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Thursday, December 29, 2011

MLB Dirt: Historically Underrated: John Olerud

I know it is today…but the Jonathan C. Mitchell /John Olerud/Jim Rice argument is timeless.

image

The comparisons are close but there is a better player. While Rice definitely wins in the power department he loses in almost every other category of the game to Olerud.

This post is not to say that John Olerud belongs in the Hall of Fame or to say Jim Rice does not belong but to point out that the career Olerud had, although slightly better than Hall-of-Famer Jim Rice’s, still only kept his name on the Hall of Fame ballot for one year and he is historically underrated for his on-field accomplishments.

Repoz Posted: December 29, 2011 at 04:14 PM | 39 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: hall of fame, history, sabermetrics

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   1. RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: December 29, 2011 at 04:27 PM (#4025045)
Its funny, in Toronto there was also an underrated first baseman that wore a helmet in the field.
   2. Greg K Posted: December 29, 2011 at 04:33 PM (#4025050)
I've always thought Todd Helton made a nice comparison with Olerud. Helton had more good years, but Olerud's best years were better. Both very good hitters without being the prototypical 1B slugger.

I think Olerud is a bit under-rated. In ranking the prestigous category of former Blue Jay 1B of the past 25 years I think in general fans might go


McGriff
Delgado
Olerud

But I'd put Olerud number one.
   3. BDC Posted: December 29, 2011 at 04:51 PM (#4025065)
Here are comps (1B, corner OF, DH) centered narrowly on Olerud in terms of PA and OPS+ and ranked by WAR runs baserunning (for the heck of it):

Player           Rbaser   PA OPS+
Willie Keeler        48 9553  126
George Sisler        26 9013  124
Enos Slaughter       14 9084  124
Al Simmons            7 9515  132
Jim Rice              2 9058  128
Orlando Cepeda      
-12 8695  133
John Olerud         
-26 9063  128 


Well, that was a quick way to get Olerud into a set of Hall of Famers, though I don't know how meaningful it really is.

And here's a comps list, not quite so narrow in terms of PA and OPS+, all 1B, ranked by WAR Fielding Runs:

Player             Rfield   PA OPS+
Keith Hernandez       117 8553  128
Todd Helton            98 8725  136
John Olerud            96 9063  128
Mark Grace             77 9290  119
Ed Konetchy            50 8664  122
Gil Hodges             48 8104  119
George Sisler           6 9013  124
Will Clark              0 8283  137
Orlando Cepeda         
-9 8695  133
Andres Galarraga      
-27 8916  118
Paul Konerko          
-34 8163  121
Carlos Delgado        
-43 8657  138
Jim Bottomley         
-73 8355  124 


That's pretty much the usual suspects; I reckon a lot of Primates could have come close to it just by guessing. Overall it's cool that Olerud's career compares so nicely to Sisler's in total terms. They had different career shapes, but both were fine athletes, very good defenders, and excellent hitters for average.

EDIT: One example of their athleticism was that Olerud and Sisler were both star pitchers in college baseball.
   4. Rickey! trades in sheep and threats Posted: December 29, 2011 at 04:52 PM (#4025069)
Olerud was always The Met You Couldn't Hate.
   5. The District Attorney Posted: December 29, 2011 at 05:00 PM (#4025073)
Reposting Bill James' take on Olerud from his pay site:
In recent years it has been suggested that the Cy Young Award for Felix Hernandez or the Hall of Fame selection of Bert Blyleven show how far sabermetrics has come in winning general acceptance. Well, let me suggest that the near-unanimous rejection of John Olerud shows how far we haven’t come. If John Olerud had hit .324 in his career¹, I suggest, his value would have been considered self-evident, and people would think of him as a Hall of Famer. He would have scored about 50 less runs; he would have driven in about 70 more—which would have given him six hundred-RBI seasons, rather than three.

In my analysis, John Olerud rates as an obvious Hall of Famer.
He has Olerud's career won-lost record at 282-121.

Apparently, a big part of it is defense:
why [does] Olerud’s defense [rate] so well?

There is no easy answer; it is just that everything is positive. He committed 45 fewer errors in his career than a league-average first basemen. The third basemen and shortstops on his teams were charged with 58 fewer errors than expectation (adjusted for Olerud’s playing time.) His “arm rating”, based on an estimate of the number of plays he initiated at other bases, is very good. His teams were very good defensively, and our system assumes that if a team is good defensively, then the individuals on the team must receive credit for that. Olerud does not rate as the equal of Keith Hernandez, but he does rank as a very, very good defensive first baseman.
¹ i.e., if Olerud had had 500 fewer walks and 325 more singles in 325 more at-bats.
   6. Dale Sams Posted: December 29, 2011 at 05:13 PM (#4025087)
Fearz > derision.
   7. BDC Posted: December 29, 2011 at 05:18 PM (#4025092)
If John Olerud had hit .324 in his career

I'm sometimes leery of this kind of thought-experiment, because it supposes a player who could achieve roughly equal value by doing things at unlikely rates. People who hit over .320, in this day and age, without drawing a lot of walks, are Tony Gwynn and Ichiro. (Which suggests that to do so, you have to be a lot faster than Olerud was.)

Whereas guys who hit like the actual Olerud, while uncommon, are not out-and-out outliers.
   8. kthejoker Posted: December 29, 2011 at 06:14 PM (#4025131)
Of the 22 players from 1961 onwards with 7000+ PAs of .390+ OBP, Olerud is the slowest and probably the least powerful (lowest OPS+ and an ISO that barely beats the much longer declined careers of Rickey and Joe Morgan)

I don't know if this makes his skills and results more or less impressive.
   9. bobm Posted: December 29, 2011 at 06:17 PM (#4025137)
If he thinks Olerud is a Hall of Famer, does Bill James also think Keith Hernandez is a Hall of Famer (by the transitive law of baseball)?

[3]
And here's a comps list, not quite so narrow in terms of PA and OPS+, all 1B, ranked by WAR Fielding Runs:

Player             Rfield   PA OPS+
Keith Hernandez       117 8553  128 ...
John Olerud            96 9063  128


[5]
Reposting Bill James' take on Olerud from his pay site: ...
Well, let me suggest that the near-unanimous rejection of John Olerud shows how far we haven’t come. If John Olerud had hit .324 in his career¹, I suggest, his value would have been considered self-evident, and people would think of him as a Hall of Famer. ...

In my analysis, John Olerud rates as an obvious Hall of Famer. ...

Olerud does not rate as the equal of Keith Hernandez, but he does rank as a very, very good defensive first baseman.
   10. Cyril Morong Posted: December 29, 2011 at 06:25 PM (#4025149)
I wonder if Olerud had had his .363 and .354 season back-to-back in NY and played in the World Series one of those years if he would have gotten more support. He is 131st in career WAR for position players but he had only 2 top 5 finishes, 5 years apart. He had 7 20+ seasons in Win Shares (20 is an all-star type of year) and two of those were 30+ (an MVP type of season). He finished with 301 Win Shares. Through 2001 that would make him tied for 170th among all players and pitchers. He is 184th in WAR among all players and pitchers. But it seems that he does not have alot of peak value. I am not sure I would vote for him but I sure am glad I got to see him play at Washington State when I was in grad school.

I don't subscribe to James' pay sight, so I am not up on his latest formulas. Are any of them in a book that we can buy?
   11. andrewberg Posted: December 29, 2011 at 06:47 PM (#4025179)
It probably didn't help Olerud that he never spent a long stretch of his career in one place. By fangraphs, he had 25% of his WAR in Seattle, 31% in NY and 41% in Toronto. I think most would agree that he is "primarily" a Blue Jay, but that was still only 7 seasons. Transience can hurt a guy's perception.
   12. Tom Nawrocki Posted: December 29, 2011 at 07:12 PM (#4025199)

I've always thought Todd Helton made a nice comparison with Olerud. Helton had more good years, but Olerud's best years were better.


That's a little misleading. Olerud's best year - singular - was better than anything Helton put up, since Olerud had that massive 1993 season in which he had a 186 OPS+. But Helton put up many years as good as Olerud's second-best season. Olerud had a 163 OPS+ with the Mets in 1998 (and nothing else over 140), but Helton had full seasons of 165, 165, 163 and 160.
   13. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: December 29, 2011 at 07:18 PM (#4025204)
Given the number of "underrated" 1B, and players who get serious HoF discussion, we have from the 1985-2005 period (Olerud, W Clark, McGriff, Delgado, Palmeiro, Bagwell, Thomas, McGwire etc.) is it possible we're systematically overrating 1B from that era?

Does the 1B picture change much if you rate all players against positional average?

It seems highly, highly unlikely to me that we really had almost 10 HoF or borderline HoF 1B in the same 20 year period.

Could PEDs have helped 1B disproportionately? i.e. less worries about sacrificing mobility.
   14. Don Malcolm Posted: December 29, 2011 at 07:23 PM (#4025210)
All of this is Bill just echoing the Tango arguments about Raines, which center on the ostensibly still-underappreciated aspect of OBP (which has been tweaked to a point where it seems likely that it's now something of an overcorrection...) and the fact that folks are still seduced by high batting average. (Bill and Tango have become an odd couple over at Bill's site, kind of heart-warming and blood-chilling at the same time...)

As for Olerud: as the biggest of big Hall proponents, I'm in favor of him, but, as Cy noted, he's a really odd career offensively--only three seasons with 140+ OPS, two of which were ethereally monstrous years ('93 and '98). So displaced peaks, built around a swatch of very good seasons, and an early decline (sinking like a stone at age 34). Looking at all that, it's easy to see why the BBWAA didn't want much to do with him in terms of the "front door." But the side door may open one of these days, if we can project a slow sea-change in the VC process and the mix of folks involved with it.

What Bill seems to be eliding here is the glut of great hitters at first base, and how OBP-driven "against the grain" hitters like Olerud and Hernandez are in a kind of no-man's land for reasons that aren't solely the BBWAA's fault. The common nature of currently favored "advanced metrics" is to be inherently designed to identify these type of players and possibly privilege them over other types. Jim Rice enables this activity and motivates the type of utterances that wind up dominating (and more often than not suffocating) off-season discussion--and they will continue to do so for the foreseeable future, until someone can break the WAR/WS logjam and come up with a more comprehensive and nuanced method. At the moment, such doesn't seem to be anywhere near the horizon.
   15. Davo's Favorite Tacos Are Moose Tacos Posted: December 29, 2011 at 07:25 PM (#4025214)
The list of post-1920 Hall of Fame first basemen who didn't hit for significant power is....empty, right?

EDIT: Well, Rod Carew, but he's in as a middle infielder.
   16. Booey Posted: December 29, 2011 at 07:55 PM (#4025249)
The list of post-1920 Hall of Fame first basemen who didn't hit for significant power is....empty, right?

EDIT: Well, Rod Carew, but he's in as a middle infielder.


I wouldn't say Bill Terry had "significant" power.
   17. frannyzoo Posted: December 29, 2011 at 07:56 PM (#4025250)
#15: Bill Terry, although he did hit 20 or more HRs twice.

edit: Oh, and George Sisler straddles 1920, but he also has "factors".
   18. Danny Posted: December 29, 2011 at 08:00 PM (#4025257)
I thought that graph must be wrong, as I didn't think of Rice as having ~55 WAR. Turns out he's at 56.1 in fWAR and 41.5 in rWAR, despite them both using TZ for defense. It looks like about 1/3 of the difference is due to rWAR counting his GIDP against him, but I'm not sure what explains the rest.

Olerud is an interesting candidate with his two outstanding peak seasons. The only other eligible position players with multiple rWAR seasons of 8+ who haven't been inducted are Bagwell, Jim Wynn, and Dick Allen.

Here are the other non-HOF position players who have 6 years of 5+ rWAR:

22       Ichiro Suzuki   6
23       Lance Berkman   6
24      Carlos Beltran   6
25         Todd Helton   6
26         Derek Jeter   6
27   Vladimir Guerrero   6
28   Nomar Garciaparra   6
29         Mike Piazza   6
30         John Olerud   6
31        Kenny Lofton   6
32          Tim Raines   6
33         Dale Murphy   6
34         Bobby Bonds   6
35          Dick Allen   6
36      Charlie Keller   6
37       Dolph Camilli   6 
   19. Slivers of Maranville descends into chaos (SdeB) Posted: December 29, 2011 at 08:12 PM (#4025268)

EDIT: One example of their athleticism was that Olerud and Sisler were both star pitchers in college baseball.


He has Olerud's career won-lost record at 282-121.


Am I the only one who puzzled over whether these were supposed to be linked in some way?
   20. Sam M. Posted: December 29, 2011 at 08:19 PM (#4025275)
Olerud was always The Met You Couldn't Hate.


Perhaps someday there'll be a Brave version of this. But I doubt it.
   21. vortex of dissipation Posted: December 29, 2011 at 08:22 PM (#4025282)
Perhaps someday there'll be a Brave version of this. But I doubt it.


Dale Murphy?
   22. Cyril Morong Posted: December 29, 2011 at 08:26 PM (#4025288)
snapper wrote in #13:

"Given the number of "underrated" 1B, and players who get serious HoF discussion, we have from the 1985-2005 period (Olerud, W Clark, McGriff, Delgado, Palmeiro, Bagwell, Thomas, McGwire etc.) is it possible we're systematically overrating 1B from that era?"

From 1985-2011, a total of 43 players reached 50+ WAR. 9 Were guys who played at least 50% of their games at 1B. That does seem too high. I would expect 1/8th, maybe a little higher if durability is an issue for catchers and maybe SS/2B men. But 9 still seems like 1B men have had more than their share. If I make 1B/DH, there are 13, or about 30% of the total

Albert Pujols 89.1
Jeff Bagwell 79.9
Frank Thomas 75.9
Jim Thome 71.4
Edgar Martinez 67.2
Rafael Palmeiro 66
Mark McGwire 63.1
Todd Helton 60.2
Will Clark 57.6
John Olerud 56.8
Jason Giambi 53.7
Paul Molitor 52.2
Fred McGriff 50.5

All-time, there are 29 1B/DH with 50+ WAR. They are

Lou Gehrig 118.4
Cap Anson 99.5
Jimmie Foxx 94.1
Albert Pujols 89.1
Roger Connor 87.2
Dan Brouthers 83.7
Jeff Bagwell 79.9
Rod Carew 79.1
Frank Thomas 75.9
Paul Molitor 74.8
Jim Thome 71.4
Johnny Mize 70.2
Edgar Martinez 67.2
Eddie Murray 66.7
Rafael Palmeiro 66
Willie McCovey 65.1
Mark McGwire 63.1
Jake Beckley 61.5
Keith Hernandez 61
Todd Helton 60.2
Will Clark 57.6
John Olerud 56.8
Hank Greenberg 56.8
Bill Terry 55.4
Jason Giambi 53.7
Norm Cash 52.9
Tony Perez 50.5
Fred McGriff 50.5
George Sisler 50.4

A total of 170 players all-time have 50+ WAR. So 29/170 are 1B/DH or about 17%. Not as high a % as from 1985-2011. Olerud is 22nd. But he does have more than some Hall of Famers. But Greenberg had war years and Sisler had some kind of unusual eye injury
   23. Cyril Morong Posted: December 29, 2011 at 08:57 PM (#4025323)
Frank Thomas is one of only 20 players to have 5+ seasons of 170 or higher in OPS+ (his were all at least 174). He had 7 straight seasons of 170+ OPS with 400+ PAs. As far as I can tell, the only other guys with 7 or more straight seasons like this are Cobb, Ruth, Hornsby and Gehrig. Thomas also had a 177 in 240 PA in his first year, 1990, right before the streak started
   24. Something Other Posted: December 29, 2011 at 09:17 PM (#4025343)
In my analysis, John Olerud rates as an obvious Hall of Famer.
"Obvious"? That seems needlessly provocative. Olerud might be an obviously borderline HOFer, as in someone that should "obviously" be in the conversation, but "obvious" suggests first-ballot, no further questions needed. That doesn't quite cut it.

Nearly every great season requires some luck, but Olerud's two great years were more than that, were hugely fueled by his BABIP for those years, .375 and .373 against a career BABIP of .309. Without those two seasons we're obviously not having this conversation, and Olerud's a nice ballplayer with a career WAR in the low 50s. I'm skeptical, too, given how crude defensive measurements still are, of a player who needs every single run he can get on defense to be considered a borderline guy.

Btw, while it's true that Olerud was done after his age 33 season, his in season durability and early start means his 9000+ career PAs is still around the average for a HOFer.

edit: is the glut of HOF level 1Bman recently perhaps attributable to the failure of WAR to get replacement level correct for the position? I honestly dunno, but it's an obvious question to put.
   25. Booey Posted: December 29, 2011 at 09:40 PM (#4025357)
All-time, there are 29 1B/DH with 50+ WAR. They are

No Killebrew?

edit: is the glut of HOF level 1Bman recently perhaps attributable to the failure of WAR to get replacement level correct for the position? I honestly dunno, but it's an obvious question to put.

But other than Olerud, how many of these players were you surprised by their WAR? I think all the others were considered stars when they were in their prime and their WAR numbers look to be almost exactly where I'd expect it to be. I think it's more likely that it was just a great era for talent at the position. Plus the habit of a lot of teams moving their best hitters from third to first or DH (Edgar, Giambi, Bagwell, Thome, Pujols).

If it was more a matter of WAR failing to correctly establish replacement level, then wouldn't the trend continue until the problem was corrected? And it doesn't really look like it is. Of all active 1B, only Pujols and Cabrera look like obvious future HOFers. Guys like Fielder, Votto, Gonzalez, and Teixeira could make it (as could Howard, for the voters that only care about homers and ribbies), but they've all got a long ways to go. I don't think the game is nearly as stacked with 1B greats as it was 10-15 years ago.
   26. Sam M. Posted: December 29, 2011 at 09:43 PM (#4025360)
Nearly every great season requires some luck, but Olerud's two great years were more than that, were hugely fueled by his BABIP for those years, .375 and .373 against a career BABIP of .309. Without those two seasons we're obviously not having this conversation,


Yeah, well, without the mother of all asteroids hitting the earth and leading to the creation of the moon about 4.5 billion years ago, we've got no tides and probably no life and certainly no human life, and we're not having this conversation, either. It's all luck.

It's one thing to talk about whether a season was "lucky" for the purpose of discussing whether it reflects an active player's true ability and thus whether he's likely to repeat it. That is a useful exercise in terms of deciding whether he should be signed, whether he's worth acquiring, etc. But with a retired player? The value of the seasons was what it was; he was as great in each season as he was based on the value he produced, whether it was because he had a freakish BABIP (good), or was injured on opening day and missed the whole season (bad). Neither might be predictive going forward, but in the hindsight of a "how good was he?" HOF discussion, he was that good: he had 1993 and he had 1998. It matters not in the slightest whether anyone regards them as "lucky."
   27. Cyril Morong Posted: December 29, 2011 at 09:54 PM (#4025374)
Killebrew played less than half his games and innings at 1B
   28. Something Other Posted: December 29, 2011 at 10:38 PM (#4025399)
Uh, yeah. Nice of you to stop by just to be dismissive and stupid Sam. Thanks. For the consistency, at least.

Of course it matters, if you're talking about whether someone is a HOFer, especially when the claim is that they're an "obvious" HOFer. Some players are luckier than others. If we can (if we wanted to push it that far) attempt to establish the true talent of a player, then discover whether and by how much that player exceeded his true talent level, that could tell us whether a player was a true talent (just to use a well-understood, common means of measurement) 60 WAR player, or indeed somewhat less than that. That's useful. It's fun to know. It's interesting to think about: is so and so really a Hall of Fame talent, or did he most likely luck into the two seasons that make all the difference for his case. If I consider Olerud to be otherwise right on the line (which I do), that knowledge would be of use to me in deciding how to vote. In that sense, of course, his career--thought of broadly, with an award, THE award, still to be given or not given--is not over.

It's long been my opinion you spend far too much time around glassy-eyed, slack-jawed students who are constrained from pointing out what a self-important schmuck you can be. You're being a self-important schmuck. Go away.
   29. Los Angeles El Hombre of Anaheim Posted: December 29, 2011 at 10:39 PM (#4025403)
Still laughing at the first comment. Excellent.
   30. Ray (RDP) Posted: December 29, 2011 at 10:47 PM (#4025410)
Could PEDs have helped 1B disproportionately? i.e. less worries about sacrificing mobility.


There's nothing PEDs can't explain!
   31. Ray (RDP) Posted: December 29, 2011 at 10:49 PM (#4025412)
I think James is overrating Olerud also, but:

Nearly every great season requires some luck, but Olerud's two great years were more than that, were hugely fueled by his BABIP for those years, .375 and .373 against a career BABIP of .309. Without those two seasons we're obviously not having this conversation, and Olerud's a nice ballplayer with a career WAR in the low 50s.


Relevance? Who cares if he hit .675 on balls in play? The value he produced was the value he produced.
   32. Arbitol Dijaler Posted: December 29, 2011 at 10:52 PM (#4025413)
Yeah, well, without the mother of all asteroids hitting the earth and leading to the creation of the moon about 4.5 billion years ago, we've got no tides and probably no life and certainly no human life


How so? Do we need the moon?

Uh, yeah. Nice of you to stop by just to be dismissive and stupid Sam. Thanks. For the consistency, at least.


pwn3d!


It's long been my opinion you spend far too much time around glassy-eyed, slack-jawed students who are constrained from pointing out what a self-important schmuck you can be. You're being a self-important schmuck. Go away.


pwn3d! pwn3d!

Of course it matters, if you're talking about whether someone is a HOFer, especially when the claim is that they're an "obvious" HOFer. Some players are luckier than others.


So you're saying that you think you're better than Olerud???
   33. Johnny Sycophant-Laden Fora Posted: December 29, 2011 at 11:29 PM (#4025431)
Yeah, well, without the mother of all asteroids hitting the earth and leading to the creation of the moon about 4.5 billion years ago, we've got no tides and probably no life and certainly no human life


How so? Do we need the moon?


we'd still have solar tides (admittedly much less in magnitude than lunar tides.

Life on earth would be different without the moon and tides,
as to "probably no life" I disagree, my prediction (wild assed guess) is that any environment anywhere with liquid water (reasonably stable- in galactic terms liquid water for at least a few million years) and a heat/energy source is going to turn out to have "life" even if just of the unicellular variety- my guess is that there used to be life on Mars and may still be life in Europa- but not anything we could ever have a conversation with
   34. Sam M. Posted: December 30, 2011 at 12:14 AM (#4025455)
It's long been my opinion you spend far too much time around glassy-eyed, slack-jawed students who are constrained from pointing out what a self-important schmuck you can be. You're being a self-important schmuck. Go away.


If I cared about your opinion of me, that might sting. But of course, I don't, since your opinion about me doesn't really serve as any sort of a response to the substantive point -- ad hominem attacks being the last resort of those who have nothing of value left to add. I've never once attacked you personally -- only disagreed with arguments you've made. If you can't keep the discussion on that level, I won't respond to you. Your choice.

As for the part of your answer that was a response, I simply disagree. Whether a player was -- in your or anyone else's opinion -- "lucky" to have had HOF-caliber seasons, he had them. As I said, the luck factor has great significance to assessing current players and their likely performance going forward -- I assume we all agree on that. But when a player's career is over, I think we are evaluating the contributions he made, against some standard of performance (we're not all going to agree on where to set that bar, obviously), to decide if he merits inclusion in the HOF. When we ask if a player belongs in the HOF, it's not whether he was a "true talent" HOFer -- we could just go ahead and put Pete Reiser in the HOF if that's what it's about. It's about whether a player produced HOF-caliber performance. Ironically, I actually agree John Olerud is not an "obvious" Hall of Fame choice, because of my particular sense of how selective the Hall should be. But not because of any observation that he happened to have a high BABIP in those seasons.
   35. Walt Davis Posted: December 30, 2011 at 12:36 AM (#4025471)
Only a bit shorter than War & Peace ...

The value of the seasons was what it was

Sure, but for the HoF and perhaps especially for borderline cases, I also like to consider the "true quality" of the player.

For a non-borderline example, I consider Pedro (in his prime) to be the greatest pitcher I ever saw. Maddux and Clemens of course easily surpass him in career value and might even surpass him in peak/prime value but I still take Pedro. Similarly, I think Walker was a better player than Edgar. This partly explains my bias towards "prime" over "peak" (consistently excellent performance over "flukes") and my tolerance of guys who aren't that durable within-season (e.g. Larkin was better than Trammell and, without those injuries, it would be more obvious in the numbers).

I've never looked at Olerud in that much detail but, yeah, two career seasons driven by very high BABIPs (quite rare for a slow player without much power as far as I know) might well lead me to conclude that Olerud was not as talented as his value numbers say and, therefore, he's not as worthy as other players of similar value. That would be reinforced by the fact that they were so spread out -- i.e. it doesn't look like a guy who was really that talented who got hurt or something.

So, compare to his most obvious comp of Hernandez. Hernandez had a 128 career OPS+. Look at his prime (22-34) and all but one of those seasons is within 20 OPS+ points of his career average and the "outlier" is just a 151. Over those 13 "seasons" (some partial), he was below 120 only twice (one of those only 55 games) and 6 seasons over 136 (one of 95 games). I don't have the capacity to calculate it but throw out his best and worst seasons over that stretch and you'll get pretty much exactly the same OPS+. I'm quite confident Hernandez, in his prime, was (roughly) a true 128 OPS+ hitter with good on-base skills and great defense.

Olerud also has a 128 career OPS+. His prime covers 21-33 (to make it the same length as Hernandez). Hernandez ranged from 108 to 151; Olerud ranges from 111 to 186. Olerud has 5 seasons below 120 and three over 136 (and two right at 135-6). He's Hernandez's "equal" because of a 186 and a 163. Those were the two massive BABIP seasons of 375 and 373 and they were 6 seasons apart. Olerud's highest BABIP in any other season was 316, in 5 of those 13 seasons he was under 300. I'm pretty confident those were massive flukes -- heck, they weren't even high LD% seasons for him.

I might delve further if I had to vote but it sure looks to me like Hernandez was in fact more talented than Olerud. Of course I can't really conclude that Olerud was "lucky" and it's also possible his good luck in those two seasons was balanced out by slight bad luck in some of his lesser seasons. But if they're both borderline candidates, I'll vote Hernandez over Olerud.

On Snapper's question -- yeah, who knows, it's curious. We seem to see a lot of high OPS+s and high WARs. First we do need to make sure we're fully accounting for more players and teams when we do the historical comparisons as Cyril has started. But on the surface it seems the sillyball era didn't just lift all boats but it lifted some boats more than others.

And it makes some sense it would benefit sluggers more than others (in that league-relative sense ... i.e. after controlling for all boats being lifted). BA was higher but not ridiculously so. Walk rates were higher than historical norm but nothing extreme. Strikeouts and power went through the roof. So for whatever reasons -- and there are plenty of candidates including PEDs, ballparks, bat technology, lifting exclusive of PEDs, rabbit balls -- it was a very good era to be a muscle-bound slugger.

I would also say we should look at corner players generally not just 1B (and DH). Young players starting out at 1B seem much more common now. From 1901-1950 (800 team-seasons), only 29 players had at least 3000 PA with 80% of games at 1B prior to age 30. From 1951 to 1980 (who knows how many team-seasons, I'm too lazy ... about 570 or something) you get only 11. From 1981 to 2011 you get 32 (about 790 team-seasons). OK, not so dramatic, I guess it's the middle period that really stands out. So maybe Dick Allen gets moved to 1B a lot sooner these days.

Anyway, this bonanza of sluggers is one of the reasons I don't quite consider Edgar to be an HoFer. 312/418/515, 147 is impressive in any era obviously. Edgar's dominance starts in 1995 really. Even limiting ourselves to 1995-2003, 4500+ PA ...

Edgar is tied for 3rd in OPS+ with Sheffield at 159. They're miles behind Bonds but just a point behind Manny. But there are 9 guys in total at 150 or higher. Thome is just one point behind. Piazza's at 154 and a C; Bagwell, Giambi and Thomas are all at 151. Piazza aside, that's your parade of 1Bs and DHs (two of whom were playing OF?). Bagwell was good defensively, Thome wasn't horrible, Giambi was pretty bad. You can certainly argue that for this strict 8-year period (which misses most of Thomas's great years and catches a bit of Piazza's decline) that Edgar was the best of the non-Bonds hitters but it's a pretty indistinguishable lump and even among this slow-footed bunch, he had the least actual and possibly even the least potential defensive value.

Then, in the 140s, you get guys who actually play good defense or tougher defensive positions. Sosa (Chone loves his defense), Walker, AROD, Delgado (not good), Griffey, Chipper, Bernie (139 OPS+) and Edmonds (138).

Rank it by WAR and Edgar drops to 7th in this 8-year period. He's ahead of Edmonds, Piazza, Pudge and probably Walker and Griffey only because of playing time and Manny only because they put Manny in the field (possibly Sheff too). Start looking at it in terms of WAR per 600 PA and Edgar is likely outside the top 10 players of this 8-year period.

Now he still contributed plenty of value outside that 8-year period -- 20 WAR in about 3000 PA as Chone loves his seasons at 3B. But in career WAR from 1990-2011, he ranks 14th, only .4 ahead of Rolen, probably to be passed by Beltran and Andruw has an outside shot at passing him.

Which brings us back to my point in response to Sam. By WAR, Manny and Edgar are identical. But this is because, between fielding and positional adjustment, Manny loses 110 more runs than Edgar or about 11 wins. Now, that's real "value" but it doesn't make Manny a worse player relative to Edgar. Manny, in part due to greater career length, was a better/more valuable hitter than Edgar. Hitting is Edgar's sole HoF case and he's close to Manny only because Manny's teams stuck him in the field and Edgar's didn't. While it's reasonable to think Edgar couldn't have been any worse than Manny it is reasonable to think Edgar would have missed more time than he did and those injuries likely would have hurt his offense a bit too.* (Note, Manny is not the new HoF standard, being worse than Manny doesn't make Edgar unworthy.) Sheffield is similar as he give back nearly 15 wins more than Edgar.

Which naturally brings us to Larry Walker. Walker was better than Edgar. Walker was better than Raines. From 1990-2011, only 5 players (7000+ PA) produced WAR at a higher rate/PA than Walker -- Bonds, Pujols, AROD, Edmonds and Bagwell. Of course that was for a fairly short career. So let's look at ages 23-38 to roughly equalize the PA. He's still top 6 but it's now Rolen in place of Pujols (not enough PA). So let's look at first 16 years of a career -- now top 8, you lose Rolen, get back Pujols and pick up Griffey and (whaddya know) Edgar. Extend that last search to 1970 and you double the list to 16, adding Boggs, Schmidt, Rickey, Brett, Grich, Larkin, Carew and Bench.

Sorry, P-I doesn't make this sort of search easy to do by range. That list above is comparing Walker to guys who were better than him in WAR/PA although most only slightly. Here's a stab at a more reasonable comp list (not in a meaningful order):

Ripken
Thomas
Rolen
McGwire
Reggie
Edmonds
Bagwell
Martinez
Grich
Larkin
Carew
Bench

Of players on that list, I put Ripken, Thomas, Bagwell, Reggie and Bench distinctly above Walker due to career length and/or position. I'd put Edgar and possibly McGwire distinctly (but not as distinctly!) below him due to the fact they were pretty strictly hitters and, all else equal, I'll take the all-around guy cuz that's my bias.

I'll keep thinking on Edgar but I still suspect that, if he'd had to stay in the field, Edgar's career PA and OPS+ might be very Norm Cash or Jack Clark and that's just not an HoFer.* Like I said, on the borderline, I will take "quality" over "value".

* I'm not saying that if Cash or Clark had moved to DH that they would have hit like Edgar. I'm saying that if forced to play 1B or LF then Edgar would have been more banged up, costing him playing time and, over time, leading to some deterioration in his hitting. For those who don't know:

Edgar 8700 PA, 147 OPS+
Cash 7900 PA, 139 OPS+, 53 WAR
Clark 8200 PA, 137 OPS+, 55 WAR

Don't take the comps too literally, Clark and Cash were both relatively low BA hitters, I'm not suggesting Edgar loses a full 40 points off his BA. They're meant as comps in a career length, OPS+ sense only. And neither was a horrible fielder either.
   36. Sam M. Posted: December 30, 2011 at 12:52 AM (#4025483)
Hitting is Edgar's sole HoF case and he's close to Manny only because Manny's teams stuck him in the field and Edgar's didn't.


But Walt, Manny's teams did stick him in the field. For me, it's the same philosophy I had with respect to Olerud, although applied to a different question: you look at the seasons and the production and the value the guy actually had, not the hypothetical value or career or seasons he might have had if things had been different. Would Olerud have had a different (i.e., less valuable) career if he hadn't had two "lucky" seasons when it came to BABIP? Let's say yes -- maybe it's quite right that his career was more valuable than his true talent "should" have produced. But he produced what he produced. The question (to me) is whether he was a worthy HOFer, not whether his worthiness was lucky. As to Manny, I'd take a quite similar view: he might well have produced more value had he been a DH, because he wouldn't have had all that negative defensive value. But he didn't play for those other teams, and he didn't produce that career. Maybe that was, in a very different way, his "true talent" career in the DH era, and he was unlucky to play for a team that didn't allow him to maximize his value. But he produced what he produced -- negative defensive value and all.

The point you are making is, again, much more relevant to assessment of current players than post-hoc assessment of HOF worthiness. If you're thinking about acquiring a Manny-like player or an Edgar-like player, and you want a DH, then Manny's negative defensive value is irrelevant. He has more value, and you'd give up more to get him (in dollars or players in trade). But the real-life Manny? He played left field. That "unlucky" fact of his life -- at least for me -- doesn't get erased in the HOF assessment or (in this case) the comparison to Martinez.
   37. michaelplank has knowledgeable eyes Posted: December 30, 2011 at 03:46 AM (#4025558)
Edgar 8700 PA, 147 OPS+
Cash 7900 PA, 139 OPS+, 53 WAR
Clark 8200 PA, 137 OPS+, 55 WAR


This isn't a criticism of your excellent post or your specific comparison of Edgar to Cash (which you said not to take too literally :)), just something that interests me:

The Tigers of the 1960s, a good, occasionally great, team with a good offense, averaged about 6100 plate appearances a year, including about 500 by pitchers, (obviously) none by a DH.

The Mariners of the 1990s, a good, occasionally great, team with a good offense, averaged about 6300 plate appearances a year, including about 700 by the DH, (almost) none by pitchers.

Those extra 200 PAs aren't spread evenly throughout the batting order, but are concentrated at the top... so a 3-4 hitter for the 90s Ms might get, what, 30 extra chances compared to the 60s Tiger, just due to the difference in era, right?

Then figure that it's easier to hit with runners on more often, with 9 hitters in the lineup instead of 8, etc.

All this is back of the envelope, but I'm thinking a 139 OPS+ in 7900 PAs in the 1960s is A LOT closer to a 147 in 8700 in the 1990s than it might appear.
   38. Group Captain Mandrake Posted: December 30, 2011 at 04:30 AM (#4025577)
Which brings us back to my point in response to Sam. By WAR, Manny and Edgar are identical. But this is because, between fielding and positional adjustment, Manny loses 110 more runs than Edgar or about 11 wins


No. A DH has a greater positional penalty than a LF. Manny has -109 fielding runs and -124 positional runs. As a full time DH, he would have 0 fielding and about -210 positional runs (-14 per 650 PA or so), or only 23 fewer than he currently has. So it's more like 2 wins, not 11.
   39. akrasian Posted: December 30, 2011 at 05:06 AM (#4025586)
How so? Do we need the moon?


Yes. The axis of rotation of planets tend to wobble a bit, changing where the poles and the equators are relative to the radiation from the sun. Having a massive moon helps stabilize this. As #33 points out, there would still be unicellular life, but such massive changes in climate would have made it much less likely for complex multicellular life to develop.

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