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Friday, August 24, 2018

Posnanski: Baseball 100 Rules

In this era of reboots, it was perhaps inevitable that Joe Posnanski would take another crack at the 100 greatest players in major league history. 

The Baseball 100 is more than just a ranking system to me. The difference between my 78th ranked player and my 212th ranked player is so miniscule that it’s mathematically irrelevant. With one slight adjustment, I could have those two players switch places.

Nearly all of the series is to be pay walled, but Zach Greinke is No. 100 on the list.

In the original version of this list, I included a bunch of Negro leaguers — I can tell you that four were in my Top 20. I still believe this. But Negro leaguers will now be a major part of my corresponding Shadowball 100….It’s an eclectic list that includes players who are, in their own ways, larger than life.

No. 100 on this list is Duane Kuiper.

 

 

Rennie's Tenet Posted: August 24, 2018 at 08:01 AM | 1202 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: history, joe posnanski, joe posnanski top 100, reboots

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   701. cookiedabookie Posted: February 23, 2020 at 07:35 PM (#5926117)
flip it real good
   702. Rally Posted: February 24, 2020 at 08:11 AM (#5926140)
32. Mel Ott
   703. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: February 24, 2020 at 09:22 AM (#5926145)
32. Mel Ott

One of the least talked about inner-inner circle guys. Top-25 all time in WAR, and I even forget him sometimes.
   704. Mefisto Posted: February 24, 2020 at 09:26 AM (#5926147)
Nice guys finish 32d.
   705. PreservedFish Posted: February 24, 2020 at 09:50 AM (#5926149)
NY Times Crossword puzzle enthusiasts will never forget Mel Ott.
   706. TomH Posted: February 24, 2020 at 09:53 AM (#5926151)
My guess at Poz's just outside the top 25" next seven men:

Lajoie (#31)
Lloyd
Bench
F Robby
Paige
Rickey! (#26)

unless someone has a cool number associated with them of course :)
   707. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: February 24, 2020 at 09:55 AM (#5926152)
NY Times Crossword puzzle enthusiasts will never forget Mel Ott.

Or Bobby Orr. He was in the WSJ crossword this AM.
   708. gef, talking mongoose & vexatious litigant Posted: February 24, 2020 at 10:04 AM (#5926153)
Or Bobby Orr. He was in the WSJ crossword this AM.

If only Joe Foy had had a much, much better career ...
   709. PreservedFish Posted: February 24, 2020 at 10:19 AM (#5926155)
I would guess that comparatively fewer words end in an 'F', although that doesn't explain the crossword's love for "eft," a juvenile newt that is probably unknown outside of the small worlds of newt scientists and crossword enthusiasts.
   710. taxandbeerguy Posted: February 24, 2020 at 10:26 AM (#5926156)
Tom, Lajoie was 39.

I get Trout, Lloyd, Collins, Speaker, Alexander, Bench as the next 6. Although F-Robby feels right at about 27-29. Seaver and Young already being on the list has shaken things up a bit. Increasingly, I believe Trout will be #27.
   711. Jaack Posted: February 24, 2020 at 10:27 AM (#5926157)
Lajoie (#31)
Lloyd
Bench
F Robby
Paige
Rickey! (#26)


Fun game - I'm going to guess the next six will be

Collins
Alexander
Pujols
Trout
F Robinson
Lloyd

The first three were on one of Poz's previous lists. Trout could viably be 30 (multiples of 10 have been big stars), 28 (his age), or 27 (uniform number). We're also at the point where guys have had peaks similar to Trout's.

Less confident about Lloyd and Robinson, but they seem like the weakest of the remaining options.
   712. Gonfalon Bubble Posted: February 24, 2020 at 10:48 AM (#5926162)
NY Times Crossword puzzle enthusiasts will never forget Mel Ott.


Ott is inner circle, perhaps even iota circle. Might've had 600 home runs, if the wind hadn't been alee.
   713. Rally Posted: February 24, 2020 at 11:03 AM (#5926167)
I'm a bit surprised Alexander is ranked ahead of both Mathewson and Cy Young. Not that I've put too much time in ranking them myself.

Mathewson has a slightly better ERA+, same wins, fewer losses. Alexander a bit more innings and an edge in WAR. Young blows them both away in innings, and has a better ERA+ than either.

Maybe a bit of timelining as Alexander was the only one to pitch into the live ball era.
   714. PreservedFish Posted: February 24, 2020 at 11:13 AM (#5926171)
An ode:

Err not: Ott was able ere he saw Elba. His bat: an epee. His arm: an aria. His swing: smooth like oleo.
   715. Eric J can SABER all he wants to Posted: February 24, 2020 at 11:46 AM (#5926176)
I'm a bit surprised Alexander is ranked ahead of both Mathewson and Cy Young. Not that I've put too much time in ranking them myself.

Mathewson has a slightly better ERA+, same wins, fewer losses. Alexander a bit more innings and an edge in WAR. Young blows them both away in innings, and has a better ERA+ than either.

Maybe a bit of timelining as Alexander was the only one to pitch into the live ball era.


For whatever it's worth, Bill James had Alexander at #3 among pitchers, behind only Johnson and Grove, in the NBJHBA (which is obviously 20 years out of date now, but it's not like Alexander and company have pitched any more since then).

Alexander allowed far fewer unearned runs than Mathewson, 376 to 485, despite pitching more innings. Not sure how much that's affected by his career starting later, but it was also true when they were pitching at the same time - from 1911-14, when both of them were aces but neither were at their absolute best, Mathewson allowed 121 UER in 1235 innings, Alexander 114 in 1338.2. That trims the gap between them during this stretch from 33 points of ERA to 22 points of RA. Mathewson also spent his entire career on good-to-great teams, which helps his winning percentage; Alexander doesn't have quite the same advantage (although his teams were mostly at least OK). Alexander could also get a year of war credit for 1918, when he made only three starts and then got drafted.

fWAR also has Alexander ahead by a bit, despite the fact that Mathewson led the NL in FIP eight times in a twelve-year span.

Young is a trickier case in general, and his ranking probably involves at least some timelining (or other adjustment for strength of competition - he was in the AL in 1901, for instance, although you could argue the other direction about the NL in the 1890s, since it was the only major league for most of that decade). There's really nobody comparable to Cy Young, and as such it's near-impossible to assess his career in comparison to anyone else's.
   716. JAHV Posted: February 24, 2020 at 11:52 AM (#5926178)
Ott was as steady and patient as an ent, but swung the bat as ferociously as an orc with an axe.
   717. Mefisto Posted: February 24, 2020 at 12:48 PM (#5926190)
Alexander allowed far fewer unearned runs than Mathewson, 376 to 485, despite pitching more innings.


This should adjust for context and I'm not sure it does (though you did by looking at the overlap period). In, say, 1905 when Mathewson was at his peak, unearned runs in the NL accounted for 28% of all runs. In, say, 1920 it was down to 20%. By 1927 they were at 15%. Errors were dropping rapidly over this time due to improved gloves and fields (and probably better play too). Alexander would still do better, but only by about 60% as much.
   718. Tom Nawrocki Posted: February 24, 2020 at 12:58 PM (#5926192)
Ott's favorite artist is Erte. In an earlier life, he would have been an esne.
   719. Rally Posted: February 24, 2020 at 01:09 PM (#5926193)
The unearned runs, context adjusted, would explain a good chunk of the WAR difference between the two. One of these days I might get around to posting RA+ and making it as easily available as ERA+.
   720. Mefisto Posted: February 24, 2020 at 01:14 PM (#5926194)
That would be really great.
   721. Eric J can SABER all he wants to Posted: February 24, 2020 at 02:47 PM (#5926219)
This should adjust for context and I'm not sure it does

This is very true, apart from having paid the context a bit of lip service. So, looking at actual RA+ (as long as I'm doing the math right), leaving out 1930 for Alexander and 1900 and 1916 for Mathewson (the negative WAR seasons on either end of their careers), I get the following:

Alexander 136 (same as ERA+ for those years)
Mathewson 136 (compared to 138 ERA+)

(If you want to consider the negative WAR seasons, Mathewson's numbers will not improve; he allowed 23 UER in 108.1 innings in '00 and '16, while Alexander allowed 2 in 21.2 innings in 1930.)

My calculation assumed that the seasonal ERA+ numbers are exact, which of course they aren't, but it also agrees with B-R's ERA+ numbers for both pitchers over the whole stretch (within rounding constraints).

Anyway, if the above numbers are correct, Mathewson's minor rate advantage is gone once unearned runs are included, and Alexander wins on volume. (All else being equal. Which it never is, but so it goes.)

Also, co-sign the statement that having RA+ readily available would be awesome.
   722. Ziggy is done with Dominican discotheques Posted: February 24, 2020 at 02:50 PM (#5926222)
Trout could viably be 30 (multiples of 10 have been big stars), ... We're also at the point where guys have had peaks similar to Trout's.


We're talking top 30 players all-time. All of these guys were/are big stars.

Also, Trout's peak isn't really extraordinary for an all-time great. His career best WAR is tied with Robin Yount's, lower than Wes Ferrell's, lower than Mookie Betts', lower than Gaylord Perry's, and so on. Heck, he doesn't even have the highest single-season WAR for a Trout: Dizzy has him beat. What's extraordinary about him is that he's so consistent. All-time rank of his season-by-season WAR score:

2012 121st
2013 330th
2014 NR
2015 248th
2016 121st
2017 NR
2018 154th
2019 494th

Of course 19th c. pitchers are throwing this list off a bit. Those 2012/2016 seasons are tied for 43rd best in the live-ball era. The point is that six of his eight are among the 500 best seasons all-time. Aaron (also a model of consistency) has only five seasons on this list.
   723. PreservedFish Posted: February 24, 2020 at 03:37 PM (#5926231)
Also, Trout's peak isn't really extraordinary for an all-time great. His career best WAR is tied with Robin Yount's, lower than Wes Ferrell's, lower than Mookie Betts', lower than Gaylord Perry's, and so on.


What definition of peak is this?
   724. bbmck Posted: February 24, 2020 at 03:38 PM (#5926232)
Setting aside that any ranking can be for a creative reason, Poz ranking of MLB pitchers:

1. Roger Clemens
?2. Walter Johnson
?3. Greg Maddux
?4. Lefty Grove
?5. Randy Johnson
?6. Pete Alexander

7. Cy Young
8. Christy Mathewson
9. Pedro Martinez
10. Tom Seaver
11. Bob Gibson
12. Warren Spahn

13. Nolan Ryan
14. Bob Feller
15. Steve Carlton
16. Gaylord Perry
17. Sandy Koufax
18. Bert Blyleven

19. Robin Roberts
20. Justin Verlander
21. Clayton Kershaw
22. Ferguson Jenkins
23. Kid Nichols

24. Phil Niekro
25. Curt Schilling
26. Max Scherzer
27. Mariano Rivera
28. Mike Mussina
   725. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: February 24, 2020 at 03:55 PM (#5926237)
What definition of peak is this?

Single year, it would seem.
   726. Rally Posted: February 24, 2020 at 04:20 PM (#5926244)
Just 6 pitchers left? Make it 7, since Satchel will be there. He could even be the #1 pitcher. I can’t say for sure that he shouldn’t be.
   727. cookiedabookie Posted: February 25, 2020 at 09:01 AM (#5926304)
Maddux at 31 seems way too low for me
   728. taxandbeerguy Posted: February 25, 2020 at 09:31 AM (#5926310)
He wore #31 for most of his career. I had him at #23.
   729. JJ1986 Posted: February 25, 2020 at 09:38 AM (#5926311)
Trout is definitely going to be #27
   730. PreservedFish Posted: February 25, 2020 at 09:53 AM (#5926312)
Maddux at 31 seems way too low for me


He wore #31 for most of his career.


Seems like he's being intentionally stupid with the precise rankings so as to make nitpicking futile.
   731. DanG Posted: February 25, 2020 at 12:15 PM (#5926343)
Trout's peak isn't really extraordinary for an all-time great
Here's a stab at an answer to this. Most bWAA for position players in their 6th-8th seasons:

Player           WAAWAROPSoWAR   PA From   To   Age
Babe Ruth        27.4 33.9  238 32.3 1852 1919 1921 24
-26
Mickey Mantle    25.4 31.2  206 31.2 1929 1956 1958 24
-26
Rogers Hornsby   24.1 30.4  195 30.1 2038 1920 1922 24
-26
Ty Cobb          23.3 30.5  200 28.8 1863 1910 1912 23
-25
Ted Williams     21.9 27.5  195 27.6 2060 1947 1949 28
-30
Carl Yastrzemski 21.6 28.4  160 20.7 2024 1966 1968 26
-28
'Mike Trout      21.2 27.2  185 26.3 1796 2016 2018 24-26'
Barry Bonds      21.1 26.9  190 22.9 1920 1991 1993 26-28
Tris Speaker     20.9 28.6  183 25.8 1952 1912 1914 24
-26
Albert Pujols    20.6 26.5  175 20.0 1954 2006 2008 26
-28
Ernie Banks      19.8 27.4  152 23.2 2031 1958 1960 27
-29
Willie Mays      19.0 26.4  165 24.3 2003 1957 1959 26
-28
Lou Gehrig       19.0 26.6  187 26.1 2075 1928 1930 25
-27
Wade Boggs       18.8 25.1  161 22.0 2128 1987 1989 29
-31
Ron Santo        18.8 26.3  153 22.4 2073 1965 1967 25
-27
Hank Aaron       18.5 26.0  168 22.6 2028 1959 1961 25
-27 
   732. Ron J Posted: February 25, 2020 at 12:48 PM (#5926346)
#723 Peak has no agreed on definition. A lot of people feel the years must be in a block (that's kind of the Koufax definition) but I don't think anybody has ever run a best 5 consecutive year list. Dale Stephenson used to maintain a best 5 years list -- but they're nearly two decades old and were linear weights based. And since the defensive component of linear weights is a bad joke he didn't include them (just listed the totals separately).

CF's a tough position. Trout's still going to do well on any list. Throw in a little timelining and ...
   733. PreservedFish Posted: February 25, 2020 at 12:53 PM (#5926347)
It has no definition, but I've never before seen anyone use the word "peak" to mean "exactly one season." I can accept that it's a nebulous, undefined term. I cannot accept that it is so nebulous so as to allow for a definition in which Mookie Betts has a higher peak than Mike Trout.
   734. Ron J Posted: February 25, 2020 at 12:59 PM (#5926349)
#733 agreed. And even then there's the issue of the breadth of peak performance. Even a 5 year peak definition should at least acknowledge how good the 6th,7th etc. best seasons are.

And there's the issue as to whether they need to be consecutive.

   735. TomH Posted: February 25, 2020 at 01:40 PM (#5926365)
Tom's proposed working definition of "peak":

1 Use whichever measuring stick is your fav (pretend it is WAR for this exercise)
2 Allocate weights for different seasons, total to 100% by these rules, maximizing the answer for that player
- a) max for anyone 1 season is 30 (%)
- b) change between season x and x+1 no greater than 15
- c) the above does not apply at the "ends" you can start a peak definition with 30 if your first or last great season was a great one
- d) make some exceptions for oddities if you wish (WWII, Ted Williams)

examples of legit allocations
* 30-30-27-13 (true peak, falling off in season #4)
* 30-15-30-25 (condensed peak, one lesser season in the middle)
* 30-15-5-0-15-30 (best years spread apart)
   736. TomH Posted: February 25, 2020 at 01:46 PM (#5926366)
MANTLE
year WAR weight
55 ----9.6 25
56 ---11.3 30
57 ---11.3 30
58 ----8.7 15

weighted WAR peak = 10.5
   737. TomH Posted: February 25, 2020 at 01:55 PM (#5926370)
RUTH
year WAR weight
20 ---11.9 30
21 ---12.9 19
22 ----6.3 4
23 ---14.1 19
24 ---11.7 28

weighted WAR peak = 12.2

   738. Ron J Posted: February 25, 2020 at 02:14 PM (#5926377)
TomH. I like the definition though it's trick at first glance to automate.
   739. Ron J Posted: February 25, 2020 at 02:34 PM (#5926379)
Also, the best indication that "nobody" thinks peak is a single season is Dick Dietz, 1970. OK, looks significantly less good now that we know more about his defense (25 PB, 19% CS and a lot of pitchers having poor years by their standards), but still a 153 OPS+ (A level Mickey Cochrane reached only once. Mike Piazza beat it 3 times) in a catcher who started 137 games is exceptional.

His 1970 gets mentioned in a lot of best offensive seasons by catcher lists (and fluke season lists). But he never gets listed in best catcher peaks.
   740. Mefisto Posted: February 25, 2020 at 02:56 PM (#5926385)
@735: Your last example (best years spread apart) doesn't add up to 100.
   741. TomH Posted: February 25, 2020 at 03:25 PM (#5926393)
my excel sheet shows 30+19+4+19+28=100

oh, the example; sorry, it could be 30-15-10-0-15-30
Yes, tough to automate
   742. Moeball Posted: February 25, 2020 at 05:43 PM (#5926422)
Ott's home/road splits have always intrigued me. It really looks like he had two different approaches to hitting. Pull the ball like crazy at the Polo Grounds and hit to all fields on the road. I've never heard of anyone actually documenting this, however, not even anecdotally. But the numbers sure do seem to tell that story. Wish I could have seen him play. He would have been fascinating to watch.
   743. alilisd Posted: February 25, 2020 at 07:57 PM (#5926436)
723: I think it’s best to just sit back and have a good laugh rather than ask any questions:-)

As to Trout and peak, well there are very few players who have ever produced at as high a level for as long as he has. There are only 12 players who have ever had multiple 10 or higher WAR seasons, and Robin Yount ain’t one of them. Trout has three such seasons so far, and only eight players have done that. Only three players have more than three such seasons: Ruth, Hornsby and Mays. Probably an honorable mention should be made for Williams here since he had three such seasons in 1941, 1942, and 1946. This indicates to me Trout has had a pretty good peak
   744. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: February 25, 2020 at 08:02 PM (#5926437)
Trout is on track to be one of the best ten position players ever, maybe top-5. That's about as good a peak as you can get.
   745. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: February 25, 2020 at 09:33 PM (#5926445)
Ott's home/road splits have always intrigued me. It really looks like he had two different approaches to hitting. Pull the ball like crazy at the Polo Grounds and hit to all fields on the road. I've never heard of anyone actually documenting this, however, not even anecdotally. But the numbers sure do seem to tell that story. Wish I could have seen him play. He would have been fascinating to watch.

Ott's batting style alone would've spawned a hundred mimes.
   746. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: February 25, 2020 at 10:01 PM (#5926449)
Ott's batting style alone would've spawned a hundred mimes.

But the nickname was weak for that era. Master Melvin??? Ruth had like seven nicknames better than that.
   747. Ziggy is done with Dominican discotheques Posted: February 25, 2020 at 10:56 PM (#5926459)
The point was just that Trout is a GOAT candidate without Ruthian performance. What's special about him is his consistency.

There are great players who aren't like this. Compare him to Carl Yastrzemski. Yaz has got 12.5/10.5/9.5 for his best seasons, and then a bunch of nice 5 WAR seasons around them. Trout's career doesn't have that shape. His best seasons are no better than Yaz'; what's amazing about him is that he's always in that 8-10 WAR range. You might think that a serious GOAT candidate would need to put up 12 or 13 WAR seasons (like Ruth and Bonds did). But that's not how he's doing it. He's a GOAT candidate by *always* being as good as the Robin Younts of the world were at their best.
   748. Ziggy is done with Dominican discotheques Posted: February 25, 2020 at 11:03 PM (#5926461)
Also, this auto-played after the Ott clip: batting practice before the 1934 all-star game. Totally worth watching.
   749. bbmck Posted: February 25, 2020 at 11:35 PM (#5926465)
Baseball Gauge does best X seasons by bWAR, bWAA, bWAG (WAR over 4), gWAR, gWAA, gWAG, WS, WSAB (above bench) or you can create a custom metric.

Walter Johnson is basically always first for any number of seasons that could be considered peak and a lot of 19th century pitchers are among the leaders because they have BF that vastly exceed PA, 40+ bWAR in 5 highest seasons and best among C:

C: Johnny Bench 36.6, Gary Carter 36.6
2B: Rogers Hornsby 53.6, Joe Morgan 47.8, Eddie Collins 47.5, Nap Lajoie 44.8, Jackie Robinson 42.1
3B: Mike Schmidt 43.4, Wade Boggs 42.2, Ron Santo 41.9, George Brett 41.5
SS: Honus Wagner 49.1, Alex Rodriguez 47.4, Cal Ripken Jr 43.9, Ernie Banks 42

1B: Lou Gehrig 50.3, Jimmie Foxx 44.9, Albert Pujols 44.9
CF: Willie Mays 53.9, Ty Cobb 52, Mickey Mantle 51.3, Mike Trout 49.6, Tris Speaker 46.2, Ken Griffey Jr 41.6
LF: Barry Bonds 53.9, Ted Williams 51.6, Carl Yastrzemski 44.5, Rickey Henderson 44.3
RF: Babe Ruth 62.4, Stan Musial 47.5, Hank Aaron 44.3, Shoeless Joe Jackson 40.9

Mike Trout's 5th best is 9, Albert Pujols 8.5, Mookie Betts 39.7/5.9, Robinson Cano 38.3/6.7 and Josh Donaldson 37.4/6.1 are the Top 5 active position players and then no one likely to improve their WAR5 much until you get down to Paul Goldschmidt 31.9/4.7 and Jose Altuve 31.8/4.8.

Pujols' 11 best seasons are 86.6, Mike Trout 72.5 so needs 14.1 WAR over the next two seasons or 14.6 over the next three seasons. Pujol's 14 best seasons (everything over 1.5) is 98.4 WAR so 25.9 over the next five or 26.4 over the next six. Of course Pujols wears #5 so might be ranked 22 spots ahead of Trout.
   750. JJ1986 Posted: February 26, 2020 at 07:31 AM (#5926485)
30. Johnny Bench
   751. reech Posted: February 26, 2020 at 10:52 AM (#5926516)
Amazing how many of these stories involve the player's Dads (for better or worse)
   752. TomH Posted: February 26, 2020 at 12:03 PM (#5926533)
a favorite JB stat compilation:
- Bench caught 45 postseason games, all in the 1970s
- the average C per 45 games in the 70s might steal 1-2 bases, and allow about 30 SB
- Johnny Bench stole 6 bases in these games
- Johnny Bench only allowed 6 SB. And he caught 13 men stealing.

   753. JAHV Posted: February 27, 2020 at 03:10 PM (#5926858)
29. Eddie Collins
   754. Ron J Posted: February 27, 2020 at 03:28 PM (#5926864)
#752 it's even more impressive if you exclude the 1979 NLCS -- when Bench wasn't really Bench any longer -- at least behind the plate. Pirates went 4-0 in that series.
   755. TomH Posted: February 27, 2020 at 07:39 PM (#5926949)
I agree, Ron J; and that is often how it is quoted; but I wished to be cleared of any cherry-picking accusations :)
   756. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: February 27, 2020 at 09:55 PM (#5926966)
29. Eddie Collins

Seems low for a 120 WAR guy.
   757. Mefisto Posted: February 27, 2020 at 10:08 PM (#5926968)
I have him at 16th/17th among position players (I timeline fairly heavily). Add in, say, 8 or 9 pitchers and he's not unreasonably low.
   758. Jaack Posted: February 27, 2020 at 11:04 PM (#5926976)
If you including timelining and peak considerations, this seems like the right range for Collins. He also may suffer from comparing him to obvious peers - he's a near exact contemporary for both Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker and he has significant career overlap with Rogers Hornsby all of whom are a step ahead.
   759. Booey Posted: February 27, 2020 at 11:13 PM (#5926977)
#756 - Not when there are 6 direct - or almost direct - contemporaries ahead of him on the WAR chart (Ruth, Johnson, Cobb, Speaker, Wagner, Hornsby). At best, Collins should be ranked on par with the 5th or 6th best players of every other era, which I suspect are generally 90-ish WAR players (Clemente, Kaline, Mathews, Brett, Boggs, Beltre, etc).

Guys like Mantle, Schmidt, Morgan, Rickey, ARod, and Pujols may be lower on the WAR chart cuz they played in eras with tougher competition, but I think they were all closer to being the best players in the game than Collins was, and I agree with Poz that the rankings should reflect that.

Edit: partial coke to Jaack. You can't just compare players to the average or replacement players of their era; you need to compare them to the BEST players, too. Seems pretty obvious that racking up 120 WAR was a lot easier 100 years ago than it is now.
   760. bbmck Posted: February 28, 2020 at 12:39 AM (#5926991)
44 players with 90+ position or pitching WAR, ignored missed years mostly due to war service:

1871-1889: Cap Anson
1890-1895: Cap, Cy Young, Kid Nichols
1896: Cap, Cy, Kid, Nap Lajoie
1897: Cap, Cy, Kid, Nap, Honus Wagner
1898-1899: Cy, Kid, Nap, Honus

1900-1904: Cy, Kid, Nap, Honus, Christy Mathewson
1905: Cy, Kid, Nap, Honus, Christy, Ty Cobb
1906: Cy, Kid, Nap, Honus, Christy, Ty, Eddie Collins
1907-1910: Cy, Nap, Honus, Christy, Ty, Eddie, Tris Speaker, Walter Johnson
1911: Cy, Nap, Honus, Christy, Ty, Eddie, Tris, Walter, Pete Alexander

1912-1913: Nap, Honus, Christy, Ty, Eddie, Tris, Walter, Pete
1914: Nap, Honus, Christy, Ty, Eddie, Tris, Walter, Pete, Babe Ruth
1915-1916: Nap, Honus, Christy, Ty, Eddie, Tris, Walter, Pete, Babe, Rogers Hornsby
1917: Honus, Ty, Eddie, Tris, Walter, Pete, Babe, Rogers
1918-1922: Ty, Eddie, Tris, Walter, Pete, Babe, Rogers

1923-1924: Ty, Eddie, Tris, Walter, Pete, Babe, Rogers, Lou Gehrig
1925: Ty, Eddie, Tris, Walter, Pete, Babe, Rogers, Lou, Jimmie Foxx, Lefty Grove
1926-1927: Ty, Eddie, Tris, Walter, Pete, Babe, Rogers, Lou, Foxx, Grove, Mel Ott
1928: Ty, Eddie, Tris, Pete, Babe, Rogers, Lou, Foxx, Grove, Ott
1929-1930: Eddie, Pete, Babe, Rogers, Lou, Foxx, Grove, Ott

1931-1935: Babe, Rogers, Lou, Foxx, Grove, Ott
1936-1937: Rogers, Lou, Foxx, Grove, Ott
1938: Lou, Foxx, Grove, Ott
1939: Lou, Foxx, Grove, Ott, Ted Williams
1940: Foxx, Grove, Ott, Ted

1941: Foxx, Grove, Ott, Ted, Stan Musial
1942-1945: Foxx, Ott, Ted, Stan, Warren Spahn
1946-1947: Ott, Ted, Stan, Spahn
1948-1950: Ted, Stan, Spahn
1951: Ted, Stan, Spahn, Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle

1952: Ted, Stan, Spahn, Mays, Mantle, Eddie Mathews
1953: Ted, Stan, Spahn, Mays, Mantle, Mathews, Al Kaline
1954: Ted, Stan, Spahn, Mays, Mantle, Mathews, Kaline, Hank Aaron
1955: Ted, Stan, Spahn, Mays, Mantle, Mathews, Kaline, Hank, Roberto Clemente
1956-1960: Ted, Stan, Spahn, Mays, Mantle, Mathews, Kaline, Hank, Clemente, Frank Robinson

1961: Stan, Spahn, Mays, Mantle, Mathews, Kaline, Hank, Clemente, Frank, Carl Yastrzemski
1962: Stan, Spahn, Mays, Mantle, Mathews, Kaline, Hank, Clemente, Frank, Yaz, Gaylord Perry
1963: Stan, Spahn, Mays, Mantle, Mathews, Kaline, Hank, Clemente, Frank, Yaz, Perry, Joe Morgan
1964-1965: Spahn, Mays, Mantle, Mathews, Kaline, Hank, Clemente, Frank, Yaz, Perry, Morgan, Phil Niekro
1966: Mays, Mantle, Mathews, Kaline, Hank, Clemente, Frank, Yaz, Perry, Morgan, Niekro

1967-1968: Mays, Mantle, Mathews, Kaline, Hank, Clemente, Frank, Yaz, Perry, Morgan, Niekro, Tom Seaver
1969: Mays, Kaline, Hank, Clemente, Frank, Yaz, Perry, Morgan, Niekro, Seaver
1970-1971: Mays, Kaline, Hank, Clemente, Frank, Yaz, Perry, Morgan, Niekro, Seaver, Bert Blyleven
1972: Mays, Kaline, Hank, Clemente, Frank, Yaz, Perry, Morgan, Niekro, Seaver, Bert, Mike Schmidt
1973: Mays, Kaline, Hank, Frank, Yaz, Perry, Morgan, Niekro, Seaver, Bert, Schmidt

1974: Kaline, Hank, Frank, Yaz, Perry, Morgan, Niekro, Seaver, Bert, Schmidt
1975-1976: Hank, Frank, Yaz, Perry, Morgan, Niekro, Seaver, Bert, Schmidt
1977-1978: Yaz, Perry, Morgan, Niekro, Seaver, Bert, Schmidt
1979-1980: Yaz, Perry, Morgan, Niekro, Seaver, Bert, Schmidt, Rickey Henderson
1981: Yaz, Perry, Morgan, Niekro, Seaver, Bert, Schmidt, Rickey, Cal Ripken Jr

1982-1983: Yaz, Perry, Morgan, Niekro, Seaver, Bert, Schmidt, Rickey, Cal, Wade Boggs
1984: Morgan, Niekro, Seaver, Bert, Schmidt, Rickey, Cal, Boggs, Roger Clemens
1985: Niekro, Seaver, Bert, Schmidt, Rickey, Cal, Boggs, Clemens
1986: Niekro, Seaver, Bert, Schmidt, Rickey, Cal, Boggs, Clemens, Barry Bonds, Greg Maddux
1987: Niekro, Bert, Schmidt, Rickey, Cal, Boggs, Clemens, Barry, Maddux

1988-1989: Bert, Schmidt, Rickey, Cal, Boggs, Clemens, Barry, Maddux, Randy Johnson
1990-1992: Bert, Rickey, Cal, Boggs, Clemens, Barry, Maddux, Randy
1993: Rickey, Cal, Boggs, Clemens, Barry, Maddux, Randy
1994-1997: Rickey, Cal, Boggs, Clemens, Barry, Maddux, Randy, Alex Rodriguez
1998-1999: Rickey, Cal, Boggs, Clemens, Barry, Maddux, Randy, A-Rod, Adrian Beltre

2000: Rickey, Cal, Clemens, Barry, Maddux, Randy, A-Rod, Beltre
2001: Rickey, Cal, Clemens, Barry, Maddux, Randy, A-Rod, Beltre, Albert Pujols
2002-2003: Rickey, Clemens, Barry, Maddux, Randy, A-Rod, Beltre, Pujols
2004-2007: Clemens, Barry, Maddux, Randy, A-Rod, Beltre, Pujols
2008: Maddux, Randy, A-Rod, Beltre, Pujols

2009: Randy, A-Rod, Beltre, Pujols
2010-2016: A-Rod, Beltre, Pujols
2017-2018: Beltre, Pujols
2019: Pujols

Joe DiMaggio 1936-1951 can be considered a member of the 90 WAR club, Mike Trout 2011-2019 is the only active player with a high probability of joining the club unless you think Mookie Betts has a high probability of 6.2 more WAR than Ken Griffey Jr.
   761. Booey Posted: February 28, 2020 at 09:11 AM (#5927011)
#760 - Other than Trout, I think the active players with the best shot at 90 WAR are probably the pitchers. One of Verlander, Greinke, Kershaw, or Scherzer could maybe pitch until they're 45 and get there. Not likely, but I'd bet on them over Mookie or any of the other position players.
   762. alsep73 Posted: February 28, 2020 at 11:17 AM (#5927070)
28. Randy Johnson
   763. CFBF's Overflowing Pathos Posted: February 29, 2020 at 09:36 AM (#5927235)
Mike Trout is 27. And perhaps most strikingly, an essay with a prominent role for a sane, well-adjusted father.
   764. TomH Posted: February 29, 2020 at 04:32 PM (#5927284)
I don't want to beat the cutesy player number = rank thing to death, but it's annoying when it puts contemporaries unnecessarily and obviously out of order.

Greg Maddux had a better peak*, better prime*, and better career than the Big Unit. Not by a huge amount, but by enough that Maddux 31 / Unit 28 is irritating.

*- adjust 94/95 for the strike
   765. Chokeland Bill Posted: February 29, 2020 at 05:01 PM (#5927289)
Greg Maddux had a better peak*, better prime*, and better career than the Big Unit. Not by a huge amount, but by enough that Maddux 31 / Unit 28 is irritating.


Career bWAR is basically the same (despite 900 IP difference), Johnson has 7 seasons of 8+ compared to 3 for Maddux (and only 5 of 7+). Strike credit would give Johnson a fourth 9+ season and maybe an eighth 7+. fWAR there is a bigger career gap and Maddux has a ton of 7+ seasons, but Johnson's still got the bigger years. I would have Johnson higher.
   766. Mefisto Posted: February 29, 2020 at 07:11 PM (#5927307)
I don't want to beat the cutesy player number = rank thing to death, but it's annoying when it puts contemporaries unnecessarily and obviously out of order.

Greg Maddux had a better peak*, better prime*, and better career than the Big Unit. Not by a huge amount, but by enough that Maddux 31 / Unit 28 is irritating.


Yes, it is irritating though I'm not sure this is your best example since, as 765 notes, Johnson was pretty damn good and it's only 3 spots. So far, the 3 worst "ratings" (from memory) are DiMaggio, Seaver, and Trout. I may have missed another bad one, and there may be more yet to come.
   767. TomH Posted: February 29, 2020 at 07:32 PM (#5927310)
- I agree it's close, but

bb-ref's "neutralized pitching" page shows

Maddux with 5.5 more "adjusted pitching wins"

Maddux' neutralized stats of 337 W 231 L 2.99 ERA
Johnson neutralized stats of 281 W 189 L 2.97 ERA

How Maddux can go 56 and 42 beyond the Unit and be thought of as inferior, is putting astonishingly little weight on career value
   768. Benji Gil Gamesh VII - The Opt-Out Awakens Posted: March 01, 2020 at 01:35 PM (#5927374)
How Maddux can go 56 and 42 beyond the Unit and be thought of as inferior, is putting astonishingly little weight on career value
Is it?

Isn't the gap in their career value exactly the kind of gap that could be made up by this difference in peak:

bWAR Maddux: 9.7, 9.1, 8.5, 7.8, 7.2, 6.6, 6.5, 5.8, 5.2, 5.2, 5.0
bWAR Johnson: 10.7, 10.1, 9.1, 8.6, 8.4, 8.1, 8.0, 6.6, 5.8, 5.5, 4.3

Or, doing a straight adjustment for the 1994-95 strike, assuming both maintained their performance level, which boosts Maddux's top 2 clearly past Unit's, but strengthens Unit's advantage from 3rd - 10th:

bWAR Maddux: 12.1, 11.9, 9.1, 7.8, 7.2, 6.6, 6.5, 5.8, 5.2, 5.2, 5.0
bWAR Johnson: 10.7, 10.1, 10.0, 9.1, 8.4, 8.4, 8.1, 8.0, 6.6, 5.8, 4.3

For 3 spots different on the alltime ranking, doesn't seem worth arguing, particularly given Joe's loose approach on that. I wouldn't have argued if they'd been reversed either I don't think.
   769. alsep73 Posted: March 01, 2020 at 01:59 PM (#5927375)
26. Grover Cleveland Alexander. One of Joe’s best essays so far in the series. And saddest.

He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1938 — he represented the third Hall of Fame class — and while he was honored, he also felt lost. “You can’t eat a tablet,” he said when asked about how it felt to see his Hall of Fame plaque. He died penniless in 1950.

At one point during those last years, he got a job telling his own story at a nickel theater show in New York. Night after night, he would retell about his career, his down-and-away fastball and his World Series heroics. But at some point, he quit. When asked why, he spoke sadly.

“I’m tired of striking out Lazzeri,” he said.
   770. Mefisto Posted: March 01, 2020 at 06:33 PM (#5927400)
I have a pretty hard time seeing Alexander rated this high, especially with timelining. I have to assume that his ranking refers to his famous appearance in the 1926 WS.
   771. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: March 01, 2020 at 07:59 PM (#5927406)
I have a pretty hard time seeing Alexander rated this high, especially with timelining. I have to assume that his ranking refers to his famous appearance in the 1926 WS.

He's 15th in career WAR. Tied for 3rd in wins.
   772. Mefisto Posted: March 01, 2020 at 08:30 PM (#5927409)
15th in career WAR before timelining. It's pretty clear that Posnanski is otherwise timelining.
   773. Ziggy is done with Dominican discotheques Posted: March 01, 2020 at 08:55 PM (#5927413)
Pete Alexander doesn't get enough respect.

WAA Comparison
--------------

Total:
Pete: 75
Matty: 60

Top Five:
Pete: 9.1, 8, 8, 6.3, 6
Matty: 8.6, 7.6, 7, 6.5

Mean:
Pete: 3.79
Matty: 3.55

Median:
Pete: 3.35
Matty: 5.2

Seasons with WAA < 0:
Pete: 1
Matty: 4

-------------

At his best, Pete was better than Matty. On average, they were almost identical. Matty's median WAA is higher because he fell off a cliff and retired as an active player, whereas Alexander kept chugging along. But even that chugging was valuable - the only season in which he was below average was in his 21 innings in the terminal 1930 season of his career. Mathewson has a mystique that Alexander doesn't, but for my money I think that Grover Cleveland had the better career.

Edit: If you cut off his last three seasons (not even his worst three), to make his career the same length as Matty's, Pete's median WAA goes up to 4, and his mean WAA goes up to 4.32.
   774. Mefisto Posted: March 01, 2020 at 09:05 PM (#5927414)
I don't doubt that Alexander was better than Matty. I seriously doubt he was better than Maddux or RJ. Or, for that matter, better on career value than Warren Spahn after timelining, though Pete would get the nod on peak value.

And while I wouldn't personally rank pitchers on the same scale as hitters, I seriously doubt Alexander ranks above Eddie Collins.
   775. Rob_Wood Posted: March 01, 2020 at 11:08 PM (#5927437)
Not that it's a huge deal, but didn't Alexander miss the 1918 season due to military service?
   776. Howie Menckel Posted: March 01, 2020 at 11:18 PM (#5927440)
wiki is never wrong, as we know - so:

"Alexander spent most of the 1918 season in France as a sergeant with the 342nd Field Artillery. While he was serving in France, he was exposed to German mustard gas and a shell exploded near him, causing partial hearing loss and triggering the onset of epilepsy. Following his return from the war, Alexander suffered from shell shock and was plagued with epileptic seizures, which only exacerbated his drinking problem. Although people often misinterpreted his seizure-related problems as drunkenness, Alexander hit the bottle particularly hard as a result of the physical and emotional injuries inflicted by the war, which plagued him for the rest of his life."
   777. Eric J can SABER all he wants to Posted: March 01, 2020 at 11:26 PM (#5927441)
Not that it's a huge deal, but didn't Alexander miss the 1918 season due to military service?

He made three starts at the beginning of the year, which came right in the middle of his prime. He also got a late start in 1919 (despite which he led the NL in pitching WAR); his SABR bio indicates that his return that year was delayed by the war as well. Alexander's five highest WAR totals were in the full seasons he pitched between 1914-20; it would not be unreasonable to think that he could have posted similar years in full 1918 and 1919 seasons.

Also, are we still nitpicking the exact rankings even though they were stated from the start to not be the point of the project?
   778. Howie Menckel Posted: March 02, 2020 at 12:25 AM (#5927446)
are we still nitpicking the exact rankings even though they were stated from the start to not be the point of the project?


I think people are a little thrown off by the dictionary......

"Definition of ranking: position, order, or standing within a group"

so, is the problem with people 'nitpicking the exact rankings' - or is it having exact rankings which are not actually.... well, you know, exact rankings?

many here love Joe Pos, and I get it. but his - well, rankings - gambit was about as dumb as his 'Shadow Baseball Rankings" idea, if admittedly not nearly as dumb as his Paterno hagiography.

and none of it means he isn't an excellent writer. it's okay to bypass the "denial" stage of grief and accept that the "top 100" idea, as he thought of it, was a dud. spit happens. you can still enjoy the writeups just as much.
   779. Steve Parris, Je t'aime Posted: March 02, 2020 at 08:00 AM (#5927453)
A rigorous Top 100 ranking, with serious efforts to timeline so that we could compare Alexander to Spahn to Maddux, would be interesting. I would read it. This isn't that project.

These essays are easily the best historical baseball writing I've read in a while, and they come out every day before we get to watch actual baseball. It's too bad but I guess not surprising that there are people can't enjoy them because of occasionally whimsical rankings.
   780. Jaack Posted: March 02, 2020 at 08:44 AM (#5927456)
Aside from DiMaggio and Seaver, the rankings really aren't far off. If you swapped DiMaggio at 56 with George Brett at 35 and Seaver at 41 with Pop Lloyd at 25, the list looks pretty plausible as a rigorous system. Would there be minutiae to quibble with? Sure, but it's stuff like Greg Maddux vs Randy Johnson, which is at least a pretty interesting debate.
   781. TomH Posted: March 02, 2020 at 09:16 AM (#5927458)
779 and 780, I basically agree with you both. But to clarify:

- As a non-subscriber, I don[t have access to the writing. My $choice$.
- The whimsical rankings wouldn't bug me if it did not affect swapping order of contemporaries of similar positions, or if didn't push too far (Seaver / DiMaggio); to rank Seaver (and every 1935-1990 arm) below four modern arms seems lacking in historical balance
- I am surprised by the pushback of Unit-v-Maddux. I thought it was clear that Maddux had a superior career, and (as #768's fine data show) that Mad Dog had the better peak years 1, 1-2, 1-3, and 1-4, with Johnson taking over after that. Okay, so it's Maddux peak, Johnson long prime, Maddux career.

Are these nit-picks? Sure. That's what BBTF does tho; and it's a form of enjoyment to banter with colleagues here.
   782. JJ1986 Posted: March 02, 2020 at 09:20 AM (#5927459)
I don't like just complaining, but if he's usually moving guys like 3-5 spots to fit their number, but moves Seaver down 15 spots, then maybe don't move Seaver.
   783. Mefisto Posted: March 02, 2020 at 09:33 AM (#5927460)
@775, 777: Fair point about Alexander's military service. Collins only missed about 1/3 of a season.
   784. CFBF's Overflowing Pathos Posted: March 02, 2020 at 10:41 AM (#5927487)
I am surprised by the pushback of Unit-v-Maddux. I thought it was clear that Maddux had a superior career,


I'm probably over-sensitive on this point, as Maddux was my favorite player when I was growing up, but it's certainly seemed to me that sabrmetrically inclined analysts are much lower on Maddux than the general population, consistently putting him at the bottom of the Clemens-Johnson-Pedro-Maddux quartet from his era. It was notable to me that the Maddux essay in The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract, for example, was dedicated entirely to arguing that Maddux wasn't as good as Clemens.
   785. Mefisto Posted: March 02, 2020 at 11:07 AM (#5927495)
Aside from DiMaggio and Seaver, the rankings really aren't far off.


Trout at 27 is rated pretty high for his career to date. He's 87 in career WAR. Now his peak is very high, and timelining would move him up a lot, but I think it's pretty hard to get him close to 27.
   786. Rally Posted: March 02, 2020 at 11:58 AM (#5927509)
Because of peak I think Trout #27 is reasonable. He's a greater peak player than his teammate Albert, and maybe only 3 years away from passing Albert on the career WAR list. Especially if the Angels keep giving Pujols playing time so that he slips back a bit.

Seaver is the one that seems most off to me. I would definitely take Seaver over Alexander when considering the conditions of the game and competition levels.

I don't think Joe is timelining enough. I'm 99% sure we know who the last 24 will be. Of this 24 he's not ranking any players from before 1900. Wagner debuted in 1897, but most of his career is post 1900 and I think Cobb is the next to debut. That means Joe has 13 of the top 24 players starting their careers between 1897-1946. Counting Satchel (MLB debut 1948) as a pre-1947 player, like Charleston and Gibson.

So 13 players from that 50 year period, and only 11 who started in the next 65 years (1947-2011). This should not be the case by the years alone, but when we consider the quality of play has improved as players from a much expanded population get to play, we should probably have something in the order of 16-8 in favor the more recent players.

Not considering any debuts after 2011 (Trout) as they have yet to build their case. I think we can safely say that no other players who debuted before Trout are going to eventually make it to the top 25. I could be wrong if Verlander has Cy Young quality seasons until he's Nolan Ryan retirement age, but seem very unlikely. The active players who might someday make the top 25 list (Betts, Lindor, Soto, you never know. Unlikely for all but not yet impossible.) all started after Trout.
   787. Eric J can SABER all he wants to Posted: March 02, 2020 at 12:33 PM (#5927523)
This should not be the case by the years alone, but when we consider the quality of play has improved as players from a much expanded population get to play, we should probably have something in the order of 16-8 in favor the more recent players.

I agree that the modern leagues are tougher, but I'm not a huge fan of population expansion as the explanation, because it seems to assume a constant tendency over time within the population to seek out a career as a major league baseball player.

I would tend to look at timelining by trying to answer the following question: How good is Major League Baseball at getting the best baseball players in the world into the majors? In the 1800s, with independent minor leagues, no formalized player acquisition method, and segregation, they were pretty bad at it. In the early 20th century, the farm system developed and they got better. And then integration happened, and Latino players followed soon after, and they got even better. But beyond that, the gains since the '60s or '70s seem pretty marginal.
   788. Mefisto Posted: March 02, 2020 at 12:38 PM (#5927526)
I don't think Joe is timelining enough.


I very much agree.

He's a greater peak player than his teammate Albert, and maybe only 3 years away from passing Albert on the career WAR list.


I think the dependent clause is being given more weight than it should by Posnanski. I think we have to evaluate Trout as if he were to get hit by a bus tomorrow. Without credit for future performance, I personally would have him in the mid 30s on career value among position players -- maybe closer to 30 based on peak -- and he'd drop to around 40 if I included pitchers.

I think he's likely to end up much higher than that; I just wouldn't anticipate it.
   789. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: March 02, 2020 at 12:49 PM (#5927531)
I agree that the modern leagues are tougher, but I'm not a huge fan of population expansion as the explanation, because it seems to assume a constant tendency over time within the population to seek out a career as a major league baseball player.

I would tend to look at timelining by trying to answer the following question: How good is Major League Baseball at getting the best baseball players in the world into the majors? In the 1800s, with independent minor leagues, no formalized player acquisition method, and segregation, they were pretty bad at it. In the early 20th century, the farm system developed and they got better. And then integration happened, and Latino players followed soon after, and they got even better. But beyond that, the gains since the '60s or '70s seem pretty marginal.


My problem with timelining is the existence of so many stars who sustained elite performance into their late 30s.

Babe Ruth had a 218 OPS+ at age 36. Ted Williams had a 233 at 38. Willie Mays had a 158 OPS+ at 40. Hank Aaron had a 178 OPS+ at 39. If the league was steadily improving at any reasonable rate, players shouldn't be able to perform at or above their career norms in their late 30s, when they are already in physical decline.

However, it does seem as if the bottom half of the league has gotten a lot better. It's a paradox.
   790. Rally Posted: March 02, 2020 at 01:02 PM (#5927537)
I have no idea what the rate of improvement is for the sport, but it sure looks like quality of play has improved. You can make the math work. Say the improvement is 1 point of OPS+ every two years. So Ted Williams' 233 in 1957 is equivalent to 243 in 1937. If such a rate was constant, then a 150 OPS+ player in 1920 would be league average if he got his DeLorean up to 88 MPH and showed up for spring training.

I know it's not constant, WW2 messed things up and other reasons, but for sake of argument we can be consistent with large changes over long periods of time and superstars still being great in their late 30s.
   791. Mefisto Posted: March 02, 2020 at 01:09 PM (#5927539)
I'm not sure that one particular season in a late career proves much. Mays had an OPS+ of 167 during his 12 year peak, 144 from ages 37-41. Ruth was 219 through age 32, 197 from 33-39. Williams was 200 through age 34, 189 thereafter.

Also, I think some of the improvement can be accounted for by veteran players making adjustments. IOW, they improved also, but not at their physical peak. Had they made those adjustments earlier, they would have performed even better when younger.
   792. Ziggy is done with Dominican discotheques Posted: March 02, 2020 at 02:46 PM (#5927564)
This may not be a popular position, but I think that I'm against timelining. Games and pennants are won and lost against your competition, whoever those happen to be. And these guys were all playing against the highest level of competition that existed at the time (well, maybe not the UA guys). DeLoreans don't really seem to be to the point. Sure, today's ball players are stronger and faster and so on - if for no other reason than the population is larger and the filtering mechanism getting amateurs to the big leagues is more efficient. So it's hard to argue that 5'10" King Kelly is comparable to 6'6" Giancarlo Stanton in terms of physical prowess. But what role they play in their respective leagues is (at least, their OPS+s aren't *too* far apart, and Stanton hasn't had a decline phase yet; Kelly actually leads in through-age-29 OPS+). And what a player can do in the context in which he plays seems to be what's important, not the fact that there were more physically gifted guys stuck in the coal mines back then, or that the right tail of the talent distribution is longer now (because the population is higher).
   793. Eric J can SABER all he wants to Posted: March 02, 2020 at 03:06 PM (#5927572)
This may not be a popular position, but I think that I'm against timelining. Games and pennants are won and lost against your competition, whoever those happen to be. And these guys were all playing against the highest level of competition that existed at the time (well, maybe not the UA guys). DeLoreans don't really seem to be to the point. Sure, today's ball players are stronger and faster and so on - if for no other reason than the population is larger and the filtering mechanism getting amateurs to the big leagues is more efficient. So it's hard to argue that 5'10" King Kelly is comparable to 6'6" Giancarlo Stanton in terms of physical prowess. But what role they play in their respective leagues is (at least, their OPS+s aren't *too* far apart, and Stanton hasn't had a decline phase yet; Kelly actually leads in through-age-29 OPS+). And what a player can do in the context in which he plays seems to be what's important, not the fact that there were more physically gifted guys stuck in the coal mines back then, or that the right tail of the talent distribution is longer now (because the population is higher).

I think timelining is actually two different discussions that get combined into one. The first is, "how good are the players now compared to the players then?" This, to me, is effectively unanswerable; you can estimate it in a variety of ways, but the discussion devolves into "well what if Honus Wagner grew up in the 1980s and had modern nutrition," or other hypotheticals that can't ever be addressed.

The second is, "how good were the leagues at bringing in the best players?" This is where I think timelining is appropriate. I would love to see someone systematically examine how many MLB-quality players there were in other leagues (minor leagues, Negro Leagues, Japanese or Latin American leagues) over time, and how bringing those players into MLB would affect replacement level year-by-year.

In other words, "Honus Wagner is tiny and wouldn't be able to play today" does not interest me (he wasn't tiny, but that's the style of the argument), but "Honus Wagner would look a lot less impressive if John Henry Lloyd was competing against him directly" interests me a great deal.
   794. Rally Posted: March 02, 2020 at 03:48 PM (#5927589)
"Honus Wagner would look a lot less impressive if John Henry Lloyd was competing against him directly" interests me a great deal.


I'm sure I'm getting off the point, but I don't think it would make Honus or Pop less impressive if they were in the same leagues. Having Mantle and Mays at the same time, or Cobb and Speaker, didn't diminish their legends. In some cases I think having two similar great rivals enhances how we view them. Think Magic/Bird in the NBA.

I get that if every shortstop was as good as Lloyd and Wagner, they would cease to impress.
   795. PreservedFish Posted: March 02, 2020 at 03:55 PM (#5927594)
I'm very interested in the question of the talent pool. America is larger, the world is larger, the game is significantly more inclusive. But at the same time, the game probably has less of a hold on the youth than it once did. Pure numbers aren't, by any means, the only question. Just think about international soccer - the US can't hope to compete against the Netherlands or Portugal, and the reason must be that the nation simply lacks serious cultural commitment to the sport.
   796. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: March 02, 2020 at 03:57 PM (#5927595)
This may not be a popular position, but I think that I'm against timelining. Games and pennants are won and lost against your competition, whoever those happen to be. And these guys were all playing against the highest level of competition that existed at the time (well, maybe not the UA guys). DeLoreans don't really seem to be to the point. Sure, today's ball players are stronger and faster and so on - if for no other reason than the population is larger and the filtering mechanism getting amateurs to the big leagues is more efficient. So it's hard to argue that 5'10" King Kelly is comparable to 6'6" Giancarlo Stanton in terms of physical prowess. But what role they play in their respective leagues is (at least, their OPS+s aren't *too* far apart, and Stanton hasn't had a decline phase yet; Kelly actually leads in through-age-29 OPS+). And what a player can do in the context in which he plays seems to be what's important, not the fact that there were more physically gifted guys stuck in the coal mines back then, or that the right tail of the talent distribution is longer now (because the population is higher).

I generally with you. I don't care for timelining.

Also, a major reason players are bigger is that people are bigger. Average height has gone up substantially.
   797. Eric J can SABER all he wants to Posted: March 02, 2020 at 03:58 PM (#5927598)
I'm sure I'm getting off the point, but I don't think it would make Honus or Pop less impressive if they were in the same leagues. Having Mantle and Mays at the same time, or Cobb and Speaker, didn't diminish their legends. In some cases I think having two similar great rivals enhances how we view them. Think Magic/Bird in the NBA.

Fair enough. My phrasing was poor. Putting Lloyd in the league on its own doesn't necessarily make Wagner look less impressive. Adding Lloyd and 20-30 other position players who were excluded through discrimination or happenstance would have had a meaningful impact on the measured replacement level in Wagner's leagues, and that is where I would apply a timeline adjustment.
   798. Ziggy is done with Dominican discotheques Posted: March 02, 2020 at 04:09 PM (#5927602)
"Honus Wagner would look a lot less impressive if John Henry Lloyd was competing against him directly"


Yeah, that's right, he would. And you can, of course, be interested in whatever you want. But Wagner still won all those games for the Pirates, and he was a big deal in the dead ball era NL, even if he would have been a less-of-a-big-deal had, counterfactually, Lloyd played in the same league. None of this is to recommend not recognizing Lloyd - on the contrary, recognize him for his achievements relative to his competition. And then see how those achievements stack up to Wagner's achievements relative to *his* competition, and, if you're into rankings, rank them accordingly. Where I see a problem is with taking the fact that Wagner doesn't look as good in a non-actual universe (in which the NL integrated sooner), and saying that he therefore does not compare favorably to Cal Ripken (or whomever).

You mentioned the Japanese leagues, so how about this. Davenport Translations suggest that Oh's 868 home runs are equivalent to something around 400 home runs in MLB. (He uses 1992 AL as his target league, so those are 400 1992 AL HRs.) With playing time adjustments (the Central League has a shorter season than does MLB) you can get it up to about 500. But surely Sadaharu Oh was a greater player than Fred McGriff (to pick someone with about 500 HRs), even if, had he played in a league with a broader talent pool, he likely wouldn't have been. Yomiuri still won all those games, and Oh still won them for them.

It's true that Oh wasn't excluded from MLB like Lloyd was. But, first, the injustice of segregation isn't addressed even a little bit by what goes on on a baseball chat board. But also (and for our analytical purposes more importantly) the reason why someone didn't play in MLB isn't relevant to the question of whether a player's greatness is a function of his play against his actual competition or against some hypothetical competition.
   799. Eric J can SABER all he wants to Posted: March 02, 2020 at 04:20 PM (#5927608)
But Wagner still won all those games for the Pirates, and he was a big deal in the dead ball era NL, even if he would have been a less-of-a-big-deal had, counterfactually, Lloyd played in the same league. None of this is to recommend not recognizing Lloyd - on the contrary, recognize him for his achievements relative to his competition. And then see how those achievements stack up to Wagner's achievements relative to *his* competition, and, if you're into rankings, rank them accordingly.

In that case, what is your position on different levels of play between the two major leagues within the same time period? If memory serves, the NL was the tougher league in the early years of integration, largely because it integrated faster. Can we account for that when evaluating Mantle and Mays, or can they only be compared to their direct intraleague competitors?

But also (and for our analytical purposes more importantly) the reason why someone didn't play in MLB isn't relevant to the question of whether a player's greatness is a function of his play against his actual competition or against some hypothetical competition.

If we're using WAR (which we seem to a lot), we're always comparing players to hypothetical competition. If you take "replacement level" literally, it is at least worth pointing out that MLB in Wagner's era refused to avail itself of a significant number of quality players who could have replaced inferior players on their rosters.
   800. Mefisto Posted: March 02, 2020 at 04:34 PM (#5927613)
To me it's not very interesting to ask the question "who performed best against the competition of his own era?". We can answer that question pretty well, though not perfectly. We don't need to make a list since BBREF already does that.

To me the interesting question is how players compare across time. In order to make that comparison, we need to (in effect) try to estimate how replacement players at time period X measure up against replacement players at time period X+Y. At that point we can argue about relative rankings, and about the components of WAR, as we're doing in this thread.
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