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Friday, November 16, 2012

The Hall of Fame case for 19th century shortstop Bill Dahlen

Only five shortstops who played the bulk of their careers before World War I have been inducted into the Hall of Fame: George Davis, Hughey Jennings, Joe Tinker, Honus Wagner, and John Ward. Dahlen’s talent with the glove and the bat earn him the right to be the sixth.

Wahoo Sam Posted: November 16, 2012 at 02:15 PM | 9 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: bill dahlen, hall of fame

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   1. bjhanke Posted: November 16, 2012 at 05:04 PM (#4304614)
This isn't true. I only checked the "W"s at the Hall of Fame site, and found George Wright and Bobby Wallace. Wright is listed as an "executive", but that's just the Hall's way of getting him into the Hall when he doesn't have ten of whatever the Hall considers to be "major league" seasons. George's brother Harry was the executive. George was considered, when the National Association opened in 1871, as far as my research can tell, to be the best position player in the game, and his actual major league record, such as it is, supports that, although there are other players who were close. That being said, Dahlen does have a decent case. Not overpowering, but decent. The problem is that there are probably about 50 players who have decent cases. - Brock Hanke
   2. Matt Clement of Alexandria Posted: November 16, 2012 at 05:49 PM (#4304645)
Just decent?

Dahlen was a good defensive SS with a little over 2000 games at shortstop and peak OPS+ numbers of 156, 139, 138, 123, 118, 116, 111. Compare to middle-tier HoFer Luke Appling - a little over 2000 games at shortstop and peak OPS+ numbers of 143, 139, 126, 125, 123, 123, 117.

Dahlen looks like a pretty obvious HoFer to me. He also compares well with Alan Trammell, a terribly overlooked, clearly deserving Hall of Famer.
   3. RMc's Yelling Mob of Hackmen Posted: November 16, 2012 at 09:12 PM (#4304744)
How far does the Hall have to get into the 21st century until they're finally done with the 19th?
   4. bjhanke Posted: November 17, 2012 at 02:14 AM (#4304816)
Matt - Yeah, just decent. I've seen enough of your posts to know that you're not doing this deliberately, but you've inadvertently cherry-picked. Dahlen's 20-year career is exactly split between the 1890s and the 1900s. The first decade had very high levels of offense, while the second decade is the beginning of the dead ball era. OPS+, if I am not mistaken, makes no correction for league offensive levels, just for ballparks. Therefore, all of Dahlen's big OPS+ seasons - the ones you listed - occur in the 1890s. His best OPS+ after 1900 is 106. He has one piece of black ink, a RBI title in 1904, when his OPS+ was 101. Appling's best years are scattered through his career, because the offensive levels didn't vary nearly as much as during Dahlen's career. His best OPS+ numbers aren't as good as Dahlen's (although they are close) because he never played during a time when scoring was at 1890s levels. Luke has 3 pieces of black ink, granted that two of them were during a war year. But the third one is a truly impressive batting average of .388. If you adjust for the offensive levels of the times, Appling was a better hitter than Dahlen, by a respectable amount. Dahlen was a better glove, but not by enough to offset Appling's bat advantage. The same problem exists if you try to compare Dahlen to Trammell. Alan didn't play during the 1890s or any time period with that kind of offense. I, personally, would be quite happy to see Dahlen in the Hall, but I have to admit that his case is only decent. People like Ted Simmons, Joe Torre, Bobby Grich, and Bobby Bonds were significantly better players. They and several others are the good cases. I did, however, note that you only rate Bill's defense as "good." My opinion is that he was at least very good, and very possibly a great infield glove. So I know you're not trying to skew things. It's just the 1890s. - Brock
   5. Fred Lynn Nolan Ryan Sweeney Agonistes Posted: November 17, 2012 at 03:26 AM (#4304825)
Seems like he's basically Jack Wilson + 1000 games: long career where he was always one of the top defensive SS (but never clearly the best), hit OK but nothing special. Basically very good defense + durability, especially for the time. Even if he had a great glove, though, I don't think he hit enough.
   6. bjhanke Posted: November 17, 2012 at 04:00 AM (#4304828)
I did a double-check, just out of obsessiveness, and I'm glad I did. BB-Ref's OPS+ does seem to adjust for league offensive levels within its formula, just not in the place I was looking. And Dahlen did have an OPS+ of 111 in 1902. But Bill's career OPS+ is 110, whereas Appling's is 113; for whatever reason, it is true that Dahlen's good years are all in his first decade, while Appling's are more spread out. I ran a sort of shortstops, more than 1500 games, by OPS+. Appling's 113 was good for 14th place; Bill's 110 was good for 17th, tied with Alan Trammell. That's close to where Bill James has them ranked in the Historical Abstract. BB-Ref's WAR has them both higher, Dahlen at #7 and Appling at #9. So WAR would agree with Matt, but WAR is also driven by career length, and both Bill and Luke have a lot of that. Arky Vaughn, whose WAR is the #8 that Bill and Luke surround, suffers from a lack of career length, by comparison. But I think most analysts would agree with Vaughn was better than either Bill or Luke, based on his peak and prime. Appling would probably catch Dahlen in WAR if he got credit for his one WWII year. In short, Bill James probably has them right. Matt's case would depend on valuing career length very highly compared to peak and prime, which is not unreasonable, although it's not the consensus. So I can safely stand with "decent", but Matt does have some ground for more than that. - Brock
   7. Der-K: downgraded to lurker Posted: November 17, 2012 at 04:19 AM (#4304831)
best ops+ after '00 was 111. 2nd best was 106.
regardless, and much more importantly, i believe that you're incorrect when you say: OPS+, if I am not mistaken, makes no correction for league offensive levels, just for ballparks. - unless you mean like the variance within the league or something. beyond that, ops (and its variants) are hardly the only way to look at offensive performance and i'm not sure why you're so heavily discounting dahlen's work with the bat in the '90s - it does comprise half (the better half) of his career. (granted, we could then start talking about issues like league quality and the like - but i don't think you were bring that up, brock.

while he lacks much in the way of black ink - we are talking about a plus to plus-plus ss with a fair amount of gray ink, including (some of this is redundant, overkill, etc...) top 10 in offensive war (6 times), oba (1), slg (3), ops (2), adj ops (2), runs (4), tb (3), 2b (6), 3b (4), hr (5), xbh (5), rbi (4), bb (5), sb (5), hbp (7), etc... - albeit less than appling. (iow - this is not jack wilson with longevity)

one slightly interesting thing about dahlen's 90s/00s split involves how the schedule lengthened with (well, just before) the turn of the century, arguably hurting dahlen's career averages. in the '90s (his twenties), he averaged 123 games a year with a 123 ops+ - mostly years with a 130-some odd game schedule. over the next 9 seasons in the oughts (140-some odd game sked til '04 when it went to 154), he averaged 140 games a year, with a 97 ops+.
   8. Der-K: downgraded to lurker Posted: November 17, 2012 at 04:25 AM (#4304832)
oh, sorry - hadn't seen your post 6 yet, brock.

anyway, my last bit does touch on the issue that players with shorter schedules have less chances to accrue war (and other counting stuff) - seems that that should be accounted for.
   9. BDC Posted: November 17, 2012 at 09:31 AM (#4304867)
Comps for Dahlen, centered on him in terms of OPS+ and PA, ranked by WAR Fielding Runs and including triples as a proxy for speed, with appropriate caveats (for earlier players, 3B may measure power as much as speed).

Player           Rfield    PA OPS+  3B        Pos
Buddy Bell          174 10009  109  56 
Ivan Rodriguez      146 10270  106  51     
Graig Nettles       141 10228  110  28  
Frankie Frisch      140 10099  110 138      
Bill Dahlen         139 10405  110 163   
Luis Gonzalez        88 10531  119  68   
Max Carey            86 10770  108 159       
Harry Hooper         77 10250  114 160     
Lou Whitaker         75  9967  117  65       
Andre Dawson         70 10769  119  98      98D
Sam Rice             56 10247  112 184     
Luke Appling         41 10254  113 102     
Darrell Evans        37 10737  119  36    
Bill Buckner         14 10037  100  49      
Steve Finley         
-1 10460  104 124    *89/7D1
Vada Pinson          
-8 10402  111 127    *897/3D
Roberto Alomar      
-36 10400  116  80      *4/D6 

Dahlen had such a long career that there aren't a great many comparable middle infielders. Frisch, Whitaker, Alomar, and Appling are all HOM types, three of them also in the HOF. Hooper and Rice may be among the less-qualified HOFers (neither is in the HOM), but they're also among the less brilliant fielders on the list (Hooper's defensive reputation in his day was better than the metric here suggests). But Max Carey, a fine CF, is in the HOM/HOF. Offhand I can't see any way at all in which Dahlen (already in the HOM long since) would drag down the standards of the Hall of Fame.

If anything, what I learned from this list is that one might take another look at Buddy Bell. He's not in either Hall; Graig Nettles is in the HOM. Buddy Bell never seemed like a Hall of Famer to me, but it depends on how one rates his defense; if it was really that good, then he was really something. He was a near contemporary of Nettles, so their very similar OPS+ numbers at the same position ought to be truly comparable.

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