Posted tagged ‘Hank Aaron’

The Drop Off to Second Best


This morning Buster Olney of ESPN tweeted, “Because of the difference between Rivera and others at his position, for me, he should be part of NYY’ Rushmore, with Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio.” I find this an interesting claim in a lot of ways. First note the 4 players: Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Rivera. I would without a second thought shove Mantle ahead of both DiMaggio and Rivera. Second, I take his claim to be that the dropoff from Rivera to others refers to all other relievers, not just all other Yankee relievers. That follows an earlier tweet which said, “The difference between Rivera and any other player at his position in history is the greatest of any position.” That is a more interesting question. To get a quick and dirty look at the drop from the best to the second-best at various positions, I’m going to do a bit of fiddling with WAR, as measured on Baseball Reference. I will also summarily exclude 19th-Century Players. (This means I excluded both Cy Young and George Davis.) The method is simple: Take the WAR of player 2, divide it by player 1, and multiply by 100. This gives the second player’s production as a percentage of the first player. So, is the dropoff from Rivera the biggest? Let’s turn to the stats.


Player 1 WAR 1 Player 2 WAR 2 Percentage Total Drop
Gehrig 118.4 Foxx 95.2 80.41 23.2
Hornsby 127.8 Collins 126.7 99.14 1.1
Wagner 134.5 Ripken 89.9 66.84 44.6
Schmidt 108.3 Rodriguez 105 96.95 3.3
Ruth 190 Aaron 141.6 74.53 48.4
Cobb 159.5 Mays 154.7 96.99 4.8
Bonds 171.8 Musial 127.8 74.39 44
Bench 71.3 Fisk 67.3 94.39 4
W. Johnson 139.8 Clemens 128.8 92.13 11
Rivera 55.8 Gossage 39.5 70.79 16.3
Eckersley 58.3 Rivera 55.8 95.71 2.5
Rivera 55.8 Hoffman 30.4 54.48 25.4

First, these are full career WAR stats, so Ruth has a serious bump from being a pitcher, and Walter Johnson gets a nice little bump from his hitting. Second, I calculated relievers three different ways. First, I ran Rivera against Gossage, the two highest pitchers who accumulated almost all their WAR in relief. Next I did Rivera against Eckersley, because Eck had the highest WAR of any pitcher who is in the Hall of Fame as a reliever. Nonetheless, his WAR is so high because he gets a giant boost from all of his years as a starter. Finally I compared Rivera to the next highest modern closer, that is the highest WAR from a reliever since the advent of the modern closer circa 1980. That would be Trevor Hoffman. So where does this get us?

First, the drop at shortstop is gigantic. Even adding George Davis back in doesn’t help much. That is the lowest percentage drop among position players. Next, the drop from Ruth to Aaron is impressive. It is the largest raw WAR drop, and the third lowest percentage. Quite a drop considering this is Hank Aaron we are talking about. Finally, relievers are tricky. First, if Eckersley is included, Rivera isn’t the best ever. Next, if you include higher inning relievers from the 1970’s, the percentage is not the lowest, but it is second. Finally, if you limit Rivera to his most comparable group, other closers, you see Buster Olney’s point in big numbers. Rivera is nearly twice the pitcher of any other closer, when measured by WAR. I find that fact astonishing.


Putting Together a Perfect Team


This will be the last post that draws explicitly on Bill Simmons’ The Book of Basketball. In the book’s last chapter, Simmons constructs what he calls his “wine cellar” team. The team consists of individual seasons by players put together to make the perfect basketball team. This idea, though interesting, is not novel. Simmons, however, does put a particularly unique spin on this. He does not just collect the 12 best seasons ever, or even the 12 best seasons portioned out by position and with a caveat that no player can make the team twice. He puts a focus on how this team would really work. In basketball, team success depends on having players that are good at all of the necessary skills of the game: shooting, rebounding, passing, and defense. For this reason, Simmons includes Bill Walton’s 1977, Scottie Pippen’s 1992, and Ray Allen’s 2001. They fill important niches on a basketball team. How, I wonder, would this concept translate to baseball?

The most important consequence, I think, of this sort of team is to preclude the inclusion of Ty Cobb. The virulent and violent racism of Cobb could not be combined with a team that included Hank Aaron or Willie Mays. I find this particularly problematic, given that I am in the camp that thinks Cobb was the single greatest center fielder ever to play the game. However, a lily-white 25-man roster is even more problematic, so Cobb would have to go.

Second, you emphasize great peak players. Imagine which Warren Spahn year you pick: the year he won 20 games, lost 10, and stuck up an ERA in the upper 2s, or one of the other 15 years he did the exact same thing. In contrast, Ron Guidry‘s 1978 has to get serious consideration, even though Guidry never really came close to Hall of Fame induction.

Finally, you have to emphasize balance. You can’t pick a collection of pure power hitters, just in case you are stuck playing in Dodger Stadium in the 1960’s. You can’t pick a Whitey-ball Cardinals team from the 1980’s if you have to play in Coors Field in 1996. To be a truly perfect team, you need to be able to win under all conditions. To give an example, consider Jim Rice’s 1978. In 1978, Rice hit .361/.416/.690 at home, but he hit only .269/.325/.512 on the road. Rice’s road numbers are certainly respectable, but on an all-time team his road numbers are enough to exclude him.

This post just works out parameters about how you would put together such a team. I would encourage everyone to give it a try for real. What else do you need to consider? Who would make it? Stick up a post on your blog or in the comments. I’ll try and put together my own team in the next few days.