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.

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.