60. Ed Delahanty (ESPN Rank: NR)
MILLER: What a human tragedy. Big Ed died at 35 after either jumping or falling into the Niagara River. According to his SABR Bio Project post, he was found dead and naked, except for shoes, socks, and tie. Had he been able to control his drinking, he might find himself twenty of more spots higher on this list.
ERIC: Controlled drinking is the dream of every alcoholic, and their nightmare is reality.
59. Curt Schilling (ESPN Rank: 91)
MILLER: Not long ago I went on a Mussina-oriented rant. Well, Curt Schilling is just about the same pitcher in terms of career value. There are two differences. First, Schilling might be the best pitcher in playoff history. He’s certainly close. Second, he’s a jerk. I’m not that broken up about him on the outside looking in.
58. Smoky Joe Williams (ESPN Rank: NR)
ERIC: If Satchel Paige is the Lefty Grove or Walter Johnson of the Negro Leagues, Smoky Joe Williams is the Pete Alexander or even the Cy Young. Long, long career, highly effective for damn near all of it, if not quite the peak of the Paige, and not necessarily the flashy personality. It’s not far-fetched at all to suggest that Williams would have won 300 games in MLB. That’s why he’s on this list after all.
57. Buck Ewing (ESPN Rank: NR)
ERIC: The best catcher of the 19th Century. But because he was such a good hitter, he didn’t play catcher as much as today’s backstops do or even those that came just 25 years after his debut. But like Jackie Robinson later, Ewing appears to have excelled no matter where he played on the diamond, and that was everywhere.
56. Al Kaline (ESPN Rank: 64)
ERIC: Al Kaline is what you get if you take Roberto Clemente, stick him in Tigers’ Stadium, and give him a few more walks. Here’s their career road totals, which strip out some of the park effects that frame our perceptions of them. I’ve projected Clemente to the same number of PAs as Kaline (he trailed by about 700):
NAME PA H 2B 3B HR BB K SB CS AVG OBP SLG GDP HPB ROE ======================================================================== KALINE 5864 1499 251 42 173 628 522 77 37 .292 .369 .458 143 27 96 CLEMENTE 5864 1667 244 71 156 343 760 58 28 .306 .347 .463 165 15 111
It would be entirely reasonable to say that these two players were very, very similar. Kaline’s got more walks and fewer GDPs. Clemente has a higher average and more triples. Of course, this comparison extends outside of the batters box. Kaline won 10 Gold Gloves to Clemente’s 12. Kaline’s 152 runs above average according to BBREF’s rfield, while Clemente is +205. Kaline’s arm was a defensive weapon which netted his team 60 runs more than an average outfielder, and Clemente probably had the greatest outfield arm in history, or one of the top five (Willie Mays, Jesse Barfield, Harry Hooper, and a few others may take exception). BBREF gives him 83 runs more than an average outfielder. Michael Humphreys DRA sees a much larger divergence between the two in terms of their range. It shows Kaline with a healthy 81 runs above average in flycatching but Clemente with an addition 130. That’s a really big deal.
Add it up and BBREF gives Al Kaline 92.5 WAR and Roberto Clemente 94.5. Kaline spread his out a little more over a longer career. Clemente was a late bloomer, whose career was cut short tragically, and his best years are a little more clumped together. Yet we rank Clemente 20 spots ahead of Kaline and ESPN ranked Clemente 45 spots higher. I certainly can see the peak argument pushing Clemente up a little bit, and perhaps in between the two we are slicing hairs very thinly, but it’s amazing how differently the world sees two players who were very similar despite very different contexts. Or maybe not? Maybe it sees two very similar players and somehow also sees intuitively what DRA sees in the difference between their respective ability to catch up to flyballs.
55. Cal Ripken (ESPN Rank: 47)
MILLER: One of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received came from Eric, a ticket stub to then game in which Ripken stroked his 3000th hit.
ERIC: Ripken didn’t want to, but he moved to third base when a better defensive shortstop showed up (Mike Bordick). I know of an extraordinarily popular shortstop who idolized Cal Ripken, and who wouldn’t move off shortstop when a better defender came along. Just sayin’ is all.
54. Joe DiMaggio (ESPN Rank: 15)
ERIC: ESPN’s #15 ranking for Joe D is silly. DiMaggio was an amazing player, of course…and he was done at 36. But the World Wide Leader in Sports has this tendency to embrace the narrative: The Yankee Clipper, voted greatest living ballplayer in 1969 (poor overlooked Ted Williams, Stan Musial, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, et. al.!), “Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio/a nation turns its lonely eyes to you/woo, woo, woo,” Marilyn Monroe, Mr. Coffee, yadda yadda yadda. Why would DiMaggio finish at #15 and Mel Ott finish at #59? They were rough contemporaries, and here’s some stuff. Mel Ott earned at least 7 WAR in six seasons. Joe DiMaggio did so in four, though his best years are better than Master Melvin’s. Ott also tacked on three seasons with 6+ WAR and another five years of 5+ WAR. DiMag had two seasons with 6+ WAR and three at 5+ WAR. Overall, Ott ended up with 107 WAR and DiMaggio 78. Had the second world war not snatched three seasons from DiMaggio’s career, it’s easy to imagine Joltin’ Joe blasting out another 20 to 25 WAR, which would leave him 5–10 Wins short of Ott. It’s a peak/prime/career kind of argument about which one ends up higher in one’s personal rankings. But somehow ESPN sees a gap of 40 rankings. I can only assume that either it’s the narrative or it’s about counting the ringzzzzz. If it’s the latter, well, that’s silly. DiMaggio hardly earned them by himself. He was surrounded by a team of All-Stars every year. And here’s the funny part. While DiMaggio was on the World Series stage each and every year, in Mel Ott’s three World Series appearances, his overall lifetime October line much more closely approximates his career hitting than DiMaggio’s. Ott went 304/414/533 from April to September then 295/377/525 in the Series. DiMaggio hit 325/398/579 during the regular year and just 271/338/422 in October. Gang, I’m just not seeing it. It’s all about that Yankee thing. But we know Mystique and Aura’s real names: Ed Barrow and Joe McCarthy.
53. Steve Carlton (ESPN Rank: 43)
ERIC: I am such a fan of Carlton’s hair in the 1970s and early 1980s. Curls just exploding from under his cap, framing up the hawk-like nose menacing grimace he always seemed to wear. What else is there to say about Lefty that hasn’t been said? He had one of the most devastating sliders in history. He was a fitness freak like Nolan Ryan and lasted forever as a result. He had that Eastern-like focus and a super competitive nature. He didn’t talk to reporters. OK, here’s something. Steve Carlton was murder on the running game.
Of course, as a portsider, Carlton had an advantage. Lefties in general do a lot better against the running game. But Carlton, in the steal-happy 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s did better than just an average southpaw. The league caught base stealers at a rate of 34% regardless of who was on the hill. Carlton and his catchers nabbed them 42% of the time. That’s 23% better than the league average. But I looked up lefties who were rough contemporaries of Lefty’s and who threw 1500 or more innings. There were 48. As a group, they averaged 21% better than the league in CS%. On a per-inning basis, the league ran on Carlton just a smidgen more often than they ran on this group. So Carlton was around average overall when looked at in these ways. Where he excelled, however, was in picking off runners. In fact, Carlton’s 146 career pickoffs are the highest total in MLB history (at least for those years that we have information on pickoffs). He picked off about 5.5 runners for every 200 innings he hurled, the highest figure in the group. Ken Brett is a sliver behind, and they are the only two who exceeded 5 pickoffs per 200 innings. The entire set of pitchers picked off 2 men per 200 innings. To give you a sense of how Carlton was at nabbing potential base nappers, Andy Pettitte and Mark Buehrle probably owned the most feared pickoff moves in the game over the past twenty years, and they hovered around 6 pickoffs per 200 innings. If we add all those pickoffs into the CS rates of each pitcher, the group now averages a 49% CS rate, a 6% overall boost from its 43% rate with just SB and CS in the equation. Carlton improves 12 percentage points to 54%, or double the boost of the entire group. His is the second largest boost in the entire group, behind only Bill Lee, who was merely average in raw CS rate. Carlton goes from 23rd in the group in raw CS rate to 12th when the pickoffs are added in.
One question we might ask is why would anyone try to run on Carlton in the first place with such a tough move? While I don’t know the answer, I suspect the answer is that the very wipeout slider that made him so difficult to hit probably also made him a tempting target for thievery. Burying a slider, especially to a left-handed hitter would make it very hard for a catcher (usually Tim McCarver or Bob Boone) to pop up quickly and make a quick release. This is especially true if Carlton got the slider down and wide in the right-hand batters’ box. Teams no doubt scouted Carlton’s pitch selection carefully looking for what counts he would throw it, especially with runners on. Developing a wicked pickoff move, which he did improve over time, helped him neutralize a natural disadvantage. It was just another way in which Carlton’s intense dedication to his craft enabled him to squeeze everything out of his game that he could.
52. Gaylord Perry (ESPN Rank: NR)
ERIC: Not ranked?! WTF?!
MILLER: If he has any saliva left, Perry should use it on this list.
51. Robin Roberts (ESPN Rank: NR)
MILLER: From 1950–1954 he posted 42.5 WAR. That’s 8.5 per year. Even with my adjustments that allow for more value to be earned by modern pitchers with extra playoff rounds, only Bob Gibson, Randy Johnson, Greg Maddux, Roger Clemens, Pedro Martinez, and Tom Seaver have had five straight years as great as Roberts’ run.
THE WORLDWIDE LEADER IN SPORTS’ #60–51
- Willie McCovey
- Mel Ott
- Manny Ramirez
- Tony Gwynn
- Eddie Mathews
- Reggie Jackson
- Jim Palmer
- Carl Yastrzemski
- Hank Greenberg
- Derek Jeter
MILLER: I don’t rank Derek Jeter in my top-20 shortstops ever. He’s 21st. If you’re being fair, I think he has to rank somewhere from 14–24. ESPN’s is a foolish and irresponsible ranking. If the Yankee public relations staff put together a similar list, this is about where they’d rank Jeter.
ERIC: You give Yankee PR too much credit. They’d rank Jeter like number five after Ruth, Gehrig, Mantle, and DiMaggio. I’m actually surprised that the WWLinS dared rank him so far down the list. I would’ve guessed in the 20s before seeing the actual document. Look, we’re likely to catch a lot of flack for not having Jeter anywhere on our list. Well, that is if anyone is really paying attention to us. There’s an argument out there that says, well defensive stats aren’t very trustworthy, and the Yanks wouldn’t have kept running him out there if he was that bad on defense, and there’s probably something about how the team positioned him, and there’s probably something askew in the batted ball profile of the team, and, and, and, and. But there’s nothing, no defensive system anywhere with any credibility that shows Jeter as being merely below average, as if he were Rich Aurilia or Roy Smalley. No, they all show Jeter as being awful. Historically awful. Doubly as bad as any other long-career shortstop. Doubly as bad as anyone at any other position.
Now another common argument goes, well, but Jeter was playing a more difficult defensive position so we shouldn’t treat him as though he was a shortstop since he was being played out of position, not playing out of position. Had the Yanks moved him to third base or centerfield…. Yes, and they didn’t, and he didn’t offer to move when they signed A-Rod, a better defensive shortstop. (See how I worked that in twice in one article?) But even had they moved him, our tools for measuring value already take into account the defensive difficulty of the job. WAR includes a position adjustment designed for this very reason. Jeter’s defensive difficulties dwarf that adjustment. BBREF’s position adjustment is +135 runs for all that shortstopping. He rates defensively as -246. He nets out at -10 or so Wins on defense with that adjustment. Thus his BBREF dWAR (WAR for defense only) is -9.7, which in turn is the worst of any shortstop in baseball history no matter how many or how few games they played.
So the truth as best we understand it, with error bars and all that, suggests that The Captain was so bad defensively, that his amazing batting and baserunning contributions aren’t good enough to get him into the top 100 players of all time. And this is why Jeter will continue to be one of the most divisive figures in baseball history, at least among the eggheady crowd.
Oh, also: Willie McCovey? That’s a ridiculous stretch.