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March 27, 2000

From The Mailbag

DiMaggio vs. Williams, Davenport Translations, More Mets Fun

by Baseball Prospectus

DiMaggio vs. Williams

I just finished reading an essay in George Will's book, "Bunts" concerning the '41 season and the rivalry between Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio. Will, along with most other historical and modern analysts of the '41 season, clearly feels that Dimaggio's 56 game hitting streak was a "greater" achievement than Williams's '41 season (when he hit .406 and I believe won the triple crown).

I thought it might be a good exercise to see based upon the modern analytical tools, like EQA, EQR, etc..., which player actually had a better year.

--Jeff

It was statistically more difficult, but Williams was probably a more valuable hitter even over the same 56 games. It just wasn't spread as evenly as DiMaggio's.

Anyway, Ted Williams's 1941 season is very close to the best offensive season ever. He had a .420 equivalent average that year. Babe Ruth beat that in 1920, by hitting .423, and that's it (unless you want to pretend that the Union Association was a major league in 1884, and say Fred Dunlap hit .431). He had 157 equivalent runs, which is "only" 26th all-time; its only the second-best of his own career, since he'd come back in 1942 with 165. His batting was 10.9 wins to the Red Sox above what an average player would have generated in Fenway park, and that stands as the seventh best ever, behind four Babe Ruths, a Mickey Mantle, and a Lou Gehrig.

And yet...

I'm not sure DiMaggio didn't have the better year. He certainly did not hit as well as the Splinter, but with a .363 EQA, 139 EQR, and 8.0 WAA, he definitely outhit everyone else in the league (Joe's teammate, Charlie Keller, was a distant third in all three categories at .338, 120, 6.0). The issue is fielding.

The best measure I have on fielding right now, which looks at the overall team fielding statistics as well as individual totals, show that, prior to leaving for WWII, Joe was every bit as good a center fielder as the legends portray him, worth about 25 runs more than an average outfielder. The Yankees had terriffic overall defense, and that hurts DiMaggio and Phil Rizzuto in the Total baseball fielding runs. Ted's numbers, by contrast, are somewhere around -5, making for a 30 run difference between the two in the field.

30 runs is about three wins--compared to a 2.9 win advantage for Williams at the plate. That's why I have to say that the choice of DiMaggio for MVP in 1941 is in no way outrageous, as other analysts have written before. With the caveat that I have far more confidence in the batting numbers than in the fielding numbers, I rate it as essentially even; the freak numbers (56-game hitting streak vs .400 batting average) are essentially even from today's perspective, but the hitting streak was clearly seen as a bigger accomplishment then (no one knew that it would be the _last_ .400 batting average for 58 years and counting; and DiMaggio's team won the pennant.)

--Clay

The Mets. Again.

You said in your Transaction Analysis that the Mets rotation is bad. The Mets rotation is bad?!? Reed, Hampton, and Leiter will combine for 45-50 wins, at a minimum. And by what measure is Mulholland better than Rick Reed. And what has Bruce Chen ever done, exactly? Glenndon Rusch is the Mets' fifth starter, by the way. And it's 50/50 that he has a better year than Chen. Book it.

But it is fun imagining you kids running around your offices in your pajamas spouting this and other ridiculous anti-Mets rhetoric (like Rey Ordonez not being a good fielder; Mike Hampton not having as good a 2000 as Octavio Dotel; Roger Cedeno as the second coming of Paul Blair in center). What a joke.

--Randomly generated Mets fan

Let's take each point in turn.

  1. The Mets rotation is bad. Is it? This depends on your point of view. If you labor under the misconception that everyone's going to be as good as their best year this year, then you're expecting a lot. Rick Reed and Al Leiter aren't young, and both have health problems. Reed has gotten worse in each of the last two years since his excellent 1997. Leiter has been hurt two of the last three years, and above average in terms of his ERA relative to the rest of the league once in those three while pitching in good pitcher's parks. If the Mets get Leiter's 1998 and Reed's 1997 and Mike Hampton's 1999, then that's a really good 1-2-3, no doubt about it. But Hampton won't have the Astros' offense scoring runs for him in 2000, he'll have a Mets offense featuring several aging players and serious downgrade of Todd Zeile from John Olerud. Neither Reed or Leiter are great bets to match their best seasons in recent years. That's why they call them best seasons, and the number of pitchers who outperform those at 34 or 35 is very few indeed.

  2. 45-50 wins? Shame on you for measuring starters in terms of wins, because wins from starting pitchers are dependent on much more than just their performance. If they had the 1999 Indians offense scoring runs for them in 2000, and all they matched their best years, even then all you'd get from me is a definite maybe on 45 wins. By Michael Wolverton's SNWLP, these three didn't get to 40 support-neutral wins on the basis of how well they pitched.

  3. Terry Mulholland outpitched Reed in 1999. You could look it up. Could Reed outpitch Mulholland in 2000? Sure. But Mulholland is less important to the Braves than Reed is to the Mets, considering Mulholland has Kevin Millwood, Greg Maddux, and Tom Glavine on his team.

  4. What has Bruce Chen ever done? Pitched better than Glendon Rusch over the course of his professional career. Could Rusch pitch better this year? Again, very possibly. Is he a better pitcher? With pitchers, you never can know for sure what the future holds, so again, maybe. Is Chen the better bet to have a better career? If how you pitch is supposed to tell any of us anything about how well you will pitch, the answer is yes.

  5. Pajamas? Me, an ex-Teamster in my thirties, wearing pajamas? Talk about a vivid imagination. Holy Prospectus Cave, Batman, we've got to get downtown and stop Ed Lynch from trading Corey Patterson to King Tut! Fire up the Prospectusmobile! [Ed. note: like the Popemobile, but with wider seats.]

  6. Is Rey Ordonez a good fielder? I don't think I've ever claimed he wasn't. However, the objective evidence is overwhelming: Ordonez hasn't turned up as a great (not good) shortstop by any worthwhile defensive statistical measure yet. Does that make him bad? No, but it does make me distrust any claims of all-time greatness. I'm willing to believe he's a good shortstop who gets seriously overrated by provincial New Yorkers and a SportsCenter mentality that flips anything he does up on the screen a lot more quickly than it would for somebody like Rey Sanchez. I've seen a lot of baseball, and I've seen a lot of shortstops make a lot of great plays. Hell, I've seen Archi Cianfrocco spear a screamer over the bag going to his left, which I wouldn't have thought possible until that moment. I wouldn't trust my eyes, your eyes, or anyone's eyes to tell us everything we need to know about defense. Anecdotes about seeing a player make a certain great play is just that, an anecdote. Its about as valuable as your average SportsCenter highlight. It tells you nothing about how well a player plays his position over the course of the season, but it does tell you somebody made a great-looking play that night.

  7. Mike Hampton versus Octavio Dotel. Who's going to have the Astros scoring runs for him, and who's going to have one of the oldest lineups in baseball trying to score runs for him? Which one of them has a great handler of pitchers managing him? Admittedly, by all rights and on the basis of experience, you're correct to expect Hampton to have the better year in 2000. But when you give a great handler of pitchers one of the best arms in the game, there's reason to expect great results. Keep in mind that barring injury, the issue isn't going to be one of who's going to have the better career from here on out. Dotel should, and what's exciting about his talent is that it isn't inconceivable that he could break out big this year. There's more than just a new ballpark to get excited about down in Houston.

Buck up, kiddo. Chances are the Mets won't finish behind Philly or the Expos.

--Chris

Davenport Translations

You guys do a great job--maybe the best--at overall organizational perspective, especially from the all-important financial aspect. (though we could, and maybe will debate your theories on 'small market' baseball) But then you go and ruin it all by coming out with some nonsense like Homer Bush hit .260 (EqA), when in the REAL world he hit .320!!

Then some knucklehead comes out and says that Roger Cedeno was the best RF in baseball???!!! 'A dominant defensive force'??!!! He had the highest BS avg. in the league. Watch some baseball kid! At least 50% of all Met fans (I'm a Dodger fan) knew that Cedeno would be long gone after his repeated siestas in the OF, not to mention that Cedeno was the laundry lady's dream.

C'mon guys, trying to 'standardize' everything cheapens your insights into the game. Homer Bush got a hit 32% of the time last year, and you can take that to the bank.

--Mark

We know Homer Bush hit .320 in 1999. Look at his DT line--it has a column for batting average, and it lists him as being close to .320 (at .314, actually; he got a little help from playing in Skydome).

But that is only batting average, and not all .320 hitters are created equal. Some guys hit .320 and still draw walks, getting themselves onbase to score in front of the next guy. Bush doesn't. Some guys hit for power, and get doubles, triples, and home runs instead of singles. Again, not Bush. So if you looked at the player's total contribution to team offense, you could have Bush, with

506 PA, 120 singles, 26 doubles, 4 triples, 5 homers, 21 walks, 32-8 basestealing, and a .320 batting average,

Or you could have a league average player for those same 506 PA, and get

506 PA, 84 singles, 24 doubles, 2 triples, 15 homers, 49 walks, 9-4 basestealing.

The second player only has a .274 batting average, but his offensive value is just as high as Bush's; 10 homers and 28 walks just about cancel out the 35 singles. Look at it this way:

           1st   2nd   3rd   Home   Out
Bush       101    58    4     5     338
Average    120    33    2    15     332

That's assuming all the basestealing is from first to second. Bush has the higher batting average, but still has to walk back to the dugout more often than Joe Average. Why? Because he never reaches base via the base on balls. And you can guesstimate runs scoring by figuring 100% for each home run, 75% for each time on third, 50% for second, and 25% for each time on first. Bush comes out to being worth about 62 runs this way, while Joe Average will get 63.

What it all means is that, looking at total offense, Bush was a league average performer last year. And Equivalent Average, which is a measure of total offensive production, defines a league average player as .260. Any league, any time. So that's the rating Bush got.

Hopefully, this will put a final rest to the Homer Bush--Davenport Translations confusion: just as you can take Bush's .320 batting average "to the bank", Bush's hits were less valuable than average, another bankable fact.

As for Roger Cedeno, I saw him fall asleep in the field a few times. I also saw him use his speed to catch balls on the fly that Tony Gwynn would have played on the fourth hop. Speed is all-important in the outfield, and I'll take a daydreaming gazelle over an attentive sloth eight days a week.

People see the same thing, and draw different conclusions. You're welcome to yours, but I think the Mets are going to wish they had Cedeno in the field, rather than Derek Bell.

--Clay

We'd love to hear your thoughts on anything baseball-related at info@baseballprospectus.com. We'll publish the best of what we get periodically at www.baseballprospectus.com.
Related Content:  The Streak,  A's,  The Who,  Rey Ordonez,  Year Of The Injury,  Best

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