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Friday, March 23, 2012

Neyer: Derek Jeter: Great Shortstop, Or Greatest Shortstop?

One where The Statue of Limitations finally gets his…

Whatever you might think of Derek Jeter—with 72 career Wins Above Replacement, averaging the two sources—he’s rarely been the best player in his league for even one season. In 1998 and ‘99, perhaps. And if you’re really careful, you might find another season in which he deserved the MVP Award. But even in his best seasons, he’s always had some competition, while Wagner usually didn’t. Strictly by the numbers, Wagner wasn’t just the greatest shortstop who ever played the game; he was one of the five greatest players, period. You can look it up.

...Still not ready to give up on Derek Jeter? Well, here’s how you get him past Cal Ripken and perhaps even Honus Wagner ...

First, you give him a big dollop of extra credit for the Yankees’ success since he arrived in the majors back in 1996. And he deserves some extra credit. There’s an intangible benefit to his steadiness over all those years, and his postseason numbers are right in line with his regular-season numbers ... which of course is impressive because he’s typically faced better pitching in the postseason.

Second, you assume that every single sophisticated defensive metric is just flat-wrong; that he’s been not a poor defensive shortstop for most of his career, but that instead he’s been average, at least.

If you want to award Jeter 10 extra Wins Above Replacement for his intangibles and his postseason play, and make him an average defensive shortstop, you’ve got him at roughly Cal Ripken’s level. And if you want to assume that the roughly 90 years separating Jeter from Wagner practically invalidates Wagner’s performance, then ... Well, then you can make the argument that Derek Jeter really is the best shortstop ever to play baseball.

I can’t make that argument. But to a lot of people you and I know, maybe even some of our friends, it’s not crazy.

Repoz Posted: March 23, 2012 at 01:10 PM | 319 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: history, sabermetrics, yankees

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   1. The Piehole of David Wells Posted: March 23, 2012 at 01:36 PM (#4087607)
Now that this question is finally laid to rest we can tackle the more pressing question: which would you rather have, a signed picture of A-Rod as a centaur, or a gift basket of signed Yankees memorabilia?
   2. Bob Evans Posted: March 23, 2012 at 01:36 PM (#4087608)
I'm going with "bestest".
   3. Brian C Posted: March 23, 2012 at 01:41 PM (#4087611)
So ... if you just ignore all the evidence against Jeter, and manufacture a bunch of evidence in his favor, then you can make the argument. Sounds about right.

As an aside - I had a dream the other night that I had completely forgot about until reading this. I was looking at b-ref and was hugely shocked to see that Ernie Banks played only a year at shortstop. I thought to myself, "why had I never thought to look that up before?" I was just baffled that what I thought I knew about Ernie's career had all been a lie.

   4. Gamingboy Posted: March 23, 2012 at 01:42 PM (#4087613)
And if you want to assume that the roughly 90 years separating Jeter from Wagner practically invalidates Wagner’s performance


Yeah, if something is old, just ignore it. Also, let's ignore the fact that until some injuries a few years back to one Alex Rodriguez, Jeter wasn't even the greatest shortstop on the Yankees roster.
   5. Danny Posted: March 23, 2012 at 01:46 PM (#4087622)
he’s rarely been the best player in his league for even one season. In 1998 and ‘99, perhaps. And if you’re really careful, you might find another season in which he deserved the MVP Award.

That's an odd use of "careful."
   6. PepTech Posted: March 23, 2012 at 01:47 PM (#4087623)
I'm not sure why Wagner's WAR is left out. I guess it would have messed up the narrative.
   7. The elusive Robert Denby Posted: March 23, 2012 at 01:53 PM (#4087626)
"How can you convince people that Derek Jeter is Superman? Well, first you have to ignore the fact that he's not from Krypton. And if you can look past the fact he's not faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, or able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, and give him a lot of credit for intangibles, then you can make the argument that he might really be Earth's Most Powerful Hero."
   8. AROM Posted: March 23, 2012 at 01:53 PM (#4087628)
While he acknowledges Wagner's statistical greatness, he gives us this:

"And I bring this up without even considering the manifest nature of this contention: Baseball players today are generally a great deal more talented than their ancient forebears. I don't believe that Honus Wagner could win a job in the majors leagues today. I'm not sure he could play in the Texas League.

But if we head down that rabbit hole, Babe Ruth's not a major leaguer. Ted Williams might not be. And our discussion becomes a lot less interesting, I think, if we're restricted to players from the 1960s or '70s and later."

My gut reaction is that a rate of improvement that results in prime Wagner not being good enough for AA ball today would mean that long careers are impossible.
   9. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: March 23, 2012 at 01:55 PM (#4087629)
I'm not sure why Wagner's WAR is left out. I guess it would have messed up the narrative.

Since it's likely double Jeter's, it pretty much ends the conversation.
   10. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: March 23, 2012 at 01:56 PM (#4087632)
My gut reaction is that a rate of improvement that results in prime Wagner not being good enough for AA ball today would mean that long careers are impossible.

Yup.

Jeter would have already been replaced by the supermen born 15 years later.
   11. DA Baracus Posted: March 23, 2012 at 01:56 PM (#4087633)
The former. Next question.
   12. TomH Posted: March 23, 2012 at 01:58 PM (#4087636)
And of course, by this logic in 20 years most MLB shortstops will have proven to be better than Jeter and his turn-of-the-millenium cohorts. (edit: coke to 10)

I don't recall in the ESPN 'greatest seasons' bracket voting for Jeter's 1999 over Ruth's 1921. Maybe I am mistaken.
   13. The elusive Robert Denby Posted: March 23, 2012 at 02:02 PM (#4087640)
So by this logic, Neifi Perez was better than Honus Wagner?
   14. Fancy Pants Handles lap changes with class Posted: March 23, 2012 at 02:12 PM (#4087641)
My gut reaction is that a rate of improvement that results in prime Wagner not being good enough for AA ball today would mean that long careers are impossible.


Well, I do believe modern players have improved, but that does seem rather excessive. Just doing a quick fun back-of-the-envelope type calculation- If you look at the world record for 100m and marathon*, you are looking at an improvement of 10-20% over the last 100 years. If you apply that to Wagner's OPS, you are left with about a .700-.770 OPS, which just scanning the list of some of his teams should leave him at around 90-110OPS+. Sounds about right to me. Obviously that isn't factoring in defense...

*not saying those are truly indicative of improvement in baseball, but they are easy to quantify...
   15. TerpNats Posted: March 23, 2012 at 02:12 PM (#4087642)
Jeter is probably the best shortstop in Yankees history, and you can argue he's among the top ten at his position by both longevity and offensive ability. He's never particularly wowed me with the glove, but at his career peak he was certainly solid defensively. Hate to come in between the detractors who don't think much of him at all and the Yankee fanboys who deem him the best ever, but while he's certainly a Hall of Famer, I can't put him in the same tier as Wagner, who is to shortstops what Schmidt is to third basemen -- the unquestioned best ever.
   16. Graham & the 15-win "ARod Vortex of suck" Posted: March 23, 2012 at 02:13 PM (#4087643)
This is uncharacteristically poor work from Neyer. I am in favor of timelining when comparing players from across eras, but this isn't timelining. This is jamming a conclusion into a hole and hoping no one notices all the resulting cracks. The bit about Honus Wagner failing in the Texas League is completely over the top. I don't see how you can say that Honus Wagner with all of today's medical and training advancements would be class A roster filler.
   17. Red Menace Posted: March 23, 2012 at 02:16 PM (#4087644)
As an aside - I had a dream the other night that I had completely forgot about until reading this. I was looking at b-ref and was hugely shocked to see that Ernie Banks played only a year at shortstop. I thought to myself, "why had I never thought to look that up before?" I was just baffled that what I thought I knew about Ernie's career had all been a lie.


I'd like to say I've never had dreams as mundane as checking b-ref, but it's not true.
   18. The Long Arm of Rudy Law Posted: March 23, 2012 at 02:19 PM (#4087647)
As an aside - I had a dream the other night that I had completely forgot about until reading this. I was looking at b-ref and was hugely shocked to see that Ernie Banks played only a year at shortstop. I thought to myself, "why had I never thought to look that up before?" I was just baffled that what I thought I knew about Ernie's career had all been a lie.


Everything before Jeter is a lie. He only placed Honus Wagner, Ernie Banks, and everybody else's statistics on b-ref to test our faith.
   19. Edmundo got dem ol' Kozma blues again mama Posted: March 23, 2012 at 02:30 PM (#4087652)
"How can you convince people that Derek Jeter is Superman? Well, first you have to ignore the fact that he's not from Krypton. And if you can look past the fact he's not faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, or able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, and give him a lot of credit for intangibles, then you can make the argument that he might really be Earth's Most Powerful Hero."


Superman had it easy as he could monogram all his gift baskets with LL.
   20. A big pile of nonsense (gef the talking mongoose) Posted: March 23, 2012 at 02:34 PM (#4087656)
In fairness, Wagner would be 131, so he might indeed have problems making most Texas League teams. (I see he has the same birthday as my dad, though the turned 59 the day the latter was born.)

There's also the part about being dead for 56 years.
   21. Don Geovany Soto (chris h.) Posted: March 23, 2012 at 02:43 PM (#4087660)
WTF has happened to Neyer? I could swear I remember cogent, well-thought-out arguments from him before, but this strikes me as a conclusion looking for data.
   22. dlf Posted: March 23, 2012 at 02:43 PM (#4087661)
There's also the part about being dead for 56 years.


So you're saying his defensive range is now Jeterian?
   23. GEB4000 Posted: March 23, 2012 at 02:45 PM (#4087663)
Wagner is not the guy to pick for timelining. He was just too dominating on offense and defense. He was a man among boys. Bill James has 1908 as his best season because the league scored fewer runs that season and it had no effect on Wagner's production. He made whatever adjustments he needed to make to keep producing at his normal level and I don't see why he couldn't make the same adjustments to excel in the modern game. I could see him hitting like Brett.
   24. GuyM Posted: March 23, 2012 at 02:45 PM (#4087664)
There is one fairly constant factor in baseball, which is pitcher hitting. Pitchers have never been picked for their ability to hit -- they are basically good athletes who have been hitting since they were kids, but they aren't in MLB because of their hitting. Wagner was .391/.467 OBP/SLG for his career, while pitchers of his era were about .214/.205. So Wagner had an OBP that was 1.82 * PitchOBP, and his SLG was 2.27 * PitcherSLG. Today, NL pitchers are about .175/.174 hitters as a group. So if Wagner performed as well relative to pitchers as he did in his own time, that would put him at .319 OBP and .395 SLG today, or an OPS+ of about 93. That's for his career -- higher at this peak.
   25. Jose Can Still Seabiscuit Posted: March 23, 2012 at 02:46 PM (#4087665)
There's also the part about being dead for 56 years.


56 years after he dies, Matt Wieters will hit 25 home runs and win a Gold Glove.
   26. JJ1986 Posted: March 23, 2012 at 02:46 PM (#4087666)
From the article:

Going strictly by the numbers, nearly all of the greatest players played a long time ago. Strictly by the numbers, the only "modern" players who get any real attention are Mike Schmidt and Johnny Bench and Barry Bonds.


Willie Mays?
   27. Brian C Posted: March 23, 2012 at 02:50 PM (#4087670)
I'd like to say I've never had dreams as mundane as checking b-ref, but it's not true.

Well, I was also flying at the time, but that part didn't seem relevant.
   28. Dale Sams Posted: March 23, 2012 at 02:51 PM (#4087672)
I hate that "Babe Ruth couldn't make a single A squad argument" As if athletes today are somehow geneticlly superior to people who lived back then. Let's see how Julio Lugo does on a muddy field, with a wet, misshaped dark ball thrown from a higher mound, with no backdrop, having to stand further off the plate (or get beaned without a helmet) playing some 190 games a year and travelling around by train in smoke-filled cars* before we say that Honus Wagner couldn't make a AA team today.

*The only advantage Julio would have is he could get amphetimines freely. Probably....and beat his wife without repurcussions.
   29. Brian C Posted: March 23, 2012 at 02:54 PM (#4087673)
WTF has happened to Neyer? I could swear I remember cogent, well-thought-out arguments from him before, but this strikes me as a conclusion looking for data.

Isn't that kind of his point? I feel like he's pretty up front about what he's doing here and why.
   30. A big pile of nonsense (gef the talking mongoose) Posted: March 23, 2012 at 02:54 PM (#4087675)
.and beat his wife without repurcussions.


Sad to say, he could almost certainly have done that 100 years ago, too.
   31. AROM Posted: March 23, 2012 at 02:55 PM (#4087676)
Guy,

If you're going to bring up the pitcher hitting thing again I'm going to have to remind people about the shortcomings of that.

1. Pitchers who are not selected for hitting hit better against MLB pitching than they do against minor league pitching.
2. The more chances pitchers get to hit, the better their performance. Pitchers batting 3-4 times per game every 3rd or 4th day should hit better than those who get 2-3 PA every 5th day.
3. The DH killed the chances for pitchers to develop their hitting ability coming up through the minors.

In short, it ain't that simple.
   32. A big pile of nonsense (gef the talking mongoose) Posted: March 23, 2012 at 02:57 PM (#4087678)
So you're saying his defensive range is now Jeterian?


That, & he'd probably be one of the best players on the Astros.
   33. Graham & the 15-win "ARod Vortex of suck" Posted: March 23, 2012 at 02:58 PM (#4087679)
#26

Nearly all of the best catchers and third basemen have come since integration: Schmidt, Boggs, Brett, Jones, Mathews, Bench, Carter, Fisk, and so on. Joe Morgan is more or less in the same tier as Hornsby, Collins, and Lajoie. Albert Pujols could end up as the best first basemen of all time. Clemens, Johnson, Maddux, Pedro, and Seaver are all in the dicussion for greatest pitcher (depending on how you weight peak). Despite sub-optimal usage of relievers, Mo Rivera is pretty clearly the best reliever ever. Alex Rodriguez is one of the greatest players of all-time, period.

I'm getting tired of people suggesting that baseball nerds overrate past players. Any credible historian can create a balanced list of greats without saying "today's players couldn't hold Bill Terry's jock" or "Lefty Grove would be a decent pitcher today . . . a Chicago softball rec league." Bill James, despite his flaws, was able to do it in the Historical Abstract.
   34. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: March 23, 2012 at 03:02 PM (#4087682)
So if Wagner performed as well relative to pitchers as he did in his own time, that would put him at .319 OBP and .395 SLG today, or an OPS+ of about 93. That's for his career -- higher at this peak.

Do you really believe that? Honus Wagner, with the full benefit of modern training and nutrition and medicine is going to post a 93 OPS+?
   35. GuyM Posted: March 23, 2012 at 03:02 PM (#4087683)
AROM
1) I don't follow this. What do you mean?
2/3: I agree that # of PA makes some difference. But the vast majority of the relative decline in pitchers' hitting performance since Wagner's day took place before the 1970s, when pitchers were still doing a fair amount of hitting. And because of that, the DH is basically irrelevant to this discussion (as you know).

   36. GuyM Posted: March 23, 2012 at 03:05 PM (#4087687)
Snapper: If you believe Wagner would benefit from modern training and medicine, you can bump him up accordingly. I see little reason to think they would make much difference for Wagner. Of course, today's pitchers also have all those same benefits over the pitchers of Wagner's time. And though neither groups was selected for their hitting ability, today's pitchers are much bigger and stronger athletes overall. So they may very well be better hitters -- I was being conservative in calling them equal.
   37. Jose Can Still Seabiscuit Posted: March 23, 2012 at 03:05 PM (#4087688)
Going strictly by the numbers, nearly all of the greatest players played a long time ago. Strictly by the numbers, the only "modern" players who get any real attention are Mike Schmidt and Johnny Bench and Barry Bonds.


How many modern players are being unfairly eliminated from attention? If you define "modern" as expansion era the best are;

1B - Pujols
2B - Morgan
3B - Schmidt
SS - Ripken/A-Rod depending on your peak/career bent
LF - Rice (oh c'mon, laugh a little)
CF - Mays
RF - Aaron
C - Bench
SP - Clemens

I think all except Pujols and probably Aaron get consideration as the best ever at their positions and I think the presence of Gehrig and Ruth at the top of those particular lists makes it a tough argument that they belong there.

Edited because DGS pointed out I added the word "don't" in a very bad place completely changing my point.
   38. Graham & the 15-win "ARod Vortex of suck" Posted: March 23, 2012 at 03:09 PM (#4087691)
#37

Really?

I would take Mays over Cobb, Schmidt (or any other modern 3B great) over any old timer, Clemens over Johnson, Bench over Berra, and Bonds over Williams. I don't see a huge difference between Morgan and Hornsby either.
   39. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: March 23, 2012 at 03:10 PM (#4087694)
Snapper: If you believe Wagner would benefit from modern training and medicine, you can bump him up accordingly. I see little reason to think they would make much difference for Wagner. Of course, today's pitchers also have all those same benefits over the pitchers of Wagner's time. And though neither groups was selected for their hitting ability, today's pitchers are much bigger and stronger athletes overall. So they may very well be better hitters -- I was being conservative in calling them equal.

Why wouldn't it matter? If he played today, he'd be bigger and stronger than he was then.

Why would you assume the ratio of batter hitting talent to pitcher hitting talent is consistent over time? Is it true when comparing C to 3B?
   40. Jose Can Still Seabiscuit Posted: March 23, 2012 at 03:10 PM (#4087695)
Yup you're right. I made a mistake that completely changed my point.
   41. Don Geovany Soto (chris h.) Posted: March 23, 2012 at 03:10 PM (#4087696)
Isn't that kind of his point? I feel like he's pretty up front about what he's doing here and why.

OK, then perhaps it's an article in search of a raison d'être.
   42. Misirlou's been working for the drug squad Posted: March 23, 2012 at 03:12 PM (#4087698)
Today, NL pitchers are about .175/.174 hitters as a group. So if Wagner performed as well relative to pitchers as he did in his own time, that would put him at .319 OBP and .395 SLG today, or an OPS+ of about 93. That's for his career -- higher at this peak.


The pitchers of Mickey Mantle's era batted ~ .199/.203. Doing the same adjustment for Mick, you get .370/.479, or about Jorge Posada. Is that where you want to go?
   43. Jose Can Still Seabiscuit Posted: March 23, 2012 at 03:12 PM (#4087699)
Why wouldn't it matter? If he played today, he'd be bigger and stronger than he was then.


I think the difference is that there is less spread between the best and the worst of MLB. I think the talent acquisition is more efficient so that the the 1,200 or so MLB player each year probably represent the 1,200 best baseball players on the planet more closely than they did in 1910 or 1930.
   44. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: March 23, 2012 at 03:14 PM (#4087701)
The pitchers of Mickey Mantle's era batted ~ .199/.203. Doing the same adjustment for Mick, you get .370/.479, or about Jorge Posada. Is that where you want to go?

I'd also like to know what the mechanism is for this huge improvement.

In track and field, it's pretty clearly been better and more specific training (as well as better shoes and tracks). I'd would assume it would be the same in baseball.

There hasn't been some big genetic shift in the population.
   45. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: March 23, 2012 at 03:16 PM (#4087702)
I think the difference is that there is less spread between the best and the worst of MLB. I think the talent acquisition is more efficient so that the the 1,200 or so MLB player each year probably represent the 1,200 best baseball players on the planet more closely than they did in 1910 or 1930.

Agreed, and the population is bigger, but the league is too. I'm not saying he'd post the same 130 WAR playing today.
   46. GuyM Posted: March 23, 2012 at 03:19 PM (#4087708)
Why wouldn't it matter? If he played today, he'd be bigger and stronger than he was then.

I don't see why. Wagner was one of the great athletes of his time. We have to assume that his health and nutrition were quite good, and that he essentially maximized his genetic potential. He might benefit from strength training, though by all accounts he was already very strong.

Why would you assume the ratio of batter hitting talent to pitcher hitting talent is consistent over time?

The whole point of this is that they are NOT consistent over time.

The pitchers of Mickey Mantle's era batted ~ .199/.203. Doing the same adjustment for Mick, you get .370/.479, or about Jorge Posada. Is that where you want to go?

I'd have to check your math. When I tried to adjust Mantle using this method, I think he ended up somewhere around 150 OPS+ -- a bit behind Pujols, but still excellent.

EDIT: In my data, pitchers in the 1960s hit .183/.172. I think I looked at the 200 pitchers with the largest # of PA. That will make Mick look a LOT better.
   47. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: March 23, 2012 at 03:26 PM (#4087715)
The whole point of this is that they are NOT consistent over time.

Then why mightn't Wagner perform better relative to today's Ps, than he did relative to his?

Why can't pitchers be absolutely worse hitters today?
   48. The Long Arm of Rudy Law Posted: March 23, 2012 at 03:34 PM (#4087722)
When pitchers pitched more innings, they had more at bats, so they were probably a little better at hitting in general.
   49. GuyM Posted: March 23, 2012 at 03:43 PM (#4087728)
Snapper: We know how much better Wagner was than the pitchers of his time, let's call it 4*P. If today's pitchers are roughly equal in hitting ability, then Wagner would of course still be 4*P (leaving aside your theory that new Wagner is actually better than old Wagner).

Today's pitchers could be worse hitters -- despite being larger and stronger -- but why would they be?

Law: yes, I agree. But I don't think it changes the #s a lot.
   50. Booey Posted: March 23, 2012 at 03:45 PM (#4087733)
which would you rather have, a signed picture of A-Rod as a centaur, or a gift basket of signed Yankees memorabilia?

Um, depends on what exactly I had to do to get the gift basket...
   51. John DiFool2 Posted: March 23, 2012 at 03:46 PM (#4087734)
I'm a pretty consistent believer in timelining, but if anyone could beat the curve it would be Wagner (again, I assume that he is born as a contemporary, not time-machined ahead 100 years). Remember the dead-ball baseballs held down his power, but given lively clean balls and shorter fences, he and his massive build would probably be at or near the top of the HR list each year, so even if his average were to fall I don't think he'd lose too much value. There'd just be a lot more players playing at his level than there were in his prime.
   52. Matt Clement of Alexandria Posted: March 23, 2012 at 03:52 PM (#4087740)
GuyM -

Didn't we have this discussion in May? And didn't you find that a straight-OPS comparison massively overstated the difference in league quality?

...

Yeah, here's the link. You found that when you used a component analysis instead of a pure OPS analysis, Wagner's translated stat line was 367/460 for a 116 OPS+. That's still a huge timeline effect, but you're no longer turning Wagner into Edgar Renteria.

By comparison, Cal Ripken had a 112 OPS+ in about 1000 more PA, Jeter is 117 in a similar total of PA, Luke Appling 113 in 1000 fewer.
   53. The Good Face Posted: March 23, 2012 at 04:01 PM (#4087746)
Why wouldn't it matter? If he played today, he'd be bigger and stronger than he was then.

I don't see why. Wagner was one of the great athletes of his time. We have to assume that his health and nutrition were quite good, and that he essentially maximized his genetic potential. He might benefit from strength training, though by all accounts he was already very strong.


Agreed. Wagner actually was into strength training back in his day. While modern training techniques and equipment are probably better than the huge triangular weights and round cartoonish barbells I like to imagine old Honus swinging around, hopefully while wearing a leopard skin singlet, I doubt we'd be looking at a big change in his strength or fitness. Wagner was tall for his time period, 200 pounds and physically powerful.... he wasn't some stunted, malnourished peasant from the Dung Ages.
   54. Los Angeles El Hombre of Anaheim Posted: March 23, 2012 at 04:09 PM (#4087750)
Today's pitchers could be worse hitters -- despite being larger and stronger -- but why would they be?
Specialization?
   55. Joyful Calculus Instructor Posted: March 23, 2012 at 04:09 PM (#4087751)
I read a study before where they tried to quantify timelining. Pretty much, it looked at the aggregatate stats of players in given age bracket and how they performed from one year to the next, to try to find change in competition level. The results were pretty much what you would expect: slow but steady improvement of competition level over time with slight dips in expansion years. IIRC, it said TeD Williams .406 in 1941 would translate to around a ~.340 today.

Edit: Found the article. It's in the book Mathletics by Wayne L. Winston. The article is titled "Would Ted Williams hit .400 today?" Williams BA translates to a .344 in 2005 according to the article.
   56. Booey Posted: March 23, 2012 at 04:12 PM (#4087752)
I'm getting tired of people suggesting that baseball nerds overrate past players

I agree about the "so and so couldn't even crack a minor league roster today" types, but it's also hard to ignore the fact that so many of the all time leaders in black ink played before integration. I don't know how anyone could argue that it WASN'T easier to lead the league in something when you were competing against many fewer players that were drawn from a much smaller, weaker, and less diverse talent pool.

For example, when you're talking about the super inner circle elites, all of the following would make most peoples top 20 list, right?

Ruth
Cobb
W. Johnson
Speaker
Hornsby
Collins
Alexander

Well, their careers all overlapped for an incredible 13 seasons from 1915-1927, so we're not talking about players who barely squeaked into each other's list of contemporaries with a couple seasons on the front or tail end of that span (otherwise we could include Wagner and Gehrig too). That's 7 out of 20 - more than a third - of the greatest players ever coming from a single "era." That just doesn't seem right. Since talent distribution is and has always been random, its possible of course that that many of the true greats just happened to be playing at the same time. But since there's no other span in baseball history where so many of the true greats overlapped for such a long period of time, I think it's more likely that we're simply not making proper timeline adjustments and may be overrating the old timers just a tad.

7 of the top 20 players making their debut's within an 11 season span (1905-1915)? I don't know...
   57. Bob Meta-Meusel Posted: March 23, 2012 at 04:15 PM (#4087757)
Today's pitchers could be worse hitters -- despite being larger and stronger -- but why would they be?


Because they've had a lot less practice at it, so they aren't as skilled. If all it took to be a good hitter was being big and strong the major leagues would be full of 350 pound behemoths.

Why wouldn't it matter? If he played today, he'd be bigger and stronger than he was then.



I don't see why. Wagner was one of the great athletes of his time. We have to assume that his health and nutrition were quite good, and that he essentially maximized his genetic potential. He might benefit from strength training, though by all accounts he was already very strong.


My understanding of timelining (which admittedly, I'm not a huge fan of) is that there are essentially 2 arguments:

1) That training, nutrition, equipment, etc. have made it possible for people to perform better now than they did in the past.
2) That baseball does a better job of recruiting more of the world's best athletes than it did in Wagner's time.

If you're going to concede that Wagner was one of the great athletes of his time, you're saying that #2 isn't a factor.
If you're saying that he had essentially maximized his genetic potential, then you're also saying that #1 isn't a factor for him.

So, now that you've negated both of what I understand are the two main reasons for timelining, why would we timeline for Wagner? If he was one of the great athletes of his generation and had maximized his genetic potential, then why wouldn't we expect his performance in the current time to be on par with the great athletes of the current generation? Has something changed to make the genetic potential of the current generation of athletes greater than it was just a century ago?
   58. GuyM Posted: March 23, 2012 at 04:16 PM (#4087759)
MCOA: Good catch. I didn't remember the discussion of component analysis. There are a number of ways you could try to adjust, and figuring out the best way to adjust by component would be complicated. But I think someone could do it, by looking at periods with sudden changes in offense (e.g. 1992/1993) and players transitioning from minors to majors. In fact, the guys who do projections may already have pretty good ideas on how to do that.

In any case, I found a better estimate using OBP and SLG on Wagner which puts him at around 107 OPS+. So somewhere in the 107-116 OPS+ range, using this approach, not the 93 I cited earlier. Still pretty darn good for a SS (assuming you think he could handle the position today).


   59. GuyM Posted: March 23, 2012 at 04:23 PM (#4087763)
My understanding of timelining (which admittedly, I'm not a huge fan of) is that there are essentially 2 arguments:
1) That training, nutrition, equipment, etc. have made it possible for people to perform better now than they did in the past.
2) That baseball does a better job of recruiting more of the world's best athletes than it did in Wagner's time.

I'm afraid you've been misinformed. The principal reason for timelining is that the population from which elite athletes are drawn has grown both larger and better, due to population growth and public health improvements. Just to take a simple example, the global pool of 20-yr-old males who are at least 6' tall and 190 lbs who have played baseball in any kind of serious way has probably increased at least 10-fold since Wagner's day. When you pick out the very best to play major league baseball, they will be considerably better than the best of Wagner's day.

   60. Hysterical & Useless Posted: March 23, 2012 at 04:27 PM (#4087765)
There's a lot more to "improved training" than just better equipment. There is actually today a better understanding of human anatomy & physiology, of what muscle groups need to be worked for specific activities, and how best to do that work. Paavo Nurmi, the great Finnish distance runner from the early 20th century, lamented in his later years how much of his training time had been utterly wasted. In his youth, the theory was that walking long distances was important for distance runners, so he would go out for 4 and 5 hour walks. Sure, walking is great for the general cardio fitness of the average person, but it won't make you a competitive distance runner. The same goes for weight training. Wagner was way ahead of his time in doing weights at all, but I really doubt he was using them as effectively as he would under the tutelage of a good modern trainer.
   61. Mefisto Posted: March 23, 2012 at 04:27 PM (#4087766)
My understanding of timelining (which admittedly, I'm not a huge fan of) is that there are essentially 2 arguments:

1) That training, nutrition, equipment, etc. have made it possible for people to perform better now than they did in the past.
2) That baseball does a better job of recruiting more of the world's best athletes than it did in Wagner's time.

If you're going to concede that Wagner was one of the great athletes of his time, you're saying that #2 isn't a factor.
If you're saying that he had essentially maximized his genetic potential, then you're also saying that #1 isn't a factor for him.


No, you've got #2 wrong. OPS+ and similar measures are relative. If the other players in the league are relatively better, the top OPS+ must come down unless you believe that there is no upper limit on performance.

This also impacts #1, because if Wagner better maximized his genetic potential compared to his competitors, but wouldn't do that today, you get the same result -- the distance from top to bottom compresses.
   62. cercopithecus aethiops Posted: March 23, 2012 at 04:29 PM (#4087768)
Willie Mays?


Semantics? Willie Mays has been retired for almost 40 years, or five years longer than Honus Wagner had been retired when Willie made his MLB debut. I don't think anybody thought of Wagner as a modern player back in the 1950s. At the very least, we're rapidly approaching the day when it won't make much sense to refer to Willie as a "modern" player.

In any case, it does make for some interesting food for thought. I doubt that anyone would assert that Willie Mays couldn't crack a major-league roster today. A lot of people seem to have this notion that the game of 2012 isn't all that different from the game of 1962, but that the game of 1912 was basically a joke. It's a little more complicated than that.
   63. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: March 23, 2012 at 04:29 PM (#4087769)
I'm afraid you've been misinformed. The principal reason for timelining is that the population from which elite athletes are drawn has grown both larger and better, due to population growth and public health improvements. Just to take a simple example, the global pool of 20-yr-old males who are at least 6' tall and 190 lbs who have played baseball in any kind of serious way has probably increased at least 10-fold since Wagner's day. When you pick out the very best to play major league baseball, they will be considerably better than the best of Wagner's day.

I think that's a dangerous conclusion. Don't assume changes in the mean affect the far, far, far outlying tails proportionately.

Inegration, internationalization are valid points, but the average 20 y.o. American male is probably in much, much worse physical shape than his forebear of 1920. The common man in the US was never undernourished (excluding the Great Depression) like European and Asian peasantry. And playing on travel teams, and HS weight rooms are no substitute for field and factory work in building strength.

You can see this based on how many MLB players come out of dirt poor Latin American backgrounds.

I would think Lou Gehrig was every bit as strong as Albert Pujols, and Babe Ruth stronger than Barry Bonds. Ruth certainly hit his avg. HR farther, which isn't based on competition at all.
   64. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: March 23, 2012 at 04:31 PM (#4087771)
Today's pitchers could be worse hitters -- despite being larger and stronger -- but why would they be?

This.

Specialization?

Young males play much less baseball than they did 100 years ago, and players specialize much, much earlier. The average pitcher probably cared about his hitting a lot longer in the past.
   65. PreservedFish Posted: March 23, 2012 at 04:42 PM (#4087782)
I would think Lou Gehrig was every bit as strong as Albert Pujols, and Babe Ruth stronger than Barry Bonds.


I doubt it.

Ruth

Bonds


Ruth certainly hit his avg. HR farther, which isn't based on competition at all.


I don't see how this isn't based on competition. They're not hitting off a tee. (Even assuming the numbers are reliable)
   66. Mefisto Posted: March 23, 2012 at 04:44 PM (#4087785)
The common man in the US was never undernourished (excluding the Great Depression) like European and Asian peasantry.


This is incorrect. Remember that the "common man" in the US by 1900 was often a first or second generation immigrant. They were much smaller. In addition, industrialization made living conditions much worse for the lower classes in the short run (the opposite in the longer run). Diseases like tuberculosis became much more common. The average height in the US dropped quite a bit between 1800 and 1900.
   67. The Id of SugarBear Blanks Posted: March 23, 2012 at 04:44 PM (#4087786)
Young males play much less baseball than they did 100 years ago, and players specialize much, much earlier. The average pitcher probably cared about his hitting a lot longer in the past.

Ah, you guys beat me to it. This is the reason. Division of labor and improved mechanisms of sorting and tracking. On average, people are much better at their vocation now, and much worse in their avocation as compared to professionals.

I doubt that anyone would assert that Willie Mays couldn't crack a major-league roster today.

Willie Mays led the league in OBP and OPS+d 158 at the age of 40 in 1971. He was 23 for 26 in stolen bases.

There's plenty of TV footage of 1971 games extant that most of us have seen. That was major league baseball as we know it. Willie Mays would be a superstar today.

On timelining: it's not just modern training methods, nutrition and specialization; it's also top-grade coaching and teaching and, more importantly, video. Honus Wagner almost certainly never saw himself hit a baseball.
   68. GuyM Posted: March 23, 2012 at 04:50 PM (#4087792)
When do you think this greatly increased "specialization" took place? For example, if we had had this discussion in 1970, do you think people would have seriously argued that pitchers of that time were worse hitters than those in 1905?
   69. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: March 23, 2012 at 04:52 PM (#4087794)
This is incorrect. Remember that the "common man" in the US by 1900 was often a first or second generation immigrant. They were much smaller. In addition, industrialization made living conditions much worse for the lower classes in the short run (the opposite in the longer run). Diseases like tuberculosis became much more common. The average height in the US dropped quite a bit between 1800 and 1900.

Nothing close to the height drop in Europe.

If this was such a big factor, why is baseball today made up of so many poor kids from Latin American slums?
   70. The Id of SugarBear Blanks Posted: March 23, 2012 at 04:54 PM (#4087795)
When do you think this greatly increased "specialization" took place?

It's happened over time, gradually. It's a natural and predictable result of capitalism.

As to baseball in particular, even some of the best major leaguers weren't full time baseball players until the early to mid 1970s when free agency entered the game.
   71. Graham & the 15-win "ARod Vortex of suck" Posted: March 23, 2012 at 04:57 PM (#4087798)
". . . Babe Ruth stronger than Barry Bonds. Ruth certainly hit his avg. HR farther, which isn't based on competition at all."

There is some bias here, I think. The fences were much farther away (generally speaking) in Ruth's day so of course his average home run is going to be longer.

I also think competition does have some effect. I would think that a major leaguer would, on average, hit a ball harder off Bronson Arroyo than off Roy Halladay.
   72. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: March 23, 2012 at 04:57 PM (#4087799)

I doubt it.

Ruth

Bonds


Definition and bulk does not equal strength.\


I don't see how this isn't based on competition. They're not hitting off a tee. (Even assuming the numbers are reliable)


The numbers seem pretty reliable. It's from that crazy book that claimed Ruth would hit 1000 HRs today.

The conclusion was wacky, but the HR distances seemed impeccably sourced. He references multiple newspaper accounts for each HR (and remember, there were A LOT of newspapers in the 20's and 30's), and the papers were very descriptive (since they were the only account most people got of the game).

How would pitching quality effect HR distance? Assuming you've squared up on a pitch, the distance is all the hitter at that point.

Pitch velocity doesn't matter, otherwise we wouldn't see the moon-shot displays in batting practice and HR derby.

   73. AROM Posted: March 23, 2012 at 04:59 PM (#4087802)
I would think Lou Gehrig was every bit as strong as Albert Pujols, and Babe Ruth stronger than Barry Bonds.


Bill James wrote something like this in the historical baseball abstract. Something like "Gehrig was probably stronger in the upper body than players today, even with weight training". At the time I read it, I thought aout Kevin Mitchell and Jose Canseco, and looked at photos of Lou Gehrig.

It didn't seem remotely believable to me. I'm sure Lou was no weakling and would still be a power hitter today. But he was human, and didn't look nearly as big as those guys.
   74. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: March 23, 2012 at 05:00 PM (#4087803)

There is some bias here, I think. The fences were much farther away (generally speaking) in Ruth's day so of course his average home run is going to be longer.


Possibly true. But, the gap was absolutely huge.

I also think competition does have some effect. I would think that a major leaguer would, on average, hit a ball harder off Bronson Arroyo than off Roy Halladay.

On average, a batted ball will be hit less hard, yes. But, I'd expect that to show up as a lot fewer HRs allowed by Halladay than Arroyo.

I see no reason why the average HR would be less well hit. I've never heard anyone say that most HRs against good pitchers are "just enoughs". I guess this could be tested pretty easily with a DB of HR distances by pitcher.
   75. GuyM Posted: March 23, 2012 at 05:00 PM (#4087804)
If this was such a big factor, why is baseball shortstops today made up of so many poor kids from Latin American slums?

FTFY
   76. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: March 23, 2012 at 05:04 PM (#4087808)
Bill James wrote something like this in the historical baseball abstract. Something like "Gehrig was probably stronger in the upper body than players today, even with weight training". At the time I read it, I thought aout Kevin Mitchell and Jose Canseco, and looked at photos of Lou Gehrig.

It didn't seem remotely believable to me. I'm sure Lou was no weakling and would still be a power hitter today. But he was human, and didn't look nearly as big as those guys.


Oh, I believe it.

My father-in-law is in construction, and seeing his strength at 70, and especially the strength of some of these 5'4" tubby looking Mexican guys, convince me that a life of hard physical labor builds incredible strength w/o showing up in definition.

I think the difference is a natural "cross-training" approach like farm work or construction, doesn't build huge bulk or muscle definition. But, there's a ton of core strength. Remember, most of these guys were doing manual labor from age 6 or 7. Not hitting the weight room at 20 or 21.
   77. cercopithecus aethiops Posted: March 23, 2012 at 05:05 PM (#4087809)
There's plenty of TV footage of 1971 games extant that most of us have seen. That was major league baseball as we know it.


Sure, except for the part about three or four guys in every lineup who couldn't hit a lick. You'll find non-pitchers in that footage with swings that are approximately as ugly as my grandmother's.

If 1970s television technology had existed in the 1920s, you'd watch that footage and say "that was major league baseball as we know it." The point is that the question is primarily one of the depth of the talent pool rather than one of a fundamental change in the nature of the game (at least once you get to the advent of the live ball).
   78. The Good Face Posted: March 23, 2012 at 05:11 PM (#4087813)
Wagner was way ahead of his time in doing weights at all, but I really doubt he was using them as effectively as he would under the tutelage of a good modern trainer.


Most likely true, but he DID work out with weights and he WAS famed in his day for being extremely strong. Modern training probably could have made him even stronger, but of the players from his era, he probably would have had the least to gain.
   79. cercopithecus aethiops Posted: March 23, 2012 at 05:12 PM (#4087814)
My father-in-law is in construction, and seeing his strength at 70, and especially the strength of some of these 5'4" tubby looking Mexican guys, convince me that a life of hard physical labor builds incredible strength w/o showing up in definition.


My father built houses for close to fifty years. He never looked it, but he was strong as an ox. He and his similarly ordinary looking middle-aged buddies could do things on a construction site that put me to shame back when I was an avid weight lifting college kid.

Getting back to the Neyer article, was it really necessary?
   80. AROM Posted: March 23, 2012 at 05:13 PM (#4087816)
"My father-in-law is in construction, and seeing his strength at 70, and especially the strength of some of these 5'4" tubby looking Mexican guys, convince me that a life of hard physical labor builds incredible strength w/o showing up in definition."

Gehrig was no farm boy though. What kind of workout was he getting at Columbia?
   81. The Id of SugarBear Blanks Posted: March 23, 2012 at 05:17 PM (#4087822)
The conclusion was wacky, but the HR distances seemed impeccably sourced. He references multiple newspaper accounts for each HR (and remember, there were A LOT of newspapers in the 20's and 30's), and the papers were very descriptive (since they were the only account most people got of the game).

There's video evidence of some of Mantle's best shots; one that comes to mind is from the 1960 World Series film where he demolishes a HR way, way over the fence. The guy could cream a baseball. Andy probably saw some of his moonshots live.

At RFK when the new Nats came back, there was a marker on the seat way up in left where Frank Howard hit a homer in (like) 1968. I don't think anyone came close to it in the mid-00s, and I can barely imagine someone hitting a ball that far.

Balls hit out of Tiger Stadium (asterick if over LF roof; most were over the RF roof):

Norm Cash (4 times)
Mickey Mantle (3 times)
Kirk Gibson (3 times)
Jason Thompson (2 times)
Mickey Tettlton (2 times)
Tony Clark (2 times)
Ted Williams
Harmon Killebrew*
Don Mincher
Frank Howard*
Boog Powell
Jim Northrup
Cecil Cooper
Reggie Jackson
Ruppert Jones
Lou Whitaker
George Brett
Cecil Fielder*
Chad Kreuter
Melvin Nieves
Carlos Delgado
Mark McGwire*
Bobby Bonilla
Karim Garcia
Brant Brown

Four guys hit it out over the LF roof, and it's a Who's Who of Right Handed Beasts -- Killebrew, Howard, Cecil, and McGwire. No real late-era advantage there, but who knows if they even took note in, say, Greenberg's era. You'd think they would have.


   82. GuyM Posted: March 23, 2012 at 05:18 PM (#4087824)
There's plenty of TV footage of 1971 games extant that most of us have seen. That was major league baseball as we know it. Willie Mays would be a superstar today.

It's baseball, sure. But look at the players -- they look like teenagers compared to today's players. They are about 2 inches shorter and 25-30 pounds lighter on average.

Here is the # of 150+ OPS+ seasons per decade by players who are under 6 feet and weigh 185 lbs. or less, about Mays' size:
1960-69: 16
1970-79: 14
1980-89: 12
1990-99: 5
2000-09: 1
Notice a trend?

It's getting close to impossible for someone of Mays' stature to be a truly elite hitter. He'd still be a great player, but he wouldn't be "Willie Mays" today.

   83. AROM Posted: March 23, 2012 at 05:19 PM (#4087828)
I know there's more to strength than bench pressing, but the world record before 1950 was less than 400 pounds. Now I'm sure every team has a couple guys who can do that.
   84. The Id of SugarBear Blanks Posted: March 23, 2012 at 05:25 PM (#4087832)
It's getting close to impossible for someone of Mays' stature to be a truly elite hitter. He'd still be a great player, but he wouldn't be "Willie Mays" today.

Yeah, he would -- he'd be bigger. He'd weight train, eat right, and be tracked as a major league baseball player by the time he was 10 years old.

Here is the # of 150+ OPS+ seasons per decade by players who are under 6 feet and weigh 185 lbs. or less, about Mays' size:

Guys with Mays's build don't play at 185 anymore. There are a lot more shitty seasons by guys the size of Adam Dunn now than there were then, too.

   85. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: March 23, 2012 at 05:27 PM (#4087833)
It's getting close to impossible for someone of Mays' stature to be a truly elite hitter. He'd still be a great player, but he wouldn't be "Willie Mays" today.

If the average person is bigger today, why wouldn't you think that a Willie Mays clone born in 1990 would be bigger too?

Is it only the former runts that are turning into supermen nowdays?

I know there's more to strength than bench pressing, but the world record before 1950 was less than 400 pounds. Now I'm sure every team has a couple guys who can do that.

And do you really think the strongest men in 1950 were much, much weaker than those today?

Or do you think that maybe highly specialized training regimend have allowed vastly improved performance in narrowly specialized activities (e.g. sprint, bench press)?

I'm sure Einstein couldn't pass college Physics, and Mozart would be composing commercial jingles.
   86. The Good Face Posted: March 23, 2012 at 05:28 PM (#4087835)
Gehrig was no farm boy though. What kind of workout was he getting at Columbia?


Ruth didn't exactly grow up down the farm himself...at the orphanage/boy's home, he was trained to be a tailor. Honorable work to be sure, but not the kind of stuff that builds Cespedes-like CORE STRENGTH.
   87. bookbook Posted: March 23, 2012 at 05:37 PM (#4087844)
There's really very little logical way to approach timelining. Do we assume Honus Wagner gets all the modern benefits and reacts to them at an elite level? Or perhaps weights and diet and all the rest help everyone else close the gap relative to Honus? Maybe Honus is such an overachiever that he overworks the weights and suffers a career ending injury at 16.
Or maybe modern day Honus Wagner discovers video games, or his love of ballet, or something and doesn't play at all.

   88. The Id of SugarBear Blanks Posted: March 23, 2012 at 05:40 PM (#4087849)
Mantle played 159 games, 682 PAs at Tiger Stadium, or the equivalent of two "home" seasons there ... and hit the ball out of the stadium 3 times. That's just ridiculous.
   89. PreservedFish Posted: March 23, 2012 at 05:45 PM (#4087857)
I see no reason why the average HR would be less well hit. I've never heard anyone say that most HRs against good pitchers are "just enoughs". I guess this could be tested pretty easily with a DB of HR distances by pitcher.


Yes, I'd like to see this.

But the logic seems sound to me. Not all HR balls are equally "squared up," and it should be easier to really nail the ball against lesser pitchers.
   90. Morty Causa Posted: March 23, 2012 at 05:49 PM (#4087860)
It isn't just about gross overall upper-body strength. If it were, Michael Jordan would have been able to sock 'em--instead he hit like a girly man. It's about developing all those little specialty muscles, too.
   91. GuyM Posted: March 23, 2012 at 05:51 PM (#4087861)
OK, I'm sold. Willie would have surely been 6-2 and 225 if born in 1990. Wagner would hit like Pujols and could probably cover both 3B and SS simultaneously. Walter Johnson would throw at least 106 mph. And Mark Spitz would be taller and faster than Michael Phelps, and Jesse Owens would make Usain Bolt look like he was standing still.

Plus, they would all have magic unicorns....
   92. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: March 23, 2012 at 05:56 PM (#4087865)
OK, I'm sold. Willie would have surely been 6-2 and 225 if born in 1990. Wagner would hit like Pujols and could probably cover both 3B and SS simultaneously. Walter Johnson would throw at least 106 mph. And Mark Spitz would be taller and faster than Michael Phelps, and Jesse Owens would make Usain Bolt look like he was standing still.

That's not much more absurd than where you started.

The human being has not evolved in 100 years. The huge gains you see in specialized activities are the results of getting really, really good at training for one dimensional activities: sprint, bench press, etc. Hitting or throwing a baseball is so complex, you can't employ training to that extent.
   93. mrmacro Posted: March 23, 2012 at 06:17 PM (#4087876)
GuyM- Presumably you'd expect Bonds and Pujols to have their current physiques on turn of the (previous) century diet, and going to work in the coal mines at age 12? Or would their unicorns have gone in their stead?
   94. Walt Davis Posted: March 23, 2012 at 06:19 PM (#4087878)
The anti-Wagner (or pro-timeline) argument shouldn't focus so much on how much worse Wagner would be today but more on the improvement in the lower levels. "Early" baseball stats can't really be taken at face value -- do we really believe that Cy Young was the greatest pitcher of all-time and that all the greatest pitchers lived in the 1800s? Where to draw the line on early is open to debate but I have very little doubt that there's no way that Wagner (or Ruth or likely Williams) could dominate today like they did then.

That said I'm not a big fan of timelining because I don't think we have a clue how much adjustment there needs to be. The best we can do is judge them relative to their context and then compare the context-adjusted numbers in as sensible a way as we can. Ruth out-homered every team in the league in 1920 (except his own teammates!) and accounted for 15% of the AL's HRs. That would put him somwhere around 165-180 HR a season now.

So on Wagner, I wouldn't worry about time-lining his individual talent, wouldn't know how to do it. But the highest season OPS+ by a SS (min 140 games) since integration is Petrocelli's 167 (never would have guessed). AROD is the only one with multiple 160ish seasons and Banks is the only other one with multiple 145ish seasons. Wagner had 7 seasons that beat Petrocelli and his career OPS+ is 150. I'm OK if you want to say Wagner would have been AROD or I'm OK if you want to say Wagner would have hit like Pujols but not agile enough to play SS but I do think it's silly to take his stats at face value.

In other words, I don't think it's so much that Wagner would be a AA player today as much as it was that he was a genuine elite MLB talent playing in a AA league.
   95. Morty Causa Posted: March 23, 2012 at 06:19 PM (#4087879)
It's my impression that people argue timeline in a speculative fiction fantasy type way, as if the players from the past era wouldn't have evolved (term used loosely) and the superior player from now wouldn't have devolved, but I had that argument recently, and I'll let it lie for now.

Williams excelled as a hitter before WWII and after--before night games, integration, etc., and he excelled after all that came into play. If he lived and developed his game in the last thirty years, somewhere along the line he'd have gained weight earlier and been exposed to advance training techniques, including weights, I guess. (Although, you know, things like pushups and pullups are resistance exercise.) But, with his skill set as a hitter, and his mental approach, there's no reason to think he couldn't have excelled.

It's difficult to predict what's transferable from one point in the historical timeline to another, but hand/eye coordination has to be a vital given for every period in baseball. OTOH, fielders in Wagner’s and Speaker’s day, to catch a ball, pretty had to be in front of it, given the gloves (or paucity thereof). Take away the modern players gloves, and it might be a totally different thing. If Graig Nettles had to field with Home Run Baker’s glove, I do not see him doing those diving lateral snatches where his heels end up higher than his head.

Also, when we talk about population pools, the pertinent pool is not the nation's population; it's the pool of players who want to play baseball, and at every stage in the selection process from youth baseball to the majors. Those particular pools may have been comparatively greater when baseball was the only game in town if you were interested in making it a career. Looking at it that way has its limitations, but it also shows that it’s not as simple as we might at first think.

Bill James in the HBA says Wagner was a conditioning freak and probably worked out with weights.
   96. Mefisto Posted: March 23, 2012 at 06:21 PM (#4087880)
If this was such a big factor, why is baseball today made up of so many poor kids from Latin American slums?


Anyone who plays MLB today is, nearly literally, one in a million. You're seeing the survivors, not the average. Those are people who could flourish even in a poor environment.

In contrast, in 1900 MLB drew from a far smaller pool and the result was that players like Johnny Evers could make the HOF, where today there's nobody of his size even in MLB.
   97. tshipman Posted: March 23, 2012 at 06:23 PM (#4087881)
Just a question here:

Is anyone arguing a radical version of no timelining? I.e., that if transported into the future, Honus Wagner would have had the exact same stats? Is anyone saying he would have the exact same stats if born 80 to 100 years later?
   98. Mefisto Posted: March 23, 2012 at 06:26 PM (#4087884)
That said I'm not a big fan of timelining because I don't think we have a clue how much adjustment there needs to be.


Depends on which way we make the bigger mistakes. If we accept the stats at face value, a disproportionate number of the greatest players played before WWII. That can't be right. If we timeline we can get much more plausible results.

If Graig Nettles had to field with Home Run Baker’s glove, I do see him doing those diving lateral snatches where his heels end up higher than his head.


This cuts both ways. It means that lots of base hits went past Baker which didn't go past Nettles.
   99. Morty Causa Posted: March 23, 2012 at 06:28 PM (#4087885)
This cuts both ways. It means that lots of base hits went past Baker which didn't go past Nettles.


Yes, of course, that's the point I made, I thought.

It's like evolution. The conditions of the context create the organism that prevails, and one from one time may not have succeeded to the same or evefn similar extent in another. Playing basketball without a time clock put a different premium on what was seen as player quality. Same thing with the different baseball playing conditions across time periods.
   100. Fancy Pants Handles lap changes with class Posted: March 23, 2012 at 06:32 PM (#4087886)
It isn't just about gross overall upper-body strength. If it were, Michael Jordan would have been able to sock 'em--instead he hit like a girly man. It's about developing all those little specialty muscles, too.

Bull. It's about hand-eye coordination, pitch recognition, reaction time and muscle memory.
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