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Archive for the tag “Hank Aaron”

Who Is the Average Hall of Fame Player?

Virtually every conversation about the Baseball Hall of Fame includes some version of the following argument:

“We shouldn’t water down the Hall of Fame.  It should only be reserved for the best of the best.”

The implication being, of course, that every pitcher on the ballot needs to compare favorably to Tom Seaver, Walter Johnson, and Sandy Koufax.  The same, of course, is true of every position player on the ballot.  Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, and Ted Williams are the immortals that some fans believe our most recent ballot hopefuls need to measure up to in order to merit serious consideration for being inducted into the Hall of Fame.

But how realistic and accurate is that assessment?  What is a “real” Hall of Fame-caliber player?  When we’re discussing the careers of Biggio, Bagwell, Thomas, Piazza, Walker, etc., (among the position players on the ballot), what is a fair and honest standard to hold them to in order to reward them with a plaque in Cooperstown?

Fortunately, Baseball-Reference has a page that actually sheds some light on these questions.  Here are the statistics for a typical, average position player already in the Hall of Fame:

Games:  2,134, Plate Appearances:  8,996, At Bats:  7,917, Hits:  2,397, Doubles:  409, Triples:  110

Home Runs:  209, Runs Scored:  1,321, RBI:  1,212, Stolen Bases:  228, Walks:  889, Strikeouts:  728

Triple Slash Line:  .303 / .376 / .462,  OPS:  .837  WAR:  69

I did a little research to see if I could find one player in baseball history who came closest to approximating those stats over the course of his career.  While there was no one player that matched perfectly, of course, there were a few who came relatively close.  For example, here’s Player A:

Games:  2,076, Plate Appearances:  9,053, At Bats:  7,869, Hits:  2,336, Doubles:  449, Triples:  55

Home Runs:  287, Runs Scored:  1,366, RBI:  1,257, Stolen Bases:  147, Walks:  1,069, Strikeouts:  1,212

Triple Slash Line:  .297 / .381 / .477,   OPS:  .858  WAR:  49.5 (But Offensive WAR:  62.7).

As you can see, Player A had a little more power, and a little less speed than your “average” HOF player.  But overall, this player is a pretty good comp.  Let’s try another.  Here’s Player B:

Games:  1,976, Plate Appearances:  8,283, At Bats:  7,173, Hits:  2,176, Doubles:  440, Triples:  47

Home Runs:  284, Runs Scored:  1,186, RBI:  1,205, Stolen Bases:  67, Walks:  937, Strikeouts:  1,190

Triple Slash Line:  .303 / .384 / .497,  OPS:  .880  WAR:  56.2

Player B’s batting average is right on the money, and his on-base percentage is close.  Again, a little more power and less speed than the average HOF’er.   One last comp:  Player C 

Games:  2,380, Plate Appearances:  9,086, At Bats:  7,946, Hits:  2,383, Doubles:  413, Triples:  148

Home Runs:  169, Runs Scored:  1,247, RBI:  1,304, Stolen Bases:  71, Walks:  1,018, Strikeouts:  538

Triple Slash Line:  .300 / .382 / .453,  OPS:  .834  WAR:  55.1

Player C’s Triple Slash Line is very close to the average HOF’er, as are his hits, doubles and triples.  The WAR is a little low, but the rest of the profile matches up pretty well with our hypothetically average Hall of Famer.

Which of the three do you like best?

O.K., I wasn’t being completely fair.  Of the three players I analyzed, only Player C is actually in the Hall of Fame. Player C is Enos Slaughter, inducted into The Hall in 1985.

Working backward, Player B is Will Clark, and Player A is Bernie Williams.  In other words, a typical Hall of Fame-caliber player isn’t necessarily even in the Hall of Fame.

As you can see, then, although many baseball fans feel protective of the Hall of Fame, and don’t want it to be “watered down” by inducting “unworthy” players, the truth is, the Hall of Fame doesn’t require protection from any of us.

There is little danger that any of the players on the current ballot who might conceivably be inducted would, in any objective way, lower the standards of the Hall of Fame as it actually exists.  If anything, the majority of the players on this year’s Hall of Fame ballot are, by historical standards, overqualified.*

Simply put, this is not just Hank Aaron’s Hall of Fame.  It is Enos Slaughter’s Hall of Fame as well.**

And there’s nothing wrong with that.

*You will find that this is true, even if you decide to break the list down position by position.

**It may also some day be Carlos Beltran’s Hall of Fame.  Though his stats are also pretty close to the historical averages, I didn’t include him because he is still currently active.

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Baseball’s Surprising Stats: Stan Musial

This is the tenth installment of my series, “Baseball’s Surprising Stats.”  If you are interested in revisiting any of the first nine, you’ll find links to each of them under Recent Posts over to the right.

The greatest players tend to be the ones who are most consistently excellent over time.

From 1956 to 1969, for example, Hank Aaron never accumulated less than 6.6 WAR in any season.  Willie Mays scored at least 99 runs in every season from 1954 to 1966.  Pitcher Warren Spahn had thirteen 20-win seasons during the period 1947-63.

Stan Musial was another one of those remarkably consistent players.

English: St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Famer as ...

English: St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Famer as he was depicted on his 1953 Bowman baseball trading card. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There are several different ways to measure Musial’s consistency.  For example, Musial scored at least 100 runs in every season from 1943-54.  He also drove in at least 90 runs for 13 straight years, from 1944-57.  Taking a look at OPS, he never dipped below .900 for 15 consecutive years, from 1943-58.

This remarkably consistent excellence begs the question, “What was the worst season of Stan Musial’s career?

I decided I would use OPS+ as my means of measurement.  This statistic combines Musial’s annual on-base percentage plus his slugging percentage, adjusted for league and park factors.  An OPS+ of 100 is exactly average (as with an I.Q. score.)

Taking a look at Musial’s annual OPS+ from his early 20’s to his late 30’s renewed my appreciation for his greatness.  He led the N.L. in OPS+ six times in his career, topping out at an astounding score of 200 in 1948.

So in which season did Musial post his lowest OPS+?  Tossing out those seasons after he was already 38-years old,  Musial’s worst year was 1947 when he posted an OPS+ of “only” 134.  For 16 consecutive seasons, then, his OPS+ was at least 134, and was usually considerably better.

So how “bad” is an OPS+ of 134?

Derek Jeter has topped OPS+ of 134 just once in his career, back in 1999.

Hall of Famer Lou Brock NEVER ONCE reached an OPS+ of 134 in his 19-year career in a season in which he accumulated at least 500 plate appearances.

Roger Maris topped 134 OPS+ twice, in each of his two MVP seasons.

The immortal Cal Ripkin, Jr. reached that level just three times, and never once past age 30 in a full season.

English: An image of Hall of Fame Major League...

English: An image of Hall of Fame Major League Baseball player Stan Musial. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And remember folks, we’re not talking about Musial’s average season.  We’re talking about his worst season.

Recent Hall of Fame inductee Andre Dawson met or exceeded 134 OPS+ just five times, topping 140 just twice.

Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski, a remarkably consistent player in his own right, garnered an OPS+ of 134 or better eight times, just half the number Musial claimed in his career.

Over the years, numbers like 500 homers, 3,000 hits and a .300 career batting average have become de facto (for better or worse) benchmarks by which a player’s Hall of Fame worthiness is measured.

At some point, though, a player will come along who will exceed one or two of those marks who will probably not be a worthy candidate for the Hall of Fame.

Dave Kingman, for example, came within 58 home runs when he reluctantly retired after the 1986 season, during which he slugged 35 homers.  If some G.M. had bothered to sign him, Kingman could have reached 500 home runs in another season and a half.

But as anyone who ever saw Kingman play can attest, he was decidedly not Hall of Fame worthy.

Harold Baines finished his career just 134 hits away from the “magic” 3,000 hit mark.  Baines was a  fine player, and there are worse players in The Hall, but Baines was never truly a Hall of Fame-worthy candidate.  His career WAR, for example, was just 34.0; Musial’s was 123.4.

The point is, there are players who, due to arbitrary and context-less standards, can be considered pretenders to Hall worthiness.

Then there are the serious Hall of Fame players, exemplified well by Stan Musial, who, in their worst seasons are better than the vast majority of other players in all but their very best seasons.

Let me leave you with one final stat regarding Stan Musial.  In his 22-year career, he accumulated 3,630 hits.  1,815 of those hits were made on the road, and the other 1,815 hits were made at home.  You can’t get any more consistently excellent than that.

Baseball’s Surprising Stats: Hank Aaron

This is the eighth installment of my series, “Baseball’s Surprising Stats.”  Here are links to the first seven parts:  Babe Ruth, Cy Young, Joe Jackson, Roger Maris, Pete Rose, Ty Cobb, and Pedro Martinez.

When you think of Hank Aaron, what comes to mind?  Is it the number 714?  Or perhaps 755?  Is it that you still consider him to be the “true” home run king of all-time (Barry Bonds be damned?)  Or on a more personal level, is it the stoic demeanor he displayed in the face of the bitter racism he faced during his daily assault on Babe Ruth’s career home run mark?

English: Milwaukee Braves outfielder and Hall ...

English: Milwaukee Braves outfielder and Hall of Famer Hank Aaron in a 1960 issue of Baseball Digest. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some players are linked forever to one particular season:  Roger Maris in ’61 comes to mind.    Hamerin’ Hank was such a fine, consistent hitter that few people could even tell you which of his seasons was his best.  He won his only MVP award in 1957, but played well enough in several seasons to have won half a dozen more.

But it his home runs that have made him famous.

I was aware that although he broke Ruth’s career home run record, Aaron never reached the 50 homer plateau in any particular season.  That led me to ask the following question:  What was Hank Aaron’s best single-season home run total?

I also thought it might be interesting to compare his career high with some other notable sluggers, minus the obvious ones such as Ruth, Maris, McGwire, Sosa, and Bonds.

It turns out that Aaron’s single-season high for home runs didn’t occur until 1971, when Aaron was already 37-years old.  He slugged 47 that year, good for second place in the N.L. (Willie Stargell hit 48.)

But what struck me as remarkable about this total is that Aaron missed 22 games that year due to injuries.  In ’71, Aaron led the N.L. in slugging percentage (.669), OPS (1.079) and OPS+ (194!)

Here’s something else I thought was interesting about Aaron’s annual home run totals.  Look at his mean, median and mode numbers as far as home runs are concerned:

Mean – 37 (per 162 games)

Median – 36 (if you throw out his final season in which he played only 85 games.)

Mode – 44

So Aaron’s mean and median numbers are remarkably consistent, but he was more likely to hit exactly 44 homers in a season than any other particular number.  In the first three of those 44-home run seasons, by the way, Aaron led the league in home runs.

English: Hank Aaron, former US Baseball player...

English: Hank Aaron, former US Baseball player who set a new record of 755 homeruns, during a visit to the White House on August 15, 1978. Cropped from the source. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now take a look at the number of seasons Aaron reached a particular home run plateau:

40+ home run seasons:  8

30+ home run seasons: 7

20+ home run seasons: 5

Fewer than 20 in a season: 3

For the vast majority of players who have ever lived, to the extent that they could even be represented on a list such as this, you would probably find the opposite result: More 20-homer seasons, then fewer 30-homer years, fewer still 40-homer seasons, and perhaps a season or two reaching the 50 mark.

Here’s Willie Mays, for example:

50+ home run seasons:  2

40+ home run seasons:  4

30+ home runs seasons:  5

20+ home run seasons:  6

Fewer than 20 homers in a season:  4

While his top totals are higher than Aaron’s, his home run pyramid, if you will, is basically inverted; fewer seasons at each succeeding home run level.

Many players have hit more homers in a single season than Hank Aaron.  The list includes Dave Kingman, George Foster, Cecil Fielder, Brady Anderson, Greg Vaughn, Luis Gonzalez, Shawn Green and many others.  Troy Glaus matched Aaron with a career high 47-home runs in the year 2000.

Yet for year-to-year home run consistency at the highest caliber, however, few players in history could match Hank Aaron’s annual efforts.

Keep in mind, too, that Aaron did not play in the best hitter’s era in baseball history, he had to play night games, which did not exist until 1935, and, unlike the sluggers in the pre-Jackie Robinson days, Aaron obviously played in an integrated league facing stiffer competition.

For each of these reasons, then, if you are asked what comes to mind when you hear the name Hank Aaron, and you should reply, ” Home Run King,” no one can reasonably assail your choice.

Position Players’ WAR Analysis: The First Five Years

A couple of months ago, I did a post on Pitching WAR Analysis:  The First Seven Years. I chose seven as the magic number because this often represents the entire first half of many pitchers’ careers, and because it sometimes takes pitchers several years to fully harness their talent.

Ty Cobb safe at third after making a triple, 8...

Ty Cobb safe at third after making a triple, 8/16/[19]24. 1 negative : glass ; 4 x 5 in. or smaller. This is a cropped version of File:Ty Cobb sliding2.jpg (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now we turn to Position Players’ War.  This time I chose to focus only on the first five years of various players’ careers.  I am of the opinion that although many hitters develop slowly, hitters often arrive a bit more fully formed than pitchers.

Also, with the recent call-up of Nationals outielder Bryce Harper, of whom many people are already predicting a Hall of Fame career, it is instructive to look at other players in their extreme youth to gauge whether or not it is useful to begin making those sorts of predictions so soon.

The list of 50 players that follows is not by any means meant to be some sort of comprehensive overview of baseball history.  It is merely a snapshot of 50 players who went on to have significant, if not necessarily Hall of Fame worthy, careers.

New York Yankees centerfielder and Hall of Famer .

New York Yankees centerfielder and Hall of Famer . (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I think you will be, as I was, surprised where some of these players rank in the early part of their respective careers.  I left out Babe Ruth, by the way, because he tends to skew all lists in a way that makes almost all other players appear to be irrelevant pretenders.

1)  Ted Williams – 43.3

2)  Eddie Collins – 42.7

3)  Ty Cobb – 42.2

4)  Mickey Mantle – 38.3

5)  Willie Mays – 38.1

6)  Alex Rodriguez – 37.4

7)  Tris Speaker – 37.0

8)  Lou Gehrig – 36.5

9)  Don Mattingly – 36.0

10) Stan Musial – 35.8

11) Albert Pujols – 35.0

11) Mike Schmidt – 35.0

13) Wade Boggs – 34.1

14) Cal Ripkin – 33.7

15) Rogers Hornsby – 33.6

16) Nomar Garciaparra – 33.2

17) Jimmie Foxx – 32.8

18) Joe Jackson – 32.7

18) Jackie Robinson – 32.7

20) Joe DiMaggio – 32.6

21) Johnny Bench – 31.0

21) Barry Bonds – 31.0

23) Dick Allen – 30.4

24) Bobby Bonds – 30.2

24) Frank Thomas – 30.2

26) Johnny Mize – 29.4

26) Dave Parker – 29.4

28) Ralph Kiner – 29.0

29) Andruw Jones – 28.8

30) Ken Griffey, Jr. – 28.7

31) Vada Pinson – 28.6

32) Hank Aaron – 28.3

33) Frank Robinson – 28.0

34) Sal Bando – 27.8

35) Reggie Jackson – 27.2

36) Duke Snider – 27.1

36) Honus Wagner – 27.1

38) Derek Jeter – 27.0

39) Jim Fregosi – 26.9

39) Al Kaline – 26.9

41) Cesar Cedeno – 26.6

42) George Brett – 26.3

43) Freddy Lynn – 25.1

44) Tony Oliva – 24.9

45) Bobby Murcer – 24.7

46) Chipper Jones – 24.6

47) Reggie Smith – 23.8

48) Jim Rice – 22.7

49) Robin Yount – 11.9

50) Roberto Clemente – 9.2

No real surprises among the top five, though a lot of people forget how good Eddie Collins was.  I like that Mantle and Mays are listed so closely together, since they’ve always been linked so closely in the imaginations of baseball fans.

[Eddie Collins, Philadelphia, AL (baseball)] (LOC)

[Eddie Collins, Philadelphia, AL (baseball)] (LOC) (Photo credit: The Library of Congress)

A-Rod’s listed WAR was compiled entirely in Seattle through his age 24 season.  It is highly unlikely he was using PED’s at that point.  Whether we like him or not, he has always been a legitimately great baseball player.

Clearly, Don Mattingly was on his way to being the next Lou Gehrig before his back problems struck.  Pujols sandwiched between Musial and Schmidt just feels right.  Who was the best Cardinals player ever?  I’ll take Musial by a hair over Pujols.

Look at the infielders listed 13-16.  Nomar was right there with Boggs, Ripkin and Hornsby through his age 28 season, then a wrist injury after his age 29 season reduced him to a shell of his former self.  After his age 28 season, he would accumulate just 9.0 additional WAR over the rest of his career.

Joe Jackson and Jackie Robinson, tied for 18th, are certainly two of the top five written about baseball players of the 20th century.  Robinson arrived, fully formed, in the Majors at age 28.  Therefore, it is highly likely that he would have accumulated significant additional WAR for his career had he broken in at a more typical 22 or 23 years of age.

Joe Jackson, on the other hand, certainly lost some additional career WAR at the end of his career.  Banned from baseball at age 32, his final season in 1920 (not 1919, as some people believe), was one of his finest.  There’s no reason to think  he wouldn’t have added significantly to his career WAR total had he played an additional 3-5 years.

Interesting how close Barry and his father, Bobby, were through their first five seasons.

Look at how close Dave Parker was to Johnny Mize.  Parker could have been great if he’d taken the game more seriously in the early ’80’s.

An image of Major League Baseball Hall of Fame...

An image of Major League Baseball Hall of Fame first baseman Johnny Mize. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you had to pick either Andruw Jones or Ken Griffey, Jr. through their first five seasons, as you can see, it would have been a legitimate toss-up.

If you had to pick between Vada Pinson, Hank Aaron or Frank Robinson after just five seasons of each of their careers, are you sure you would have picked Aaron?  Pinson was a special player through age 26, then merely a decent player after that.

Look at Sal Bando!  He comes in ahead of his flashier teammate Reggie Jackson, and also ahead of fellow third basemen George Brett and Chipper Jones over their five initial seasons.

Back in the 1950’s, it was common to hear people speak of Willie, Mickey and The Duke.  But as you can see through their first five seasons (and this holds true for the most part over the rest of their careers,) although Duke Snider was a very fine ballplayer, he was never really in the same class as his fellow New York center fielders.

Would you have guessed that, through their first five seasons, shortstops Honus Wagner, Derek Jeter and Jim Fregosi were just about equally valuable?

They were each highly productive players from the beginning of their careers.  Wagner is probably one of the top ten players of all-time.  Jeter, of course, has enjoyed a Hall of Fame caliber career.  Fregosi, on the other hand, was pretty much done as a useful player at age 28, after which, of course, the Mets decided to trade away Nolan Ryan to obtain him.  Nice job, guys.

Once upon a time, Cesar Cedeno was a very fine baseball player.

When I was a kid, I thought Freddy Lynn was the greatest thing since Shake a Pudd’n.

Before the Red Sox had Jim Rice, there was Reggie Smith.  I am convinced that if they had kept Smith, he would have gone on into the Hall of Fame.  He was a better all around player than Rice, and he hit into fewer double plays.

O.K., so what’s up with Robin Yount and Roberto Clemente?  Their combined WAR for their first five years each adds up to just barely over 20.0.  Were they overrated?  How did they each manage to recover from such inauspicious debuts to go on to Hall of Fame careers?

Yount broke into the Majors at age 18, clearly before he was ready.  He spent the better part of the 1970’s just learning his craft.  But for the next five seasons, beginning in 1980, he accumulated another 34.7 WAR and won an MVP award.  Those were his age 24-28 seasons.  He won another MVP award in 1989, and finished his career with a HOF worthy 72.0 WAR.

As for Clemente, he, too, just wasn’t quite ready when he was brought up at age 20.  By age 26, however, he was ready to dominate, and dominate he did, winning a Gold Glove each of the next dozen seasons, winning an MVP award (and a World Series ring in ’71), and he finished his career with an outstanding 91 WAR.  Clearly, he was a late bloomer.

So, will Bryce Harper, only 19-years old, follow the career path of a Yount or a Clemente, or will he, alternatively, be the next Ty Cobb or Mickey Mantle?  A third possibility, which none of us hope for, is the Cesar Cedeno / Vada Pinson / Nomar Garciaparra career path.

Generally speaking, if he can accumulate at least 35 WAR in his first five years, he is probably on his way to a HOF career.  So let’s check back in after the 2016 season, and we’ll see how Harper’s career is progressing.

I’ll be waiting here, so don’t be late.

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