field. The bWAR numbers were taken in seasons where he spent the majority of his time at that position. He also played some games in centerfield, but he never spent the majority of any season at that position.

Clearly, he played more games at first base than any individual position and more games in the infield than in the outfield. He came up as a second baseman, so it would certainly be defensible to categorize him as an infielder, but he was clearly at his best in the outfield both defensively and overall as a player. The fact that he played more games in left, played the position very well, and enjoyed his most success as a player there makes the decision pretty easy.

Now that we have that problem solved it is time we moved on to the index. We always start with the career value numbers. We have to keep the 12 players from the BBWAA in mind. Eight easily belonged while four were borderline. Let’s see where Rose ranks individually.

Career Value

  bWAR fWAR WS/5 Total
Pete Rose 79.7 80.1 109.4 279.2

Clearly, Rose belongs in the Hall of Fame. Furthermore, the career numbers here put him well within the top five players at the position. If we exclude Barry Bonds for a moment we find that Rose finishes fifth at the position and pretty close to Carl Yastrzemski. At this point, there is little reason to rank one before the other. We often get ourselves in trouble when we attempt to sort players like this. Suffice it to say, they are similar in terms of value.

It is worth noting that the win share numbers were far different than the WAR numbers. This is where we should remind everyone that win shares are based on actual wins and not expected wins. Usually those aren’t different but when a player plays for a historically great team we find that those teams consistently outperform their expected records. From here we get into the minutia of debating whether that is a factor of luck or clutch performance. If it is clutch performance then we have to parcel out that added value proportionally. Nine times out of ten that evens out over the course of a career. In the case of the Big Red Machine we have to assume that Rose played a part in them overachieving their expected record on a consistent basis.

This is where the rubber meets the road. We can say that Rose benefitted from having great teammates and so his numbers (conventional and sabermetric) were better as a result. We can also claim that his teammates were better because of him. With a player like Rose, each explanation is equally plausible. Suffice it to say, it is situations like these that make using three different sources necessary. We can’t discount win shares, but we can’t completely rely on it either.

Peak Value 

  bWAR fWAR WS/5 Total Index
Pete Rose 60.2 55.7 60.8 176.7 455.9

Rose has the kind of peak value figures you would expect from someone that played for 25 years. This is particularly true when you consider win shares. The major difference is that win shares are not negative. If someone is always putting up positive value then we can expect bigger gaps between career and peak value. So, we see a starker difference between Rose and the other top five left fielders.

In terms of peak value he ranks closest to Joe Medwick. I suspect this reflects the anti-Rose crowd’s collective opinion of him. That certainly makes sense but it also ignores the career value component. Both reflect the player overall, so it is impossible to consider one without the other. That puts the truth somewhere in between.

Opinions of Rose get complicated when we parcel out hitting and fielding. His primary value point is as a compiler. We’ve already seen some of the fielding numbers, so we will avoid the usual chart at this point. We saw this phenomenon with a few players in history. The most notable was Craig Biggio. When players play so many positions you have to look at them differently.

Did Rose play different positions because he was a bad player or because he was versatile enough to move? The Reds famously moved Rose to third base in 1975 to make room for George Foster. As we saw with his fielding numbers, he was a pretty good defensive outfielder. So, he brought some added value because of his versatility. How that gets baked into the Rose value cake is anyone’s best guess. I’m not smart enough to make specific allowances for that, but we also can’t take his overall defensive numbers at face value.

Offensive Numbers 

  OPS+ Rbaser OW% wRC+ wOBA
Pete Rose 118 12 .644 121 .354

Like with the fielding, the offensive numbers are somewhat misleading. Rose was remarkably unproductive in his last several seasons. When you add in the fact that he was playing below average first base it was glaring. It’s hard to distill that out of the overall memory. We usually remember the last thing we saw and for many that was an aging singles hitter that refused to admit he was past his prime. 1981 was the last season he had an OPS+ above 100. He retired following 1986. That’s five years of average to below average performance. Lop off those five seasons and I imagine you see something completely different above. We are still talking 18 seasons, so it’s not like longevity was an issue. Usually, my work would be done here, but as we know, Rose comes with other baggage.

How does he compare with other historical bad actors?

The difficulty with Rose is that you have to consider the whole package. That includes an ego that really has never allowed him to show remorse for his bad acts. Instead, he tries to compare himself with steroid and other drug users. Those players weren’t banned and so why was he? This argument demonstrates that Rose has never fully acknowledged what he has done and how it stacks up against other “crimes against baseball”.

Of course, the remorse goes directly to our third question, so we will leave it aside for now. If we rephrased the question above we would simply ask whether he should be banned from baseball for life. I generally don’t like the if…then arguments people are destined to make. In politics we usually call this “whataboutism.” It Is a tactic used to deflect away from the conversation. Is gambline really worse than drinking, using elicit drugs, steroids, or domestic abuse? Moreover, is it worse than just being an asshole? In the generic sense it is hard to make that argument, but we can’t argue this in the generic case. This is about baseball and what it means for baseball.

Even if we ignore the legacy of the 1919 Black Sox scandal and other cheating scandals from the early years of the sport we have to consider the nature of sport itself. Sports continues to be huge entertainment because it is the one form of entertainment where no one knows the end result beforehand. It’s what separates it from professional wrestling or your standard situational comedy. It’s unscripted. A team could win 130 games in the regular season and still lose in the playoffs. That’s what makes it exciting.

When someone gambles on the sport they are putting their fingers on the scale. How much weight they apply depends on whether they bet on their own contests and whether they bet on their own team to win or lose. By all accounts, Rose did bet on the Reds as a player and manager but there is no evidence to say he bet against them. Furthermore, it would not fit his personality to bet against his team.

Still, let’s say he has $1000 on the team to win. Let’s say he has a one run lead in the ninth and his closer has pitched three days in a row. The usual course would be to sit the closer to preserve him for the rest of the week, month, and season. Would having juice affect that decision? That all depends on the amount of the bet in comparison with his finances. Either way, it is hard to deny that any decision he might make is completely pure. That affects the integrity of the game and without that you don’t have a game.

Now, does steroid use affect the integrity of the game? I suppose that argument could be made. Yet, someone that uses PEDs is doing so ostensibly to win. Everyone doing their all falls under the integrity of the game. So, I don’t follow that argument in the same way.

Does he deserve a chance at getting into the Hall of Fame?

Bart Giamatti pulled a fast one on Rose. He enticed him into agreeing a lifetime ban with the expectation that he would still get into the Hall of Fame. Then, they made being on baseball’s banned list verboten in Cooperstown. It was a fancy trick and as much as I might dislike Rose, that was not baseball’s finest hour. We could debate whether Rose deserves to be a part of the game, but that is a separate discussion.

I had to phrase the question as I did above because the question of whether he belongs in is a separate question. As mentioned before, Rose has been reluctant to issue a full mea culpa for his actions. It was only recently (the last decade) that he fully admitted to gambling on baseball in general and gambling on the Reds specifically. He still hasn’t fully come clean as to whether he always bet for his team.

This is hard stuff. I generally fall into the camp that he should be on the ballot and the BBWAA should decide his fate. Then at least every member would get to wrestle with their conscience individually. If someone wants to categorize him in the same way as a Darryl Strawberry or Dwight Gooden that is their right. If someone wants to put him in the same category as Roger Clemens or Barry Bonds that is their right. If they want to consider him another Orlando Cepeda that is also their right.

I’m not sure it is fair to consider him among the top ten players of all-time but he is well within the range of Hall of Fame performance based just on the numbers. I’m not sure the baseball’s banned list and the Hall of Fame registry were ever supposed to be conflated. Is Joe Jackson a Hall of Famer? Maybe if you consider the numbers on their own merits. I don’t know if I would vote for Rose or not, but I think he certainly deserves a chance.

Borderline Hall of Fame Left Fielders

When we start looking at borderline Hall of Fame candidates we start looking at borderline players in the Hall of Fame we start looking at all kinds of different tests we can apply to create separation. I would not want the index to be the only determining factor as to whether someone should be in or not. It wasn’t meant to do that. It was meant to define who should be a part of that category.

We’ve introduced MVP points in the past and we will use that test again, but we will also look at some other tests. The first such test is one Bill James called the “black ink test”. It simply calculates the number of times a player led the league in a particular category. Different weights (or points) are awarded to leading the league in a major statistical category (average, home runs, runs, and RBI) and other minor categories (games played, walks, OBP, SLG). The second new test is simply an accounting of what they did during postseason play. Of course, that’s not a perfect test either. Ralph Kiner did not play in the postseason. That’s hardly his fault. However, we can begin to see some separation between players as to who shone during their moment and who did not. Finally, we have bases per out. We’ve seen it before, but we will see it again here just as a way to further categorize these players.

All four of these players come up short when the index is concerned. It is important that we look at all of the relevant data to determine if there was good enough reason to put them in the Hall of Fame. Sometimes there are extenuating circumstances and sometimes we should overlook certain statistical shortcomings. In other instances, we see examples of certain prejudices that get confirmed when the Hall of Fame vote comes out. Let’s begin with the index and move on from there.

Career Value 

  BWAR FWAR WS/5 Total
Joe Medwick 55.6 54.6 62.4 172.6
Lou Brock 45.3 43.2 69.6 158.1
Jim Rice 47.7 50.8 56.4 154.9
Ralph Kiner 45.4 47.6 48.4 145.4

These numbers by themselves don’t mean much, but we do notice that they fall a little short of the players we profiled in the previous two articles. This is where one of our secondary tests should be brought in to take a look. Since bases per out belongs with the offensive data we will simply add it in there. This leaves us either the playoff performance data, black ink test, or MVP points.

We will make this a little more compelling and compare these four players with the other eight that are already in the Hall of Fame. Obviously, any test is only valuable when we have a frame of reference to compare it with. Since we acknowledge that the other eight left fielders belong in the Hall of Fame we should see these four approach those numbers if they also belong in the Hall of Fame.

  Black Ink
Ted Williams 122
Stan Musial 116
Rickey Henderson 50
Carl Yastrzemski 55
Al Simmons 23
Tim Raines 20
Billy Williams 18
Willie Stargell 17
Ralph Kiner 52
Joe Medwick 41
Jim Rice 33
Lou Brock 26

The average Hall of Famer has a 27 for the black ink test, but that’s a bit of a misnomer since you have to lead the league to get black ink. Left fielders are more likely to lead the league than shortstops. So, we compare these players with their own position group. Tests like these can either serve to eliminate players or qualify them. Brock nearly meets the Hall of Fame average and he is the worst of the four players profiled here. So, we can’t really eliminate him from consideration based on these numbers.

What we can do is look at Kiner and Medwick in a whole different light. Kiner is fifth amongst Hall of Fame left fielders in black ink. Obviously that is a major point in his favor. Medwick stands sixth with 41 and he was the last player in the National League to win a triple crown. Rice and Brock are more ordinary.

Similar to the black ink test, the postseason numbers test can serve to either eliminate a player from consideration or give them an extra boost. So far, no one has been eliminated, but we see that Medwick and Kiner have a boost. Let’s see how these players fared when we look at the postseason numbers.

Lou Brock 92 1.077 16 13 14
Jim Rice 80 .749 14 7 0
Joe Medwick 48 .811 5 5 0

As mentioned earlier, not one of Kiner’s teams got anywhere near the playoffs. As Branch Rickey famously told Kiner, “I could finish last with or without you.” His lack of record in the postseason neither helps him nor hurts him. This leaves the other three guys. Brock clearly comes up huge in the postseason as he put up much better numbers than he did during the regular season.

Rice for his part was unlucky enough to be hurt in 1975 when the Sox made their run. It was such a close series he might have been the difference against the Reds. His lone appearances came in his last good season in 1986 and in 1988 when he was suddenly over the hill. Medwick played in only one series and was decent enough, but was not memorable either way.

If we take both of these tests in concert we see that Brock comes out well ahead in playoff performance, but last in black ink. Rice is decent in black ink and lackluster in playoff performance. Medwick is good in both black ink and playoff performance. Kiner is brilliant in black ink and nonexistent in playoff performance.

Peak Value

  BWAR FWAR WS/5 Total Index
Ralph Kiner 49.4 47.6 48.4 145.4 290.8
Joe Medwick 50.1 44.9 48.6 143.6 298.6
Jim Rice 42.3 45.0 46.2 133.5 288.4
Lou Brock 33.4 36.1 50.0 119.5 277.6

These results tell us two things. First, none of these players meet the traditional standards we have seen from the index. Secondly, they are fairly close to each other in their finishing results. So, the deciding factor over which ones were warranted and which ones were mistakes comes down to how they finish in all of these tests in addition to their index scores.

Before we move onto the offensive and fielding numbers we should look at their MVP scores. For those that are reading for the first time, players get one point for each top 25 finish, three points for every top ten finish, five points for every top five finish, and ten points for every MVP award. Unfortunately, modern players like Rice and Brock have a harder time in the expansion era than Medwick and Kiner, but we can get a general idea.

  Top 25 Top 10 Top 5 MVP Points
Jim Rice 2 0 5 1 37
Joe Medwick 4 1 2 1 27
Lou Brock 4 4 1 0 21
Ralph Kiner 1 3 2 0 20

It’s difficult to be too hard on Kiner. He played on a last place team for most of his career, so even in an eight team league it was going to be hard for him to garner votes. Still, he played only ten seasons and got votes in six of them. That’s not half bad. Brock wasn’t exactly a typical MVP candidate and that can be seen in only one top five finish in his career. Unlike with playoff performance, Jim Rice propels to the front of the line with his five top five finishes and one MVP.

Moreover, his MVP was well deserved in 1978. Rice was legitimately one of the best hitters in baseball in a ten year period between 1977 and 1986. Medwick and Rice were very similar in that regard. Medwick’s triple crown was enough to get him an MVP as well. So, of our four extra tests, we have finished three of them. We will see our last test when we look at the offensive numbers.

Offensive Numbers

  OPS+ Rbaser OW% wRC+ wOBA BPO
Ralph Kiner 149 0 .731 147 .427 1.003
Joe Medwick 134 1 .700 133 .393 .805
Jim Rice 128 5 .628 128 .375 .791
Lou Brock 109 78 .598 109 .336 .765

This is not the same bases per out that we saw before. To be a little more complete we included stolen bases as a part of the total bases which definitely helped Brock. We could assign points here, but there is very little separation between Medick, Ricke, and Brock. Kiner comes way out ahead across the board offensively. Offensively, Kiner and Medwick are a step ahead of the other two.

Rice in particular was called a dangerous hitter throughout his career. I’m not quite sure what that means. The numbers bare out that he was definitely a good hitter overall, but I’m not sure the reputation matches the numbers. This because he lacked the walks that others had and also grounded into more double plays than most guys. The combination was that he created more outs than the average guy. Even though this is overly simplistic, here is how each player ranked according to our MVP test, black ink, postseason, and BPO test.

  Black Ink MVP Playoff BPO Total
Joe Medwick 2 2 2 2 8
Ralph Kiner 1 4 4 1 10
Jim Rice 3 1 3 3 10
Lou Brock 4 3 1 4 12

This doesn’t say anything definitively yet, but it is beginning to paint a picture. Without all of the relevant information, it is an incomplete picture. We need defense to make this a complete picture, but even without defense I am beginning to make up my own mind. The beauty is that everyone is allowed to come to their own conclusion.

Fielding Numbers 

Joe Medwick 45 -4.8 47 44.2 0
Jim Rice 24 -8.0 26 35.6 0
Ralph Kiner -40 -10.7 -36 25.1 0
Lou Brock -51 -16.8 -43 49.0 0

Wait a minute, I thought that fast guys were supposed to be great outfielders. Well, that obviously isn’t always the case. Playing outfield also requires a strong throwing arm and it requires anticipation and the ability to make the first step in the right direction. Slower guys like Medwick and Rice had those skills where Brock did not. I hate to say any player was a mistake, but Brock appears to be one.

Why was he selected? Well, that one is simple. He had more than 3000 hits and was the all-time leading base stealer when he was inducted. Having 3000 hits shouldn’t be an automatic qualifier. A bunch of steals doesn’t have the same value as getting on base or getting to more balls defensively in the outfield. Outs are the blood currency of the sport. The ability to avoid them offensively and get more of them defensively are paramount. Extra bases are nice, but they aren’t as important as we otherwise thought. Then again, his postseason record was sterling, so a yes vote is defensible on that level, but anyone that quotes hits or steals may want to check again.

Card Carrying Left Fielders

In the book version we sometimes called this group the rank and file or the card carrying Hall of Famers. They aren’t living legends, but no one denies that these guys belong. Interestingly enough, one of them had to wait the entire time until the BBWAA finally approved of them. We will see why that happened and what we can learn from that experience moving forward.

Tim Raines waited the full length of time in spite of arguably being a top five left fielder of all-time. Naturally, Al Simmons will have a lot to say about that. We didn’t look at the MVP race in the living legends section, but it comes into focus here. The group that votes for the Hall of Fame also votes for the MVP. So, looking at MVP points doesn’t so much tell us whether a player was really good or really bad, but what the people thought of him at the time. In some instances they may have missed the boat. For those just joining us, players receive one point for a top 25 finish, three points for a top ten finish, five points for a top five finish, and ten points for a MVP. Players are listed in order of how they finished in the index.

  Top 25 Top 10 Top 5 MVP Points
Al Simmons 2 2 4 0 28
Tim Raines 4 1 1 0 12
Billy Williams 4 1 2 0 17
Willie Stargell 4 3 3 1 38

So, if you were to use this list you would think Stargell was a far superior player to anyone else on this board. This in spite of the index information we will see soon. Raines looks like the worst player and some writers used this as evidence against him. It’s hilarious as it turns out because the group is using their own prejudice from the past to keep him out. The madness finally ended in his last year of eligibility.

The other three were power hitters, so it is easy to see how their run production would keep them in the MVP conversation. Still, Raines was just as valuable in his own way, but didn’t put up the power numbers the voters wanted to see. Value is not about home runs but runs produced and runs saved.

Career Value

  BWAR FWAR WS/5 Total
Tim Raines 68.4 66.4 78.0 213.8
Al Simmons 68.8 69.3 75.0 213.1
Billy Williams 63.7 60.4 74.8 198.9
Willie Stargell 57.5 62.9 74.0 194.9

So, if we go strictly according to career value then Raines is the fifth best left fielder in the Hall of Fame. We will know a whole lot more when we look at the offensive and fielding numbers, but many think of Raines as a prolific basestealer, but he also was adept at stealing first base. Unfortunately for Raines, he played at the same time as Rickey Henderson. Henderson did everything a little better than Raines and also did it longer. However, there was one category where Raines was superior to just about everyone.

Rickey Henderson 1406 335 .808 1071
Lou Brock 938 307 .753 631
Tim Raines 808 146 .847 662
Vince Coleman 752 177 .809 575

Many of you will notice some players missing from this list. Ty Cobb was third all-time in stolen bases (from 1900 on) but they did not count caught stealing in every season he played. The same was true for Eddie Collins, Max Carey, and Honus Wagner. So, the list above includes all players with 700 or more career steals that had a full accounting of caught stealing.

This is dreadfully important as we find out more about efficiency and creating runs. Avoiding outs is far more valuable than claiming the extra base. So, having 1400 steals is nice, but the success rate is maybe more important. Adjusted stolen bases are stolen bases minus caught stealing. We see that Raines vaults himself into second place in adjusted stolen bases. So, while he was a dangerous base stealer, it was more valuable that he was a smart base stealer. This is just one of those hidden value components that the voters didn’t get.

As for Bucketfoot Al, no one denies that he should be a Hall of Famer, but some may gloss over how dominant he was during the Philadelphia A’s heyday between 1928 and 1932 when they won a combined 505 games. He played alongside Hall of Famers Jimmie Foxx and Mickey Cochrane. You could argue that Simmons was the best of the bunch.

Al Simmons 3030 .360 142 593 708 21 195
Jimmie Foxx 3079 .335 171 579 642 26 445
Mickey Cochrane 2886 .311 67 520 438 21 356

The difference between the three is that Simmons hit for higher average, but also drew fewer walks. If we calculate their OBPs over the same time period we see they each had OBPS better than 40 percent. While we have to acknowledge the time period where these numbers were produced, it is still remarkable to have three guys produce OPSs over .900 over a five year period. They had other good offensive players (Mule Haas, Bing Miller, Max Bishop) but you could definitely argue he was the best from the period based on the numbers above.

Peak Value 

  BWAR FWAR WS/5 Total Index
Al Simmons 59.1 59.8 57.2 176.1 389.2
Tim Raines 52.0 50.8 53.4 156.2 370.0
Billy Williams 53.0 51.2 55.8 160.0 358.9
Willie Stargell 44.6 48.2 50.6 143.4 337.8

Willie Stargell is the subject of a minor debate when it comes to the index. The old version of the index took the best ten seasons no matter what order while the current index takes the best ten year stretch. Stargell managed to win an MVP outside of his ten year peak. That’s completely unheard of and it might have barely qualified for his best ten seasons. Either way, he arrives somewhere in the borderline zone at most positions. In left field he is ahead of the gap. This is why we look for gaps in data and avoid using hard cutoffs.

The others had numbers we would expect. Billy Williams performed a little stronger than some might have remembered as compared to his comrades. Simmons had the best peak value this time around, so he edges Tim Raines into the top five of left fielders currently in the Hall of Fame. We will know more when we see how they performed on offense and defense.

Offensive Numbers

  OPS+ Rbaser OW% wRC+ wOBA
Al Simmons 133 3 .700 130 .410
Tim Raines 123 115 .665 125 .361
Billy Williams 133 20 .688 132 .376
Willie Stargell 147 -13 .717 145 .387

It would appear at first blush that Stargell was the best hitter here and that would be true based on virtually all of these numbers, but it doesn’t mean he was the best player. In fact, the index shows he was the least valuable player in the group. The rest are relatively equal especially when we add base running into the conversation. Raines is obviously a cut below based on the lack of power, but he isn’t as far removed as people might suspect based on the lack of power.

All four players would produce teams that won 108 or more games if the entire team was made up of them. A team of Stargells would win 116 games a season. It’s remarkable because you don’t normally associate greatness of that level onto Stargell. So, he must have suffered a great deal when the defensive numbers were included.

Fielding Numbers 

Al Simmons 67 -1.1 67 69.0 6
Tim Raines -7 -8.5 -3 52.7 1
Billy Williams -38 -18.0 -33 43.4 0
Willie Stargell -70 -19.5 -22 31.4 0

This makes perfect sense. Simmons won six win share Gold Gloves even though outfield win shares are broken down overall and not by position. He might have won more if he had been compared to other left fielders. The flip side is Stargell. Stargell split time between left field and first base and wasn’t good at either one. So, electing Stargell was similar to electing a designated hitter. He was the least valuable left fielder in the bunch, but he was still valuable enough to put in the Hall of Fame.

The Greatest Left Fielders of All-time

It would be easy to think of any position as more or less homogenous when considering just the BBWAA voting, but we have seen that hasn’t been the case up until this point. In point of fact, we can divide each position into three separate groups. I did this in the book version of the index with some success. We can start with the legends and then move on the solid Hall of Famers and then the borderline candidates.

Left field has twelve players from the BBWAA list, so it divides up well into groups of four. That rarely ever happens. We have to look at how the data divides them and not at how we want to arbitrarily divide them. Our fortunes have favored us although we had to take some liberties with positional assignments. Let’s dispense with the pleasantries and dive right into the numbers.

Career Value 

  BWAR FWAR WS/5 Total
Stan Musial 128.2 126.8 120.8 375.8
Ted Williams 123.1 130.4 111.0 364.5
Rickey Henderson 111.2 106.3 106.0 323.5
Carl Yastrzemski 96.4 94.8 97.6 288.8

The elephant in the room has to be addressed. Wasn’t Musial primarily a first baseman? Well, he did play in more games as a first baseman than as a left fielder (1016 vs. 929), but he played in 1890 games in the outfield. Most of those came in left field. So, if we consider him an outfielder we have to take the position where he played the most games. After settling that dilemma, we likely are all surprised by the results. This is the reason why the index has a career and peak value element.

No one would be crazy enough to claim that Musial was a superior player to Williams, but there is some defense for that. That will come up when we look at the offensive and defensive numbers. If we ignore the index and simply look at the counting statistics we can see why Musial comes out ahead in this category.

  Games Hits HR Runs RBI BB EBH
Williams 2292 2654 521 1798 1839 2021 1117
Musial 3026 3630 475 1949 1951 1599 1377

These numbers are also deceiving. Williams missed three seasons serving his country in World War II and much of two additional seasons serving in Korea. Musial missed one season in comparison. This isn’t to demean Musial. Anyone that serves their country for any length of time should be honored, but Williams is in a special category here. Yet, even when we consider those seasons we still find that Musial was more durable.

Henderson and Yastrezemski will eventually be four and five when and if Barry Bonds ever gets into the Hall of Fame. Neither hold a candle to these two legends, but they deserve to be mentioned in the same general grouping. Henderson is regarded by many as the greatest leadoff hitter in the game’s history and Yastrzemski might be the best overall fielder at the position. At least he is the best of those in the Hall of Fame.

Peak Value 

  BWAR FWAR WS/5 Total Index
Ted Williams 83.0 88.2 75.0 246.2 610.7
Stan Musial 83.9 76.5 71.0 231.4 607.2
Rickey Henderson 72.0 70.2 58.8 201.0 524.5
Carl Yastrzemski 65.7 67.0 55.2 187.9 476.7

Boston fans enjoyed a Hall of Fame quality left fielder from 1939 all the way through 1990. Mike Greenwell was no slouch in his prime either (however short it was). It was Yaz’s misfortune to follow the greatest pure hitter in the history of the sport. Some will tab Babe Ruth as the best player of all-time. Others will tab Willie Mays. Still others will tab Ty Cobb. All are very worthy picks for the best player in the history of the game. When looking for the title of best overall hitter the list is very short. Of course, that is ultimately a debate we will have to table.

All Yaz did was win a triple crown and combine very good offense and very good defense to come up with solid value numbers. Musial’s resume is well established. He did not have the pure power of Williams, but he hit a ridiculous 725 doubles in his career and won seven batting titles. That totals put him third all-time in doubles behind Pete Rose and Tris Speaker. He is third in extra base hits behind Hank Aaron and Barry Bonds. So, he was definitely no slouch in the power department.

So, this leaves Henderson. If you focus on the steals you are missing the mark. It was certainly his fortune to come up in a time when teams were obsessed with having speed threats at the top of the order. People will remember Vince Coleman, Otis Nixon, and Omar Moreno. Henderson was great because he stole first base and did it repeatedly. He also brought surprising power to the leadoff spot. That is something none of those guys did. Sure, 80 steals are great, but if they are accompanied by zero power and a .300 OBP it’s not worth a whole heck of a lot.

Offensive Numbers 

  OPS+ Rbaser OW% wRC+ wOBA
Ted Williams 190 1 .857 188 .493
Stan Musial 159 -4 .781 158 .435
Rickey Henderson 127 144 .660 132 .372
Carl Yastrzemski 130 -2 .677 130 .375

There is absolutely nothing wrong with Henderson or Yaz’s numbers. A team of nine Yaz’s would win 110 games with average pitching. A team of nine Henderson’s would win 107 games and set an all-time record in stolen bases that would never be broken. Taken in that context, the numbers Willams and Musial put up are just stupid. A team of Ted Willaims would win 139 games in a 162 game schedule. That’s just staggering.

The fact that Musial’s OPS+ and wRC+ are that high and still not in the ballpark is equally staggering. Seeing any hitter near .500 in wOBA is absolutely ridiculous. It doesn’t matter what era you are talking about. He will ultimately be compared to Barry Bonds and those comparisons are unavoidable. He did it without chemical enhancement and while missing nearly five seasons serving his country. Put those years back into play and he would have obliterated nearly every record except career home runs. He might not have eclipsed 755, but 700 would have been a cinch.

Of course, all hitting numbers have to be taken in concert with fielding numbers. Before we look at those we should remember that left field runs neck and neck with first base as the least valuable position on the diamond defensively. This isn’t to demean left fielders, but they just make fewer plays and fewer high leveraged plays than players at other positions. So, the following numbers have to be taken in that context.

Fielding Numbers 

Carl Yastrzemski 184 1.0 135 61.5 2
Rickey Henderson 65 -2.3 56 56.3 3
Stan Musial 50 -9.2 6 66.8 5
Ted Williams -32 -13.3 -29 44.1 0

This is usually where Williams gets dismissed from any serious GOAT talk. However, we should keep things in proper perspective. In terms of defensive WAR, all of these players are being compared to all defenders at all positions. Of course, they are going to come up short. The fact that Yaz finished above zero is remarkable. We should note that for the entire length of their careers, outfielders were directly compared to each other. So, we wouldn’t expect left fielders to beat out center fielders and right fielders in the win share Gold Gloves (or real ones). Musial won a couple at first base.

At most other positions, defense is a huge consideration. It just isn’t in left field. Williams often lamented after his playing days were over that he didn’t focus enough on defense, but his lead in offensive production is so massive that it really doesn’t matter. Still, we can’t see the whole picture of a player unless we look at both facets of the game.

The Greats of the 19th Century

Electing players from the 19th century carries two very difficult challenges. The first one is merely cosmetic. The Hall of Fame survives and thrives based on the number of visitors it has each year. Induction weekend is the biggest money maker for them by far. Fans from far and wide travel to see their favorite player inducted. That creates revenue for the Hall of Fame. How many people are going to show up to watch the great grandson of someone you’ve never heard of make a speech on behalf of their long lost relative?

Therefore, the votes of the BBWAA and Veterans Committee have always been biased towards the living. This hasn’t completely shut out those from the game’s first century, but they have been few and far between. Bill James successfully lobbied for George Davis in the late 1990s, but since then we have heard crickets.

Public relations is not the only problem. The rules of the game changed drastically between 1870 and 1890. The game we recognize didn’t really come about until that time and even then competition was very uneven. So, when you look at numbers for anyone (even the more sophisticated ones) you have to wonder what you are looking at. Furthermore, a lot of our uber stats have problems because they did not keep accurate records of statistics like caught stealing, walks, or hit bit pitches. So, someone like Davis that played a number of years after the turn of the century comes out looking good. We generally hate to use the if this guy then that guy approach but when you put in Davis it makes you wonder about other guys like Bill Dahlen and Jack Glasscock. Let’s compare them.

Career Value 

  bWAR fWAR WS/5 Total
George Davis 84.3 84.6 79.6 248.5
Bill Dahlen 75.4 77.5 78.1 231.7
Jack Glasscock 62.0 60.1 52.2 174.3

Glasscock is a problematic candidate. On the one hand, his career value is well within the range of those selected by the BBWAA. Admittedly, it is on the lower end, but it is well within the range. However, he suffers from both areas of bias. First, his children’s children are getting long in the tooth. More importantly, he played a good portion of his career in the 1880s. This becomes a quandary when we discuss concepts like replacement level. What does that even mean in the 19th century?

The distance between the best teams and the worst teams was far greater than in the modern game. It stands to reason the same would be true for the players as well. This is particularly true when we look at fielding numbers. Advanced math always confused me in school, but there is a popular notion that performance (or numbers themselves) gravitate towards the mean. This is particularly true on the lower end of performance. Why bang your head against a wall repeatedly with a player that truly sucks? In the modern game, it becomes increasingly difficult to gather high end talent together for an extended period of time because of the cost of keeping that talent together. So, we get a drive to the mean.

Dahlen on the other hand overlapped with Davis. It’s hard to deny that Davis was better overall, but how much better was he really? 17 wins in the index world really amounts to less than six wins overall. Over the course of a 15 to 20 season career that’s not a whole lot. I certainly hate making an argument I normally detest, but Dahlen is ever bit as fit to be in the Hall of Fame as George Davis.

Peak Value 

  BWAR FWAR WS/5 Total Index
George Davis 50.8 51.4 45.6 147.8 396.3
Bill Dahlen 47.3 49.4 43.4 140.1 371.8
Jack Glasscock 50.8 49.8 38.9 139.5 313.8

It can be dizzying following the tortured logic of arguing for or against a 19th centuplayer. We’ve already talked about the problems with competitive balance and with the loss of important statistics we hold dear today. The flip side could argue that it is harder to accumulate numbers like WAR and win shares when those players played in fewer games. Teams back then played in as few as 100 games overall. So, statistics like above can be a bit deceiving and this is particularly true when Glasscock is concerned.

So, I’m not sure what these index scores really mean in the grand scheme of things. Glasscock’s score would put him in the borderline category anyway even without the various considerations on each side. Dahlen is clearly in if we use the same standard as everyone else. So, with Glasscock we have to ask if there is a compelling reason to add him. Is the Hall of Fame really missing something there? I’d argue they aren’t. In the case of Dahlen they are definitely missing someone they probably should add. However, we should take a look at the offensive and fielding numbers.

Offensive Numbers

  OPS+ Rbaser OW% wRC+ wOBA
George Davis 121 19 .624 118 .366
Bill Dahlen 110 12 .578 108 .357
Jack Glasscock 112 16 .574 110 .336

Davis is a cut above the other two, but we also have to remember what we are dealing with. Davis is a top five shortstop in the history of the game according to the index scores. Only Honus Wagner, Cal Ripken, and Alex Rodriguez stand in front of him, so Dahlen’s numbers have to be seen in that context. Dahlen’s numbers place him solidly in the top ten historically. His offensive numbers (and Glasscock’s) may not be overwhelming here, but shortstops aren’t expected to be their team’s best hitters.

Speaking of Glasscock, his numbers are an example of the problem with evaluating the game’s early players. Players came and went from team to team and league to league. Pay for players was horrible, so it wasn’t uncommon for even good players to quit suddenly in the prime of their career. So, we have to ask who we are comparing Glasscock to. That’s decidedly different than Dahlen because he played when the game had at least stabilized to a certain extent.

Fielding Numbers 

George Davis 146 24.6 106 87.5 1
Bill Dahlen 139 28.5 120 128.0 3
Jack Glasscock 149 22.3 153 86.0 3

This is a perfect example of how little we can gleam from some numbers. If you look at the numbers above you might be tempted to think these were some of the best fielding shortstops in the history of the game. In point of fact, a solid defensive shortstop that plays a long time could rack up numbers like these during that time. Being solid for a long time is valuable, but it isn’t going to make anyone forget Ozzie Smith.

So, based on every bit of information we have here we have to come to the conclusion that Bill Dahlen belongs in the Hall of Fame. Whether this situation will ever be rectified remains to be seen. Dahlen’s great grandchildren probably shouldn’t be dusting off their acceptance speech any time soon. If there are any huge Dahlen fans out there they can probably wait too, but we can honor him here.

Modern Shortstops

There is a whole cottage industry around comparing players from different eras in every sport. NFL fans want to compare Jim Brown to Walter Payton while basketball fans want to compare Magic Johnson to Oscar Robertson. Often times these players don’t overlap. So, how do we allow for different eras where the level of play was different? It could be enough to make you throw up your hands and give up.

Yet, there is something to be gained as well. We can compare two very similar players and get a glimpse of the past. People of this generation grew up watching Nomar Garciaparra, so even mention the name Vern Stephens and they may glaze over in a lack of recognition. However, their numbers get more and more similar as we peel the onion.

  Hits HR Runs RBI BB SB
Stephens 1859 247 1001 1174 692 25
Garciaparra 1747 229 927 936 403 95

You’ll notice we haven’t included the rate statistics. The fact is that these players are comparable not only in their quality but also in the length of their careers. They spent a good portion of their careers in Boston and arguably both enjoyed the majority of their success there. Their peaks arguably lasted the same amount of time. However, having similar numbers doesn’t prove anything in terms of being similar or picking which guy was better. At first blush, we would say it was Stephens, but we know nothing about the era in which each played in. At least we don’t based on the numbers above.

  OPS+ Rbaser OW% wRC+ wOBA RC
Stephens 119 5 .636 117 .377 1061
Garciaparra 124 0 .630 124 .376 1043

Here, we have normalized the data by comparing each player with the average hitter in the eras in which they played. We see that Garciaparra comes out ahead in some categories and Stephens is ahead in others. However, they are more or less equal offensively. Seeing these numbers creates a snapshot of what it must have been like to experience Stephens’ career firsthand. Sure, they aren’t similar stylistically, but in terms of production relative to the league they are extremely similar. Now, let’s check out the defense.

Stephens -1 9.1 -11 62.9 4
Garciaparra 15 6.5 -1 49.0 0

Who was the better fielder? Well, we have to keep in mind that win shares and WAR compares players with the replacement level player while the baseball-reference and Fangraphs numbers compare players with the average. This is an important distinction when evaluating players with careers of varying lengths. Stephens had nearly 15,000 defensive innings total as compared to Garciaparra’s 11,642. An advantage of 3000 innings is roughly equivalent to three additional season’s worth of innings. So, we can argue that Stephens accrued more defensive value that way, but defensive value and quality are not the same thing.

That being said, even when we look at quality we are not talking about a huge separation here. Garciaparra might average a run or two more per season defensively. That means they were both mediocre defenders for the most part when compared with their contemporaries. So, they are roughly equal offensively and defensively. So, they should come out relatively equal overall in the index. That is until we consider that Stephens did enjoy that additional time.

The Hall of Fame Index

  Career Peak Total
Vern Stephens 147.1 132.3 279.4
Nomar Garciaparra 130.4 128.4 258.8

So, in terms of peak value they are very similar, but the extra few seasons gives Stephens the slight advantage overall. What does all of this mean? Well, it means that fans of both generations have a frame of reference for their guy. Modern Boston fans have a handle on Stephen’s place in history because they can compare him with Garciaparra. The same is true for the old guard of Boston fans. For the rest of us, we can get a handle on each player’s Hall of Fame credentials when we compare them with the rest of the Hall of Fame register. We’ll do that now with the modern shortstops (minus Derek Jeter who we have already covered).

Career Value 

  bWAR fWAR WS/5 Total
Alex Rodriguez 117.8 113.5 90.2 321.5
Jimmy Rollins 46.3 49.8 56.2 152.3
Miguel Tejada 47.3 39.8 57.6 144.7
Troy Tulowitzki 44.1 38.3 37.2 119.6

It’s a testament to the times we are living in that there is doubt as to whether ARod will be voted into the Hall of Fame. He finds himself in the same category as Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. They are known PED users that had Hall of Fame careers outside of the use. So, we put them into some kind of separate stick in the butt moralistic category. We could provide tons of historical precedent of cheaters moving on to Cooperstown, but that’s a different article for a different day.

Tulowitzki is still active, but he has missed much of the past two seasons with various foot issues. His career is like many before him. He is a Hall of Fame quality player that hasn’t been able to stay on the field enough. That being said, he still has the opportunity to add to his resume, so we will largely ignore him for the time being and focus on the other two guys. At first blush, they would seem to be a little short of the standard, but we haven’t seen their peak value numbers yet.

Peak Value 

  bWAR fWAR WS/5 Total Index
Alex Rodriguez 81.2 78.4 56.6 221.8 543.3
Miguel Tejada 44.3 37.9 46.6 130.8 275.5
Troy Tulowitzki 44.4 38.7 36.2 119.3 238.9
Jimmy Rollins 37.5 41.3 39.2 113.0 265.3

We just got through with our discussion about comparing players from different eras. Notice that the bottom three compare favorably with the dynastic shortstops of the previous post. Those three will have just as many (including Garciaparra) argue for them as the previous generation of shortstops. Hopefully, the value of the index comes into focus when we start comparing the numbers in larger groups.

That being said, we can go back to the MVP points we introduced in the previous article. Just a reminder, each player is awarded a point for finishing in the top 25, three points in the top ten, five points in the top five, and ten points for winning the MVP. We can’t necessarily compare players across eras because it is harder for the modern players to gain MVP points in a 15 team league than an eight team league. However, we can compare them with themselves.

MVP Points

  Top 25 Top 10 Top 5 MVP Points
Alex Rodriguez 4 4 3 3 60
Derek Jeter 4 5 3 0 34
Miguel Tejada 6 0 1 1 21
Nomar Garciaparra 2 4 1 0 19
Troy Tulowitzki 3 1 2 0 16
Jimmy Rollins 2 1 0 1 15

In a 15 team league we can assume there are either 120 or 135 regulars depending on whether you are in the National League or American League. That would have been 64 in the previous article. So, finishing in the top 25 players in the league has to be seen through that prism. This is of course eliminating any pitcher that may sneak into the top 25. So, we should take a step back and marvel at how ARod managed to finish among the top 25 players in the AL in fourteen different seasons.

The MVP points are lower across the board than their counterparts from the 1940s and 1950s. Again, that makes perfect sense. The point of the MVP points are to compare players from their own generation. Here, we see where the breakdown between BBWAA Hall of Famers probably should be without diving deep into the index. Yet, insert a player of Tejada’s quality back in time and anything could happen. We would likely break into a huge debate over level of play and watering down of expansion that we really wouldn’t get anywhere. We will ultimately know more when we look at the offensive and fielding numbers.

Offensive Numbers 

  OPS+ Rbaser OW% wRC+ wOBA
Alex Rodriguez 140 56 .684 141 .395
Troy Tulowitzki 118 -1 .631 119 .368
Miguel Tejada 108 -46 .511 106 .341
Jimmy Rollins 95 67 .518 95 .323

People love to use statistics to prove their point, but statistics have two separate issues. First, we have to be careful to use them how they are intended. Secondly, we have to make sure we quote them correctly. I hate to pick on the president, but he recently bragged that GDP was higher than unemployment for the first time ever. He’s also said that we had a negative GDP before he became president. Huh?

GDP is measured either in total dollars or dollars per capita. That number can’t be negative. It also can’t be less than the unemployment rate because that is expressed as a percentage. Similarly, I ran into someone on the internet that grades hitters by the total number of hits that they collect. Jimmy Rollins collected 2455 hits which is certainly Garciaparra and narrowly more than Tejada (2407). So, he was the better hitter right?

I don’t mean to demean anyone, but all numbers have their proper context. Hits are nice, but going with that number alone ignores so many other numbers that are meaningful. How often did the hitter walk? How many of those hits were extra base hits? How many at bats are we talking about here? The numbers above do a much better job of encompassing the offensive value a player brought to the table. Rollins is bringing up the rear in this group. Both he and Tejada end up being a tad better than the guys from the previous post, but they aren’t that much better.

Fielding Numbers 

Troy Tulowitzky 97 16.9 42 65.3 1
Jimmy Rollins 32 14.5 37 90.8 0
Alex Rodriguez 26 10.6 33 85.4 1
Miguel Tejada -46 6.9 -45 88.9 0

Again, comparing win share gold gloves (or Fielding Bible Gold Gloves) is not all that fair. Being the most valuable fielder among eight teams is a little easier than doing it amongst 15. So, I’m not sure how those numbers should be interpreted. What we do know is that Tejada likely has taken himself out of the running with these numbers. He was a prolific player, but not a particularly valuable one. Rollins on the other hand comes out above average offensively and defensively. There is an argument there for that kind of player to get into Cooperstown.

That leaves ARod and his place in the history of the game. His index score puts him second in history to Honus Wagner. I acknowledge the moral quandaries of the day and that it is difficult to honor someone that has admitted to cheating. It’s time to remove Gaylord Perry’s plaque then. If Cooperstown is meant to be a museum then it is difficult to fathom a few of the greatest hitters and pitchers being out. We can acknowledge their greatness and acknowledge their flaws at the same time. You don’t have to like him to acknowledge his greatness.

Dynastic Shortstops

One of the offshoots of the Hall of Fame and its discussions are the way we treat players from great teams. We see this during the season every all-star break. The great teams get more all-star teams than the average or bad teams. It makes perfect sense. Good teams are good because they have good players. However, there is a logical extreme there and the same is true with Hall of Famers and great teams.

The aforementioned book, “Baseball’s Greatest Dynasties” lists the dynasties of the 20th century and there is considerable representation for shortstops in the Hall of Fame including:

1906 Chicago Cubs- Joe Tinker

1953 New York Yankees- Phil Rizzuto

1955 Brooklyn Dodgers- Pee Wee Reese

1998 New York Yankees- Derek Jeter

It doesn’t seem like an exhaustive list, but there is another list of guys that the pundits think should be in the Hall of Fame from the list of fifteen teams listed in the book. If we admitted all of those guys then more than half of the teams would have a Hall of Fame shortstop. Throughout his landmark book (“Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame”), Bill James demonstrated that throughout most of history you could find ten percent of the game populated with Hall of Famers. So, half of any listing of teams with a Hall of Famer at a certain position seems out of whack.

We saw the same phenomenon with Gil Hodges and others. Good players can put up great numbers on occasion and when they do it at the right time you can have a dynasty. So, the question is whether someone that puts up great numbers is truly great or whether they benefit from historical serendipity. The index can help us with that, but it ultimately only takes us so far. Many of these players were historically good and they may have had leadership skills that are impossible to quantify. So, let’s see where we stand.

Career Value

  bWAR fWAR WS/5 Total
Bert Campaneris 53.1 44.9 56.0 153.0
Vern Stephens 45.5 48.6 53.0 147.1
Dave Concepcion 40.1 39.7 53.8 133.6
Maury Wills 39.7 35.7 50.6 126.0
Marty Marion 31.6 30.0 35.4 97.0

We start with the most obvious player. Marty Marion stands out because he is seemingly overmatched. However, he was prominently mentioned in James’ book. He is a truly great example of the “if…then” fallacy. If Phil Rizzuto is a Hall of Famer then why not Marion? Well, if we follow that logic to its logical extreme we might end up with Rafael Landestoy enshrined in Cooperstown.

Of course, Marion deserves better than that. It’s the main reason why we are even mentioning him here. He was a very talented fielder and a decent enough hitter for a shortstop, but his career comes up short for one reason or another (longevity). The fact that he was a prominent member of the dominant Cardinals team in the 1940s does cloud the question some, but I could handpick a player on every championship that was historically good, but played great at the right time.

The rest of the list comes out reasonably enough on the career value scale, but they are noticeably worse than the BBWAA standard. How does history play into the countenance of greatness? Should good players on great teams get a nod? There are quality arguments on both sides of this discussion. The index does not directly answer that question. It provides evidence that gets weighed in such an argument. Right or wrong, the BBWAA has established a reasonably consistent standard we can measure. These don’t meet it, but it doesn’t mean they should be out.

Peak Value

  bWAR fWAR WS/5 Total Index
Vern Stephens 40.6 44.8 47.8 133.2 279.3
Bert Campaneris 46.8 41.8 40.2 128.8 281.8
Dave Concepcion 37.1 36.1 41.0 114.2 247.8
Maury Wills 36.6 32.3 43.0 111.9 247.9
Marty Marion 30.9 29.2 32.8 92.9 189.9

Marion’s case is easy enough. His peak value and career value are nearly identical. So, he basically lasted ten or eleven seasons. If he had played 15 full seasons it might have been a different story. The same is true of Maury Wills, but his story isn’t quite so neat. He did not make his debut until he was 27. We are left wondering why. The question is whether he was a victim of institutional racism or just a bad break of playing for a historically great franchise. The facts show he was signed into the Brooklyn system when he was 18 but hit .300 or better in only three of his nine seasons of the minors.

Lack of success in the minors shouldn’t be a disqualifier, but it is hardly evidence of any nefarious dealings either. Perhaps in the modern age he could have left as a minor league free agent and caught on somewhere else in the big leagues two or three years sooner. Perhaps a lot of things. Players are ultimately judged against their contemporaries. Everyone had to survive under the same rules in 1950s baseball.

The top three could be considered Hall of Fame worthy if we didn’t know anything about career value. The trouble is that three or four win players are not particularly special over the course of a decade. The upshot is that those numbers could be due to a shorter peak or simply a lack of dominance. That of course assumes that we put a whole lot of credence into these index numbers in the first place.

In the interest of being as even-handed as possible we can also look at how each player was viewed by the baseball media at the time of their careers. We could run through the whole list, but we will compare Vern Stephens and Marty Marion to their contemporaries that are in the Hall of Fame with something we will call MVP points. Others have used similar formulas, so I can’t claim credit, but we will award ten points for MVPs, five for finishing in the top five, three for top ten finishes, and one for top 25 finishes.

  Top 25 Top 10 Top 5 MVP Points
Lou Boudreau 2 5 2 1 37
Pee Wee Reese 4 7 1 0 30
Vern Stephens 2 3 3 0 26
Phil Rizzuto 4 1 1 1 22
Marty Marion 3 2 0 1 19

The fact that Boudreau and Rizzuto won MVPs is a big deal when it comes to their Hall of Fame fitness. Of course, whether those awards were all deserved is up to debate. This methodology isn’t about what it deserved. It is about what the voters thought of the players then matters. It matters because the same group votes for the Hall of Fame. Few deny the qualifications of Reese or Boudreau, so it is interesting to find Stephens ahead of someone like Rizzuto.

Two of these men did not serve their country during World War II They are the two that are not currently in the Hall of Fame. It is impossible to say whether that is the definitive reason why they are not in, but the three in the Hall of Famer were given leeway as to the lack of adequacy of their numbers. No single test is necessarily worth more than another, but seeing the only BBWAA elected shortstop on top of the list adds some value to this test.

As we have done in the past, we will also look at the offensive and fielding numbers for these players. There is always a context and these numbers often serve to add to the index the context we need to evaluate their Hall of Fame qualifications. Their index scores indicate that none of these players should be in, but their careers deserve too much respect to just simply leave it at that.

Offensive Numbers 

  OPS+ Rbaser OW% wRC+ wOBA
Vern Stephens 119 5 .636 117 .377
Bert Campaneris 89 58 .465 90 .298
Dave Concepcion 88 20 .459 88 .306
Maury Wills 88 55 .481 91 .301
Marty Marion 81 -1 .443 83 .317

Which of these was not like the other? Naturally, offensive production is only part of the equation. How much of the equation depends on the eye of the beholder. Many look at shortstops through a different prism. The question is whether a below average offensive player should be in the Hall of Fame. Statistics like OPS+, wRC+, and offensive winning percentage aren’t broken down by position. So, shortstops are compared to first basemen and outfielders. Obviously, not all of these players might be below average as the numbers appear. They are closer to average amongst the shortstop universe. Therefore, it might be more instructive to ask if average hitters should get in the Hall of Fame. We won’t know until we take a look at the defensive numbers.

Fielding Numbers

Marty Marion 130 25.0 130 97.5 4
Bert Campaneris 63 21.1 71 98.6 2
Dave Concepcion 52 21.4 49 116.9 5
Maury Wills 0 12.2 4 74.7 3
Vern Stephens -1 9.1 -11 62.9 4

Here we get the smorgasbord of numbers that all mean something different. The comparisons with average clearly favor Marion and when you compare him with the replacement level player you get the same result. Unfortunately, his career was a little too short to dominate across the board. Considering his career spanned only a little more than a decade, leading the league in defensive win shares four times is quite an accomplishment.

The reverse is also true. Stephens looks like a mediocre defensive shortstop overall, but he won the same number of win share Gold Gloves. So, we can surmise when Stephens was at his best he was nearly as good as the rest of them. When we add in the offense when he was also at his very best we probably get a superior player. That is reflected in the peak value numbers that we saw earlier.

The others are in the in between zone. They are better than average defensively and charitably could be called average offensively. So, they are above average players looking to get into the Hall of Fame. If you do that long enough I suppose there is a case to be made, but for these guys I’m not seeing it. Dynasties need good players to make a go of it. They need solid players too. Saying they are not Hall of Fame worthy shouldn’t be seen as an insult.

What About: Derek Jeter

I started the what about series primarily to address guys that a lot of people think should be in the Hall of Fame. Usually, we clump players together that are all borderline candidates. This time we are doing something else. No one doubts the fact that Derek Jeter is a Hall of Famer. He was the captain of the best team in baseball in the 1990s and 2000s. He joined the 3000 hit club. He earned the nickname Mr. November. So, we are not here to debate whether he belongs in Cooperstown. We are debating exactly his place in Cooperstown.

There are a few players like Jeter throughout history. Some fans think he is among the best to ever play the game while others think he is among the most overrated players to ever play the game. For Jeter, that usually begins and ends when people start talking about fielding. However, we are getting ahead of ourselves as usual. We should begin with the index and then move on from there.

The Hall of Fame Index 

  bWAR fWAR WS/5 Total
Career 72.4 72.7 82.6 227.7
Peak 57.1 47.6 67.8 172.5
Total 129.5 120.3 150.4 400.2

If we look at the total list of shortstops (including modern players) then we find that Jeter’s index puts him fourth all-time. Obviously, the index was never designed to rank order players, but he clearly belongs in elite company. That is almost exclusively because of the offense that he brought to the table and his long record of durability. It is a lot more instructive to compare him with the top five guys on the Hall of Fame board offensively before we even get to the fielding question.

The typical offensive numbers we use show us how dominant (or not) a player was over the course of his entire career. They don’t tell us how long the player did it. We can use different numbers for that. So, to illustrate that we will include runs created as a way to show each player’s durability.

Offensive Numbers

  OPS+ Rbaser OW% wRC+ wOBA RC
Honus Wagner 151 34 .762 147 .408 1888
Cal Ripken 112 5 .536 112 .346 1729
Robin Yount 115 -56 .573 113 .343 1655
Luke Appling 113 0 .597 115 .378 1412
Alex Rodriguez 140 56 .684 141 .395 2274
Derek Jeter 115 56 .593 119 .360 1910

Now we get into one of those famous cases where we ask ourselves what these numbers really mean. Obviously, Wagner and Rodriguez are in a league of their own offensively. The rest were grouped pretty close together. There are two ways to look at this data. The first is that Jeter belongs with the elite performers because he was relatively close to all of them in the numbers we have been using throughout our reporting. However, we haven’t gotten to defense yet and we know his reputation is shaky at best. That is where runs created come in. He is second all-time amongst shortstops in that honor and beaten only by his former teammate Arod.

The upshot is that he had approximately two to three seasons worth of plate appearances beyond what the others were able to produce. Part of that can be attributed to longevity and part can be attributed to durability. Both of those are good things, but none of those make him a better hitter than the rest of them. Now, we look at defense. We really can’t compare him to anyone else as you can see, so we will look at Jeter by himself.


Derek Jeter -243 -8.3 -137 91.6 0

There is an argument to be made for Jeter being the worst defensive shortstop of all-time. Unfortunately, that argument is primarily dependent on the numbers. When you look at defensive win shares (as an example) you find that players typically have fewer defensive win shares per 1000 innings with the fewer innings they play. That makes perfect sense. Teams don’t employ inferior fielders for very long. That was different in Jeter’s case for a variety of reasons.

Jeter was a fan favorite and a powerful player within the Yankees organization. They moved Rodriguez to third so they could keep Jeter at short. This was even though Rodriguez was clearly the better defender. Obviously, they were not using dispassionate analysis there. One could argue that the desire not to rock the boat outweighed a desire to actually have the better defender. They won and won a lot, so obviously they can defend the decision, but there was something else at stake. Let’s compare him with fellow butcher Jose Offerman.

  Innings Rfield Field/1000 Errors E/1000
Derek Jeter 23225 -243 -10.46 254 10.93
Jose Offerman 5065 -67 -13.23 139 27.44

We see two very important phenomena happening at the same time. First, we could yank any other player from history similar to Offerman. Offerman played longer than just those five or six seasons. They moved him around between second base and first base to find a position where he wouldn’t be a liability. This is the way sports work. When you find a player that you like overall, you will keep shuffling him around when he proves to be substandard at a position.

So, Jeter really isn’t the worst shortstop in history. That’s ludicrous. He is the worst shortstop for any that played the position for that long. That could hardly be blamed on him totally. The Yankees simply had a blind spot where he was concerned. However, another more likely blind spot are the errors. Jeter was fairly surehanded when compared to Offerman and most other shortstops for that matter.

This reflects the bias of the previous age. Many traditional fans still think it matters how many errors you have. On an individual game basis it might. It certainly looks worse when you boot one. It matters a lot more how many balls you actually get to. This is where Jeter suffered. He just didn’t get to as many balls as most other shortstops. So, in terms of actual ability and scouting, Jeter was not the worst defender of all-time at shortstop, but in terms of value he was.

In terms of overall value, this definitely has an affect on how we perceive Jeter over time. This is one of the reasons why we look at career value and peak value. Jeter is a top five shortstop in career value. Peak value just might be a different story. All told, he is still a Hall of Famer when he becomes eligible, but where he stands in history will probably be debated for quite some time.