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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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   101. tshipman Posted: March 23, 2012 at 06:38 PM (#4087889)
This cuts both ways. It means that lots of base hits went past Baker which didn't go past Nettles.


Okay, so this actually is somewhat interesting.

League BABIP for 1908 NL was .252
Wagner actually had a .347 BABIP

So just hitting hard-hit balls was a much bigger advantage for Wagner vs. his contemporaries.
   102. Morty Causa Posted: March 23, 2012 at 06:39 PM (#4087890)
"Bull. It's about hand-eye coordination, pitch recognition, reaction time and muscle memory."

It's that, too, as I've said. Why don't you read the total of what someone has written thus far before going all Loony Tune?
   103. Booey Posted: March 23, 2012 at 06:39 PM (#4087891)
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

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.

Agreed. IMO, since the overall talent level is certainly higher now, it's not that he wouldn't have BEEN as good if he played today, it's that he wouldn't have LOOKED as good compared to his peers. The level of domination he had over the league just wouldn't be the same. Who were the NL's best position players during the bulk of Wagner's career (other than Wagner himself)? We're talking about guys like Sherry Magee and Mike Donlin. Good players, but nowhere near anyone's all time greats list, or even close to the AL's best during the same period, which featured Cobb, Speaker, LaJoie, Collins, Jackson, Crawford, etc). Not that Wagner ever did, but he could've had an off year and still been the best in his league pretty much by default.

It's like if you put Pujols on your neighborhood softball team. He'd probably hit 1.000 with a homer almost every at bat. But he wouldn't be a better player than he is now. He'd be the same player; he'd just look better by comparison.
   104. Morty Causa Posted: March 23, 2012 at 06:46 PM (#4087892)
Well, that's what value is all about, and that's how greatness is judged--by value as to context.

An All-Star team of the deadball era versus a team of the twenty years, but played under the deadball era rules, conditions, equipment, pace, pitches, etc. Who wins? Are you sure?

Man is transported a la The Terminator back to the Dinosaur age. He has AK-47s and nuclear hand guns, tanks, blade runner vehicles, all the panoply of modern technology. How would he do? Now, transport Man back without all that stuff--just his naked, caveman self. How would that work?

   105. Huck Posted: March 23, 2012 at 07:00 PM (#4087896)
Somewhere I've got a coffee table book filled with photgraphs from early 20th century baseball. One of my favorites is a photo that is just a close up of Honus Wagner's forearms as he grips the bat. They are absolutely ripped. He doesn't have the Popeye forearms of the modern weightlifting players; it's all sinew and veins. But it's not at all hard to believe that guy would have hit the lively ball a mile.

I'm not sure how much marginal benefit Wagner could have gotten from modern training. He was already a physical freak. If you believe contemporary reports, he was one of the fastest players in the game (if I recall, supposedly ran a 10 second 100 wearing cleats), probably the strongest player in the game, and had one of the strongest throwing arms of all time (at one point, he set an unofficial record by throwing a ball over 400 feet in the air during a contest). He was basically the Mickey Mantle of his era, only with an amazing arm and incredible durability - he was famous for his toughness and his health.

"I never have been sick. I don't even know what it means to be sick. I hear other players say they have a cold. I just don't know what it would feel like to have a cold - I never had one." - Honus Wagner

"I think he was so well put together and his system so well adjusted that his bodily functions were near to perfection. This is especially remarkable because for several years, starting at age twelve, he worked in a mine near his hometown of Mansfield, Pennsylvania, new renamed Carnegie." - Fred Lieb

"Spike Honus Wagner? It would have taken quite a foolhardy man." - Ty Cobb
   106. Booey Posted: March 23, 2012 at 07:02 PM (#4087897)
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.


Sure, but would he have been considered as great if he hit .324 instead of .344? If he'd had, say, 3 batting titles and 2 homer titles rather than 6 and 4 because he was competing against more star caliber players each season? If he'd led the league in slugging 4 or 5 times instead of however many he actually did? If he never won a Triple Crown (much less two) and his career high in batting average was maybe .375 or .380 rather than .406?

Old timers are often considered all time greats largely because of how badly they outdistanced their peers (like the Ruth outhomering every other AL team thing). But even if they'd be just as GOOD today, they wouldn't lap the field like they did then. It's just not possible. Put Ruth's exact homer numbers in the 90's and 2000's and he'd win half as many HR titles (if that - just ask Sosa or Bonds). So would he still be looked at the same way?
   107. Booey Posted: March 23, 2012 at 07:05 PM (#4087898)
Somewhere I've got a coffee table book filled with photgraphs from early 20th century baseball. One of my favorites is a photo that is just a close up of Honus Wagner's forearms as he grips the bat. They are absolutely ripped. He doesn't have the Popeye forearms of the modern weightlifting players; it's all sinew and veins. But it's not at all hard to believe that guy would have hit the lively ball a mile.

I've also seen pics of him in his late 30's where he looked 70.
   108. Morty Causa Posted: March 23, 2012 at 07:09 PM (#4087899)
It's all highly speculative, but Williams may have outdistance his the players of the '90s and 2000s just as Bonds did. He had everything Bonds did as a hitter (maybe more), except the steroids and intensive weight training regimen. Give him that, and what you have is Barry Bonds (maybe Barry Bonds plus). Add that he wouldn't have lost five years to his career....
   109. alilisd Posted: March 23, 2012 at 07:25 PM (#4087903)
If this is true:

There is one fairly constant factor in baseball, which is pitcher hitting.


Then how does one explain this?

Wagner was .391/.467 OBP/SLG for his career, while pitchers of his era were about .214/.205....Today, NL pitchers are about .175/.174 hitters as a group.


If pitcher hitting is "fairly constant," why have they lost .039 in OBP and .031 in SLG? Has their ratio of performance to league average stayed the same? Interesting way to compare hitters across eras I hadn't thought about before. Thanks.
   110. AROM Posted: March 23, 2012 at 07:28 PM (#4087905)
Here's one thing you could do to see what an increased talent pool would mean. Say the talent pool has increased tenfold, while the number of teams doubles. Then see what star players would look like if you go from 30 teams in MLB to 150. You can use ZIPS or Oliver or Pecota projections for this.

Then figure out what kind of player would put up say, a 175 ops+ in a diluted league.
   111. cardsfanboy Posted: March 23, 2012 at 07:30 PM (#4087907)
Read the article and have to say, not bad, it's nice that Rob is still writing almost full pieces.

Disagree with one comment, he said about the greatest players of all time being all old timers, and gave an exception to Schmidt, Bench and Bonds. I don't know how well this flies.

Best catcher of all time is a three horse race, Gibson, Berra or Bench.
First base is widely considered to of course be Gehrig, but is Pujols really that far off? Roughly speaking about 20 war difference, at similar plate appearances, how much of that could be timelined out?
Secondbaseman of all time is either Hornsby or Morgan, edge usually goes to Hornsby, but I don't think Morgan is out of the discussion.
Shortstop--well no brainer here, Ozzie Smith..... :)
Third base, not only do you have the best of all time being a consensus pick with Schmidt, but probably the second best of all time is Mathews another modern player.

Outfield is a hodgepodge. If you list the three best of all time you end up with Bonds, Williams and Ruth and no centerfielder. If you base it upon position you get a tie for center with Mays and Cobb.

I don't really see any era really dominating the list-- you have a few pre-integration stars, few right after the war stars, and some relatively modern stars. and of course when you start to expand it from best of all time to top three or five of all time, the more modern players start to dominate.

Obviously pitchers is different because of the changing usage, even if you make the argument that Clemens is the greatest of all time, you still have to accept that he isn't going to approach any of the old timers in value.

   112. cardsfanboy Posted: March 23, 2012 at 07:33 PM (#4087908)

If pitcher hitting is "fairly constant," why have they lost .039 in OBP and .031 in SLG? Has their ratio of performance to league average stayed the same? Interesting way to compare hitters across eras I hadn't thought about before. Thanks.


please don't encourage him, it only makes him think his silly idea has someone interested in it.
   113. tshipman Posted: March 23, 2012 at 07:36 PM (#4087909)
please don't encourage him, it only makes him think his silly idea has someone interested in it.


I think it's a really interesting and novel approach. The more refined component approach used in the other thread was interesting also. I don't see why it's ridiculous to compare players to pitcher hitting. I think the site is better with data-driven approaches.
   114. Bob Meta-Meusel Posted: March 23, 2012 at 07:38 PM (#4087910)

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'm not certain that drawing from a larger population means that the very, very best will be any better though. If there's a finite limit to how talented a human being can be at baseball, it won't change. The average major league player will be better, and thus the shape of the league will be a bit flatter, leading to lower OPS+ numbers at the top (unless something changes that upper limit, again leading to players being able to dominate the league to a greater extent as we saw in the '90s and early 2000s).

If drawing from a larger population pool led to the upper echelon talent being better, then one would have to argue that the best players of the Negro leagues couldn't have been on par with the best players in MLB because they were drawn from a much smaller population. Certainly, if you took the average player out of the Negro Leagues, they wouldn't have been as good as their average MLB contemporary... the top players though, I don't think you can say that.

As for the public health leading to bigger, stronger people in general... I wouldn't want to timeline for that, for the simple reason that I don't see it as anything but a condition of the times. There's a difference between a situation under which you pull Honus Wagner out of 1897 and put him, unchanged, into 1997 and one in which you have someone with the exact same genetic profile and have him born in 1974 instead of 1874. Those will lead to very different results. Just like there would be a huge difference between taking a player from today, fully formed, and dropping them in 1902 and having them born in the 1870's and raised and trained under the conditions of the time. It seems, well, unjust to me to say that we're going to penalize Honus Wagner because he didn't have the benefit of being raised and having his career under modern conditions.
   115. GuyM Posted: March 23, 2012 at 07:42 PM (#4087912)
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?

Wait, does working in a coal mine make you smaller and weaker, or strong as a bull? The Golden Agers make both arguments, so I'm confused.

But no, I wouldn't expect Bonds and Pujoly to necessarily be equally impressive specimens if born 100 years earlier. However, transporting today's starters back in time is a different, indeed opposite, question. The point is that those who become elite athletes, at any time, will be those who were least disadvantaged by whatever conditions exist in their time. Think of it this way: My father was born in the 1930s and was 74.5 inches tall. Let's say that men born 50 years later are 1 inch taller on average (making that up). Does it follow that my dad's expected height if transported to 1980 is 75.5"? No. Because he was quite tall for his time. So he likely got good nutrition, had good health, and/or was genetically disposed not to have bad health impact his height. He would probably only be slightly taller, if at all, with a 50 year change. On the other hand, if you take a 6-2 man today and transport him to a random situation in 1930, would we expect him to be an inch shorter? Sure, maybe even less than that. Because we know he likely had good health and nutrition, and if we send him back to 1930 that might not be true. It's not terribly complicated, really.

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.

Seriously? What did you think the timeline argument was, that Wagner would literally be an inferior athlete today? The timeline argument is entirely about the improving quality of competition over time.
   116. cardsfanboy Posted: March 23, 2012 at 07:50 PM (#4087913)
I think it's a really interesting and novel approach. The more refined component approach used in the other thread was interesting also. I don't see why it's ridiculous to compare players to pitcher hitting. I think the site is better with data-driven approaches.


I agree with the sentiment on this comment, don't agree with the defense of GuyM on this issue.

It's silly. As pointed out in plenty of other threads, the myth that sprinters are faster today is pretty much deconstructed by analysis of the video tape, almost all the improvements in performance has been based upon technology.

Somehow Guys analysis is based upon the fact that he attributes all improvement strictly speaking based upon improved quality of play. He flat out ignores the dozens or hundreds of changes to the game that has changed it. He absolutely refuses to acknowledge that pitchers in the past practiced their hitting, and cared about it more than in todays game.

Improvement in equipment is going to show up in the higher skilled player correct? That is common sense of course I'm not a tennis player, I wouldn't play noticeably better with a $1000 tennis racket than a $10 tennis racket, but I'm sure a pro would be able to take advantage. Heck I'm a 200 average bowler and I can't take advantage of a high quality bowling ball as much as the better bowlers in the league. Now bats today are lighter, faster, designed to break to not lose force etc. Even assuming his theory has any validity, you have to consider the improved equipment.

As pointed out about sprinters, there really is no difference between Jesse Owens and Carl Lewis or whatever more modern athlete you want, other than the improved equipment.
   117. Ron J Posted: March 23, 2012 at 07:50 PM (#4087914)
#44 In some cases it's simply knowing what's possible. Look at the sudden improvement in top level timer in the mile in the wake of Bannister.

Or what happened in baseball after Ruth demonstrated that trying to hit home runs was a viable strategy.
   118. cardsfanboy Posted: March 23, 2012 at 07:56 PM (#4087916)
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.


I don't get this, if pitchers aren't selected for their hitting, there is absolutely zero reason to require a pa cutoff.
   119. GuyM Posted: March 23, 2012 at 07:58 PM (#4087917)
If pitcher hitting is "fairly constant," why have they lost .039 in OBP and .031 in SLG? Has their ratio of performance to league average stayed the same? Interesting way to compare hitters across eras I hadn't thought about before. Thanks.

Pitchers' hitting statistics decline because they are facing increasingly good pitchers over time, and also increasingly good fielders. Of course there are many other changes in offensive context over the years impacting all hitters (parks, ball, strikezone, mound height, etc.), but in general pitcher performance declines because everyone else is getting better. That's completely consistent with the idea that their talent remains the same, but (as many have argued here) could also in part mean they are becoming worse hitters.

please don't encourage him, it only makes him think his silly idea has someone interested in it

Yeah, it's crazy. Of course, it turns out to produce results generally consistent with other methods of measuring improved talent over time. And the guy who developed the idea is just one of the best sabermetric analysts in the country and works for a major league team. But you should definitely listen to CFB -- after all, I'm sure he wouldn't have made 15,000 posts here if he didn't have important things to say.
   120. Mefisto Posted: March 23, 2012 at 08:09 PM (#4087921)
So just hitting hard-hit balls was a much bigger advantage for Wagner vs. his contemporaries.


Combined with the poor state of the infield surface, this meant that hitting the ball on the ground was a much more viable strategy for batters. The dead ball era was a very different game than we see today.
   121. Mefisto Posted: March 23, 2012 at 08:12 PM (#4087924)
As pointed out in plenty of other threads, the myth that sprinters are faster today is pretty much deconstructed by analysis of the video tape, almost all the improvements in performance has been based upon technology.


If we could separate out the effects of steroids, the discus or shotput would make good comps.
   122. GuyM Posted: March 23, 2012 at 08:14 PM (#4087926)
I'm not certain that drawing from a larger population means that the very, very best will be any better though. If there's a finite limit to how talented a human being can be at baseball, it won't change.

I agree with this, to an extent. If the mean talent improves by X from year A to year B, the talent of the top 2% likely increases by less than X. But I don't think we are yet at the outer limit of human baseball talent. And Wagner certainly wasn't there in 1910.

And it is true that the very best athletes in a larger population pool will be better than those from a smaller pool, assuming that mean talent is the same. There is a reason that the US and China are dominant forces in the Olympics, while Lithuania is not.

   123. cardsfanboy Posted: March 23, 2012 at 08:17 PM (#4087927)
Yeah, it's crazy. Of course, it turns out to produce results generally consistent with other methods of measuring improved talent over time. And the guy who developed the idea is just one of the best sabermetric analysts in the country and works for a major league team. But you should definitely listen to CFB -- after all, I'm sure he wouldn't have made 15,000 posts here if he didn't have important things to say.



It's crazy because it ignores every other piece of evidence and assumes by default that your theory is correct and you put the burden on others to prove you wrong.

1. pitchers who bat more often have better stats than pitchers who dont. By definition this is proof that practice improves performance, even at the major league level. Logically speaking pitchers like Walter Johnson, Cy Young etc who get 100 bats per season are going to perform better than those who don't get as many at bats.

You can fix your study by eliminating all pitchers with over 70 at bats in a season. That way the study is comparing players with similar plate rate of practice. (mind you that doesn't adjust for the shorter schedule, but oh well)

2. Improved equipment helps better athletes. It's inconceivable that you can't comprehend this simple fact. On both sides of the equation the better the equipment is, the bigger the difference is going to be between the good and the great. Better gloves, bats, shoes, mound, ball etc. Means that the better players are going to have an advantage than the ones who weren't selected for that particular skill.

3. Changing strategy of the game. The game prior to Ruth going for the fences and not going for the fences(along with all the other changes enacted around 1920) means it is a different game, it's nearly impossible to accurately reflect a changing era when the game changed so much. Before Ruth's time the players didn't go for the homerun, so the slugging difference isn't as pronounced because you don't have the big homerun total difference.

You could try to fix this by timelining everything after 1920 by adjusting percentage of homeruns into doubles, triples and outs. See how that affects the current difference between pitchers and hitters.



The point is that this is an impossible task, and a simple math adjustment isn't going to accurately reflect anything.
   124. GuyM Posted: March 23, 2012 at 08:25 PM (#4087930)
I don't get this

You should have just stopped there. Your comments in 116 and 123 show clearly that you don't understand the argument at all (playing equipmant is irrelevant, for example). And that's fine, of course. But then why comment?
   125. Misirlou is on hiding to nowhere Posted: March 23, 2012 at 08:34 PM (#4087933)
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.


First, the Mick played a lot more in the 50's than the 60's. What did pitchers hit in the 50's?

Second, use BBREF splits, not a select number of pitchers. In 1956, Mickey's greatest season, AL pitchers hit .236/.233. In 1957 it was .212/.215. in 1958, .214/.210. In 1961 .191/.203 (the number I used earlier, figuring it would be a safe off the cuff approximation on the average on pitcher hitting during Mickey's career.

What the top 200 pitchers hit in the 60's is only marginally useful.

edit: I just went through the AL batting splits for 1951-1968. In only 1965-1967-and 1968 did AL pitchers hit as bad as .183/.172. Most seasons were well above that. In 1953, a season in which Mickey had as many PA as 1968, AL pitchers hit .230/.235.
   126. cardsfanboy Posted: March 23, 2012 at 08:44 PM (#4087934)
(playing equipmant is irrelevant, for example)


And why is playing equipment irrelevant.

The argument as I understand it is basically. Pitchers aren't selected for their hitting, therefore they are the baseline of how bad an average(roughly) person would be in MLB as a hitter. Pitchers in Wagner's day hit better than they do today, therefore the baseline of how an average person would do has gotten lower. Then you adjust Wagners numbers relative to a pitcher in his day to relative to a pitcher in todays game and you come up with a number that says how good he really was.

Doesn't seem like a complicated argument to me.


Why in the heck would equipment not matter? Better equipment helps increase the gap between the good and the great. It's not that hard of a concept. It's a completely logical and sensible comment. Minute improvement in equipment doesn't convey much advantage to the average person who doesn't know how to take advantage of the equipment.


   127. Ron J Posted: March 23, 2012 at 08:44 PM (#4087935)
#31 We could compare the pitcher of 1972 to today's (relative to their league) for a notion as to how this affects pitcher's hitting.

Hmm NL pitchers put up an OPS+ of 2 in 2011. .142/.177/.184 against .253/.319/.391 In 1972 it was and 11 OPS+. The raw numbers are not that different, .146/.184/.184 but the offensive context was substantially lower .244/.311/.354

I don't think anybody believe the players have improved that much since 1972.
   128. cardsfanboy Posted: March 23, 2012 at 08:48 PM (#4087936)
I don't think anybody believe the players have improved that much since 1972.


Nobody reasonable would....
   129. GuyM Posted: March 23, 2012 at 08:50 PM (#4087938)
I just went through the AL batting splits for 1951-1968. In only 1965-1967-and 1968 did AL pitchers hit as bad as .183/.172. Most seasons were well above that. In 1953, a season in which Mickey had as many PA as 1968, AL pitchers hit .230/.235.

OK, so what was the average pitcher OBP and SLG over Mantle's career?
   130. Misirlou is on hiding to nowhere Posted: March 23, 2012 at 08:53 PM (#4087940)
OK, so what was the average pitcher OBP and SLG over Mantle's career?


No idea. You do the math. This is your hobby horse after all. Just a quick glance, it looks like slightly higher than I originally claimed, maybe something like .205/.205. The data's all there at BBREF. Here is 1951. .255/.262
   131. Ron J Posted: March 23, 2012 at 08:54 PM (#4087943)
#57 There's another important factor. The majors have become closer to having all of the best talent over time. In 1908 for instance, in addition to the exclusion of the black players (and relatively few foreign players), the minors weren't under total control of the major league teams. The best players had to be bought (and sometimes weren't for sale)

The PCL had major league ready players for a long time, but that was true of pretty much any team at the turn of the last century.
   132. Howie Menckel Posted: March 23, 2012 at 09:00 PM (#4087946)

"which of course is impressive because he’s typically faced better pitching in the postseason."

I think it's important to assume that it's impressive to have similar stats in the postseason as in the regular season - because analyzing that sort of thing might produce an inconvenient result, such as less Jeter bonus pts than planned.

Why take a chance?

   133. Misirlou is on hiding to nowhere Posted: March 23, 2012 at 09:01 PM (#4087947)
Here is 1951. .255/.262


And thus Mick's 116 OPS+ in 1951 translates to 78 in 2011.
   134. cardsfanboy Posted: March 23, 2012 at 09:16 PM (#4087951)
OK, so what was the average pitcher OBP and SLG over Mantle's career?


Back of the envelope calculations goes with .157/.203/.203 (note: AL only)
   135. cardsfanboy Posted: March 23, 2012 at 09:23 PM (#4087953)
"which of course is impressive because he’s typically faced better pitching in the postseason."

I think it's important to assume that it's impressive to have similar stats in the postseason as in the regular season - because analyzing that sort of thing might produce an inconvenient result, such as less Jeter bonus pts than planned.

Why take a chance?


I hope people reading this article do realize that Neyer isn't actually serious about this right? He's trying to create a fictitious argument that someone might produce if they wanted to argue Jeter as the greatest shortstop of all time.
   136. AROM Posted: March 23, 2012 at 09:31 PM (#4087956)
Go back and read the thread from last May that MCOA was kind enough to link for us. Everything we've talked about here today has already been discussed. And then some.
   137. tshipman Posted: March 23, 2012 at 09:33 PM (#4087957)
I don't think anybody believe the players have improved that much since 1972.


Uh, I do. More or less, depending on how you define "that much." If you look at rolling 3 year averages, I think that probably gives you a better sample size. The league is faster, stronger, better by a small difference since 20 years ago, let alone 40.

I didn't really think this was that controversial.
   138. GuyM Posted: March 23, 2012 at 09:45 PM (#4087959)
Misirlou: if you use .203/.203 for Mick's pitchers, and do a simple adjustment, Mantle would have a career (not peak) 144 OPS+ today. Seems plausible. But I'm sure you could do better by adjusting separately for K, BB, BABIP, and HR, and that might provide a somewhat higher estimate.

I don't think anybody believe the players have improved that much since 1972.

It's quite likely they have. In 1972 there were 25 position players (300+ PA) who were under 5-11 and less than 170 lbs. Last year, in a bigger league, there were 2. There were just a ton of guys playing in 1972 who could not possibly make a MLB team today.


   139. The Yankee Clapper Posted: March 23, 2012 at 10:00 PM (#4087965)
I hope people reading this article do realize that Neyer isn't actually serious about this right? He's trying to create a fictitious argument that someone might produce if they wanted to argue Jeter as the greatest shortstop of all time.

It's also worth noting that Neyer lists only 3 others (Wagner, Vaughan & Ripken) with an arguably superior claim to #1. That's still pretty good, even if one doesn't think Jeter's longer career and postseason performance moves him past Vaughan, and gives him a chance to edge out Ripken.
   140. cardsfanboy Posted: March 23, 2012 at 10:13 PM (#4087971)
It's quite likely they have. In 1972 there were 25 position players (300+ PA) who were under 5-11 and less than 170 lbs. Last year, in a bigger league, there were 2. There were just a ton of guys playing in 1972 who could not possibly make a MLB team today.


Why use weight in the criteria? With an increase in weightlifting, even assuming same height, players would weigh more.
   141. The Id of SugarBear Blanks Posted: March 23, 2012 at 10:19 PM (#4087973)
It's quite likely they have. In 1972 there were 25 position players (300+ PA) who were under 5-11 and less than 170 lbs. Last year, in a bigger league, there were 2. There were just a ton of guys playing in 1972 who could not possibly make a MLB team today.

You're making way too much of this size factor. There's a good 20-30 pounds entirely within the control of the athlete. Look at elite boxers; a guy like Tommy Hearns fought at 140 and fought at 175. Pacquiao, same thing. Evander Holyfield was a light heavy for a spell and wound up fighting at 220. Barry Bonds was a stick early in his career; he put on a good 40 pounds and could have kept the 40 pounds off. Football linemen bulk up to play NFL football, then they sink to a more normal weight -- look at Mark Schlereth and Mark May.

Willie Mays hit the ball over the fence 52 times in a season at age 34 -- in very tough environments. In his career, he hit 5 HRs in 98 ABs against Sandy Koufax, who was filthy. Nolan Ryan struck out more batters per 9 in the early 90s than he did in the early 70s -- how did that happen if the hitters were getting so much better? What would be the mechanism by which Mays would only hit, say, 20 HRs in 2011 when he hit 52 in tougher conditions in 1965? It makes zero sense.
   142. Misirlou is on hiding to nowhere Posted: March 23, 2012 at 10:22 PM (#4087975)
Why use weight in the criteria? With an increase in weightlifting, even assuming same height, players would weigh more.


Right. In 1972 there were 75 players 5'11" or less. Last year there were 70. As you imply, weight training can and does have a big impact on weight. I mean, look at Sam Fuld. Listed at 5-10, 180. The guy has popeye arms and huge thighs. Had he been born 30 years earlier, he'd be way under 180, and that's purely a function of this era's training regime.
   143. The Id of SugarBear Blanks Posted: March 23, 2012 at 10:27 PM (#4087979)
Pedro Martinez was 5-11, 170 -- the cutoff of the "unable to play because of size" line -- and he was probably the best pitcher in any of our lifetimes.
   144. GuyM Posted: March 23, 2012 at 10:31 PM (#4087984)
140/142: you're all missing the point. This method tells us how much better today's hitters are than the actual hitters of 1972. It doesn't try to answer what those 1972 players might have become if they had somehow been physically transformed into better/stronger athletes.

That said, there's no way more time in the gym would have made the 1972 players the physical equal of today's, although it might have closed the gap some. Today's players are at least an inch taller, which is a huge difference.
   145. mrmacro Posted: March 23, 2012 at 10:36 PM (#4087985)
Yes, but how could he hit?
   146. The Id of SugarBear Blanks Posted: March 23, 2012 at 10:40 PM (#4087988)
It doesn't try to answer what those 1972 players might have become if they had somehow been physically transformed into better/stronger athletes.

But that's just it -- the extra 20 lbs. doesn't make them better athletes. It just makes them bigger athletes.

The weight/nutrition/training angle just addresses your reductionist claim that the players of 1972 couldn't play today because they aren't big enough.
   147. GuyM Posted: March 23, 2012 at 10:42 PM (#4087989)
SBB: Pedro proves that size doesn't matter? Seriously? Do you use that line on your girlfriend?

BTW, in 1972 there were 46 position players who were 6-2 or taller. Last year there were 113.
   148. cardsfanboy Posted: March 23, 2012 at 10:44 PM (#4087990)
140/142: you're all missing the point. This method tells us how much better today's hitters are than the actual hitters of 1972. It doesn't try to answer what those 1972 players might have become if they had somehow been physically transformed into better/stronger athletes.


The point is nonsense, that is why we are missing it.

The players as playing, with the equipment that they have, and the nutrition that they have are better athletes than in the past? So what, that doesn't mean they are better ball players. Nobody cares about how honed the players physical condition is, it's all about how good of a ball player they are. That means if you take Omar Vizquel and you take Honus Wagner and plopped them down into the same environment with the same equipment who is the better ballplayer. Simple as that.

Of course that is an impossibility, but your argument is that Wagner is equivalent player to a replacement level shortstop because of some mythical timelining that ignores all the advances and changes in the games and says that the only change has been the quality of the players over that time frame and by one methodology that is extremely suspect(Because it is based upon one of the dumbest theoreticals ever as a basis of fact.)


Your theory starts out with a flaw and compounds it from there. Pitchers in the early century were better hitters, because they batted more often. Your insistence that this is wrong is ridiculous. Your insistence that practice doesn't make you better, or that caring about hitting doesn't make you better is wrong. It's insane basement dwelling nonsense.
   149. GuyM Posted: March 23, 2012 at 10:45 PM (#4087991)
The weight/nutrition/training angle just addresses your reductionist claim that the players of 1972 couldn't play today because they aren't big enough

The theory that today's players are only heavier because they've added 25 lbs of muscle through conditioning is supposed to be an argument against the claim that today's players are better? LOL.
   150. The Id of SugarBear Blanks Posted: March 23, 2012 at 10:47 PM (#4087992)
Rick Ankiel had a 43 OPS+ when he moonlighted as a hitter, and a 98 as a professional hitter. How'd that happen?
   151. Misirlou is on hiding to nowhere Posted: March 23, 2012 at 10:50 PM (#4087993)
140/142: you're all missing the point. This method tells us how much better today's hitters are than the actual hitters of 1972. It doesn't try to answer what those 1972 players might have become if they had somehow been physically transformed into better/stronger athletes.


And yet, you're using that data to try to say that the greats of that era would be merely good to very good today. You can't have it both ways.

Today's players are at least an inch taller, which is a huge difference.


Where's your data on this? I don't mean anecdotes or a small sample of player heights. What's the hard data?

And more importantly, why does it matter. As SBB noted in 143, Pedro Martinez was 5-11. Joe Morgan was tiny. Kirby Puckett was 5'8", Tony Gwynn was 5'11". Some of today's top players are 5'11" or smaller: Andrew McCutchen, Brett Gardner, Dustin Pedroia, Miguel Tejada, Rickie Weeks, Bret Boone, Ivan Rodriguez, Omar Vizquel, Jimmy Rollins, Adrian Beltre, Prince Fielder, Tim Lincecum, Ichiro, Brian Giles, gary Sheffield, Craig Biggio.
   152. The Id of SugarBear Blanks Posted: March 23, 2012 at 10:55 PM (#4087996)
SBB: Pedro proves that size doesn't matter? Seriously? Do you use that line on your girlfriend?

Huh? An inner-inner-circle HOF pitcher just got done dominating hitters for years at 5-11, 170 and we're supposed to believe that Willie Mays couldn't hit today because he played at 185 45 years ago? That's essentially what you're saying. You're saying 1972 baseball was terrible compared to 2012 because in 1972 there were 25 position players roughly the same size as Pedro Martinez. How does that follow?

BTW, in 1972 there were 46 position players who were 6-2 or taller. Last year there were 113.

OK, baseball players are getting taller. Are you postulating a connection between height and ability to hit?
   153. Dog on the sidewalk Posted: March 23, 2012 at 11:00 PM (#4087999)
If being taller doesn't help one be better baseball player, why are baseball players so much taller than the general population?

That isn't even what this stupid argument is about, anyway. GuyM just keeps derailing his own points by dwelling on it.
   154. Misirlou is on hiding to nowhere Posted: March 23, 2012 at 11:04 PM (#4088001)
BTW, in 1972 there were 46 position players who were 6-2 or taller. Last year there were 113.


And one of them famously hit .159. In baseball, taller doesn't necessarily mean better.

I can't find league splits for batting by height, but using P-I, here is the median OPS+ for all 2011 batters sorted by height (min 300 PA):

70" or lower - 93
71" - 98
72" - 96
73" - 104
74" - 110
75" - 116
76" or higher - 117

So, there appears to be a positive correlation between height and hitting results. 3-5 OPS+ points per inch. The effect may be real, but ultimately insignificant, as the player heights haven't changed that much. I doubt it's even as much as an inch in the last 40 years.
   155. Misirlou is on hiding to nowhere Posted: March 23, 2012 at 11:09 PM (#4088003)
If being taller doesn't help one be better baseball player, why are baseball players so much taller than the general population?


Selection bias? If Ichiro Suzuki hadn't already been a star in Japan before coming over, would he be a major leaguer today?

   156. GuyM Posted: March 23, 2012 at 11:11 PM (#4088007)
Here's an interesting review of the data on height and weight by Nate Silver. A bit out of date, but you can see the combined impact of height and weight is considerable.

No, this isn't the core issue here. But someone suggested it was implausible there could be much difference in player quality over the past 40 years. One way to see that it is plausible is to just look at the players.
   157. cardsfanboy Posted: March 23, 2012 at 11:16 PM (#4088010)
So, there appears to be a positive correlation between height and hitting results. 3-5 OPS+ points per inch. The effect may be real, but ultimately insignificant, as the player heights haven't changed that much. I doubt it's even as much as an inch in the last 40 years.


And again that could be used as another factor as to why there is the difference between pitchers hitting numbers in the past than today. The taller you are, the bigger the strike zone, the bigger the strike zone, the more holes in your swing, the lesser hitter that you are, the harder it is to cover holes in your swing, therefore the drop in pitchers batting numbers is strictly because they have gotten taller and their lack of hitting skill can't compensate for the increase in their strike zone.

That makes a lot more sense than Guy's theory.
   158. Dog on the sidewalk Posted: March 23, 2012 at 11:17 PM (#4088011)
Selection bias? If Ichiro Suzuki hadn't already been a star in Japan before coming over, would he be a major leaguer today?

Sure, but your own numbers show taller batters hit better, so it's not like only superstars are being selected from the pool of normal sized individuals.
   159. Misirlou is on hiding to nowhere Posted: March 23, 2012 at 11:19 PM (#4088012)
Here's an interesting review of the data on height and weight by Nate Silver.


From the link:

"In 1946, the average position player was 71.7 inches, 182 pounds. In 2004, he was 72.7 inches, 192 pounds."

So, the difference in heights from 1946 to 2004 was 1 inch. The difference between 1972 and 2011 must be less than that, maybe as much as half, going by this table:

"Year HT WT HR/650 (Predicted)
1946 71.7 182 15.42
1965 72.4 187 16.84
1984 72.7 189 17.42
1994 72.6 192 18.02
2004 (low estimate) 72.7 192 18.07
2004 (higher estimate) 73.0 197 19.30"

1972 is about halfway between 1965 and 1984, so say 72.5 inches. 2004 was about 72.8 inches. let's bump that up to an even 73 for 2011. .5 inches, maybe 2-3 points of OPS+ from post 154.
   160. Misirlou is on hiding to nowhere Posted: March 23, 2012 at 11:23 PM (#4088014)
Sure, but your own numbers show taller batters hit better, so it's not like only superstars are being selected from the pool of normal sized individuals.


Well, it's hardly a comprehensive study. It's one years worth of data based on an arbitrary PA cutoff and it's just the median. It may be true, it may be not.
   161. Mefisto Posted: March 23, 2012 at 11:28 PM (#4088015)
And yet, you're using that data to try to say that the greats of that era would be merely good to very good today. You can't have it both ways.


He can because both of you are operating under unstated assumptions. Guy is saying "take some random player from 1972, at his existing body type, and plop him down in today's game." You are saying "take some random player from 1972 and let him now take advantage of the conditioning techniques available today."

Given his assumption, the quality of play was lower in 1972 because the players weren't as tall and strong and therefore wouldn't do as well. (NB: It may have been lower or, for that matter, higher for other reasons.)
   162. Dog on the sidewalk Posted: March 23, 2012 at 11:34 PM (#4088017)
Also, again, it's not really what this debate is about. I'm not convinced that pitcher hitting ability has been basically static over the years, so I don't necessarily agree with the numbers Guy comes up with, but issues like increases in player height, and improvements to strength and conditioning are part of a different exercise than the one that this fight began about.

EDIT: The previous post more succinctly states my point.
   163. Misirlou is on hiding to nowhere Posted: March 23, 2012 at 11:37 PM (#4088018)
He can because both of you are operating under unstated assumptions. Guy is saying "take some random player from 1972, at his existing body type, and plop him down in today's game." You are saying "take some random player from 1972 and let him now take advantage of the conditioning techniques available today."


But he's saying more than that. He specifically said that modern training techniques and equipment don't matter, or at least don't make much of a difference. Give Honus Wagner access to modern day pitching machines that can throw a 93 MPH curve ball and he'd do slightly better than if you merely beamed him to home plate today from a game in 1903.
   164. Misirlou is on hiding to nowhere Posted: March 23, 2012 at 11:39 PM (#4088020)
I'm not convinced that pitcher hitting ability has been basically static over the years, so I don't necessarily agree with the numbers Guy comes up with,


Well, I agree with that as well.
   165. cardsfanboy Posted: March 23, 2012 at 11:44 PM (#4088023)
He can because both of you are operating under unstated assumptions. Guy is saying "take some random player from 1972, at his existing body type, and plop him down in today's game." You are saying "take some random player from 1972 and let him now take advantage of the conditioning techniques available today."


The problem is that his math to back it up, is based upon assumption upon assumption.

He starts out with the theory that pitchers hitting is the true baseline of what any random schlub would do at the major leagues. Now most people who look at pitchers numbers and see that pitchers batting numbers have gone down, make a reasonable assumption. Pitchers have gotten worse as hitters. For any of the following reasons. 1. pitchers cared more about hitting in the past 2. pitchers practiced more as they had more plate appearances per season in the past and that practice makes one better. 3. over time pitchers hitting has become less important to front offices that they no longer force their pitchers to take it so seriously. etc. 4. the opposing pitcher now bears down more per batter than they have in the past, instead of cruising through the bottom of the order 5. or hundreds of other reasons, all perfectly reasonable.

but his assumption is Pitchers hitting has never changed, pitchers are exactly as good today as hitters as they were in the past, and that it's a viable baseline to use to gauge increase in performance.


So regardless of the fact that the DH has become commonplace, that pitchers have become specialized, that pitchers bat fewer times per week than they have in the past, etc. The only reason pitchers aren't as good of a hitter as they were in the past is because they haven't changed one bit.
   166. Mefisto Posted: March 24, 2012 at 12:04 AM (#4088032)
He specifically said that modern training techniques and equipment don't matter, or at least don't make much of a difference.


In the sense of facing pitching machines as an existing player, I think that's true. If we took Bill Bergen out of the dead ball era and kept everything else the same, but let him take modern batting practice, I doubt he'd be substantially better. He was terrible then and he'd be relatively worse today.

Other modern training techniques like strength training are likely to be more significant. In the specific case of Wagner, this would probably mean less than for others because Wagner apparently lifted weights back then.

The problem is that his math to back it up, is based upon assumption upon assumption.


Well, my comment was in the specific context of player weights in 1972 compared to today, not to Guy's more general case.

Just to comment on the idea of using pitcher hitting as a constant, I think it's a reasonable one (I think Stephen Jay Gould suggested it years ago). But it only works on an unadjusted basis if pitcher hitting is unselected-for. If, for example, pitchers in 1900 were taken, even in part, for their hitting ability, then the comparison wouldn't work. So there's an unstated assumption there as well. Some of the other variables you suggest are also ones that need to be dealt with, though some (the DH rule) can be handled by isolating leagues or by measuring trends through 1972.

The unfortunate fact is that timelining seems intuitively right, but it's damned hard to quantify.
   167. Fred Lynn Nolan Ryan Sweeney Agonistes Posted: March 24, 2012 at 12:15 AM (#4088037)
Somewhere I've got a coffee table book filled with photgraphs from early 20th century baseball. One of my favorites is a photo that is just a close up of Honus Wagner's forearms as he grips the bat. They are absolutely ripped. He doesn't have the Popeye forearms of the modern weightlifting players; it's all sinew and veins. But it's not at all hard to believe that guy would have hit the lively ball a mile.

I remember this picture - and also an interview with the photographer, who'd been a little surprised and amused that Wagner was so careful to flex his muscles for the shot.

Totally agree on the difference between pure size and strength, though. Another good example is Jimmie Foxx - famously strong, and the feats o' strength he committed are certainly impressive. And then you see those pictures of him with his shirt off, he's muscular, but he's not OH MY GOD muscular. I think there's something to that "old man strength" that comes more from general hard labor, and less from lifting weights to grow particular muscles.
My grandfather had some of that: he was a small-town Iowa signmaker his whole adult life, made things in his woodshop in his spare time. His balance and strength were simply incredible. He didn't look like some amazing specimen, maybe 5'8", 160#, never touched a weight in his life, but he had a tremendous grip, and even into his mid-70's, when he'd flex his biceps it looked like he was hiding a softball under the skin there.

EDIT: likewise his son, my uncle - never worked out, didn't take particular care of himself, even, but was somehow crazy strong. Could do stuff like repeated one-arm pullups, with either arm.
   168. You Know Nothing JT Snow (YR) Posted: March 24, 2012 at 12:41 AM (#4088056)
Evander Holyfield was a light heavy for a spell and wound up fighting at 220


Just to be a pedantic jerk I'll point out that Holyfield never actually fought below the lightheavyweight limit (175lb) as a professional. He was a cruiserweight, which tops out at 190lb.
   169. You Know Nothing JT Snow (YR) Posted: March 24, 2012 at 12:43 AM (#4088057)
Totally agree on the difference between pure size and strength, though. Another good example is Jimmie Foxx - famously strong, and the feats o' strength he committed are certainly impressive. And then you see those pictures of him with his shirt off, he's muscular, but he's not OH MY GOD muscular.


Feats of strength are for strong men and bodybuilding is for bodybuilders.
   170. Cabbage Posted: March 24, 2012 at 01:19 AM (#4088066)
I'm jumping into this discussion to add a point merely because I've thought a lot about timelining over the past few years. Im on a mobile so this will be short. I'm a big fan of timelining because using all of the standard cross-era measurements for judging player greatness usually results ina disproportionate number of early players being "the greatest". Ruth, Chamberlin, Unitas, Petty, (your mom?). Whoever dominates the early years always has the numbers to be the best ever. As far as I can tell, thus is true everywhere except hockey
   171. tshipman Posted: March 24, 2012 at 01:25 AM (#4088073)
The problem is that his math to back it up, is based upon assumption upon assumption.


Your statements that older players would play just as well is based upon assumption upon assumption.



I think that Honus Wagner as a 106 OPS+ shortstop for his career sounds about right to me. The height/weight stuff is a good example of how hard it is to tell when the quality of the game changes. Would anyone have said the average player was half an inch taller than they were 30 years ago without running the numbers? And yet it is true.

Measuring the quality of play is very difficult without using some kind of objective yardstick. By every metric used, whether it be std. deviations, pitcher batting, population-based systems, etc., they all point to the quality of the game having risen over 90 years. It is bizarre to think that it hasn't, to me.
   172. Ron J Posted: March 24, 2012 at 04:53 AM (#4088103)
#155 The same scout signed Walt (No Neck) Williams and Joe Morgan. They were the first two players he signed.

A couple of scouts were heard joking, "First Williams, now a midget."
   173. Ron J Posted: March 24, 2012 at 05:06 AM (#4088104)
Talking specifically of Wagner (and the other dominant dead ball hitters) it's worth noting that they almost certainly faced tougher pitching than their peers.

It's a matter of record that pitchers of his day coasted. They rarely threw their best stuff -- saving it for an emergency. Thing is that an awful lot of Wagner plate appearances are going to qualify as an emergency. In his prime he was just too good to go with anything but your best stuff if the score was close, if a runner was on and well almost anything that would qualify as medium leverage and above.

You might try coasting against him in a low leverage situation, but that doesn't strike me as an ideal plan.

All in all, any form of timelining should probably take this into consideration.
   174. Tippecanoe Posted: March 24, 2012 at 09:05 AM (#4088119)
There is almost an optimum size for modern hitters, it seems, which is about 6'2" or 6'3" and about 225 pounds.

Looking at the top ten in OPS+ for each of the past 5 years, the average is 74.3" in height and 226 pounds. No player over 6'5" (Derek Lee) or shorter than 5'11" (Choo, Fielder) appears on the lists. Bautista at 195 pounds is the lightest player to make the top ten in the past 5 years.

At times, the dimensional uniformity of these hitters in striking. In 2008, for example, all players were between 72 and 76 inches in height, and all were between 210 and 235 pounds. BBRef sizes and weights used here.
   175. Jolly Old St. Nick Still Gags in October Posted: March 24, 2012 at 09:21 AM (#4088125)
I'm jumping into this discussion to add a point merely because I've thought a lot about timelining over the past few years. Im on a mobile so this will be short. I'm a big fan of timelining because using all of the standard cross-era measurements for judging player greatness usually results ina disproportionate number of early players being "the greatest". Ruth, Chamberlin, Unitas, Petty, (your mom?). Whoever dominates the early years always has the numbers to be the best ever. As far as I can tell, thus is true everywhere except hockey.

That's also my reason for favoring timelining, but the problem is that I've never seen any version of it that can realistically take all the specific era factors into consideration. Which means in practice that the idea of trying to "rank" players across eras is an impossible task, unless you openly acknowledge your subjectivity and admit that you're doing little more than making half-educated guesses.

Was Babe Ruth "better" than Barry Bonds? Seriously, how in the hell can anyone know that?
   176. michaelplank has knowledgeable eyes Posted: March 24, 2012 at 09:30 AM (#4088128)
his assumption is Pitchers hitting has never changed, pitchers are exactly as good today as hitters as they were in the past, and that it's a viable baseline to use to gauge increase in performance.


There's some validity to the idea, but it doesn't stand up to scrutiny. Pure athleticism, rather than specialization, counted for more when the overall quality of the league wasn't as strong, and pitchers were often the best athletes on the team. In the really early days (and in the Negro Leagues), pitchers would often play other positions when they weren't on the mound. In Wagner's day and even later, pitchers would sometimes pinch hit for position players. In the same era, any number of successful pro pitchers were converted to OF or 1B. Bill James has a discussion of this in the NHBA, and makes the larger point that this was indicative of a change in the balance between offense and pitching.

All of the above still happens today, but it's much more rare, the effects are much more washed out, and pitchers do all of it with less success. There are many amateur players who are good enough to be drafted for both their pitching and hitting (James Loney is a recent one), but essentially all of them have to "declare" one or the other upon entering pro ball. No one makes the switch at the MLB level anymore, except Rick Ankiel, and he ain't George Sisler. All of which indicates that pitcher hitting is NOT constant, for these and other reasons, previously discussed.
   177. McCoy Posted: March 24, 2012 at 09:59 AM (#4088136)
Back then there were a few things that were important in order for a ballplayer to make it and succeed that are not as important nowadays. The main trait that is different is ruggedness and I would say it was the most important trait for players back then. A JD Drew type would never have been able to play baseball at the major league level for long back then and yet nowadays he can play for years and years at the major league level.
   178. Mefisto Posted: March 24, 2012 at 10:12 AM (#4088146)
Talking specifically of Wagner (and the other dominant dead ball hitters) it's worth noting that they almost certainly faced tougher pitching than their peers.


This seems plausible, but consider what it says about Wagner's competitors. We'd have to treat them as even worse than they now seem.
   179. cercopithecus aethiops Posted: March 24, 2012 at 10:15 AM (#4088148)
...consider what it says about Wagner's competitors. We'd have to treat them as even worse than they now seem.


But isn't that what timelining is all about in the first place? Like Walt said 100 or so posts ago, maybe Wagner was an elite major league talent playing in a AA league.
   180. toratoratora Posted: March 24, 2012 at 10:22 AM (#4088153)
I'm not trolling,and I'm sure that this has been asked before, but I'm genuinely curious about one thing-How come in all the timelining discussion injuries and medical changes don't get brought up?
One would think that they change things tremendously.
For example, working quickly from the top of my head, if modern players played with the medical limitations of 50, 100 years ago Bonds would have been done before his great late career run, Arod's hip would have finished him, Clemens never would have gotten off the ground due to his 1985 arm injury, any pitcher who had TJ surgery would have been over etc...
Not to mention all the players who have suffered knee injuries whose careers would been limited, if not toast.
It seems to me that when time-lining, modern players get all the benefits but none of the negatives in this regard.
We don't penalize them, whereas we don't give credit to older players for injuries that damaged their careers length and greatness (For example, great as he was, Williams was often quoted as saying he was never the same hitter post all-star game elbow injury. How great would he have been in late life had he had access to modern reconstructive surgery? Or Sisler with sinus surgery?)
Or is this just tabled because it's impossible to quantify or build a model for and at best only rough guess-timates can be applied?
   181. mrmacro Posted: March 24, 2012 at 10:42 AM (#4088175)
On the impact of specialization, consider another sport, football. Placekickers are not generally selected for their punting ability, despite the broad similarity in the physical attributes required for success in each discipline. If we consider the punting statistics of players listed as placekickers over the past 40 years (all the single platoon guys were gone by 1970), what do we observe? In the 70's, PK had a punting average of 39.2. In the 1980's, they had a punting average of 38.1. In the 1990's, the average was 36.5. Since 2000, it's been 36.1. It seems a pretty clear degradation of skills, even as the league average yards per punt increased from 41 to 45. If placekickers' yard per punt has fallen by 3 yds/att over the past 40 years (a factor which is independent of the size and quality of opposition), signalling an absolute degradation in skills, it seems reasonable to posit that pitcher hitting has also declined in absolute terms as well over a much longer time horizon.

(one can also point to non-opponent independent items such as receptions by kicking specialists, which were much more common in the 1970's than they are today- the last one occurred in 2004, for example.)
   182. cercopithecus aethiops Posted: March 24, 2012 at 10:47 AM (#4088180)
For example, working quickly from the top of my head, if modern players played with the medical limitations of 50, 100 years ago Bonds would have been done before his great late career run, Arod's hip would have finished him, Clemens never would have gotten off the ground due to his 1985 arm injury, any pitcher who had TJ surgery would have been over etc...


But Mantle would have had his knee scoped a few times, recovered fully form each surgery, played until he was 40, and hit 850 HRs.
   183. toratoratora Posted: March 24, 2012 at 10:57 AM (#4088182)
But Mantle would have had his knee scoped a few times, recovered fully form each surgery, played until he was 40, and hit 850 HRs.


Exactly my point.
   184. Josh1 Posted: March 24, 2012 at 11:03 AM (#4088185)
For example, working quickly from the top of my head, if modern players played with the medical limitations of 50, 100 years ago Bonds would have been done before his great late career run, Arod's hip would have finished him, Clemens never would have gotten off the ground due to his 1985 arm injury, any pitcher who had TJ surgery would have been over etc...


You can interpret this idea in an opposite manner as well. No doubt the talent level in the past was much lower because many of the best players in the world had career ending injuries, and their roster spots were taken by replacement level players, whereas today these otherwise injured players can have long careers.
   185. Mefisto Posted: March 24, 2012 at 11:04 AM (#4088186)
But isn't that what timelining is all about in the first place? Like Walt said 100 or so posts ago, maybe Wagner was an elite major league talent playing in a AA league.


Yes. I'm in favor of timelining.

It seems to me that when time-lining, modern players get all the benefits but none of the negatives in this regard.


That's right. Part of what makes modern MLB more competitive is that good players are able to stay on the field. As was noted above, dead ball era players had to be rugged -- they had to be able to withstand injury. That's not a direct baseball skill, so if players no longer have to meet that qualification, then their baseball skills become more important. J.D. Drew was the example used to make the point and it's a good one -- Drew is a good player; he raises the level of competition. But 100 years ago he wouldn't have been in the majors, and that would have lowered the level of competition.
   186. GuyM Posted: March 24, 2012 at 11:12 AM (#4088194)
I'm not trolling,and I'm sure that this has been asked before, but I'm genuinely curious about one thing-How come in all the timelining discussion injuries and medical changes don't get brought up?

Mainly because it wouldn't matter much for most of the players we are interested in timelining. Wagner, for example, had a long and healthy career -- modern medicine wouldn't have mattered. Same for Ruth or Hornsby or Walter Johnson or Cy Young. But might Mark Fidrych have had a different career if he were born in 1990? Or in 2011? Sure, that's possible. Would Mantle have had better counting stats? Perhaps (though probably not a better peak). Timelining isn't historical fiction. It just tells you how the actual players who lived would likely have performed in a different competitive playing environment. And the same applies if you try to go backward (though this seems a less interesting use of the method): it can tell you how the actual Barry Bonds would have fared against 1910 competition, but not whether or not he might have contracted polio in 1895.

But note also that improvement in medicine is one of the many reasons you need to timeline. One of the reasons Wagner's competition was so weak was the state of medical knowledge. Many talented hitters and pitchers of his time had their careers cut short. If that hadn't happened, Wagner's statistics would be much less impressive.

   187. toratoratora Posted: March 24, 2012 at 11:20 AM (#4088197)
You can interpret this idea in an opposite manner as well. No doubt the talent level in the past was much lower because many of the best players in the world had career ending injuries, and their roster spots were taken by replacement level players, whereas today these otherwise injured players can have long careers.

Oh, I'm not disagreeing. I tend to fall into the paradigm that the very top talent levels will have remained relatively constant but that the mid and lower echelons have been dramatically moved up, thus pulling outliers in and keeping z-scores tighter.
   188. GuyM Posted: March 24, 2012 at 11:20 AM (#4088198)
Pure athleticism, rather than specialization, counted for more when the overall quality of the league wasn't as strong, and pitchers were often the best athletes on the team. In the really early days (and in the Negro Leagues), pitchers would often play other positions when they weren't on the mound.

One of the most interesting things about these discussions is that about half the arguments made by those on the Golden Age side of the debate are actually arguments in favor of timelining and a steady increase in talent. This is a good example. The fact that a really good athlete could both pitch and hit at the major league level is a sign of how weak the level of competition was. Today, the level of competition is so high that very, very few people have the necessary talent to thrive in either role. The extinction of such players is exactly what you would predict if you believe the level of talent is steadily rising.

That's also my reason for favoring timelining, but the problem is that I've never seen any version of it that can realistically take all the specific era factors into consideration.

Right, but why is perfection the standard here? And the answer is because people are attached to believing in the greatness of players from earlier eras. So they look for flaws in timeline methods, find one, and then relax in the knowledge they can go back to believing Wagner/Ruth/Mantle/whoever was the best evah. In fact, the various approaches to timelining tell a reasonably consistent story, and we have a pretty good idea of how much the quality of competition has improved.
   189. Gotham Dave Posted: March 24, 2012 at 11:33 AM (#4088201)
1. I can't believe how many people took this as Neyer arguing that Jeter is the greatest shortstop, when in fact he's clearly arguing that he isn't.

2. Rob Neyer is the Derek Jeter of sabermetric writing.
   190. Mefisto Posted: March 24, 2012 at 11:56 AM (#4088218)
It occurs to me that if we wanted to use pitcher hitting to measure the improvement in the quality of play, we'd need to limit ourselves to the top pitchers. Nobody cared if Christy Mathewson could hit -- his pitching skill outweighed any other factor.* But a pitcher on the borderline might be selected if he could also hit. Since we need pitcher hitting to be unselected-for, the top starters are where we'd find that pool.

*Mathewson may have been a good hitter. I don't remember offhand and didn't look it up. The point is that it wouldn't have mattered.
   191. Jolly Old St. Nick Still Gags in October Posted: March 24, 2012 at 11:57 AM (#4088219)
That's also my reason for favoring timelining, but the problem is that I've never seen any version of it that can realistically take all the specific era factors into consideration.

Right, but why is perfection the standard here? And the answer is because people are attached to believing in the greatness of players from earlier eras.


I'm certainly not attached to players from earlier eras, and I think that today's game stands head and shoulders above the so-called "Golden Age", due to the expansion of the talent pool. And I'm not making "perfection" the standard. I've just never seen any timelining formula / method that can make any sort of statistical adjustments that would provide any sort of definitive "objective" answers to the age-old questions of "Who was really better?----Wagner or Ripken?, Ruth or Bonds?, Cobb or Henderson?", etc., etc. There's just way too much speculation and unprovable assumptions for my taste.
   192. Misirlou is on hiding to nowhere Posted: March 24, 2012 at 12:10 PM (#4088225)
But note also that improvement in medicine is one of the many reasons you need to timeline. One of the reasons Wagner's competition was so weak was the state of medical knowledge. Many talented hitters and pitchers of his time had their careers cut short. If that hadn't happened, Wagner's statistics would be much less impressive.


Addie Joss doesn't die of meningitis in 2011.
   193. McCoy Posted: March 24, 2012 at 12:22 PM (#4088233)
Instead he dies of extreme old age, apparently.
   194. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: March 24, 2012 at 12:24 PM (#4088237)
Timelining isn't historical fiction. It just tells you how the actual players who lived would likely have performed in a different competitive playing environment. And the same applies if you try to go backward (though this seems a less interesting use of the method): it can tell you how the actual Barry Bonds would have fared against 1910 competition, but not whether or not he might have contracted polio in 1895.

But don't you realize you're heavily stacking your comparison against the old time players through this very construct?

You want to time machine the two athletes into a modern game construct, give the old players no scope for adjustment, and then say, "Look, look, they suck!". Why is that an interesting comparison?

It's like putting Bobby Jones on a modern, golf course against Tiger Woods, while making Jones use wooden shafted clubs and giving Jones no time to adjust to modern course design/conditions, and claiming it proves Tiger's superiority.

Do you really think great athletes like Wagner, Cobb and Ruth wouldn't have adjusted? Wouldn't have taken advantage of modern equipment, modern techniques of training, video analysis etc., even PEDs, just like the modern greats did/do?

The logical extreme of your type of "timelining" is there must be a half dozen composers alive today better than Mozart, and a ton of artists better the Michaelangelo. After all, we have 20 times as many people, and hundreds of times as many getting musical and art educations.
   195. mrmacro Posted: March 24, 2012 at 12:24 PM (#4088238)
NBA centers are another example of the myth of static non-specialist skills, and again provide a useful ability to view a non-specialist skill in a context-independent way. We can all agree that George Mikan and Bob Kurland would not put up the same numbers in today's NBA that they put up 60 years ago. However, free-throw shooting by centers is context-independent, and has the added bonus that centers are not picked to play because of their free-throw ability. What do we find? A general degradation in centers' free throw shooting over the years. In the 50-51 season, centers shot 73% from the line. As recently as the 80-81 season (I only checked seasons from the start of each decade), centers short 71.8%. In both the 2000-2001 and 2010-2011 seasons, however, centers shot 65% from the line. Sure looks like an absolute degradation to me....
   196. Mefisto Posted: March 24, 2012 at 12:34 PM (#4088242)
The logical extreme of your type of "timelining" is there must be a half dozen composers alive today better than Mozart, and a ton of artists better the Michaelangelo. After all, we have 20 times as many people, and hundreds of times as many getting musical and art educations.


In absolute terms, this is true. My father has a Ph.D. in Engineering. He took Calculus as a college sophomore. I took it as a high school senior. My kids took it as high school juniors.

Technically, musicians today can do everything Mozart could do. The difference is that everybody can do it, whereas Mozart was an inventor. Relatively speaking, he stood out like Babe Ruth.
   197. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: March 24, 2012 at 12:40 PM (#4088245)
Technically, musicians today can do everything Mozart could do.

They can compose music as good as Mozart's? Please.

The difference is that everybody can do it, whereas Mozart was an inventor.

Then why isn't anybody doing it?


In absolute terms, this is true. My father has a Ph.D. in Engineering. He took Calculus as a college sophomore. I took it as a high school senior. My kids took it as high school juniors.


What does that have to do with who's a better mathematician?

I took French in 7th grade, and I can barely order at a French restaurant.
   198. GuyM Posted: March 24, 2012 at 12:44 PM (#4088250)
But don't you realize you're heavily stacking your comparison against the old time players through this very construct? You want to time machine the two athletes into a modern game construct, give the old players no scope for adjustment, and then say, "Look, look, they suck!".

It doesn't stack the deck at all. It says Wagner was X times better than a pitcher when he played, with both Wagner and the pitchers facing the same conditions and opponents. Then it puts Wagner in a different context, where both he and the pitchers would again face the same opponents, have the same healthcare, equipment, etc. It's a level playing field. Why is this so hard to grok?

However, free-throw shooting by centers is context-independent, and has the added bonus that centers are not picked to play because of their free-throw ability.

This doesn't work at all. FT% is closely related to shooting ability in general, and we can hardly assume that the relative importance of shooting ability in selecting centers has remained identical over 40-50 years.

The kicker example is more interesting. But many changes could cause that result. Has the proportion of PKs called upon to punt changed? Have the circumstances under which they are asked to punt changed? What's happened to hang time? How do we know it hasn't gotten harder to punt over these years (and so the overall increase actually understates the improvement among full-time punters)? We'd have to rule out a lot of other possibilities before concluding there's been a decline. BTW, did most NFL PK's punt in college? And if so, have they become worse college punters?

   199. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: March 24, 2012 at 12:47 PM (#4088251)
It doesn't stack the deck at all. It says Wagner was X times better than a pitcher when he played, with both Wagner and the pitchers facing the same conditions and opponents. Then it puts Wagner in a different context, where both he and the pitchers would again face the same opponents, have the same healthcare, equipment, etc. It's a level playing field. Why is this so hard to grok?

I was referring to the statement quoted.

The pitcher comparison falls apart b/c, as many, many people have said, there's very good reason to believe that pitchers have become much worse at hitting. Just the fact that every league except the NL and Japan's Central league uses the DH should explain that one to you. Pitchers don't get to hit in the minors.
   200. Dog on the sidewalk Posted: March 24, 2012 at 01:01 PM (#4088259)
The kicker example is more interesting. But many changes could cause that result. Has the proportion of PKs called upon to punt changed? Have the circumstances under which they are asked to punt changed? What's happened to hang time? How do we know it hasn't gotten harder to punt over these years (and so the overall increase actually understates the improvement among full-time punters)? We'd have to rule out a lot of other possibilities before concluding there's been a decline. BTW, did most NFL PK's punt in college? And if so, have they become worse college punters?

None of those issues are likely to be any more important than the various issues you've casually dismissed as minor or inconsequential regarding pitchers' batting lines over the years.
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