Saturday, December 07, 2019

One Last Lou Whitaker Belongs in The Hall of Fame Post


Tigers star second baseman Lou Whitaker is looking to finally make the Hall of Fame tomorrow.
 Photo credit: CooperstownExpert.com

Hopefully, this is the last "Lou Whitaker should be in the Hall of Fame" post you will ever see.  Tomorrow, the Tigers long-time second baseman will get another shot at the Hall of Fame when the Modern Baseball Era Committee selects among nine players and influential Major League Baseball Players Association head Marvin Miller for induction in 2020. 

A common argument for Hall of Fame worthiness is that player X is in the Hall of Fame and player Y was better than player X, so player Y should be there too.  For example Harold Baines was voted in last year, so Whitaker should make it this year.  The problem with that is that Baines was a mistake and if you use him as the bar, then you could make a case for hundreds of players. Baines was a good hitter for a long-time and by all accounts a respected teammate, but there is no reasonable argument you can make for his inclusion in he Hall of Fame.  So, it's not a good argument to say that your guy is better than Baines.  Occasionally the various Hall of Fame committees make poor judgments and we just have to accept their errors and move on. 

Suppose, however, we can show that Whitaker was better than not just Baines or not just one or two second basemen, but was as good or better than half the second basemen in the Hall of Fame.  That would give us a much stronger case.  There are currently 20 second sackers enshrined in the Cooperstown museum.  If we include Whitaker that makes 21.  The table below shows how he ranks on that list on some important statistics.

Table: How Lou Whitaker Ranks Among Hall of Fame Second Basemen 
Name
Yrs
From
To
G
PA
WAR
WAR7
JAWS
OPS+
Rogers Hornsby
23
1915
1937
2,259
9,480
127
74
100
175
Eddie Collins 
25
1906
1930
2,826
12,078
124
64
94
141
Nap Lajoie 
21
1896
1916
2,480
10,460
107
60
84
150
Joe Morgan 
22
1963
1984
2,649
11,329
101
59
80
132
Rod Carew 
19
1967
1985
2,469
10,550
81
50
66
131
Charlie Gehringer 
19
1924
1942
2,323
10,244
81
51
66
124
Lou Whitaker
19
1977
1995
2,390
9,967
75
38
57
117
Frankie Frisch 
19
1919
1937
2,311
10,099
70
44
57
110
Ryne Sandberg 
16
1981
1997
2,164
9,282
68
47
58
114
Roberto Alomar 
17
1988
2004
2,379
10,400
67
43
55
116
Craig Biggio 
20
1988
2007
2,850
12,504
66
42
54
112
Jackie Robinson 
10
1947
1956
1,382
5,804
61
52
57
132
Joe Gordon 
11
1938
1950
1,566
6,535
57
46
52
120
Billy Herman 
15
1931
1947
1,922
8,638
55
36
45
112
Bid McPhee 
18
1882
1899
2,138
9,429
53
29
41
107
Bobby Doerr 
14
1937
1951
1,865
8,028
51
36
44
115
Tony Lazzeri 
14
1926
1939
1,740
7,315
50
35
43
121
Nellie Fox 
19
1947
1965
2,367
10,351
49
37
43
93
Johnny Evers 
18
1902
1929
1,784
7,220
48
33
41
106
Red Schoendienst 
19
1945
1963
2,216
9,224
42
32
37
94
Bill Mazeroski
17
1956
1972
2,163
8,379
37
26
31
84
Source: Baseball-Reference (https://www.baseball-reference.com/leaders/jaws_2B.shtml)

Whitaker ranks 7th on the increasingly popular Wins Above Replacement (WAR) statistic with 75 WAR placing him behind only Rogers Hornsby, Eddie Collins, Nap Lajoie, Joe Morgan, Rod Carew, and Charlie Gehringer  Nobody would argue that Lou was better than the great Jackie Robinson who played his career under extraordinary circumstances and didn't play in the majors until the age of 28.  Robinson is on a very short list of the most influential Hall of Famers ever.  But if we make Whitaker number eight instead of seven, that is still a strong statement of his Hall of Fame worthiness. 

The knock on Whitaker has been that he was very good for a long time, but never had a great season.  The career versus peak question has always been an important consideration, so Hall of Fame historian Jay Jaffe calculated the total WAR for a player's seven best seasons in terms of WAR as a measure of peak performance (WAR7 in the table).  Whitaker had 38 WAR7 which ranks 13th.  Thirteenth is not as good as 7th or 8th, but it was still better than eight Hall of Fame second basemen which is a lot.

To get a balance between career and peak, Jaffe then took the average of WAR and WAR7 to get JAWS.  Whitaker had 57 JAWS which puts him in 11th place which is the median (equal numbers of players above and below him) for the position.  Based on this, Whitaker looks like your average Hall of Fame second baseman. 

If we just consider offense, Sweet Lou's 117 OPS+ was 10th best.  Whitaker also ranked more or less in the middle of the pack on several more traditional statistics:

244 Homeruns (6th)
2,369 Hits (13th)
1,386 Runs (11th)
1,084 Runs Batted In (11th)
3,651 Total Bases (11th)

So, Whitaker was not in the elite class of players like Rogers Hornsby, Eddie Collins, Nap Lajoie, Joe , Morgan and Jackie Robinson.  However, he was objectively better than Bill Mazeroski, Red Schoendienst, Johnny Evers, Nellie Fox, Tony Lazzeri, Bid McPhee and Billy Herman.  That is true whether you consider career or peak value.  Depending on whether you put more weight on career or peak, you can also make a case that he was better than a few others. 

No matter how you slice it, Whitaker was solidly in the middle of the pack among Hall of Famers at his position.  He deserves induction and if a group of voters does the right thing tomorrow, I will never have to tell you that again.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

How Many Runs Will The Tigers Allow in 2019?

It was a lot more fun making projections for the Tigers staff when they had Justin Verlander (Photo credit:GiveMeSport)

Now that I have projected the Tigers runs scored total for 2019, the next step is to estimate how many runs they will give up.  Compared to run production, run prevention is more difficult to predict because pitcher's arms are so fragile and their performance so volatile.  I undershot the Tigers eventual run total in each of the last four seasons:

2014 65
2015 129
2016 30
2017 194
2018 6

After being off by 194 runs in 2017, I was about to give up on this process, but last year was a lot better.  Before the 2018 season got under way, I wrote that the Tigers would allow 790 runs.  They went on to surrender 796 runs.  So, I was off by six runs giving me hope that my formulas have some utility.  

General Manager Al Avila made a couple of moves during the off-season to add pitching depth.  Most notably, he added two starters - left hander Matt Moore and right hander Tyson Ross.  Neither is likely to be good or even average, but they will give the Tigers innings which will keep them from rushing young pitchers into major league action.  It was also hoped that righty  Michael Fulmer would come back healthy, but he will miss the season due to Tommy John surgery.  

Their rotation to start the season will consist of  Moore, Ross, Matt Boyd, Jordan Zimmermann and rookie Spencer Turnbull which sounds like a Randy Smith rotation from the mid 90s.  It is hard to even predict how long any of the starters will remain in the rotation.  If they fail, the first two replacements would likely be Daniel Norris and Blaine Hardy.    
  
For the projection, I first estimated innings pitched in 2019 for the seven starters listed above and key bullpen pieces at the beginning of the season (Table 1).  In order to forecast runs allowed, I used three-year averages on three measures from 2016-2018 all adjusted for projected innings this year:
  • Runs Allowed.
  • Base Runs - estimate of what runs allowed should have been based on base runners, total bases and home runs.
For example, Boyd allowed an average of 105 runs per 180 innings (his projected 2019 total) from 2016-2018.  He also allowed 105 Base Runs and 91 FIP Runs.  The average of the three numbers above (105, 105, 91) was 100.  That comes out to an Earned Run Average of about 4.66 which seems about right for him.  

I projected the rest of the pitchers moving them up or down from their three-year averages if I think they are going to get better or worse this year.  In particular, I'm guessing that reliever Joe Jimenez  will do better than his three-year average.  I made a big adjustment for Turnbull because it doesn't make much sense to base a projection on just 16 past innings.

Summing it all up, I am projecting 823 runs allowed which is worse than last year when they had Fulmer plus a surprisingly solid season from Mike Fiers.  That combined with 690 runs scored yields a differential of 133 runs or thirteen wins below .500.  Thus, my prediction for the season is a 68-94 record.  This would be better than their 98 losses in 2017 and 2018, but not because of their pitching.         

Table 1: Projected Runs Allowed By Tigers Pitchers in 2019
Pitcher
Proj IP
RA
BSR
FIP Runs
Comb*
Proj Runs
Proj ERA
Matt Boyd
180
105
105
91
100
100
4.66
Jordan Zimmermann
160
111
109
90
103
103
5.41
Matt Moore
150
92
87
78
86
86
4.80
Tyson Ross
150
94
79
80
84
84
4.72
Spencer Turnbull
140
96
59
44
66
80
4.78
Daniel Norris
100
57
61
47
55
55
4.59
Blaine Hardy
85
42
44
40
42
48
4.73
Joe Jimenez
65
50
35
26
37
30
3.86
Shane Greene
65
34
29
28
30
30
3.90
Other
345
.
.
.
207
207
5.02
Totals
1,440



811
823
4.78



















*Average adjusted for projected innings in 2019.
 Data Source: Baseball-Reference.com

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