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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

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   301. AROM Posted: May 11, 2011 at 07:27 PM (#3824501)
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."


OK. I apologize for that. I can see how that would be taken as snark. Though at the time I wrote it I didn't even remember it was your comment, just remembered that Ruth=Rolen was asserted.
   302. AROM Posted: May 11, 2011 at 07:30 PM (#3824503)
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?


You're on your own with this. I can speculate on Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, and Willie Mays all day long. But when it comes to kids in the minors I'll have to abstain.
   303. Foghorn Leghorn Posted: May 11, 2011 at 07:32 PM (#3824505)
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?
See, I think you start to move away from "pitchers as hitters". Because a poor calculation yields a "plausible result" doesn't make it not a poor calculation. A few posts ago, Ruth performing like Pujols was "inconceivable". It doesn't seem like you think that now.
   304. GuyM Posted: May 11, 2011 at 07:40 PM (#3824511)
AROM/301: No problem. I also could have let it pass rather than responded in kind (to what I thought was your snark.)

It took us a while, but I think this has ended up with an interesting system. Lots of refinements could be done, and there will always be room for arguments, but I think this is a reasonable starting point for making timeline adjustments.
   305. zenbitz Posted: May 11, 2011 at 08:14 PM (#3824531)
Probably there is some non-linearity that is not being taken into account with outlier BB% K% and HR%.


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.


I guess some of park/league effect is in the pitcher stats already (e.g., weather / strike zone/ stadium / dead or live ball/ mound size), so you don't want to divide by it twice. But I am not sure this is the case.

Does the answer change much if you use OPS+_player/OPS+_pitchers
   306. AROM Posted: May 11, 2011 at 09:08 PM (#3824552)
"It took us a while, but I think this has ended up with an interesting system. Lots of refinements could be done, and there will always be room for arguments, but I think this is a reasonable starting point for making timeline adjustments."

Yeah. I think I might try to code some of this and publish for some top players. Not that I'll try to convince anyone that this method has to be the right one, just something where I want to see where it goes.
   307. You Know Nothing JT Snow (YR) Posted: May 11, 2011 at 10:18 PM (#3824580)
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.


Oh where might we find such a man amongst the ancients?
   308. Steve Treder Posted: May 11, 2011 at 10:33 PM (#3824586)
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.


All true, but I suspect the most significant difference in diet between that time/place and that of half a century or more later isn't just the content of what's eaten, but the amount. What what I've read, Mays's family wasn't poverty-stricken by the standards of that environment, but that environment itself was woefully poverty-stricken by the standards of the environment a few generations later. And that manifested itself not so much in what people ate but in how much they ate.

We eat a far larger amount of food today than most people did back then. This (along with our vastly more sedentary habits) has resulted in far greater rates of obesity than back then, and since it's babies and young children also ingesting a greater volume of food, it's also resulted in people growing up to attain greater adult heights then back then.
   309. GuyM Posted: May 12, 2011 at 12:56 PM (#3825065)
AROM: Here's an interesting complication (I think). In the 1930s, there was a pretty strong correlation between HR/AB and BABIP (.38). Hitting the ball in the air was, in general, consistent with posting a high average. But in 2000-2010, there is not a positive correlation (slightly negative at -.06). That's a big shift that you may want to adjust for. I'm not saying we can ever know how individual players would have adjusted to a very different game. But baseball is often a game of tradeoffs. If the implicit price of hitting the ball in the air to get HRs rose over time, in the form of lower BABIP (mainly because of vastly improved OF defense), then you don't want to credit hitters for their power w/o taking account of the lower BABIP.
   310. Dan Evensen Posted: May 12, 2011 at 02:43 PM (#3825147)
I'm really only interested in this sort of discussion from a replayer's standpoint. If you wanted to create a Diamond Mind season (or Strat, or APBA, or Replay cards, or Skeetersoft, or whatever) with the best players of all time, what kind of era adjustments should you make? How are the cross-era statistics compatible in that kind of environment, and do all the diet and exercise related differences wash out with the era?

You've got to be careful with era adjustments, though, unless you don't mind running into Ichiro suddenly hitting .470, or Bonds hitting 80 home runs, or 1999 Pedro Martinez having an ERA of 0.40 or something in 1908. Bill Staffa over at Skeetersoft likes to temper down the outlying performances to fit the highest performances of whatever era you're sticking everyone in. In other words, Barry Bonds would still hit for power in 1908, but most of those HRs would turn into doubles and triples -- that sort of thing (assuming he had a skin color change, 1908 diet, could swing the massive bats they used, knew how to hit spitballs, etc).

Then again, part of those adjustments are because a normalized simulation season has to play right. You've got to make sure there's still some sort of balance between hitting and pitching, and you want to make sure that extreme performances aren't sitting several standard deveations away from the mean. That's why I can't stand Diamond Mind's "additive" system for adjusting home run totals (and I've never read anything convincing by Tom Tippet on the subject). That sort of thing is a bit harder to put together than just taking the best cards and shoving them into the same envelope (which APBA did with its OFAS sets). It's also a bit more complicated than just sticking raw statistics into a normalizer and expecting everything to come out right automatically.

I remember seeing a baseball "encyclopedia" a few years ago where all statistics were normalized to some random era, something like 1992 or so. The author had Babe Ruth projected to hit 800+ home runs, as I recall. It didn't sell very well.
   311. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: May 12, 2011 at 03:40 PM (#3825183)
Dan, maybe that's just because "normalizing" 142 years worth of baseball statistics is about as impossible as trying to sew a button on a melody you just heard somebody whistling in the street. There are just way too many factors that can't possibly be measured.

------------------------

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.

All true, but I suspect the most significant difference in diet between that time/place and that of half a century or more later isn't just the content of what's eaten, but the amount. What what I've read, Mays's family wasn't poverty-stricken by the standards of that environment, but that environment itself was woefully poverty-stricken by the standards of the environment a few generations later. And that manifested itself not so much in what people ate but in how much they ate.


I'd agree with that, except that given the anal-retentive bubble that most Mays-level athletic prodigies are kept in these days by their parents and their handlers, I doubt if many future Willie Mayses are going to be weighing in with jelly rolls filled with jelly donuts, because they'd be seen to be risking their multi-million dollar payday come draft day.

But if you're talking about the more normal type of high school athlete, then yeah, I'd go along with your point.
   312. Slivers of Maranville descends into chaos (SdeB) Posted: May 12, 2011 at 05:23 PM (#3825263)
The average winning time in the Olympic 100 meters running event from 1900-1920 was 10.833 (I skipped 1906 which was somehow not a regular Olympics-I don't really understand it). The last 6 have an average of 9.855.

Maybe someone on this list can tell me where a runner would rank today if he could only run 100 meters in 10.833 seconds? I have no idea. It might not even be good enough to win some state championships for all I know.

Is this improvement due to better training, working out with weights, nutrition, better in vitro care, better medicine, etc? What about equipment? If we transported the 1924 Harold Abrahams to today, would he run faster just because he had better shoes or the surface might be better?


The improvement in performance based on world records amounts to an improvement of about 0.005 seconds/year, on average, over the last 100 years.

Which means that, extending that out, Leonidas of Rhodes, who set a record by winning the three foot races: the stadion, the diaulos, and the hoplitodromos, in four consecutive Olympics from 164-152 B.C. (the last at age 36), would run the 100 meters in around 20.8 seconds. A good fifth-grader can run the 100m in about 16.5 seconds, so I must conclude that Leonidas was about as fast as the average second or third-grader.
   313. Ron J Posted: May 12, 2011 at 05:56 PM (#3825309)
#312 Of course the first problem is to equalize conditions first. What are starting blocks worth? Modern tracks? Modern shoes? The kind of thing you can just plug in without any "breed is improving"

Then there's coaching. Take sprinting. We know so much more about the mechanics of running fast. Take a great athlete from the past and teach him starting techniques and the technical side of sprinting (saw a fascinating piece on PBS very recently. Sprinting speed has precisely zip to do with how fast you move your legs. It's almost totally a function of how powerfully [and efficiently] you strike the ground with your fee) and you'll take umpty tenths off his time.

(Yes, I know I'm responding to dry snark. We takes our straight men where we finds them)
   314. cardsfanboy Posted: May 12, 2011 at 06:49 PM (#3825393)
reading this thread and the argument that pitching hitting is a constant strikes me as wrong, heck to see the difference on how much practice hitting makes look at pitchers who jump from the al to the nl in the dh era and see how much their hitting improves on average from their first year in the league to their second year. (I just randomally grabbed one guy, Tim Hudson who is now considered to be a good hitting pitcher)

I don't really see how anyone could really argue that pitchers hitting is constant, and if that is the basis for timelining adjustment then it's an extremely flawed proposition.
   315. PreservedFish Posted: May 12, 2011 at 06:59 PM (#3825406)
On one of the many previous iterations of this topic, someone linked to an article that aimed to show that Jesse Owens, with modern shoes and modern track, would still be one of the world's fastest runners. It analyzed leg motion or something.
   316. AROM Posted: May 12, 2011 at 07:02 PM (#3825410)
I just randomally grabbed one guy, Tim Hudson who is now considered to be a good hitting pitcher


Timmy was considered a great hitting pitcher in college. If I remember correctly he hit over .400, and played OF or DH when not pitching. His first year with the Braves could be all the rust from playing in a DH league, or else just be a big fluke.
   317. Gaelan Posted: May 12, 2011 at 07:04 PM (#3825415)
I'd just like to say that I think comparing hitters to pitchers in the way discussed in this thread is genius and I'd very much like to see a fully articulated and applied method.

And if Willie Mays was born in 1974 he'd be taller than 5'11".
   318. cardsfanboy Posted: May 12, 2011 at 07:07 PM (#3825418)
Timmy was considered a great hitting pitcher in college. If I remember correctly he hit over .400, and played OF or DH when not pitching. His first year with the Braves could be all the rust from playing in a DH league, or else just be a big fluke.


that is why I grabbed him, I knew he was a good hitter in the past, but wanted to see if he improved during his time on the Braves and his first two seasons he was a poor hitter, he has been very good since then, to me that is one datapoint evidence for practicing makes a difference. I know that the Cardinals as a team(and the Braves also) talk about the pride their pitchers have in hitting and those teams seem to generally have good hitting pitchers, (of course needs to be checked) but if so and there is a team pride component to pitchers hitting where some teams might practice it more than others, which again points that pitching hitting isn't constant.
   319. GuyM Posted: May 12, 2011 at 07:10 PM (#3825425)
Cardsfanboy: you should read the thread again. There is no reason to think the factors you mention could have caused the increase in hitters' performance relative to pitchers, since most of that increase took place before 1973.

In fact, there appears to be evidence that better pitchers also tend to be better hitters. Since we know the quality of pitching has improved over the years, that would also imply that pitchers have likely become better hitters as well (modestly so). If anything, I'd say that assuming that pitchers' hitting talent has remained constant -- despite their being bigger, stronger, and superior athletes now -- is actually a conservative assumption that favors the old-timers.
   320. AROM Posted: May 12, 2011 at 07:10 PM (#3825426)
After Cardsfanboy mentioned Hudson's hitting, I was curious to see if the other members of Oakland's big 3 had a similar pattern. What I found blew me away. Not that it has the slightest insight or meaning, but the consistency of Barry Zito's "hitting" is unreal, and I wonder if it is unprecedented.

After hitting .113 (7-62) his first year, Barry Zito has 3 straight seasons of exactly 6 hits in exactly 51 at bats (.118). His slugging percentages are equal too, as he does not own an MLB extra base hit.
   321. tshipman Posted: May 12, 2011 at 07:13 PM (#3825428)
I'd just like to say that I think comparing hitters to pitchers in the way discussed in this thread is genius and I'd very much like to see a fully articulated and applied method.


I agree with this. I read the iteration of the method that GuyM described, and I thought it was very interesting in comparing Ks and BaBiP. It doesn't really speak to power, but I thought it was a very interesting approach, and one that I would want to read more about.
   322. Ron J Posted: May 12, 2011 at 07:18 PM (#3825433)
#314 That's a worthwhile study. I'd be interested in reading your results.

Years ago I actually did a mini-study. For a long time the Reds didn't allow their minor league teams to use the DH. Quoting from a discussion with Dale Stephenson:

I have them back to 1972 and I'm damned if I can see any pattern
of gain.

First of all there's the issue of how many of the pitchers on those
Reds teams hit in the minors. Jose Rijo was the hitting star in
'93 and he didn't hit in the minors -- or at the start of his major
league career. Smiley didn't hit in the minors and Schourek
hit as much as any NL pitching prospect (Hanson also didn't hit
in the minors or at the start of his career, but he hit like a
typical pitcher)

Second. in 1990 Reds pitchers hit .104/.139/.122 and (as long as I'm
cherry picking) .118/.145/.147 in 1988 and .134/.168/.154 in 1986
and .125/.159/.148 in 1985 and ...


Nothing too systematic here. Unpicking how much training any given pitcher got in the minors is non-trivial. (Dale had picked the 1993 Reds to claim that the policy gave the Reds an advantage in the majors. Nothing dishonest by Dale, we used what we could find then)

Dale's response:

Here's the 20+ AB guys in 93 who came up with Cincinnati:

Tim Pugh 222/236/241 (55 PA)
Tom Browning 216/250/324 (39 PA)
John Roper 179/179/179 (28 PA)
Larry Luebbers 250/280/292 (25 PA)
Bobby Ayala 095/095/143 (21 PA)

Collectively, for pitchers, they were pretty good. That's just one year,
though.

And

1990 had three of six starters homegrown. All were pathetic that year,
though Browning at least was OK for his career.

Going back to 1988 adds homegrown Ron Robinson (an ok-for-a-pitcher
career .153 hitter, but only 1 walk and 2 doubles in 145 career PAs),
plus Mario Soto (career 132/152/166).

1986 had only Browning and Soto homegrown.

1985 had Browning, Soto, Tibbs and Robinson homegrown, 4 out of the 5 with
20+ ABs. This was Browning's best year outside '92-'93, 193/228/239. But
Tibbs was awful. The worst of the lot was Yankee farmhand McGaffigan,
034/067/069. His career line was 048/091/071. Maybe coming up a Red
would have made this a tiny bit better :->.



One thing that points out how little importance is placed on pitcher's hitting. A goodly number of the better (by rep) hitting pitchers have ended up in the AL. Dan Schatzeder and Rick Rhoden for instance. More than a few others.
   323. cardsfanboy Posted: May 12, 2011 at 07:21 PM (#3825439)
Cardsfanboy: you should read the thread again. There is no reason to think the factors you mention could have caused the increase in hitters' performance relative to pitchers, since most of that increase took place before 1973.

In fact, there appears to be evidence that better pitchers also tend to be better hitters. Since we know the quality of pitching has improved over the years, that would also imply that pitchers have likely become better hitters as well (modestly so). If anything, I'd say that assuming that pitchers' hitting talent has remained constant -- despite their being bigger, stronger, and superior athletes now -- is actually a conservative assumption that favors the old-timers.


I still don't see it, pitchers ability to hit used to be a pride point, when the game became more professionalized(starting with the money that the game was seeing during Ruth's time) pitchers concentrated more on pitching, hitting became an afterthought, of course there were exceptions, just as their always will be.(and your comment about better hitting pitchers being better hitters, indicates to me that they are competitive individuals and work out harder at all aspects of the game)

My pointing to Hudson was to show that even a great athlete who can hit, and has hit in the past, jumps league and he doesn't put up the average numbers of pitchers hitting in the league, meaning that he was worse than other pitchers who practice even though he was the better athlete and over time his ability improved.
   324. AROM Posted: May 12, 2011 at 07:43 PM (#3825462)
Hudson, in his last year at Auburn, hit 396/430/670. Since Hudson there have been 3 MLB hitters to see any decent amount of playing time in the majors from Auburn: David Ross, Clete Thomas, and Gabe Gross.

Hudson was a better hitter in college than either Thomas or Ross (who appears to have been a backup there). He's a little behind Gross (327/469/644). Those guys have gone on to be average to slightly below as MLB hitters. This doesn't prove that Hudson could have been a decent 4th outfielder type had he chose hitting, but I can't see any reason to think he wouldn't.

Zito, on the other hand, i can't find him batting at all at USC. It seems strange to me that for such opposite records as amateurs, Hudson for his career (~.150) is not that much better than Zito against MLB pitchers.
   325. GuyM Posted: May 12, 2011 at 09:15 PM (#3825568)
I still don't see it, pitchers ability to hit used to be a pride point,

People keep making variations on this argument, and yet still, after 324 comments, not one piece of evidence has been presented that it's actually true. Did pitchers take more batting practice in 1930 than they did in 1970? Do we know that pitchers in some earlier time were fined, or at least ridiculed, for failing to hit? Did a starter ever get benched and miss a start because of his hitting futility? Most importantly, did even one pitcher back in the good old days fail to keep or earn a job in the rotation because he was a bad hitter? If this kind of evidence exists -- and maybe it does -- I'd like to hear about it. I don't mean to pick on you specifically, cfb. But I grow weary of people rejecting this idea based on vague intuition or prejudice, without even an effort to provide evidence.

AROM has suggested that pitchers' hitting performance may decline if they bat less frequently. It's a plausible theory, and we should try to adjust for it if it's true (although, how much less hitting did the pitchers of the 1960s do than the pitchers of the 1920s?). And we should make other adjustments that seem merited. But I haven't yet heard a good reason to think this can't possibly work.
   326. cardsfanboy Posted: May 12, 2011 at 10:05 PM (#3825626)
People keep making variations on this argument, and yet still, after 324 comments, not one piece of evidence has been presented that it's actually true.


how about the fact that pitchers don't hit as well as they used to in the past? that's pretty strong argument, sometimes the answer is right in front of your face.

I mean it's one thing to say there is no evidence, but it's another to assume the theory is correct and that the massive evidence that supports the most likely conclusion is wrong. You really need to bring in more evidence than saying 'pitching hitting' is constant, therefore since pitchers hit worse today, that means that league talent has gone down... the logical conclusion is pitching hitting has gone down for some reason, not that the quality of competition has gone down.
   327. Foghorn Leghorn Posted: May 12, 2011 at 10:07 PM (#3825627)
You've got to be careful with era adjustments, though, unless you don't mind running into Ichiro suddenly hitting .470, or Bonds hitting 80 home runs, or 1999 Pedro Martinez having an ERA of 0.40 or something in 1908. Bill Staffa over at Skeetersoft likes to temper down the outlying performances to fit the highest performances of whatever era you're sticking everyone in. In other words, Barry Bonds would still hit for power in 1908, but most of those HRs would turn into doubles and triples -- that sort of thing (assuming he had a skin color change, 1908 diet, could swing the massive bats they used, knew how to hit spitballs, etc).
Baseball has asymptotes. Use them
   328. Foghorn Leghorn Posted: May 12, 2011 at 10:10 PM (#3825631)
Also, pitchers (as hitters) walk rate is the rate that pitchers (as pitchers) can throw strikes. That's independent of a pitcher (as hitter) skill.
   329. cardsfanboy Posted: May 12, 2011 at 10:14 PM (#3825639)
Also, pitchers (as hitters) walk rate is the rate that pitchers (as pitchers) can throw strikes. That's independent of a pitcher (as hitter) skill.


clarify this please.
   330. Foghorn Leghorn Posted: May 12, 2011 at 10:25 PM (#3825652)
The walk rate of pitchers as hitters is the limit of how often a pitcher can throw strikes. No pitchers walk other pitchers by any reason but the inability to throw a strike - not nibbling, not pitching around, just unable to put the ball in the strike zone (with negligible exceptions)
   331. cardsfanboy Posted: May 12, 2011 at 10:30 PM (#3825666)
The walk rate of pitchers as hitters is the limit of how often a pitcher can throw strikes. No pitchers walk other pitchers by any reason but the inability to throw a strike - not nibbling, not pitching around, just unable to put the ball in the strike zone (with negligible exceptions)


ok, assuming that is true, how does that figure into this?
   332. Foghorn Leghorn Posted: May 13, 2011 at 03:50 AM (#3825899)
Well, that's a factor in what we call pitchers hitting that we shouldn't.
   333. PreservedFish Posted: May 13, 2011 at 04:13 AM (#3825908)
The walk rate of pitchers as hitters is the limit of how often a pitcher can throw strikes. No pitchers walk other pitchers by any reason but the inability to throw a strike


Mickey Lolich and I do not believe this.
   334. Slivers of Maranville descends into chaos (SdeB) Posted: May 13, 2011 at 04:59 AM (#3825923)
So, if I may verify something. GuyM says that Wagner would be a 93 OPS+ player for his career. Perhaps a bit more in his better seasons, say 100 OPS+. Now, we all know Wagner was one of the best players of his era. Only Cobb and a few others were as good or better. And under the system proposed, all of them would grade about as well/poorly.

It seems to me that his conclusion is not merely that Wagner wouldn't be an above-average player today, but that in all of professional baseball pre-Ruth (say 1900-1920, a full two decades), not one player who would be a solid All-Star today was produced.

I mean, say all you want about population size and no integration, but we're talking 20 years here. Not one All-Star. At a time when the country was baseball-crazy, nowhere in the country did such a player present himself. That's a fairly radical conclusion.
   335. GuyM Posted: May 13, 2011 at 12:52 PM (#3825989)
GuyM says that Wagner would be a 93 OPS+ player for his career.

That was based on simply using the ratio of a hitter's OBP and SLG to that of pitchers-as-hitters. I now realize we need to break hitting down into component parts, as I did on Ichiro upthread. When I did that, Ruth went from 124 to 159. I haven't calculated Wagner under the superior method, but I imagine he'd be something like 125-130.

how about the fact that pitchers don't hit as well as they used to in the past? that's pretty strong argument, sometimes the answer is right in front of your face....the logical conclusion is pitching hitting has gone down for some reason, not that the quality of competition has gone down.

Baseball statistics are a closed universe -- they only tell us how well players do relative to other players under those specific conditions and talent levels. I could simply reverse your statement and say "position players how hit much better than in the past compared to pitchers -- obviously, they've become better hitters." But we would both be wrong. The stats could be telling us that hitters have gotten better, OR that pitchers have gotten worse, or even that pitchers have gotten better while hitters have gotten much better. That's what we're trying to figure out.

But I think you've inadvertently explained a lot of the resistance to this idea, which is simply that pitchers today appear to be incredibly bad hitters. Their futility is quite a bit worse and more obvious than it was 50 years ago. So our intuition is "pitchers have really become worse hitters." But that's exactly what we would also observe if pitchers' hitting ability has remain unchanged, while the quality of pitching, defense, and hitting by position players have all steadily increased! The fact that pitchers suck at the plate isn't proof for any particular theory.

Take a look at the chart comparing pitchers' wOBA to hitters' wOBA in this article , and ask yourself which is the more likely explanation: a steady increase in overall talent, or an almost perfectly steady erosion of pitchers' effort at the plate? The key point is that hitting ability has played no role at all in pitchers' having their jobs, at least since 1900 (and probably earlier). So their hitting talent reflects only the hitting ability that comes from having the athletic skills to be a good pitcher (which is a lot better than me, but terrible by MLB standards). Compared to that core fact, all the other factors being discussed are relatively minor.
   336. GuyM Posted: May 13, 2011 at 02:00 PM (#3826040)
The news about Bryce Harper highlights an underappreciated reason that the quality of play has improved over time: medical technology. Before contact lenses, Harper's vision probably would have prevented him from making the majors (or certainly would have reduced his effectiveness). And how many pitchers are in MLB only because of rotator cuff surgery or Tommy John surgery? These advances alone have greatly expanded the talent pool, allowing many great athletes to keep playing at a high level who would have declined or dropped out in earlier times.
   337. Slivers of Maranville descends into chaos (SdeB) Posted: May 13, 2011 at 02:10 PM (#3826057)
I haven't calculated Wagner under the superior method, but I imagine he'd be something like 125-130.


That's kind of a massively huge difference, isn't it?
   338. GuyM Posted: May 13, 2011 at 02:17 PM (#3826064)
That's kind of a massively huge difference, isn't it?

About as "massively huge" as the difference between Wagner's OPS+ and what he would put up in today's game.

Your point is?
   339. Foghorn Leghorn Posted: May 13, 2011 at 11:16 PM (#3826620)
The news about Bryce Harper highlights an underappreciated reason that the quality of play has improved over time: medical technology. Before contact lenses, Harper's vision probably would have prevented him from making the majors
Are you suggesting that Harper has had performance enhancing surgery?
   340. Foghorn Leghorn Posted: May 13, 2011 at 11:21 PM (#3826626)
About as "massively huge" as the difference between Wagner's OPS+ and what he would put up in today's game.

Your point is?
Really? NO ONE suggest that those old players would be the same dominant players today that they were then. NO ONE> We simply said that the timelining you offered (or brought to us from someone else) was too severe. Yopu seem to be agreeing with us. No one has said "Wagner was 150 in 1910, then he would be 150 today". No one. We did say he wouldn't be a shitty player, which you did say.

You said it was *INCONCEIVABLE* that Ruth could post 170 OPS+ numbers today. Now you are saying not only is it possible, there's a peak chance he would.

Perhaps you've just changed your mind, for which you should be commended (and I am doing so because people like to say 'no one ever changes their minds in these discussions' and I think that's wrong - you have changed my views tons of times).

But the move from Wagner at 93 (or whatever) to 125 is a MASSIVE improvement - especially at his position. You went from "Honus:Also Played" to "Wagner:Still the greatest SS of all time". So when you say "Your point?" - UH, THAT. That's a huge shift.

Also, I love you, Guy.
   341. Fred Lynn Nolan Ryan Sweeney Agonistes Posted: May 13, 2011 at 11:53 PM (#3826648)
Just got my greatest EloRater duo yet:

Last Matchup You Rated: Willie Mays (+6 to 2872) over Ted Williams (-6 to 2901)
   342. AROM Posted: May 14, 2011 at 12:47 AM (#3826790)
"Are you suggesting that Harper has had performance enhancing surgery?"

Contact lenses aren't surgery. He's too young for LASIK. I made the same point in another thread, wondering if Harper in 1930 would be another Chick Hafey.
   343. GuyM Posted: May 14, 2011 at 02:48 AM (#3827044)
Did Hafey's vision problems end his career?
   344. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: May 14, 2011 at 03:20 AM (#3827066)
The news about Bryce Harper highlights an underappreciated reason that the quality of play has improved over time: medical technology. Before contact lenses, Harper's vision probably would have prevented him from making the majors

Not really, unless he never figured out that his vision wasn't what it could be with glasses, or unless for whatever reason he was too vain to wear them. Back in Chick Hafey's day, glasses were often considered mildly sissified, which is probably why so few big leaguers wore them.

(or certainly would have reduced his effectiveness)

Yeah, OTOH that's definitely true. Having had poor uncorrected vision, then glasses, then contacts, and finally Lasik, there's no question that each step along the way is a big improvement over the previous one. Glasses fog up and get dirty, and contact lenses can start to irritate you at just the wrong time. With Lasik you really do get the equivalent of "normal" vision, although once you're over about 40 most people will need reading glasses.
   345. BDC Posted: May 14, 2011 at 03:22 AM (#3827067)
Just for scale, a 125 OPS+ for a shortstop's career is considerably better than Miguel Tejada; Nomar Garciaparra's career OPS+ was 124. Imagine Nomar staying at shortstop, and healthy, for a Wagner-length career.
   346. Foghorn Leghorn Posted: May 14, 2011 at 09:17 PM (#3827349)
With Lasik you really do get the equivalent of "normal" vision
This is optional. You can get 20/10 if you want.
   347. CrosbyBird Posted: May 14, 2011 at 10:44 PM (#3827392)
This is optional. You can get 20/10 if you want.

Why doesn't everyone do that? Is there a downside?
   348. Steve Treder Posted: May 14, 2011 at 11:42 PM (#3827425)
Why doesn't everyone do that? Is there a downside?

Really. Do they charge extra for going all the way to 20/10, or something?
   349. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: May 15, 2011 at 02:45 AM (#3827569)
This is optional. You can get 20/10 if you want.


Why doesn't everyone do that? Is there a downside?

Not if you don't mind having to take reading glasses with you wherever you go, which you surely will have to do if you overcorrect to that extent. It's much better than being nearsighted, but it's still kind of a pain in the butt.

In addition, unless you plan on being the next Ted Williams, there's little real practical advantage to 20/10 over 20/20 to begin with, and anyway, after a few years it'll tend to slip back to 20/20 and you'll have to do it all over again.
   350. Dan Evensen Posted: May 15, 2011 at 03:19 AM (#3827583)
I'm scanning through this thread backwards, and came across this:

About 20 years ago I wrote a 20 page story that described a time travel World Series between the 1911 A's (the Ath-a-letics) and the 1989 A's (the Billionaires)

This I must read.
   351. Foghorn Leghorn Posted: May 16, 2011 at 11:53 AM (#3828680)
As Andy notes, there are always tradeoffs. For people between 24-36, pro baseball players, there probably aren't any real drawbacks in the short term.

These days, they will make your eyes two different specs and whatnot. It's very elaborate.
   352. GuyM Posted: May 16, 2011 at 12:59 PM (#3828708)
Have any position players had sustained success as hitters while wearing glasses? It seems to me that if you had poor vision before contacts were good enough be used by athletes, you were at a huge disadvantage. And presumably lasik has improved the talent pool even more. Toss in pitcher surgeries, and I have to think medical technology has had a pretty significant impact on overall player quality.
   353. BDC Posted: May 16, 2011 at 01:44 PM (#3828727)
Have any position players had sustained success as hitters while wearing glasses?

Some sluggers with glasses were iconic 40 years ago:

Frank Howard

Reggie Jackson

Richie Allen

A bit later, the most famous glasses I remember were Darrell Porter's: not in the same league as a slugger, but he could hit a little.

There are doubtless other examples, but I just got up and need more coffee.
   354. SOLockwood Posted: May 16, 2011 at 01:47 PM (#3828730)
Have any position players had sustained success as hitters while wearing glasses?


When did Frank Howard start wearing glasses?

(edit) Coke to Bob
   355. GuyM Posted: May 16, 2011 at 02:17 PM (#3828764)
Here is an interesting history of players wearing glasses. It seems like glasses were pretty rare among position players until the 1970s, when they became fairly common. But they were displaced by contact lenses rather quickly.
   356. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: May 16, 2011 at 02:34 PM (#3828783)
I'm scanning through this thread backwards, and came across this:

About 20 years ago I wrote a 20 page story that described a time travel World Series between the 1911 A's (the Ath-a-letics) and the 1989 A's (the Billionaires)

This I must read.


Shoot me an e-mail and I'll send you a copy. It's not Lardner or Angell, and it contains no statistical comparisons, but I had a lot of fun writing it in between dealing with customers at my book shop.
   357. GuyM Posted: May 17, 2011 at 09:40 PM (#3830739)
Update for those interested: I did some more work on building a timeline using pitchers-as-hitters. Simply adjusting OBP and SLG actually works reasonably well, but breaking out components is slightly better. Doing that and converting players to 2000-2010 stats, you get these results:
OBP/SLG/OPS+
Wagner .367 / .460 / 116
Ruth: .416 / .584 / 159
Mantle: .411 / .551 / 150

My guess is that the estimated walk rate is a bit too high. Because pitcher-hitters' walk rate can't fall below a certain level (about 3%), and overall BB rates haven't changed that much, these statistics aren't capturing the decline in BB rate we'd expect for a player facing superior competition. (For example, Ruth's BB rate declines only 1%, even though his SLG and BA drop a lot). Nonetheless, adding an adjustment for this wouldn't change the results a lot.
   358. Mike Emeigh Posted: May 17, 2011 at 10:03 PM (#3830775)
Take a look at the chart comparing pitchers' wOBA to hitters' wOBA in this article , and ask yourself which is the more likely explanation: a steady increase in overall talent, or an almost perfectly steady erosion of pitchers' effort at the plate?


How about both?

With the advent of elite travel ball, you have increasing specialization at early ages - pitchers training to pitch, hitters training to hit. In that context, you easily could see both an increase in the development of hitting talent among hitters and a decrease in the development of hitting talent among pitchers.

-- MWE
   359. GuyM Posted: May 17, 2011 at 10:35 PM (#3830801)
This is about the 40th comment making this totally hypothetical point. Evidence provided for this theory: zero. I really see no reason at all to think that the pitchers of the 1920s and 1930s worked any harder on their hitting than did the pitchers of the 1960s. If they did, there should be signs of it somewhere. And, of course, effort is a relatively small factor in comparison to raw ability, and if anything today's pitchers are better athletes.
   360. AROM Posted: May 18, 2011 at 12:00 AM (#3830834)
Interesting, Guy. I haven't gotten very far in working through this. Some obstacles I've encountered are the missing strikeout data pre 1910, and the need to smooth the function out - pitchers hitting can have a lot of year to year fluctuation.

Mantle's numbers look pretty close to what he actually did. So this is telling us is that Mantle would hit about the same playing today, but he'd be competing with a lot more great hitters, so he's worse in a relative sense.

I understand what you're saying with walks, this method may not do a good job adjusting them. I don't think a one size fits all adjustment works here though. If Ruth is a career .580 slugger today, I have no doubt in my mind that he takes enough walks to keep the .400 OBP. There are a lot of light hitting walk takers from the past, like the Eddies (Yost, Joost, Stanky) who I think would lose a much greater percentage of their walks. Conversely, I think a David Eckstein in 1930 could have been a 100 walk man. He was a huge walker in the minors, but no pitcher wants to give HIM a free pass, and today's MLB pitchers are skilled enough to avoid it.
   361. AROM Posted: May 18, 2011 at 03:53 AM (#3830977)
Pitchers who hit more often hit better than those who hit less. Two competing theories are 1) more regular work leads to better results and 2) better pitchers are better athletes, and therefore also better hitters than bad pitchers.

I looked at the time period 1910-1919, all pitcher seasons with at least 200 innings. Removed Babe Ruth for obvious reasons. Divided the pitchers into 3 groups based on pitcher WAR, 5+, 2-4.9, and under 2.

The best pitchers had -11 batting runs per 150 PA. The middle group was -12, and the worst group was -12. Doesn't look like much, if any, effect.

I'm sure it's true at the extremes, that a major league pitcher will be a better hitter than a high school or college pitcher will be. But for guys who are good enough to make the majors, there isn't much difference. A bad pitcher is likely no worse at the plate than a good pitcher.

Since pitchers from the distant past pitched much more often, and therefore hit more often, this is something worth adjusting for. Fortunately this should be easy enough to do, just base your adjustments on the pitchers who meet a certain criteria of PA, say between 25 and 100, such that the average pitcher in your sample has the same number of PA whether he's from 1910, 1960, or 2010.
   362. AROM Posted: May 18, 2011 at 03:56 AM (#3830982)
Repeated study for time period 1950-1969. Same results. Best pitchers were -17, middle and worst were -16.
   363. GuyM Posted: May 18, 2011 at 12:29 PM (#3831060)
Interesting data. I don't think this entirely rules out the possibility that sub-200 IP pitchers are slightly worse hitters, but it's strong evidence. Do these 200+ IP pitchers show the same relationship between PA and offensive performance? But I don't have any problem with limiting sample based on PA, as long as it doesn't shrink sample size so much we lose reliability.

I agree Ruth would still draw a lot of walks. The question is whether he would be quite so off the charts when his SLG drops 100 points. But it's likely not a huge deal either way. I'm not sure about Eckstein: don't you think the strikezone was probably larger in the 1930s?
   364. GuyM Posted: May 18, 2011 at 07:54 PM (#3831573)
I think we can test the proposition that pitchers are becoming steadily worse hitters by looking at their aging curves (as hitters) and comparing them to position players. If pitchers really are getting steadily worse over time, we should then observe older pitchers outhitting young pitchers at any given point in time (relative to the age split among position players), since the older pitchers came of age at a time when pitchers took their hitting more seriously.

This is a by no means an exhaustive study, but I looked at the period 1950 to 1962 which has very consistent overall offensive stats. I looked at pitchers age 27 and under vs. those age 28 and over, and did the same for hitters. The older pitchers had been born 8 years earlier, on average. If anything, it looks like older pitchers have a smaller offensive advantage than older position players.

PITCHERS:
27/under: .389 OPS
28/over: .404 OPS (+.015)
HITTERS:
27/under: .774 OPS
28/over: .795 OPS (+.021)

Perhaps other, larger studies will show that older pitchers do indeed hit better than we'd expect. But that remains to be demonstrated.
   365. Bob Veale Parmigiana Posted: May 18, 2011 at 09:30 PM (#3831707)
The difference in performance of position players can probably be ascribed to survivorship bias; ie, the cohort of position player >27 years old is of demonstrably sufficient quality to play major league baseball, whereas the younger population includes a number of players who prove not to be. (Even this younger population will, however, have had thousands of professional at bats on average.)

However, as you have been at pains to point out, pitchers are NOT selected for their hitting ability, so the different performance by age cannot be ascribed to survivorship bias. Occam's razor would suggest that the greater degree of hitting experience is a likely explanation. Either way, that experienced pitchers have a smaller hitting advantage over younger players than their positional equivalents is irrelevant- the issue is experience appears to improve absolute performance in pitcher hitting.

One other point: you (GuyM) keep stating that there is no evidence to support the notion that old-era pitchers worked any harder on their hitting than early modern pitchers. The flip side of that is that you have not provided any evidence that they didn't. Given that earlier pitchers a) generally had more professional at bats than early modern pitchers, b)delivered better performance, and c) were more likely to make the switch to full-time position player, surely the null hypothesis is that they WERE better hitters, and the ultimate burden of proof is upon you to demonstrate your claim with evidence stronger than "I think this should be true?"
   366. GuyM Posted: May 18, 2011 at 09:50 PM (#3831726)
Bob: Survivor bias is indeed a real possibility. I only did a very quick-and-dirty look at this. Teasing out the difference between aging effects and cohort effects is tricky. But I think this does provide a way for someone to show that pitchers have become worse hitters, if someone is inclined to do that. And I will change my opinion if someone does that.

I don't understand your point about years of experience improving absolute performance in pitcher hitting. Even if true, how is that relevant?

Given that earlier pitchers a) generally had more professional at bats than early modern pitchers, b)delivered better performance, and c) were more likely to make the switch to full-time position player, surely the null hypothesis is that they WERE better hitters, and the ultimate burden of proof is upon you to demonstrate your claim with evidence stronger than "I think this should be true?"

This is mostly incorrect. Pitchers didn't deliver "better performance," there was just a narrower gap between them and position players. And with a smaller gap, it would logically be true that it was much easier to move from pitcher to position player (and in fact, this never happened very much). These are no more proof that "pitchers got worse" than that "hitters got better." And since, as you concede, pitchers have been selected with no attention at all to their hitting ability, there is no reason that the "default" position should be that they have become better -- or worse -- hitters over time. Anyone wanting to argue either of those positions has the burden of proof.

The number of PA may indeed play a role. Rally has provided some limited evidence for this. However, the percentage of PAs used by pitchers only declined modestly between 1900 and 1973. So it's far from clear that this can explain any more than a tiny fraction of pitchers' relative offensive decline. But I agree it's worth studying.
   367. Johnny Sycophant-Laden Fora Posted: May 18, 2011 at 10:20 PM (#3831753)

PITCHERS:
27/under: .389 OPS
28/over: .404 OPS (+.015)
HITTERS:
27/under: .774 OPS
28/over: .795 OPS (+.021)

Bob: Survivor bias is indeed a real possibility. I only did a very quick-and-dirty look at this.


Yes, because the guys who hit .795 as a group post 28 are almost certainly guys who hit better than .774 at 27 and under, since the guys who hit very badly pre 28 are likely not playing post 28...
   368. GuyM Posted: May 18, 2011 at 10:31 PM (#3831762)
Maybe, but not definitely. I only looked at guys who qualified for the batting title. If you do that when you're 35, you're an above-average talent. But if you do that at age 22, you are also an above-average talent. You do get some young players who don't really belong, but then again some fading veterans get more PT than they really deserve too. I would guess it's close to a wash.
   369. CrosbyBird Posted: May 18, 2011 at 11:12 PM (#3831779)
These days, they will make your eyes two different specs and whatnot. It's very elaborate.

I think my doctor made my eyes slightly different specs back when I had my LASIK in 1999 or so.

This is about the 40th comment making this totally hypothetical point. Evidence provided for this theory: zero. I really see no reason at all to think that the pitchers of the 1920s and 1930s worked any harder on their hitting than did the pitchers of the 1960s. If they did, there should be signs of it somewhere. And, of course, effort is a relatively small factor in comparison to raw ability, and if anything today's pitchers are better athletes.

I think most players (pitchers and hitters) worked harder on their skills once baseball became lucrative enough to be a full-time career. I'm not sure exactly when salaries hit the point where that happened, but I would expect that players just got better because they could spend more time doing baseball stuff rather than doing other stuff like working at a steel mill during the offseason.

I think you're right that pitchers weren't chosen for hitting skill even back in the 1920s and 1930s, but if everyone is practicing more and pitchers use all of that time for extra pitching practice while hitters use most of that extra time for hitting practice that the discrepancy would get larger.

I also think that the technological advances favor hitters more than pitchers. Pitchers get to keep pitching when their arms might have given out. Hitters get all the same restorative surgery plus they have access to taped games, special hitting machines (like the one Carlos Beltran uses), superior bat technology, etc.

I don't think that 1920s and 1930s pitchers worked harder in total than modern pitchers on their hitting skills, but I strongly suspect that they worked proportionally more on their hitting skills.
   370. BDC Posted: May 19, 2011 at 12:09 AM (#3831844)
Pitchers have tended to be from the ethnicities that Michael Humphreys in Wizardry identifies as "epsilon," not "delta": IOW a substantial percentage of pitchers nowadays are white. Does that have any effect on the pitcher-hitting dynamic? If the pitcher-hitters are still being drawn from the same talent pool as 100 years ago, maybe we'd expect them to be weaker hitters. Of course, they're not weaker pitchers, the assumption goes ... Perhaps this is controlled for in the original studies.
   371. GuyM Posted: May 19, 2011 at 01:25 AM (#3831984)
If the pitcher-hitters are still being drawn from the same talent pool as 100 years ago, maybe we'd expect them to be weaker hitters.

You mean because so many of the pitchers of 1911 were of African descent?

I don't think that 1920s and 1930s pitchers worked harder in total than modern pitchers on their hitting skills, but I strongly suspect that they worked proportionally more on their hitting skills.

That could be. But it would mean that pitchers are exactly as good at hitting, in absolute terms, as they were in the 1920s and 1930s.
   372. CrosbyBird Posted: May 19, 2011 at 01:38 AM (#3832023)
That could be. But it would mean that pitchers are exactly as good at hitting, in absolute terms, as they were in the 1920s and 1930s.

They still could be better, based on better athleticism or simply because pitching gains have outpaced pitcher-hitting gains. Then again, if they're better, that means that today's hitters are probably even further from the hitters of the past in quality. How much of that is nutrition, or equipment, or medical technology is a tough question to answer.

I believe that the absolute quality of play today is simply better than the absolute quality of play in the past, and I think fifty years from now, the absolute quality of play will be better still.
   373. BDC Posted: May 19, 2011 at 02:09 AM (#3832087)
You mean because so many of the pitchers of 1911 were of African descent?

No, I mean precisely because they weren't. But my point doesn't contradict yours (for once :). Fewer pitchers today are African-American than one would expect from a completely integrated league, but they are clearly being selected for pitching alone, not at all for hitting. Still, I wonder if a more integrated pool of pitchers would produce better pitcher hitting overall. Just a thought.
   374. Foghorn Leghorn Posted: May 19, 2011 at 04:05 AM (#3832240)
Bob,
I think that's a terrific observation. Not sure which way it takes the analysis, but a great observation.
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