Baseball for the Thinking Fan

Login | Register | Feedback

btf_logo
You are here > Home > Baseball Newsstand > Baseball Primer Newsblog > Discussion
Baseball Primer Newsblog
— The Best News Links from the Baseball Newsstand

Friday, May 06, 2011

ESPN: Schoenfield: Ten reasons Willie Mays is greatest ever

Shouldn’t it be Eighty reasons today?

3. Because he won two MVP Awards ... but should have won eight.

 

  * 1955: Led NL in home runs, slugging and OPS while finishing second in batting average, runs and RBIs. Finished fourth in the voting behind Roy Campanella, whose Dodgers won the pennant.

  * 1958: Led NL in OPS, runs and stolen bases while ranking second in batting average and slugging. Finished second to Ernie Banks, primarily due to Banks’ 129 to 96 edge in RBIs. Was Mays not clutch that year? Hardly. He hit .325 with runners in scoring position, .371 with men on base and .408 in “late and close” situations. The problem was the Giants didn’t have many men on base in front of him: their leadoff and No. 2 hitters both had a .315 OBP.

  * 1960: Finished third behind Dick Groat and Don Hoak of the first-place Pirates. They were close to Mays in value. I mean, when added together.

  * 1962: Maury Wills edged Mays in the voting, a stunning result in retrospect. Wills scored 130 runs (the same as Mays) ... but drove in 93 fewer. Mays’ Giants even won the tiebreaker over Wills’ Dodgers, but Wills swiped the headlines by breaking Ty Cobb’s single-season stolen base record.

  * 1963: Finished fifth as Sandy Koufax went 25-5 to win. Dick Groat finished second in the vote with six home runs. Man, did the writers love Dick Groat or what? Koufax and Aaron had good cases, but I’d have given the nod to Mays.

  * 1964: Finished sixth in the voting even though Dick Allen was the player within two wins of him in overall value. Led NL in home runs, OPS and scored 121 runs (second) and didn’t receive one first-place vote.

 
So that’s eight. You could also make strong cases for him in 1957, 1961 and 1966. So he could have won 11. But that would have been quite boring.

Repoz Posted: May 06, 2011 at 01:25 PM | 374 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: giants, hall of fame, history, sabermetrics

Reader Comments and Retorts

Go to end of page

Statements posted here are those of our readers and do not represent the BaseballThinkFactory. Names are provided by the poster and are not verified. We ask that posters follow our submission policy. Please report any inappropriate comments.

Page 3 of 4 pages  < 1 2 3 4 > 
   201. GuyM Posted: May 09, 2011 at 08:02 PM (#3822264)
You can look at a prospect nowadays, see 5'10" 180, and be statistically confident in saying he's no future HR champ. But that confidence is not greatly relevant to Willie Mays.

It's perfectly relevant. If your view is that a player that size cannot be a dominant power hitter today, then that means Willie Mays couldn't be one either. Otherwise, your theory has to be that society somehow producted substantially BETTER athletes, pound for pound, than they do today. Why would we think that?

And again, if being that size is not a substantial barrier to being a power hitter in today's game, why don't we see any such players? Where are they hiding?

As I've said it before, the absolute worst I can see for Ruth is Harmon Killebrew.

Why? Why Killebrew and not, say, Scott Rolen? Or any other hitter?

And how does Ruth's bat speed compare to today's players? How good would his zone judgment be against modern pitchers?

I don't mean to pick on you, but this is how too many people approach the issue: reach a conclusion that "feels right," and then (maybe) find evidence to support it.
   202. BDC Posted: May 09, 2011 at 08:04 PM (#3822268)
At least that's my impression, but I'm no baseball historian

I'm not much more of a historian, but I would place the change in dynamic somewhat earlier and make it somewhat more complicated. In the late 1870s and early 1880s teams often would use two starting pitchers in alternation. Pitchers very often would play another position when not pitching. There were constraints on delivery: underhand only, and the batter could call for a high or low pitch. (I'm oversimplifying, but hey, this is an Internet post :)

In those circumstances, a pitcher had to get the ball over, and put as much on it as he could, but pitchers were more interchangeable, and a guy's place on the team could be more or less secure if he was also a good hitter. He wouldn't lose his pitching job per se for being a bad hitter; he would lose his roster spot, because as a pitcher he was relatively replaceable.

During the 1880s pitchers tested the proscription on overhand delivery, and it was abandoned in 1884. From that time forward, the role of the pitcher became more and more important. (Earlier on, it was barely more important than that of catcher, perhaps not as much.) And from that time forward, you could keep your spot on a roster even if you couldn't hit at all. The "time," however, was not a moment so much as an era of change.

My sources here are (my feeble memory of) Peter Morris's Catcher and Ed Achorn's 59 in '84: excellent books both.
   203. Mefisto Posted: May 09, 2011 at 08:12 PM (#3822274)
Guy, while I'm in overall agreement with your view that timelining is very important, I think you may be overstating the timeline from 1950 - today. Just as one counterexample for you, let me offer George Brett, who was 1" taller than Mays (and Mantle) and the same weight. Your conditions may be too sensitive in using an absolute upper limit on height rather than a range around that height.
   204. BDC Posted: May 09, 2011 at 08:15 PM (#3822277)
If your view is that a player that size cannot be a dominant power hitter today

Well, that's your view, and it's a reasonable one. Mine is more like "there aren't, but that's no reason a specific one couldn't be."
   205. GuyM Posted: May 09, 2011 at 08:20 PM (#3822283)
I'm not much more of a historian, but I would place the change in dynamic somewhat earlier and make it somewhat more complicated.

You may well be right. In Fox's graph of pitcher hitting, there appears to be a sharp decline between approximately 1886 and 1890. Prior to 1886, pitcher OPS was about 90% of position players'. Then it fell rapidly to about 80%. From that point is began a rather steady decline.
   206. Ron J Posted: May 09, 2011 at 08:32 PM (#3822296)
Why Killebrew and not, say, Scott Rolen? Or any other hitter?


Specific skill sets. Plus of course the fact that both started out as fairly trim players and grew to be ... not trim.


How good would his zone judgment be against modern pitchers?


Well it was exceptional for his day. Though it doesn't get the same kind of notice that Ted Williams' comments on the importance of discipline he (or his ghost-writer) said much the same kind of thing as Williams. In particular that it was selfish to swing at a pitcher's pitch.

And while there's clear evidence of pacing by pitchers of his day, I'm pretty confident he got the best they had on all occasions.

Yes, particularly in the early 20s he faced any number of pitchers who had been stripped of the pitch that got them to the majors in the first place. And in 1920-21 any number of pitchers refused to change their pitching approach to him (trying to get by with high fastballs and a less than great fastball. I recall reading a piece that had quotes to the effect of, yeah he got me but you can't make a living hitting the ball in the air. Can't locate the piece though)

Still, what suggests to me that he'd have been excellent in any era is how well he played as an older player after the league had come to terms with the new reality. 1920-21 can be somewhat discounted as a unique innovator's edge. 1931-34 (for instance) not so much.
   207. GuyM Posted: May 09, 2011 at 08:57 PM (#3822316)
Well, that's your view, and it's a reasonable one. Mine is more like "there aren't, but that's no reason a specific one couldn't be."

Well, I was quoting you directly, but apologies if you were just paraphrasing me! But I think you let yourself off too easy at the end there. If there is no specific reason that players of Mays' size aren't likely to be great power hitters today, why aren't there any such players? Remember, there are vastly more of these guys in the underlying population, so we should see a lot of them. But instead we see zero. I think you have to conclude that Mays today would likely have something closer to Henderson/Puckett power than 600-HR power.

Your conditions may be too sensitive in using an absolute upper limit on height rather than a range around that height.

Fair point. But I think the evidence is clear that it's extremely hard for a man Mays's size to be a dominant hitter today. Here is the # of 150+ OPS+ seasons per decade by players who are 5-11 or less (Mays' height) and 185 lbs. or less (Steve's estimate of Mays' playing weight).
1960-69: 16
1970-79: 14
1980-89: 12
1990-99: 5
2000-09: 1
Notice a trend?

Here is 140+ OPS+:
1960-69: 26
1970-79: 30
1980-89: 23
1990-99: 19
2000-09: 5
And if we did it the other way around -- charting the average height/weight of 140+ OPS+ hitters, the trend would probably be even more dramatic.

Brett was indeed a dominant hitter and just slightly bigger than Mays. But then again, the level of competition in the 1980s was lower -- he wouldn't be quite as good today.
   208. AROM Posted: May 09, 2011 at 08:57 PM (#3822317)
Mine is more like "there aren't, but that's no reason a specific one couldn't be."


That's pretty much mine as well. Certainly no reason that a 185 pounder can't be a good hitter today. And one can still be a power hitter, as evidenced by Soriano. But for the whole package as defined by OPS+, at this moment there isn't a dominant all-around hitter Willie's size. Chase Utley is probably the best recent hitter listed under 200 pounds.

I used play index to look for players for each decade with at least 3000 PA, and OPS+ of at least 135, and ordered it by listed weight. Interesting that the list for the 1920's is not much different than for the 1980's. For the 20's you have Babe Ruth as the monster, followed by group of guys between 175-200. For the 80's you have the same thing, with Winfield as the monster.

Then, for the 1990's and beyond the list is dominated by 220-240 pound guys.
   209. AROM Posted: May 09, 2011 at 09:04 PM (#3822324)
I think you have to conclude that Mays today would likely have something closer to Henderson/Puckett power than 600-HR power.


You can conclude that if you want. I don't have to do any such thing.

Willie 660
Rickey 297
Puckett 207

A lot of room in there for an in-between estimate. I'll put Willie Mays, debuting in 1991, down for 500+ homers. Even if he plays his whole career clean and never bulks up past 185.
   210. GuyM Posted: May 09, 2011 at 09:34 PM (#3822357)
You can conclude that if you want. I don't have to do any such thing... I'll put Willie Mays, debuting in 1991, down for 500+ homers. Even if he plays his whole career clean and never bulks up past 185.

Well, if Rickey had debuted in 1991 he probably would have had 350+ HRs. In which case, 1991 Willie at 500 HR would in fact be closer to Rickey than to actual Willie. So I don't know that we're disagreeing a lot. I'd guess closer to 400, but obviously that's just a guess.

I'm repeating myself, but the point about height and weight is not to claim that it's physically impossible for any 5-11, 185 lb. human being to ever be a great power hitter. What the tremendous scarcity of such players shows is how much better today's power hitters are as a group than the power hitters of Willie's time. Obviously, there's no reason to think that 5-11 hitters have gotten worse over time -- they're probably better. But only a few of them can find jobs in MLB today, and the odds that one of them will ever again lead his league in SLG five times is vanishingly small.

I'm curious: do fans of any other sport imagine that a player from 50 years ago is vastly better than any player of the same size today? Or that a player from 80 years ago is still as good as any who have played since? Or is this unique to baseball? I guess Bill Russell is the closest comp. Do many basketball fans think he would put up MVP numbers if teleported to 2011?
   211. Ave, Xerac, morituri te salutant Posted: May 09, 2011 at 09:41 PM (#3822363)
I'm curious: do fans of any other sport imagine that a player from 50 years ago is vastly better than any player of the same size today? Or that a player from 80 years ago is still as good as any who have played since? Or is this unique to baseball? I guess Bill Russell is the closest comp. Do many basketball fans think he would put up MVP numbers if teleported to 2011?


I can't see how NBA players from yesteryear can dominate as well today. No way Wilt Chamberlain would be as dominating since there are a number of players equal to or surpass him in size and stature.
   212. AROM Posted: May 09, 2011 at 10:09 PM (#3822393)
There aren't many who could match Chamberlain (7'1, 275) in size, and overall athleticism. He'd be dominant, but not with the same kind of numbers. Among the best centers on the planet but not a clear #1. We're seeing that a 6'9 center can dominate defensively in Joel Anthony. Russell could do that plus be a great passer. I'd like to see what kind of plus minus numbers Russell would have today, in a basketball world that tracks most of the details, instead of just points/rebounds assists.

I think the good players of the 1960s could play today. They just would not stick out as much. The 1950s not so much. Integration in basketball was a much bigger deal. In baseball skin color probably kept 25 percent of the MLB worthy players off the field. Basketball probably kept 80% of the best players off the court.
   213. Ave, Xerac, morituri te salutant Posted: May 09, 2011 at 10:53 PM (#3822430)
I think the good players of the 1960s could play today. They just would not stick out as much. The 1950s not so much. Integration in basketball was a much bigger deal. In baseball skin color probably kept 25 percent of the MLB worthy players off the field. Basketball probably kept 80% of the best players off the court.


That seems to be about right. However, integration in basketball was not as difficult since it had been done for WWII (see the Toledo Jim White Chevrolets and Chicago Studebakers). The impact of permanent integration had a huge impact on pro basketball.
   214. Fred Lynn Nolan Ryan Sweeney Agonistes Posted: May 09, 2011 at 11:19 PM (#3822459)
If you've never seen a picture of Mays with his shirt off, I strongly urge finding one. He was positively ripped.

I know I've asked this in various threads before, but WTF did guys do in 1954 to maintain this kind of physique? Weight training was still unusual, and as far as I know Willie didn't work hard labor in the offseaons (as, for example, Mantle did early in his career). Was it the Eugene Sandow Diet and Exercise System, or lots of pullups / pushups / situps, or what?
   215. GuyM Posted: May 09, 2011 at 11:27 PM (#3822467)
Interesting, re: NBA. The only constant I can see there, comparable to pitcher hitting, is FT%. Looks to me like FT% is about 4 points higher today than in 1960s. If that implies a similar improvement in FG shooting, that seems like a pretty huge talent increase. Presumably other skills improved as well. Which isn't to say a good 1960s player couldn't play today -- I don't know the sport well enough to say -- but I'd certainly think his relative standing would fall quite a bit. Any reason other than talent change we'd expect to see FT% improve? Has court, ball, or rim changed in any way?

It's surprising to me that height of NBA players apparently hasn't changed much at all in past 30-40 years. I would have guessed it had. Do you basketball guys think today's players are any heavier/stronger than the players of 60s/70s?
   216. Steve Treder Posted: May 09, 2011 at 11:36 PM (#3822476)
lots of pullups / pushups / situps, or what?

I suspect mostly this. Before "going to the gym" became, apparently, the only way to engage in physical exercise other than working one's a$$ off in a manual-labor job, people often just did that sort of thing.
   217. Russlan is fond of Dillon Gee Posted: May 09, 2011 at 11:48 PM (#3822487)
It's surprising to me that height of NBA players apparently hasn't changed much at all in past 30-40 years. I would have guessed it had. Do you basketball guys think today's players are any heavier/stronger than the players of 60s/70s?

My guess is that guys are just faster and that's what makes them better. The average 6-10 player today is probably considerably faster than the average 6-10 guy from 30 years ago. Just a guess though.
   218. Foghorn Leghorn Posted: May 09, 2011 at 11:50 PM (#3822488)
But I think the evidence is clear that it's extremely hard for a man Mays's size to be a dominant hitter today. Here is the # of 150+ OPS+ seasons per decade by players who are 5-11 or less (Mays' height) and 185 lbs. or less (Steve's estimate of Mays' playing weight).
1960-69: 16
1970-79: 14
1980-89: 12
1990-99: 5
2000-09: 1
Notice a trend?

Here is 140+ OPS+:
1960-69: 26
1970-79: 30
1980-89: 23
1990-99: 19
2000-09: 5
And if we did it the other way around -- charting the average height/weight of 140+ OPS+ hitters, the trend would probably be even more dramatic.
This is without context. How many players are there at those weights in each league?
   219. Foghorn Leghorn Posted: May 09, 2011 at 11:52 PM (#3822491)
What the tremendous scarcity of such players shows is how much better today's power hitters are as a group than the power hitters of Willie's time. Obviously, there's no reason to think that 5-11 hitters have gotten worse over time -- they're probably better. But only a few of them can find jobs in MLB today, and the odds that one of them will ever again lead his league in SLG five times is vanishingly small.
But why? Are the parks bigger? Is the ball less lively?
   220. GuyM Posted: May 10, 2011 at 12:08 AM (#3822512)
This is without context. How many players are there at those weights in each league?

I'm sure there are fewer of them (in percentage terms). But why is that important? The point isn't that MLB players of this size have gotten worse, the point is that fewer and fewer players of this size can play at an elite level in MLB.

But why? Are the parks bigger? Is the ball less lively?

Mainly, the pitchers are vastly better. But I think trying to compare absolute stats over different eras is mostly a hopeless task -- so many additional things are changing in addition to player skill (strike zone, ball, parks, bats).
   221. Mefisto Posted: May 10, 2011 at 12:23 AM (#3822527)
I suspect mostly this. Before "going to the gym" became, apparently, the only way to engage in physical exercise other than working one's a$$ off in a manual-labor job, people often just did that sort of thing.


In addition, Mays grew up at a time when physical activity was more common for kids and pretty much the only outlet available for Southern blacks. He got a lifelong base of physical training before he even got to the bigs. And his Army experience (lots of calisthenics) seems to have given him another 15lbs of muscle.

And let's face it: some of it was genetic, just as is true for pretty much all great athletes.

Guy, if you loosen your parameters to 6' and/or under 195, does that make any difference?
   222. Foghorn Leghorn Posted: May 10, 2011 at 12:24 AM (#3822529)
I'm sure there are fewer of them (in percentage terms). But why is that important? The point isn't that MLB players of this size have gotten worse, the point is that fewer and fewer players of this size can play at an elite level in MLB.
I don't agree that they can't. Opportunity bias is a huge factor here. Look at Pedroia. He wasn't going to get a chance because people have crunched the numbers and said "Players 5'7" 180# can't play in the majors - or at least they can't excel in the majors".

Pitchers being better doesn't have much meaning for me. How are they better? A pitched ball has a velocity, and hitting the ball over the same fence in Fenway from 1950 to now should be the same. Especially considering DIPs.
   223. GuyM Posted: May 10, 2011 at 12:44 AM (#3822548)
Guy, if you loosen your parameters to 6' and/or under 195, does that make any difference?

I'm sure it does.

I don't agree that they can't. Opportunity bias is a huge factor here.

Right. There are lots of 5-10 sluggers out there who can't get jobs because of the scourge of verticalism (or is it "heightism?") -- even though as recently as the 1980s there were a number of such players. I mean, I don't even know how to respond, Chris.

Pitchers being better doesn't have much meaning for me. How are they better?

We know the hitters have improved a great deal, and run scoring hasn't increased that much, so mathematically it must be true that pitching and defense have improved as well. Which is what you'd expect -- why would one set of skills stagnate while others improved? As for "how has pitching improved," I would imagine it's a combination of velocity, movement, and control. Not sure what else it could be.
   224. 'zop sympathizes with the wrong ####### people Posted: May 10, 2011 at 12:53 AM (#3822566)
We know the hitters have improved a great deal, and run scoring hasn't increased that much, so mathematically it must be true that pitching and defense have improved as well. Which is what you'd expect -- why would one set of skills stagnate while others improved? As for "how has pitching improved," I would imagine it's a combination of velocity, movement, and control. Not sure what else it could be.


Tommy John surgery. Its as if the pool of pitchers expanded by 10% relative to the pool of hitters since 1980.

It makes one wonder what offense WOULD have done if modern sports medicine hadn't been developed. Pitchers have disproportionately benefited from it.
   225. Foghorn Leghorn Posted: May 10, 2011 at 12:53 AM (#3822567)
Right. There are lots of 5-10 sluggers out there who can't get jobs because of the scourge of verticalism (or is it "heightism?") -- even though as recently as the 1980s there were a number of such players.
Are you saying there aren't biases based on size for MLB players? Are there player selection biases at all in your opinion?
   226. Foghorn Leghorn Posted: May 10, 2011 at 12:54 AM (#3822569)
why would one set of skills stagnate while others improved?
I think it is more incredible that the evolution of all skills moves at the exact same rate.
   227. Foghorn Leghorn Posted: May 10, 2011 at 12:56 AM (#3822573)
I would also suggest the propensity for athletes to exaggerate their size is more prevalent.
   228. Ave, Xerac, morituri te salutant Posted: May 10, 2011 at 01:04 AM (#3822583)
I would also suggest the propensity for athletes to exaggerate their size is more prevalent.


It's always occured but I think now it's easier to see it with the internet and the media in general not being so pliant. For instance, Larry Wilson of the football Cardinals was listed at 6', 190 lbs. He was really 5'10" and 170-175 lbs. Marlin Briscoe (the first African-American to be a regular starting QB at the NFL/AFL level) was officially listed as 5'11" but was in reality 5'9". Player's weights have also been inflated. Thing is, as players have gotten taller and bigger, the heights and weights have kept pace accordingly, IMHJO.
   229. Ave, Xerac, morituri te salutant Posted: May 10, 2011 at 01:18 AM (#3822603)
Imagine how much bigger Willie Mays would be if he had been born into this era. He would probably be 6' and around 215 lbs.

Imagine Jim Brown as well. He would probably be 6'3" and 250-255 lbs. There was a great athlete. All-American in football and lacrosse, starter in college basketball (averaged 13 ppg pre-shot clock) and finished 5th nationally in the decathalon (the most difficult and demanding athletic endeavor, IMHJO).

I wonder how much Jim Thorpe would have benefitted from modern sports medicine, nutrition and training. He may have been the most gifted athlete ever.
   230. Josh1 Posted: May 10, 2011 at 01:44 AM (#3822659)
Yes, particularly in the early 20s he [Ruth] faced any number of pitchers who had been stripped of the pitch that got them to the majors in the first place. And in 1920-21 any number of pitchers refused to change their pitching approach to him...

Still, what suggests to me that he'd have been excellent in any era is how well he played as an older player after the league had come to terms with the new reality. 1920-21 can be somewhat discounted as a unique innovator's edge. 1931-34 (for instance) not so much.


I think a pretty large part of Ruth's dominance in the 1920s can be discounted due to his innovator's edge. (By discounted I specifically mean he wouldn't have been nearly as effective relative to the league at any later time in history.) Being an innovator gave him both an absolute and a relative edge.

Look at the total of the #3 home run guy in the AL for every year from 1920-28. Six times the #3 guy has under 20 home runs; two times the total was in the 20s (24 and 25). One time it was in the 30s. Essentially almost no one was consistently hitting a lot of home runs in the AL in the 1920s except for Ruth. It took a decade, but eventually new entrants entered the league having developed as players with the uppercut and who were selected for power hitting rather than only slap hitting, and the innovator's edge began to fade.

During 1920s however, Ruth had an enormous relative edge over his peers that would never exist again in history. As the only power hitter in the league, he was able to put up an enormous SLG+. Even with the same absolute power hitting ability in a later league, his SLG+ would have been lower simply because other hitters would also know how to hit for power, and the ratio of Ruth's power to the league would have had to decrease.

Ruth also had the advantage of facing pitchers that were not selected for (and did not have knowledge of) home run prevention. Since only Ruth was hitting home runs, home run prevention ability didn't matter, except when facing the Yankees. It was no doubt far easier for Ruth to hit home runs against pitchers who didn't know they should keep the ball down (or who were not developed with this ability) than for later hitters facing pitchers specifically trained and selected to avoid homers. A pitcher who cannot prevent home runs in today's game has to have elite K/BB skills just to be decent. Had Ruth faced these more specifically skilled pitchers, his raw numbers would no doubt have suffered, which would have also driven down his SLG+.

It's a bit more of a stretch, but I think it's likely that Ruth's OBP+ would also have been lower in others eras as well: with his SLG+ much lower, and pitchers having more ability to control the home run, they probably could have walked him less and challenged him more (low in the zone of course).

Ruth was still extremely great in the early 1930s but less so than in the 1920s. There's no way to know how much of the decline was age and how much the league adapting. Of course the league is still adapting to power to this day.
   231. Mefisto Posted: May 10, 2011 at 02:09 AM (#3822706)
Guy, Gary Sheffield is listed at 5"11, 190, and has 2 seasons at 155+ in 2001-present. I must be doing something wrong with the height parameter because it gives me null results even though I checked Sheffield specifically. Perhaps you could run the search for <=6' and 195.

The fact that Sheffield is just 5 lbs heavier* makes me more confident that Mays could have displayed 500 HR power or better even today.

*Assuming, of course, that this was his mature weight, which is debateable.
   232. Foghorn Leghorn Posted: May 10, 2011 at 02:18 AM (#3822733)
TO be fair, Mefisto, Sheffield wasn't very good.
   233. flournoy Posted: May 10, 2011 at 02:34 AM (#3822765)
I know I've asked this in various threads before, but WTF did guys do in 1954 to maintain this kind of physique?


This s#it is bananas!
   234. Foghorn Leghorn Posted: May 10, 2011 at 02:39 AM (#3822780)
I dunno, Guy, your search seems a little, uh, endpointy. I used <= 71 inches and <=199 # for 140+ OPS+
1960s: 41
1970s: 41
1980s: 26
1990s: 27
2000s: 15 (from 2000-2005)

Weirdly, zero showed up from 2006-2010. That's gotta be a screwy result.

So, no, I don't see this supporting your claim in some overwhelming manner.
   235. vortex of dissipation Posted: May 10, 2011 at 02:40 AM (#3822783)
I'm curious: do fans of any other sport imagine that a player from 50 years ago is vastly better than any player of the same size today? Or that a player from 80 years ago is still as good as any who have played since? Or is this unique to baseball? I guess Bill Russell is the closest comp. Do many basketball fans think he would put up MVP numbers if teleported to 2011?


Auto racing. Many experts still pick drivers such as Tazio Nuvolari, Juan Manuel Fangio, or Jim Clark as the best of all-time. Several years ago, Motor Sport magazine had a list of the greatest drivers in history, and Nuvaroli, who raced in the 1920s and 1930s, was ranked as #1.
   236. Misirlou has S.C.M.O.D.S Posted: May 10, 2011 at 03:15 AM (#3822864)
I'm curious: do fans of any other sport imagine that a player from 50 years ago is vastly better than any player of the same size today? Or that a player from 80 years ago is still as good as any who have played since? Or is this unique to baseball? I guess Bill Russell is the closest comp. Do many basketball fans think he would put up MVP numbers if teleported to 2011?


Jim Brown.

I'm not a big follower, but how do soccer fans feel about Pele?
   237. GuyM Posted: May 10, 2011 at 03:18 AM (#3822868)
Imagine how much bigger Willie Mays would be if he had been born into this era. He would probably be 6' and around 215 lbs.

Definitely. Willie Keeler would probably be 5-11/195. And I bet Abraham Lincoln would be at least 6-11 -- people were way shorter back then! Sorry, it doesn't work like that. You can't take tall, healthy people from the past, and then add on the gains made since then. This was discussed earlier in the thread.

I would also suggest the propensity for athletes to exaggerate their size is more prevalent

Evidence? My sense is that most players today whose stats are disbelieved are actually larger than their official listing.

I think it is more incredible that the evolution of all skills moves at the exact same rate

This has nothing to do with your intuition, or mine. We have mulitple methods showing that today's hitters are better than the hitters of 50 or 80 or 100 years ago. Since run scoring has not steadily risen at the same time, we know that pitching and/or defense have also improved (unless you think that changes to parks and the ball have neatly offset the improvement in hitting).

The fact that Sheffield is just 5 lbs heavier* makes me more confident that Mays could have displayed 500 HR power or better even today.

Of course it's possible Mays could hit 500 HR. But it's not probable, given how many larger players he would now be competing with. In Mays' time there were about 12 players who were 6 ft/200 lbs (.6 per team), today there are about 95 (3.2 per team). And I'm skeptical that Sheffield was only 5 lbs and 1 inch larger. (And let's be clear: given the higher rate of HRs today, "just" 500 for Mays would imply a huge reduction in May's relative performance.)

I dunno, Guy, your search seems a little, uh, endpointy. I used <= 71 inches and <=199 #

Why stop there? Why not use 73 inches and 220 lbs? Then the curve will really be flat, and we can pretend that today's sluggers aren't any bigger than the sluggers of the past. (Though I defy anyone to watch a couple of 1980s games on ESPN Classic and then stick to that belief.) Look, if you want to say height/weight data is all crap and means nothing, fine. But including guys with a listed weight 29 lbs higher than Mays is just not relevant to what I was talking about.
   238. Foghorn Leghorn Posted: May 10, 2011 at 03:19 AM (#3822869)
As a throw in:
60s: 9 different players
70s: 18 different players
80s: 13 different players
90s: 12 different players
00s: 4 different players

It helped to have Willie Mays, Roberto Clemente in your decade.
   239. Ron J Posted: May 10, 2011 at 03:25 AM (#3822883)
#230 We have a pretty good idea what Ruth's plate discipline was like when the home run wasn't a factor:

Ruth 1914-1919
AB  H  2B 3B HR  BB   BA  OBP  SLG
Home 519 162 47 17 11 102 .312 .425 .532
Road 591 180 35 13 38  87 .305 .394 .601 


Fairly dead ball in a very tough home run park (in those 6 years a grand total of 37 home runs were hit in Fenway -- and of course Ruth wasn't anything like a full time player in those years) and he walked a ton -- more in Fenway than on the road.

I think this gives us a pretty decent notion of the baseline for Ruth's walks.
   240. Foghorn Leghorn Posted: May 10, 2011 at 03:27 AM (#3822894)
But including guys with a listed weight 29 lbs higher than Mays is just not relevant to what I was talking about.

Debut Period

Avg Ht

Avg Wt

00-04

70.50

173

05-09

70.74

175

10-14

70.99

172

15-19

70.90

171

20-24

71.08

173

25-29

71.16

174

30-34

71.73

178

35-39

71.88

180

40-44

72.19

182

45-49

71.97

183

50-54

72.34

185

55-59

72.63

187

60-64

72.84

188

65-69

72.84

189

70-74

73.00

188

75-79

73.18

190

80-84

73.32

191

85-89

73.36

192

90-94

73.46

193

95-99

73.44

192
   241. Foghorn Leghorn Posted: May 10, 2011 at 03:34 AM (#3822904)
WORST FORMATTED POST EVER
   242. Ave, Xerac, morituri te salutant Posted: May 10, 2011 at 03:42 AM (#3822907)
Definitely. Willie Keeler would probably be 5-11/195. And I bet Abraham Lincoln would be at least 6-11 -- people were way shorter back then! Sorry, it doesn't work like that. You can't take tall, healthy people from the past, and then add on the gains made since then. This was discussed earlier in the thread.



I didn't add on that much height or any unreasonable weight. I added on two inches to Mays and one inch to Brown, both of which are not unreasonable. The weight I added on was not unreasonable either. Maybe Mays would have gained only one inch as well. So be it. To say that they would not benefit from today's nutrition is to be blind to reality. It does work like that. Nutrition and dietary habits do make a difference. That is science.

I never even came close to implying Lincoln would be 6'11' so next time make an arguement that isn't disingenuous.
   243. Ave, Xerac, morituri te salutant Posted: May 10, 2011 at 03:43 AM (#3822908)
Stupid computer double posted.
   244. Ron J Posted: May 10, 2011 at 03:50 AM (#3822913)
Impressive FH.

I've done the same a few times but caught it before pressing send.
   245. Mefisto Posted: May 10, 2011 at 03:55 AM (#3822916)
I'm not a big follower, but how do soccer fans feel about Pele?


He's still regularly cited as one of the 3 best players ever, along with Cruyff (70s) and Maradona (80s).

TO be fair, Mefisto, Sheffield wasn't very good.


I remember reading that somewhere.

Of course it's possible Mays could hit 500 HR. But it's not probable, given how many larger players he would now be competing with.


Well, the other players wouldn't affect his ability to hit HR, only opposing pitchers would do that.

That's not really my point, though. My point is that you're being overly strict on your criteria. I find it pretty hard to believe that a weight difference of 5-10 pounds, or a height difference of 1", would result in 150 fewer HRs.

And let's be clear: given the higher rate of HRs today, "just" 500 for Mays would imply a huge reduction in May's relative performance.


This gets us into the steroids debate, and I'd like to keep things simpler.
   246. PreservedFish Posted: May 10, 2011 at 03:56 AM (#3822917)
If you reversify the Wagner=Tejada statistic, how many homeruns do you get Adam Dunn hitting in the 20s? What does Ichiro hit?
   247. AROM Posted: May 10, 2011 at 03:57 AM (#3822918)
If Lincoln were alive today no way a 6'11 freak like him succeeds in politics. I think he'd be one of those goofy white guys at the end of the bench who get 6 fouls per game and make the best of that. Probably do some flopping too.
   248. Ave, Xerac, morituri te salutant Posted: May 10, 2011 at 04:01 AM (#3822920)
If Lincoln were alive today no way a 6'11 freak like him succeeds in politics. I think he'd be one of those goofy white guys at the end of the bench who get 6 fouls per game and make the best of that. Probably do some flopping too.


An American version of Vlade Divac?
   249. Papa Doc LaValliere Posted: May 10, 2011 at 04:51 AM (#3822949)
I'm not a big follower, but how do soccer fans feel about Pele?


Like Ruth, much of Pele's dominance lies in innovation. He's an especially tough case to 'timeline' as the position/role he played has no clear analog in the modern game. Pele was big and athletic compared to his peers, but (Brazilian) Ronaldo is the prototype modern striker with a combination of size and quickness unthinkable in Pele's time; much of Pele's contribution also came in a playmaker's role that basically no longer exists. Soccer has changed so drastically in the past 30-40 years that trying to timeline it is probably a fool's errand (I am one and have tried..). The lack of useful statistics is obviously a hindrance as well.

Watch some clips from the 70's and you'll see a deliberate game played by mostly ordinary looking guys with little (to our eye) defensive pressing, and rare bursts of speed (The Dutch/Ajax clubs being the main exception OTTOMH).
   250. BDC Posted: May 10, 2011 at 02:45 PM (#3823133)
Lincoln's game was baseball. I see him as a RH Randy Johnson who could also hit.

I was thinking of this thread while watching Trevor Cahill make the Rangers look silly last night. Cahill was getting most of his outs (and one lucky flyball HR by Mitch Moreland) on pitches in the high 70s and low 80s. His fastest pitch I saw on the Ballpark gun was 90, though of course who knows how accurate that was or how much attention I was paying.

Is Cahill successful because he's tall? (Listed at 6'4".) Does throwing at speeds that are certainly not any better than guys threw 40-50 years ago work because of his release point? Because he has good control and changes speeds? Because he's a contrarian in an age when every other pitcher seems to throw a low-90s fastball and a mid-80s hard breaking pitch? Or what?

The ultimate question is, since Cahill is one of the best pitchers in the majors at the moment, could Willie Mays or Honus Wagner hit him? What makes a pitcher like that necessarily better than Warren Spahn or Christy Mathewson? Height alone? I don't think there's a simple answer.
   251. Foghorn Leghorn Posted: May 10, 2011 at 03:13 PM (#3823161)
If you reversify the Wagner=Tejada statistic, how many homeruns do you get Adam Dunn hitting in the 20s? What does Ichiro hit?
Exactly. These timelinings ignore the asymptotic nature of baseball.

Now if Crosbybird will show up, between PF, Ron and he, I won't have to post anymore.
   252. Richard Posted: May 10, 2011 at 03:16 PM (#3823164)
I'm curious: do fans of any other sport imagine that a player from 50 years ago is vastly better than any player of the same size today? Or that a player from 80 years ago is still as good as any who have played since? Or is this unique to baseball?

You can make a decent argument that if you dropped Don Bradman, whose test match career spanned 1929 to 1948, into modern test cricket he would be a better batsman than anyone else currently playing, though fans of Sachin Tendulkar might disagree.
   253. zenbitz Posted: May 10, 2011 at 03:50 PM (#3823204)
I liked the comparison to pitchers' batting... but I think it's missing a normalization for run environment. How did pitchers hit in 1968? 1993?

However, I am not sure it's rigorous to just take WagnerOPS+/PitchersOPS+ and compare it to modern pitchers OPS+.

If you translate Honus Wagner to the last non-DH year via this method (with extra normalizations) what do you get?

Clearly it's time to do some clandestine blood sampling (Mays, Aaron) and graverobbing (Ruth, Wagner, Cobb, etc.) and...

TO THE CLONE CAVE!
   254. phredbird Posted: May 10, 2011 at 03:59 PM (#3823212)
lincoln would never have played baseball. he was gay!
   255. GuyM Posted: May 10, 2011 at 04:04 PM (#3823217)
I liked the comparison to pitchers' batting... but I think it's missing a normalization for run environment. How did pitchers hit in 1968? 1993?

The assumption is that pitcher-as-hitter talent is constant. So you compare a hitter to the pitchers of his generation, and then assume he would perform the same relative to pitchers in today's game (or whatever era you want to place him in). You don't want any other normalization.

However, I am not sure it's rigorous to just take WagnerOPS+/PitchersOPS+ and compare it to modern pitchers OPS+.

I was calculating OBP and SLG for each player. Then it's easy to convert to OPS+ if you want to.
   256. AROM Posted: May 10, 2011 at 04:11 PM (#3823226)
However, I am not sure it's rigorous to just take WagnerOPS+/PitchersOPS+ and compare it to modern pitchers OPS+.


It's interesting, but there are too many questions about confounding factors. I think that practice makes for better hitters, and pitchers who get 3-4 AB every 3rd day will hit better than pitchers who get 1-2 AB every 5th day.

If you don't agree with this, and think that these pitchers are equals and only the environment changes around them, then I'd like to see an explanation for why current relief pitchers hit much, much worse than current starting pitchers.

I don't think anyone is going to argue that Joe Blanton gets to start and Ryan Madsen is relegated to the bullpen because of their respective hitting ability. But they are much, much worse than starters. I looked it up a few weeks ago:

"You aren't kidding with how bad relief pitchers are at hitting. I looked for 2010 NL pitchers who appeared in at least 40 games but had fewer than 10 AB. The totals for this group, with 133 total PA: 133 PA, 118 AB .068 BA, .120 OBP, .102 SLG Striking out 61% of the time". Compare that to about .145/.175/.175 for all pitchers.
   257. Steve Treder Posted: May 10, 2011 at 04:22 PM (#3823233)
To say that they would not benefit from today's nutrition is to be blind to reality. It does work like that. Nutrition and dietary habits do make a difference. That is science.

Absolutely right. To imagine that Willie Mays growing up in the black section of Birmingham, Alabama, in the 1930s ate as richly nutritious a diet as most modern US kids do is silly. Diet in the first few years of life has a huge impact on adult height.
   258. mex4173 Posted: May 10, 2011 at 04:35 PM (#3823247)
I'm curious: do fans of any other sport imagine that a player from 50 years ago is vastly better than any player of the same size today? Or that a player from 80 years ago is still as good as any who have played since? Or is this unique to baseball?


I'm probably not the best person to answer this but... on the whole I think hockey fans are pretty good at recognizing general improvements in players over time. I think this process has been helped by rule changes; physical tactics that Gordie Howe or Bobby Clarke used would be penalized too frequently today. Similarly, a modern player time warped backwards may have a terrible time adjusting to repeated elbows to his unhelmeted head. Most people would argue a time machine Bobby Orr would be an elite player, but clearly wouldn't be as revolutionary (yes, a time paradox).


I look forward to being corrected by a bigger hockey fan than I, but that's my read on things.
   259. Ron J Posted: May 10, 2011 at 04:54 PM (#3823268)
#252 A lot of people believe that Bobby Hull's shot was significantly faster than anything players today can achieve. As in timed at 128 MPH.

For what it's worth, my money's on faulty timing since that's ~20% better than what the players of today manage. We're talking 40 years of improved stick technology too.

Hull was a pretty decent size in his day.
   260. BDC Posted: May 10, 2011 at 05:08 PM (#3823276)
do fans of any other sport imagine that a player from 50 years ago is vastly better than any player of the same size today?

Some sports premise competitions on holding size constant: boxing, for instance. (And even among heavyweights, where there is no upper bound for size, larger never necessarily means better; otherwise Primo Carnera would be the greatest champion ever.)

We will have to get YR to the thread to offer an informed opinion on boxing, but my guess is that yes, boxing experts could see a champion from long ago holding his own nowadays. Size is a constant, the rules are fairly constant: what would really have changed?

Golf is a sport where sheer strength is not decisive, and golf writers tend to extol the old heroes. Some of this may be nostalgia. Equipment is certainly better nowadays, but if there were some way to get Ben Hogan and Tiger Woods on equal terms onto a Course of Dreams, I am not sure Tiger would be an overwhelming favorite.
   261. Ron J Posted: May 10, 2011 at 05:09 PM (#3823277)
#258 Orr would still be revolutionary today. Provided he was allowed to freelance the way he was in his day. Nobody today plays the way he did. Yes, Paul Coffey was a reasonable comp in offensive style. Been a while since he was active. Ditto Sandis Ozolinsh. (And Orr could get away with more because he was more gifted. And was playing in a weak league) Guys like Borque, Potvin, Lidstrom all played the game in a very different manner.

There are defencemen who are in Orr's class as a skater, but none of the great skating defensemen have anything close to his offensive skills.

Teams today would try to make him work in his own zone. Specifically try to isolate him on a power forward. While Orr was fairly strong, it's the one area of the game he wasn't exceptional at.
   262. AROM Posted: May 10, 2011 at 05:12 PM (#3823284)
Some sports premise competitions on holding size constant: boxing, for instance.


In baseball, it does seem in general that bigger is better, but the strike zone mitigates this to at least some extent. Unlike basketball and football.
   263. Fred Lynn Nolan Ryan Sweeney Agonistes Posted: May 10, 2011 at 05:15 PM (#3823287)
And, despite whatever changes in diet, nutrition, etc., Ruth did hit the ball further than anyone else, even up to now.
Even if pitchers in Ruth's day weren't throwing as hard, you'd think today's bigger & stronger players could hit them further, but I guess they don't. Now that I think of it, who in current MLB is known for moon-shot home runs? The way Ruth, Mantle, Killebrew, and (say) Kingman were. I'm sure there's somebody obvious I'm forgetting.

EDIT: I suppose it's possible the distance on Ruth's shots is just wildly exaggerated, the way it can sound like Smokey Joe Wood or Walter Johnson threw 120mph. But that's an awful lot of myth to just pile up on its own.
"No one hit home runs the way Babe (Ruth) did. They were something special. They were like homing pigeons. The ball would leave the bat, pause briefly, suddenly gain its bearings, then take off for the stands."

- Dizzy Dean
   264. mex4173 Posted: May 10, 2011 at 05:29 PM (#3823300)
A lot of people believe that Bobby Hull's shot was significantly faster than anything players today can achieve. As in timed at 128 MPH.

For what it's worth, my money's on faulty timing since that's ~20% better than what the players of today manage. We're talking 40 years of improved stick technology too.

Hull was a pretty decent size in his day.


Yeah, Shea Weber and Chara at the all-star game weren't approaching that (105.9) with perfect conditions.
   265. AROM Posted: May 10, 2011 at 05:32 PM (#3823304)
I wonder if the livelier ball used in the 20's and 30's just went further than a modern baseball. It does seem a bit strange that Bonds, Dunn, McGwire, and Bo Jackson never hit them quite as far as the Babe, or Mickey.
   266. BDC Posted: May 10, 2011 at 05:34 PM (#3823306)
Here's another thing I lie awake wondering about. In 1972, the 41-year-old and not-very-good-anymore Willie Mays hit home runs off Steve Carlton (it was 1972; think about that), and Ferguson Jenkins (twice). These were all in close games; nobody was grooving one for the old man to hit. Carlton and Jenkins are very tall guys, and I think I can safely say that they threw extremely hard.

In 1982, Tim Raines went 2-for-11 off Jenkins, with no walks. Raines went 1-for-13 off Carlton that year, with one walk. All hits singles.

You see where this is going, so I won't prolong it. It's also completely and utterly useless for purposes of generalization. One absolutely must not string together chains like that and conclude that the league Raines retired from in 2002 was the same strength as the league Mays entered in 1951. Or really, make any general conclusions at all.

But as evidence about individual players, and how they would do if moved across the timeline, it's suggestive. Mays to the present is just not many "generations" of playing careers. Tommy John's career overlapped with Mays's by several years at the start and Barry Bonds's by several at the end. If the timelining curve were as steep as sometimes argued, guys wouldn't have 20-year careers: or one might have to argue that they were a lot, lot better at age 40 than they appeared.
   267. GuyM Posted: May 10, 2011 at 05:39 PM (#3823316)
It's interesting, but there are too many questions about confounding factors. I think that practice makes for better hitters, and pitchers who get 3-4 AB every 3rd day will hit better than pitchers who get 1-2 AB every 5th day.

As I've said many times before, the large majority of the improvement in hitters' performance relative to pitchers occured before 1970 (and a lot by the 1930s). However, the amount of hitting done by pitchers just didn't change that dramatically over that time. (And is there any evidence that pitchers with 110 AB hit much better than hitters with 90 AB?) Conversely, if the factors that all the skeptics are throwing out really were important -- frequency of batting, DH in college and low minors, more specialization -- then we should have seen a huge change since the early 1970s. But in fact the change has been rather modest.

I don't doubt that hitting as rarely as today's relievers do could make a difference. But it's completely irrelevant to the argument. (Except to the extent that relievers contribute a smaller share of pitcher ABs than in the past, and thus make today's pitchers appear to be better hitters).

Absolutely right. To imagine that Willie Mays growing up in the black section of Birmingham, Alabama, in the 1930s ate as richly nutritious a diet as most modern US kids do is silly.

Absolutely wrong. U.S. men are about 1 inch taller now than in 1960. But Willie was above average in his day. That makes it highly likely that diet did not significantly compromise his height, whether because of his DNA, or a decent diet, or both. The guys who would gain the most from being transplanted to the future are the guys who ended up 5-5 and who had poor nutrition and/or significant diseases as kids. If you wanted to pick a category of men whose height wouldn't change much or at all in the future, world-class athletes of above-average height would be an excellent place to start.

I'm sorry Steve, but this is science fiction, not science.
   268. GuyM Posted: May 10, 2011 at 05:46 PM (#3823322)
In baseball, it does seem in general that bigger is better, but the strike zone mitigates this to at least some extent.

I was just thinking about that issue. I wonder if one reason for the increase in strikeouts over past 3 decades has been the increasing height of players? It would be interesting to chart hitters' strikeout rate by height over time. I'm sure height doesn't explain all the change (especially the mid-90s spike), but I bet the increase is more modest if you control for height.
   269. Steve Treder Posted: May 10, 2011 at 08:40 PM (#3823340)
U.S. men are about 1 inch taller now than in 1960. But Willie was above average in his day.

An increase in 1 inch in height over a population the size of the US in 50 years' time is a very big deal. And 1 inch in height for an athlete is not insignificant either. The only possible explanation for this change in a half-century is nurture (nutrition/health care), not nature (genetics). It's entirely plausible that a clone of Willie Mays born in 1981 instead of 1931 would grow to be 6 feet tall rather than 5-foot-11. Obviously there's no certainty about it, but it would be a sensible result, knowing everything we do about the changes in environment in that half-century.
   270. AROM Posted: May 10, 2011 at 08:43 PM (#3823343)
I don't doubt that hitting as rarely as today's relievers do could make a difference. But it's completely irrelevant to the argument.


I don't know how you can say that. It's completely relevant. The extreme position of relievers shows that there IS a negative effect on batting for guys who get less practice at it.

For 1910, here is the BA/SLG for pitcher groups. Didn't do OBP because I forgot to grab SH data.

100+ PA 198/252
75-99 186/232
01-74 160/198

1910 was the first year I checked. I don't know if the pattern is representative. If you don't think it is feel free to check a full decade and report back.
   271. Mefisto Posted: May 10, 2011 at 08:44 PM (#3823345)
Just to follow up on Bob's comment, in 1971 the 40 year old Mays produced 6.5 WAR. There are a good many MVP awards which have gone to players at that level. It's hard to explain that if the timeline from 1951 is as steep as Guy is arguing.*

To be clear, I do think we need to timeline. But, consistent with josh's point on the other page, the pace of innovation slows over time. The timeline for players who began their careers before 1920 is (my subjective opinion) pretty steep. After 1920 it's still significant but not nearly as steep. After 1947 it's much closer to level.

*I chose Mays as the example because he's the subject of discussion, but others are similar (if not quite as good as Mays): Aaron produced 4.8 WAR at 39; Frank Robinson 4.7 at 37.
   272. AROM Posted: May 10, 2011 at 08:53 PM (#3823349)
If the change in height over the population is completely caused by guys who in 1930 suffered from childhood disease and wound up 5-5, and now that kid grows up to be normal height, that should not affect the future athletes. That poor kid wasn't going to grow up to be anything more than a statnerd anyway.

It seems to me that everyone has benefitted from improved nutrition or whatever is causing this. The superathletic 6'3 225 pounders just didn't exist 60 years ago. I'd buy Guy's argument if the nation as a whole was one inch taller but top athletes were generally the same. That this is obviously not the case leads me to think that the superathletic giant athletes we see today were superathletic 5'11 190 pounders back then.
   273. Jarrod HypnerotomachiaPoliphili(Teddy F. Ballgame) Posted: May 10, 2011 at 09:17 PM (#3823369)
To imagine that Willie Mays growing up in the black section of Birmingham, Alabama, in the 1930s ate as richly nutritious a diet as most modern US kids do is silly.


It's quite possible that his diet was better than that of most modern kids. Mays ate actual food and didn't have access to the processed junk that's available today. Calories are cheaper and more abundant now, but that's not the same as nutrition.
   274. Steve Treder Posted: May 10, 2011 at 09:32 PM (#3823381)
It's quite possible that his diet was better than that of most modern kids. Mays ate actual food and didn't have access to the processed junk that's available today. Calories are cheaper and more abundant now, but that's not the same as nutrition.

Obviously it's possible. But if his experience was similar to that of most Americans (and most people all around the world), his diet was not as abundant, varied and nutritious as that eaten by most modern people. Most people grow taller now than they did when he grew up. That is entirely a function of improved nutrition/health care.
   275. GuyM Posted: May 10, 2011 at 09:42 PM (#3823391)
For 1910, here is the BA/SLG for pitcher groups. Didn't do OBP because I forgot to grab SH data.
100+ PA 198/252
75-99 186/232
01-74 160/198

If we can establish that number of PAs has the causal effect on pitcher hitting that you hypothesize (some of this might just be that better pitchers in 1910 tended to be better hitters), then I would agree that we should adjust pitcher hitting stats to the extent that their number of PAs was reduced. How much did pitchers' average PA decline between 1910 and, say, 1970?

AROM, I'm curious what you think about the best way to make the adjustment, IF one were convinced that pitchers provided a relatively stable offensive benchmark (perhaps adjusted for reduced frequency of hitting). If we say that pitchers hitting .203/.209 in 1961 are equal to pitchers who hit .175/.175 in 2010 (and I know you don't concede that), how do we best evaluate position players using that information? My first instinct is to say a hitter who is 1.8X as good as pitchers at getting on base in one run environment will also be 1.8X as good in another run environment. That may not work in very extreme cases*, but I think it's the right way to adjust in general. Do you agree?

* For example, using this method for batting average Ichiro would hit about .470 in the 1920s -- which does seem high, although not necessarily impossible when you consider the averages put up at the time.
   276. Foghorn Leghorn Posted: May 11, 2011 at 12:24 AM (#3823534)
* For example, using this method for batting average Ichiro would hit about .470 in the 1920s -- which does seem high, although not necessarily impossible when you consider the averages put up at the time.
Babe Ruth posting a 170 OPS+ is "inconceivable", but you think Ichiro could hit .470?Q!?!?!?!?!
   277. CrosbyBird Posted: May 11, 2011 at 09:04 AM (#3824022)
Now if Crosbybird will show up, between PF, Ron and he, I won't have to post anymore.

I didn't post much in this thread, but I definitely agree that the reason today's pitchers are so much worse relative to other players than earlier pitchers is because they don't practice hitting very much. Today's pitchers are especially terrible because most lower leagues use a DH and the skill of pitcher hitting is barely valued. The specialization is happening at a younger age.

I wouldn't use "relative to pitcher hitting" as a proxy for league quality, especially if you're comparing a pre-DH league and a post-DH league.
   278. AROM Posted: May 11, 2011 at 11:59 AM (#3824047)
"AROM, I'm curious what you think about the best way to make the adjustment"

I'm not really sure how to do it. It does seem that the outliers have to be treated differently. It's not obviously wrong to say that Babe Ruth, facing a better talent pool of pitchers who grew up with experience in homerun prevention, might only hit half as many homers. Not saying that's my position on Ruth, but possible. You can't then take the same factors and say Bonds 2001 hits 140 homers. That is as unreasonable as trying to adjust Ruth by his league's raw HR rate.

Maybe it can be done, but I'm convinced it's not a simple adjustment.
   279. GuyM Posted: May 11, 2011 at 12:51 PM (#3824076)
I agree it's not simple. But pitchers-as-hitters are the closest thing we have to a constant in baseball history, by far. It's a mistake to just dismiss the data because it appears to lead to unpleasant (for some) conclusions. Breaking it down to individual components will be important, I think (although HRs do pose a specific additional challenge, because pitchers never hit many of them). Let's take Ichiro. If I just compare his BA to pitchers', you'd expect him to hit .470 in the 1920s. But let's separate BA into Ks and BABIP. Then we get a more realistic result. Ichiro strikes out at 1/4 the rate of pitchers today (.10 vs .39), and his BABIP is 1.57X as high (.356 vs. .227). Putting him in 1926, that would suggest Ichiro would be a .370 hitter, with an OBP of .403 (actual career: .331/.375). Doesn't that sound totally plausible?
   280. AROM Posted: May 11, 2011 at 01:10 PM (#3824082)
It's a mistake to just dismiss the data because it appears to lead to unpleasant (for some) conclusions.


If you think that's what I'm doing then you aren't paying attention at all. I object to the simplistic use of pitcher hitting adjustments of the kind used for Wagner earlier in the thread. The idea holds promise, but needs refinement. We've established that there is a negative effect on pitcher hitting from lack of hitting work. The DH rule is a problem (my solution would be to immediately ban it in every league, everywhere, but that's another story.) To paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld, these are the known unknowns. There are probably some unknown unknowns that would have to be discovered and considered as well.

Putting him in 1926, that would suggest Ichiro would be a .370 hitter, with an OBP of .403 (actual career: .331/.375). Doesn't that sound totally plausible?


I'd believe that. Ichiro in the 1920's would definitely have a .400 season or three.
   281. BDC Posted: May 11, 2011 at 01:15 PM (#3824089)
Putting him in 1926, that would suggest Ichiro would be a .370 hitter, with an OBP of .403 (actual career: .331/.375). Doesn't that sound totally plausible?

It does, and in reverse it suggests that Rogers Hornsby (.358 actual) would hit .319 today, which also sounds plausible. But does it work both ways?
   282. AROM Posted: May 11, 2011 at 01:41 PM (#3824123)
But does it work both ways?


We don't know if it works either way. Completely untestable. It seems to look right, but that doesn't mean it is right. Anything like this should have massive implied confidence intervals.

For Wagner I get a .302 average from his actual .334. His best years probably in the .330 range. For his power I'd stay away from basing the translation on his actual batting stats. He hit 6 homers per year with a dead baseball. We know he was exceptionally big and strong for his time, and his size would fit comfortably into modern baseball. Other players who hit 5-10 year back then, especially smaller players, probably legged out most of them. Deadball homeruns were probably as much about speed as they were power.

So what I'd do for Wagner is look at the typical isolated power you get from players with that estimated batting skill and weight. For example, players who hit between .290-.310 and weigh 190-210 pounds. I get about a .168 ISO, with 1 SD = 0.50. So, about a .470 SLG for Wagner.
   283. GuyM Posted: May 11, 2011 at 01:43 PM (#3824127)
If you think that's what I'm doing then you aren't paying attention at all.

No, that wasn't directed at you at all.

I don't agree that we've "established" a negative effect on pitcher hitting from "lack of hitting work," or at least not any effect that matters -- you've only provided good evidence that pitchers who virtually never hit (modern relievers) will hit very poorly. I'm pretty confident that if we tracked hitting by regular starters the trend wouldn't change much. But I agree it's worth investigating.

I didn't post much in this thread, but I definitely agree that the reason today's pitchers are so much worse relative to other players than earlier pitchers is because they don't practice hitting very much.

I'd suggest reading the thread. Unless you have evidence that pitchers changed their level of hitting practice between 1920 and 1973 -- and in a steady, secular decline -- this can't explain the relative decline of pitchers. And if you were right that practice was extremely important, why hasn't pitcher hitting declined sharply since the early 1970s?
   284. GuyM Posted: May 11, 2011 at 01:49 PM (#3824138)
We don't know if it works either way. Completely untestable.

I think that's an overstatement. Saberists have done lots of work looking at what happens when players move from one offensive environment to another, such as MLEs and park factors. It's tricky, but it's not like we don't have evidence that it's possible to make such adjustments.

There's a lot of work that could be done to make this more precise. Like trying to figure out whether and how much frequency of batting improves pitchers' performance. You could probably also compare pitchers' minor league and major league hitting over time, to see if pitchers' MLB hitting performance declined over time relative to their minor league performance (which would suggest modern pitchers are doing an inferior job of hitting relative to their inherent skill).

We also have at least one independent method of estimating talent trends which we can check this method against.
   285. AROM Posted: May 11, 2011 at 01:54 PM (#3824145)
you've only provided good evidence that pitchers who virtually never hit (modern relievers) will hit very poorly.


+ pitchers in 1910 - those with more PA hit better than those with fewer

+ minor league pitchers in AA/AAA, hitting worse than they do in MLB, against inferior competition.
   286. AROM Posted: May 11, 2011 at 01:57 PM (#3824150)
How about this:

Base any adjustment factors on a subset of pitchers you can find in both 1910 and 2010: Those with 40-80 PA. Exclude those with more or fewer PA. That might work. And separating K% and BABIP - good call. That does produce better estimates for MLEs.
   287. GuyM Posted: May 11, 2011 at 02:08 PM (#3824162)
+ pitchers in 1910 - those with more PA hit better than those with fewer

Correlation is not causation, of course. Is that true in today's game too (among starters)? But yes, it might make sense to look at pitchers within a fixed range of PA.

I'm all for trying to quantify the impact of "hitting work." But I think some here are underestimating how much of hitting skill is a function of 1) innate talent and 2) what you learn from age 6-18, and are perhaps overestimating how much attention pitchers paid to their hitting in the "good ole days." The fact that the DH and all the specialization of the past 30 years have only had a small combined effect is pretty powerful evidence.
   288. BDC Posted: May 11, 2011 at 02:36 PM (#3824210)
Completely untestable

In practice, of course. I was wondering more if the thought experiment was conceived of as transitive. Rogers Hornsby actually hit .382 for the decade of the 1920s, so imagining Ichiro as hitting .370 for that decade is way more within the bounds of seeing the stars of yesteryear as still matching up pretty well today. But if the idea is that Ichiro going backwards could do well, but Hornsby or whoever going forwards wouldn't, then that's a qualitatively different concept.
   289. AROM Posted: May 11, 2011 at 04:18 PM (#3824354)
Correlation is not causation, of course. Is that true in today's game too (among starters)?


I've only spot checked to test a theory, not done an exhaustive study. If this holds up, and it's not opportunity to hit being the causation factor, then what is? If you say selection bias then that kills any chance of using pitcher hitting as the unbiased equalizer over time. Of course, it could be something else, that nobody here has thought of yet.
   290. GuyM Posted: May 11, 2011 at 05:00 PM (#3824386)
If this holds up, and it's not opportunity to hit being the causation factor, then what is? If you say selection bias then that kills any chance of using pitcher hitting as the unbiased equalizer over time.

I would assume that the best pitchers are better athletes, and so tend to be somewhat better hitters too. That doesn't prove that more PAs cause better performance. Here is the relationship between PA and OPS for pitchers over the past decade (I'm assuming 100 PA means almost all of the PA were as starters):
PA / OPS
300+ .376
200-399 .348
100-199 .337

I don't think the 300+ PA guys are hitting more because they're slightly better hitters, do you? And they probably didn't get much more "hitting work" at the time they were starters (90% of the variance here has to be how many seasons they pitched and starts/season). It could be more PA increases performance slightly, but again, how much did pitcher PAs fall between 1920 and 1970? Is it really enough to have a significant impact on hitting performance?
   291. GuyM Posted: May 11, 2011 at 05:46 PM (#3824429)
I took a look at 1932 Babe Ruth using the component method. I think even Chris will like the result. I picked 1932 because I think by then Ruth's innovator advantage had somewhat dissipated (everyone knew it was possible to hit HRs, pitchers had been selected for HR prevention ability), but Ruth was still a monster and put up numbers extremely close to his career marks (200 OPS+). Here's Ruth vs. 1932 pitchers:
Pitchers / Ruth / Ratio
BB/PA 0.043 / 0.220 / 5.0
K/AB 0.219 / 0.135 / 0.6
HR/(AB-K) 0.005 / 0.103 / 19.1
BABIP 0.238 / 0.325 / 1.3

If we convert Ruth to today's game and give him 700 PA, we get this:
BB 114
K 142
HR 42
Non-HR hits 124
OBP .401
BA .285

A .285 BA hitter with 42 HR should has a SLG of approximately .565, so that would leave Ruth at .285/.401/.565, or a 159 OPS+.

You can certainly quarrel with this estimate: maybe Ruth would find a way to have fewer than 142 Ks. Then again, that might cost him some power. Maybe pitchers have become slightly worse hitters over time, but there's just as much reason to think they've improved given how much bigger and stronger they are than the pitchers of 1932. The point is, the method seems to generate plausible results. In fact, Gassko's timeline based on individual players' change in performance over time estimates that league quality was 20% worse in 1930. Comparing Ruth's actual 200 OPS+ to this estimate of 159 implies a reduction in league quality of....20%. Pretty neat.
   292. AROM Posted: May 11, 2011 at 05:47 PM (#3824430)
Maybe. I think we can agree that modern pitchers don't win or lose jobs on hitting ability. Maybe the best ones are just better at everything than the ordinary pitchers. I didn't think there was any reason to expect a major league pitcher to be any better of a hitter than a AA pitcher, but that could be wrong. So either more hitting work = better hitters, or else better hitting pitchers are being selected for more plate appearances even though teams aren't trying to do so.

The pitcher hitting total in 1910 contains a greater percentage of PA for the very best starters than the 2010 total - because of more innings being pitched by the best pitchers. So either way, an adjustment is warranted. Is the effect significant? Depends on what you call significant. I'd rather make the adjustment than ignore it.
   293. AROM Posted: May 11, 2011 at 06:00 PM (#3824440)
The Ruth example above seems plausible. It's also his 11th best season and age 37. But the rate stats are very close to his career averages. If we accept that and other years are in the same range his career OPS+ will be a bit above 160.

That keeps him in the argument for best hitter of all time. Of the 14 players with OPS+ over 160, all but 5 were contemporaries or played earlier than Ruth and so would face at least the same adjustment. That leaves:

Ted 190
Bonds 181
Mantle 172
Pujols 171
McGwire 162

Ted and Mick would face some timeline adjustment as well, but not quite as much as Babe. Bonds and McGwire will face their own penalty for steroid use. Pujols? As great as he is let's see his rate after his decline phase is finished. This is a vastly different result than whoever claimed Babe would be about the equal of Scott Rolen a few pages ago.
   294. AROM Posted: May 11, 2011 at 06:06 PM (#3824443)
You can certainly quarrel with this estimate: maybe Ruth would find a way to have fewer than 142 Ks.


That part I would not quibble with. Ruth did lead the league in strikeouts 5 times. These adjustments make him a similar, only slightly better hitter than Manny Ramirez was. Manny struck out 147 times once, and over 120 5 times.
   295. AROM Posted: May 11, 2011 at 06:11 PM (#3824444)
How best to handle strikeouts for extreme players?

In 1927 Ruth struck out 89 times, Harry Heilmann struck out 16 times. If the effect on average is to double them, are we comfortable with Ruth at 178 and Heilmann at 32? That would say Ruth loses a large portion of his dominance but Heilmann loses almost nothing. The adjustment could be done through addition instead of multiplication, or maybe a hybrid function.
   296. GuyM Posted: May 11, 2011 at 06:19 PM (#3824450)
This is a vastly different result than whoever claimed Babe would be about the equal of Scott Rolen a few pages ago.

I go where the evidence takes me. That's why I reported this result. I'm not committed to Ruth = 125 OPS+ or Ruth = 160 OPS+. (Whereas I get the sense that you are more willing to accept pitcher-as-hitters as a valid benchmark now that the results are more in your comfort zone. :>) )

For me, the 160 OPS+ is the upper bound of what I think is plausible, given what we know about progress among elite athletes across sports and changes in player height and weight. I think pitchers have almost certainly become better hitters over time, at least somewhat. And the BABIP adjustment may overestimate a player with Ruth's uppercut. If my life depended on getting the right answer (and someone knew "the truth"), I'd probably guess Ruth would be a 140 OPS+ hitter today. But clearly there will always be uncertainty around our estimate.
   297. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: May 11, 2011 at 06:33 PM (#3824459)
It's quite possible that [Mays's] diet was better than that of most modern kids. Mays ate actual food and didn't have access to the processed junk that's available today. Calories are cheaper and more abundant now, but that's not the same as nutrition.


Obviously it's possible. But if his experience was similar to that of most Americans (and most people all around the world), his diet was not as abundant, varied and nutritious as that eaten by most modern people. Most people grow taller now than they did when he grew up. That is entirely a function of improved nutrition/health care.

Without getting into a time machine and looking at the Mays's dining table, I think it's pretty safe to assume that most of the "real food" he had access to would be locally grown seasonal produce, the cheapest and fattiest cuts of meat, and a certain amount of seafood of whatever variety was locally available. (Seafood was much cheaper then than it is today, even at today's dollars, and could easily be found in abundance in whatever bodies of water weren't downstream from the Birmingham steel plants.)

But it's also not hard to imagine that his diet was also infused with plenty of pancakes and Aunt Jemima syrup, fatback, the sort of fried and grease-packed soul food that the South was famous for, and a fair amount of RC Colas and Moon Pies to tide him over between meals and ball games. Most kids from any era have an insatiable sweet tooth. I seriously doubt that his overall diet as good as what the average child prodigy athlete gets today.
   298. AROM Posted: May 11, 2011 at 06:40 PM (#3824463)
I go where the evidence takes me. That's why I reported this result. I'm not committed to Ruth = 125 OPS+ or Ruth = 160 OPS+. (Whereas I get the sense that you are more willing to accept pitcher-as-hitters as a valid benchmark now that the results are more in your comfort zone. :>) )


I don't appreciate the snark. And the smiley face doesn't make me ignore it. And no, I am not any more willing to consider this as anything more than a diversion/junk stat sort of thing. Too many unknowns.
   299. GuyM Posted: May 11, 2011 at 06:42 PM (#3824466)
How best to handle strikeouts for extreme players? In 1927 Ruth struck out 89 times, Harry Heilmann struck out 16 times. If the effect on average is to double them, are we comfortable with Ruth at 178 and Heilmann at 32?

That's a good question. It's hard to believe Heilmann would strike out at half the rate of Ichiro today. I wonder if looking at MLE translations might shed light on this? As hitters move from A ball up to MLB, do high-K and low-K hitters see their K rate increase proportionately? Or do low-K hitters see a proportionately greater increase? Maybe if we are going to increase Ks by 2X in general, we should increase it 3X for Heilman but only 1.5x for Ruth, or something like that.....
   300. GuyM Posted: May 11, 2011 at 06:44 PM (#3824471)
I don't appreciate the snark.

C'mon. What do you call this? "This is a vastly different result than whoever claimed Babe would be about the equal of Scott Rolen a few pages ago."
Page 3 of 4 pages  < 1 2 3 4 > 

You must be Registered and Logged In to post comments.

 

 

<< Back to main

BBTF Partner

Support BBTF

donate

Thanks to
Adam S
for his generous support.

Bookmarks

You must be logged in to view your Bookmarks.

Hot Topics

NewsblogJoe Maddon is to become Cubs manager, sources say
(91 - 1:02pm, Oct 30)
Last: Nasty Nate

NewsblogMadison Bumgarner, World Series legend - McCovey Chronicles
(56 - 1:01pm, Oct 30)
Last: Hal Chase School of Professionalism

NewsblogOT: NBC.news: Valve isn’t making one gaming console, but multiple ‘Steam machines’
(977 - 12:58pm, Oct 30)
Last: Greg K

NewsblogSan Francisco Giants at Kansas City Royals - October 29, 2014 | MLB.com Box
(67 - 12:57pm, Oct 30)
Last: snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster)

NewsblogHeyman: Pablo Sandoval is on Boston's 3B wish list, but so is Chase Headley
(29 - 12:56pm, Oct 30)
Last: Biff, highly-regarded young guy

NewsblogOT: Politics, October 2014: Sunshine, Baseball, and Etch A Sketch: How Politicians Use Analogies
(4642 - 12:56pm, Oct 30)
Last: snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster)

NewsblogOT: Monthly NBA Thread - October 2014
(580 - 12:54pm, Oct 30)
Last: Merton Muffley

NewsblogRoad maps to pitching success in Game 7 | FOX Sports
(10 - 12:39pm, Oct 30)
Last: The Chronicles of Reddick

Newsblog2014 WORLD SERIES GAME 7 OMNICHATTER
(1437 - 12:25pm, Oct 30)
Last: Harveys Wallbangers

NewsblogVanguard after the Revolution | NBC SportsWorld
(52 - 12:13pm, Oct 30)
Last: McCoy

NewsblogPrimer Dugout (and link of the day) 10-30-2014
(9 - 11:55am, Oct 30)
Last: Pat Rapper's Delight

NewsblogStatcast: Butler chugs home
(1 - 11:38am, Oct 30)
Last: Davo's Favorite Tacos Are Moose Tacos

NewsblogJapan Times: Nakamura belts three-run homer in 10th to put Hawks one win away from Japan Series title
(10 - 11:32am, Oct 30)
Last: RMc is a fine piece of cheese

NewsblogAngell: The World Series is Almost Over
(1 - 9:22am, Oct 30)
Last: sotapop

NewsblogESPN: Jose Canseco shoots self in hand
(66 - 11:53pm, Oct 29)
Last: eric

Page rendered in 1.5201 seconds
52 querie(s) executed