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Saturday, January 23, 2010

Cybermetrics: Morong: Lefty Grove vs. Sandy Koufax & Randy Johnson

Hoefty the Lefty can only laugh at the omission.

Who was the greatest left-handed pitcher in history? My money is on Lefty Grove. This issue came up in a Joe Sheehan piece titled By Any Measure: It’s no tall tale: The Big Unit was the greatest lefthander of them all.

...Grove does very well. WS might take into account clutch performance or high leverage situations. Grove pitched in relief in about 25% of the games and had alot of saves for his era. This could be bumping up his WS. Koufax and Johnson did not pitch much in relief. But Grove has such a big lead, it might not matter.

Grove pitched until he was 41 and Johnson until he was 45. If I drop Johnson’s last 4 seasons, his ERA+ is 151, just slightly ahead of Grove. But then Johnson gives up about 5 WAR and over 500 IP.

...During these years, Grove’s park allowed about 50% more HRs than average, Koufax’s about 40% fewer and Johnson’s was about average. Grove had an ERA+ of 174, Koufax 169 and Johnson 178. A slight edge for Johnson, but I don’t think enough to overcome Grove’s big leads in so many other cases.

If we simply compare the relevant stats to the league average, Grove seems to have performed better than the other two whether we consider career value or peak value.

Repoz Posted: January 23, 2010 at 01:02 PM | 35 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: history, sabermetrics

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   1. OCF Posted: January 23, 2010 at 03:09 PM (#3444862)
For HoM purposes, I like using RA+-pythpat equivalent records. Here's what I have for these three:

Grove: career 295-143, best 5 consecutive 114-43, best 5 non-consecutive 116-40.

Johnson: career 288-172, best 5 consecutive 101-40, best 5 non-consecutive 101-33.

Koufax: career 163-95, best 5 consecutive 107-46, best 5 non-consecutive same.

Looked at that way, it's simply no contest - Grove for both peak and career by a comfortable margin; Koufax not even in the conversation at the career level, and maybe not even as good as Johnson on the peak level. (Using 4 years instead of 5 would be friendlier to Koufax - but Johnson might also be helped by using 4 or 6.)

Things not reflected in RA+-pythpat:

1. Leverage. Of course, that would only widen the margin, Grove as the high-leverage relief pitcher, the others not (except for RJ once in the World Series).

2. Defensive support. A potentially big issue, but I don't really know which way it cuts in this group. I'm not really talking about the pitcher's own fielding (bad in all three cases), which would (fairly) show up in RA.

3. Pitcher's batting. Let's face it - using pitching-only stats overrates all three of these guys, because all three of them were terrible hitters. Grove had a career OPS+ of 6 in 1579 PA (in an era which included the likes of Wes Ferrell, Red Ruffing, and Red Lucas, who really could hit). Johnson had a career OPS+ of -22 in 691 PA (at least the DH rule limited the damage in his case). And Koufax had a career OPS+ of -26 in 858 PA, and to top it off, couldn't even sacrifice bunt. If anything, this issue favors Grove slightly, if only in comparison to Johnson and Koufax.

4. Performance outside the major leagues. Another very big issue. Johsnon and Koufax were both late bloomers who were already in the major leagues well before they became great pitchers. By contrast, Grove was a very good - maybe even great, or maybe he walked too many batters to be considered great - pitcher for 4 or 5 years in the International League, working for an owner who refused to sell him to the majors because (at the time) he didn't have to. Give any MLE credit for that at all, and it only increases Grove's lead in the career stats.

Overall, it's Grove > Johnson > Koufax, and none of those are close calls.
   2. heyyoo Posted: January 23, 2010 at 03:47 PM (#3444870)
If we simply compare the relevant stats to the league average, Grove seems to have performed better than the other two whether we consider career value or peak value.


Yes, and if Randy Johnson pitched his entire career in the International League instead of the major leagues, he would blow by Grove pretty easily, relative to his league. The point is that relative to their league, Grove has a clear advantage, but their leagues are not really that comparable now, are they ?

I'm not talking about the generational differences in nutrition and health care of course. A league that banned African Americans and dark skinned Latin Americans is simply not a true major league. The level of competition gap between 1930's MLB and 1995-2010 MLB may not be the same as the difference between AAA and MLB today, but there is definitely a large gap that is not properly accounted for in ANY of these "relative to his league" discussions.

EDIT: From the BJHA

1930's
Index of Competitive Balance 31%
" The 1930's were the least competitive decade in baseball since 1910"

1990's
Index of Competitive Balance 57%

Very long comments there.

Is there an updated way to measure league difficulty, and then apply that league difficulty factor to the career stats of these players to get a TRUE cross generational comparison ?
   3. Mr Dashwood Posted: January 23, 2010 at 03:51 PM (#3444874)
there is definitely a large gap that is not properly accounted for in ANY of these "relative to his league" discussions

Yes, but as with 'replacement level', you can put a number to it. You can also argue about other people's attempts to put a number to it. Hours of fun.
   4. heyyoo Posted: January 23, 2010 at 04:19 PM (#3444884)
Isn't a true replacement level going to favor players from the 30's ? After all, there was a much smaller pool of good players to draw from, so therefore the replacement level in the 30's, if figured correctly, should be much much lower than replacement level the last 15-20 years. So Johnson, if compared to a correct replacment level, would be compared to a much higher replacement level, and therefore replacment level stats like WAR and WARP still won't properly capture the advantage that great players of yesteryear enjoyed and end up strongly favoring players from the weaker league in these types of comparisons.

I'm just wondering if a more simple multiplier can't be applied.

(I'm sure someone has tried, I just don't know how to do it and haven't read about it specifically. I assume this has been covered ad nauseum in the HOM ? )
   5. Cyril Morong Posted: January 23, 2010 at 04:35 PM (#3444888)
heyyoo

You make a good point about integration. I am working on a way of estimating how much difference it might make in a pitcher's ERA and I hope to post that in the next day or two. Right now my guess is that at worst Grove will still be a viable candidate for the best lefty every. I think his big lead over Johnson in strikeout-to-walk ratio and HRs allowed says alot. Whether taking integration into account would take Grove's lead in both of those away is probably hard to say (I am not planning right now to see how those are affected by integration).

Cy
   6. Bad Doctor Posted: January 23, 2010 at 06:12 PM (#3444924)
Not sure if it's mentioned in TFA, but aren't there problems with using ERA+ and other contextualized stats for Grove, in that (a) his league's batting numbers during his peak were largely propped up by two outstanding offensive teams (b) one of which he never had to face and the other of which he (anecdotally, at least) seems to have faced less than the 1/7 of the time that you would expect?
   7. heyyoo Posted: January 23, 2010 at 06:26 PM (#3444927)
I'll look forward to seeing that CY. Keep up the great work. You're site is a must read of course.
   8. Cyril Morong Posted: January 23, 2010 at 06:29 PM (#3444928)
He actually faced the Yankees in almost exactly 1/7 of his IP. See retrosheet

http://www.retrosheet.org/boxesetc/G/Lgrovl1010.htm

But he also pitched a good part of his career on the Red Sox and he was a lefty in Fenway (not sure if that was hard in his day but we often hear that it is).

The baseball encyclopedia by Pete Palmer has Grove with and adjusted ERA of 148 and Johnson with 139 (throughn 2007). The adjust for the league average, park effects and the fact that you don't face your own teammates.
   9. Cyril Morong Posted: January 23, 2010 at 06:30 PM (#3444929)
heyyoo

Thanks. I hope you like the results.

Cy
   10. bjhanke Posted: January 23, 2010 at 06:40 PM (#3444934)
One other thing that you have to take into account, when comparing Grove to Johnson (it doesn't work for someone with Koufax' short career length) is that the number of innings that a starter can pitch has been dropping downwards over time ever since 1879. The rate of descent is pretty slow now, but still, I have a quickie sort comparison that I like to use. I take the years that the pitcher played, start five years earlier and end five years later, to get the player's "time period", run a sort over at BB-Ref by IP and see where the pitcher placed. You also get a list that's useful for comparing the ERA+ of pitchers with similar career lengths.

If you do this with Grove, he finished third in the time period in IP. That's real good, but the big kicker is that his ERA+ towers over everyone else - over anyone within about 1000 IP of him during his era. Only Carl Hubbell is even in the same stadium. Grove led his league in ERA+ ten times out of 17 seasons, and in raw ERA almost as many, and you can see how real fast.

For Johnson, since there are not five years later to look at, I started ten years before his first full season. He ended up fourth in IP, which is real close to Grove's placement. But his ERA+ does not dominate. It's not even the highest in the group. Clemens has him on both IP and ERA+. Clemens is second on the Johnson IP list, but not close to Grove in terms of ERA+ dominance. None of this gives Grove any deductions for the ratio of MLB players to the population (that is, for league strength), but the deduction would have to be truly massive to make any headway against Grove's ERA+ lead. It also does not make any adjustments for Grove's spending several years in the minors when he was clearly an MLB star, an adjustment which would partly offset the league strength deduction.

So I don't think it's real close. Grove > Johnson. In fact, Grove > Clemens > Johnson, although I'm not willing to penalize Johnson any for playing at the same time as Roger Clemens.

BTW, Jack Morris finished 6th on the Johnson list in IP, but his ERA+ of 105 is tied for the LOWEST in the whole 22-pitcher list that showed up on the screen. The guy right above him in IP is Jamie Moyer, who pitched enough relief that the comparison isn't real good, although Jamie's ERA+ of 105 is tied with Jack's. Right below Morris in IP is Mike Mussina, who has only about a hundred fewer IP and a higher ERA+ than Jack, and also a much higher raw W/L %, which is the big point that Morris supporters make. It is true, and probably what leads the Morris supporters astray, that Jack Morris has a very high raw W/L% FOR A PITCHER WITH A 105 ERA+. Not a high, much less dominating, W/L% compared to the entire list, but compared to the 105-108 guys, he clearly has a better "skill" at winning ballgames. But 105 is the LOWEST ERA+ on the list. There's no HoF / HoM candidacy there.

- Brock Hanke
   11. DL from MN Posted: January 23, 2010 at 07:17 PM (#3444954)
there was a much smaller pool of good players to draw from


And a league half the size of the current one. And much higher requirements for IP per game. Maybe Randy Johnson plopped in 1930 can't put up innings like Grove because of his balky back. We can what-if forever.

Why does Koufax always end up in these discussions? Unless you only go by 5 year peak he doesn't really compare. How about Spahn?
   12. Fred Lynn Nolan Ryan Sweeney Agonistes Posted: January 23, 2010 at 07:56 PM (#3444983)
I like to go by best 10 consecutive years -- longer if it helps the case (as with Grove, Spahn, and Johnson), but not less.

Grove, 1926-39: average 20-8, 247 IP, 158 ERA+, 4 saves, great rate stats throughout.
Spahn, 1947-57: average 20-13, 281 IP, 128 ERA+, couple of saves, lots of black ink.
Koufax, 1957-66: average 16-8, 222 IP, 133 ERA+, 1 save, tons of black ink in the latter half.
Johnson, 1993-04: average 16-7, 212 IP, 166 ERA+, great rate stats & some durability ink too.

I'd go Johnson / Grove / Spahn / Koufax, but a lot of that depends on the time of day & what I had for breakfast.

Spahn was so good for so long (basically 20-12 with 280 IP and a 125 ERA+ every year for 17 years) it's easy to overlook him. Kind of like if Pujols wasn't quite as great, but kept it up for another ten years.
   13. Gonfalon Bubble Posted: January 23, 2010 at 08:33 PM (#3445004)
1. Leverage. Of course, that would only widen the margin, Grove as the high-leverage relief pitcher, the others not (except for RJ once in the World Series).

Johnson also pitched the last 3 innings of the deciding Game Five of the 1995 ALDS, on a day's rest.

The record for "most strikeouts in a relief appearance" (16) is Johnson's, too, although that was a fluke situation.
   14. OCF Posted: January 23, 2010 at 08:43 PM (#3445010)
Playing the game your way (referring to post #12) in my style, using the same years:

Grove, 1926-1939: equivalent record 267-117, equivalent FWP 337. Per season, 19-8, 24 FWP.

Spahn, 1947-1957: equivalent record 217-142, equivalent FWP 205. Per season, 20-13, 19 FWP.

-- but why stop there?

Spahn, 1947-1963: equivalent record 316-209, equivalent FWP 297. Per season, 19-12, 17 FWP.

Koufax, 1957-1966: equivalent record 158-89, equivalent FWP 169. Per season, 16-9, 17 FWP.

Johnson, 1993-2004: equivalent record 199-84, equivalent FWP 256. Per season, 17-7, 21 FWP.

In the case of Spahn, there's a little bit of anti-leverage to be worked in. For handedness reasons, he started somewhat fewer games against the righty-heavy Dodgers than would be expected, during the time when the Dodgers would have been the chief rivals. But in compensation: everything I've said above, and that was said in post #12, is pitching only. As I've said, Grove, Koufax, and Johnson were all terrible hitters. Spahn wasn't. Spahn had a lifetime OPS+ of 43 in 2055 PA - he even hit 35 career HR. From the mismatch between his games played and his game pitched, he may have had about 30 PA as a PH.

I do, however, have one philosophical quibble here: There's a long tradition of separating RHP from LHP for lists and comparisons - but (especially with starting pitchers, which is what we're talking about), RHP and LHP aren't different positions. They're occupying the same spot on the field and trying to do the same things. Their handedness is a relative advantage/disadvantage in some situations, but that's not different than any other position on the field or at the plate. I see no reason not to compare Koufax to Gibson and Seaver, Johnson to Clemens and Maddux and Martinez, Grove to (yes) Paige, and all of them to each other and to Walter Johnson and Pete Alexander.

P.S. If you're still on the handedness kick anyway, take a look to see how well Steve Carlton stacks up.
   15. bobm Posted: January 23, 2010 at 09:24 PM (#3445032)
[1]

4. Performance outside the major leagues. Another very big issue. Johsnon and Koufax were both late bloomers who were already in the major leagues well before they became great pitchers. By contrast, Grove was a very good - maybe even great, or maybe he walked too many batters to be considered great - pitcher for 4 or 5 years in the International League, working for an owner who refused to sell him to the majors because (at the time) he didn't have to. Give any MLE credit for that at all, and it only increases Grove's lead in the career stats.


It's ironic IMO that both these pitchers considered all-time greats made the majors at very late ages <u>relative to other all-time great players</u>, but for very different reasons.

I couldn't believe how huge the minor league value issue is in Grove's favor. As I understand it, the IL was an 8 team, 168 game schedule, AA-equivalent league. Grove's Baltimore Orioles (stocked with talent) won the league pennant in each of his 5 seasons (1920-1924, age 20-24).

BB-REF shows Grove was 108-36, with 2.96 ERA in 1184 IP in those years. Johnson, by comparison, was 29-27 with a 3.52 ERA in 462 IP in the minors (including his few rehab stints).

For the 1921-1924 leaderboards shown, Grove was 2nd, 5th, 2nd, and 1st in wins and 8th, 7th, 7th, and 4th in ERA (among 65-75 pitchers listed with decisions and about 100 pitchers with ERA data annually). If you restrict the ERA leaderboard to only pitchers with a minimum 1.0 IP per team game, it looks like Grove was 4th, 6th, 5th and 3rd in ERA for the 1921-1924 seasons.
   16. DL from MN Posted: January 23, 2010 at 10:29 PM (#3445067)
Thanks OCF, Carlton deserves to be in the discussion more than Koufax. Of course you could probably say the same about Hubbell, Ford, Plank...
   17. bobm Posted: January 23, 2010 at 10:43 PM (#3445070)
Cy - good post. I enjoyed it.

[2]


Is there an updated way to measure league difficulty, and then apply that league difficulty factor to the career stats of these players to get a TRUE cross generational comparison ?


IIRC competitive balance in BJHA was calculated as balance among teams, not individuals. I'd expect changes such as free agency, integration, the draft, etc. to increase competitive balance regardless of the raw average talent level.

To compare how dominant each pitcher was versus contemporary pitchers, I think using standard scores, i.e., the number of standard deviations above or below the mean, paints a clearer picture than just ERA+.

By this measure, I think Grove was a lot more dominant in his time, by peak and career.

For each year and league, I calculated the average and standard deviation of the ERA for all pitchers with a minimum 35 IP, using the Lahman database. Then, I calculated the standard score for each year and league ERA for Grove and Johnson. (Note: I did not adjust for park factors, which probably hurts Grove in his Fenway years.) For normally distributed data, 1.0 standard deviations above the mean is the 84th percentile; 2.0 standard deviations above the mean is 98th percentile; and 3.0 standard deviations is 99.9 cumulative percent.

PEAK:

By standard score, Grove's top seven seasons (including his top 5 consecutive seasons):
2.44 - 1931 AL
2.05 - 1930 AL
1.88 - 1932 AL
1.76 - 1928 AL

1.73 - 1939 AL
1.67 - 1929 AL
1.55 - 1936 AL

By standard score, Johnson's top seven seasons (including his top 5 consecutive seasons):
2.27 - 1998 NL
1.72 - 1997 AL
1.70 - 1995 AL
1.59 - 2001 NL
1.58 - 2000 NL
1.54 - 1999 NL
1.42 - 2002 NL


CAREER:

Grove had 17 seasons. 13 had standard scores greater than 1. The median season standard score of the 17 seasons is 1.53, which is 94th percentile for normally distributed data, I believe.

Johnson had 24 league / year combinations in 22 total seasons. 10 had standard scores greater than 1. The median "season" standard score of the 24 seasons is 0.64, which is 74th percentile for normally distributed data, I believe.
   18. Walt Davis Posted: January 23, 2010 at 11:01 PM (#3445081)
You make a good point about integration. I am working on a way of estimating how much difference it might make in a pitcher's ERA and I hope to post that in the next day or two.

There is one math/stat reality that has to be dealt with in trying to measure the effect of integration (and potential effect of earlier integration) and one unfortunate social/cultural/whatever reality.

The math/stat reality is that, looking at it from the perspective of pitchers, any increase in league offensive talent levels due to integration was (would have been) the same for all pitchers. There's no inherently obvious reason why measures which are relative to league average should change at all or, at most, change only marginally. If anything, it is easier to post a good ERA+ in a high-offense context (which Grove was in most of his career anyway).

The social/cultural reality is that, until recently at least, African-American and Afro-Caribbean pitchers have been rather rare. Between Robinson and, oh, 1990, there was a huge influx of African-American offensive talent (and a few major Latin/Caribbean hitters but not a lot) but very little on the pitching side. You can get a quick sense of this by looking at MVP and CYA awards. Starting with Robinson in 1949, African-Americans won 9 of 11 NL MVPs through 1959 (one to Don Newcombe). African-American and African-Caribbean players won 7 of 10 in the 60s and another 4.5 in the 70s. The AL was slower to integrate, but there were 3 in the 60s and 6 in the 70s (including 1 to Blue). On the CYA side, they didn't begin the award until 1956 (Newcombe won the first one) and there was only one CYA for MLB through 1966. Newk was the only African-American pitcher to win in that period. From 67-79, Gibson won two and Jenkins and Blue one. (I hate playing the "who's black, who's not" game so I'll leave Cuellar up to the reader.) And, over those first 30-odd years of integration, I'm trying to think of the best African-American pitcher after those guys ... Al Downing maybe? You see a similar story if you look at the HoF -- many African-American position player inductees, few African-American MLB pitchers.

Now there's a very good chance that the lack of African-American pitchers was due to more subtle forms of institutional discrimination ... and maybe that institutional discrimination would never have existed if baseball hadn't erected the color barrier to begin with. But that's awfully speculative even in a "what if" conjecture. What we do know is that, after integration, a ton of offensive talent came into the game but not an awful lot of pitching talent. And it has still been the case -- of the 15 position players elected to the HoF in the 00s, 8 were African-American while no MLB African-American pitcher has been elected since Jenkins in 1991 (nor can I think of a serious candidate).

Unfair but I think true, based on post-integration history, our best guess as to how Babe Ruth would have done if the game had been integrated at the time is that his raw numbers would have been nearly unchanged because the level of pitching talent he would have faced would not have been much better than what he actually did face. Meanwhile his relative performance would likely have suffered assuming the equivalents of Aaron, Mays, the Robinsons, McCovey, Banks, etc. were in the league, pushing out inferior white hitters. Conversely, our best guess on Grove is probably that his raw numbers would look worse due to facing a higher level of offensive talent but his relative numbers would remain pretty much the same because the level of pitching talent would have been roughly the same.
   19. Howie Menckel Posted: January 23, 2010 at 11:31 PM (#3445099)
Our HOM Pitchers head-to-head ballot in October 2009 put the lefties here:
2 Grove
6 Spahn
12 Carlton
23 Koufax (only 4 of 17 voters gave him a slot on a 15-man ballot for all pitchers)

Ford and Plank were on 2 ballots apiece.

RJ would battle for a top-10 overall spot even with Maddux and Clemens and such around.
   20. Cyril Morong Posted: January 23, 2010 at 11:32 PM (#3445102)
Bobm

Thanks. Good job on looking at SDs. They are usually better than just comparing to the league average.

Cy
   21. Cyril Morong Posted: January 23, 2010 at 11:35 PM (#3445106)
Walt

Thanks for explaining that so well, better than I have in the past. I agree that Ruth's numbers (at least as far as HRs are concerned) would not have changed much. In fact, I came up with about a 5% decline. I wrote a post on this for BTB and it is at

http://www.beyondtheboxscore.com/story/2007/8/30/11190/7401

I am working on something similar to compare Johnson and Grove.

Cy
   22. Cyril Morong Posted: January 23, 2010 at 11:49 PM (#3445108)
Suppose that having better hitters due to integration caused league runs per game to go up .5 (and I am assuming right now that there is no improvement in fielding which helps the pitchers and all the pitchers stay white).

If a pitcher had an ERA of 3.00 while the league average was 4.5, his ERA+ would be 150 (3/4.5 = .667 and 1/.667 = 1.5).

If we do 3.5/5 = .7 and then have 1/.7 = 1.43 we get an ERA+ of 143

Using those numbers for runs and runs scored, his pythagorean pct would fall from .692 to .671. Over 30 decisions, that is about .6 wins. Now the increase in runs will be less than .5 since the fielding has probably improved. Who knows what this effect should equal. Then we have to drop the league ERA just a bit when we start bringing in the non-white pitchers.

I found that 32 of the top 35 pitchers in IP from 1988-2009 were white. Then I found the top 289 guys in IP (who collectively had about half the IP in this period). I came up with 78% of those IP from whites. I came up with just a little over half the PAs by batters in this time from non-whites (looking at the top 900 guys in PAs).

I will try to post what I have found on this tomorrow as far as adjusting Grove's ERA.
   23. Josh1 Posted: January 24, 2010 at 03:42 PM (#3445264)
Cy,
Why would you assume a 3.00 ERA pitcher's ERA would increase by .5 if the average pitcher's runs per game increased by .5? Wouldn't you rather assume a proportional increase in ERA?
   24. Cyril Morong Posted: January 24, 2010 at 04:18 PM (#3445273)
Josh

You raise a good point. I will have to think about that some more.

Cy
   25. sunnyday2 Posted: January 24, 2010 at 04:30 PM (#3445277)
If you begin from the assumption that one of them is better, you can certainly construct a case. But I've never cared much for methods that include the answer in the question.
   26. i hear there are a lot of dead animals in 57i66135 Posted: January 24, 2010 at 06:19 PM (#3445325)

Now there's a very good chance that the lack of African-American pitchers was due to more subtle forms of institutional discrimination ... and maybe that institutional discrimination would never have existed if baseball hadn't erected the color barrier to begin with. But that's awfully speculative even in a "what if" conjecture.
this sentiment is still around now, FWIW. in the last 4 years, the phillies have drafted three black pitcher/outfielders and right now, all are playing in the OF. domonic brown threw 97 MPH off a mound in HS and was a 5 star WR recruit for florida, which is why he fell to the 20th round in the 2006 draft. apparently him being a potential 5 tool/7 skill stud outweighed his potential on the mound, and he was never given the opportunity to pitch. can't say that's the wrong decision so far.

nate "jiwan" james was the next P/OF they got. he started out in the gulf coast league pitching, where he was mediocre, but flashed potential, but he was moved to the OF the next season.

anthony gose is the third they plucked, but i think he specifically demanded that he play the OF. considering he also touched 97 pre-draft, and he's never likely to hit for much power, this pretty much sucks. also, the guy they got back from SEA in the cliff lee trade is a better version of gose, so it really just sucks all around that he's still playing OF.



this is just one organization, but to me, it looks like, if the guy's got any aptitude as a hitter, or is an exceedingly good defender, there's not a chance an organization will let him pitch. how good an athlete is james mcdonald? how good a hitter is CC sabathia?
   27. tjm1 Posted: January 24, 2010 at 06:35 PM (#3445335)
this is just one organization, but to me, it looks like, if the guy's got any aptitude as a hitter, or is an exceedingly good defender, there's not a chance an organization will let him pitch. how good an athlete is james mcdonald? how good a hitter is CC sabathia?


Sabathia and Dontrelle Willis are actually two of the better hitters among active pitchers. Sabathia's OPS+ is 73. Willis' is 67. I think it's likely that both of then could have been decent major league hitters if they had had the minor leaguers to practice. On the other hand, they're both left-handed. Also, Sabathia's 6'7", which works into a different stereotype, the one that people that tall can only be pitchers.
   28. jingoist Posted: January 24, 2010 at 06:39 PM (#3445337)
In the HoM election, how much "better/effective" was Walter Johnson seen being above Grove?
   29. jingoist Posted: January 24, 2010 at 06:39 PM (#3445338)
In the HoM election, how much "better/effective" was Walter Johnson seen being above Grove?
   30. Cyril Morong Posted: January 24, 2010 at 07:52 PM (#3445379)
Josh

If each pitcher's ERA went up by the same %, then Grove's ERA relative to the league average would not change (based solely on new hitters coming into the league). But the new pitchers would then lower the league ERA back down a little. What I am working on seems to show that this latter change will cause a reduction of about 5-6% in league ERA. In reality, Grove's relative ERA was 144 (according to Lee Sinins and this is not park adjusted). If we lowered that by 5-6% we would divide 144 by 1.05 or 1.06, we get something in the 136-138 range for Grove. Johnson had 132. Johnson had 140 through 2005. Even with this adjustment, at best Johnson would have a very slight lead. To me that would be too close to call and seems like enough to mean that Grove should be in any discussion of the greatest lefty.

The 5-6% adjustment is based on something similar to what I explain at the above link.

Cy
   31. OCF Posted: January 24, 2010 at 08:32 PM (#3445403)
In the HoM election, how much "better/effective" was Walter Johnson seen being above Grove?

The final ranking election, which is the only in which both appeared, was an exercise in rank-ordering, not in measuring the size of differences. It was also one of our most sparsely participated in elections, so the results may not be as reliable as they might be with a deeper pool of voters. Walter Johnson was unanimously first among the 17 voters. That does not measure whether those voters saw him as barely first or first by a mile.

Opinion on Grove's place was very far from unanimous, and the final tally has places 2, 3, 4 and 5 bunched in a tight knot. Here are the 2-3-4 (or in some cases 2-3-4-5 or even 2-3-4-5-6) votes of the 17 voters. (The "Williams" referenced is Smokey Joe Williams of the early Negro Leagues.)

Young - Alexander - Williams - Grove
Alexander - Young - Grove
Grove - Paige - Young (Alexander 7th)
Alexander - Grove - Young
Alexander - Young - Grove
Young - Alexander - Nichols (!) - Grove
Young - Alexander - Grove
Grove - Young - Alexander
Grove - Seaver - Paige - Young (Alexander 9th)
Young - Grove - Seaver - Alexander (this was my vote)
Grove - Alexander - Young
Young - Grove - Williams - Seaver (Alexander 7th)
Young - Grove - Alexander
Grove - Young - Alexander
Grove - Young - Alexander
Grove - Young - Spahn - Seaver - Alexander
Grove - Seaver - Young (Alexander 7th)

Add up our point system for those votes, and we came up with Grove 392, Young 391, Alexander 367, Seaver 347. It's probably best to say that we had, within a reasonable margin of error, a tie between Young and Grove for 2nd place. Of course, this was conducted using those pitchers already elected to the HoM and not those not yet eligible. Come back in a few years, and we'll probably have Clemens in the #2 spot, with Maddux, R.Johnson, and Martinez all in the top 10 or 12.
   32. Cyril Morong Posted: January 24, 2010 at 08:34 PM (#3445406)
One thing that is not immediately clear to me is how pitchers will be affected by the addition of the new hitters. Will each see their OPS allowed go up by the same % or the same in absolute terms? (if we can assume that all pitchers will be similarly affected-I don't know what else makes sense right now). Or should we just assume that their runs allowed all go up by about he same %?

I am also not sure that if each pitcher's OPS allowed goes up by the same % that they see the same absolute increase (or the same % increase) in runs allowed. It seems possible that they might have the same % increase in OPS allowed but something different in runs allowed.
   33. Josh1 Posted: January 24, 2010 at 08:35 PM (#3445407)
Cy, I thought about a similar process this afternoon for a quick and dirty way to adjust the stats of pre-integration players using OBP/SLG adjustments. I'm curious what people think.

Let’s say an all-white league has an average .330/.420 line with 4.66 r/g per the Baseball Musings lineup analysis tool. Let’s assume the bottom 30% of hitters are .300/.380 in this league, which puts the top 70% of white players at .343/.437 against white pitchers. Now, I’ll assume the bottom 30% of white players are replaced with players of other races with an average value equal to that of the 70% of best white batters so the marginal player of any race is equal in quality. These new players would hit on average .343/.437 against all white pitchers, and the league as a whole now also hits .343/.437 with 5.06 r/g).

Now, we’ll examine a similar effect with pitchers. We’ll assume the worst 30% of white pitchers allow .360/.460 and 5.58 r/g and the best 70% allow .317/.403 against all white batters. Again, introduce 30% new pitchers of other races with the same average ability of the remaining white pitchers so the league would allow .317/.403 against the average batter in an all-white-batter league.

With these assumptions, we’d expect the new set of pitchers in the league to lower the average batter OBP and SLG by about 4% each. The average batter in the new improved integrated league is also about 4% better, so the net run scoring of the league should remain close to unchanged – if I run the numbers exactly, I get a new integrated league average line of .329/.419. If you prefer other assumptions to a 30% discrimination factor, it is easy to adjust the numbers.

Some potential implications for stars: A Ted Williams-like theoretical hitter with a .475/.620 192 OPS+ in the original league hits .456/.595 180 OPS+ against the better pitching assuming his rates are reduced the same proportion as an average hitter. A Lefty Grove-like theoretical pitcher allowing .300/.315 3.12RA 149 RA+ allows a .312/.328 line against the improved batters good for a 3.46 RA 133 RA+.
   34. OCF Posted: January 24, 2010 at 08:35 PM (#3445409)
how good an athlete is james mcdonald?

Well, when he was 12 years old ... in the Little League game I saw him pitch in, he gave himself an extra-inning lead by hitting a 3 run HR in the top of the 9th, but then he couldn't hold the lead in the bottom of the 9th. Yeah, worthless anecdote. But I think he was actually drafted as a position player and converted to pitcher in the low minors.

Oh, and as for Little League being a very white experience - that applies here. McDonald was probably the only African-American on that league's all-star roster.
   35. Walt Davis Posted: January 24, 2010 at 08:37 PM (#3445410)
I honestly don't think there's any point in adjusting for pre-integration. There are too many assumptions involved and not nearly enough data. Too speculative and there's just not much payoff to concluding "under these huge assumptions, the Grove-Johnson comparison looks better/worse for Grove." I similarly see no point in trying to adjust for today's players being better than players in earlier eras. Now if you want to do it to define some boundaries that seems fine -- i.e. "in order for Johnson to be better than Grove, you'd have to assume that the integration effect is at least X."

Anyway, it's complicated:
1. League average scoring goes up due to an increase in offensive talent.
2. For these sorts of distributions, the mean and the SD are related, so the SD goes up as well.
3. But the quality of the pitching also gets somewhat better.

So #1 pushes up Grove's raw stats but #2 probably improves his stats relative to mean while #3 probably doesn't have a huge effect but does mean you can't necessarily just plug in standard formulae for historical mean/SD relationships ... though maybe the 50s NL and 60s AL would give you some idea.
   36. Josh1 Posted: January 24, 2010 at 11:17 PM (#3445445)
Walt,
As the stats stand, Grove clearly dominates his league more than Johnson does his almost any way you slice it. If you replace the bottom 20-40% of the league with higher caliber players, it is pretty reasonable to conclude that the gap relative to their respective leagues narrows such that the differences become pretty hard to distinguish (ignoring the minor league credit issue for Grove, which I think puts him back on top). I think this point is distinct from and less difficult than adjusting the quality of play over time. It certainly involves speculation based on imperfectly calibrated assumptions, but I'm not sure it involves any more speculation than most of the other topics on the board. Certainly NeL equivalences are a far more difficult endeavor yet are still worth discussing.

On your point 2, I would have guessed the STD would go down in an integrated league if you integrated it all at once. The way the league actually integrated by only adding stars a few at a time should increase variance, of course, but I'm interested in thinking about a fair league with all the best players in the world. Wouldn't cutting the lowest 20-40% tail off of the original distribution (decreasing the range a fair bit) and adding another distribution with the roughly the same mean and var as the new improved league result in an overall lower STD league? We are eliminating the worst players, all reasonably high variance by definition, and replacing them with players with probably an average variance, give or take.

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