Sunday, January 20, 2019

Top Ten Tigers Right Fielders

Early 20th Century outfielder Sam Crawford  accumulated 64 WAR in his Tigers career.  
(Photo credit: National Baseball Hall of Fame Library)

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

Catchers
first basemen
Second Basemen
Shortstops
Third Basemen
Center 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 right fielder or played center field more than any other position.
  • A player must have played at least two full seasons as a right fielder with the Tigers.
  • Only games played with the Tigers are considered. 
  • If a player played other positions with the Tigers besides right 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 right fielders:

Al Kaline 93
Harry Heilmann 68
Sam Crawford 64
Kirk Gibson 28
Jim Northrup 21
Vic Wertz 16
Roy Cullenbine 15
Magglio Ordonez 14
JD Martinez 13
Pete Fox 11
Pat Mullin 11

We can see that right field has been a strong position for the Tigers with three Hall of Famers - Al Kaline, Harry Heilmann  and Sam Crawford - at the top of the list.  Kaline, a lifetime Tiger whose career spanned 22 years, has a 25 win lead over Heilmann with Crawford a close third.

To get information about offense only, we can use Adjusted Batting Runs (ABR) described in the link for first basemen above:

Harry Heilmann 513
Al Kaline 506
Sam Crawford 405
Kirk Gibson 158
JD Martinez 97
Magglio Ordonez 94
Vic Wertz 94
Roy Cullenbine 87
Jim Northrup 73
Pat Mullin 46   

By this measure, Heilmann was the most productive offensively.  Kaline is just seven runs behind, but he had over 3,000 plate appearances.  Crawford is a distant third, but still among the top five Tigers ever which says a lot about the strength of the position.       

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

Harry Heilmann 149
JD Martinez 146
Sam Crawford 144
Champ Summers 143
Al Kaline 134
Roy Cullenbine 134
Kirk Gibson 125
Vic Wertz 125
Magglio Ordonez 123
Torii Hunter 115
Jim Northrup 115

Martinez and Champ Summers move up near the top of this list.  Summers doesn't qualify because he was only a regular for one season, but I wanted to mention him because he was a personal favorite.  

1. Al Kaline (1953-1974  93 WAR  506 ABR  134 OPS+)

Al Kaline joined the Tigers straight out of high school in 1953 at age 18 and has been with the organization in some capacity for seven decades or more than half the team's existence. He led the league in batting (.340) and accumulated 8.2 WAR at the age of 20 in 1955 and appeared headed for super-stardom.  That turned out to be arguably his best season, but he was really good at every facet of the game for a long time with 2+ WAR for 18 consecutive years.  Mr Tiger finished in the top 10 in WAR 11 times and in MVP voting 9 times.   


2. Harry Heilmann (1914-1929  68 WAR  513 ABR 149 OPS+)
In 1913, according to Baseball: The Biographical Encyclopedia by David Pietrusza, et al, Harry Heilmann was a 19-year-old bookkeeper for a San Francisco biscuit company.  On the way home from work one day, he ran into a friend who asked him to fill in for a sick player on a local semi-pro team.  A scout for the Class B Northwestern League's Portland Colts was in the crowd that day and signed Heilmann to a professional contract (with a bonus of a spaghetti dinner) two days later.  At the end of the season, Detroit purchased his contract and he was on his way to a Hall of Fame career.  Like Kaline, Harry was a long-time Tiger as a player and broadcaster staying with the organization through 1950.  Slug was slow in the field and on the bases, but he was a gifted hitter batting .342 with a 148 OPS+ lifetime.  He had an incredible stretch from 1921-1927 batting .380 with a 167 OPS+ including four batting titles (all in odd numbered years):
1921 .394
1923 .403
1925 .393
1927 .398
 
3. Sam Crawford (2003-2017  64  WAR  405 ABR  144 OPS+)

In the early 19th Century's Dead Ball era, triples which were far more common than home runs and were considered an indicator of power hitting.  Sam Crawford led the league in triples six times including totals of 26, 25, 23 and 22.  As a slugger, Wahoo Sam played in the wrong era and Bill James estimated in the Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract that he would have hit 494 home runs had a played 20 years later.  Crawford was also a fine athlete with great speed and a strong arm and I suspect WAR might be underestimating his base running and defense.  I was tempted to place him second ahead of the one dimensional Heilmann, but Harry had a little too much of an edge offensively which is the one thing we can accurately measure.  Crawford could certainly hit though posting an OPS+ of 150 or better seven times as a Tiger. 

4. Kirk Gibson (1979-1987, 1993-1995  28 WAR  158 ABR  125 OPS+)

Manager Sparky Anderson said in his book Bless You Boys "When he walks through that clubhouse door, everyone knows he's there.  There's just that something about a player like Gibson..He's a man.  He comes to play day after day."  Gibson was a tremendous athlete who was an All American wide receiver at Michigan State prior to signing with the Tigers and often played the game like a football player.  Gibby certainly had a flair for the dramatic whether it be bowling over an umpire, a catcher and almost another base runner all on the same play or hitting his second most famous home run off Goose Goosage in the final game of the 1984 World Series.  From 1984-1987, Gibson averaged 4.6 WAR and a 137 OPS+.  He was also post-season hero in 1984 winning the playoff MVP and continuing to hit during the World Series.

5. Jim Northrup (1964-1974  21 WAR  73 ABR  115 OPS+)

Jim Northrup was never a star but was a steady performer both offensively and defensively in his 11 years as a Tiger.  During his prime years 1966-1969, Northrup averaged 4.1 WAR and a 125 OPS+.  Like several Tigers, the Michigan native had his best season in 1968 accumulating 5.9 WAR and posting a 129 OPS+.  Northrup was famous for grand slams in 1968 hitting two in one game versus the Indians in June as well as one in the World Series.
   
6. Magglio Ordonez (2005-2011  14 WAR  94 ABR  123 OPS+)

Signed as a free agent in February, 2005, Magglio Ordonez became a fan favorite for his batting and for his long hair which was somewhat of a rarity for Tigers stars over the years.  His walk-off blast versus the Oakland Athletics in the 2006 American League Championship Series to give the Tigers their first pennant in 22 years was the second most memorable hit in Tigers history.  Number one (even though most of you were not around to remember it) was Goose Goslin's walk-off single  which secured the Tigers first world championship in 1935. Magglio's fantastic 2017 season was one of the Tigers five best seasons in the past 50 years.  He batted .363/.434/.595 with a 166 OPS+ and 7.3 WAR that year.
      
7. Vic Wertz (1947-1952, 1961-1963  16 WAR  94 ABR  125 OPS+)

Vic Wertz is probably best known as the Cleveland Indians batter who hit the long fly ball resulting in Willie Mays' famous catch and throw in game one of the 1954 World Series.  Nothing that memorable happened during his nine years with the Tigers, but did have some good seasons at the plate and in the field.  He finished in the American League top ten in both WAR and OPS+ in both 1950 and 1951.      

8. JD Martinez (2014-2017, 1954  13 WAR  97 ABR  146 OPS+)  

JD Martinez signed as a free agent with the Tigers in March, 2014 following an apparently failed career with the Astros.  After averaging an 88 OPS+ with the Astros from 2011-2013, he exploded in Detroit with the help of a retooled swing into one of the American League's better sluggers.  His ranking here was hurt a bit by his injuries, but he had some eye popping numbers when healthy.  His OPS+ with the Tigers were:
2014 154
2015 139
2016 142
2017 165
And then he was traded to the Diamond Backs in mid-season 2017.  JD, We hardly knew ye.   

9. Roy Cullenbine  (1938-1939, 1945-1947  15 WAR  87 ABR  134 OPS+)


Roy Cullenbine drew a walk in 17.8% of his plate appearances throughout his career which puts him seventh on the MLB all-time list (Fangraphs.com).  In his career with the Tigers, his percentage (19.1%) was even better which contributed to a .412 OBP.  In his final three seasons, all with the Tigers, the switch-hitting Cullenbine had 5.4, 5.0 and 4.3 WAR.

10. Pat Mullin (1940-1953  11 WAR  46 ABR  115 OPS+)

Pat Mullin is tough to evaluate because he missed four seasons in his prime (ages 24 to 27) serving in World WAR II from 1942-1945.  What's difficult is that he didn't play enough before and after those years to get a really good handle on what he would have done if he didn't miss any time.  He first became a regular in 1941 and batted .345/.400/.509 but in only 54 games.  When he returned from the war in 1946, he not surprisingly struggled to hit.  However, he posted 126 and 127 OPS+ in 1947 and 1948 (the only year he played more than 110 games).  He could arguably go as high as #6 on this list, but there is not enough information.  

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

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

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