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Saturday, July 23, 2011

Corcoran: Where does Alomar rank among game’s best second basemen?

Still, if pressed, my list of the top 10 second basemen of all-time would probably look like this:

1. Eddie Collins

2. Joe Morgan

3. Rogers Hornsby

4. Nap Lajoie

5. Charlie Gehringer

6. Frankie Frisch

7. Roberto Alomar

8. Ryne Sandberg

9. Bobby Grich

10. Lou Whitaker

That would make Alomar the second-best second baseman since integration and the seventh-best second baseman in the game’s 140-year history. Your list may differ, but no matter how you shuffle those rankings, Alomar’s status as an all-time great and a deserving Hall of Famer is clear and secure.

Not a bad summation.  I can agree with his list, with the exception of all but ignoring Jackie Robinson, which he alludes to but never really explains

Misirlou's been working for the drug squad Posted: July 23, 2011 at 09:06 PM | 75 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: hall of fame

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   1. Dave Spiwak Posted: July 23, 2011 at 11:24 PM (#3883975)
His eyebrows alone are deserving of the HOF. They seem to be the inspiration for Yadier Molina's.
   2. Mefisto Posted: July 23, 2011 at 11:31 PM (#3883980)
By WAR (not that it ends the discussion), Grich, Whitaker, and Biggio rate above Alomar. So does Carew, if you count him. And Jackie would had he not missed time for WWII and some other reason I now forget. Alomar is more likely out of the top 10 than in it.
   3. McCoy Posted: July 23, 2011 at 11:36 PM (#3883984)
Well, there is this pesky thing called segregation that might have kept Jackie from playing during that time period as well. It wasn't all Tojo's fault.
   4. Misirlou's been working for the drug squad Posted: July 23, 2011 at 11:39 PM (#3883985)
By WAR (not that it ends the discussion), Grich, Whitaker, and Biggio rate above Alomar. So does Carew, if you count him. And Jackie would had he not missed time for WWII and some other reason I now forget. Alomar is more likely out of the top 10 than in it.


Carew had nearly as much value at first instead of second, including his best and 3rd best seasons. His is not an Ernie Banks situation. Whitaker doesn't have the peak. Grich and Biggio are damned close. Still, not a bad list (except for the exclusion of Robinson).
   5. Srul Itza Posted: July 23, 2011 at 11:42 PM (#3883988)
The issue with Biggio and Robinson) is that they spent significant time playing other positions. You can take the Bill James approach, decide what is his primary position, and put all value there; or you can take the approach that they are valued as second basemen only for the value they provided while playing that position.

The article (which uses WAR) seems to take the latter approach, and it is as much a matter of taste/philosophy as anything else.
   6. Srul Itza Posted: July 23, 2011 at 11:47 PM (#3883991)
Well, there is this pesky thing called segregation that might have kept Jackie from playing during that time period as well.


So you took his line "Jackie would had he not missed time for WWII and some other reason I now forget" literally?



EDIT -- Given the War, he actually lost only 2-3 years to segregation, depending on how early you think he might have been called up in the absence of discrimination.

It is also worthwhile to review Jackie's BB-REF page to remind yourself what an amazing player he was.
   7. McCoy Posted: July 23, 2011 at 11:51 PM (#3883997)
Was it there the whole time? I think he might have added it after I wrote my little non serious bit.
   8. tshipman Posted: July 23, 2011 at 11:57 PM (#3884003)
Isn't any ranking of Roberto Alomar going to be tremendously difficult because of the defense issue?

Bbref WAR has him as 3 wins negative over his career, and negative in 12 seasons out of 17 total seasons. Lou Whitaker, for example, gains 10 wins on Alomar from defense, since Alomar is 3 negative and Whitaker is 7 positive. Sandberg similarly gains 8 wins on Alomar.

Since most mainstream people feel like Alomar was a ++ second baseman, as evidenced by his 8 Gold Gloves, any discussion of Alomar should probably include a note about how you feel about his defense.
   9. Voros McCracken of Pinkus Posted: July 24, 2011 at 12:20 AM (#3884028)
Alomar is another guy I probably rate less highly than most here. As I've mentioned before there seemed to have been a lot of WAR to go around from around 1993-2004. Alomar got his share, but to me it's less impressive than Sandberg and Grich who get theirs when guys when guys weren't racking up those kind of totals so often. Yeah WAR doesn't like his glove, but I thought his glove was overrated while he was playing too.

I think he's probably a HOFer in my opinion, but maybe just barely.
   10. Mefisto Posted: July 24, 2011 at 12:35 AM (#3884035)
McCoy, it was there all along. Sometimes my irony voice is hard to distinguish from my regular voice.

FWIW, DRA has Alomar at +21 runs for his career. DRA likes Biggio's defense even less than TZ, so that evens things out a lot between them. OTOH, DRA likes Grich's and Whitaker's defense much more than TZ, so Alomar would drop relative to them.
   11. JRVJ Posted: July 24, 2011 at 02:00 AM (#3884096)
I think he's probably a HOFer in my opinion, but maybe just barely.


Well, it looks like the matter is somewhat out of your hands.
   12. LargeBill Posted: July 24, 2011 at 02:05 AM (#3884103)
Given the War, he actually lost only 2-3 years to segregation, depending on how early you think he might have been called up in the absence of discrimination.


Correct, segregation cost some guys their entire career and many player got late starts, but Robinson didn't lose much major league time due to segregation. His career is relatively short for a couple reasons. Everyone remembers the time in the service for World War II. However, they tend to forget that he also played college football for UCLA. Also, at the back end of his career he retired rather than accept a trade to the rival Giants. I think he realized he was physically about done at that point. The aggressive way he played the game plus the pounding as a running back took their toll on his body.
   13. tshipman Posted: July 24, 2011 at 02:11 AM (#3884111)
FWIW, DRA has Alomar at +21 runs for his career. DRA likes Biggio's defense even less than TZ, so that evens things out a lot between them. OTOH, DRA likes Grich's and Whitaker's defense much more than TZ, so Alomar would drop relative to them.


Does DRA like Grich and Whitaker's defense by more than 50 runs over their careers?

I happen to think that Alomar is probably the second best second basemen since integration behind Morgan, but I think that it's reasonable to see a few guys in that same general area. For guys after 1955 or so, it's Morgan >>>>>>>>> Everyone Else.
   14. Bob Evans Posted: July 24, 2011 at 02:43 AM (#3884131)
Well, it looks like the matter is somewhat out of your hands.

Ah, a Rube Marquard fan.
   15. OCF Posted: July 24, 2011 at 02:58 AM (#3884136)
Unfortunately for the premise of this article, the Hall of Merit did its all-time ranking vote before we elected Alomar, so Alomar didn't appear on that particular ballot. One other note: we're ranking whole careers here, not just the portion played at 2B. So is Hardy Richardson played quite a bit of outfield (which he did), or if Carew played quite a bit of 1B, that still counts in his favor.

1. Eddie Collins
2. Rogers Hornsby
3. Joe Morgan (Out of 23 voters, 16 had Collins #1, 5 had Hornsby, and 2 had Morgan.)
4. Nap Lajoie
5. Charlie Gehringer
6. Jackie Robinson
7. Bobby Grich
8. Rod Carew
9. Ryne Sandberg
10. Frankie Frisch
11. Ross Barnes (1870's)
12. Billy Herman
13. Bid McPhee (19th century)
14. Hardy Richardson (19th century)
15. Lou Whitaker
16. Joe Gordon
17. Bobby Doerr
18. Frank Grant (19th Century segregated teams)
19. Cupid Childs
20. Willie Randolph
21. Nellie Fox

As I said, the vote with Alomar wasn't taken. If he were to be added to it, my gut feeling is that he would rank behind the Grich/Sandberg/Carew/Frisch grouping - probably somewhere between 10th and 15th. If you want a fuller explanation for that low a ranking, ask Dan R. (Actually, what Voros says in post #9 above sounds a lot like what Dan R was saying in HoM discussions.)
   16. McCoy Posted: July 24, 2011 at 03:10 AM (#3884142)
Alomar is within spitting distance of Biggio.
   17. McCoy Posted: July 24, 2011 at 03:12 AM (#3884145)
The aggressive way he played the game plus the pounding as a running back took their toll on his body.

But if segregation didn't exist he likely wouldn't have played football for as long as he did. Baseball would have gone hard after him when he was graduating from high school.
   18. cardsfanboy Posted: July 24, 2011 at 03:48 AM (#3884153)
Just reading the comments here, I get the feeling that many of the posters didn't bother to read the article. He explains his thinking pretty well, he has his system, it's clear to me that he has a slight personal bias for Alomar, but I don't think it's difficult to imagine Alomar being better than Sandberg or others, heck if you look at the way the hof voting went, Alomar went in on his second ballot, Sandberg took 3 ballots so the writers might think that Alomar is also a better candidate.
   19. McCoy Posted: July 24, 2011 at 03:59 AM (#3884154)
Or that once they accepted Sandberg they accepted that level from second basemen.

If it takes you 14 ballots to get Dave Kingman elected are you really going to drag out Jose Canseco's induction?
   20. Bruce Markusen Posted: July 24, 2011 at 04:00 AM (#3884155)
What exactly was the problem with Alomar's defense? The guy I watched had great range, good hands, an accurate arm. How in the world was he a below-average defender according to some of these systems?
   21. cardsfanboy Posted: July 24, 2011 at 04:13 AM (#3884158)
Or that once they accepted Sandberg they accepted that level from second basemen.

If it takes you 14 ballots to get Dave Kingman elected are you really going to drag out Jose Canseco's induction?


Yes that is the argument, I was just pointing out one possibility. I personally think Alomar is better, but not so much that I would really feel it's worth arguing either way. Just don't fully trust defensive metrics that says he is 'average'.
   22. Mefisto Posted: July 24, 2011 at 04:16 AM (#3884159)
Does DRA like Grich and Whitaker's defense by more than 50 runs over their careers?


Yes, in fact by over 100.
   23. Srul Itza At Home Posted: July 24, 2011 at 04:17 AM (#3884160)
But if segregation didn't exist he likely wouldn't have played football for as long as he did. Baseball would have gone hard after him when he was graduating from high school.


That assumes Robinson would not have wanted to go to college. Given that baseball salaries were not the astronomical numbers we talk about today, it is possible he would have wanted the benefits of an education.
   24. tshipman Posted: July 24, 2011 at 04:19 AM (#3884161)
Yes, in fact by over 100.


Sorry, I should have said, do they like Grich and Whitaker by more than 50 runs than TZ?

I don't think it's difficult to imagine Alomar being better than Sandberg or others


I don't either. Alomar was by far the better offensive player: Alomar has more than 10 oWar more than Sandberg. You have to really buy into the defense argument to even get them close.
   25. McCoy Posted: July 24, 2011 at 04:24 AM (#3884163)

That assumes Robinson would not have wanted to go to college. Given that baseball salaries were not the astronomical numbers we talk about today, it is possible he would have wanted the benefits of an education.


Jackie left college to take a job and to play a paying sport.
   26. Ray (RDP) Posted: July 24, 2011 at 04:55 AM (#3884169)
What exactly was the problem with Alomar's defense? The guy I watched had great range, good hands, an accurate arm. How in the world was he a below-average defender according to some of these systems?


If I recall correctly the mid-'90s arguments from rec.sport.baseball: Positioning. He played too deep, which meant he "got to" more balls... and looked great getting to them... but didn't actually convert them into outs.

And there was some issue with going to his left. I can't remember.
   27. Ray (RDP) Posted: July 24, 2011 at 04:57 AM (#3884170)
Here's Baseball Prospectus's 1996 comment discussing the issue:

Alomar has been the topic of one of the most vehement arguments in the baseball analytical community, specifically, his fielding. The general public and traditional statistics say that he is the best second baseman there is. The analysts point out that he is average or below in range factor (essentially, assists and putouts per game), as well as in more detailed defensive statistics like Defensive Average. A lot has been written in support of both sides: he's flashier than others in making the routine play; he plays too deep, which makes his range look better while actually making it worse; he knocks down a lot of balls without making an out; it's the fast carpet or coach-ordered positioning that's causing the bad numbers.

However, in the time from 1988-95, the DA of his backups has been very poor; only three other players have backups with worse DAs, and all of them have DAs much worse than Alomar. Alomar exceeds his teammate's DA by 41 points, more than anyone else except Craig Biggio, at +42. Others in the same vicinity are Delino DeShields at +33, Robby Thompson at +36, Billy Ripken at +37, Ryne Sandberg and Carlos Baerga at +27 apiece: none of him are labeled bad second basemen. I think there is a problem with the statistics that we've been slow to recognize and revise.
   28. bookbook Posted: July 24, 2011 at 05:03 AM (#3884175)
We get heavily into counterfactuals here. If Jackie Robinson could have skipped college and been paid to play baseball, but baseball didn't pay that well, but black men weren't being hired on Wall Street or into management track positions (no matter how talented they were), then he plays baseball. But if we lived in a colorblind society (which is a difficult hypothetical to even imagine), AND baseball doesn't pay too well, maybe he stays in college and plays football. Etc.
   29. BDC Posted: July 24, 2011 at 12:35 PM (#3884202)
Jackie Robinson's brother Mack, of course, was a world-class sprinter (silver medal behind Jesse Owens in the 200m at the 1936 Berlin Olympics), and graduated from the University of Oregon as a national track champion. Jackie was the national long-jump champion for UCLA in 1940, jumping 7.58 meters: not near Owens's marks, but Jerome Biffle's gold-medal distance at the 1952 Olympics, for comparison, was 7.57. The Robinsons were not well-off, but they were not your typical family, either. Pro baseball was an option for Jackie if he'd wanted to concentrate on it, albeit the ill-paid sector of segregated ball; instead, he was to some extent following his older brother into elite athletics.
   30. Mefisto Posted: July 24, 2011 at 02:09 PM (#3884222)
Sorry, I should have said, do they like Grich and Whitaker by more than 50 runs than TZ?


Yes in Grich's case, only about 35 runs better for Whitaker.
   31. Matthew E Posted: July 24, 2011 at 03:44 PM (#3884241)
I remember watching some Jays games in '93 and seeing some ground balls go through the right side of the infield and saying to myself, you know, if Alomar was as good as his reputation, he would have caught those. I don't think he was bad defensively at all... but I don't think he was as good as everyone says he was.
   32. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: July 24, 2011 at 04:56 PM (#3884260)
(Out of 23 voters, 16 had Collins #1, 5 had Hornsby, and 2 had Morgan.)

So what's the case for Collins over Hornsby?

WAR has them very close, but Hornsby seems quite a bit peakier (i.e. acquired all his WAR in 16 seasons vs. 20, has 6 10+ WAR seasons vs. 3 for Collins, and 3 seasons better than Collins' best, etc.).

I understand why it's close, but why pick Collins?
   33. Ray (RDP) Posted: July 24, 2011 at 05:29 PM (#3884277)
I understand why it's close, but why pick Collins?


Because he brought Ted Williams to Boston.
   34. Eric J can SABER all he wants to Posted: July 24, 2011 at 05:33 PM (#3884279)
So what's the case for Collins over Hornsby?

WAR has them very close


WAR has them very close in career, while rating Hornsby as a better defender. I'm guessing the HOM disagrees with that particular assessment.
   35. Jeff R., P***y Mainlander Posted: July 24, 2011 at 05:59 PM (#3884289)
What exactly was the problem with Alomar's defense? The guy I watched had great range, good hands, an accurate arm. How in the world was he a below-average defender according to some of these systems?


I've always had the same question. The height of my hard-core fandom was in the early 90's; I remember spending hours and hours trying to come up with a defensive system for second basemen that matched what I saw on the field: that Alomar and Knoblauch were very good defenders. Coincidentally, they were also two of the few second basemen that played most of their games on turf.
   36. Ron J Posted: July 24, 2011 at 06:03 PM (#3884294)
#32 The 54 baserunning runs for Collins feels low. And I'm not sure how to adjust for the management decision to bunt him as often as they did. For that matter, I'm confident that Collins reached on error quite frequently (given his speed, the fact that he was an excellent bunter and the fielding percentage of the day it would be moderately surprising if a bunt by Collins wasn't a better than break even play in spite of his OBP)

I think I'd still go for Hornsby though -- at least in the abstract. If I was actually running a team I'd take Collins any time. The difference won't be large, and an easier life has to be worth something.
   37. David Concepcion de la Desviacion Estandar (Dan R) Posted: July 24, 2011 at 06:11 PM (#3884301)
You called, OCF?

The case against Alomar as an all-time elite 2B (as opposed to a deserving Hall of Fame/Meriter, which he is) is simple. As a hitter, he was merely good, not great--I have him with 23 batting wins above the pitchers-excluded average (very close to baseball-reference's 253 runs), or 26 if we ignore his final three worthless seasons. He was a great baserunner, and that helps, putting him up to 27, or 30 through 2002. But by the time Alomar played, 2B was not the defense-first "middle infield" position it had been in the 1970s--freely available replacement 2B (say, Miguel Cairo) hit and fielded their positions just as well as freely available replacement 3B or CF did (roughly an 80 OPS+). It was a middle-spectrum position. So 30 batting wins above average, plus 13 full seasons' worth of middle-spectrum replacement level (just over 2 wins a season) makes 60 total, which is juust about the minimum for the Hall for a guy without a huuge peak.

Now, that's before giving him any credit for above-average fielding. The numbers say he was merely average. If he was an outstanding defensive 2B (+100), then he's at 70 which is an automatic-in, even before peak credit. If he was Mazeroski (+200), then he's knocking on the door of the top 5 with Gehringer and Jackie.
   38. Walt Davis Posted: July 24, 2011 at 06:48 PM (#3884334)
8. Rod Carew
9. Ryne Sandberg


And here's another example of the absurdity of ranking positions based on games played elsewhere. Carew had just 1130 games at 2B; Sandberg had 1995. That's not a tiny, ignorable difference. As a 2B, Carew had 40 WAR in 9 seasons; his 5 year, non-consecutive peak is 26 WAR. Sandberg had 62 WAR at 2B with a 5-year non-consecutive peak of 34 WAR.

So Sandberg wins on peak as a 2B and career as a 2B; Carew wins on being an excellent 1B for half his career.

Now it's not hard to imagine an alternate universe where Carew remains at 2B for 2-3 more seasons (Chone puts him well above-average at 1B those years) and his age 30-31 seasons were his best. Now I don't remember why Carew was moved but the Twins moved him to 1B to start the 28-year-old Bob Randall (88 OPS+) at 2B even with some fairly obvious other options for 1B (Braun, Kusick, Hisle) so it looks like a move the Twins felt had to be made.

EDIT: Carew's career is interesting in that it's nearly exactly 50/50 at 1B/2B in terms of playing time and value (by WAR). That's different than Banks and even Yount.
   39. Misirlou's been working for the drug squad Posted: July 24, 2011 at 07:21 PM (#3884367)
Carew's career is interesting in that it's nearly exactly 50/50 at 1B/2B in terms of playing time and value (by WAR). That's different than Banks


What am I, a potted plant? Post #4:

Carew had nearly as much value at first instead of second, including his best and 3rd best seasons. His is not an Ernie Banks situation.
   40. Loren F. Posted: July 24, 2011 at 08:15 PM (#3884421)
That's a good point about Carew, Walt.
   41. AROM Posted: July 24, 2011 at 09:24 PM (#3884447)
Did Carew move to lesson the risk of injury? That might make some sense, although Carew did not have a lot of missed games as a 2B.
   42. Morty Causa Posted: July 25, 2011 at 04:44 AM (#3884565)
Depriving Hornsby of #1 needs some explaining: first, because there just too damn much offense, and second, because recent attempts to quantify his defense shows that it wasn't that bad--BBref has him just as good as Collins and better that Morgan. Why the demotion?
   43. Something Other Posted: July 25, 2011 at 05:25 AM (#3884574)
@37: interesting argument, Dan, since it undermines Alomar's rep with the bat and the glove, and still leaves him a HOFer. If I'm remembering his reputation as a fielder rightly, if he's in fact below average, the difference between the perception and the reality would be as great for Alomar as it is for Jeter. He was also popularly considered a hell of a hitter for a 2Bman. Is there anywhere I can find the average yearly OPS+ by position?

I'm surprised at Jeff Kent's career WAR (60.8). Acc to BBRef his D was better than Alomar's, and his OPS+ was 123 to Robby's 116, but even though Kent has only 500 fewer PAs he trails by about 3 wins. Guess Alomar's baserunning really was something special.

Speaking of Kent, since no one else has, does anyone here think he won't make the Hall? I thought he'd be a lock, given the MVP and that he was still a good player until his last season, but it wouldn't surprise me if he never "clicks" with voters, and never gets out of the 30%s.
   44. tshipman Posted: July 25, 2011 at 05:51 AM (#3884578)
The case against Alomar as an all-time elite 2B (as opposed to a deserving Hall of Fame/Meriter, which he is) is simple. As a hitter, he was merely good, not great--I have him with 23 batting wins above the pitchers-excluded average (very close to baseball-reference's 253 runs), or 26 if we ignore his final three worthless seasons. He was a great baserunner, and that helps, putting him up to 27, or 30 through 2002. But by the time Alomar played, 2B was not the defense-first "middle infield" position it had been in the 1970s--freely available replacement 2B (say, Miguel Cairo) hit and fielded their positions just as well as freely available replacement 3B or CF did (roughly an 80 OPS+). It was a middle-spectrum position. So 30 batting wins above average, plus 13 full seasons' worth of middle-spectrum replacement level (just over 2 wins a season) makes 60 total, which is juust about the minimum for the Hall for a guy without a huuge peak.


I really disagree with this approach to analyzing value. Second base did not get easier to play in the 1990's than it was in the 1970's. Saying that there were better readily available replacement players in the 1990's than in the 1970's doesn't really have any bearing on the overall value of the position--just on the guys who happened to be available. Nothing happened to make it easier to play second base. If anything, it was harder since a high offense era has more double play opportunities. In addition, managers did not change strategies to de-emphasize the importance of second base defense, like how fielding a bunt became less and less of a third baseman's everyday duties.

In short, the position did not change, so our concept of the replacement value should not vary because of who happened to be playing the position.
   45. cardsfanboy Posted: July 25, 2011 at 05:54 AM (#3884579)
Depriving Hornsby of #1 needs some explaining: first, because there just too damn much offense, and second, because recent attempts to quantify his defense shows that it wasn't that bad--BBref has him just as good as Collins and better that Morgan. Why the demotion?


I imagine a guy like Hornsby who was so much clearly superior player than everyone else probably got a rep as a bad defender is because he's like Hanley Ramirez and didn't look like he cared about it. He was probably so much better as an athlete that he didn't need to try to be good(and from what I've read he never really cared about defense) so people projected his attitude onto the quality of his defense.
   46. Walt Davis Posted: July 25, 2011 at 06:26 AM (#3884581)
What am I, a potted plant? Post #4:
That's a good point about Carew, Walt.

Draw your own conclusion. :-)
   47. David Nieporent (now, with children) Posted: July 25, 2011 at 06:38 AM (#3884584)
Correct, segregation cost some guys their entire career and many player got late starts, but Robinson didn't lose much major league time due to segregation. His career is relatively short for a couple reasons. Everyone remembers the time in the service for World War II. However, they tend to forget that he also played college football for UCLA. Also, at the back end of his career he retired rather than accept a trade to the rival Giants.
Myth. He had already decided to retire. The trade simply affected the timing of his announcement, not the timing of his retirement.
   48. Something Other Posted: July 25, 2011 at 07:04 AM (#3884586)
I really disagree with this approach to analyzing value. Second base did not get easier to play in the 1990's than it was in the 1970's. Saying that there were better readily available replacement players in the 1990's than in the 1970's doesn't really have any bearing on the overall value of the position--just on the guys who happened to be available. Nothing happened to make it easier to play second base. If anything, it was harder since a high offense era has more double play opportunities. In addition, managers did not change strategies to de-emphasize the importance of second base defense, like how fielding a bunt became less and less of a third baseman's everyday duties.

In short, the position did not change, so our concept of the replacement value should not vary because of who happened to be playing the position.
I don't think Dan, or anyone else, is saying that the fielding part of the job changed much, if at all, just that the guys who could handle the position defensively became, at bottom, better hitters. There were probably a number of reasons for that: increased recourse to weight training which may have affected smaller players disproportionately, random variation, more teams willing to sacrifice defense for offense at the position, and so forth. The guys who could field enough to pass muster on defense became, by the 90s, better hitters than those guys had been in the 70s. If Alomar is putting up a 116 OPS+ and a replacement level 2bman has an OPS+ of 65, Alomar in comparison is a tremendous hitter. If the replacement level 2bman instead, as Dan reports, has an OPS+ in the 80s, Alomar is still a very good hitter for a 2bman, but he's no longer a monster.

In short, the position did not change, so our concept of the replacement value should not vary because of who happened to be playing the position.
But the offensive aspect of the position HAS changed. The offensive production of replacement level players DID change between the 70s and 90s. It increased. That increase affects the value of other 2bmen, including Alomar. It also affects our perception of Alomar. If we're judging his offense by comparing it to the hitting of 2bmen of the 1970s, we're going to think he was a much better hitter than he already was.
   49. baudib Posted: July 25, 2011 at 10:35 AM (#3884596)
I remember someone doing a study of Blue Jays pitchers during Alomar's tenure, and while I don't have the numbers handy anymore, it was pretty clear that Toronto had an extreme flyball staff most of his time there.
   50. Voros McCracken of Pinkus Posted: July 25, 2011 at 11:09 AM (#3884599)
Times leading the league in WAR for position players

Babe Ruth - 11
Willie Mays - 11
Honus Wagner - 11
Barry Bonds - 10
Rogers Hornsby - 10

By my count no one else has more than 7. Morgan did it four times, Collins did it twice, Lajoie four times and Jackie Robinson three. It's tough to look at that and pick someone other than Hornsby. Sure he was a pain in the ass, but that applies at least to some extent to three of those five guys (and Cobb who did it 7 times). When you're that good, I guess you get to be difficult.
   51. Misirlou's been working for the drug squad Posted: July 25, 2011 at 11:18 AM (#3884600)
Times leading the league in WAR for position players

Babe Ruth - 11
Willie Mays - 11
Honus Wagner - 11
Barry Bonds - 10
Rogers Hornsby - 10

By my count no one else has more than 7. Morgan did it four times, Collins did it twice,


Put Hornsby in the same league with Cobb and Ruth and see how many times he leads.
   52. Voros McCracken of Pinkus Posted: July 25, 2011 at 11:44 AM (#3884606)
Put Hornsby in the same league with Cobb and Ruth and see how many times he leads.

Well there's two league leaders every year. If you don't distinguish between leagues and just take the top two every year:

1917 yes
1919 no by 0.1 points
1920 yes
1921 yes
1922 yes (led all of baseball)
1924 yes (led all of baseball beating Ruth's 11.9)
1925 yes (led all of baseball)
1927 no (third behind Ruth and Gehrig)
1928 no (ditto)
1929 yes (led all of baseball ahead of Ruth)

So that's still 7 times, and I think in only one of the 7 was 3rd place really close. Plus he led all of baseball four times including once when Ruth had a big year himself 220 OPS+). By that method Collins still only has four and Ruth was never really in his way.

And it wasn't that Hornsby was leading the league, he was lapping it most of the time.

I think both Hornsby and Ruth were benefiting from the same thing (pitchers who hadn't realized the game had changed, or did but couldn't do anything about it), so I think you can fairly dock both if you want. But if Ruth is the greatest ever player, than Hornsby's the greatest ever second baseman.
   53. David Concepcion de la Desviacion Estandar (Dan R) Posted: July 25, 2011 at 12:37 PM (#3884618)
something other: I didn't say the stats show he was below average; I said they show he was average rather than great. By contrast, the stats show Jeter as terrible. We're talking a difference of max 10 runs a season between numbers and reputation, not 30+.

I don't believe in comparing players to positional average--it's not Hank Greenberg's fault that he played in the same league as Gehrig and Foxx, nor is it any credit to Pie Traynor that he was the best 3B of the 1920's. What matters is how far you exceed the bottom of the MLB value scale. Basically, from 1992-2001, Alomar was giving you 47 points of OPS+ above a Miguel Cairo-level replacement. By contrast, Tejada from 2002-06 was giving you 60-65 points of OPS+ above a replacement SS, and Jason Giambi from 1999-2006 was giving you 65-70 points of OPS+ above a replacement 1B.

That said, I have Alomar's ordinal ranks among MLB 2B in batting wins during his peak as follows: 1991 6th (Franco, Sandberg, Whitaker, Robby Thompson, Randolph); 1992 3rd (Sandberg, Whitaker); 1993 1st; 1994 6th (Biggio, Boone, Whitaker, Baerga, Knoblauch); 1995 4th (Biggio, Knoblauch, Whitaker); 1996 2nd (Knoblauch); 1997 2nd (Biggio); 1998 18th; 1999 1st; 2000 5th (Kent, Alfonzo, Vidro, Castillo); 2001 2nd (Boone).

tshipman: I would submit that the withdrawal of turf fields definitely did make 2B easier to play overall. But more broadly, your argument would work the other way, no? If modern usage shows that 2B can be a middle-spectrum position, that means that teams were unwisely prioritizing defense at the expense of offense at the position in the 1970's, and therefore that the 2B from that era weren't as good as they looked in context. (This is precisely the case that is made against electing Dagoberto Campaneris or David Concepción to the Hall of Merit).
   54. Ron J Posted: July 25, 2011 at 01:00 PM (#3884629)
#45 As Brock Hanke has pointed out Hornsby had an inner ear problem starting in 1923. He would lose his balance going back on popups. Generally not the end of the world since another fielder can often cover for this. Still, there are reason to doubt anything that asserts he was better than acceptable at second.

Bill James gets him as the worst defensive second baseman of all time who had a substantial career length. And grades him a C. Feels right to me.

But the other part of his defensive rep is a combination of Nichols' Law as it were and his personal unpopularity. There's simply no way anybody could attack his hitting, so if you want to argue that (say) Frankie Frisch was the better player (as many of the writers of the day did) then you have to invoke defense, character, leadership, clutch, etc.
   55. Morty Causa Posted: July 25, 2011 at 01:24 PM (#3884649)
You also get the feel that Hornsby also sacrificed some career length (and thus value) to devote himself to managing. Heck, it probably even affected his in-season play on the field and in the batter's box.

But the other part of his defensive rep is a combination of Nichols' Law as it were and his personal unpopularity. There's simply no way anybody could attack his hitting, so if you want to argue that (say) Frankie Frisch was the better player (as many of the writers of the day did) then you have to invoke defense, character, leadership, clutch, etc.


Yes. Hornsby may have deferred on a shallow pop fly to the outfield, or avoided being upended on a double play, and critics forever never forgot--indeed, saw it as the signature of his defensive play, sort of the same way that, oh, say, Reggie Jackson makes a boneheaded throw across the field (or something stupid) into the stands almost and he's always thereafter an awful right-fielder. Then every mistake becomes just confirming the bias.

I'm surprised Hornsby doesn't have better running stats. He had very good speed. In fact, I think at one time he had a standing challenge to take any comers in a foot race.
   56. Voros McCracken of Pinkus Posted: July 25, 2011 at 02:07 PM (#3884682)
Hornsby at the time was known for his speed. Al Lopez called him one of the speediest players ever at the time. He obviously didn't use it to great effect while stealing bases though. It may have resulted in a number of extra leg hits though.

Kind of a tragic figure in that everyone (sans Ted Williams apparently) seemed to just absolutely _hate_ him. Even Cobb had his defenders, but Hornsby was just reviled.
   57. DL from MN Posted: July 25, 2011 at 02:13 PM (#3884687)
I think standard deviations come into play when discussing Collins v. Hornsby but I can't remember the whole argument.
   58. Tom Nawrocki Posted: July 25, 2011 at 02:17 PM (#3884689)
One strange thing about Hornsby's career is the way the performance of his team is at odds with his personal performance. The Cardinals were also-rans for most of his great years, and a sixth-place team during his record-setting 1924 season. They won their first pennant in 1926, when Hornsby was having by far his worst season to that point. Then they traded him away, and got even better.

It's not hard to see how this might have affected his reputation.
   59. David Nieporent (now, with children) Posted: July 25, 2011 at 02:25 PM (#3884694)
@37: interesting argument, Dan, since it undermines Alomar's rep with the bat and the glove, and still leaves him a HOFer. If I'm remembering his reputation as a fielder rightly, if he's in fact below average, the difference between the perception and the reality would be as great for Alomar as it is for Jeter.
Alomar's stats do not match his defensive rep, but the disparity is nowhere near Jeter's. That having been said, when reading this thread I thought of Jeter too; he's similar in that I can't believe that anybody watching him play, blocking out the name on the back of the uniform, could honestly think he was a great fielder. Even if you can't evaluate fielding tools, just watch the results. And yet, Alomar would get inordinate credit for not getting batters out. He (as some said above) played very deep. He would go to his right, grab the ball, and then not be able to throw the runner out. Instead of people saying, "Hey, the emperor has no clothes," he'd be praised for making a great play.
   60. BDC Posted: July 25, 2011 at 02:29 PM (#3884700)
Even Cobb had his defenders, but Hornsby was just reviled

Yes, my sense from reading Charles Alexander's excellent biographies of both is that Cobb was impulsive and highly-strung, full of anger – extreme, but you could perhaps relate to him, especially if you knew his family history. Hornsby was just a cold-hearted character who cared about nothing except betting on horses.
   61. David Nieporent (now, with children) Posted: July 25, 2011 at 02:46 PM (#3884717)
I really disagree with this approach to analyzing value. Second base did not get easier to play in the 1990's than it was in the 1970's.
How do you know? I don't mean that to be a flip statement, or rhetorical. If it did get easier, what would we expect to see? A higher level of offense coming from the position. What did we see? A higher level of offense coming from the position.
Saying that there were better readily available replacement players in the 1990's than in the 1970's doesn't really have any bearing on the overall value of the position--just on the guys who happened to be available. Nothing happened to make it easier to play second base. If anything, it was harder since a high offense era has more double play opportunities. In addition, managers did not change strategies to de-emphasize the importance of second base defense, like how fielding a bunt became less and less of a third baseman's everyday duties.
What you're saying is that you don't see any obvious reason why second base would have become easier to play. But the fact that you don't see reasons why does not mean that there aren't reasons you haven't thought of. One obvious reason is mentioned above: the disappearance of turf. You can't just say "more double play opportunities." There are dozens of factors -- frequency of SB attempts, hit-and-runs, league GB/FB ratios, strikeout rates, advance scouting, plus the aforementioned turf -- that affect the difficulty of the position, and we don't know how they all interact.

That having been said, I agree that some changes are due primarily to the genetic lottery -- there happen to be a bunch of good hitters capable of playing a position who were born at the right time. But that should be dealt with by defining replacement level differently than average, not by simply assuming the position is the same.
   62. Eric J can SABER all he wants to Posted: July 25, 2011 at 02:51 PM (#3884725)
And yet, Alomar would get inordinate credit for not getting batters out. He (as some said above) played very deep. He would go to his right, grab the ball, and then not be able to throw the runner out. Instead of people saying, "Hey, the emperor has no clothes," he'd be praised for making a great play.

One of the Alomar highlights they showed on ESPN yesterday was this kind of play - nice diving stop, but the runner obviously beat the throw (although the highlight was trimmed before the play's completion).

and second, because recent attempts to quantify his defense shows that it wasn't that bad--BBref has him just as good as Collins and better that Morgan

AROM has said in the past that his defensive numbers are not particularly reliable in the pre-PBP era, which covers both Collins and Hornsby. And as was noted earlier, Bill James had Hornsby as the worst long-career second baseman ever (overall average-ish, or at least I'm assuming that's what a C means), and had Collins rate frequently as the best fielding 2B in the league. That squares roughly with their respective reputations.
   63. Ray (RDP) Posted: July 25, 2011 at 03:16 PM (#3884737)
yet, Alomar would get inordinate credit for not getting batters out. He (as some said above) played very deep. He would go to his right, grab the ball, and then not be able to throw the runner out. Instead of people saying, "Hey, the emperor has no clothes," he'd be praised for making a great play.


With Alomar, people took the method of analyzing a player's defense through SportsCenter highlights to the extreme: at least Griffey actually turned a batted ball into an out on the highlight; Alomar, as you say, was getting credit for a great stop. And to hell with whatever came afterwards.
   64. Ron J Posted: July 25, 2011 at 03:27 PM (#3884743)
Cobb was impulsive and highly-strung, full of anger


And a loon about respect.

But lots of people could and did get along with him. He worked with a lot of players -- was generous with his time if you wanted his help with your hitting. There were plenty of positives to go with the negatives.

With Hornsby the list seems to have approximately Woody English and perhaps Ted Williams.

And yes Tom, the sportswriters did that strange disconnect between Hornsby's stats and the team's results. There was a quote from one sportswriter explaining his refusal to vote Hornsby #1 in the 1924 MVP by saying that Hornsby's great stats didn't have much value to the Cardinals.
   65. BDC Posted: July 25, 2011 at 03:51 PM (#3884758)
With Hornsby the list seems to have approximately Woody English and perhaps Ted Williams

John McGraw had an interesting working relationship with Hornsby: McGraw liked his style and his baseball knowledge, and handed the team over to Hornsby for much of the 1927 season. But Hornsby alienated virtually everyone else in the Giant organization, especially owner Charles Stoneham. It makes sense that McGraw could get along with Hornsby; it was John McGraw's world and everybody else just lived in it. But very few people possessed the kind of narcissism that could suffer Rogers Hornsby, and before long McGraw realized he had to let Stoneham trade Hornsby away. (Again, most of my sense of this comes from Charles Alexander's books; he also did a bio of McGraw.)
   66. McCoy Posted: July 25, 2011 at 04:00 PM (#3884762)
I don't think Ron Santo and Billy Williams had a problem with him.
   67. tshipman Posted: July 25, 2011 at 04:12 PM (#3884770)
tshipman: I would submit that the withdrawal of turf fields definitely did make 2B easier to play overall. But more broadly, your argument would work the other way, no? If modern usage shows that 2B can be a middle-spectrum position, that means that teams were unwisely prioritizing defense at the expense of offense at the position in the 1970's, and therefore that the 2B from that era weren't as good as they looked in context. (This is precisely the case that is made against electing Dagoberto Campaneris or David Concepción to the Hall of Merit).


1. If the removal of turf is what caused the replacement level to rise, then it seems odd to dock Alomar for this since he played on turf.
2. Is it the case that the replacement level has increased gradually? In other words, is the replacement level for 2b higher now than it was for Alomar? What is the degree of the slope?

If there has been a steady change in replacement level for 2b, then the position has changed, I supposed. If there was a ten year glut of improved replacement, then that seems to me to be something different.
   68. Moeball Posted: July 26, 2011 at 08:16 AM (#3885544)
Working backwards...

If modern usage shows that 2B can be a middle-spectrum position, that means that teams were unwisely prioritizing defense at the expense of offense at the position in the 1970's


Teams were unwisely prioritizing defense for decades before Bill James, Pete Palmer, etc. started pointing this out in the '80s. You wouldn't have seen a Jeff Kent playing 2B in the old days (although I guess some would say that was exactly the situation with Hornsby).

Speaking of Hornsby, I look at the sheer dominance of the offensive #s - I mean, in the NL of the '20s he led the league in everything. Seriously, everything. Most hits, doubles, triples, HRs, runs, ribbies, BA, OBA, SLG...no other player in history has dominated their league in virtually every offensive category for a decade. Yes, Ruth obviously was a more devastating hitter but he still didn't have the range of hitting skills Hornsby did. The degree to which Hornsby dominates his contemporaries at his position is so huge that he would literally have to be a negative 40 or 50 runs a season defensively to allow Collins, Lajoie, Morgan, etc. to surpass him as the best 2B ever. Maybe he really was that bad but I honestly haven't seen anything in the defensive measurements to indicate anything that extreme. For one thing, I've seen both WAR and Linear Weights rate him as having seasons before 1920 where he was the best player in the league...as a SS. He was rated strong defensively at SS as well as offensively. I know in those days 2B was considered where we now have 3B on the defensive spectrum - but SS was still the key defensive position out in the field and I've never seen any measurements that indicated he played it horribly. I find it particularly difficult to accept Morgan as the #1 2B given he actually was really bad defensively and virtually every defensive measurement system shows this except for Bill James. I guess the biggest thing Morgan has going for him is the timeline - clearly the average player of his day was vastly better than Hornsby's contemporaries, but it would take a pretty big timeline adjustment to make up the gap.

#41 AROM - As I recall, Carew was moved to 1B because the view at the time was that he wasn't good on the pivot for the double play so 1)he was considered a defensive liability at 2B and 2) he was at risk for injury because he couldn't get out of the way of baserunners very well.

Carew had nearly as much value at first instead of second, including his best and 3rd best seasons. His is not an Ernie Banks situation.


Actually, Carew and Banks do have something in common. I think both were moved off of their original positions too soon. From the defensive measurements I've seen, Banks was still doing a credible job at SS and Carew was at least average at 2B when moved to 1B. Clearly, both were much more valuable to their teams as middle infielders than as first basemen. I'm guessing that the managers at the time thought whatever defensive skills had been there were eroding quickly? I wonder - can anybody think of other examples where a team may have shot itself in the foot making a valuable commodity less so just by putting a player at the wrong place on the defensive spectrum? Well, I mean other than the Yankees putting the wrong guy at 3B when A-Rod joined the team.

The 54 baserunning runs for Collins feels low.


#36 Ron J - I don't know if 54 is low or not. Keep in mind that Caught Stealing data is sketchy for that time. For the years we do have CS data for Collins he had 387 SB, 195 CS. That's not even 67% on the success rate. Under today's measurements, that wouldn't even be break-even. He would actually be costing his team runs by attempting to steal, not adding runs. This is one of the reasons I question the "Eddie Collins is the best 2B ever" evaluations as they usually cite his baserunning as one of the key advantages over Hornsby and I just don't see 66% success stealing as all that helpful. As more of the CS data gaps get filled in historically, we see a lot of this type of thing for players from that era. Many players that we think of as historically great base stealers in fact got caught a whole lot of the time. Yes, the players ran aggressively in those days, but how much did it really help? Well, now that I look up Hornsby's numbers again I see he was less than 50% as a base stealer so I guess Collins does have an advantage there but I don't see it being as big as some others do.
   69. Morty Causa Posted: July 26, 2011 at 09:01 AM (#3885547)
The impression I get about base running and base stealing in the dead ball era is that players took much bigger chances then than they do now. I also think that this attitude didn't just abruptly go away with the advent of the Ruthian era, but carried over into the immediately following times for some time, especially for players who had their formative years in the deadball era, like Hornsby (and Ruth). There was a lag before players (and coaches and managers) shucked their former preconceptions and predispositions and realized that running the bases amuck like that in an environment rich in hitting was not the way to go generally. Indeed, many who were imbued with deadball attitudes about running and stealing never got out of that mindset. Ruth's career almost exactly spans the same years as Hornsby's and he, too, seems to have had a similar running game, as both the statistics and lore attest to, and an attitude and view about it that doesn't compare well with modern and current attitudes and approaches. I think the Ty Cobb attitude wrt taking chances on the basepaths and in stealing bases out-lasted the low-scoring deadball era that justified it, at least for some players whose attitude were formed during the deadball era. That aggressive attitude on the bases wasn't just turned off immediately like a faucet when offense took a quantum leap.
   70. David Concepcion de la Desviacion Estandar (Dan R) Posted: July 26, 2011 at 10:45 AM (#3885553)
tshipman:

1. I don't know if the removal of turf is what caused replacement level to rise or not. It's just a guess.

2. Alomar only played on turf for 5 years of his career, no?

3. Yes, there was a steady change over time. You can see the graph in the StDevs and Rep Levels file in the Rosenheck WARP archive at www.tangotiger.net/rosenheck. Each data point represents the average production of the worst 3/8 of major league regulars at the position in the surrounding nine-year period, as measured by batting wins above league average + baserunning wins above league average + fielding wins above positional average per 162 games. So we're talking a sample size of about 95 replacement player-seasons over Alomar's career.
   71. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: July 26, 2011 at 10:49 AM (#3885555)
Kind of a tragic figure in that everyone (sans Ted Williams apparently) seemed to just absolutely _hate_ him. Even Cobb had his defenders, but Hornsby was just reviled.

Bill Veeck hired Hornsby to manage the Browns in 1952, and within less than two months he not only fired the old goat, but his players subsequently presented Veeck with a trophy that was engraved with "Greatest Play Since Emancipation Proclamation". There's a photo of the presentation "ceremony" in the 1953 Baseball Guide, and it looks like they'd just won the World Series.

Of course the Browns then went on to lose 14 of their next 15 games, finish last and move to Baltimore, so maybe it wasn't just the manager.....
   72. GuyM Posted: July 26, 2011 at 11:02 AM (#3885556)
If modern usage shows that 2B can be a middle-spectrum position, that means that teams were unwisely prioritizing defense at the expense of offense at the position in the 1970's, and therefore that the 2B from that era weren't as good as they looked in context.

Dan: That is only true if post-70s 2B are defensively as good (or nearly as good) as those in the 1970s. But you don't know (do you?) whether that's true, since the defensive metrics are all zeroed out at the seasonal level. So how do you know whether teams overprioritized defense in the 70s, or overpriortized offense later?
   73. Ron J Posted: July 26, 2011 at 12:54 PM (#3885589)
#68 A) More to base running than base stealing. But of course that cuts both ways as the style of the day favored low percentage gambles. Who knows how it plays out in practice. Still, he was smart, fast and agressive. That normally adds up to a handful of runs every year. It's just that over a career like Collins' that rates to add up. Paul Molitor feels like a reasonable comp and his baserunning etc. would seem to have been worth in the range of 37 runs according to Tom Ruane's look at the PBP data.

Mind you it's moderately rare to get 30 runs for a career. Tom only has 8 listed and I'm certainly not going to claim an exceptional total for Collins based on anecdotal evidence.

As for Collins' SB%. It's low to our eyes. But in the day, 55% was the norm and break even point is lower in the dead ball era. Yeah they were probably giving runs back via strategic cleverness (as Bill James pointed out, with a runner on first they always put on some kind of play. The only question was whether it was a hit and run, bunt or straight steal) but Collins was probably giving back less than the typical baserunner of the day. As I said, it's tough to model deadball scoring with any kind of precision.
   74. AROM Posted: July 26, 2011 at 01:41 PM (#3885613)
1. If the removal of turf is what caused the replacement level to rise, then it seems odd to dock Alomar for this since he played on turf.


Alomar played on turf for 5 years with the Blue Jays, the rest of his career he played on the real stuff. For those 5 years TZ has him -15 at home, -8 on the road. Not much difference.
   75. GuyM Posted: July 26, 2011 at 01:45 PM (#3885619)
Alomar played on turf for 5 years with the Blue Jays, the rest of his career he played on the real stuff. For those 5 years TZ has him -15 at home, -8 on the road. Not much difference.

And the Jays' BABIP allowed was about 4 points lower at home than on the road over those five seasons. So it doesn't appear that the turf hurt fielding, unless a higher hit rate on GBs was coincidentally offset by a higher hit rate on airballs in Jays' park.

Has anyone studied whether DER -- in general, or on GBs specifically -- tends to be any different on turf than on grass?

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