Sunday, November 21, 2004

Recently, on the SABR (Society for American Baseball Research) list-serv, there was a series of posts regarding the origins of baseball terms in everyday life, including a few on the term "out of left field". To be completely honest, I'd never bothered to contemplate how this phrase came to be, but since it is the title of my blog, I thought I'd explore it further. The discussion kicked off with this inquisitive post from Bill Rubinstein:

Regarding the posting on whether baseball terms are taking hold outside of the USA, the phrase "coming from left field" or "out of left field" - meaning, usually, something or someone odd or unexpected, is in pretty common use in Britain. When you think of it, this is a very strange phrase - what is so notable about something which comes from or out of left field?
Skip McAfee was the first to respond, offering two very logical theories on the origin of the phrase:

Prof. W.D. Rubinstein wondered "what is so notable about something which comes from, or out of, left field". There are two theories to explain how LF got to be the metaphoric location for oddness:

1) The phrase was an insult heaped on kids who were stupid enough to buy LF seats in Yankee Stadium, which for many years would have put them far away from a right fielder named Babe Ruth. "When I was in my teens, living in the Bronx, we kids were always most anxious to get our seats in the right field where we would be closest to Babe Ruth, so I suppose anybody in the left field was far out." (David Shulman, quoted in William Safire's "I Stand Corrected", 1984)

2) The phrase was a specific reference to the Neuropsychiatric Institute, a mental hospital in back of LF in the old West Side Park in Chicago. "When someone said that one was 'out in left field', the implication was that one was behaving like the occupants of the Neuropsychiatric Institute, which was literally out in left field." (physician Gerald M. Eisenberg, quoted in Safire)

However, right field has often been depicted as the place to deposit the odd player. Ron Fimrite ("San Francisco Chronicle", April 28, 1969) observed: "There was but one position to which the clods, the kids with glasses, the little guys, the sissies, the ones that got good grades, the kids who played with girls, were exiled. That would be right field, the Siberia of my youth. Right field was the back of the bus, the slow-learners class, the children's department, a sideshow." Hence, anyone directed to play right field, would have given anything to be "out in left field".
While an interesting tidbit, this last paragraph about right field being the haven of the oddball isn't really relevant to the discussion surrounding the origin of the phrase. The obvious explanation as to why the weaker player patrolled right field rather than left field is that, at lower levels of competition (i.e. Little League, Senior League, Babe Ruth), right-handed hitters dominate. Undisciplined right-handed hitters tend to pull the ball to left field the majority of the time. Therefore, the weaker defensive player would be positioned in right field.

At the professional level, and higher amateur levels, left-handed hitters, and hitters who can hit to all fields, are more common, making right field just as important as left field. In fact, due to the requirement of needing a strong arm to throw to third base, right field, at higher levels of competition, is actually the more important defensive position.

An additional comment is made by John Hissrich, who, while acknowledging the validity of McAfee's theories, offers a suggestion of his own:

The best guess (not good enough to be a theory) I could come up with was that the bullpen in some park or another was in left field. In the days before relievers became an integral part of a team, the best pitchers were the starters. The relievers were decidedly less impressive. And didn't they often develop a reputation for being a little flaky? So those who were called from the bullpen would come "out of left field" instead of from the dugout. And those who came out of left field would have been looked down on.
Finally, John Thorn, throws out one more idea regarding the origin of the term:
Another, Anecdotal Theory: I always figured that "out of left field" described a pitch that seemed to come in from left field rather than the pitcher's mound, startling and puzzling the batter, whose concentration was focused straight ahead. In other words, the unexpected, surprising, strange ball coming at him could only be picked up via his peripheral vision.
Overall, some interesting theories. I'll probably do some research of my own on the subject, at some point, and I'll be sure to post any additional findings. Stay tuned...

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Now for the's what I said in April:

I think Vazquez is going to be outstanding, this year and beyond. Brown's going to be strong as well, better than Clemens...but I'm still a little worried about his health history. They're going to be the aces.

I don't think Mussina's comfortable as the ace. Once he realizes that he's only the third best pitcher on the staff, he'll be fine. He'll continue to frustrate with his occasional rough stretches and his proclivity for giving up the longball, but he'll have a typical season by his own standards.

Contreras is going to be an issue. He'll have a pretty good year, because he'll have flashes of brilliance like last year, but just like Armando Benitez, he's only capable of stepping on ants. Good hitting teams always seem to figure him out eventually (Chicago so far this year, Boston and Toronto last year). Come postseason, he's going to be a liability as the #4 starter.

The #5 spot is going to be a real problem. I don't think Lieber's going to give the Yankees much, but if he can just bounce back from injury and be an average pitcher, that's all they'll need. Let's not forget that the 2001 Yankees trotted Ted Lilly and Randy Keisler out to the mound every 4th and 5th day while El Duque was hurt. Speaking of whom, I don't think that he's the answer either, and God forbid if DePaola continues to unimpress and they end up having to use Osborne as the #5.

Overall, I think the Red Sox have a marginally better rotation, but not by as wide a margin as the people who overrate Lowe and Wakefield would have us believe.
Well, what can I say? I was way off the mark with my assessment of the 2004 Yankees starting staff.

Vazquez was not outstanding this year, although he might still turn out to be the pitcher who, not only I, but most people expect him to be. My thinking is that it was a pretty major surprise, to just about everyone, how poorly Vazquez performed this year.

Kevin Brown is another story. I went way out on a limb in predicting that he'd be better than Clemens. I think what I meant when I said this was, "better than the Clemens of 2003". Who would have predicted that Clemens would have such a tremendous year, let alone win his seventh Cy Young award? Brown had a better season than Vazquez, but given his wall punching incident and his postseason meltdowns, he has to rank as a bigger disappointment.

The assumption that Vazquez and Brown would anchor the staff, coupled with the reality that neither could be counted on in the postseason, pretty much sums up the Yankees' season.

Mussina, on the other hand, had a much more frustrating season than even I expected, yet turned around and proved me wrong by becoming the team's indisputable ace in the postseason.

Despite my dubious prediction regarding Contreras, he actually failed to perform as well as I forecasted. He showed a few flashes of brilliance, but often struggled mightily, even against weaker opponents. He continued to display his inconsistency even after being shipped out of New York.

Lieber gave the Yankees much more than I expected. He was still a little inconsistent during the regular season, but ended up tied for the team lead in wins (14), and was easily their second most effective starter in the postseason.

Orlando Hernandez turned out to be much more of a factor than I anticipated, although his age caught up with him, and he ran out of gas late in the season. Despite his late season struggles, he turned out to be an key figure in holding the staff together during a second half stretch in which it seemed he was the only pitcher whom the Yankees could count on.

Despite my correct assessment that Derek Lowe and Tim Wakefield are vastly overrated, the Red Sox turned out to have more than a marginally better starting rotation than the Yankees.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Earlier this baseball season, I shared some predictions with a few friends via e-mail regarding how the respective rotations of the Red Sox and Yankees would fare. Looking back at what I said, I was on the money with a few of my forecasts, but way off on some others. Here's what I said about the Red Sox projected starting pitchers:

I think Schilling's going to have a big year, and be a major Cy Young contender.

Pedro's going to stress out Sox fans all year (and miss more starts than Kevin Brown), but still be very, very good.

Lowe, however, is going to prove that he's nothing more than an above average pitcher, as he was last year despite his 17 wins.

Wakefield will continue to be a solid, durable, flexible guy, nice to have at #4, but only above average as well. Let's not forget that he really didn't have that good a regular season last year, just a real good postseason (with the exception of one at-bat). 2002 was his best year since his first with the Sox.

Red Sox fans began salivating over Arroyo way prematurely. He's nothing more than a decent spot starter/long reliever for a playoff contender, or a #4 or #5 for a below average team. Kim, on the other hand, has a big upside, but a ten-cent head. He could be the best fifth starter in baseball, but come playoff time, he may not see any action.

Nevertheless, still probably the best Red Sox rotation in a long time.
Obviously, I was right on about Schilling. Thursday we'll find out if he wins the Cy Young. He'll probably fall short, as Johan Santana is more deserving, but he certainly had a big year and was a major contender for the award.

Martinez had his healthiest year, and made his most starts (33), since 1998. Kevin Brown had an injury plagued year, culminating in his wall punching incident, and only made 22 starts. So, I was way off on that part of the prediction, but otherwise, I couldn't have been more accurate in my assessment of how Pedro would fare. He had a very good year (16-9, 3.90 ERA, 227 K's), but was much more inconsistent than he'd been in previous years, including a sub-par month of September, which certainly had Sox fans worrying about him entering the playoffs.

Derek Lowe remains an enigma. His statistics (14-12, 5.42 ERA) certainly prove my point. In fact, the 5.42 ERA, and his baserunners per inning ratio of 1.61, seem to indicate that calling him above average was an overestimation of his ability. However, his clutch performances in the postseason whistle a different tune. The potential is certainly there, and the execution does not appear to be held back by an inability to handle the pressure, but the inconsistency is the reason he is still an unknown.

Wakefield again proved to be solid, durable, flexible, but most of all, inconsistent. Overall, basically an above average pitcher, period.

Arroyo is better than I gave him credit for. How good still remains to be seen, but he certainly proved himself to be a capable 4th or 5th starter for a championship ballclub. Nothing to scoff at there.

Kim...maybe he can play elsewhere, but he's done as far as the Red Sox are concerned.

Overall, my predictions for the Red Sox staff were pretty good. The Yankees staff is another story, but I'll get to that in my next post.

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

To summarize my analysis of first-basemen, I rank these four as follows:

1. Tony Perez
2. Keith Hernandez
3. Don Mattingly
4. Steve Garvey

Perez is a Hall of Famer, but Hernandez, in my estimation, only falls a little short in comparison. The only reason I can surmise as to why Hernandez has received so little Hall of Fame support is due to his lack of power as a first-baseman. This idea that certain positions on the field need to provide certain offensive skills is a little ridiculous. The fact that Hernandez was a first-baseman should work against him only to the extent that he played the least important defensive position on the field.

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Here's how they rank in the various categories we're looking at:

Career Win Shares
Perez - 349
Hernandez - 311
Garvey - 279
Mattingly - 263

Prime Win Shares
Perez - 309
Hernandez - 303
Mattingly - 256
Garvey - 252

Top 5 Seasons
Mattingly - 29.20
Perez - 28.80
Hernandez - 27.20
Garvey - 24.80

Per 162 Games
Hernandez - 24.13
Mattingly - 23.87
Perez - 20.36
Garvey - 19.38

Average Prime Season
Hernandez - 23.99
Perez - 22.69
Mattingly - 22.09
Garvey - 19.88

My first observation upon examining these lists is that Garvey clearly ranks last among these four. He places last in four of the five measures, and next to last by a relatively small margin in the fifth. I feel that this confirms my initial statement that Garvey is overrated, at least in comparison to Hernandez and Mattingly, whom he rates considerably higher than in the eyes of the Hall of Fame voters, but clearly should not.

My second observation is one that surprises me...that is, Hernandez outdistances Mattingly in four of the five measures, including both cumulative and two of the three rate categories. Mattingly does have a higher average, by two Win Shares, in his top 5 seasons, but I feel this is the least important of the three rate categories. Hernandez not only rates better than Mattingly for his entire career, but he actually rates better, by a very small margin, in Win Shares per 162 games, and by a more significant margin in Win Shares per average prime season. Based on this analysis, I have to rate Hernandez higher than Mattingly.

Comparing Perez and Hernandez is a little more difficult. Perez wins both cumulative categories, but by a close margin in prime Win Shares, possibly proving that Perez's value is over-inflated by his career extending further beyond his prime years. Hernandez ranks higher in two of the three rate categories, including the two most a considerable margin in Win Shares per 162 games, and by a smaller margin in average prime season. However, Perez does rate higher in the top 5 seasons category, and this plus my own subjective element are the deciding factors in ranking Perez ahead of Hernandez.

Like I said on Jan 13th, Perez ranks 21st all-time in RBI, and no other player in this analysis can lay claim to any statistic nearly as impressive as that. I realize bringing this back is straying from my Win Shares analysis, but I'm basically looking for a tie-breaker and this is it, in addition to the fact that Perez was one of the central figures of one of the greatest teams of all time. Obviously, Joe Morgan, Johnny Bench, and Pete Rose, all Hall of Famers based on their playing careers (I'm not going to get off on a Rose tangent here), were more important to those Reds teams than Perez, but this doesn't make Perez much different from Phil Rizzuto. In fact, I think I could argue that Perez is more Hall of Fame worthy than Rizzuto, but that's another tangent, and it would probably piss my father off, so I'm not going to go there.

Sunday, February 22, 2004

In his new book, The New Bill James Historical Abstract, James ranks the top 100 players in baseball history at each position. In the pages preceding the player rankings, he explains his ratings system, including a brief discussion of the limitation of using raw Win Shares as a player rating system. In addition to the player’s career Win Share total, James uses the player’s three best seasons, five best consecutive seasons, career Win Shares per 162 games, as well as a time line adjustment and a subjective element.

I’m not sure that I see the value in using the player’s three best seasons as an indication of his career value, although this would slightly favor Mattingly and Perez. Just as I don’t believe that the player with the greatest cumulative statistics should automatically be rated highest, I don’t feel that a few seasons of greatness should outweigh a career of consistency. I am going to use the five best consecutive seasons, however, as well as career Win Shares per 162 games, but I’m also adding two of my own measures.

While I understand that evaluating a player based on his career Win Shares per 162 games is intended to measure how truly valuable he is as a player (when he plays), and does not subject him to be discriminated against based on such factors as the decision of his manager whether or not to play him every day or to play him only 140 games per season (possibly to preserve his longevity). However, what this fails to take into consideration is that a player’s value is based on his contribution to winning games over the course of a championship season.

A player who plays 162 games at an equal level of performance to one who plays 140 games is, obviously, about 15% more valuable in that particular season. Therefore, what also must be considered is a player’s value per season over the portion of his career that he is a full-time player. Steve Garvey played a full season of 162 games in seven separate seasons over the course of his career. The other three players combined to do so only once (Mattingly, 1986). This fact must be taken into consideration to the extent that playing in additional games increases a player’s productivity. Obviously, the flip side is that the lack of rest may actually detract from his performance, but the statistics will bear this out.

Therefore, the first statistic that I’ve added in my analysis is the player’s average Win Shares per full-time season, with the one caveat being that it should count against a player if he wasn’t able to maintain a full-time job at least into his mid-30’s, barring unforeseen circumstances such as major injuries or, most obviously, premature death. Both Garvey and Perez continued as full-timers into their late-30’s, while Mattingly retired after playing his final full season at the age of 34, which I’ll consider acceptable. Hernandez, however, played his final full-time season in 1987 at the age of 33, a little early by my standards, so I’m going to throw his 1988 season, in which he played in only 95 games, into the mix. Incidentally, Mattingly played in only 102 games in 1990, and Garvey in only 100 games in 1983, seasons that were not strike-shortened, but are considered during their primes for the purposes of this analysis, so including 1988 should not severely damage Hernandez by comparison.

In this particular analysis, all four of these players’ careers consisted of between 12 and 14 full-time seasons, which certainly provides for ease of comparison. I did, however, have to make one adjustment due to the fact that each of these players’ prime years were affected by strike-shortened seasons: Perez in 1972; Perez, Garvey and Hernandez in 1981; and Mattingly in 1994 and 1995. To account for this, I made adjustments based on the extent that each of these seasons were abbreviated, thereby reducing Mattingly’s full-time seasons from 12 to 11.59, Hernandez’s from 13 to 12.63, Garvey’s from 13 to 12.68, and Perez’s from 14 to 13.62. As it turns out, this didn’t make much of a difference, as you can see that each of their season totals was reduced by 0.32 to 0.41 of a season. I was mildly surprised by this, but I guess I should have realized that Garvey and Hernandez, who were affected by only one such season, were, in fact, affected by the season that was cut short the most (1981).

The second additional statistic I’m using is Win Shares earned during “prime” seasons, thereby adding a second cumulative statistic to offset my otherwise greater emphasis on win share rate statistics. However, I also want to point out that, in the seasons that are not counted in each of these players primes, Perez played in a total of 679 games; almost twice as many as Garvey’s 355, more than three times as many as Hernandez’s 196, and almost seven times as many as Mattingly’s 98. I feel strongly that a player’s decision to continue to play beyond his prime, which accounts for 464 of the 679 games in the case of Perez, should not be a major factor in evaluating the relative merits of the careers of potential Hall of Famers. Therefore, the advantage of looking at Win Shares earned during prime seasons is that it places a greater value on a player whose prime lasts longer than normal, but does not reward a player who continues to accumulate Win Shares even though he is past his prime and, obviously, not performing at a Hall of Fame worthy level.

Next, I'll get to the actual numbers...that is, the comparison of Win Share rates and totals. Thanks for bearing with me.

Saturday, January 24, 2004

Well, unfortunately I've been idle with my writing for over a week, but that doesn't mean that I haven't been working on my analysis. I've been looking at player evaluation methods for almost the past year now, including reading Bill James' magnum opus Win Shares, and I'm convinced that this is the most thorough player evaluation method available for several reasons.

First, it is the only method that breaks down total player contribution to his team's success by dividing "Win Shares" between pitchers, fielders, and batters in direct proportion to the number of games the team has won. The only other method, that I am aware of, that considers fielding is Pete Palmer's Linear Weights System.

Second, Win Shares is the only method that considers a player's ability to be good enough to earn major league playing time as a positive value. The Linear Weights System uses a zero value as its starting point, with each player's contribution measured as either a positive or a negative from this base point. In other words, a player who is good enough to earn considerable major league playing time, but is rated below average by this system, actually earns a negative value. On the other hand, a player who sits on the bench (i.e. doesn't play at all) remains at a zero value. In fact, Steve Garvey rates as -5.2 for his career. This is absolutely ridiculous. Even those of us that suspect, or are convinced, that Garvey is overrated would never even suggest that he was a below average player and that the composite value of his career was a negative. This would suggest that he actually hurt his team more than he helped it, which is a ludicrous notion.

Third, I am convinced that James' system does the most thorough job of building in adjustments for such contextual factors as the era in which a player performed, the contributions of the players on the teams for whom he played, the strength of the competition, and the ballparks in which he played. Linear Weights considers these factors, but I've already pointed out its major shortcoming for which I'll admit to being completely unforgiving. All other player evaluation methods are essentially offensive-oriented systems that express performance on a rate basis, and do not make these important contextual adjustments.

I probably should explain what I mean by "express performance on a rate basis". Batting average is the most basic example of a statistic that measures performance as a rate. There is no consideration given to the player's ability to accumulate statistics. In order to evaluate a player's career, or to compare the careers of several players, we must consider both types of statistics, rate stats and cumulative stats. By doing so, we assign value to both the player's overall ability to perform and his ability to earn playing time, a significant factor of which is his longevity.

There are many rating systems out there that have done an excellent job of expanding on the shortcomings of batting average as a way to evaluate players. OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) is a simple, but fairly effective, way to measure a player's overall offensive ability. Other much more complex methods have been developed, but they are all offensive rating systems that are only effective at measuring a player's ability in a given season, or across a few seasons, because they do not place any weight on cumulative statistics. They are not designed to do so, and, therefore, are not as relevant to evaluating a player's overall career as the Win Shares system is.

The next part of my analysis will be to compare these four players using the Win Shares system. Despite my endorsement of Win Shares as the ultimate player evaluation method, there still are several ways to use the system to compare players. I'm not just going to state that Tony Perez earned 349 career Win Shares to Keith Hernandez's 311, Steve Garvey's 279, and Don Mattingly's 263, and, therefore, Perez is the best, Hernandez the second best, etc. I'll compare them using a few Win Share rate statistics as well, although their cumulative Win Shares certainly will be taken into consideration as a major factor.

For more information on the Win Shares system, you'll have to locate a copy of Bill James' book, Win Shares. Unfortunately, it's already out of print, so you'll have to look for it at your public library or try to find a used copy on the Web. Pete Palmer's Linear Weights System is explained in detail in Total Baseball: The Official Encyclopedia of Major League Baseball. Other statistics, such as OPS, on-base percentage (OBP), and slugging percentage (SLG), are explained in detail in the Batting Stats Glossary at

Thursday, January 15, 2004

Since I ended my last post by bringing up the fielding situation, let's begin today by taking a look at how these four compare in that department. I'll start with a non-statistical discussion of their reputations as fielders.

Keith Hernandez is considered by many to be one of the greatest defensive first-baseman of all-time, having won 11 consecutive National League gold gloves from 1978-88. Don Mattingly's reputation is almost as great. In fact, he took over the throne as the most proficient at the position as Hernandez reached the latter part of his career. Mattingly won nine American League gold gloves in the ten year span from 1985-94, only losing out to Mark McGwire in an injury plaqued 1990 season.

Steve Garvey also was considered to be an excellent first-sacker, winning four consecutive NL gold gloves from 1974-77, just prior to Hernandez's run. Garvey is generally considered to be not quite as good as either Hernandez or Mattingly, particularly because he had a sub-par throwing arm and was less proficient at turning the double play. Hernandez and Mattingly have a distinct advantage in that department over Garvey, both being left-handed throwers, but the fact remains that first base, the least important defensive position on the field, was the only position that Garvey was capable of playing, despite not being limited to what positions he could play by his throwing hand. In my original discussion of Steve Garvey, the debate that prompted me to perform this analysis, I stated that I felt that Garvey was overrated defensively as a first-baseman. I am going to retract that statement and evaluate Garvey's defensive merits at face value, those being that he did win four gold gloves, and was probably only prevented from winning additional gold gloves by one of the greatest defensive first-basemen of all time.

Tony Perez is basically considered to have been an average defensive first-baseman. He never won a gold glove, but he certainly wasn't considered to be weak at fielding his position.

Now let's take a look at the defensive statistics that are available. First, I'm going to compare each player's fielding percentage and range factor to the league average at first base for his career. For a full explanation of the fielding statistics used here, see the Fielding Statistics Glossary at

Player                      G    FP    lgFP    RF    lgRF
Steve Garvey         2059  .996  .992   9.65   8.51
Keith Hernandez     2014  .994  .992   9.73   8.51
Don Mattingly         1634  .996  .992   9.33   8.41
Tony Perez            1778  .992  .991   8.67   8.45

What do these limited statistics tell us? Essentially, Garvey and Mattingly rate tremendously in terms of fielding percentage, while Hernandez also rates well, and even Perez is above average. In terms of range, Hernandez rates the highest, but Garvey and Mattingly rate almost as well, and Perez, again, rates just above average. However, I'm not convinced that this method of evaluating a first-baseman's range is very effective, considering that it factors putouts into the numerator of the equation. What do putouts have to do with a first-baseman's range? Very little, in fact, with the possible exception of unassisted putouts, but these are difficult to capture. I'll have to examine this further if I have the time, but right now I'm not sure that it's worth it.

Overall, these statistics show us nothing that helps us distinguish between Garvey, Hernandez, and Mattingly. All three of these first-basemen back up their reputation with outstanding defensive statistics, although the value of one of these statistics is somewhat questionable. They all rate higher than Perez, who rates average to slightly above. I do plan on revisiting this defensive analysis, but right now I'm not convinced that statistics can really be used effectively to evaluate a first-baseman's defensive ability. I need to study Bill James' work on this subject a little further before I can draw any valuable conclusions.

In the meantime, I'm going to stick with the conventional wisdom, and my personal opinion, that Hernandez and Mattingly are two of the greatest defensive first-basemen of all-time, but that the difference between them and Garvey is not very significant considering the relative importance of the position that they play. Obviously, being a brilliant defensive first-baseman falls far short of being a brilliant defensive shortstop. Even the difference between their ability and that of Tony Perez may not be that statistically significant. I hope to shed more light on this subject later in this analysis, but I think it's time to begin a more in-depth look at offensive statistics.

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

I'm going to begin my comparison of these four first-basemen, who essentially represent four of the five best at this position among Hall of Fame inductees and eligible players who played the majority of their careers during my lifetime as a fan. I was born in 1967, and basically became a true baseball fan in 1974, so Tony Perez (1964-1986) just makes the cut, whereas Willie McCovey (1959-1980) doesn't. As I explained in my post of Jan. 11, I'm excluding Eddie Murray because he is a first ballot Hall of Famer and far superior to the other four.

To get started, I'm just going to look at the really basic, or what I like to call mainstream, offensive statistics. These categories are seasons played, games played, at bats, runs, hits, home runs, runs batted in, stolen bases, walks, batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage. Here's how they stack up:

Player                  Yrs    G     AB      R      H    HR   RBI   SB     BB   BA   OBP  SLG
Steve Garvey         19  2332  8835  1143  2599  272  1308   83    479  .294  .329  .446
Keith Hernandez     17  2088  7370  1124  2182  162  1071   98  1070  .296  .384  .436
Don Mattingly          14  1785  7003  1007  2153  222  1099   14   588  .307  .358  .471
Tony Perez             23  2777  9778  1272  2732  379  1652   49   925  .279  .341  .463

So, what do these statistics tell us? Well, most obviously, none of these guys had any speed, so I'm going to disregard stolen bases. Also, in almost every cumulative statistic, these players line up in order consistent with the length of their careers (Perez-Garvey-Hernandez-Mattingly), with the exception being that Mattingly rises above Hernandez in HR and RBI, despite placing last in seasons played, games played, and at bats. Also, Hernandez places first in walks, followed by Perez, Mattingly, and Garvey, but I'll get to that later.

Of course, longevity is a factor, and Perez deserves credit for ranking first among these players in R, H, HR, and RBI. But, I'm interested in far more than determining who played the longest and, as a result, being fooled into rating a player higher simply due to the length of his career. In fact, it's interesting to note that, despite the fact that Perez has clearly superior HR totals to Mattingly (379 to 222 total, 25.8 to 31.5 in AB/HR), Mattingly actually has a higher slugging percentage. This is in part due to Mattingly's higher batting average (.307 to .279), but this still suggests that maybe Perez's power is slightly overrated. However, it's difficult to argue with his career RBI total, which ranks 21st all-time, and places him behind only 17 other Hall of Famers and three players not yet eligible (Barry Bonds, Cal Ripken, Rafael Palmeiro).

Along those same lines, Garvey out-homers Hernandez 272 to 162 in career totals, and 32.5 to 45.5 in AB/HR, yet only edges him slightly in slugging (.446 to .436). This is despite the fact that they are virtually even in career batting average (.296 for Hernandez to Garvey's .294). Does this fact negate Garvey's perceived power advantage? We'll have to look closer before making that determination.

Anyway, I haven't even begun to look at any statistics in depth, and I haven't brought in any of my favorite non-mainstream stats yet. Oh yeah, and the subject of fielding has yet to come up, although I think we'll find that, despite the 24 gold gloves that Hernandez, Mattingly and Garvey can claim between them, the relative importance of the position they play will render this part of the analysis less meaningful than we might think.

Sunday, January 11, 2004

With this past week's Baseball Hall of Fame elections announced, I found myself reviewing the voting results and noticing what I felt to be some serious discrepancies with respect to the level of support that some players received compared to others who are much less worthy. I put more than a little bit of thought into this, but fell way short of conducting a complete analysis of all eligible players, and came up with the following top 5 list of players underrated by the voting (with comments in parentheses):

1. Alan Trammell (I think this guy is a HOFer, but he scores a ridiculously low 13.8%)
2. Dale Murphy (as good as, if not better than Jim Rice and Andre Dawson, but Rice and Dawson get 50+% to Murphy's 8.5%)
3. Don Mattingly (borderline HOFer and only gets 12.8%, un-fucking-believable)
4. Keith Hernandez (almost as good as Mattingly and deserves way better than 4.3%)
5. Rich Gossage (better than Bruce Sutter, but receives 19% fewer votes)

While I'm not going to go to great lengths to analyze and defend all of my picks, I will say that I shared this list with a few friends and was questioned by one for not including Steve Garvey. My response was essentially that I rated Mattingly and Hernandez higher, and that since Garvey received greater support (24.3%), he didn't make the list. He countered by stating that Hernandez once said that you had to vote for Garvey before himself...certainly a strong argument. How could I possibly rate Hernandez higher than Garvey, when Hernandez himself rates Garvey higher? Well, my answer is, that I certainly value Hernandez's opinion with respect to how he rates compared to one of his peers, but no more than I value the opinion of the baseball writers who gave Garvey almost six times as many votes as Hernandez. Therefore, if I'm willing to question the opinions of the voting members of the Baseball Writers Association of America, then I'm certainly willing to question Keith Hernandez's view.

Anyway, over the course of the next couple of weeks, I'm going to do some serious analysis, comparing the careers of four contemporary first-baseman: Steve Garvey and Keith Hernandez, for obvious reasons; Don Mattingly, because I'm also curious as to why he only gets half the support that Garvey does; and Tony Perez, because he is a contemporary of these players (well, at least of Garvey and Hernandez), and because he is a Hall of Famer who wasn't an obvious choice and, therefore, provides an excellent point of reference. I'm not including Eddie Murray in the comparison because he is a first ballot Hall of Famer and easily one of the top ten (if not top five) first-basemen of all time. None of these players would come close to stacking up to Murray.

Before I venture into this undertaking, I have two admissions to make. First, Don Mattingly is not exactly a contemporary of these players. He is, in fact, 19 years younger than Perez, and made his major league debut in 1982, while Perez retired in 1986. However, there is some overlap in his career with all of these players, and my analysis is going to take into consideration such contextual factors as seasons, teams, leagues, and parks.

My second admission is one related to my personal bias. Obviously, I have already tipped my hand by stating that I feel Mattingly and Hernandez are better than Garvey. This would seem to create a bias in their favor, at least in comparison to Garvey. Additionally, considering that I am a Yankees fan, a bias could exist in comparison of Mattingly to Perez, since I'd like to make a case for Mattingly's Hall of Fame candidacy. However, I will say that I am perfectly willing to prove myself wrong, since this would prove to be a learning experience for me, and because this would at least ensure that I would feel certain of my opinions should I enter into a similar debate in the future. Furthermore, since my analysis will be very statistically oriented, with reverence to the work of Bill James, I will certainly make a strong case for whatever my findings turn out to be.