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

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