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November 2, 2011

Wezen-Ball

Player Rankings for Type A/B Calculations, 1982-1984

by Larry Granillo

The free agency season is among us. Major League Baseball released the list of the 100+ free agents over the weekend and we've already seen some action, with C.C. Sabathia opting out of his contract with the Yankees only to re-sign with the Bombers less than twelve hours later. It's a crazy season.

It's also the season when everyone gets to discuss and argue about the less-than-useful Type A and Type B free agent rankings Major League Baseabll gives out each year. For those who follow MLB Trade Rumors, this week's release of free agent rankings wasn't all that surprising, as they have been running their own version of the calculations for years now. For the rest of the baseball-watching public, though, the free agent ranking process is about as clear as Bryce Harper's eye-black. It doesn't help that MLB makes it difficult - if not impossible - to find the formula anymore.

For at least three years, though, the formula was not only publicly available, but the full list of rankings for each player was as well. From 1982 through 1984 (the first three years of the rankings), the lists were published in the February issue of "Baseball Digest". The lists seem to have disappeared come 1985. It's hard to say if that was because "Baseball Digest" got tired of publishing them, or if there was some change on Major League Baseball's front that prevented the lists from going out. Either way, it doesn't change the fact that, for three years at least, we know exactly how the likes of Rickey Henderson, Robin Yount, Reggie Jackson, Pete Rose, and every other early-1980s player was ranked by the "Type A"/"Type B" free agency metric. And now, thanks to the power of Google, those lists are only one click away. The future is a pretty great place to live.

Before we get to some highlights from the lists, it's worth looking back at how the list was originally received. Remember, free agency compensation was brand new in 1982, a result of the 1981 strike. Writing in the February 1982 issue, Jerome Holtzman focused on the many criticisms of this report that "for the first time since Alexander Cartwright placed the bases 90 feet apart" offers "a guide to the supposed value of the players, broken down by positions."

The report has created considerable controversy. Many, if not most, scouts insist it is useless. "These ratings shouldn't be believed," said former major league manager Birdie Tebbetts, now a superscout with the New York Yankees. "The whole thing is upsetting to me. I don't want to talk about it."

What is missing, the one factor that can never be defined with statistics, is the competitive nature of the individual player. Often this is more important than talent. A player's experience, which is another crucial factor, also is not taken into account. Neither are his base running and throwing abilities, his performance after the seventh inning when the pressure mounts, or his willingness to sacrifice personal statistics to advance runners.

Holtzman also quotes Harry Craft ("who has been in baseball as a player, coach, manager and scout for a half-century") as one who disagrees with the process. "'What this thing doesn't show,' Craft explained, 'is that [Art] Howe plays when he's hurt and he hits behind the runner. He's an outstanding team player.'" Better examples, such as Paul Molitor being ranked as the ninth best second-baseman, are also supplied, but Holtzman can't help but bring up one more intangibles argument:

That Pete Rose is ranked No. 9 among N.L. first basemen will forever be a mystery. Again, the statistics can't begin to reveal his enthusiasm, which is infectious and can fire up an entire team.

"I know that the whole thing is far from perfect," conceded Bud Selig, majority owner of the Milwaukee Brewers. "But I've got to admit overall it's a fascinating study. It's great stuff for stoking the hot stove."

The 1983 and 1984 articles (written by Peter Gammons and Holtzman again, respectively) are shorter and more informational, giving quick descriptions of the ranking process and little else. They do go on to mention a few more of the algorithm's weaknesses, such as the complete ignoring of defensive value and the difficulty in ranking superstar rookies (like the 1983 versions of Darryl Strawberry and Ron Kittle). The final say about this new free agent ranking system comes from Elias:

"When we first started doing this study some of the people on our staff, myself included, had some reservations about the validity of the stats," conceded Seymour Siwoff, who heads the Elias News Bureau, the nation's leading sports statisticians.

"But we now agree that it's a remarkably accurate index of a player's performance and value. The key is this: the best players always finish on top."

Here are the top-ranked players at each position for the three years "Baseball Digest" published the rankings. Remember, each list looks at statistics for the prior two years. The 1982 rankings, for example, look only at stats from 1980-1981.

Pos. American League National League
1B Cecil Cooper
(Eddie Murray #2,
Rod Carew #6)
Keith Hernandez
(Bill Buckner #2,
Willie Stargell #12)
2B Bobby Grich
(Lou Whitaker #7,
Paul Molitor #9)
Manny Trillo
(Joe Morgan #2)
3B Buddy Bell
(George Brett #2)
Mike Schmidt
(Art Howe #8)
SS Rick Burleson
(Alan Trammell #2,
Robin Yount #3)
Dave Concepcion
(Garry Templeton #2,
Ozzie Smith #7)
OF Ken Singleton
Al Oliver
Steve Kemp
(Rickey Henderson #7)
Andre Dawson
George Foster
Dusty Baker
(Dale Murphy #13, Tim Raines #31)
C Jim Sundberg Gary Carter
(Johnny Bench #3)
DH Richie Zisk
(Carl Yastrzemski #5)
--
SP Mike Norris
(Jack Morris #7, Ron Guidry #9)
Steve Carlton**
(Nolan Ryan #3,
Fernando Valenzuela #22)
RP Doug Corbett*
(Rollie Fingers #2,
Goose Gossage #3)
Tom Hume
(Bruce Sutter #2)

1982 Player Rankings for Free Agency Compensation Calculations

 

Pos. American League National League
1B Eddie Murray Al Oliver
2B Bobby Grich Joe Morgan
3B Toby Harrah Mike Schmidt
SS Robin Yount*
(Alan Trammell #2)
Dave Concepcion
OF Dwight Evans
Jim Rice
Pedro Guerrero
Andre Dawson
Gary Matthews
C Carlton Fisk Gary Carter
DH Greg Luzinski --
SP Don Sutton
(Dave Steib #2)
Steve Carlton**
(Fernando Valenzuela #2)
RP Dan Spillner
(Rollie Fingers #2,
Dan Quisenberry #3)
Jeff Reardon
(Bruce Sutter #4)

1983 Player Rankings for Free Agency Compensation Calculations

 

Pos. American League National League
1B Eddie Murray**
(Kent Hrbek #3,
Rod Carew #7)
Al Oliver
(Keith Hernandez #2)
2B Lou Whitaker
(Bobby Grich #2)
Glenn Hubbard
(Ryne Sandberg #5)
3B Toby Harrah
(Buddy Bell #2, George Brett #4)
Mike Schmidt
(Bob Horner #2)
SS Robin Yount
(Cal Ripken #2,
Ron Washington #10)
Dickie Thon
(Ozzie Smith #5)
OF Jim Rice
Dave Winfield
Dwight Evans
(Rickey Henderson #10)
Dale Murphy
George Hendrick
Andre Dawson
C Carlton Fisk
(Lance Parrish #2)
Gary Carter*
DH Hal McRae --
SP Dave Steib
(Jack Morris #4)
Steve Rogers
(Steve Carlton #2,
Nolan Ryan #3,
Fernando Valenzuela #4)
RP Tippy Martinez
(Dan Quisenberry #3)
Lee Smith
(Steve Bedrosian #4)

1984 Player Rankings for Free Agency Compensation Calculations

 

The listing for the 1983 rankings was formatted in a different way, so the third best outfielder is unknown. The double asterisk (**) means that player was the top-ranked player in the majors that year. The single asterisk (*) means he was the top-ranked player in his league. You can see the full listings (as published by "Baseball Digest") by clicking on the links below each table.

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