For some time, we’ve told you that we’d be sharing longer lists so you can see where all of your favorites land in the game’s history. So it’s time we welcome you to our top-125, the best players at each position by Eric’s CHEWS+ and my MAPES+. At the end of this series these lists will find a permanent home on our site so that you’ll be able to refer to them whenever you would like.
Before we get there, you may see some surprising inclusions or omissions. Let me explain. Eric places players at the position at which they had the most value. His reasoning can best be seen in a guy like Ernie Banks. Banks is a no-brainer Hall of Famer. That’s clearly based on his time as a shortstop where he had six seasons of 5+ WAR, including four of 7.9+. At first base, he never topped 3.5 WAR, averaging only 1.3 per season over a decade at the position. While Eric’s theory makes total sense, not every player is as easy to understand as Banks. Should we break down each season? What if the guy played 80 games at two positions in the same season? I just use games played with no preference for value. Just games played. It’s simpler. I don’t think either decision is incorrect, but I do want to point out the reason you may not see certain players. For example, you’ll see Deacon White, Jack Rowe, and Mike Napoli on Eric’s list below. For me, White is a third baseman, Rowe is a shortstop, and Napoli is a first baseman.
Here are our complete lists.
Stop by again on Friday when we’ll look our similarities and differences at first base.
How in the world do you decide what pitch to throw? And who decides? It is the manager? The pitcher? The catcher? A bit of all three? We will answer none of those questions below.
We know that sometimes the catcher decides what pitch should be thrown. And if the pitcher has both command and control, maybe the right pitch goes to the right location, and the batter fails. That’s if the catcher/pitcher/manager chooses the right pitch and location. And if the batter also fails. There’s merit to the idea that the best catchers ever are the ones best at calling games, if they’re actually the ones responsible for calling the games. I don’t think we really know who had such responsibility. And there’s no way to really know if they got the most out of their pitchers. There are just so many variables that we can’t control for.
The best receiver in history would have to have all of the physical attributes, and he’d have to be an expert on game theory, someone in league with the world’s best poker players. We just can’t measure that.
I’d like to note two more things before we get started. First, neither one of our numbers puts Johnny Bench on the top of the catcher list. And second, it’s extremely hard to figure out what’s right at this position. We’re trying our best.
Mauer is a made man. Unless he turns in a few -2.0 WAR seasons in a row, he’s over the line for good. The question is whether he can gain ground on the rest of the field. Given recent history, his peak appears locked in, so it’s about chasing down the career value of guys above him on the totem pole. Bill Dickey feels like his top end to me. After my various adjustments, Dickey’s ahead by 9 career WAR, but their peak is exactly the same. Mauer certainly could catch up, though as a thirty-five year old with a history of concussion syndrome, the wear and tear of catching, and an overall long-term decline in performance, especially in power, I’m not sanguine about his odds to hit on that prop. He’ll pass Joe Torre this year, but Charlie Bennett is a pretty far in the distance, let alone Hartnett and Dickey.—Eric
There’s actually quite a bit going on here. After three years when it seemed Mauer was done as a plus hitter, he rebounded nicely last season. On the plus side, his K-rate fell to pre-concussion levels. He also made more hard contact than he had in four years. Maybe he’s back??? I know that’s not the way aging works though. On the other hand, there’s not a lot of data we have on people who have recovered from concussions. In the last four seasons, he’s averaged over 138 games, 18 more than his previous four. In terms of wear and tear on his body, perhaps he’s looking better than a few years ago? Then again, the last four years have seen him with a 106 OPS+, while the previous four were at 134. And his 116 from last year isn’t really too impressive. He’s 35 now, and it’s quite possible his surprise 3-win campaign of 2017 was the last year of that quality he’ll ever have. That’s what I’m guessing. If we plug in seasons of 2.2, 1.1 and -0.4 WAR, he gets by Joe Torre, and that’s it. I say he finishes at #12.–Miller
This is one incredibly healthy catcher we’re looking at, a guy who’s played in at least 140 games every year since 2012. What’s more, he’s been worth over 4 wins each season. He’s 31 now. As he ages, the Giants can move him out from behind the plate more and more. If he can maintain last year’s level in 2018 and then decline slowly, he can get to #14. Maintaining a little more value and playing until age 38, he’ll battle Mauer for that #12 spot. I’ll take the more positive run out in this case.–Miller
It has to be Gary Carter, right? Everyone calls Johnny Bench the best MLB catcher ever. Well, everyone except me and Eric. I have to admit to being unsure of how catcher handling should be interpreted, and I think my catcher ratings are less likely to be “correct” than those at any position. I use Max Marchi’s handling numbers, albeit at a reduced rate, which vaults Carter to the top. Somehow, it’s actually not very close.–Miller
We could make a baseball TV comedy show called That 70s Catcher. Bench, Fisk, Simmons, Munson, plus big hunks of Carter’s career. Oh, and Gene Tenace. Gino Fiore Tenace is one of those analytical darlings who walked a lot, hit for power, moved around the diamond a bit, and whose excellence was hidden by baseball’s traditionalist mindset until the last twenty or so years. There’s that and the fact that his career was very short, under 6,000 plate appearances, and that defensively he wasn’t an outstanding backstop. I’m pretty sure that given the opportunity to name the twenty best catchers ever, a supermajority of baseball watchers and sports journalists wouldn’t include him. Especially when Ernie Lombardi, Bill Freehan, Lance Parrish, Yadier Molina, and a few other more famous catchers rank below him.—Eric
I have Charlie Bennett 28% over the line, while Eric sees him only 13% over. The difference between 10th best and 12th best, however, really isn’t a big deal. Perhaps Johnny Bench is our biggest disagreement? We are in lockstep on #1 and #2 at every other position, so when my #2 is his #5, we might say that it’s a big difference.–Miller
Yes, just about anyone. We use the handling numbers we have, which we think makes sense. Unfortunately, those numbers don’t exist for the first 80 or so years of the game, nor the last six. We’re not guessing. We’re doing the best we can, and we think we’re reasonably close. It’s just that the error bar at catcher is greater than at any position. Far greater, I think.–Miller
You know, Buck Ewing bugs me. I know that some folks in his own time considered him the best player in the game, but the second-best catcher of all time? I’m not so sure. Could be an issue with how I’m extrapolating playing time. But I can’t shake the feeling that we’re overcommitted on Ewing. Miller is absolutely correct that among all nine positions on the diamond (ten if you want to consider the DH separately), catcher is the fudgiest. We have all the usual things to account for such as schedule length, league quality, in my case standard deviation, differing defensive systems. Then we also have to introduce a ton more uncertainty because no defensive system captures catchers well, and the developers of those systems will tell you so. No system has successfully figured out how to add framing because framing is dependent on the umpire and the pitcher as well as the catcher. No system has incorporated pitcher handling either. Is plate blocking included in any of them? Where does pitch calling fit into this? Plus we have to account for the negative impact catching has on playing time so that we can bring catchers as close to other positions as possible. It’s not a cluster, not a whack-a-mole, more like those Russian nesting dolls. You’re trying to get down to the smallest doll, but there’s just so many other dolls ahead of it that eventually your hands get crampy from all the twisting apart of the dolls. And they are all wearing masks!—Eric
Next week we’re back with the next 20 catchers. And unless you’ve studied this subject, a bunch of names will be at least a little surprising.
Position players come to a close today as we discuss catchers and their evolving candadicies as they strive toward the Hall of Miller and Eric. Please check out all of the positions we’ve reviewed in this series.
2017 BBREF WAR:
Rank at the position after 2017:
Ahead of Ted Simmons, Ernie Lombardi, and Thurman Munson
Trailing Roger Bresnahan, Wally Schang, and Joe Torre
Ahead of Roy Campanella, Thurman Munson, and Wally Schang
Trailing Mickey Cochrane, Charlie Bennett, and Joe Torre
Current career trajectory:
Mauer’s career reminds me a lot of George Sisler’s. Great, great player until head injuries (concussion for Mauer, sinusitis for Sisler), leads to a decline in their hitting abilities. But both have soldiered on into their thirties and continued as roughly average ballplayers, adding some bulk but little else to their careers. Mauer’s pact ends next year, and unless he craters in 2018, he’ll have some mild interest for a team that needs a steady but not amazing first baseman to support a core of great younger players. Like, maybe the Red Sox?
He’s long been above the in/out line for me as something like the Mickey Cochrane of his generation. Though without the career-ending beaning.
2017 BBREF WAR:
Rank at the position after 2017:
Ahead of Walker Cooper, Johnny Kling, and Victor Martinez.
Trailing Deacon McGuire, Russell Martin, and Darrell Porter.
Ahead of Victor Martinez, Chief Zimmer, and Jocko Milligan
Behind Johnny Kling, Sherm Lollar, and Del Crandall
Current career trajectory:
Molina has never been as great a player as given credit for. He’s got two excellent seasons (2012 and 2013) and lots of seasons between 2 WAR and 3.5 or so. In other words, he’s mostly been an average or slightly above average player during his career. Since 2014, that description has been particularly apt, and it doesn’t seem as though we’ll see any change in that diagnosis.
Being an average catcher for a long time is a neat trick, but it won’t get you our vote. It’s possible that information about his handling and framing might improve our disposition toward him, but how much more value is left in his body? Picking up ten more career WAR makes him look like Jason Kendall. Nuf sed.
2017 BBREF WAR:
Rank at the position after 2017:
Ahead of Deacon McGuire, Yadier Milina, and Walker Cooper.
Trailing Darrell Porter, Lance Parrish, and Buster Posey.
Ahead of Bill Freehan, Mike Scioscia, and Jason Kendall
Trailing Ernie Lombardi, Buster Posey, Jim Sundberg, and Jorge Posada
Current career trajectory:
After a couple years of highly positive offensive performance (for a catcher), Martin’s bat has returned to about average, actually a little below. His defense has also regressed toward average. All of which makes him, quite average, actually. He’s had some injuries that appear to have sapped some of his power and batting average, but there’s enough pop and walks still left to keep him around. Martin’s high placement on my lists comes from information about the soft parts of the art of catching that Max Marchi researched before going off to become an MLB stats maven.
Marchi’s data ends at 2011, which is sad for Martin fans. But even so, Martin is much closer to the in/out line than one could ever have imagined. He’s not yet a hidden Hall of Famer for me, but he’s in the Jim Sundberg class right now. Given his slide to averageness, I wouldn’t expect any more advancement up the rankings, which would leave him short of my vote.
2017 BBREF WAR:
Rank at the position after 2017:
Ahead of Lance Parrish, Darrell Porter, and Russell Martin.
Trailing Jack Clements, Jason Kendall, and Jim Sundberg.
Ahead of Jorge Posada, Russell Martin, and Bill Freehan
Trailing Jim Sundberg, Tony Pena, and Ernie Lombardi
Current career trajectory:
After a terrible 2011 injury ended his season and changed contact at home plate as we knew it for all of baseball history, Posey returned in 2012 to become an elite catcher. While he’s not the super-stud of 2012, he’s still the best catcher in baseball. If you’re looking for inner circle status someday, you have to like that the Giants are happy to let him play some 1B. You also have to like that his rates are as solid as ever.
It looks very, very good. There are eight catchers in baseball history within 5 WAR of Posey through their age-30 seasons. Every single one of them is in the HoME. A year like he had this year would put him past Bill Freehan and Roy Campanella for me. No, it’s not a certainty, but it’s as close as most backstops his age would ever be.
2017 BBREF WAR:
Rank at the position after 2017:
Ahead of Del Crandall, Sherm Lollar, and Cal McVey.
Trailing Johnny Kling, Walker Cooper, and Yadier Molina.
Ahead of Chief Zimmer, Jocko Milligan, and Brian McCann
Trailing Sherm Lollar, Del Crandall, and Yadier Molina
Current career trajectory:
What a nice career – 2000+ hits, 1000+ driven in, an OBP title, five All-Star teams, and at least $122 million in his pocket. As a DH who can’t hit, he’s kind of done, posting negative WAR over his last three years. That’s okay though. It was a nice run.
While I give him more 3-WAR seasons than a couple of guys, he’s not going, and he’s not too close.
2017 BBREF WAR:
Rank at the position after 2017:
Ahead of Ed Bailey, Mickey Tettleton, and Duke Farrell.
Trailing Rick Ferrell, Smoky Burgess, and Ray Schalk.
Ahead of Rick Ferrell, Elston Howard, and John Clapp
Trailing Victor Martinez, Chief Zimmer, and Jocko Milligan
Current career trajectory:
His career trajectory hasn’t changed much this decade other than when you’re in the second half of the decade and still haven’t put up a season of over 2.8 WAR, you’re almost certainly not going to get there. McCann will be 34 next year, and though he should play like an old 34 since he’s been a starting catcher since he was 22, he’s not really showing age yet.
We have to chart Brian McCann. Due to a long career behind the plate where he’s been pretty good, he’s one of the 50 best catchers ever, even if he doesn’t inspire a lot of excitement. Yes, the position is that that tough. He has a nice shot at 300 homers and 1100 runs batted in, which would make him one of just seven catchers to reach those levels. The other six are all very comfortably in the HoME. I guess that would make McCann the exception that proves the rule.
2017 BBREF WAR:
Rank at the position after 2017:
Ahead of nobody worth noting.
Behind everyone justifiably ranked.
Ahead of all the other catchers
Trailing Rick Dempsey, Pop Snyder, and Ed Bailey
Current career trajectory:
Perez might be the best catcher in the AL right now. Which may be praise by damn feinting. But he’s in the midst of his prime now and has been durable by catcher standards. He’s quite the free swinger but the power plays and so does the defense. As he enters his age 28 season, if he picked up that “old player skill” of drawing the occasional walk, he’ll end up much better than Benito Santiago with whose career, I sense a kindred spirit in Perez’s.
Not drawing walks is a terrible way to get to the HoME because it sucks away your offensive value. But Perez’s hitting is just a little below average despite that thanks to the power. He’s earned 19 WAR thorugh age 27, which is half way between what postwar HoME catchers average and what HoME runners-up catchers average. From here, the HoMErs average a gain of five WAR a year for the next three years, then three a year from age 31 to 32, then it’s dribs and drabs. The runners-up average an increase of three WAR a year through age 33, two a year at 33 and 35, then little else. Perez has been about a three-win player over his career. If his old-guy skills emerge and he draws 10 more walks and hits three to five more homers a year, he could make a very interesting case for himself. Catchers are said to bloom late as hitters, so don’t write off his long-shot odds quite yet.
We start looking at pitchers, specifically relievers, on Monday.
So you have a pile of missing value for a bunch of 1930s and 1940s ballplayers. Now what?
Let’s have a look at some key guys from the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s whose new PBP data gives us a better glimpse at any hidden value they may have accrued. We looked specifically at players who were either:
We’ve broken them down by position below.
In general, doing this work suggests that BBREF’s regression scores for baserunning may, if our math is reasonable, suppress a good deal of baserunning value—or stinkiness. It appears that BBREF bases its formula for pre-PBP running on steals, steal attempts, and/or success rates. That’s how Ernie Lombardi, a strong candidate for the slowest man to ever don cleats, is listed with positive running value. The reality, as we’ll soon discover, is likely far worse for Lom. Generally, we found a lot of very positive baserunning value. This may stand to reason since we examined the best of the best from this timespan, and good players are often good athletes. Or we need to review our mathematics…. Oh, and here’s this other item. The thing that drives baserunning value isn’t what you probably think it is. Just ask Joe Sewell.
In the tables below, “NOW” refers to a player’s value as calculated by me with my adjustments but without the “missing” value. Which means that “EST” includes the value we’ve calculated for running, GIDP avoidance, and throwing.
NOW EST NOW EST NOW EST NAME WAR WAR CHEWS CHEWS RANK RANK =============================================== CATCHER Berra 77 77 62 62 7 7 Hartnett 73 69 56 53 8 10 Dickey 71 69 56 54 9 9 Cochrane 65 67 55 56 10 8 Lombardi 59 50 46 40 16 24 Lollar 41 41 35 35 34 34 Cooper 40 38 34 33 37 37 Ferrell 41 40 32 32 39 40
Two of these catchers are polar opposites. At least among backstops. On one hand, Mickey Cochrane appears to have positive baserunning value, unlike pretty much every other catcher here. He’s also got positive rDP value, which even fellow lefty swinger Bill Dickey doesn’t. Black Mike is the only catcher to gain value in this group.
Then there’s Ernie Lombardi. We’ve run through his story before, but believe it or not, I underestimated how bad a baserunner he was. Here’s how the sad story of Schnozz’s plummeting value goes. Lombardi appears to have surprisingly un-bad stolen base value. Something like -1 against the league in his number of steal attempts. He was only picked off four times in his career, while I figure a league average runner to have been picked off 10 times. That makes Lom about +2.5 runs. Lombardi was a very cautious baserunner, which, despite his incredible slowness meant he didn’t get thrown out very often. He was +6 runs against the league on that account. Despite his lack of foot speed, Lombardi did manage to take 44 bases in non-batted ball situations. That accounts for about 8 runs, where the league would have notched 9. So -1 runs here. On the whole, he’s sitting pretty close to level par with the league. That is, until we account for his taking extra bases on batted balls. Lom took the extra base ahead of the batter on singles and doubles about 32% of the time. The league took the extra base 47% of the time. In our figuring, that means that Lombardi’s legs “earned” -31 runs against the league. So on the whole, His Schnozziness nets out at -25 runs against average.
And then come the twinkillings. No one, not even Jim Ed Rice, banged into so many deuces as this guy on a per-plate appearance basis. He was the lifetime leader in the category for at least a couple decades, but the guy who passed him (someone named Aaron) had about twice the plate appearances. Which means that our estimate for Lombardi is a little more than -60 runs. Add it all up and he dumps about 9 wins of value and falls out of the running for the HoME.
NOW EST NOW EST NOW EST NAME WAR WAR CHEWS CHEWS RANK RANK ========================================= FIRST BASE Musial 135 137 98 100 1 1 Gehrig 113 113 88 88 3 3 Foxx 103 101 81 79 4 5 Mize 74 75 61 63 9 9 Greenberg 64 61 57 56 11 12 Terry 62 65 53 56 16 14 Camilli 44 48 43 46 27 25 Hodges 49 49 43 43 28 28 Bottomley 35 34 31 31 51 53
Bill Terry and Dolph Camilli are the stories here. Terry’s surge in value is primarily driven by excellence on the bases. For the seasons we know about, he was picked off only once, made about two-thirds the outs on base that an average player did, had more bases taken than average, and most important, he took the extra base on a hit 56% of the time, versus leagues around 50%.
Camilli, meantime, is an overlooked star. He appears to have been an above average baserunner, not just a meandering slugger, and he was excellent at avoiding the twinkilling (+16 runs career).
NOW EST NOW EST NOW EST NAME WAR WAR CHEWS CHEWS RANK RANK ========================================== SECOND BASE Gehringer 82 86 66 68 5 5 Frisch 83 83 65 64 6 6 J Robinson 65 66 59 60 8 8 Gordon 62 62 55 55 13 13 Herman 60 58 49 48 17 18 Doerr 56 57 47 47 19 19 Lazzeri 50 47 43 40 24 27 Frey 43 48 38 42 27 26 Stanky 40 42 38 39 28 28 Schoendienst 42 44 37 38 30 29 Bishop 42 42 36 37 33 32
There’s a few items of note here. Charlie Gehringer turns out to be an outstanding baserunner, not merely above average, pushing him upward. On the other hand, Tony Lazzeri turns out to be a poor baserunner and below average at DP-avoidance, driving him downward. Billy Herman’s pretty bad on the deuce too. But let’s pause for a moment and look at Lonny Frey.
Has anyone ever said to you, Hey, Lonny Frey was a damn good ballplayer? Well here’s the first time. Frey is little remembered these days, but as a shortstop and second baseman, he combined a fine glove, an above-average bat, strong baserunning skills, and a penchant for avoiding rally-snuffing double plays. Exactly the kind of player who play-by-play data reveals as a source of subtle value. We show him picking up about five WAR, which is 50 runs of value.
NOW EST NOW EST NOW EST NAME WAR WAR CHEWS CHEWS RANK RANK ========================================== THIRD BASE Elliott 52 53 42 43 19 20 Hack 51 56 41 45 23 19 Traynor 47 48 39 39 31 27 Clift 43 46 39 41 30 24 Kell 34 33 30 29 51 51 Lindstrom 27 28 27 27 65 64 Rolfe 25 29 24 28 73 61 P Martin 20 24 19 22 89 79
Because third base is a very clumpy position, small credits and debits can lead to significant movement on the totem pole. Harlond Clift, for example, surges up six slots with only three additional WAR in his pocket. He could run a little and was that rare bird, a righty hitter good at avoiding the double play.
Stan Hack parlayed an even bigger increase into a climb that leaves him this far from the HoME borderline. We reckoned him with 3 rBaser (versus -9 for BBREF) as well as 32 runs for DP avoidance. I suspect, however, that while the former of those could even inch up a little, the latter is not terribly accurate. That’s because Hack was a leadoff man for nearly all his career, and had a minimum of 1350 fewer opportunities than an average hitter would.
But most interesting of all are Red Rolfe and Pepper Martin. These guys were terrors on the bases. Rolfe, who had about half a career, was worth twenty-odd runs on the bases and another passel in DP avoidance. Red was merely above average in stealing, outs on base, and bases taken. But like Bill Terry, he took extra bases like candy: 57% extra-base-taken average versus a 48% league average, worth 15 runs. Then there’s Pepper Martin, who was hung with the famous sobriquet, “The Wild Horse of the Osage.” Like Rolfe, he had about a half a career, and like Rolfe, he ran wild. He was nearly +15 runs stealing bases, +10 on extra bases taken, and another +2.5 on bases taken for good measure. He took the extra base 63% of the time in a league with a 48% extra-base-taken rate.
NOW EST NOW EST NOW EST NAME WAR WAR CHEWS CHEWS RANK RANK ========================================== SHORTSTOP Vaughan 80 84 67 71 4 2 Appling 82 87 64 66 7 5 Cronin 73 72 60 59 11 11 Boudreaux 67 68 59 60 12 12 Reese 67 69 53 55 16 16 Sewell 58 62 48 52 21 19 Stephens 49 48 42 42 27 27 Maranville 45 44 40 39 30 33 Bartell 47 47 39 39 31 31 T Jackson 41 44 38 40 37 30 Rizzuto 41 41 37 38 38 37
Arky Vaughan slides into the #2 spot at shortstop. He was in a big bunch with Cal Ripken, well behind Honus Wagner. Vaughan isn’t as bad a baserunner as his poor stolen base rates suggest, nor as bad as his BBREF estimate. As a lefty with at least some speed, he turns out to be very good at avoiding double plays. Meanwhile, Joe Sewell, whom I elected with a lot of trepidation, improves his lot and gives me a little piece of mind. Sewell’s an interesting one. As a lefty he gets some double-play avoidance credit, but it’s really his baserunning that pushes him upward. You might be surprised by that since his SB% career-wise isn’t quite 51%, but the league back then ran at around a 55% clip, so it’s not nearly the eyesore it appears. Even so, it’s everything else he does on the bases that helps him. We have just four of Sewell’s seasons, but they account for more than 2,000 plate appearances, enough of a sample to get a good sense of his exploits. Sewell was never picked off in those four years. He’s a run better than the league in both outs on base and bases taken. Given his below average steals value, he’s just above par with the league before we get to extra bases taken. Joe took the extra base about 60% of the time, while the league managed just 50% of the time, good for about +6 runs. So he ends up with about 8 runs of running value for 1930–1933. BBREF gives him -2 runs. When we use the comps method to retrocast him, we end up with a little more than 30 runs total for his career.
I would sound this cautionary note about Rabbit Maranville. I feel very tentative about him. While we have several years of data on him, they come from his age 38–43 seasons. Rabbit missed one of those seasons entirely due to a broken leg, and came back for just 23 games after it. But a deeper look into his stolen base numbers shows a different story. As a young player, Maranville stole with some frequency, gaining double digits in steals every year through 1924 (except for a year lost to World War I). His success rates during those seasons for which we have his caught-stealing information (61%) are probably a little better than average for the time. Then Rabbit started to get old. He lost some time due to injury and ineffectiveness in the mid-1920s, appearing to lose a step in the process. So it’s difficult to say with certainty that the data we have is strongly representative. But for now, it works.
NOW EST NOW EST NOW EST NAME WAR WAR CHEWS CHEWS RANK RANK ========================================== LEFT FIELD T Williams 129 129 98 98 2 2 Goslin 70 73 57 59 10 9 A Simmons 71 75 57 61 11 8 B Johnson 62 61 50 49 20 20 Medwick 55 52 47 45 23 25 Kiner 49 48 46 45 25 26 Minoso 51 52 46 46 26 23 Keller 47 46 43 44 27 27 Galan 43 47 37 41 40 38 Manush 39 42 34 37 41 41 Hafey 28 32 27 30 57 53
I didn’t know that Al Simmons was an excellent base runner, but that’s what our PBP data suggests. He was good at every facet of running, whether avoiding outs or taking bases.
This exercise appears to have vindicated certain decisions we made late in our electoral process. We knew that Joe Medwick had issues with double plays, and so we placed him behind Jose Cruz and Roy White in our pecking order. We felt unsure about Ralph Kiner as a fairly extreme peak case. Finally, because we’ve elected solely on Major League play, we didn’t extend any special dispensation to Minnie Minoso. Well the jury is in. Medwick’s double-play addiction cost him about 18 runs versus his leagues. Also, his arm appears less effective than DRA suggests. It’s all enough to push his value low enough that he sinks below Joe Kelley and Minnie Minoso in the rankings and essentially out of sight. Minoso only cashes in outfield arm credit here because his career started after the advent of PBP-based rDP and rBaser. He’s not a good thrower, but he picks up a couple-three runs against DRA, which helps. The fact that he didn’t lose value really helps because if we ever choose to pursue the Negro League angle, he’s so close to the finish line now that even just a couple seasons of above-average play could put him over.
NOW EST NOW EST NOW EST NAME WAR WAR CHEWS CHEWS RANK RANK ========================================== CENTER FIELD Mays 162 161 114 113 2 2 J DiMaggio 81 84 66 69 6 5 Ashburn 74 74 60 60 8 8 Snider 59 59 51 51 12 12 Berger 47 49 43 45 26 23 Doby 49 49 43 44 29 26 Averill 45 46 40 41 36 33 Combs 43 47 38 41 41 31 D DiMaggio 40 42 37 38 46 41 B Chapman 40 38 34 32 52 56 H Wilson 35 33 33 32 53 58 L Waner 23 25 22 23 73 73
Tommy McCarthy is the worst player elected to the Hall of Fame. I’m far less sure now about the second worst. Is it Lloyd Waner or Highpockets Kelly? We can’t say yet with as much certainty as we’d like because we don’t have PBP info for enough of Kelly’s career to say. But right now, I’m leaning toward Little Poison. I would be a little skeptical that Combs’ is gaining that much ground. He’s definitely gaining because his baserunning is much better than BBREF estimates it, probably by 20 runs. But like Stan Hack, Combs is a lefty lead-off man, and so his estimated rDP of +13 is probably too high. It’s a shame that Averill didn’t reach the majors until his age-27 season and that Dom DiMaggio had the heart of his carved out by the war. Both are coulda-been HoMErs. Which brings us to Larry Doby. Like Minoso above, Doby has inched just a little closer toward the borderline, and he may have enough in reserve during his Negro League seasons to creep over the line, should we choose to go down that path.
NOW EST NOW EST NOW EST NAME WAR WAR CHEWS CHEWS RANK RANK ========================================== RIGHT FIELD Ruth 181 181 128 128 1 1 Ott 111 117 80 84 3 3 P Waner 80 82 63 64 7 7 Slaughter 60 62 48 50 26 26 Nicholson 49 51 44 46 27 27 Cuyler 50 51 43 44 30 28 Klein 43 45 41 42 35 32 Holmes 42 43 40 41 37 34 D Walker 44 46 37 40 43 37 Furillo 42 42 36 36 49 49
Mel Ott’s a pretty great player. I never really stopped to think about him much. But now I suspect he’s kind of the Frank Robinson of his time. Mantle, Mays, and Aaron dominated the 1950s and 1960s. Robinson was just a notch below. He sometimes outperformed them, but on the whole, the other guys were just better enough that over time a gap in value developed, as well as one of perception. Similarly, Ruth, Gehrig, and Foxx dominated the baseball scene of 1920s and 1930s. Mel Ott, like Robinson would later, did his thing year in and out and wasn’t quite as exciting or sometimes as valuable as his competition. Like Robinson, he also had a diverse set of skills with sneaky speed and great power plus durability and longevity. Certainly Ott was not overlooked, just as Robinson wasn’t, but he never quite equaled those other guys. Through this process, I discovered that Ott was probably a lot better baserunner than you’d think and that his attempts to pull balls down the rightfield line into the Polo Grounds short porch probably kept him out of the double play so much that he excels in that category of our analysis. Meantime, Slaughter is now neck and neck with Vlad Guerrero, and if the actual BBREF data comes through and looks better than these estimates, Country might pass the Impaler. They are both right on the line in right field, and Slaughter’s advantage may be his era. The post-war era is light on honorees. Finally, KiKi Cuyler. After Sam Rice, he’s a big reason why we needed to do this project. We noticed that he was one of his era’s speed merchants, and we knew that he was reputed to have a good arm. All of which turned out to be true, but unless his real numbers are a lot better than what we’ve seen, he’s not going to creep upward.
Overall, the differences we’ve noted are not earth-shattering. Mostly they don’t suggest that we’ve missed players or elected fellows we shouldn’t have. But it does give us a greater sense of the likely value still out there to discover. Of course, once BBREF calculates these figures and creates formal estimates, our numbers will be wiped away—as they should be. Those guys know more than we do, and we trust them. For now we have these estimates to guide further decision making.
We love lists. Can you tell? So ESPN’s recent countdown of the 100 greatest players ever caught our attention. As is our wont, we decided to take our own crack at it. This is the first of many articles where we reveal our results ten players at a time.
The “worldwide leader in sports” apparently convened an expert panel and voted on thousands of head-to-head matchups. At least that’s what they disclosed. We convened a panel of two: Miller and Eric, like usual. While ESPN’s methods don’t seem very clear from the link presented here, we’re happy to tell you about ours. First we both drew up a list of 125 players based on a combination of the sorting systems we each use for ourselves and any adjustments we felt helpful. Like ESPN, we included Negro Leaguers. They fall outside the scope of our current research projects, but we took a couple shortcuts thanks to the data at Seamheads.com to help us arrive at some reasonable perspectives.
Once we each drew up our lists, we showed them to one another, averaging the rank we assigned to each player to arrive at a near-final ranking. We tweaked in a couple places, and then we had our list.
As you’ll see in our comments, Miller took an approach that emphasized parity across eras, while Eric took a more timeline-oriented approach, giving preference to recency. We’ll also comment on ESPN’s results as we go along to show you some of the hair-brained choices they made and insight about those among ours you might think of as hair-brained. Let’s get to it!
ERIC: It was down to him or Carl Hubbell. Much as I like the great screwballer of yore, I’m more convinced by Halladay’s run as the league’s best and most durable hurler before the mini offensive ice age of the 2010s.
MILLER: If I’m putting together a team to compete in the World Series in the last 40 years, he’d be higher. Looked at another way, this is a pretty great ranking for someone who threw fewer career innings than Pud Galvin logged in 1883 and 1884.
MILLER: A not very meaningful factoid is that Mize has more 6-win years (8) by my reckoning than anyone who never had an 8-win year.
MILLER: In what you’ll see as a recurring pattern problem, the good folks at ESPN rank guys you and your dad (but mainly you) have seen higher than we do. Hey, ESPN is a mainstream organization, not one that’s necessarily expert in all things baseball.
ERIC: Whereas we sit as far from the mainstream as you can get without being a birther/vapor trails/911 truth collective, and we think we’re experts in many things baseball. [Editors note: But, sadly, we aren’t experts.]
ERIC: A little future-casting drove my vote for Cabrera. At this very second, he’s not quite a top 100 player, but given his durability and how well his skills have held up, I’m comfortable pushing my ranking a little higher.
MILLER: It’s hard to know exactly where to rank catchers because they’re so different. But it seems to make semse to have seven, eight, or nine. We have nine. The last one should probably rank around here.
ERIC: Easily one of baseball’s least written about superstars. He’s like Rickey with less power and a career half as long.
MILLER: In my “glass half full” days, I think about guys like Santo and Bert Blyleven and think everything is going to be just fine for supporters of Tim Raines. Since it’s 2016, I want everything to happen now. Plus, I’m from the school that any player who deserves it deserves it on the first ballot. Santo is different. He passed away before he got in. As far as justice, it’s been served now. And I think it will for some SABR darlings in the coming years.
ERIC: The sheer size of Frank Thomas stunned me. I first saw him on a highlights reel hitting some monstrous homer, and he looked so tall, so damned broad, and so thick. Just this absolutely massive human being, freakishly packed with muscles. He redefined what a ballplayer could look like. Manute Bol of the NBA gave me the same reaction except that he looked like a giant walking stick rather than a 2001-style monolith. Oh, and Thomas could really hit. But you knew that.
ERIC: At least he gets his due from us. The BBWAA couldn’t be bothered to look beyond his surliness and his Mitchel Report mention to see a great pitcher.
100. Al Simmons
99. Mike Piazza
98. Willie Stargell
97. Pete Alexander
96. Jeff Bagwell
95. Ryne Sandberg
94. Carl Hubbell
93. Felix Hernandez
92. Adrian Beltre
91. Curt Schilling
ERIC: Several of these guys appeared just beyond 100 for us. But in a couple cases we don’t get it. Alex is probably 60–80 spots too low, Stargell about as many too high.
MILLER: I wonder how many of the ESPN contributors have Hall votes and don’t select Schilling. Their list is so heavy on guys who their readers have heard of and guys for whom they happened to find a black and white photo. It’s a complete joke that they rank the fourth or fifth best pitcher ever in the same group as a pitcher (Felix Hernandez) who has only twice ranked in the top-10 in any individual season BBREF’s pitcher WAR.
Check back on Monday for players 90 to 81.
As we continue with our player/manager project today, we review candidates 16-40. If you’ve missed them, check out the primer, where I narrow the list, and next post, where review candidates 41-80. In search of the best combination player and manager ever, we’re going to review 25 guys today. Some were good to great players. Others were good to great managers. However, none were excellent both on the field and in the dugout. So without further ado, here are the next 25 managers on our list.
#40 Lou Piniella (MAPES: 13; ZIMMER: 50; Player Manager Score: 20)
Piniella is the best manager we’ve seen so far on this list who had a playing career of at least 10 MAPES points. He was AL Rookie of the year in 1969, an AL All-Star in 1972, and the owner of two World Series rings. He managed the Yankees, Reds, Mariners, Devil Rays, and Cubs to 1835 wins, good for fourteenth in history. The highlight of his run had to be the 1990 World Series upset of the A’s by his Reds. He also made the playoffs four times in Seattle and twice more in Chicago. And he won three Manager of the Year Awards.
#39 Hank Bauer (MAPES: 25; ZIMMER: 18; Player Manager Score: 21)
Bauer shows more balance than most everyone who has come before him. He was a very solid player and a very solid manager, but great at neither. Bauer played almost his entire career with the Yankees, winning seven rings. That’s most of the reason we think he was better than he really was. He made three All-Star teams and has three seasons of at least 4 WAR, but he wasn’t much to talk about otherwise. His main managerial success came in 1966 when he led the Orioles to the World Series title. Frank Robinson’s triple crown that year didn’t hurt, and the O’s plummeted to 7th place in 1967. Overall, Bauer managed just four full seasons and won 594 games. Still, this overall placing is impressive.
#38 Jimmy Collins (MAPES: 51; ZIMMER: 13; Player Manager Score: 21)
Collins is one of the games great 3B. He was a solid hitter and a wonderful defender. Only Mike Schmidt, Stott Rolen, Adrian Beltre, and Robin Ventura best his numbers in both batting WAR and fielding WAR, and Collins played 300 fewer games than any of them. Managing was less glorious for Collins, as he led only one team, the Boston Americans from 1901-1906. He won the first World Series in 1903 and may have won again in 1904 had one been played. Overall though, just 455 wins means he can’t be placed any higher on this list.
#37 Yogi Berra (MAPES: 60; ZIMMER: 13; Player Manager Score: 21)
While Berra is a bit overrated to me as a player (it’s unlikely he’s among the three or four best catchers ever), he was nonetheless an outstanding player. He won three MVP Awards and finished in the top-4 four more times. On top of that, the guy has ten World Series rings. Ten! In the dugout, he took both the 1964 Yankees and the 1973 Mets to the World Series, losing both. With more than his 484 career wins, he’d be a lot higher on our list.
#36 Ozzie Guillen (MAPES: 19; ZIMMER: 25; Player Manager Score: 22)
Raise your hand if you’re surprised to see Ozzie Guillen here. That’s harmonic mean for you. Guillen is really close to equal in his playing and managing career, so he doesn’t take the huge harmonic mean hit that some unbalanced guys do. He was the 1985 AL Rookie of the Year, and he made three All-Star teams as a White Sox shortstop. As a manager, the fiery Guillen gained some value. In 2005 he led the White Sox to their first World Series championship since 1917. And he won 88 games four times in his seven full seasons in Chicago. Overall, his 747 wins (so far) bring him to 36th on our list.
#35 Bob Lemon (MAPES: 42; ZIMMER: 16; Player Manager Score: 23)
Because he won 20 games on seven occasions and was really popular as a player, Bob Lemon is in the Hall of Fame. He probably shouldn’t be. The seven-time All-Star is without a 6-WAR season and has only two above 4.8. But still, he was one heck of a player compared to most and was a real workhorse for the Indians from 1948-1956. As the result of being a Yankee during the Billy Martin days, he’s also a little overrated as a manager, perhaps. He was in the dugout for three teams over parts of eight years, but he only managed three full campaigns. He had four stints in New York, but none lasted a full season. He managed just 25 games in the 1981 regular season but won a pennant, and he managed just 68 games in the 1978 regular season but won a World Series.
The all-time leader in doubles and the four-time OBP champ might be the most under-appreciated inner circle Hall of Famer. With defense included, his value is quite similar to Ty Cobb’s. Managing was just his side gig, which is all it needed to be to get him here. He won the World Series in 1920, his first full season running the Indians. He had two more second place finishes and 617 total wins. A member of the Hall’s second class in 1937 is the 34th best combination player manager ever.
#33 Don Mattingly (MAPES: 37; ZIMMER: 18; Player Manager Score: 24)
This is a score I expect will go up. After 446 wins in five seasons with the Dodgers, Mattingly is no longer running the show out there, but there aren’t too many guys who don’t get another job after making the playoffs three years in a row. Mattingly is a relatively young man, just 54 right now, and it’s not like back problems will curtail this part of his career. On the field, Donnie Baseball was a heck of a hitter when healthy. The six-time All-Star has a batting title, a ribbie title, and three doubles titles to his credit. And he also won the 1985 AL MVP.
#32 Bucky Harris (MAPES: 17; ZIMMER: 41; Player Manager Score: 24)
This is another mistake we thing the Hall made when electing managers. Yes, he’s seventh in career wins and third when he retired, but he posted a losing record. He’s third in career losses. Yes, he led mediocre teams, mostly the Senators, but it’s not like he got a ton out of them more than a typical manager would. His ZIMMER score is so high because he was a plus manager overall, and for a lot of years. Maybe he’s the Rusty Staub of managing? He also gets a nice bonus from World Series wins in 1924, the first year of his career when he was leading the Senators, and 1947, when he was running the Yankees. As a player, he homered nine times in approaching 5000 at-bats. He got hit by a lot of pitches, drew some walks, and could lay down a bunt, but he’s not a guy you wanted up with a man on first and a couple of outs.
#31 Felipe Alou (MAPES: 33; ZIMMER: 19; Player Manager Score: 24)
I’m not sure if Alou gained more fame as a player or as a manager. He was a three-time All-Star who led the NL in hits a couple of times. And he played seventeen seasons for six teams, so he was at least a little wanted. And he’s the only guy in baseball history to play at least 400 games at first base and at every outfield spot. He found some level of success as a manager too, though he only made the playoffs once in fourteen tries with the Expos and Giants. To be fair, his Expos were leading the NL East when the game shut down in 1994. Still, we can’t count what never happened.
#30 Jimmy Dykes (MAPES: 29; ZIMMER: 21; Player Manager Score: 25)
The first guy to earn 20 points by each of our measures, Dykes was a 22-year infielder for the A’s and White Sox. He wasn’t much with the bat, yet he managed to stick around, probably because of a feel for the game that eventually made him a manager. In that capacity, he never once made the playoffs. He holds the record for most games managed without seeing October at 2962. Still six teams in 21 years thought highly enough of him to give him work. A nice, long career for Dyles makes him the #30 player/manager our list.
#29 Al Dark (MAPES: 35; ZIMMER: 22; Player Manager Score: 27)
“The Swamp Fox”, as he was known, had an interesting career, playing for five teams in fourteen years while making three All-Star teams. It wasn’t until he was 26 that he got a major league job, and he quickly became an impressive offensive shortstop. But shortstops in their 30s begin to regress pretty quickly, which is exactly what Dark did. In 1962 his Giants lost an epic World Series with the Yankees 1-0 in the seventh game when Willie McCovey’s liner was snagged by Bobby Richardson. Perhaps making up for some bad luck, he won the 1974 World Series with the A’s, the last of their dynasty years, after Dick Williams resigned. Overall he won 994 games in thirteen seasons. Not bad.
#28 Mike Hargrove (MAPES: 27; ZIMMER: 28; Player Manager Score: 27)
Hargrove won the AL Rookie of the Year Award in 1974, was an All-Star in 1975, and had a productive career as a singles hitter who could draw walks. His profile overall was really interesting. Only nine players ever posted more walks while compiling fewer hits. He’s Miller Huggins or Roy Thomas 70 years later, which isn’t a bad little player. Of course, we want more power from our DH types. As a manager, he was blessed with some incredible talent while in Cleveland. Once they rounded into form in 1995, they won five straight AL Central titles. And they got to the 1995 and 1997 World Series, losing to the Braves and Marlins respectively. The O’s and M’s took him on after that, but after six straight fourth place finishes for the two clubs, he was fired the next year and is likely done in the dugout.
#27 Pete Rose (MAPES: 60; ZIMMER: 17; Player Manager Score: 28)
Given how many he signs, it’s no wonder that Pete Rose has one of the prettiest autographs in baseball. Also, it’s kind of remarkable how many guys on this list have won the Rookie of the Year Award, as Pete did in the NL in 1963. Though I don’t think I’m likely to say anything new here about Pete Rose, with the help of BBREF’s Play Index, I’ll try. While Pete is 75th all-time in triples, only 14 of the 74 guys ahead of him also hit more than his 160 homers. And only three – Willie Davis, Willie Mays, and George Brett – top Rose in 3B, HR, and SB. I don’t know how much his gambling hurt the Reds in the standings, if it did at all. What I do know is that in each of the four years he both started and ended as Cincy’s manager, the Reds finished second. In the first full year he was gone, the Reds beat the A’s in the World Series.
As a manager, we’re talking about an inner-circle HoMER. Ten World Series and seven titles tell that story. Sure, he had oodles of talent. But winning isn’t just a matter of having talent. Ask Mike Hargrove and his four HoME-level hitters in 1999, for example. Stengel was also the first manager of the New York Mets and retired after 25 years in the dugout and 1905 wins, good for eleventh all-time. Stengel had a bit of value as a player too. He led the AL in OBP in 1914, and he won a ring in 1922. It’s clear, however, that Stengel reaches this height as a manager primarily.
#25 Ned Hanlon (MAPES: 23; ZIMMER: 35; Player Manager Score: 28)
Mainly for the Detroit Wolverines, outfielder Ned Hanlon held his own as a player. He drew more than his share of walks, and he ran the bases very effectively. But Hanlon’s greatness was as a manager. He won pennants with the NL’s Baltimore Orioles from 1894-1896. And he did the same with the Brooklyn Superbas of 1899-1900. Though it’s not part of this equation, the most impressive thing about Hanlon is his legacy. Many of the greatest managers ever played for him, including John McGraw, Miller Huggins, Connie Mack, Hughie Jennings, and Wilbert Robinson.
#24 Red Schoendienst (MAPES: 35; ZIMMER: 24; Player Manager Score: 28)
Some people say that when Red Schoendienst was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1989, it was as a combo candidate. And if you’re going to elect him, that’s the way to do it. A ten-time All-Star at second base, Schoendienst won a SB title, a 3B title, and a H title. His career, while a bit longer, is similar to what we’ve seen so far from Dustin Pedroia. Red was mostly a Cardinal as a player. He was exclusively a Cardinal as a manager. His best season was 1967 when St. Louis won the World Series. He made the playoffs one other time and thrice finished second. Overall I rank him below the Hall level, but Schoendienst’s career deserves celebration.
Schoendienst might have been a combo candidate, but as we move up one in our rankings, we see that none yet have been great as both aspects of their career. Cochrane certainly was a great player, winning the MVP for the A’s in 1928 and for the Tigers in 1934. Overall, he’s one of the ten best catchers ever. He only managed for two full seasons and parts of three others, so perhaps his ranking here is high. On the other hand, he led the Tigers to a pennant in 1934 and to a World Series win in 1935. Almost nobody ever had a peak in the dugout like “Black Mike”.
Not many had more admirable careers than Al Lopez. He’s “only” ninth in games caught right now, but let’s consider who’s ahead of him. His career ended in 1947. Everyone ahead of him played in 1989 or later. No, Lopez wasn’t a great player, though he did make two All-Star teams. What we can assume is that he had a great baseball mind. Otherwise, he wouldn’t likely have been given so much playing time. He displayed that acumen for the game when he was given the chance to manage the Cleveland Indians in 1951. In six years he finished second five times and first once, losing the 1954 World Series to the Giants. From Cleveland, he moved to Chicago where he had five more runner-up finishes. And he took the 1959 team to the Series where they lost to the Dodgers. He had the misfortune of managing teams in the AL when the Yankees were in the midst of their greatest dynasty. Yeah, his was an incredibly admirable career.
If Red Schoendienst can make it to the Hall as a combo candidate, perhaps Hodges can too. Hodges was a very, very good player. No, he’s not at HoME level, but he’s in the conversation. I like neat stats, thought I admit they’re not telling. Only 21 players can top Hodges in runs, ribbies, and Gold Gloves. They’re a who’s who among greats of the last 50 years. Of course, that list also includes Torii Hunter, Gary Gaetti, and Steve Garvey. You can put together a lot of weird lists to make your candidate look great. If we include homers in our calculation, we’re down to eleven guys. Anyway, while lists like this are nice, they’re not a reason someone should make the Hall. But what about managerial greatness too? Hodges led some rough teams in Washington. His best finish in five years was sixth place. Then he got another crappy job with the Mets. But a funny thing happened in 1969. You might call it a miracle. I’m not so sure there’s a spot in Cooperstown for Hodges, but I do know he’s a great combination player/manager.
#20 Fielder Jones (MAPES: 42; ZIMMER: 22; Player Manager Score: 29)
Jones was a turn-of-the-century outfielder who posted only one All-Star type of season. On the other hand, he’s the only ten-time 4-win player among center fielders outside the HoME. Actually, he and Jake Beckley are the only position players with that distinction. His managing career has been similarly forgotten today. But it was pretty good as well. He won 683 games in ten seasons, and he took home the World Series with the 1906 White Sox. Still though, we’re without a candidate who was an excellent player and an excellent manager.
#19 Billy Southworth (MAPES: 20; ZIMMER: 56; Player Manager Score: 30)
And it seems we’re going to have to look beyond candidate #19 to find one. Southworth was mainly an outfielder for five teams over thirteen seasons from 1913-1929. He was a decent player but certainly no star. He was absolutely a star manager though. His thirteen seasons and 1044 wins helped him get to the HoME. But it’s the four World Series appearances and titles with the 1942 and 1944 Cardinals that got him there. Still, I kind of thought this project would offer for us more guys who were stars both as players and as managers.
#18 Frank Robinson (MAPES: 76; ZIMMER: 19; Player Manager Score: 30)
While Al Lopez absolutely had an admiral career, I think I’d trade his for Frank Robinson’s. Robinson is one of the least appreciated superstars ever. As Fred McGriff supporters might say, “He hit 586 home runs when that was still a big deal.” He won the NL Rookie of the Year in 1956, MVP Awards in both leagues, and the 1966 AL triple crown. As you know, he’s also the first African American manager ever and one of the game’s statesmen. He was never once given a good team when he was managing, not with the Indians, Giants, Orioles, or Expos/Nationals. He took over the O’s in the midst of an 0-21 start in 1988. The next year they won 87 games and finished second in the AL East. The 2001 Expos won 68 games and finished fifth in the NL East. The next year Robinson came in, and they finished second. Maybe he was underrated as a manager too. He got jobs where the team needed stability, not when they were ready to win. It’s very possible that Robinson would be close to the top of this list were he just given some playoff-caliber rosters.
Speaking of superstars, it’s no surprise that the best pitcher ever ranks this high. I can’t tell you much that’s new about Johnson, I know that. But it’s remarkable that he averaged 26.5 wins per year in the 1910s. Managerially, he wasn’t a lot more than just another guy. But perhaps he could have had a longer career. He managed only five full seasons. Among those seasons, he finished third three times and second once. He won 90+ games three times. Clearly though, he’s not a star as a player and a manager.
#16 Buck Ewing (MAPES: 66; ZIMMER: 21; Player Manager Score: 32)
It’s hard to try to equate the game in 1890, say, to the game today, but that’s precisely what I try to do with MAPES. And MAPES tells me that Ewing is one of three to six best catchers ever. My adjustments put him at the MVP level four times and the All-Star level six more. As a manager he didn’t do quite as much, though he managed a .553 winning percentage and 489 wins over seven seasons.
I know who the best fifteen combination player/managers are, and I think this is a good place to stop this post since the next guy on our list looks to be the first star both on the field and in the dugout. We’ll talk about him and about the fourteen better combos a week from today.
Last election was a relief for me because after three straight 0-fers we finally put our first manager in the HoME, Miller Huggins. We only have four candidates this election, but since they took home five World Series titles combined it’s not unreasonable to think that we’ll add another manager this election.
Especially when you see who we’re considering.
Two of our candidates are among the top-24 on the all-time list of games managed. And the other two are on our list largely because they took home a World Series title. It’s difficult to compare someone who managed for 33 years with guys who managed for five and six. Luckily we don’t have to do that. We’re looking at a standard of excellence. Just as not every player needs to be the equal of Honus Wagner or Mike Schmidt, for example, not every manager needs to be the equivalent of John McGraw to get into the HoME.
Three of our four candidates this election are Hall of Famers, two of them being elected as managers. Take a look at our short list.
G> WS Flags Yrs From W L % .500 Won Won ===================================================================================== Wilbert Robinson 19 1902-1931 1399 1398 .500 1 0 2 John McGraw 33 1899-1932 2763 1948 .586 815 3 10 Gabby Street 6 1929-1938 365 332 .524 33 1 2 Mickey Cochrane 5 1934-1938 348 250 .582 98 1 2
I think it’s obvious that one of these guys will be elected, but the questions are whether or not anyone else will be and whether or not anyone will get to our second phase. We’ll share results on Friday.
Congratulations to the newest members of the Hall of Miller and Eric. With the inductions of Lou Gehrig, Frankie Frisch, Al Simmons, Goose Goslin, Mickey Cochrane, Charlie Bennett, Monte Ward, and Sherry Magee, our HoME is now populated with 52 of the greatest players in the game’s history. In other words, we’re nearly a quarter of the way through with filling the HoME.
Per our rules, players have to be named on both ballots for induction. Here’s how we voted.
Miller Eric 1 Lou Gehrig Lou Gehrig 2 Frankie Frisch Frankie Frisch 3 Al Simmons Goose Goslin 4 Mickey Cochrane Al Simmons 5 Goose Goslin Mickey Cochrane 6 Pud Galvin Charlie Bennett 7 Monte Ward Elmer Flick 8 Charlie Bennett Wes Ferrell 9 Red Faber Bill Terry 10 Sherry Magee George Sisler 11 Mordecai Brown Vic Willis 12 Bid McPhee Sherry Magee 13 Monte Ward 14 Jim McCormick
Lou Gehrig: A good argument can be made that Gehrig is the best infielder to debut between Rogers Hornsby and Mike Schmidt or perhaps Hornsby and Alex Rodriguez. He was likely the best career first baseman ever to play the game. The Murderers’ Row Yankee owns three of the best six RBI seasons in history and a 1934 triple crown. He won a pair of MVP awards, led the AL in SLG and RBI five times each, and added four runs titles, three home run titles, and a batting title. He was the all-time leader in consecutive games played until passed by Cal Ripken. He was the all-time leader in grand slams until passed by Alex Rodriguez. And whether or not Lou Gehrig actually suffered from Lou Gehrig’s Disease, he’s an easy HoMEr and one of the best players ever.
Frankie Frisch: After a very productive first half of his career with the New York Giants, the “Fordham Flash” was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals with Jimmy Ring for Rogers Hornsby. This was an epic trade. Consider Miguel Cabrera being sent to the Reds for Joey Votto and Homer Bailey. It was bigger than that. And it all came from a missed sign by Frisch and an accompanying berating by manager John McGraw. Frisch was indeed a superstar. He led the league in hits and runs once, and he won three stolen base crowns, the last of which being in his MVP season of 1931. He won two World Series with the Giants and two more with the Cardinals, and after his career ended, he became one of the most influential members of the Hall’s Veterans Committee.
Al Simmons: “Bucketfoot Al” earned his nickname because rather than striding toward the pitcher as he swung, his lead leg moved toward third base. The left fielder and two-time batting champ also led the league in hits twice and runs and ribbies once each. From 1925-1931 he hit .372, and he posted more hits than any righty in AL history until Al Kaline came along. In the World Series, Simmons was very good, hitting .329 over four Series and smacking six homers in just 73 at-bats. One of those homers was in Game Four in 1929. Simmons’ A’s trailed the Cubs 8-0 entering the bottom of the seventh. Simmons homered to lead off the inning and singled later as the A’s scored 10 runs to demoraalize the Cubs and take the win. The A’s pulled off another improbable comeback in the fifth game to close out the Series.
Goose Goslin: Because his only league-leading numbers were a batting title in 1928 and a RBI title four years earlier, you can see why Goslin might get lost in the shuffle of great outfielders. The fact that the Hall didn’t acknowledge him until the Veterans Committee got together in 1968 doesn’t help either. And playing in cavernous Griffith Stadium masked his power for years. Goslin was a very well-rounded player who hit with some thunder, ran pretty well, and played a very good outfield. He may well be baseball’s best outfielder other than Babe Ruth from 1923-1931. That’s a long time to hold such a meaningful designation. As one of the ten best left fielders in history, he’s a pretty easy HoME call.
Mickey Cochrane: The reason Mickey Mantle got his name, “Black Mike” was one of the best catchers ever to don the tools of ignorance. In fact, he’s debatably the best catcher in the first half of the 20th century. Think Joe Mauer if Mauer’s career ended today. As great as Cochrane was, perhaps the two-time MVP could have been even better. At just age 34 and still productive, Cochrane was hit in the head by a Bump Hadley pitch in a 1937 game. The pitch fractured his skull, and he was unconscious for ten days. More than 30 years later, MLB still didn’t require batting helmets. Inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1947, Cochrane easily earns his HoME distinction with the election of 1946.
Charlie Bennett: There seems to be no way to slice it where Bennett isn’t a top-ten catcher. His greatness is often overlooked due to what appears to be a paucity of games played. However, the research on catching conditions in the 19th century supports the position that Bennett played the most physically demanding position in baseball at its most physically challenging time. He was a warrior, with excellent defense, a good bat, and wonderful durability for his position. He was a gifted receiver and mobile fielder and thrower who racked up tremendous defensive value and who hit enough to be a middle-of-the-order hitter. He’s probably the second best catcher before Gabby Hartnett and the best pure catcher of his time.
Monte Ward: A Columbia Law School graduate and one of the champions behind baseball’s first union, the Brotherhood of Professional Base Ball Players, which brought about the Players’ League, Ward was a two-way player, at shortstop and on the mound, the likes of which the game has seldom seen. In 1878, Ward was the third best pitcher in baseball. In 1887, he was the game’s best position player. As a pitcher, he’s pretty much Johnny Podres or Eddie Lopat. As a hitter, we’re talking Cecil Cooper or Tommy Henrich. With the glove, think Ryne Sandberg or Jackie Robinson at second base, and think Alan Trammell or Pee Wee Reese at shortstop. We may well be looking at one of the 50 most valuable defenders as any position. Eric calls him Maury Wills and Alex Fernandez stuck together. And that’s a combination worthy of HoME induction.
Sherry Magee: Though Magee never received more than two votes by the BBWAA in any Hall of Fame election, his two votes here get him into the HoME. An under-recognized force in the deadball NL with a well-rounded game that included a good glove and a great bat, Magee led the NL in runs batted in four times. He had an impressive peak and career value that continues at a respectable level for over a decade. During the course of his career, no NLer other than Honus Wagner produced more value. The relatively early ending of his career hurts him a bit and kept him from generating a career as valuable as Simmons or Goslin. But his play had a similar level of impact.
Each season, some guys are elected, while others receive votes from only one of us. Below we’ll explain our reasons for such votes.
Pud Galvin: Value matters. Being the game’s fifth winningest pitcher and throwing the second most innings ever matter too.
Red Faber: Faber was spectacular for a couple of years. Otherwise he had a long and distinguished career. As far as career WAR among pitchers, he’s a shade ahead of Jim Palmer and Carl Hubbell.
Mordecai Brown: With a great peak during which he just dominated the NL, Brown continues to get a vote here. When I look at ERA+, a park adjusted measure compares a pitcher’s ERA to his league’s, I see Pete Alexander, Randy Johnson, and Cy Young all trail Brown.
Bid McPhee: As the one of the ultimate low and long players, it’s no surprise to see a vote for McPhee on this side of the HoME before the other. He was a brilliant defender with a competent bat. Though shaped quite differently, his value is pretty similar to Craig Biggio’s.
Elmer Flick: A solid top-dozen right fielder with no weakness in his game, until he couldn’t play anymore due to illness. He was the premier RF in the game during his career, even though Willie Keeler and Sam Crawford got more column inches.
Wes Ferrell: I believe everything counts, and pitcher batting is no exception. Ferrell, however, needs relatively little of it. Yes, he’s probably the best hitting pitcher ever, but he was a damn good hurler too. His bat puts him over the line easily and propels him into the middle-third of the HoME’s pitching ranks.
Bill Terry and George Sisler: It’s hard to talk about one and not the other. They are ultimately short-career peak/prime 1Bs with about the same overall value whose careers overlapped and who were both famous for batting .400. Sisler was probably the more talented player overall, but Terry owns the better total career package and played during the long stretch when the NL was a really tough league to stand out in. The little things go Terry’s way, so I have him above Sisler in this battle of near equals.
Vic Willis: Willis is eminently qualified based on the standard we’ve already elected toward. He’s in the thick of the group that includes Stan Coveleski, Joe McGinnity, and Rube Waddell already: short-medium length careers with a few excellent peak seasons and not all that much else.
Jim McCormick: See Willis above. McCormick currently appears to me to be the 1880s version of that kind of pitcher.
Please visit our Honorees page to see their plaques and to see more information about the HoME and those who have been elected.
The Hall of Miller and Eric is a collaborative process. It has to be. And per our rules, we must select 209 players for induction by the tie we complete our 2013 election. Those same rules tell us that nobody gets inducted without a vote from both of us. Thus, players who get votes from one of us need tremendous consideration from the other. Otherwise we’re going to run into quite a predicament when we get to our last few elections.
Eric has voted for three players – George Wright, Paul Hines, and Charlie Bennett in each of our six elections. And while I haven’t voted for any of them yet, I’ve maintained from the start that George Wright is a very strong candidate who will very likely receive my vote one day. And I’ve recently decided that there’s about a 70% chance I vote for either Paul Hines or center field contemporary Pete Browning at some point. But I’ve never given serious consideration to Eric’s third solo nominee, Charlie Bennett.
Charlie Bennett was a catcher whose career lasted 15 years in the National League (1878, 1880-1893). Unlike many catchers of the period, Bennett was a true backstop, playing 88% of his innings behind the plate. In order to get a better grasp on Bennett and see what Eric’s votes have been all about, I’m going to run the durable catcher through our Saberhagen List to see if anything comes to the surface for me.
Full disclosure, I go into this exercise wanting to vote for Charlie Bennett. Either that or I hope my results tell Eric that he should stop doing so. Let’s see what happens!
1. How many All-Star-type seasons did he have?
One way to measure this is to look at his WAR compared to other NL catchers each year of his career. Since there were never more than eight teams in the NL until his last two seasons, he’d have to lead catchers in WAR or be pretty darn close to have an All-Star type season. For the last two, first or second would be fine.
1881: 1st, by a good margin
1882: 1st, by a good margin
1883: 1st, toss-up between him and Buck Ewing
1888: 3rd, very close to the top spot
It seems clear that Bennett played at an All-Star level in 1881, 1882, 1885, and 1886. He certainly could have been called the best catcher in the game in 1883 and 1888 too.
2. How many MVP-type seasons did he have?
For a catcher, this is trickier than for most players. Catcher is a tough position to play today, and it was just brutal 120 years ago. It was the seventh year of Bennett’s career before chest protectors came into use. And it wasn’t until 1891, when Bennett had only three more years to play, that large padded mitts were allowed. So we should be more lenient for Bennett than for some others. We’ll consider all of the times he was in the top-10 in the NL in WAR for position players.
1881: 2nd, trailing Cap Anson by 1.6 WAR
1882: 6th, trailing Dan Brouthers by 1.8 WAR
1883: 3rd, trailing Dan Brouthers by .9 WAR
1885: 5th, trailing Roger Connor by 3.7 WAR
By this measure, we can only consider three seasons. He just wasn’t close to Connor in 1885. For the others, let’s look at DRA so we can get a grasp of Bennett’s contribution behind the plate. He wasn’t a very good catcher in 1881. He was good in 1882, but perhaps not enough to jump past five players. In 1883, however, he was very good. I can see a reasonable case that he was the best player in the game that year.
3. Was he a good enough player that he could continue to play regularly after passing his prime?
There’s lots of gray here. Depending on how one views his prime, the case could be made that he hung on for as many as five or as few as two seasons after that period ended. A more fair measure for Bennett is to say that he had a long and productive career for a 19th century catcher.
4. Are his most comparable players in the HoME?
It’s still pretty early in our process for this question. With the caveat that it’s a sub-optimal measure, there are only three catchers in Bennett’s era within 15 WAR of his 39.1. Buck Ewing has beats him with 47.7, and he’s already in the HoME. Jack Clements has 32.0, and we continue to review his candidacy without either of us voting for him yet. The same can be said of Deacon McGuire and his 31.1 WAR.
But the comparison to Ewing might sell Bennett short some. Ewing caught less than half the time. Bennett, as mentioned above, was behind the plate 88% of the time. And while Clements and McGuire caught a similar number of games to Bennett, neither was as talented with the bat or the glove.
I’m not sure Charlie Bennett has any other truly comparable players in the history of baseball.
5. Does the player’s career meet the HoME’s standards?
I suppose he’d bring the average value of the HoME down, but there are a lot of reasons I don’t care about that.
6. Was he ever the best player in baseball at his position? Or in his league?
When running Jimmy Collins through Saberhagen not long ago, Eric brought forth the idea of looking at a three-year run as a sign of positional dominance. Let’s see how Charlie Bennett fares by this measure.
• 1878¬-1880: 9th
• 1879-1881: 5th
• 1880-1882: 1st
• 1881-1883: 1st
• 1882-1884: 1st
• 1883-1885: 1st (dead heat with Buck Ewing)
• 1884-1886: 1st
• 1885-1887: 1st
• 1886-1888: 3rd (King Kelly and Ewing)
• 1887-1889: 3rd (Ewing and Fred Carroll)
• 1888-1890: 5th
• 1889-1891: 10th
• 1890-1892: 10th
• 1891-1893: 11th
It could be argued that this is pretty compelling stuff. For six consecutive three-year periods, Bennett was the best catcher in baseball. Let’s not get too excited though – there were only seven other starting catchers.
7. Did he ever have a reasonable case for being called the best player in baseball? Or in his league?
From 1881-1883, he notched 13.3 WAR compared 13.8 for Dan Brouthers. Given the difficulty of catching, one could argue that Bennett was the game’s best player for that period. Perhaps one should argue that.
8. Is there any evidence to suggest that the player was significantly better or worse than is suggested by his statistics?
Here we have to bring up his position again. There’s no doubt that squatting, catching, and being bombarded by baseballs took away from his hitting ability.
9. Did he have a positive impact on pennant races and in post-season series?
Through 1885, Bennett played on only mediocre to terrible teams. His Detroit Wolverines were a strong team in 1886, but they lost out to the Chicago White Stockings. In 1887, Wolverines won the NL title and beat the American Association’s St. Louis Browns 10 games to 5 in what was the exhibition equivalent of the World Series. Bennett hit .262/.311/.357 on a team that hit .243/.275/.326. He was fine.
By 1891, Bennett was a member of the Boston Beaneaters, winners of the NL pennant. There was no post season that year. Even if there had been, Bennett’s career was winding down. He wasn’t one of his team’s best players. By the time the Beaneaters won the NL pennant in 1892, Bennett wasn’t a very good player. In the Championship Series against the NL’s second best team, the Cleveland Spiders, Bennett was a back-up who came to the plate just seven times during Boston’s 5-0-1 victory, though he did homer. Boston won again in 1893, Bennett’s final season, but again there was no post-season.
Bennett’s impact on pennant races and post-season series is negligible.
10. Is he the best eligible player at his position not in the HoME?
Maybe. Or maybe it’s the newly eligible Roger Bresnahan. I think I prefer Bennett, though I haven’t yet given it a lot of thought. I’m quite confident Eric prefers Bennett, calling him the second best catcher before Gabby Hartnett.
11. Is he the best eligible candidate not in the HoME?
I don’t think so. Right now, I prefer Monte Ward.
At no point has Eric ranked him the best among those eligible, always ranking George Wright, Paul Hines, or both higher.
Though the 1931 class is generally weak, I believe Home Run Baker, at least, is also a better candidate.
Okay, we’ve now answered all of the questions. And I’m not yet compelled to vote for our man Bennett. But I have three more questions I want to answer first. If I can answer any of these in the affirmative, I might be forced to change my mind.
1. Is his position within his era grossly underrepresented in the HoME?
No, it’s not. We’ve elected a 19th century catcher in Buck Ewing. There would be nothing wrong with having a second, but we certainly don’t need one.
2. Is his era, in general, grossly underrepresented in the HoME?
No, it’s not at all. We have nineteen guys from the 19th century in the HoME right now, which I think is an underrepresentation but not a gross underrepresentation. Should we get another 180 or so players into the HoME without giving that honor to another 19th century guy, there might be a problem. Right now, I’m comfortable with the era’s representation.
3. Is his position, in general, grossly underrepresented in the HoME? No, it’s not at this moment. We’ve elected Buck Ewing from his era and nobody yet from the first quarter of the 20th century. That omission isn’t necessarily a bad thing. However, unless there’s much more love for Roger Bresnahan or Ray Schalk than I’m anticipating, we’re not going to elect another catcher until Mickey Cochrane comes up in 1946 (Gabby Hartnett began his career earlier but ended it later, so he’s not eligible until 1951). While I see no problem today, I think there may be an issue as we move forward.
Based on Eric’s voting record and his stated reason for putting Bennett on his ballot, he’s already noticed this catcher problem. I don’t want to turn a blind eye to it, nor do I want to vote for someone about whom I’m just not certain.
This exercise has not convinced me to vote for Charlie Bennett in 1931. It has, however, moved me to believe there’s a better than 50% chance I’ll be compelled to vote for him at some point. I expect that I’ll continue to consider Bennett for many, many elections.