Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Redistributing the Wealth, Part 2

My last post had the honor of being linked by one Tom Tango. If you still remember it all these weeks later, it was the one where I continued what Joe Posnanski started by swapping 500 walks for 400 singles from various players' career batting lines and figuring out who they best compare to. Tango mentioned that the same thing could be done with other types of hits, and the one that piqued my interest was the possible swap of 500 walks for 180 homers.

While mainstream baseball thinking is moving away from using counting stats as a measuring stick for a player's value, there's no question that home run totals still make our eyes pop out once they reach certain levels. Let's see how differently we'd perceive certain players if we increased their power output and decreased their patience at the plate. Would they look more like Hall of Famers to the untrained eye?

Before we begin, there's one thing I'd like to note: This exercise works best when the comparable player plays the same position, or at least a similar one. Though I ran the numbers with many players, I excluded them from this post if a good positional comp didn't turn up. Something about comparing Ken Singleton to Andres Galarraga just didn't seem right.

Let's start with everyone's favorite extreme walker, Eddie Yost:

Real line: .254/.394/.371, 139 homers
New line: .260/.359/.440, 319 homers
Comparable: Robin Ventura (.267/.362/.444, 294 homers) or Ron Cey (.261/.354/.445, 316 homers)

About as perfect as you can get. Yost's offensive numbers compare quite well to two solid Hall-of-Very-Good third basemen, giving us a much clearer picture of how valuable his bat was (his glove is another story, as that career -12.2 dWAR is glaring).

Max Bishop

Real line: .271/.423/.366, 41 homers
New line: .280/.367/.474, 221 homers
Comparable: Joe Gordon (.268/.357/.466, 253 homers)

It's hard to find a close second base comparable for Bishop's new numbers, but it's interesting to note that he's ahead of Gordon in each category except total homers. Granted, Gordon didn't make the Hall until the VC put him in two years ago, but with numbers like these, Bishop probably would've gotten more talk.

Eddie Joost

Real line: .239/.361/.366, 134 homers
New line: .249/.314/.453, 314 homers
Comparable: Jose Valentin (.243/.321/.448, 249 homers)

Looking at career averages doesn't always give you the best statistical profile of a player. Joost essentially had two careers: one as a light-hitter who bounced around the infield (.225/.311/.301, 13 homers, 74 OPS+ from 1936-45) and the other as a power-hitting full-time shortstop (.248/.389/.404, 121 homers, 113 OPS+ from 1947-55). In this case though, there's some degree of similarity between Joost and his comp.

Valentin's change wasn't quite as drastic, though it is noticeable. From 1992-99 (his entire Brewers career) he put up a line of .240/.323/.421, 90 homers, 89 OPS+ while playing mostly shortstop. From 2000-07 his line was .246/.320/.468, 159 homers, 101 OPS+ while he bounced around the infield. The batting and on-base averages are pretty consistent, but that slugging sure jumped. Another interesting note: both players' shifts happened around age 30. Discoveries like these are one reason I love baseball.

Keith Hernandez

Real line: .296/.384/.436, 162 homers
New line: .300/.347/.500, 342 homers
Comparable: Orlando Cepeda (.297/.350/.499, 379 homers)

It's rare to see a hypothetical line end up being this close to a real one from a Hall of Famer at the same position. I fully acknowledge that Cepeda's a borderline inductee, but when one considers how much value Hernandez added with his glove (as opposed to the stick-first Cepeda), it only furthers my belief that Keith Hernandez belongs in the Hall of Fame.

Roy White

Real line: .271/.360/.404, 160 homers
New line: .277/.318/.476, 340 homers
Comparable: George Bell (.278/.316/.469, 265 homers)

Roy White is an often-overlooked player, but he wasn't that far off from a short-peaked slugger who once won the MVP.

John Olerud

Real line: .295/.398/.465, 255 homers
New line: .299/.363/.525, 435 homers
Comparable: Hal Trosky (.302/.371/.522, 228 homers)

Would Hal Trosky have been a Hall of Famer if his career had been longer? We can't be certain. Would Olerud be considered a stronger Hall candidate if he'd combined home run totals like these with a near-.300 average? We probably can be certain.

Jack Clark

Real line: .267/.379/.476, 340 homers
New line: .273/.340/.541, 520 homers
Comparable: Sammy Sosa (.273/.344/.534, 609 homers)

Now here are two players I never would've thought to compare. Sosa had the better glove, but he also played in much higher-scoring era, which makes his offensive output less impressive than Clark's. Indeed, they're pretty close in WAR (56.5 for Clark, 59.7 for Sosa).

Some players are easier to find comparables for if we only go halfway on the tradeoff How about we only swap 250 walks for 90 homers?

Dwight Evans

Real line: .272/.370/.470, 385 homers
New line: .274/.355/.496, 475 homers
Comparable: Frank Howard (.273/.352/.499, 382 homers)

If Howard had had Evans' defensive abilities and longevity he'd have a legitimate argument for the Hall of Fame. Evans is a borderline case himself, but I wouldn't consider it a black mark against the Hall if he were to be inducted someday.

Rusty Staub

Real line: .279/.362/.431, 292 homers
New line: .281/.348/.456, 382 homers
Comparable: Harold Baines (.289/.356/.465, 384 homers)

While Harold has his supporters, the majority opinion seems to be that he's not a Hall of Famer (and I'm with them on that). Staub stayed on the ballot for seven years, while Baines dropped off this year after just five. Considering the rate at which baseball thinking has advanced and the makeup of the writers has changed since Staub's candidacy, that sounds about right.

Lou Whitaker

Real line: .276/.363/.426, 244 homers
New line: .279/.347/.455, 334 homers
Comparable: Ryne Sandberg (.285/.344/.452, 282 homers)

Are 201 stolen bases and 38 homers really the only difference between a third-ballot Hall of Famer and a first-ballot dropoff?

Of course, there's the flipside to this exercise. What about those guys who hit a ton of homers but barely walked? How would they look with less force and more finesse?

Dave Kingman

Real line: .236/.302/.478, 442 homers
New line: .226/.345/.400, 262 homers
Comparable: Wayne Gross (.233/.337/.395, 121 homers)

I'm only including this one because I know Kingman was the first name that popped into many of your heads. Gross isn't an ideal comp due to his much-shorter career, but hey, Kingman did play a bit of third base when he first came up. Our suspicions are confirmed though, that Kong was nothing resembling a star player.

Andre Dawson

Real line: .279/.323/.482, 438 homers
New line: .275/.353/.431, 258 homers
Comparable: Dusty Baker (.278/.347/.432, 242 homers)

The biggest advantage Dawson has over Baker is that he stayed in center field longer. Well, that and the "Hawk" nickname. "Dusty" has a much more easygoing feel to it.

Juan Gonzalez

Real line: .295/.343/.561, 434 homers
New line: .290/.388/.488, 254 homers
Comparable: Tim Salmon (.282/.385/.498, 299 homers) or Larry Doby (.283/.386/.490, 253 homers)

Doby isn't the best comparison, as he was a center fielder, but the stats were so close I had to share them here. Salmon is a much better illustration of how un-Hall-worthy Juan Gone is, as he was a contemporary and a fellow corner outfielder.

Willie Horton

Real line: .273/.332/.457, 325 homers
New line: .267/.372/.384, 145 homers
Comparable: Tony Phillips (.266/.374/.389, 160 homers)

Fascinating! Horton's comp is another Tiger left fielder!

Tony Perez

Real line: .279/.341/.463, 379 homers
New line: .275/.370/.411, 199 homers
Comparable: Ron Fairly (.266/.360/.408, 215 homers)

No sir, nothing says "Hall of Famer" like being just a few notches above Ron Fairly.

Joe Adcock

Real line: .277/.337/.485, 336 homers
New line: .271/.381/.407, 156 homers
Comparable: Earl Torgeson (.265/.385/.417, 149 homers)

You know, I'd never realized how good Torgeson's on-base skills were. I'd always thought of him as an Overbay-esque first baseman who resembled a schoolteacher. A closer look at the stats suggests he was more of a Randy Milligan.

I once heard it said that Adcock could've had a Hall of Fame career had he not been injured and platooned. Perhaps that's true. Of course, a "Hall of Fame career" doesn't necessarily mean he would've been a worthy selection, only that he would've managed to get inducted.

Matt Williams

Real line: .268/.317/.489, 378 homers
New line: .261/.359/.415, 198 homers
Comparable: Sal Bando (.254/.352/.408, 242 homers)

Matt Williams was an interesting figure. Back when I was a teenager he felt like a great player, or at least something just below that level. Giant fans seemed to revere him, and by all accounts he was the type of guy any team would want on their roster. Now that I'm older and the passage of time has allowed for some perspective, I can see that he had one glaring flaw: he simply did not walk. He had great power, he had a good glove at third, but that .317 OBP is unacceptable, particularly for the high-offense era he played in.

If Williams lost some of that power and replaced it with on-base skills he'd be a touch ahead of a third baseman who has a much better Hall argument than many people realize. Of course, Bando's still borderline, and when we account for era he comes out ahead of Williams.

Vada Pinson

Real line: .286/.327/.442, 256 homers
New line: .282/.358/.388, 76 homers
Comparable: Max Carey (.285/.361/.386, 70 homers)

Now here's a discussion we could have: did Vada Pinson's balance of skills prevent him from a Hall of Fame career? Pinson is similar to Carey in many ways: both were fleet-footed center fielders who shifted to corner outfield positions in their later years. Pinson's career WAR was 49.3, Carey's was 50.6. Both spent a significant portion of their career in a low-scoring era. The difference is that Carey's game was built on walks and speed, while Pinson's was built on power and speed. If Pinson had been a walks-and-speed guy, could he have been a dominant leadoff man instead of a very good #2/#3 hitter?

While Carey's WAR isn't going to astound anyone (admittedly, without play-by-play data for Carey's career the stat is less reliable), those ten seasons of leading the league in steals are bound to turn some heads. Pinson's prime years weren't exactly a golden age for stolen bases, so on the surface his steal totals appear good-but-not-great. You might be surprised to learn that while Pinson never led the league in that category, he finished in the top five seven times, including four times in the top three. If his speed had been used at the top of the order, who knows? He might've been able to put some black ink in the steals column. It certainly helped Carey, Lou Brock (39.1 WAR) and Luis Aparicio (49.9 WAR).

Ernie Banks

Real line: .274/.330/.500, 512 homers
New line: .269/.361/.447, 332 homers
Comparable: Chili Davis (.274/.360/.451, 350 homers)

Banks is lucky he came up as a shortstop, because the first half of his career is the only thing that separates him from a very good outfielder/DH.

Finally, here's one that works best if we only go halfway:

Dave Parker

Real line: .290/.339/.471, 339 homers
New line: .288/.355/.444, 249 homers
Comparable: Andy Pafko (.285/.350/.449, 213 homers)

I'm not sure what "Pruschka" means, but I'm guessing it doesn't translate into "Cobra."


  1. Ian: Great post. Two thoughts.

    Whitaker's first ballot dismissal was one of the great injustices of the modern era. Not only was a possible HOF'er, but he might have been a better overall player than Sandberg. Sparky Anderson, in fact, thought he was the best 2B he'd ever seen, behind Morgan. And to be dropped off the ballot after one year, just goes to show how the HOF voting is in the hands of idiots.

    Secondly, Vada Pinson, along with Tony Oliva and Thurmon Munson, are for my money the three greatest all-round players in my lifetime not in the HOF. I'm so glad you gave him some love in your post.

    And your point is well made; did Vada Pinson's across-the-board talents work against him? Probably so. I'll tell you this; he'll never get in the Hall, while the incredibly one-dimensional base-clogger Jim Thome will waltz in in his first or second year of eligibility.

    And ask someone who saw both guys play. Even in his prime, Thome couldn't shine Pinson's shoes.

    (BTW, did you know Pinson went to McClymonds High School in Oakland, which also graduated Frank Robinson, Curt Flood, Bill Russell, Paul Silas and former Oakland A's intern, MC Hammer, to name just a few?)

  2. Hey M.C.! Good to hear from you!

    Yeah, Vada Pinson's an interesting player. From what I've read about him, when he first came up he was considered a superstar waiting to happen. Since he didn't become the next Willie Mays though, a lot of people saw him as a disappointment, despite the fine career he did have. I was actually surprised when I was putting this post together to learn that he only made two All-Star teams, since he had several more years that look All-Star-caliber to me.

    Joe Posnanski recently made an interesting point about Whitaker. Whitaker was consistently very good, and over a long time that value adds up. Sandberg, despite providing less value over his career, had more seasons where he dominated, and he got more support because of it. When Whitaker's turn on the ballot came up the writers didn't have a mental picture of him as a great player, leaving him one-and-done. Hopefully the Veterans Committee will correct that error in Whitaker's lifetime.

    I was not aware of McClymonds High School in Oakland. It's interesting that the three baseball players you mentioned each came up with Cincinnati in the 1950's. I presume McClymonds' baseball coach must have been friends with someone in the Redlegs' scouting department.

  3. Huzzah for the Whitaker/Sandberg comparison.

    As for that "base-clogging" Jim Thome, he's already scored 1,534 runs and will likely break into the all-time top 50 this year; I only wish my Mets had a few guys clogging up the bases in such a fashion!