Baseball postsFriday August 28, 2015
WAR's Catcher Problem, Cont.
I wrote about this a few months ago when I noticed that WAR ranked 3.5 years of Mike Trout higher than 12 years of Yadier Molina. I also noticed that the top WAR ranking for any catcher in baseball history (Johnny Bench, yo) was 48th. Seemed off. Seemed wrong.
I finally decided to run the numbers to see if WAR undervalued any other position. Here's Baseball Reference's tops at each. Excuse the lack of baseball diamond, but I couldn't find a good writable source online:
Initially, the corners are a bit undervalued but it's still mostly the backstop. In fact, before we get the best catcher in baseball history, we get the following:
- 7 first basemen
- 6 second basemen
- 7 shortstops
- 8 third basemen
- 19 outfielders
And if you add in pitchers?
- 27 pitchers
Meaning instead of the best catcher in baseball history being the 48th best player in baseball history, which is bad enough, he's actually the 75th. Every other position has at least six representatives before Johnny Bench is called onto the field. This, even though catcher is generally regarded as the toughest position in baseball.
FanGraphs' version of WAR, on their clunky site, isn't much better. It has Bench as the 42nd-best position player. I can't even calculate it with pitchers.
Thoughts, baseball fans?
How Long Has It Been Since Your MLB Team Made the Postseason?
Here's a chart detailing how long it's been since each Major League team has been to the postseason, along with (highlighted in green) who would go this year if the season ended today:
I'm rooting for the Jays, of course, and not only because I'm an inveterate Yankees hater. It's just good to see new teams in October.
Once that happens, of course, it means my Seattle Mariners would not only be one of two franchises to never get to the World Series (Expos/Nats), but we would have the longest postseason drought of any MLB team. M's fans knew hope at the beginning of this season, but it's been back to gallows humor ever since.
The Rise of Ty Cobb and the Fall of Ron Shelton
Can you rehabiliate the reputation of one man without tarnishing the rep of someone else? Here's an excerpt from Charles Leerhsen's bio, “Ty Cobb: A Terrible Beauty”:
“It is well known that Ty Cobb may have killed as many as three people,” Ron Shelton, the director of the 1994 movie Cobb, told me in the course of an email conversation. Really? Who were his victims? What were his motives? When did these crimes happen? Shelton declined to say, beyond repeating “All this is well known.” He was more forthcoming, though, about a squirm-inducing scene in his film in which Tommy Lee Jones, playing the sickly old Cobb, attempts to rape a cigarette girl at a Nevada casino but fails because of impotence. “What was that based on?” I asked. “That actually was not in the original screenplay,” he said—proudly, I thought. “That is something that Al and I came up with during the shoot. It felt like the sort of thing that Cobb might do.” “Al” of course was Al Stump, upon whose True story the movie was based, and who served as a consultant during the shoot and even made a cameo appearance. His first and last movie role, it would turn out. He died a few months later.
Here's my review of “Cobb.” Back then, I thought it was a bad movie about a bad man. If Leerhsen is correct, and Stump made up most of the bad things he said Cobb did? And Shelton helped him along per the above? It just dropped down even further on my list.
How Two Men Connect the Battle of Fredericksburg with Today
The following quote is from Charles Leerhsen's biography “Ty Cobb: A Terrible Beauty.” I'm at the point in the book shortly after Ty Cobb is besmirched in a 1926 betting scandal on a 1919 baseball game, and thus forced out as player-manager of the Detroit Tigers, the only team he'd ever known, and shortly before he would play two years for Connie Mack's Philadelphia Athletics, where he would hit .357 and .323 (w/OPSes of .931 and .819), before retiring for good after the '28 season.
This is the quote:
Connie Mack, who was born a few days after the Battle of Fredericksburg and who would live long enough to manage a game called by Vin Scully, had already been around a long time at that point.
I like these throwaways from Leerhsen that bend the mind a bit. Mack was Mr. Longevity as a baseball manager just as Scully was in the broadcast booth. Both exuded/exude class.
Mack was born in 1862, played professional baseball for 10 years (1886-1896), then managed the A's from 1901 to 1950. He died six years later at the age of 93. Essentially he managed from before the Wright Bros. to after breaking the sound barrier; from cannonballs to the atom bomb.
Scully, meanwhile, was born in 1927 and began broadcasting Dodgers games in 1950 when they were in Brooklyn. He's still doing so 65 years later.
But wait. Dodgers are NL, A's AL. Did Scully announce a game managed by Connie Mack?
Yes. Here's what he told Mariners' announcer Rick Rizzs about the first game he announced:
I think the very first one was an exhibition game and we were playing the Philadelphia Athletics and the manager that year was Connie Mack. Now the next year Jimmy Dykes became the official manager but my first broadcast was with the A's in Vero Beach with Mr. Mack right there in the black suit, and the celluloid collar, and the straw hat. I remember in that game I think Ferris Fain was the first baseman and it seems to me there was a triple play which Red Barber called and I remember sitting there thinking, “He made it sound so easy,” and I was scared to death.
Anyway, that's how we get from the Civil War to today, and from baseball in 1886 to today. Takes two men who were good at what they do and loved doing it.
Is 3.5 Years of Mike Trout > 12 Years of Yadier Molina?
It began as a cheeky stats hunt.
I noticed that Mike Trout's WAR (Wins Above Replacement) during his first three full seasons, plus half of this one, was astronomical: 33.3. Knowing WAR numbers were cumulative, and that they go can backwards (you can get negative WAR numbers), I wondered which veteran players Trout has already passed on the WAR charts. That was the cheeky question.
Here's the cheeky answer. Currently, Trout, all of 23 and 11/12, is tied for 32nd among active players. In other words, his 3.5 years in Major League baseball are, by this measure, already worth more than Adam Jones' 10 years (26.6 WAR), J.J. Hardy's 11 (27.3) and Jayson Werth's 13 (30.0).
It began to annoy me a bit when I noticed that Yadier Molina, one of the best defensive catchers in baseball, and a man who turned himself into a fine hitter as well—with a .305 batting average and a .803 OPS since the start of the 2011 season—is also on this lesser Trout list. His WAR is 30.3, 40th among active players, and that seems wrong. And I wondered: Does WAR undervalue Yadi or all catchers, whose careers, after all, tend to be shorter, and thus less cumulative, than the careers of other positions?
I think it's the latter. The highest-ranked catcher on the career WAR chart is Johnny Bench at No. 48 with a 75.0 WAR. He's one-tenth of a percentage point better than Lou Whitaker at No. 49.
Here are the top 8 catchers ranked by WAR. Yogi Berra fans, get ready to be angry:
I will say this: Given the choice between 3.5 years of Mike Trout and 12 of Yadier, I think I'd take Yadi for 12, Alex.