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February 2, 2012

Overthinking It

The Overlooked Overlooked Hall of Famers

by Ben Lindbergh

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The last thing I want to do is create another Bert Blyleven.

I don’t mean Blyleven the pitcher or Blyleven the person. The world could probably use more of those. I’m talking about Blyleven the Overlooked Hall of Fame Candidate. Don’t get me wrong—I’m glad Blyleven is in the Hall of Fame. He deserves to be. His induction was a triumph of critical thinking over snap judgments, of evidence over empty arguments, of the hard work and research of writers like Jay Jaffe and Rich Lederer over the bluster and baseless self-assurance of others in the mainstream—an infinitesimal triumph, in the grand scheme of things, but a triumph nonetheless.

That said, there came a point at which I’d about had my fill of Bert Blyleven. There are only so many times, and so many ways, that you can say Blyleven belongs or Jack Morris doesn’t before you begin to repeat yourself. Maybe there’s a need for repetition, if only to avoid being drowned out by the repetitions of the other side of the argument. But no matter how much we approve of the message, the preaching can get pretty tiresome for those of us who are already in the choir.

The belated inductions of Blyleven and Ron Santo, while gratifying, left a void in our Hall-obsessed hearts. These days, it seems like the sabermetric set is more anti-Morris than pro-anyone else. We all support Tim Raines, but his case lacks urgency. We have another decade to get him in, and he got 48.7 percent of the vote in his fifth time on the ballot. (Blyleven didn’t receive that much support until his ninth try.) Jeff Bagwell and Edgar Martinez still have that new-candidate smell. Alan Trammell might be the best bet, but he hasn’t become quite the sabermetric cause celébre that Santo and Blyleven were, and the ballot is about to become very crowded.

I’m not complaining. It’s nice not to hear the same names over and over. Maybe it means we have high standards, or perhaps we’re getting better at putting deserving candidates in quickly (at least the ones without big muscles). But there are a couple of names I wouldn’t mind hearing more often, even if it meant an annual deluge of familiar-looking articles: Reggie Smith and Darrell Evans.

Players can become known to us in a number of ways. I didn’t see Bobby Grich play. I didn’t see Trammell or Lou Whitaker play. When I saw Tim Raines play, he was in his mid-30s, DHed a lot, and sometimes got caught stealing. When I think about those players (and Santo and Blyleven before them), I don’t picture their stances or flash back to their best moments. I think of the Cooperstown snubs that followed their careers.* Their names are synonymous with those snubs. Unfairly overlooked Hall of Famer? Alan Trammell. Alan Trammell? Unfairly overlooked Hall of Famer.

*Someday, some youngster will tell me that it doesn’t seem like it took that long for Blyleven to get in, and I’ll reflexively respond, “You had to be there” or “You never saw him wait.” Then I’ll realize what I said, start sobbing quietly, and look for one of those Sleepshops from Logan’s Run.

Until fairly recently, when I thought of Reggie Smith—well, until recently, I didn’t think of Reggie Smith. That’s the point. If I had, my mind would have been mostly blank (which isn’t that unusual). I might have had a vague sense that there were Reggie Smiths in other sports. (As it turned out, there were many more Reggie Smiths in heaven and earth than were dreamt of in my philosophy.) Without any first-hand memories of the baseball Reggie Smith’s career or a Santo-like legacy of Hall-related literature to fall back on, I had a Reggie Smith-sized blind spot in my baseball knowledge. I wasn’t much better about Evans. A lack of familiarity with both players seems to be a widespread problem among baseball fans my age.* But it also seems like the people who covered them barely knew them any better.

*Evans’ B-Ref page is unsponsored. Smith’s is sponsored by “The Human Karaoke Experience,” which may or may not be “America’s #1 live karaoke band.” I’m not sure which is sadder.

I’ve replaced those blind spots with this. That link takes you to our career batter leaderboard for WARP since 1950. You’ll recognize all of the names in the top 30, since almost all of them belong to players who A) are Hall of Famers, B) are about to be Hall of Famers, or C) would be Hall of Famers already or soon if not for having bet on baseball, tested positive for PEDs, or made some writers’ steroid-sense tingle without a positive test. There are two exceptions, and they’re clustered together toward the bottom of the page, almost as if for moral support: Smith and Evans.

According to WARP, Smith and Evans are two of the best position players of the last several decades. One would expect players of their caliber to have come very close to induction, even if they ultimately fell a bit short. Smith got three votes when he appeared on the ballot in 1988. That’s 0.7 percent. In 2012, Bill Mueller got 0.7 percent. Smith wasn’t the only three-vote player on the ’88 ballot: Lee May and Bill Lee also received 0.7 percent. You know how Bill James said you could split Rickey Henderson in two and have two Hall of Famers? Well, you could put two Lee Mays and two Bill Lees together and have one Reggie Smith (and three fewer roster spots). Evans didn’t fare much better, garnering only eight votes (1.7 percent) in his first and only appearance on the ballot in 1995.

Jay Jaffe wrote about both players recently in his two-part series on the “Keltner All-Stars,” his picks for the best eligible players outside of the Hall at each position. As Jay noted, not every position has a particularly attractive candidate—at some positions, the best player one could induct would lower the Hall’s established standard. That’s not true of Smith and Evans, who easily clear the statistical baselines for right field and third base, respectively, according to JAWS, which is an average of career WARP and peak WARP.

How did two strong candidates for the Hall fail to generate enough support to stay on the ballot? That’s not an easy question to answer. Fortunately, I’m not the first to cover that ground. As is often the case, Bill James has been here before.

***

According to James’ New Historical Abstract, Evans is “the most underrated player in baseball history, absolutely number one on the list.” He didn’t have anything quite so pithy to say about Smith, but he did rank him high among right fielders and call him the “best switch-hitter of the 1970s.”* James also did us a favor by identifying 10 potential reasons why a player might not get his due. Everyone likes lists, so let's take a look at all 10 to see how well they explain the snubbings of Evans and Smith.

*Considering how well the “best pitcher of the ’80s” meme has worked for Morris, surely we can get some mileage out of “best switch-hitter of the ’70s” for Smith. Did you know that the best switch-hitters of every 20th-century decade but the ’30s, ’70s, and ’90s are already in the Hall? Once we get Smith his plaque, we can get right to work on Ripper Collins and Chili Davis.

1. “Specialists and players who do two or three things well are overrated; players who do several things well are underrated.”
Joe Posnanski echoed this sentiment in December, writing that “players who excel in one phase of the game tend to FEEL like Hall of Famers more than players who do a lot of things well but perhaps don’t do anything transcendently well.” This applies to both Evans and Smith, neither of whom has much black ink on his Baseball-Reference page. Evans led the NL in walks twice and in home runs once. Smith led the AL in doubles twice and in OBP once (not that anyone was looking at the OBP leaderboard in 1977). He was gifted with all five tools, but throwing was the only thing at which he might have been the best in the league. He also had sweet sideburns and one of those ’70s/’80s “How did his hat stay on?hairdos, though style and grooming typically (and mistakenly) aren’t classified as tools. Both had plenty of patience and power and were good defenders, though they won only one Gold Glove between them. The leaderboard for WARP—which takes into account all of their contributions—is probably the only one on which they could keep such rarified company.

2. “Batting average is overrated; secondary offensive skills…are underrated.”
This is a big one, especially for Evans, who retired with a .248 batting average. No position player with an average under .250 has ever made the Hall. Even if you hit .260-something, your only chance of induction is to retire as one of the most prolific power hitters ever—Harmon Killebrew, Reggie Jackson, Mike Schmidt—or play a premium defensive position and/or win a gazillion Gold Gloves—Ozzie Smith, Brooks Robinson, Luis Aparicio. If Evans were to get in, he’d be breaking new ground. Smith hit for higher averages, but he too provided much of his offensive value via walks and extra-base hits.

3. “Driving in runs is overrated; scoring runs is underrated.”
Each player had one 100-RBI season. It’s tough to sell that to people who take the term “run production” literally.

4. “Players who play for championship teams are often overrated; players who get stuck with bad teams are often underrated.”
Evans won one World Series, with the 1984 Tigers. He was 37, and he had the worst full season of his career (at least until he was over 40 and running on fumes). If anything, the Tigers won in spite of him, which wasn’t the best showcase for his skills. Smith contributed even less to his lone World Series winner, the 1981 Dodgers. By then he was banged up and barely playing—he somehow stayed on the LA roster all season despite not being able to throw, making 44 plate appearances (plus five more in the postseason), primarily as a pinch-hitter. Herb Washington probably spent more time on the field in 1974 without appearing at the plate or at a position than Smith did in ’81, so that wasn’t a great promotional opportunity either.

5. “Players who play in New York and LA are sometimes overrated, while players who play in smaller and less glamorous cities are sometimes underrated, although this factor is not as significant as many people believe it to be.”
Evans never played anywhere all that glamorous. The games he allegedly appeared in during his eight seasons in Candlestick Park were played primarily in front of an audience of seagulls, so we have only the word of the umpires and official scorers to assure us that he was actually there. Smith spent six seasons in Los Angeles.

6. “Players who are glib and popular with the press are sometimes overrated, while players who are quiet are sometimes underrated, although, again, this factor is not as significant as many people think it is.”
James wrote that Evans “was not notably glib or quotable.” Good enough for me. The Reggie Smith quotes page I found via Google contains two quotes, one of which is this:

They didn’t give up. I take this loss as a win because we found out what type of team they’re going to be. We’re going to go back in practice and do the same things—just pick up the intensity. The game was good and people saw we can play.

If those are a few of the most notable sentences Smith ever uttered, I think it’s safe to say that he probably wasn’t particularly glib or quotable either.

7. “Players who pay in parks which do not favor their skills are always underrated. Players who play in parks which favor them—hitters in Colorado, lefties in Yankee [Stadium], pitchers in the Astrodome—are always overrated.”
Evans spent his prime in cavernous Candlestick Park and had the home/road splits to show for it, but he played in favorable hitter’s parks at the beginning and end of his career, so that mostly evened out. Smith was helped more by his home parks, though he wasn’t the product of Fenway that Jim Rice was.

8. “Hitters from big-hitting eras…are overrated in history, and pitchers from the dead ball era and the 1960s are overrated. Pitchers from the big-hitting eras and hitters from the 1960s are underrated.”
In Evans’ best offensive season, 1973, NL teams averaged 4.15 runs per game (which was significantly up from ’72). When he hit the ballot in 1995, NL teams averaged 4.63 runs per game, and AL teams averaged 5.06. No wonder 1995 voters didn’t think much of his numbers. Smith debuted a few years earlier, so he got to experience 1968. Actually, ’68 was his first excellent offensive year: he posted a .298 TAv. A .298 TAv in 1968 translated to a .265/.342/.430 triple-slash line. Other players may have had it worse, but their offensive environments didn’t do Evans and Smith any favors.

9. “Undocumented skills (leadership, defense, heads-up play) tend to be forgotten over time. Everything else deteriorates faster than numbers.”
I haven’t forgotten any undocumented skills Evans and Smith might have had, but only because if they existed, I never knew about them. It might be worth mentioning that Smith had to get 60 stitches in his wrist after losing a fistfight with a cooler during an argument with Derrel Thomas in 1980. Having honed his pugilistic skills against an inanimate object, he tried them out the following season against a heckler behind the Dodgers’ dugout in Candlestick Park. The heckler ended up in the hospital. Tragically, it turned out that he hadn’t heckled at all–whatever it was that got Smith so incensed, a seagull had said. Smith’s flying fists probably didn’t endear him to any Hall of Fame voters, who doubtless docked him some Character Clause Points (CCP).*

*Injuries inflicted upon oneself by punching a cooler result in a deduction of 37 CCP, unless they’re reflective of a Paul O’Neill-like intensity and desire to win. Punching a person in the stands results in a deduction of 93 CCP, unless that person was some stat nerd who probably had it coming. Both of these penalties would have been wiped out by the character amnesty clause later conferred upon all players who played before the Steroid Era, but Smith had the ill fortune to appear on the ballot just as Jose Canseco was making his first exploratory injections.

10. “Anything which ‘breaks up’ a player’s career tends to cause him to be underrated. A player who has had a good career with one team will be thought of more highly than a player who does the same things, but with three different teams. Switching positions causes a player to be underrated.”
Check and check. Evans played for three teams. Smith played for four. Neither stuck with any one of them long enough to become an all-time franchise great. Both are listed under multiple primary positions on B-Ref. Evans was primarily a third baseman but spent roughly half as much time at first. Smith played approximately equal amounts of right field and center field and finished at first. Too many teams! Too many positions! Bill Mazeroski wasn’t really that great, but he was definitely a Pirates second baseman, dammit. Evans was a Braves/Giants/Tigers third/first baseman, and Smith was a Red Sox/Dodgers right/center fielder/first baseman. If we put them in the Hall of Fame, we’d have to remember all of the things that they were. It’s much easier to forget they ever existed.

To James' 10 reasons, I’d add a few more of my own:

11. Playing third base tends not to be a hit with Hall of Fame voters.
Third basemen are held to an especially high standard. They’re expected to field like up-the-middle players and hit like players at the other corners, which isn’t something many major leaguers can do. As a result, they’re never good enough for anyone, and they’re underrepresented in Cooperstown, even after Santo’s overdue induction. It doesn’t help that Evans was a contemporary of Mike Schmidt, George Brett, Wade Boggs, Brooks Robinson, Santo (for a few years), Graig Nettles, Buddy Bell, Sal Bando, and Ron Cey—basically, a “who’s who” of third basemen in the second half of the 20th century. Which takes me to reason 12:

12. Poor timing can lead to an unusual amount of overlap with other greats. Playing on teams with other superstars or at a time when the talent at a particular position was especially strong can divert attention from a deserving player.
Evans had to share an infield and a batting order with Hank Aaron early on, but that was the least of his problems, as I just mentioned. When Smith came up, he shared an outfield with Carl Yastrzemski. Then Yaz moved to the infield, and Dwight Evans flanked Smith. The year after Smith was traded to the Cardinals, Fred Lynn and Jim Rice reached the majors. The season after that, 1975, Boston’s outfield was Rice (in his first full season), Lynn (in his first full season), and Evans (in his first very good one). Lynn had a huge season in center, and the Sox went to the World Series. In light of the stars who succeeded him and the team’s subsequent success, it wouldn’t have been entirely unreasonable of Sox fans to start saying “Smith who?” shortly after he left Boston.* Smith was also a contemporary of a superior right fielder in Reggie Jackson, which was unfortunate in a number of ways. Conveniently, that takes me to our final reason:

*Actually, ”Smith who?” might have been one of the nicest things Red Sox fans ever said about Smith. His race may well be another reason why he was underrated.

13. It might not help, but it can’t hurt to have a memorable name or nickname. It can hurt to have a forgettable one, or one shared by a higher-profile player.
We know that a name can affect a person’s level of achievement, both professionally and romantically. The impact of names may also extend to success in Hall of Fame voting. I used to get Darrell Evans and Dwight Evans confused, but Dewey’s presence probably didn’t hurt Darrell, unless the voters were paralyzed by the fear of picking the wrong Evans on the cusp of Cooperstown. Reggie Smith, however, had the bad luck to be overshadowed by the most famous Reggie in baseball history. As Bill James wrote:

Reggie is often defined by an accident of nomenclature: he is the other Reggie. An almost exact contemporary of Reggie Jackson (1967-1987), Reggie Smith was variously distinguished from the loudmouthed superstar as Reggie! and Reggie, or Reggie and reggie, or as the other Reggie.

Josh Wilker said the same: “No matter what he did, he could never become more than a whisper beside the constant neon scream that was the guy simply known as Reggie.” Would Reggie Smith have made the Hall of Fame if he’d just gone by his real first name, Carl? Probably not. But he might have made a second ballot. As it is, the Hall has a Reggie and a Smith, but it’s never put them together.

***

We’ve (probably) solved the mystery of why Evans and Smith placed so poorly on their Hall of Fame ballots despite placing so high in our value rankings. But why haven’t they enjoyed the popular support of lower-WARP players like Santo or Blyleven, or even Trammell? Maybe they came along too early, moving on and off the ballot before the full flowering of the sabermetric movement and the internet made the creation of Cooperstown cottage industries possible. Of course, Santo came along even earlier. Maybe they were hurt by having less prominent roles within the game after their playing careers ended than those other three did.  

Or maybe we haven’t gotten excited about supporting Evans and Smith because we haven’t had the chance. Neither player has been put to a Veterans Committee vote since falling off the ballot. The VC will next meet to consider Expansion Era candidates in the winter of 2013, for induction in 2014. If the Committee went by WARP, Evans and Smith would be among the candidates. Instead, in their places will be far inferior players like Steve Garvey, Al Oliver, and Rusty Staub. Evans and Smith almost certainly missed their only chances for enshrinement. Maybe, though, if we make a little noise—even if adds up to just a fraction of the support we gave Santo—they could get past the gatekeepers and earn another shot.

Ben Lindbergh is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Ben's other articles. You can contact Ben by clicking here

28 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

Greg Ioannou

Terrific, entertaining article -- thanks! Would love to see you do the same for pitchers, to see who (if anyone) it turns up.

Feb 02, 2012 06:22 AM
rating: 3
 
Brandon R. Warne

Great article. You sure that's the new candidate smell on Bagwell, and not all the meat?

Feb 02, 2012 08:19 AM
rating: 0
 
npb7768

This was very well written and enjoyable to read. Both Evans and Smith were solid players for long periods of time, and yes, if Tony Perez is going to be the gate-keeper than they both should be in the Hall of Fame. But if Tony Perez is the gate-keeper, then Ken Singleton, Bobby Grich, Don Baylor, Lee May, and Boog Powell (Balt), Roy White, Thurman Munson, and Bobby Murcer (NYY), Dwight Evans, Fred Lynn, and Cecil Cooper (Bost), Willie Horton, Norm Cash, and Bill Freehan (Det), Frank Howard (Wash) and Mike Hargrove and Andre Thornton (Cle), and George Scott (Milw) all should get in, and that’s just off the top of my head from the 1970s AL East.
To be quite honest, way back before the Wild Card, way back before Juan Gonzalez and the gang over in Texas made it perfectly acceptable to score 7 runs in the 9th inning to make a 12-3 score 19-3 and have all 7 of those runs treated as though they were game-winners, way back before every at-bat in a 17-4 game was contested because it could mean tens of millions in future salary…Way, way back before then…There was a time…yes, there was a time…when….If the score was 9-3 in 7th, or the Padres were 28 games out in August, no-one gave a crap about the last 3 innings (players swung at the first pitch and got out of there) or about San Diego’s game against a team not in a pennant race (get it over with in 2:02 and go home). Nate Colbert and Clarence (before Cito) Gaston were Padres best hitters…And if they could have gotten hits in late September 1971, when NBC did the split-screen on the Saturday Game of the Week because the Dodgers and Giants were locked in a great pennant race, then it would have counted, mattered and people would have remember them for it….But it didn’t matter what they did against Houston or Philadelphia…Putting up 23-87-.275 (77bb) in this environment was nice, but even if you did it for 15 years, it didn’t make any difference—there was nothing at stake (challenge for the league HR or RBI title? Yes…but 23-87?...No)…You have to realize, back then, the stuff that matters now didn’t matter then…And I don’t mean walks…Walks always mattered…It’s just that drawing 3 walks in a Milwaukee-California game in September 1972 meant nothing...
Now: Darrell Evans played meaningless game after meaningless game in Atlanta Stadium, and when he did hit 40 HRs to get some recognition, so did Davey Johnson. Then he went to SF, with those Giants teams from 1976-83…Again, doing a 20-78 (twice!) is nice, but he basically spent 1972-1983 on 4th and 5th place teams in the NL West, 23 games out in August, facing Dave Freisleben and Dan Spillner….Really, if he had done this in Cleveland over the same period it couldn’t have made less of an impact. Then on to Detroit, where they win the World Series in 1984, and he could have been injured all year and it wouldn’t have made mattered. From 1985-88, he had 4 solid seasons for a team playing meaningful games, and he really made an impression. He’s in his late 30s playing 1b and DH, and has a bit of both platoon and home-road splits, making him deadly against RHPs in Tiger Stadium. You know, there was a day-in day-out grind to the pennant races of the 1970s—guys on the Pirates, Reds, Dodgers, Orioles, Yankees and Red Sox were expending a lot more energy than guys on Indians, Padres, Angels, Giants, and Braves. Evans was certainly ready when the time came. He had a solid career, and shouldn’t be blamed for playing on bad teams, but there was nothing Hall-of-Fame about this guy’s career. Again, if he and Tony Perez had switched places I can see him getting in by doing the same thing for Cincinnati for 12 years, but are we going to let Jose Cruz, Jack Clark, Ron Cey, Bobby Bonds, Bill Madlock, Ted Simmons, Greg Luzinski, Dave Parker, Bob Watson, Cesar Cedeno, Jim Wynn, Al Oliver, Rusty Staub, George Foster, John Mayberry, Gene Tenace, Sal Bando, and Joe Rudi in?...These guys were all pretty good…Going back and parsing every walk, every park-adjusted OPS+, with a fine-toothed comb really can’t create any meaningful separation…
Now: Reggie Smith is almost the exact opposite to Evans in that he played in a ton of meaningful games. He, like Evans, played well in them. But should he be in the Hall of Fame? Can you really separate this guy from the 18 AL East players I listed at the top or the 18 I listed just above here?

Feb 02, 2012 09:01 AM
rating: -1
 
GoTribe06

I applaud you for 1.) having a well thought out opinion on this article, and 2.) having that opinion so at the ready you could simply drop it into this little comment box and make the largest comment I have ever scene! Nice work.

And to Ben...you do nice work too!

Feb 02, 2012 10:21 AM
rating: 3
 
BP staff member Ben Lindbergh
BP staff

Thanks. And yes, nbp, that was the longest BP comment I've ever seen. We've had articles shorter than that.

Feb 02, 2012 11:18 AM
 
alangreene

Does this comment address any point listed in the article above? The writer lists only two concrete data points for either Smith or Evans being HOF-worthy (lifetime WARP, JAWS) and they both seem to pass the test there.

The rest of the writer's discussion focuses on trying to figure out why they got so little support. You admit the players are at least borderline -- they should have gotten more support than they did.

The Tony Perez comment is an odd strawman, since he's never mentioned and doesn't meet either of the standards the writer uses. And the rest of the commentary:

"You have to realize, back then, the stuff that matters now didn’t matter then…And I don’t mean walks…Walks always mattered…It’s just that drawing 3 walks in a Milwaukee-California game in September 1972 meant nothing..."

I may be the only one, but I have no idea what you are trying to say here. You seem to be saying playing on a bad team makes it substantially easier to perform. Or you could be saying since it didn't matter in the standings, the player should get no credit.

Either way, I'd like to see any data backing up the former and I doubt anyone involved with you at the HOF agrees about the latter.

Feb 02, 2012 12:16 PM
rating: 7
 
LynchMob

My best friend is more baseball-savy than me ... and one of my favorite memories associates Reggie Smith to 3-1 fastballs ... we had the game-of-the-week on TV ... Reggie comes to the plate with ducks on the pond and my best friend announces "they better not throw him a 3-1 fastball" ... and Reggie proceeds to work the count to 3-1 ... and, yup, the pitcher threw him a fastball that Reggie clocked for a long HR ... just flat out fun!

Feb 02, 2012 09:46 AM
rating: 0
 
nschaef

Baffles me that Dick Allen isn't in there.

Feb 02, 2012 09:55 AM
rating: 1
 
ScottyB

Dwight Evans > Darrell Evans

Feb 02, 2012 11:05 AM
rating: 5
 
PaddyE

As one of the seagulls who watched and admired Evans at Candlestick, as well as a bit of Smith in orange & black (after he stopped pummeling Giants fans in the stands), I am both surprised and thrilled to see an argument for their HoF credentials on BP.

That said, I have to admit that it's a bit baffling to me too. Both were excellent players, but I don't think any of us seagulls ever thought of either as even borderline HoF. In part that might be because I'm a Small-Hall guy, in part it might be because of the argument npb7768 makes above.

But even sticking to the starting criteria of the article, the WARP list through 30, it becomes obvious that the criteria are clearly flawed. McCovey is #41, Aaron is #59--below Mike Piazza and Bobby Bonds (and Evans & Smith, of course), just for example. Jack Clark is but three slots below Jeff Kent, which would elicit guffaws from even the ornithological seagulls of Candlestick. In short I can't see how anyone can accept those rankings as even a decent rough starting point for HoF worthiness, even marginal worthiness.

Regardless, it's still nice to see Evans and Smith get the recognition of a shout-out that other much less-deserving players (cough, Mattingly) get routinely, just because they happened to land on the right team. And the walk through James' 10 reasons plus the additional ones by the author is great. So many thanks, even though I disagree with the premise.

Feb 02, 2012 11:33 AM
rating: 7
 
BP staff member Ben Lindbergh
BP staff

Paddy, the low ranking for Aaron appears to be a bug--all of his pre-1966 seasonal WARP values are showing up as zeros on his player card, so he has something like half the career WARP he should. He's definitely a top-five guy. We're working on addressing that now--thanks for the heads-up.

Feb 02, 2012 11:56 AM
 
BP staff member Colin Wyers
BP staff

To explain - we get data from a multitude of sources, each of which comes with their own ID codes for players and teams. In this case, there was a broken mapping for the team code for the Milwaukee Braves, so some of the fields weren't being properly filled, including WARP. It's been fixed now on the back end, and should percolate to the sortables soon if it hasn't already.

Feb 02, 2012 13:40 PM
 
nblascak

Colin:

I'm not sure if you're already aware or not, but if you generate a Batter Career Value stat report and sort it by OBP (and give it some generous Min PA filter), there appears to be a lot of information missing from many different players' cards, and thus leading to some funky looking numbers (like a TAv of .164 for Ted Williams).

Feb 02, 2012 17:53 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Bill Parker
BP staff

I try to be open-minded and welcome criticism, and obviously WARP and its relatives/competitors aren't perfect, but I struggle with this kind of criticism. Aside from the Hank Aaron error -- and, I don't know, maybe that threw off your whole view of it -- what it seems to come down to is: "that doesn't conform with my preconceived notions, so it CAN'T be right!"

If you think it's "clearly flawed," it'd be great to see you dig into the reasons it comes out the way it does and point out why. Jack Clark, for whatever Giants fans/seagulls might have thought of him, was a pretty great hitter, certainly considerably greater than Kent. Willie McCovey was certainly a great hitter, but didn't do anything else well at all, while Smith and Evans were less-great hitters who also played phenomenal defense. It's just not nearly enough, to me, to say "that does not comport with my assumptions, and is therefore clearly flawed." That's kind of Ben's, and Bill James', whole point with a lot of those underratedness factors.

Feb 02, 2012 13:20 PM
 
dianagram

Darrell Evans' slash stats in his Detroit late-career years look spookily like Mark Teixeira's last couple of years in New York.

Feb 02, 2012 12:08 PM
rating: 0
 
npb7768

What I would say is that there are a ton of great similar players from the Darrell Evans, Reggie Smith, Tony Perez era. I named about 36 of them, and I of course didn’t mention Dick Allen, Rico Petrocelli, Senator Garvey, Vada Pinson, Dusty Baker, Gary Mathews, Rick Monday, and fifty others. So there are about 100-120 of these guys. You could throw a blanket over them. They are clearly not in the same class as Aaron, Reggie, Clemente, McCovey, Stargell, Mays, Yaz, Bench, Morgan, Frank Robinson, Kaline, etc, etc….What should we do with them?...Do advanced metrics really help us much?...I don’t mean to discount Colbert, Gaston, Evans, Thornton, or anybody who played on lousy teams, but Carlton Fisk Steve Garvey, Dwight Evans, Eddie Murray, Thurman Munson (to name four off the top of my head) were facing an excruciating day-to-day grind in the late 1970s, while at the same time Dave Winfield was prancing around San Diego Stadium without a care in the world other than to promote himself. These guys would take themselves out of blowouts…They wouldn’t try an extract another HR in the 9th of a 13-1 game like Juan Gonzalez. Given there is very little separating about 120 or so great but not HoF players from this era, the context in which they played is of huge importance—including whether they were being counted on to keep their teams in contention day in and day out… I’m not saying not to count it for guys like Windfield, but it is a huge consideration, more so than trying to separate these guys with some advanced metrics that don’t acknowledge the context of the games being played...Look, in the last 15 years, Barry Bonds is about the only guy I can remember who regularly would take himself out of a blow-out to get 3 innings of rest…This was routinely done in the generations before this…It matters…

Feb 02, 2012 13:16 PM
rating: -3
 
Patrick

"Do advanced metrics really help us much?"

It seems to me the advanced metrics allow us to separate the 100-120 "identical" players and quantify their contributions on the field.

You seem to have a bunch of arguments here, mostly "things were better back in the day, when players didn't just play for money" (even though they did) and "stats in a pennant race mean more."

Feb 04, 2012 13:29 PM
rating: 3
 
rcrary

"These guys would take themselves out of blowouts"

This is bullshit.

Those guys never once hit meaningless homeruns in games that had already been decided. This is your argument? I don't buy it, not even a little bit.

Feb 05, 2012 12:14 PM
rating: 2
 
jhardman

A Logan's Run reference. Wow....

Feb 02, 2012 13:36 PM
rating: 1
 
McLovins

ditto to that. One of the great original sci-fi movies, and one that should have never been even attempted to be re-made.

Feb 03, 2012 11:03 AM
rating: 0
 
eighteen

"You had to see him wait."

Classic.

Feb 03, 2012 13:36 PM
rating: 1
 
dodgerken222

The "switching teams" maxim is the reason why David Cone is off the ballot. That, and the fact that he missed two 20-win years by the '94 and '95 strikes. I heard someone talk about Cone on television the other day, and his credentials are excellent. An excellent ERA in a hitters' era and division (AL East for a good period). Being in the top five in strikeouts in something like 8 of 10 years. I mean, at his peak, who would you rather have in a big game..David Cone or Jack Morris?

Feb 03, 2012 17:08 PM
rating: 0
 
greensox

Smith played primarily in Boston and L.A. so he had major markets behind him. His case is reasonable.
Evans' is really questionable.
Honestly, if you look at Evansyou have to start looking at Dale Murphy and Harold Baines

Feb 05, 2012 19:53 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Ben Lindbergh
BP staff

For what it's worth, Evans has 30-35 WARP on both of those guys.

Feb 05, 2012 20:02 PM
 
greensox

I just disagree with the way the stats equate walks with singles. They just aren't equal. A walk may be 75% of a single.

Feb 10, 2012 22:09 PM
rating: 0
 
npb7768

I’d love to, but I can’t spend all day on this stuff...

“’Do advanced metrics really help us much?’ It seems to me the advanced metrics allow us to separate the 100-120 "identical" players and quantify their contributions on the field.”

These advanced metrics cannot tell a lead-off walk in the ninth inning of a tie game in a pennant race from one to Bob Bailey in the 9th inning of the 1st game of a doubleheader of a 11-1 Padres-Expos game in May 1970 because Mike Corkins was effectively wild but lost concentration. The point is that these advanced metrics assume (I’m simplifying a tiny bit) that all of these (essentially) unobservable factors about walks will even themselves out over the course off a season/career, so that we don’t have to worry about the context of a particular walk. This would seem like a good assumption, and it may be the best one can do, but it doesn’t work here. It doesn’t work because a player can spend year after year in pennant races, where every at-bat is a contested grind (Ask Eddie Murray about every game he played from 1977 through mid-1986, ask Carlton Fisk about August-September 1978) and it’s not going to even out with a guy like Toby Harrah. Look, Toby Harrah drew a ton of walks and had some great stats for a middle infielder—but he played like one season in a pennant race (1974) and the rest was spent in 5th or 6th place. I’d listen to Indian games where Herb Score’s enthusiasm was heart-breaking and Joe Tait’s bitterness was disturbing and Toby Harrah would draw another meaningless walk…. Now we look back on Toby Harrah and his comp is who, Bobby Grich?...Please...

“You seem to have a bunch of arguments here, mostly ‘things were better back in the day, when players didn't just play for money" (even though they did) and "stats in a pennant race mean more.’"

Players always played for money, yes. And I’m not saying things were better back in the day, it is just a function of technology. Today, every last dollar (due in large part to technological improvements that aid evaluating/measuring sales, customer preferences, income, elasticities, performance, etc.) can be squeezed out of one or another of the agents involved (player salaries, ticket prices, advertising dollars, television rights, prices for sports cable packages). This forces all involved to contest every last pitch, walk, RBI, win. I am not judging good or bad—-I am just recognizing it. All I am saying is before such near total (rent) extraction was possible, more emphasis was placed elsewhere—-and in some cases, yes, that made for a better game/season/experience, and in some cases it didn’t. One example is that players are better off today in that they don’t need to spend time in a second job in the off-season and can instead focus all the time on baseball—-that makes for a better product. However, an example the other way is that the player comes before the team. The objective is to maximize one’s own salary through stats, not team wins (the rationale is they are highly correlated, so why worry). You can say this is BS or impossible to prove, etc., but even from an economic-rational standpoint it makes sense. “Back in the day” people tried to maximize team wins over personal stats that happen to be positively correlated with team wins...And it makes a difference, on players who had to play in pennants races year in and year out.


One more example on how things are worse today because of this rent extraction (not “things were better back in the day”). We get a team that after 125 games is 10 games out of first in their miserable division, and just happen to be 8 games behind another second place team in another (of 3 mind you!) miserable division. They catch and pass this second place in the other division, and 3 weeks later are the World Champions. Why? Because $ are maximized this way. Now people may think this was riveting, exciting, interesting baseball (which it was), but it does not in any way go about trying to determine the best team...But alas, it gets worse. A respected Baseball Prospectus writer has to take the time to rationalize for poor Yankee fans how to pride in the AL East Division Championship (one of 6 doled out every year)...
As for these long, rambling comments of mine, like Mark Twain said, “if I’d had more time, I’d’ve written a shorter letter.”

Feb 06, 2012 09:34 AM
rating: -3
 
rcrary

Prove it.

Feb 06, 2012 12:59 PM
rating: 2
 
rcrary

How do you know it wasn't harder on the players *not* playing in pennant races? The answer is you don't. You just typing a bunch of bullshit, in the technical sense of the term.

Feb 06, 2012 13:01 PM
rating: 2
 
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