Thursday, March 31, 2011

Opening Day

Is Curtis Granderson ready?

Maybe, just for today, this should be his at-bat song:

Friday, March 25, 2011

Greatest Living Retired Player for Each MLB Team

This one is inspired by an article written by Craig Calcaterra on Hardball Talk, but my idea takes on a slightly different twist. While that article was simply about identifying the greatest living player for each team, I'm more interested in narrowing it down to include only retired players.

I originally posted this on Pickin' Splinters, so I've incorporated some of the feedback I received there, as well as on Twitter, and some of my comments in response to that feedback.

This is an exercise where Wins Above Replacement (WAR) comes in handy, because I'm not interested in determining who is the greatest living player who happened to play–even for just a season or two–for each team. Instead, I want to measure greatness by what each player contributed to the team in question. So, WAR helps me to compare Player A's five very good seasons with Player B's ten pretty good seasons, for example.

But, I'm mentioning WAR here only to say that I used it as a starting point. From there, I also considered what each player means to their former team. So, in some sense, and only in some of these cases, I'm considering the "face of the franchise" factor.

Of course, some of these evolved into top 5 lists, basically because I couldn't resist. So, let's get started, by running through the teams alphabetically:

Arizona Diamondbacks – Gotta go with Randy Johnson, and his four consecutive Cy Young Awards, here.

Atlanta Braves – There's some serious competition, but it's pretty hard to argue with Hank Aaron. Still, here's my first top five list:
  1. Hank Aaron
  2. Phil Niekro
  3. Greg Maddux
  4. John Smoltz
  5. Tom Glavine
Baltimore Orioles – I was called out on Twitter, by one of the few people I interact with there who I'm actually friends with in real life, for so dismissively choosing Cal Ripken over all the other living Orioles greats. Although that didn't change Ripken's standing, it inspired another top fiver:
  1. Cal Ripken
  2. Brooks Robinson
  3. Jim Palmer
  4. Eddie Murray
  5. Mike Mussina
Boston Red Sox – Thank goodness Carl Yastrzemski is still living. Otherwise, I might have to put up with people nominating Jim Rice for this distinction. So, while I'm at it, here are my top five living former Red Sox:
  1. Carl Yastrzemski
  2. Roger Clemens
  3. Wade Boggs
  4. Dwight Evans
  5. Pedro Martinez
Chicago Cubs – They don't call Ernie Banks Mr. Cub for nothing, but there are quite a few worthy contenders who are former Cubbies:
  1. Ernie Banks
  2. Ryne Sandberg
  3. Fergie Jenkins
  4. Billy Williams
  5. Sammy Sosa
Chicago White Sox – Frank Thomas is a pretty easy choice here. Oh, what the heck…how about another top five list:
  1. Frank Thomas
  2. Billy Pierce
  3. Minnie Minoso
  4. Wilbur Wood
  5. Robin Ventura
Cincinnati Reds – Wow! This is a tough one. I'll take Johnny Bench, but I think this team warrants yet another mini-list:
  1. Johnny Bench
  2. Pete Rose
  3. Joe Morgan
  4. Frank Robinson
  5. Barry Larkin
Cleveland Indians – This is a tough one, now that Bob Feller has passed away. Since there's no one that really fits the bill of "face of the franchise," I'm going to go with Kenny Lofton, believe it or not.

Colorado Rockies – Larry Walker is the only player truly worth considering.

Detroit Tigers – Another easy one, Al Kaline.

Florida Marlins – This was a difficult one for completely different reasons. Based on WAR, the candidates are Luis Castillo, Cliff Floyd, Mike Lowell, Jeff Conine, Gary Sheffield and Kevin Brown. I guess for face of the franchise, I'll  go with Jeff Conine.

Houston Astros – Jeff Bagwell, with Craig Biggio a close second.

Kansas City Royals – This one's a no-brainer, George Brett.

Los Angeles Angels – Another tough one. If you like traditional stats, it's either Garret Anderson, Tim Salmon, Chuck Finley or Nolan Ryan. WAR likes Jim Fregosi, but it also likes Finley and Ryan. So, I'll take the Hall of Famer, Nolan Ryan.

Los Angeles Dodgers – With Duke Snider's recent passing, I guess the torch gets passed to Sandy Koufax.

Milwaukee Brewers – I'm a bigger Paul Molitor fan, but the edge goes to Robin Yount for having played his entire career with the team.

Minnesota Twins – This one's up for debate, but I'm going with Rod Carew over Harmon Killebrew.

New York Mets – Tom Seaver, without a question.

New York Yankees – Part of the reasoning for adding the retired criterion was to not have to decide between Derek Jeter and Yogi Berra. Among retired Yankees, Yogi is the easy choice, but I think these guys warrant a top ten list (I'm sure someone will have something to say about this one):
  1. Yogi Berra
  2. Whitey Ford
  3. Willie Randolph
  4. Bernie Williams
  5. Ron Guidry
  6. Andy Pettitte
  7. Graig Nettles
  8. Don Mattingly
  9. Roy White
  10. Mel Stottlemyre
Oakland Athletics – Rickey Henderson, hands down.

Philadelphia Phillies – Michael Jack Schmidt over Steve Carlton.

Pittsburgh Pirates – I'm going to have to go with Barry Bonds.

San Diego Padres – I don't think you could really make a case for anyone other than Tony Gwynn.

San Francisco Giants – Say Hey, Willie Mays, over his godson.

Seattle Mariners – I'm tempted to say Edgar Martinez, but I'll go with the less controversial choice, Ken Griffey Jr.

St. Louis Cardinals – Stan “The Man” Musial over Bob Gibson.

Tampa Bay Rays – Hmmm...since Julio Lugo hasn't officially retired (I don't think), the candidates are Fred McGriff, Rocco Baldelli and Roberto Hernandez. I kid you not. Again, back to this "face of the franchise" distinction, I'll go with Baldelli.

Texas Rangers – All of a sudden, this exercise is more complicated than I realized. Among former players, I would definitely go with Ivan Rodriguez, but since being retired is a criterion, then I'll have to pick Rafael Palmeiro.

Toronto Blue Jays – I'm going with a player I consider to be very under-rated, Dave Stieb.

Washington Nationals – Of course, the Nationals' history includes that of the Montreal Expos, so I'll take Gary Carter over Tim Raines and Andre Dawson.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Three Teams That Should Try Unconventional Bullpen Strategies

A lot has been written about the role of the modern closer, and the fact that the position's usage is essentially driven by what many consider to be a flawed statistic, the save. It's been argued—and I'm not disagreeing with the premise—that the save has resulted in the unconventional scenario in which the rules governing a statistic are essentially dictating strategy for major league managers.

I'm not going to claim to be the first person to suggest a team should use their best relief pitcher in what I'll refer to as a pure fireman's role. In other words, bring him in when a high leverage situation dictates it, which more than likely will be to get the most important outs of the game, even if this occurs before the 9th inning.

Of course, the idea isn't unique to me. In fact, this was basically the Moneyball strategy Billy Beane was attempting with Chad Bradford a decade ago. What I am going to do is suggest a few teams who are in a position to employ such a strategy this year.

Let's face it. The baseball community can be pretty set in its ways about a lot of things, so there are definitely situations where this idea just isn't going to fly. For instance, it would just seem odd to me to suggest that the Yankees should remove Mariano Rivera from the closer's role, even if bringing your best relief pitcher into a more high leverage situation earlier in the game might make sense. Besides, the Yanks have a much younger guy in Rafael Soriano to potentially use in a more versatile role.

Which brings me to another point. There would seem to me to be a certain type of pitcher who is better equipped for the inconsistency of such a role. Most importantly, I think this kind of usage probably would suit a younger player, especially given the fact that he might not always have the ideal amount of time to get ready for his assignment.

So, you may be asking yourself, who do I have in mind? At least I hope you are. I'm sure there are potentially others, but there are three teams I'm focusing on here: the Toronto Blue Jays, Oakland Athletics and Cincinnati Reds.

Let's begin north of the border. The Jays closing situation is actually a little unsettled right now, as it looks as though injuries to Frank Francisco and Octavio Dotel will leave them out of action at the start of the season. But, neither should be out for long, making them ideal candidates for such a scenario.

Clearly the most talented arm in this bullpen belongs to Francisco, and it appears he would have been named the closer if not for the fact he's suffering from a sore pectoral muscle. He's posted a better than 3-to-1 K/BB ratio in each of the last three years, and his 2008 and 2009 OPS-against numbers were an impressive .634 and .639.

The only thing preventing similar results last year was bad luck, as his BABIP (batting average on balls in play) jumped from .270 and .274 in 2008 and 2009, respectively, to .321 in 2010. In fact, his FIP (fielding independent pitching), which attempts to measure what a pitcher's ERA would have been if not for factors mostly related to luck, was lower in 2010 than in both of the previous seasons.

Making this an easier decision for the Blue Jays is that they have two other relief pitchers who have been reasonably successful closers in the past. In fact, Jon Rauch, who will likely fill the role at the start of the season due to the Francisco and Dotel injuries, did a respectable job filling in for Joe Nathan with the Twins last year. He also served as the Nationals' closer for a good portion of the 2008 season.

Dotel never became the elite closer it looked like he would be when he was dominating as a setup man for Houston a decade ago. Injuries definitely had something to do with that, but when entrusted with the closer's role at various points throughout his 12-year career, he's done a solid job. So, if Rauch falters in the 9th inning role, Toronto can turn to Dotel without having to disrupt the strategy of using Francisco in the way the "fireman" was intended to be used: to put out fires.

At 31, Francisco is actually the oldest of the three relievers I'm suggesting be used in this manner. The others are Oakland's Andrew Bailey and Cincinnati's Aroldis Chapman.

Bailey's first two seasons have been nothing short of phenomenal. A 3.6 K/BB ratio and .501 OPS-against, the latter of which is better than Rivera over that time frame, pretty much speak for themselves. He's definitely the go-to guy in the Athletics' bullpen. But, they also signed Brian Fuentes in the off-season, and he's more than capable of being a solid 9th inning guy, which I think is all you really need, thus freeing up Bailey for a more strategic assignment.

Chapman might be a little more of a wild card than the other two, and of course, he has less of a track record by which to evaluate him. Plus, Francisco Cordero is already the incumbent closer. So, it won't be too difficult for the Reds to use him in the role I'm suggesting. But, there is talk that Chapman could be the team's future closer. I say his is the perfect situation to experiment with a true fireman's role.

I guess one common denominator among my suggestions is they involve teams whose second best reliever has experience as a fairly successful closer. I still think the 9th inning is important, even if sometimes the closer is handed the ball with a three-run lead, no one on base, and only three outs to get. But, I think in the three cases I've identified, another pitcher in each team's bullpen is the guy I'd go to in more crucial situations. Of course, that's not to say that situation will never be in the 9th. It's just that, it won't always be, and being more flexible with your best relief pitcher just seems to make strategic sense to me.

Monday, March 21, 2011

I've Seen All Good Maple Bacon Porter

This past weekend, AfroDan Progressive Brewers celebrated the grand opening of one of two new brewing facilities: AfroDan North, in Medford. It felt good to brew again, since we'd been idle for almost a year, following the closing of our Somerville facility. Our latest endeavor, however, signals that we're back, and possibly better than ever.

The new business plan remains true to our mission of brewing only experimental beers. Now, though, we'll be doing so out of two different facilities, with AfroDan South set to commence operations in Quincy in about two months.

Our latest creation is, quite possibly, our most experimental to date. The brewing partner has been itching to add meat to one of our brews for quite some time—citing the fact that his wife's uncle uses steak in his wine making—but, needless to say, I've been resistant. However, when he suggested bacon, I finally gave in.

It didn't take long to decide that a darker beer would work better with this experiment, and somehow the idea of a maple bacon porter just sounded right. It turns out, we're not exactly on the cutting edge, but a little research on brewing with bacon was helpful in understanding just how we should employ this specialty ingredient.

So, here's our recipe for a five-gallon batch:

1/2 lb. crystal malt - 90 L (steeped 20 mins.)
3/4 lb. chocolate malt - 350 L (steeped 20 mins.)
1/4 lb. black patent malt - 500 L (steeped 20 mins.)
8 lbs. light malt extract (boiled 60 mins.)
3 oz. Kent Goldings hops - 4.5% alpha (boiled 60 mins.)
1 oz. Fuggles hops - 4% alpha (boiled 15 mins.)
5-6 oz. crispy cooked hickory smoked bacon (added to fermenter)
1 1/4 cups maple syrup (for priming)
1 1/2 oz. British Ale yeast

mmm...bacon :)
The brewing took place on Saturday at AfroDan North, of course. While the brew pot was boiling, we oven baked the bacon, drained as much of the grease away as we could using paper towels, and then cut off as much of the excess fat as possible. Then, once the brewing process was complete and the yeast was pitched, we also added the bacon to the fermenter before sealing it.

Following a period of fermentation, we'll be bottling, of course, but with an added to speak. For those of you who don't home brew, priming is the process of adding a solution of sugar and boiled water to the fermented beer just prior to bottling. The extra sugar added during the bottling process is what gives the beer its carbonation.

But, other sugary substances can be used for priming as well. So, we'll be substituting 1 1/4 cups of maple syrup for the standard five ounces of priming sugar at bottling time. The end result we're looking for is a slightly sweet, but still nicely balanced, maple bacon porter. Hopefully, the maple sweetness doesn't overpower the smokey bacon goodness, but all we can do now is wait and see how it turns out.

Of course, once again, we've borrowed the name of the beer from one of our favorite prog-rock pioneers. With our signature beer being named after King Crimson's "21st Century Schizoid Man" and a Rush song being the namesake of another of our brews, we figured it was time to pay tribute to Yes. So, in case you haven't figured it out already, I've Seen All Good Maple Bacon Porter is inspired by one of Yes's classics, "I've Seen All Good People."

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Fair Weather Fans

I enjoyed the idea of breaking down the history behind the lyrics of The Baseball Project's "Buckner's Bolero" so much that I thought I'd take another crack at a similar idea. This time, the subject matter is the song that celebrates the favorite teams of each of the band members, "Fair Weather Fans," which is certainly not what Scott McCaughey, Linda Pitmon, Pete Buck and Steve Wynn are.

The tune starts off with McCaughey revealing the four teams he's rooted for at various times in his life, and the three that remain near and dear to his heart:
As a kid in Arizona we didn’t have our own team, but I was drawn to the Braves of Aaron, Mathews and Spahn. When we moved to The Bay I got McCovey, Marichal and Mays. It was heaven and then in ‘68 the A’s came along. With Captain Sal, Reggie, Joe Rudi, and Rollie, having two teams to love was out of sight. When Seattle became home I spent my nights in the Dome. I still think the Mariners, Giants and A’s are all right!
The lyrics here seem to imply that McCaughey no longer roots for the Braves, that he was just a fan of the team during the Aaron/Mathews/Spahn era. Spahn is the elder of that trio, and was, in fact, already 33 in 1954, when Aaron made his major league debut with the then Milwaukee Braves. But, the three still had quite a run together, combining for 24 all-star selections—which doesn't even double-count the years when two games were played—from 1955 to 1963.

The chorus explains that these fans remain loyal to their teams, despite the fact their love for the game has influenced them to follow new home teams while moving around the country:
A fair weather fan is not what I am, even though my zip code has changed. I might smile and enjoy where I’m currently employed, but your soul can’t be rearranged. It’s hard to understand, it’s so hard to understand a fair weather fan.
My favorite verse features Pitmon as lead singer, professing her love for the Twins, but admitting a weakness for the Yankees:
I grew up outside of Minneapolis, glued to the radio and the ‘70’s Twins, and the sad sound of crying when they didn’t score enough runs for a Blyleven win. Now I reside in New York City, so I got a little thing for the pinstripes. But when the Twins face the Yanks in the ALDS, you know who this small town girl likes...
Quite fitting, I must say, is the reference to her hometown team failing to score enough runs in backing recent Hall of Fame electee Bert Blyleven. His underwhelming 287-250 career won-loss record is probably what prevented him from earning his rightful place in Cooperstown until his 14th year on the ballot.
And there’s bass player Pete, always fast on his feet. No home team, then for sure. He stays fast and loose but if he had to choose, it’d be the Washington Senators.
According to Wikipedia, Peter Buck's family moved from California to Atlanta sometime during his youth. The Braves moved there in 1966—Buck was born in 1956—but I guess he didn't latch onto them. I don't know exactly when the family arrived in Atlanta, but if it was pre-1966—when Peter's age was still in the single digits—the Washington Senators, St. Louis Cardinals or Cincinnati Reds would have been the closest thing they had to a home team.

Which brings up an interesting point, one that applies to both McCaughey's baseball upbringing and Buck's, and countless other fans from remote areas of the country. When you live in a place where the nearest team is several hundred miles away, who do you root for? This question came up when KJ and I were visited last year by our friends from Boise, Idaho.

While taking them sightseeing on the North Shore, one of the locals asked their 10-year old daughter what sports teams she roots for. It didn't even occur to him that it's possible cities without professional teams are just not as into sports as the folks from Boston are. Or, that 10-year old girls might not be into sports at all. But, that's more a reflection of how truly sports-obsessed this particular city is, which is a discussion for another day.

Finally, it's Wynn's turn:
I grew up in LA to the sweet sounds of Vin Scully. That’s how I went to bed most every night. There ain’t a prettier park than the one in Chavez Ravine. I’ve seen many games by the palm trees and the lights. But I sure do love Manhattan -- I took on the AL team in ’93. But now that Torre and Mattingly have moved to LA, it makes it so much easier for me.
Obviously the song was written at least a half year before it was released, considering Torre is now out—and Mattingly in—as the manager of the Dodgers. It's hard to imagine someone's two favorite teams being the Dodgers and the Yankees, though.

But, then again, KJ and I were in Vermont this past weekend, where we met a fellow from Rhode Island wearing a Red Sox hat. I was wearing my Boston Braves hat, so I had to correct him when he assumed I was one of his brethren. When I admitted I am, in fact, a Yankees fan, he claimed they are his second favorite team.

Now, that guy just might be a fair weather fan.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Nittany Lion Cagers

Is the word "cagers" still used to represent basketball players? When I attended college at Penn State I was introduced to the term, but I haven't heard it used much since. In case you're curious—which I was—in the early days of the sport, the court was literally enclosed in a cage, which made for a much rougher game than exists today.

In honor of my alma mater, Penn State, and their men's basketball team's return to the NCAA tournament for the first time in ten years, I present you with the top five players to come out of the program since my days at the school, a quarter-century ago.

Honorable mentions: Pete Lisicky (1994-98) Calvin Booth (1995-99), Titus Ivory (1999-2001) Geary Claxton (2005-08), Jamelle Cornley (2006-09)

5. John Amaechi (1992-95)

Amaechi began his college career at Vanderbilt, but transferred to Penn State after his freshman year. In three years in Happy Valley, the team's first three in the Big Ten, he averaged 15.6 points, 8.9 rebounds and 2.3 blocked shots in 84 games, and was twice named a first-team Academic All-American. The team improved from their dismal Big Ten debut (7-20, last place in 1992-93) to 21-11 and a third-place NIT Tournament finish in his senior year.

Amaechi went on to play 294 games in five NBA seasons for three teams, but is best known as the first openly gay NBA player, coming out several years after his retirement.

4. Tom Hovasse (1985-89)

Hovasse was the star of the Nittany Lions basketball team during my time as a student there. The 6'8" forward was a four-year starter who averaged 14.7 points and 6.3 rebounds over 99 games in four seasons. The team improved from 12-17 and 8th place in the Atlantic 10 in his freshman year to 20-12 and an NIT berth in his senior year. I traveled with friends to witness their second round game at Villanova, which unfortunately was the final game of their season, and of Hovasse's Penn State career, a 76-67 defeat.

He would have to wait six years before making his professional debut with the Atlanta Hawks in 1994-95. Signed in October and released in November, he played four minutes in two games in a very brief NBA career.

3. DeRon Hayes (1989-93)'s College Basketball pages—which I used for most of the statistics cited in this post—are seriously lacking information from the years that Hayes played at Penn State, but one of his teams provided me with my most memorable Penn State basketball moment.

The 1990-91 team qualified for Penn State basketball's first NCAA tournament in more than a quarter-century. The 13th-seeded Nittany Lions pulled off a stunning first round upset over 4th-seeded UCLA—a team that included six future NBA players—in Syracuse's Carrier Dome.

I was a recent college graduate living in Syracuse at the time, and was lucky to be in attendance at that game. That game still stands as the only time Penn State and UCLA have ever met in men's basketball, so the Nittany Lions can proudly say that they lead the all-time series with the most storied program in college basketball history.

According to a site called PSU Hoops Alumni Tracker, Hayes scored 1570 points in his Penn State career, which was 4th on their all-time list as of four years ago (so probably 6th now, with Talor Battle and Jamelle Cornley having since passed him). He was also named Atlantic 10 Freshman on the year for 1989-90 and All-Atlantic Ten in 1990-91. He never played in the NBA, but instead has enjoyed a successful career in the European Leagues, where apparently he's still playing.

2. Joe Crispin (1997-2001)

Crispin led the team to their last NCAA tournament appearance in 2000-01, a run that ended with a Sweet 16 loss to this year's first-round opponent, Temple. He and his younger brother, Jon, teamed up to make Penn State's back court one of its strongest ever, although Jon would transfer to UCLA following Joe's senior season.

Joe Crispin is Penn State's third all-time leading scorer, with 1976 points. In 126 games over four years, he averaged 15.7 points and 3.8 assists. Most importantly, though, he led the Nittany Lions to two Big Ten tournament victories—including an upset of Michigan State, a team that went on to make the NCAA Final Four—and two NCAA tournament wins, the highlight being a round-of-32 defeat of North Carolina.

Crispin had a slighly longer cup of coffee in the NBA than Hovasse, playing 21 games for the Los Angeles Lakers and Phoenix Suns in 2001-02, before moving on to European basketball for the nine years since.

1. Talor Battle (2007-11)

This year's star, Talor Battle, became Penn State's all-time leading scorer with his game-winning shot against Wisconsin in the Big Ten quarter-finals. He then scored 25 in their semi-final victory over Michigan State. He's connected for 2190 points in his four-year career, averaging 16.5 points, 4.7 rebounds and 3.9 assists in 133 games.

In addition to leading the team to their first trip to the NCAA tournament since the Joe Crispin-led 2000-01 squad, Battle teamed with seniors Jamelle Cornley and Stanley Pringle to pace the Lions' run to the NIT championship in his sophomore year of 2008-09. He was named first-team All-Big Ten in both his sophomore and senior seasons, while being honored as a second-teamer in his junior year.

Battle's story, of course, continues on Thursday night, with the Nittany Lions cagers matching up against Temple in the opening round of the West regional.

It just occurred to me that I could make a starting five from the names on this list: Battle and Crispin at guards, Hayes and Hovasse at forwards (although Hovasse is hardly the prototypical power forward), Amaechi at center. Also, the honorable mentions fit perfectly into a second-team squad: Lisicky and Ivory are the guards, Claxton and Cornley the forwards, Booth the center.

So, there you have it. The All-Penn State Nittany Lion basketball team covering the period of 1985-2011.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Most Productive Offensive Players in Baseball History

I thought it would be interesting to try and determine the most productive offensive players in baseball history, and to use advanced statistical analysis for this purpose.

I decided to base this particular analysis on the metric I'm most familiar with, Wins Above Replacement (WAR). But, since this is supposed to be about offense, I needed to look at just the offensive components of WAR.

WAR is comprised of seven different categories, only five of which are relevant here:
  • Runs from Batting
  • Runs from Baserunning
  • Runs from Reached on Error
  • Runs from Grounded into Double Plays
  • Runs from Fielding
  • Runs from Positional Scarcity
  • Runs from Replacement Level
All of these numbers are added together to get Runs Above Replacement (RAR), which is then converted to Wins Above Replacement (WAR). Roughly, ten runs equal one win. That is, for every ten runs someone is better than a replacement player, he contributes one additional win to his team's success.

Basically, I took each player's Runs Above Replacement and subtracted his Runs from Fielding and Runs from Positional Scarcity. The latter statistic is based on the concept that, if a team were to get the exact same production out of its catcher as from its first baseman, the catcher would be far more valuable. This makes sense, but I'm looking to determine overall offensive production, not value.

Lastly, since I'm talking about who was(is) the most productive, I decided to rank the players on a per plate appearance basis. So, let's cut right to the chase and present the 50 most productive offensive players in baseball history, among those with a minimum of 6,000 career plate appearances, based on position-independent offensive RAR per plate appearance:

  1. Babe Ruth
  2. Lou Gehrig
  3. Ted Williams
  4. Barry Bonds
  5. Dan Brouthers
  6. Mickey Mantle
  7. Ty Cobb
  8. Albert Pujols
  9. Rogers Hornsby
  10. Joe Jackson
  11. Billy Hamilton
  12. Jimmie Foxx
  13. Joe DiMaggio
  14. Ed Delahanty
  15. Willie Mays
  16. Tris Speaker
  17. Stan Musial
  18. Frank Thomas
  19. Hank Greenberg
  20. Mark McGwire
  21. Hank Aaron
  22. Johnny Mize
  23. Mel Ott
  24. Alex Rodriguez
  25. Frank Robinson
  26. Roger Connor
  27. Dick Allen
  28. Manny Ramirez
  29. Jeff Bagwell
  30. Sam Thompson
  31. Edgar Martinez
  32. Eddie Collins
  33. Harry Heilmann
  34. Honus Wagner
  35. Jim Thome
  36. Elmer Flick
  37. Jason Giambi
  38. Cap Anson
  39. Jesse Burkett
  40. Eddie Mathews
  41. Nap Lajoie
  42. Ralph Kiner
  43. Rickey Henderson
  44. Mike Schmidt
  45. Duke Snider
  46. Chipper Jones
  47. Joe Morgan
  48. Willie McCovey
  49. Gary Sheffield
  50. Lance Berkman

If you're interested in the actual numbers, you can view the spreadsheet here.

A few observations:
  • Obviously, this is a rate stat, so it favors players with short or incomplete careers. It will be interesting to see if Albert Pujols can sustain his top ten ranking over the remainder of his career.
  • Among the top eight, none of them peaked in the same decade.  This may be an indication of this particular metric's effectiveness at adjusting for era. Obviously, taken at face value, Dan Brouthers's numbers can't possibly compare to Bonds's. Bonds hit over 650 more home runs than Brouthers, had a higher on-base percentage and twice as many stolen bases, yet Brouthers—who played in the power-deficient 19th century—lands right behind him on the list.
  • The list seems fairly representative of all eras, including 19th century and modern players, with 10 beginning their careers prior to 1900, and 14 having played at least part of their careers in the 21st century.
  • Other than the 19th century players, who most people aren't as familiar with, I'd say the list comes pretty close to reinforcing our pre-conceived notions about how these players stack up against each other. Obviously, different people will have differing opinions, but by how much? Do any of these rankings seem significantly out of whack?
I'm certainly not trying to say we should all accept that this is the way we should evaluate players. But, at the same time, there's really no way to compare players who played in entirely different eras without using statistics that are era-adjusted. Statistics such as Wins Above Replacement, and its components, provide us with an excellent starting point for being able to make such comparisons.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Buckner's Bolero

I've decided that any subject that is at the intersection of two of my three main interests—baseball, music and beer—absolutely must warrant a blog post.

Less than three years ago, Steve Wynn and Scott McCaughey teamed up for Frozen Ropes and Dying Quails, Volume One of their Baseball Project series. This spring, they return with Volume Two: High and Inside, another collection of baseball-themed rock anthems.

I picked it up this week, and have only listened to it twice. So, while I'll eventually get around to writing up a complete review of the album, I want to spend a little time discussing one particular song, "Buckner's Bolero."

Bill Buckner returns to professional baseball, and to the Boston area, this season as the manager of the Brockton Rox, of the independent Can-Am League. So, it was perfect timing for McCaughey to write this tribute to an undeserving scapegoat in this year that will mark the 25th anniversary of his ill-fated error.

I thought I'd take you on a little stroll down memory lane with my commentary on the lyrics of one of High and Inside's better songs. First, let me tell you that, despite the fact I'm a Yankees fan, I rooted for the Red Sox in the '86 World Series, mainly because I used to be the typical New Yorker who loves one team and hates the other.

If the Sox and Mets were to engage in a rematch of that Fall Classic—slim chance this year, thanks to the boys from Queens—I would be pulling for the Mets. But, that doesn't mean I don't still cringe a little when I recount what fans of New York's second team simply refer to as "Game Six."
If Bobby Ojeda hadn't raged at Sullivan and Yawkey,
and hadn't been traded to the Mets for Calvin Schiraldi.
I'm not sure what Ojeda did, other than not pitch as well as the team hoped, to warrant getting shipped out of town by the Red Sox, but both he and Schiraldi played significant roles in Game Six. Ojeda was the starting pitcher for the Mets, giving up two runs over six innings before departing in a tie game. Schiraldi's role, of course, was a little more notable.
If Oil Can Boyd hadn't been such a nut case,
and Jim Rice had twice taken an easy extra base.
With the Red Sox leading the series 2-0, Boyd took the mound for game three and gave up four runs in the first inning, en route to a 7-1 Mets victory. Personally, I don't recall the second-guessing of Rice's base running, but I'm not surprised, considering how one-dimensional a player he was.
If the Red Sox had had a better playoff fourth starter.
Instead Nipper served up a big fat slider to Carter.
Gary Carter's two-run homer off Al Nipper in the third inning of game four gave the Mets a 2-0 lead, on their way to a 6-2 victory.
What would Seaver have done, if not for his bum knee?
Would he have taken the ball and exacted revenge on his old team?
Seaver turned 42 the month after the completion of the '86 World Series, but his 3.80 ERA in 104 innings would have provided the Sox a much better option than Nipper (159 IP, 5.38 ERA).
If Gooden had pitched like the real Doctor K,
or Donnie Moore hadn't had that nightmare day
that stuck with him 'till he couldn't take anymore,
and turned his own kitchen into a killing floor.
Now, we're getting into "what ifs" that would have resulted in Game Six never happening. Dwight Gooden gave up 8 earned runs on 17 hits in 9 innings in losing two of the series' first five games. Moore served up the crucial homer to Dave Henderson in what could have been the ALCS clincher for the California Angels over the Red Sox. Tragically, less than three years later, Moore committed suicide.
And John McNamara, what the hell was he thinking? Was it him, not the party boy Mets, doing all the drinking? If he'd hit Baylor for Buckner and yanked the first baseman, for his by-the-book late inning defensive replacement, that ball would've been snagged, if it'd ever been hit, and Mookie's last name wouldn't now be "86."
Yeah, we've heard about this little piece of second-guessing a few times before. McNamara should've replaced Buckner with Dave Stapleton, of course, but Buckner had good hands and the ball was hit right to him. However, there were plenty of other reasons to second-guess McNamara, but I'm not going into them.
Bob Stanley picked a pretty bad time to uncork a wild pitch, and I'm sure he's still thinking that you could have blocked it Rich. Then the tying run might not have been tallied by Mitch. If one play killed the Sox, can you please tell me which?
I remember wondering why this pitch wasn't actually ruled a passed ball. After all, it was at least a foot off the ground when it reached catcher Rich Gedman, and he was able to get his glove on the ball. In hindsight, the pitch clearly crossed Gedman up, so Stanley obviously didn't throw the pitch he was expecting. But, Stanley would be right if he wondered why Rich wasn't able to block it.
I guess everything happens for some sort of reason,
and there must be a tragic end to every long season.
If even one man doesn't do one thing he does,
we'd all know Bill Buckner for just what he was.
A pretty tough out for the Dodgers, Red Sox and Cubs.
Ten thousand at bats and close to three thousand hits.
And he stole plenty of bases before his legs quit.
As tough to walk as he was to strike out,
but there's only one play that ever gets talked about.
Bill Buckner was a good enough player to survive for a long time in the majors, but anyone overemphasizing the fact that he accumulated over 2,700 hits in his career is over-rating him. He had a .289 lifetime batting average, but, as McCaughey sings, he almost never walked, he didn't have much power and, not surprisingly, at best he was an average fielder at the two least important positions on the field. Still, he doesn't deserve to be remembered for that one fateful moment. But, McCaughey has another theory...
Now some kind of fame lies in being a scapegoat.
And, if not that, then you're just an historical footnote.
And your 22 years playing ball might be forgotten.
Maybe Bill Buckner was lucky his luck was so rotten.
I'd never thought about it that way.