Sunday, January 06, 2019

Top Ten Tigers Center Fielders


Legendary center fielder Ty Cobb accumulated 145 WAR in his Tigers career.  
(Photo credit: Britannica.com)

Today, I am presenting the list of top ten center fielders in Tigers history.  Other installments in this series can be found at the following links.

Catchers
first basemen
Second Basemen
Shortstops
Third Basemen
Left Fielders

In the previous articles, I discussed the criteria for my rankings in detail.  Let's review the ground rules here:
  • A player must have played at least half their games with the Tigers as a center fielder or played center field more than any other position.
  • A player must have played at least two full seasons as a center fielder with the Tigers.
  • Only games played with the Tigers are considered. 
  • If a player played other positions with the Tigers besides center field, his hitting performance in those games does count. 
I will start by looking at the Baseball-Reference.com Wins Above Replacement (WAR) leader board for Tigers  center fielders:

Ty Cobb 145
Chet Lemon 31
Curtis Granderson 21
Austin Jackson 20
Mickey Stanley 17
Ron Leflore 14
Jimmy Barrett 14
Barney McCosky 13
Heinie Manush 12
Hoot Evers 12

As expected, the great Ty Cobb is on top of the list with 114 more WAR than runner-up Chet Lemon. 
After Cobb and Lemon, there is a whole bunch of good but not great players who lasted about five years in Detroit and one guy (Mickey Stanley) who was around for a long time, but didn't hit much.  

Center field defense is more of a factor than first base or left field, but I still want to look at Adjusted Batting Runs (ABR) which only considers a player's offensive contribution.  Batting Runs were first introduced in the Hidden Game of Baseball by John Thorn and Pete Palmer in 1984.  It is an estimate of the number of runs contributed by a player compared to an average hitter over the course of his career.    This statistic is explained in more deal in the post about first basemen linked above.  The ABR statistics is calculated from Baseball-Reference.com as rbat (the batting part) + rbaser (the base running part).  The ABR leaders are listed below.

Ty Cobb 1016
Chet Lemon 102
Ron Leflore 84
Heinie Manush 65
Curtis Granderson 54
Jimmy Barrett 51
Barney McCosky 47
Hoot Evers 44
Austin Jackson 36
Johnny Groth 20

By this measure, Cobb is more than 900 runs better than Lemon!  Speedy Ron Leflore ranks higher here thanks largely to 34 base running runs.  Heinie Manush also does much better on this statistic than he does on WAR where he is dragged down by his poor defense (He became a left fielder later in his career.).  On the other hand, Austin Jackson who excelled defensively does not fare as well on ABR.  Stanley falls off the charts with -24 ABR.     

In order to compare the batting excellence of players with different career lengths, we can use OPS+:

Ty Cobb 171
Heinie Manush 120
Chet Lemon 117
Jimmy Barrett 117
Curtis Granderson 114
Hoot Evers 112
Barney McCosky 110
Ron Leflore 108
Johnny Groth 107
Austin Jackson 105

On this list, Leflore drops to #8 (because OPS+ does not include base running) and Austin Jackson is now as low as 10th.  Stanley is nowhere to be found here as his 90 OPS+ leaves him behind.  

Now for the final top ten:

1. Ty Cobb (1905-1926  145 WAR  1,106 ABR  171 OPS+)
Ty Cobb is the easiest choice for number #1 of any position.  Much has been said about his character flaws and there are debates about whether he was truly a bad person or just a product of his time period.  It's probably some complex combination of both, but there are no doubts about his talents as a player as he is inarguably at the top of the list of the game's all-time greats.  He is 4th in lifetime WAR behind Babe Ruth, Barry Bonds and Willie Mays and second in Offensive WAR behind Ruth.  He led the American League in batting average twelve times, slugging eight times, OPS ten times and the list goes on and on. 

2. Chet Lemon (1982-1990  31 WAR  102 ABR 117 OPS+)
Chet Lemon was acquired from the White Sox for left fielder Steve Kemp in 1981 and became one of the important pieces of the successful Tigers teams of the 1980's while Kemp's career was marred by injuries.  Lemon was known to do some odd things on the bases like frequently diving head first into first base, but he more than made up for questionable base running with above average offense and excellent defense.  In nine seasons with the Tigers, Lemon reached 2+ WAR eight times and 3+ WAR five times.  His best year in Detroit was the 1984 championship season where he had a 135 OPS+ and 6.2 WAR.
    
3. Curtis Granderson (2004-2009  21  WAR  54 ABR  114 OPS+)
Curtis Granderson is the best home-grown Tigers position player since the 1980s and was a big fan favorite during his time in Detroit.  He went out of his way to connect with fans as much as any player since I became a fan in 1968 and he was also talented.  He was an above average hitter, fielder and base runner and was 3+ WAR in each of his four full seasons with the Tigers.  His best year was 2007 when he was 7.6 WAR and one of only five players ever to achieve the quad twenty - 20 doubles, 20 triples, 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases.

4. Barney McCosky (1939-1946  13 WAR  47 ABR  110 OPS+)
Barney McCosky was a lead-off hitter and strong defender who had a .384 OBP and 3.4 WAR as a rookie in 1939.  He had an even better year in 1940 batting .340 with a league-leading 19 triples and 4.0 WAR in helping the Tigers to a pennant.  He was 2+ WAR in each of his first four years as a Tiger before missing three prime seasons serving in World War II from 1943-1945.  If we assume conservatively that he was 2 WAR in each of those three seasons, he would have been 19 WAR as a Tiger.  So, he gets a bump on this list for that.  

5. Ron Leflore (1974-1979  14 WAR  84 ABR  108 OPS+)
Ron Leflore did not begin playing baseball until he was 22 and in the State Prison of Southern Michigan in Jackson, a maximum security facility where they send the worst criminals.  He was so talented that a fellow prisoner with connections to Tigers manager Billy Martin helped get him a try out.  According to Baseball: The Biographical Encyclopedia by David Pietrusza, et al, Leflore was a given a tryout  at Tiger Stadium while on a 48-hour furlough in June, 1973.  A year later, he was in the majors and he soon became one of the more exciting players in the game.  In 1976, he batted .316 including a 30-game hitting streak and stole 58 bases.  The speedy Leflore led the league with 68 steals in 1977.  He was 3+ WAR each season from 1976-1979, but was traded to the Expos for pitcher Dan Schatzeder because he became a clubhouse problem.  
   
6. Austin Jackson (2010-2014  20 WAR  36 ABR  105 OPS+)
Austin Jackson came to the Tigers along with pitchers Max Scherzer, Phil Coke and Daniel Schlereth  in a seven player three-team deal which also saw Granderson go to the Yankees.  Jackson was primarily a defensive outfielder but was an average hitter and good base runner.  He averaged 4.7 WAR from 2010-2013 (FanGraphs WAR is a little less generous at 3.7 per year due mostly to a different fielding statistic).  His best season was 2012 when he had a 129 OPS+ and 5.5 WAR.  
      
7. Jimmy Barrett (1901-1905  14 WAR  51 ABR  117 OPS+)
Jimmy Barrett was one of the players that hazed and infuriated Ty Cobb in his early days as a Tiger.   Barrett also wasn't on the best of terms with his manager Edward Barrow.  In Barrow's autobiography My Fifty Years in Baseball, he writes that Barrett said to him: "Mr. Barrow, your methods take all the individuality away from a player"  Barrow responded: "Young man, if you ever speak to me that way again, I will take more than your individuality away from you.  I will knock your block off."  So Barrett was not the easiest guy to get along with but he was a solid player both offensively and defensively.  Barrett was the Tigers first star in their opening season in 1901 with a 108 OPS+, strong defense and 2.7 WAR.  His best season was 1903 when he led the league with a .407 OBP and had an OPS+ of 144.

8. Hoot Evers (1941-1952, 1954  14 WAR  44 ABR  112 OPS+)
According to Baseball: The Biographical Encyclopedia, Walter Arthur Evers got his nickname because he "hooted" as a baby.  Hoot averaged 3.2 WAR and a 125 OPS+ between 1947-1950.  His best season was 1950 when he batted .323/.408/.551 with a 141 OPS+.    
  
9. Heinie Manush (1923-1927  11 WAR  65 ABR  120 OPS+)
If you think that Heinie Manush is a great name, Hollywood agrees with you.  In the 1942 movie Obliging Young Lady, actor Edmond O'Brien repeats "Heinie Manush" to the rhythm of the motion of the train he's riding and gradually the other passengers begin to repeat it as well (IMDB.com). If Henry Emmitt Manush had played his entire career with the Tigers, he would be a high ranking left fielder with a .330 lifetime batting average and 46 WAR.  Instead, he is a low ranking center fielder who could hit, but played the position poorly.  Heinie's best season was 1926 when he led the league with a .378 batting average and had a 154 OPS+.      

10. Mickey Stanley  (1964-1978  17 WAR  -24 ABR  90 OPS+)
Fan favorite Mickey Stanley was the opposite of Manush in that he was a very good fielder, but a below average hitter.  He accumulated 17 WAR but it took him 13 years to do it.  His claim to fame was that  Mayo Smith played him at shortstop in the 1968 World Series with little previous experience at the position.  The move was made because the Tigers had four good outfielders with Al Kaline returning from an injury and notoriously weak hitting shortstop Ray Oyler.  Stanley held his own at short and the Tigers won the Series.  Stanley's 1,175 games in center field was second most to Ty Cobb in franchise history.    

Note: Most of the data for this post were abstracted from Baseball-Reference.com

Monday, December 31, 2018

Top Ten Tigers Left Fielders

Left fielder Bobby Veach with Ty Cobb and Sam Crawford made up one of best outfields ever.
(Photo credit: Detroit Public Library Digital Collections)

Today, I am presenting the list of top ten left fielders in Tigers history.  Other installments in this series can be found at the following links.

Catchers
first basemen
Second Basemen
Shortstops
Third Basemen

In the previous articles, I discussed the criteria for my rankings in detail.  Let's review the ground rules here:
  • A player must have played at least half their games with the Tigers as a left fielder or played left field more than any other position.
  • A player must have played at least two full seasons as a left fielder with the Tigers.
  • Only games played with the Tigers are considered. 
  • If a player played other positions with the Tigers besides left field, his hitting performance in those games does count.  
I will start by looking at the Baseball-Reference.com Wins Above Replacement (WAR) leader board for Tigers left fielders:

Bobby Veach 46
Willie Horton 26
Bobby Higginson 23
Charlie Maxwell 19
Rocky Colavito 17
Matty McIntyre 17
Steve Kemp 16
Dick Wakefield 13
Fats Fothergill 13
Gee Walker 12

Based on this list, Bobby Veach seems to be the clear #1 left fielder in Tigers history.   Second place Willie Horton has a narrow lead over the rest of the pack, but WAR penalizes him for his time spent at designated hitter and we will see shortly, that the gap between Willie and the pack is actually bigger.  The rest of the list is more tenuous with a number of shorter career players and stars like Goose Goslin and Rocky Colavito who played most of their careers outside of Detroit.   

Left field is an offense oriented position, so I am going to look at Adjusted Batting Runs (ABR), which  just looks at a player's offensive contribution.  Batting Runs were first introduced in the Hidden Game of Baseball by John Thorn and Pete Palmer in 1984.  It is an estimate of the number of runs contributed by a player compared to an average hitter over the course of his career.    This statistic is explained in more deal in the post about first basemen linked above.  The ABR statistics is calculated from Baseball-Reference.com as rbat (the batting part) + rbaser (the base running part).  The ABR leaders are listed below.

Bobby Veach 230
Willie Horton 167
Steve Kemp 92
Bobby Higginson 91
Rocky Colavito 91
Dick Wakefield  88
Charlie Maxwell 81
Fats Fothergill 67
Matty McIntyre 40
Goose Goslin 39

Over here, Horton cements his claim as the #2 left fielder.  After that, it becomes very close with six players between 67 and 92 ABR.  

In order to compare the batting excellence of players with different career lengths, we can use OPS+:

Dick Wakefield 131
Rocky Colavito 130
Bobby Veach 130
Willie Horton 127
Steve Kemp 125
Fats Fothergill 122
Charlie Maxwell 120
Al Wingo 114
Bobby Higginson 113
Ben Oglivie 113

According to this measure, Dick Wakefield and Rocky Colavito move to the top of the list, while Bobby Higginson falls down several notches.

The final top ten is shown below.

1. Bobby Veach  (1912-1923  46 WAR  230 ABR  130 OPS+)
According to Fred Lieb in The Detroit Tigers, Bobby Veach "was a happy-go-lucky guy, not too brilliant above the ears...He was as friendly as a Newfoundland pup with opponents as well as teammates."  He was also the best left fielder in Tigers history amassing 4 WAR or higher 7 times and finishing in the top ten in OPS and slugging five times. His best season was 1919 when he had 6.7 WAR and a 158 OPS+.  In the Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract, James rated the 1915 trio of Veach, Ty Cobb and Sam Crawford as the best single-season outfield in baseball history     

2. Willie Horton (1963-1977  26 WAR  167 ABR  127 OPS+)
Born and raised in Detroit, Willie Horton was a home town favorite for his performance both on and off the field.  He helped to restore order during the 1967 riots by climbing onto a truck and pleading with fellow African Americans to stop looting and committing violence.  On the field, he was a top slugger for many years finishing in the top ten in home runs five times and slugging four times.  He was at his finest during the 1968 championship season hitting 36 home runs and posting a 165 OPS+.
  
3. Rocky Colavito (1960-1963  17 WAR  91 ABR  130 OPS+)
Rocky Colavito came from the Indians in 1959 in a famous of swap of the batting leader (Harvey Kuenn) and home run leader (Colavito).  Colavito played four year with the Tigers including a fantastic 1961 season with 45 homers and a 157 OPS+.  He finished in the top five in WAR in both 1961 and 1962.  He also had perhaps the best outfield arm in the majors during his prime.  

4. Bobby Higginson (1995-2005  23 WAR  91 ABR  113 OPS+)  
Some will be surprsied at Bobby Higginson's fairly high WAR total and his high ranking on this list.  Because he never played for a winning team and faded badly late in his career many fans do not remember Higginson fondly.  However, he had a very solid career reaching 3+ WAR four times and 2+ WAR six times in all.  His best season was 2000 with he hit .300/.377/.538 with 5.3 WAR.

5. Charlie Maxwell (1955-1962  19 WAR  81 ABR  120 OPS+) 
According to Baseball: A Doubleheader Collection of Facts, Feats & Firsts published by The Sporting News, Maxwell hit 40 of his 148 career home runs on Sundays, but he hit well on other days too.  Maxwell's best year was 1956 when he posted a 148 OPS+ and 3.9 WAR.  He also reached 5 WAR in 1957.  

6. Steve Kemp (1977-1981  16 WAR  92 ABR  125 OPS+) 
Steve Kemp is more famous for whom he was traded (center fielder Chet Lemon in 1981) than his performance, but he was a productive hitter for the Tigers.  He averaged a 132 OPS+ and 3.7 WAR between 1978-1981.

7. Dick Wakefield (1941-1949  13 WAR  88 ABR  131 OPS+)  
According to Donald Honig in Between the Lines, outfielder Dick Wakefield was one of baseball's first bonus babies when he signed with the Tigers for $52,000 out of the University of Michigan in 1941.  The 6'4", 210-pound outfielder quickly lived up to his promise with 3.4 WAR and a league leading 200 hits.  He was off to an excellent start the next season, batting a gaudy .355 with a 190 OPS+ before being drafted into the military.  He returned to the majors in 1946, but never again reached the same lofty level.  In all, he had four years of 2+ WAR. 
    
8. Matty McIntyre (1904-1910  17 WAR  40 ABR  112 OPS+)
Matty McIntyre is best remembered as being being part of the clique that tormented Ty Cobb during his early years with the Tigers, but he also performed well on the field reaching 2+ WAR four times.  His best season 2008 when he had 6 WAR and led the league with 258 times on base.   

9. Fats Fothergill (1922-1930  13 WAR  67 ABR  122 OPS+)
5'-10", 230-pound Bob Fothergill was give the unflattering nickname "fats" or "fatty" early in his career, but his popularity with fans also earned him the name "People's Choice".  Fothergill averaged 135 OPS+ and 2.9 WAR from 1926-1929.  

10. Goose Goslin (1934-1937  9 WAR  39 ABR  111 OPS+)
According to Baseball: The Biographical Encyclopedia by David Pietrusza, et al, Leon Goslin acquired the nickname "Goose" because he flapped his arms while running after fly balls, but it could just as easily have been a play on his last name.  If Goose had played his entire career with the Tigers, he would be #1 on this list, but he played only four twilight years in Detroit.  His best year with the Tigers was 1936 when he was 3.7 WAR, but his best moment came in 1935.  That year, Goslin singled in the bottom of the ninth of game six of the World Series to give the Tigers their first world championship.  

Note: Most of the data for this post were abstracted from Baseball-Reference.com

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Top Ten Tigers First Basemen

Edit: The Adjusted Batting Average formula and numbers have been changed since this was originally published.  The final ranking of players is unaffected.

Hall of Fame slugger Hank Greenberg accumulated 54 WAR as a Tiger
(Photo credit: Society for American Baseball Research)

Today, I am presenting the list of top ten first basemen in Tigers history.  Other installments in this series can be found at the following links.

Catchers
Second Basemen
Shortstops
Third Basemen

In the previous articles, I discussed the criteria for my rankings in detail.  Let's review the ground rules here:
  • A player must have played at least half their games with the Tigers as a first baseman.
  • A player must have played at least two full seasons as a first baseman with the Tigers.
  • Only games played with the Tigers are considered. 
  • If a player played other positions with the Tigers besides first base, his hitting performance in those games does count.  
I will start by looking at the Baseball-Reference.com Wins Above Replacement (WAR) leader board for Tigers first basemen:

Hank Greenberg 54
Norm Cash 52
Miguel Cabrera 51
Rudy York 32
Lu Blue 21
Cecil Fielder 17
Darrell Evans 15
Tony Clark 12
Jason Thompson 12
Dale Alexander 11

Based on this list, it appears to be a close race for #1 between Greenberg, Cash and Cabrera.  However, it must be remembered that Greenberg was one of the first players to enter the military during World War II and missed four and a half seasons.  If we assume that "Hammerin' Hank" accumulated five WAR per year (a conservative estimate given his performance before and one year after the war), then that would bring him up to 79 WAR.

First base is an offense oriented position, so I am also going to look at Adjusted Batting Runs, which  just looks at a player's offensive contribution.  Batting Runs were first introduced in the Hidden Game of Baseball by John Thorn and Pete Palmer in 1984.

From examination of thousands of games, it has been determined that the average single contributes 0.47 runs.  In other words, if one single is added to a team's hit total in each game for 100 games, that team would be expected to add 47 runs to their season total.  The values for other events can be interpreted similarly.  The weights are inserted into a formula to calculate batting runs (BR):

BR = 0.47 * 1B + 0.77 2B * 1.04 3B * 1.40 x HR + 0.31 * BB + 0.34 * HBP +.20 * SB - .42 CS- 0.28 * outs

In the above formula, outs are equal to at bats minus hits.  The constant before outs (.28 in this example) is chosen so that the league average for BR is zero.  It is generally between 0.25 and .30.

Note that there is not a standard set of linear weights for events.  They vary slightly by analyst and by year, but different weights don't usually yield radically different results.

Finally Batting Runs is adjusted for ballpark factor to arrive at Adjusted Batting Runs (ABR).  It is calculated from Baseball-Reference as rbat (the batting part) + rbaser (the base running part).  The top ten Tigers first basemen according to Adjusted Batting Runs follows:

Hank Greenberg 418
Miguel Cabrera 405
Norm Cash 319
Rudy York 175
Cecil Fielder 112
Lu Blue 82
Dale Alexander 73
Tony Clark 62
Darrell Evans 61
Prince Fielder 53

Using this measure, Greenberg still has a narrow lead and he also played 275 more games with the Tigers than than Cabrera.

In order to compare the batting excellence of players with different career lengths, we can use OPS+:

Hank Greenberg 161
Miguel Cabrera 155
Norm Cash 139
Prince Fielder 136
Dale Alexander 129
Rudy York 128
Cecil Fielder 126
Tony Clark 121
Darrell Evans 121
Claude Rossman 115

By this measure, Greenberg is back to number one on this list.  In the end, Cabrera and Greenberg are very close statistically for the time they played, but Greenberg gets the nod due to the substantial time missed due to military service.  The complete top ten is shown below.

1. Hank Greenberg 1930-1946  54 WAR  418 ABR  161 OPS+
Baseball's first Jewish superstar, Greenberg was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1956.  The "Hebrew Hammer" won MVP awards in both 1935 and 1940 and played on all four Tigers World Series teams (1934, 1935, 1940, 1945) of the '30s and '40s.  He led the league in home runs four times and finished in the top five in OPS and slugging average seven times.  Other notable Greenberg feats include 58 home runs in 1938 and 184 RBI in 1937, both the highest single-season total in Tigers history.

2. Miguel Cabrera 2008-2018  51 WAR 405 ABR 155 OPS+
Acquired from the Marlins in an eight-player deal in 2007, Cabrera has dominated the American League for most of his tenure with the Tigers.  The Venezuelan slugger won the Triple Crown with a .330 batting average, 44 home runs and 139 RBI in 2012, but that might not have been his best season.  In 2013, he won the sabermetric triple crown with a .348/.442/.636 slash line.  He finished in the top five in the league in in Adjusted Batting Runs every year from 2009-2016 and led the league every year from 2010-2013.

3. Norm Cash 1960-1974  52 WAR  319 ABR  139 OPS+
"Stormin' Norman" had a monster season in 1961 batting .361/.487/.662 with a 201 OPS+.  His 85 Adjusted Batting Runs that year was the highest total in franchise history.  He has since admitted to using a corked bat that year which puts the legitimacy of those numbers in doubt.  His highest OPS+ otherwise was 149, but was 120+ every year from 1960-1973.  He had 12 seasons of 2+ WAR and 9 seasons of 3+ WAR.

4. Rudy York 1934-1945  32 WAR  175 ABR  128 OPS+
On August 4, 1937, the Tigers were stuck in a five game losing streak and suffering from a shortage of healthy players. With all their regular catchers injured, manager Mickey Cochrane decided to try Rudy York, the rookie without a position, as the starting catcher.  He proceeded to hit an amazing 18 homers with 49 RBI for the month.  Some 81 years after his big month of August, Big Rudy still holds the the American League record for most home runs in a month.  York eventually became the regular first baseman in 1940 when Greenberg was moved to left field.  He finished in the top five in home runs eight times and top ten in OPS five times.


5. Cecil Fielder 1990-1996  17 WAR  112 ABR  126 OPS+
In the Bill James Historical Abstract, James said that Cecil Fielder was "A big fat guy who hit home runs for a few years".  That was a reference to Fielder being overrated, but it was a bit harsh.  He was a productive hitter during those years and his 1990 season was one of the most memorable individual seasons I have seen.  He was signed as a low profile free agent in January, 1990 after returning from a season in Japan.  The big first baseman then surprised the baseball world by posting an OPS+ of 167 and leading the league with 51 home runs and 132 RBI.  He never replicated that season, but he had five more seasons of 30+ home runs including a league leading 44 in 1991.

6. Lu Blue 1921-1927  21 WAR  82 ABR  110 OPS+
Blue had four more WAR than Cecil Fielder, but that was largely because Fielder was penalized for being designated hitter for parts of seasons.  Because first base is a hitting position, I decided to ignore that penalty.  Fielder was the better offensive player, so I moved him up a notch.  Blue was no slugger, but he was an on-base machine posting on-base percentages of .400 or better five times with the Tigers.  He was also a model of consistency with the following WAR totals from 1921-1926: 2.9, 3.6, 3.3, 3.3, 3.7, 2.8.

7. Darrell Evans 1984-1988  15 WAR  61 ABR  121 OPS+
Everyone was surprised when tightwad GM Bill Campbell signed free agent Darrell Evans after the 1983 season.  It was the first time the Tigers had dipped into the free agent pool in a significant way and it paid off, although not right away.  He hit only 16 home runs with a 105 OPS+ during the 1984 championship season and it looked like he might be all done at age 37.  However, he went on to average 34 home runs over the next three seasons including a league-leading 40 in 1985.  His best season was 1987 when he had 4.9 WAR and a 135 OPS+ at age 40.

8. Tony Clark 1995-2001  12 WAR  62 ABR  121 OPS+
Tony Clark was the second overall pick in the 1990 amateur draft and played seven seasons for the Tigers.  He was regarded as a disappointment by many fans due to his advance billing and misfortune of being one of the better hitters on some very bad teams.  He posted an OPS+ of 120 or better five times and hit 30 or more round trippers three times.

9. Dale Alexander 1929-1932  11 WAR  73 ABR  129 OPS+

Dale Alexander had an usual career which spanned only five years from age 26 to age 30 despite a lifetime .331 batting average including his time with the Red Sox.  The reason for the late start was that he was a terrible fielder.  According to Bill Nowlin at SABR.ORG, there was a very good reason for the abrupt end to his career as well:
Sliding into home plate on Memorial Day, Alexander hurt his leg sliding into home plate. Red Sox trainer Doc Woods used a new deep-heat method to try to reduce pain, decrease inflammation, and thereby speed healing: diathermy. Unfortunately, Woods left the machine on too long (apparently leaving the treatment room and not returning for quite some time) and burned Alexander's leg. "They'd just barbecued his leg," said son Steve. Don Alexander reported, "It really sort of atrophied. It really was smaller than the other. Just like it was a burn. Scarring tissue. It was discolored." He was so badly burned that there was worry he might lose the leg. Fortunately, amputation was never necessary.
When he did get a chance to play, Moose had one of the best rookie seasons ever for a first baseman batting .343/.397/.580 with a 148 OPS+ 

10. Prince Fielder 2012-2013  7 WAR 53 ABR  136 OPS+     
Cecil's son Prince Fielder was acquired as a free agent in January, 2012 when Victor Martinez went down with a knee injury that would keep him out the entire 2012 season.  Cabrera shifted to third base, so that Prince could play first base.  Fielder played just two seasons including an outstanding first season where he had 151 OPS+ and 4.7 WAR.

Note: Most of the data for this post were abstracted from Baseball-Reference.com

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Top Ten Tigers Catchers

Mickey Cochrane dives to tag out Phillies base runner Pinky Whitney in iconic baseball photo.  
(Photo Credit: National Baseball Hall of Fame)

Today, I am presenting the list of top ten catchers in Tigers history.  Other installments in this series can be found in the following links.

Second Basemen
Shortstops
Third Basemen

In the previous articles, I discussed the criteria for my rankings in detail.  Let's review the ground rules here:
  • A player must have played at least half their games with the Tigers as a catcher.
  • A player must have played at least two full seasons as a catcher with the Tigers.
  • Only games played with the Tigers are considered.  If a player played other positions with the Tigers, his hitting performance in those games does count.  
The Wins Above Replacement (WAR) leaders for the Tigers are listed below.

Bill Freehan 45
Lance Parrish 30
Johnny Bassler 20
Mickey Tettleton 15
Pudge Rodriguez 14
Alex Avila 13
Mickey Cochrane 11
Brad Ausmus 8
Matt Nokes 6
Mike Heath 6
Oscar Stanage 6

Based on this, Freehan and Parrish seem to be the top two catchers, but it gets more interesting after that.  First, the great Mickey Cochrane is only seventh on this list, but we need to consider that most of his WAR came in 1934 and 1935, two of the greatest seasons in franchise history.  Not only that, but he was also the manager of those teams.  Thus, he deserves to move up higher in the final ranking.  

Then there are players like Mickey Tettleton and Matt Nokes, who would be ranked almost entirely on their offense.  Similarly,  Ausmus would be ranked mostly based on his defense.  A look at OPS+ tells us more about offensive contribution:

Mickey Tettleton 135
Mickey Cochrane 126
Matt Nokes 115
Lance Parrish 114
Bill Freehan 112
Johnny Bassler 106
Alex Avila 105
Pudge Rodriguez 103
Aaron Robinson 100
Mike Heath 97

Not surprisingly Tettleton, Cochrane and Nokes rank much higher on this list, while Bassler and Rodriguez are lower.

So, here is my final list (Note that OWAR=Offensive WAR):

Bill Freehan (1961-1976  44.8 WAR  43.3 OWAR  112 OPS+)
Freehan was a poweful and durable catcher who was excellent both offensively and defensively.  He was the top catcher in the game during the 1960s peaking with two fantastic seasons in 1967 and 1968.  He posted a 144 OPS+ and 6.1 WAR and finished third in the MVP batting in 1967.  He followed up with a 145 OPS+ and 7.0 WAR and was runner-up to teammate Denny McLain in MVP voting in the 1968 championship season.  He is 15th among MLB catchers in career WAR and some argue that he should be in the Hall of Fame.  Bill James ranked him the #12 catcher in the Bill James Historical Abstract.   

Lance Parrish (1977-1986  30.1 WAR  26.1 OWAR  114 OPS+)
Parrish was another durable slugger as well as a body building fanatic.  Manager Sparky Anderson initially frowned upon Parrish's weight lifting, but changed his mind when the big guy started averaging 30 home runs per year.  The Big Wheel also averaged 3.6 WAR from 1979 to 1986.  His best season was 1982 when he hit 32 home runs and posted a 135 OPS+ with 5.0 WAR.  He was also an important piece of the 1984 championship team.   

Mickey Cochrane (1934-1937  11.4 WAR  11.5 OWAR  126 OPS+)
Cochrane was one of the top five catchers in the history of the game batting .320/.419/.478 lifetime.  He only played 315 games as a Tiger, but made quite an impact catching and managing two pennant winners and a world champion.  in 1934, Black Mike (So named for his competitiveness and distaste for losing) batted .320/.428/.412 with 4 WAR in 1934.  He did even better in 1935 batting .319/.452/.450 with 5 WAR.  

Johnny Bassler (1921-1927  19.5 WAR  18.5 OWAR  106 OPS+)
Bassler was strong both offensively and defensively and was ranked by Bill James as the 47th best catcher all time.  He had 7 seasons of 2 WAR or better including 1924 when he hit .346/.441/.422.  He had an on-base percentage of .400 or better in each of his seven seasons with the Tigers.   

Mickey Tettleton (1991-1994  14.8 WAR  17.5 OWAR  135 OPS+)
Tettleton was not a great defensive catcher, but he was an outstanding hitter posting OPS+ of 140, 137, 132, 128 in his four seasons as a Tiger.  Big first baseman Cecil Fielder got more attention, but Tettleton was the better hitter as measured by OPS+ in all four seasons.  Fruit Loops was one of my all-time favorite players for everything from his funky batting stance to his slugging.  He finished in the top five in the league walks each of his four years and finished in the top ten in home runs three times.    

Pudge Rodriguez (2004-2008  14.2 WAR  13.0 OWAR  103 OPS+)
Pudge Rodriguez was the first big Tigers signing of the Dave Dombrowski era and got off to a tremendous start batting .334/.383/.510 in 2004.  He never came close to those numbers again and rubbed a lot of fans the wrong way with his moody temperament and disrespect for manager Alan Trammell.  He was, however, a strong defender and contact hitter and an important piece of the 2006 pennant winner.  He could arguably have been ranked ahead of Tettleton, but I am going to play favorites here.   

Alex Avila (2009-2017  12.9 WAR  13.7 OWAR  105 OPS+)
Avila had an excellent season in 2011 batting .295/.389/.506.  What may have been a really fine career with multiple all-star appearances was derailed by a number of concussions.  He did manage four years of 2+ WAR.

Oscar Stanage (1909-1925 6.0 WAR  6.9 OWAR  69 OPS+)
Stanage makes this list mostly for longevity playing 1,095 games over 12 seasons.  He wasn't much of a hitter at all batting .234/.284/.295 lifetime.  The most interesting thing I could find about him was Bill James listing him as a drinking man of the 1910s in the Bill James Historical Abstract.      Stanage's best season was 1909 when he had a 98 OPS+ in 77 games for a pennant winner. 

Brad Ausmus (1996-2000  7.6 WAR  5.2  OWAR  90 OPS+)
Ausmus, who was traded back and forth every couple of years during the Randy Smith era, played three seasons in two stints with the Tigers.  He was known mostly for his defense including a very strong ranking for pitch framing by Baseball Prospectus. Offensively, his best season was 1999 when he hit .275/.365/.415.   

Matt Nokes (1986-1990  6.4 WAR  6.8 OWAR  115 OPS+)  
Nokes was acquired from the Giants in 1985 in a six-player deal which also brought pitchers Eric King and Dave LaPoint to the Tigers.  At the time, LaPoint seemed like the important player in the deal but it was Nokes that provided the best return.  Nokes hit 32 homers as rookie and was one of the key players on the division winner.  Nokes never replicated that season and was also not a strong defender.

Note: Most of the data for this post were abstracted from Baseball-Reference.com

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Hall of Fame Thoughts - 2019 Edition

Most of the recent Hall of Fame talk has centered around outfielder/designated hitter Harold Baines who was recently voted into the Hall of Fame by the Veterans or Eras Committee.  Baines was a very good hitter for a long time, but almost nobody outside the committee thinks he belongs in the Hall of Fame.  Baines' inclusion makes it more difficult to ignore some of this year's borderline candidates - such as Andruw Jones, Todd Helton and Lance Berkman - who were far superior to Baines.  And I can't write a Hall of Fame article without plugging Lou Whitaker who was about twice as good as Baines according to WAR.  

Anyway, I am going to just file away the Baines vote as a mistake and not change my Hall of Fame Evaluation based on that.  Whitaker is not eligible by any means this year, so let's take a look at this year's candidates.  There have been 18 new Hall-of-Fame Inductees in the past five years including 2018 inductees Vladimir Guerrero, Trevor Hoffman, Chipper Jones, Jim Thome, Jack Morris and Alan Trammell.  This alleviated the log jam on the ballot which was due largely to confusion and division on how to deal with players linked to the Performance Enhancing Drugs (PED).  Many holdovers and a few worthy new candidates still make the vote a challenge though.  There are 35 eligible players and writers can vote for up to 10 candidates.  I, of course, do not have a vote, but will fill my theoretical ballot here.

My selection process involves comparing players to their contemporaries, other players at the same position and current Hall-of-Fame members.  I value peak performance and career performance equally.  I use many traditional and advanced statistics, most of which can be found on Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs.  Some of my favorites are plate appearances, batting average, on-base percentage, slugging average, batting runs, wOBA,and WAR for hitters and innings pitched, ERA, pitching runs, strikeouts and WAR for pitchers.  I used multiple WAR statistics in my analysis, but any reference to WAR cited below is Baseball-Reference WAR.

In earlier years, I did not bring PED use into my thought process.  The use of PEDs was very widespread, not only in the 1990s and 2000's, but all the way back to the sixties and even further.  It was impossible to know which players stayed clean and which used and how much it affected their performance.  Eliminating or even judging players based on suspicion seemed very unfair to me.  It also seemed pretty obvious that the game turned a blind eye to the problem for many decades.  Thus, I considered PED use to have been part of the game and choose players solely based on their on-field performance.  

Starting in 2005, Major League Baseball players and owners accepted a new policy banning steroids and issuing penalties to steroid users.  The policy has been expanded in recent years to include amphetamines and other PEDs.  Now that it is accepted by all parties that steroid use is absolutely prohibited, this makes the process more complicated.  I think it's fair to penalize players who tested positive under the agreement starting in 2005, but I do not believe these offenders should be banned from the Hall of Fame entirely. They did, after all, already serve their time through suspension.  However, the qualifications for inclusion in the Hall of Fame do include integrity, sportsmanship and character as illustrated by the following clause:
Voting shall be based upon the player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character and contribution to the team(s) on which the player played.
Those things are very subjective and near impossible to measure, but failed drug tests are objective.  Thus, I shall use proven drug use as another data point feeding my decision process.  Since I do not believe PED use turns a player into one of the game's all-time greats, I would still vote for an elite player such as Alex Rodriguez when his time comes. However, I might drop a borderline player from the ballot.  

The PED question first became an issue for me when first baseman Rafael Palmeiro appeared on the ballot in 2011.  He was a legitimate candidate, who had tested positive in 2005.  He was not a particularly strong candidate though and, given that the ballot had more than ten deserving candidates that year, it was not difficult to dismiss him.  

Outfielder Manny Ramirez who tested positive for PEDs in both 2009 and 2011 is eligible this year on a ballot that is not quite as loaded as previous years.  Based on his numbers, 69 WAR and a 154 OPS+, Ramirez was one of the best hitters of his generation and would surely make it if he were clean. 

However, the PED data point exists for Ramirez (twice!).  Ramirez was a very one dimensional player and not a slam dunk choice of the magnitude of ARod.  He is more comparable to designated hitter Edgar Martinez, another viable candidate who is a one dimensional hitter.  In the end, I decided that Martinez makes it and Ramirez doesn't.  

Now, for my ballot:

Barry Bonds: The greatest player of his generation and on a very short list of the best players ever.  You can't have a Hall of Fame without him.  

Roger Clemens: As with Bonds, the Hall-of-Fame would not make much sense if it excluded Clemens.  He is one of the five best pitchers in the history of the game.

Mariano Rivera: I am very stingy about voting for relief pitchers because they are generally failed starters and pitch far fewer innings than starters.  However, Rivera is the best closer in the history of the game and there is not much debate about that.  If you like saves, he had 652 of them which is 51 ahead of runner-up Trevor Hoffman.  If you want something more sophisticated his 56 WAR tops among relievers (Dennis Eckerley was 62 WAR but more than half of that came as a starter).  If you want to get even more esoteric, he is also the runaway leader in Win Probability Added (WPA) and WPA/LI as well.  

Roy Halladay: Did not have gaudy career counting stats having pitched fewer than 3,000 career innings, but he was inarguably one of the elite pitchers of his era.  He won two Cy Young Awards in 2003 and 2010 and finished in the top five in voting seven times.  He led his league in complete games 7 times and shutouts, innings pitched and WAR four times each. 

Mike Mussina: Might get overlooked because he never won a Cy Young award, but had a 123 ERA+ in over 3,500 innings and his 345 Pitching Runs was an impressive 13th all-time.

Curt Schilling: Not a very bright person and I wish he would keep his shallow opinions to himself, but that has nothing to do with his Hall of Fame worthiness.  Arguably the best post-season pitcher ever, but was a lot more than that.  He had a 127 ERA+, 3,116 strikeouts (15th best ever), 81 WAR (21st best).  

Edgar Martinez: Gets knocked down by some because he was primarily a designated hitter. On the other hand, some of his supporters think he belongs because he was one of the best ever at his position.  This is not a good argument because the position is limited to a pool of players who were among the worst fielders in the game.  For a designated hitter to make the Hall of Fame, he needs to be an elite hitter and Martinez's 147 lifetime OPS+ (32nd best ever) shows that he was.  He also accumulated 68 WAR with virtually no fielding contribution. 

Larry Walker: A bit controversial because his numbers were inflated by the Denver altitude, but he had a 141 OPS+ and 73 WAR and was also an excellent fielder.  

Scott Rolen: The Alan Trammell/ Lou Whitaker of his time, had a long distinguished career, but was never regarded as a superstar.  His 122 OPS+ and outstanding defense at third base helped him accumulate 70 WAR.

Honorable Mentions: Lance Berkman, Todd Helton, Andruw Jones and Manny Ramirez (mentioned above).  I could maybe be talked into including any of them, but I am leaving them out for now.  

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