Results tagged ‘ Bill James ’

Hey Hey!

Thank God.

A year too late for him to enjoy it, 30 years past the day he should’ve been selected, the Baseball Hall of Fame Veterans’ Committee has finally elected the most deserving candidate not in Cooperstown, Ron Santo.

For those who doubt, here is my statistical analysis of the five leading playing candidates:

The simplest tool for judging a player against his contemporaries is, I think, the most overlooked one – exact comparisons, from a guy’s debut season through his final year.

Awards are useful, especially as an indicator of greatness – in Ron Santo’s case, the five straight NL Gold Gloves 1964-68 pretty much confirm his defensive prowess – consider the one from 1964, when Cardinals’ third baseman and defensive hero Ken Boyer was MVP, but Santo still won the Glove.

The hardware is nice. But statistics are better.

In short, in his era, from when he came up with the Cubs in 1960 through his last year with the White Sox in 1964, Ron Santo was one of the top ten hitters in all of baseball.

Santo was fifth in RBI in his era.

Santo was ninth in Runs in his era.

Santo was tenth in Homers in his era.

Santo was tenth in Hits in his era.

There are 17 players besides Santo on these four lists of the top ten offensive producers of the 1960’s. Only four men on all four lists: Aaron, Frank Robinson, Billy Williams – and Santo. Even the three men who are only on three lists, compared to Santo’s four, are all in Cooperstown already.

Needless to say, only one other full-time Third Baseman (Brooks Robinson) shows up on any of the four lists – and he, only twice. Part-timer Killebrew is on three of them: handily ahead of Santo in one (HR), behind Santo in another (R), and just two spots and only 74 RBI ahead of him in the third.

You can’t ask more of a man than to produce those kinds of numbers against his direct contemporaries: what he did while he played, compared to what everybody else did while he played, is all that he can be judged on. But it focuses exactly where a player stood against his peers.

By the way, if you want to be more generous to Santo, and judge him from his first full year as a regular (1961) through his last year as an everyday player (1973) he looks better still: he holds at fifth in RBI, but moves up one spot each in Runs (eighth), Homers (ninth), and Hits (9th).

I had Gil Hodges second.

Again, what he did in his time tells me what I need to know. Here is a list, updated through May 5, 1963 – the date Gil Hodges played his last game in the major leagues.

All-Time MLB Home Run Leaders (RH Batters):

1. Jimmie Foxx                     534

2. Willie Mays                      373

  3. Gil Hodges                  370

4. Ralph Kiner                     369

5. Joe DiMaggio                  361

6. Ernie Banks                    340

7. Hank Greenberg             331

8. Hank Aaron                    307

8. Al Simmons                    307

10. Rogers Hornsby             301

By the way, on the all-time homer list, lefties and righties both, Hodges had just been knocked out of 10th place, by Mays (373 to 370). The game changes. Still, it is extraordinary that Hodges’ home run performance measured against all his contemporaries and predecessors, is pretty much ignored.

Hodges’ career spanned 20 calendar years, but he only played regularly from 1948 to 1959. In “his” era, Hodges was second in MLB in homers (344, to Duke Snider’s 354), second in RBI (tied with Berra at 1136, behind Musial’s 1226), fourth in Runs, and seventh in Hits. Hodges is often dismissed as a “Home Park Homer Hitter.” In fact in his ten years at Ebbets Field he averaged only 4.60 homers a year more in Brooklyn than on the road. For comparison, Duke Snider, in the Hall since 1980, averaged 4.56 homers a year more in Brooklyn than on the road.

It is also of note that Hodges hit 27 or more homers in eight consecutive seasons, drove in 102 or more runs seven years in a row, and the first baseman on two World’s Champions and four more NL champs.

Haven’t even mentioned Hodges the manager (1969 Miracle Mets) nor Hodges the Man (I have never, ever talked to anyone who knew him who didn’t revere him.

Third on my list? Luis Tiant.  Bill James hit the nail on the head: Luis Tiant is Catfish Hunter with poorer marketing.

Statistical doppelgangers are often either coincidental, superficial, or irrelevant because the players are of different historical eras. Not Hunter and Tiant. They pitched side-by-side in the same league for fifteen seasons, in the same division for six, and were teammates for a year. And they look like twins in a dozen key stats:

 

Statistic                             Hunter            Tiant

Starts                                      476               489

Complete Games                  181                187

Shutouts                                  42                  49

Innings                                3449.1        3486.1

Home Runs                            374               346

Wins                                        224               229

Losses                                      166               172

ERA                                        3.26              3.30

Run Support                         4.30              4.46

20-Win Seasons                         5                   4

Sub 3.00 ERA Seasons            5                    6

‘Wins Above Team’               20.2            20.6

That’s right: Tiant made 13 more starts, won five and lost six more games, threw seven more shutouts, and finished with an ERA 0.04 higher, than Hunter. Otherwise, they share a virtually identical statistics.

Where they deviate leaves open the question of which was the better pitcher. Tiant had 404 more strikeouts, but 150 more walks. Hunter twice led the AL in wins, which Tiant never did. Tiant twice led it in shutouts, which Hunter never did. Tiant twice led it in ERA, which Hunter did once.

Hunter’s big advantage? He made 22 ALCS and World Series starts to Tiant’s five. He was seen on the biggest stage, by fans and reporters alike, for seven of eight Octobers. Tiant had only one shot at such impact.

Beyond the Hunter comparisons, in the match-him-against his era numbers, Tiant was ninth in wins, tenth in K’s, twelfth in ERA, 1964-80 (even though in five of those seasons he did not make even 20 starts).

And there is one more remarkable and overlooked statistic. Two of Tiant’s six sub-3.00 ERA seasons were actually sub-2.00 ERA seasons. Since 1920, only 29 pitchers have had a seasonal ERA under 2.00. Koufax did it three times, and the other four did it twice: Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux, Pedro Martinez – and Tiant.

Fourth – and he’s right below Tiant – is Minnie Minoso. He’s kind of damned by the overall quality of his play: superb at a lot of contradictory things, not extraordinary at any one of them:

Who were the top five hitters during Minnie Minoso’s 13 seasons as a Major League regular, 1951-63? Keep it to the guys who averaged at least 475 at bats a year and here’s the headline: one of them was Minnie Minoso.

Highest Batting Average 1951-1963 (Minimum 6175 AB)

1. Stan Musial                                .319

2. Willie Mays                                .315

3. Richie Ashburn                         .309

4. Harvey Kuenn                           .307

5. Minnie Minoso                   .299

Note please, that performance included eight .300 seasons. It’s impressive stuff, but below is my favorite Minoso stat:

Highest Slugging Percentage 1951-1963 (Minimum 6175 AB)

1. Willie Mays                               .588

2. Stan Musial                               .543

3. Eddie Mathews                        .535

4. Minnie Minoso                  .461

5. Harvey Kuenn                           .417

The slugging number is especially astounding given that Minoso only hit 184 homers in those 13 years (28th in the era). Without being a real longball threat, he still places 8th in total bases in the span, and 9th in RBI.

Most Runs Scored, 1951-1963

1. Mickey Mantle                        1381

2. Willie Mays                             1258

3. Eddie Mathews                      1220

4. Nellie Fox                                1142

5. Minnie Minoso                 1130

Seeing my point here? Pick a category, and Minoso shows up on it:

Most Stolen Bases, 1951-1963

1. Luis Aparicio                          309

2. Willie Mays                            248

3. Maury Wills                           236

4. Minnie Minoso                205

5. Billy Bruton                            193

Minoso is also fifth in hits in the era, second in doubles (behind Musial, ahead of Mays), fourth in triples, led the A.L. in hit-by-pitch ten times, won three Gold Gloves – and all this even the color line and circumstance kept him from becoming a major league regular until he was at least 28 years old.

My fifth guy out of the group is just a notch below. I love Jim Kaat and I think he belongs (as does Tommy John). I mentioned contemporaries Hunter and Tiant looking separated-at-birth. Jim Kaat and Robin Roberts are unlikely statistical twins who overlapped by only seven full seasons:

Statistic                                     Kaat                                    Roberts

Starts                                           625                                      609

Innings                                    4530.1                                    4688.2

Wins                                             283                                     286

Losses                                           237                                     245

Strikeouts                                  2461                                     2357

Walks                                         1083                                      902

ERA                                             3.45                                      3.41

10+ Win Season Streak          15/15                                    16/17

Roberts got to Cooperstown quickly because of the fact he reeled off six consecutive brilliant seasons, and despite of the fact that after the age of 28, only once did he finish more than three games above .500 in his final eleven seasons.

By contrast, Kaat won 18 as a 22-year old, slumped for a year, then starting in 1964 reeled off 17, 18, and then 25. Eight and nine years later he would produce consecutive seasons of 20 and 21 wins. As Bill James pointed out, if like Roberts, Kaat had bunched his great years instead of scattering them, he might’ve been elected in the ‘90s. As it is, he is still 31st all-time in victories — eighth all-time among lefties:

Wins, Lefthanded Pitchers:

1. Warren Spahn                        363

  2. Steve Carlton                        329

3. Eddie Plank                          326

4. Tom Glavine                         305

5. Randy Johnson                    303

6. Lefty Grove                           300

7. Tommy John                        288

  8. Jim Kaat                          283

9. Jamie Moyer                         267

10. Eppa Rixey                            266

11. Carl Hubbell                          253

12. Herb Pennock                       241

There are only eight active lefties with more than 100 wins, and of them, only CC Sabathia (176) is younger than 32. Kaat is also 10th in strikeouts by lefties. Kaat’s victory total has been criticized as “padded” by his five years as a reliever and spot starter. But subtract those seasons and his career won-lost improves to 261-217, he remains in the top 10 among lefties, and still has better won-losts than Ted Lyons and Eppa Rixey (and is just behind Red Faber).

Lastly, the 16 consecutive Gold Gloves are almost a cliché. We don’t stop to think that the first of them was won when Kitty was 23, and the last when he was 38 – and that the streak stretched through five presidential administrations and three expansion drafts.

Just to show my math, here are the Homer, Runs Scored, RBI, and Hit lists from ’60-’74 that back-up Santo’s greatness:

Most RBI, Majors, 1960-74:

1 Hank Aaron, 1585

2 Frank Robinson, 1412

3 Harmon Killebrew, 1405

4 Billy Williams, 1351

  5 Ron Santo, 1331

6 Brooks Robinson, 1217

7 Willie Mays, 1194

8 Willie McCovey, 1190

9 Carl Yastrzemski, 1181

10 Orlando Cepeda, 1164

 

Most Runs Scored, Majors, 1960-74:

1 Hank Aaron, 1495

2 Frank Robinson, 1390

3 Billy Williams, 1306

4 Lou Brock, 1303

5 Willie Mays, 1285

6 Carl Yastrzemski, 1240

7 Pete Rose, 1217

8 Vada Pinson, 1177

9 Ron Santo, 1138

10 Harmon Killebrew, 1131

 

Most Homers, Majors, 1960-74:

1 Hank Aaron, 554

2 Harmon Killebrew, 506

3 Frank Robinson, 440

4 Willie McCovey, 422

5 Willie Mays, 410

6 Billy Williams, 392

7 Frank Howard, 380

8 Norm Cash, 373

9 Willie Stargell, 346

10 Ron Santo, 342

(Note: 11th was Orlando Cepeda, 327)

 

Most Hits, Majors, 1960-74:

1 Billy Williams, 2505

2 Hank Aaron, 2463

3 Brooks Robinson, 2459

4 Vada Pinson, 2455

5 Lou Brock, 2388

6 Pete Rose, 2337

7 Roberto Clemente, 2318

8 Willie Davis, 2271

9 Carl Yastrzemski, 2267

10 Ron Santo, 2254

(Note: 11th was Frank Robinson, 2220)

I’ll Come Back From 1894 In A Moment. But First…

…just mentioning in passing. Nothing against Pat Gillick, but he was the General Manager most deserving of election to the Hall of Fame? Hogwash. Charlie Finley served as his own GM and built three straight A’s World Champions of the ’70s himself, lost them all to Free Agency, then rebuilt a contender by 1980. How about John Schuerholz? General Manager of the Royals, 1981-90 (that would include a World Series win in 1985 and the AL West in 1984), General Manager of the Braves, 1991-2007 (something about 14 straight division titles?). What about Al Rosen with the Yankees?

Buzzie Bavasi, perhaps? Seven NL pennants as General Manager of the Dodgers. Got the Padres started from scratch. Two division titles with the Angels (and a third with basically the same team, two years after he retired). 
Gillick’s selection – combined with the embarrassing ignoring of George Steinbrenner and Marvin Miller, to say nothing of Ron Santo, to say nothing of the BBWAA’s incompetent annual voting – proves the voting has devolved into a popularity contest. It also underscores the necessity of scrapping the Hall of Fame election process in its entirety. I’d sooner have Bill James individually pick the members of the Hall than stick with the current system.

LAST ABOUT 1894:
Until something new pops up, of course. If you’ve been following Baseball Nerd’s Crack Coverage of the 1894 Temple Cup (2nd Place New York Giants upend Pennant-Winning Baltimore Orioles, 4-0, for NL Crown), you might enjoy this:1894GIANTS.jpg
Back Row: C Parke Wilson, C Duke Farrell, CF George Van Haltren, 1B Roger Connor (HOF), P Jouett Meekin, P Huyler Westervelt, P Amos Rusie (HOF). Middle Row: P Dad Clark, P Les German, IF Jack Doyle, 2B-MGR John Montgomery Ward (HOF), OF Mike Tiernan, 3B George Stacey Davis (HOF), SS Shorty Fuller, LF Eddie Burke. In Front: IF-OF General Stafford, IF Yale Murphy
The copyright is attributed to “Prince, Fotographer” – yep, spelled that way.

Is This Any Way To Run A Hall Of Fame?

Bill Skowron is a delightful and generous man, and Gil McDougald was a versatile player and is an inspiring person, and Hank Bauer was an underrated star and a gifted manager. And they’re also on one of baseball’s seemingly most glamorous Top 10 stat lists, while really serving only to prove how misleading stat lists can be.

Skowron, McDougald, and Bauer are among baseball’s all-time Top 10 World Series Home Run Hitters.
I am the first guy to say a reliance on numbers, especially in the Hall of Fame voting, is erroneous and even contemptible. Nevertheless, several statistical comparisons are so overwhelming as to be jaw-dropping, and reinforce the notion that all those who have yet tried their hands at selecting the immortals – Baseball Writers, Special Committees, Veterans’ Committees, Veterans/Members Committees, Negro League Research Committees – have all botched the job.
Ignoring the rest of the 2009/2010 ballot results (ok, not totally ignoring them: I told you Roberto Alomar’s last three seasons would cost him election), I remain absolutely fascinated by where Bert Blyleven fits into the history of the game and the minds of the electors.
Look at this. Which one of these is the only Hall of Famer in the group?

Category              Blyleven      John        Kaat        Roberts

WINS                      287           288         283           286

LOSSES                 250           231         237           245

ERA                       3.31          3.34        3.45          3.41

K                           3701          2245       2461         2357

WALKS                  1322         1259        1083          902

20 WINS                    1              3             3              6

LCS                         3-0           4-1          0-1            N/A

WORLD SERIES      2-1           2-1          1-2            0-1

FULL YEARS            22            23           24            19

Do you see any rhyme or reason to this? In Wins, Losses, and ERA, Blyleven and Robin Roberts are virtual matches. Roberts has 420 fewer walks, but Blyleven has 1344 more strikeouts. At the peripherals, Blyleven acquitted himself well on the post-season stages, but Roberts reeled off six 20-win seasons (and consecutively, no less) to the Dutchman’s one.

And save for those 20-win seasons and the issue of longevity, John and Kaat are near statistical matches to Roberts.
Roberts is in the Hall. The others are not.
Below is another amazing comparison. We’ll keep the players names out of it (except to note that they debuted in consecutive seasons; this is not some 19th Century guy versus Bob Gibson) until after you compare their numbers. One pitcher is in; the other has never garnered significant support:

Category                HOF Pitcher              Forgotten Pitcher

WINS                          224                            229

LOSSES                     166                            172

ERA                           3.26                           3.30

K                               2012                          2416

WALKS                       954                           1104

20 WINS                       5                                4

LCS                            4-3                             1-0

WORLD SERIES         5-3           &nb
sp;                 2-0

FULL SEASONS          15                              17

Well this is crazier than Bert Blyleven/Tommy John/Jim Kaat/Robin Roberts. These men are identical. One of them was about 20% more a strikeout/walks guy. The other was on far more  playoff and World Series teams (and yet, significantly, only won 9 of 15 decisions).
The Hall of Famer is Catfish Hunter, and the “other guy” is Luis Tiant.
One more, which has some remarkable comps in the Won/Lost numbers and then fades off as the other statistics roll out. But it again illustrates how the theoretical gulfs between Hall of Famers and obscure, never-supported candidates, can be (and again, these men broke in within a little under two years of each other):

Category                HOF Pitcher              Forgotten Pitcher

WINS                         209                            209

LOSSES                    166                            164

ERA                          2.95                           3.40

K                              2486                          1728

WALKS                      855                            858

20 WINS                      2                                0

LCS                           N/A                            0-0

WORLD SERIES         3-3                            N/A

FULL SEASONS         14                              16

If I didn’t tell you this (or you didn’t read it where I did, in The Bill James Historical Abstract, you’d have no way of guessing. 
The Hall of Famer, remarkably, is Don Drysdale. The other is Milt Pappas, who, if remembered at all, is remembered for being traded for Frank Robinson.
I think this inundation of stats suggests a couple of things. Foremost, it says that Bert Blyleven isn’t just a Hall of Famer – he’s an obvious one, and that Tommy John and Jim Kaat are, too – and Tiant almost certainly is (I’m not sure about Milt Pappas, but it sure is impressive that he duplicated Don Drysdale’s won-lost record with less of a fastball and on inferior teams). You can say the paucity of post-season work for Luis Tiant compared to Catfish Hunter is to some degree Tiant’s fault – but the same measure is not applied to Robin Roberts. You can point out that Drysdale is doubtless given some credit for the sudden, dramatic end to his career due to injury at the age of 33 – and yet it seems as if John and Tiant are not being credited with similar injuries (Tiant was 17-30 and traded or released three times between ’69 and ’71; John didn’t pitch once between July 17, 1974, and Opening Day, 1976). More over, John and Tiant came back from their injuries and certainly aren’t getting credit for that.
Ultimately for all the voters’ talk about longevity and consistency, the Hall of Fame is about building a reputation and doing it quickly. Robin Roberts is in the Hall of Fame because by the time of his 29th birthday he had produced six straight 20-win seasons (never mind that he would pitch eleven more seasons without another one). Catfish Hunter pitched in six of the seven World Series between 1972 and 1978. And Blyleven and John and Kaat all face the same bizarre slur that dogged Don Sutton for years – they just “hung around.” Isn’t “hung around” a less pleasant way of describing longevity and consistency?
It is a shame that we don’t have something akin to the system in Japan. They have a two-tiered Hall. One is based on simple statistical thresholds. The other is more subjective. Theirs is an odd two-headed beast, but it underscores the fact that as important and as far outside the bounds of mortality Cooperstown is – these endlessly bizarre vote outcomes prove that all we have is the subjective.
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