BILL JAMES ONLINE

A Nort Shote about Yaz and Kaline

March 27, 2019
 

A Nort Shote about Yaz and Kaline

 

            I did a poll recently asking readers to choose between Al Kaline and Carl Yastrzemski.  Yastrzemski won the poll decisively, 69-31, although they have very comparable career WAR according to both Baseball Reference (92.8 to 96.4, Yaz) and Fangraphs (88.9 to 94.8).    Yaz leads in career Win Shares, 488 to 443.   I misread their WAR on Baseball Reference and tweeted that Kaline had more WAR; sorry about that.   That’s the 7th mistake I have made already this year. 

            Anyway, this led to some speculation about why Yaz dominated Kaline in the poll despite comparable career WAR, in which the three leading theories were:

a)     Recency bias,

b)     High concentration of Red Sox fans in my followers, and

c)      Fenway Park.

 

Kaline is actually a little less than five years older than Yaz, so you wouldn’t think that would be a big factor, although maybe it is because Kaline had his best years very young and Yaz not as much.  Anyway, while certainly those are all three related and contributing factors, my explanation would be this.   

The way in which players have traditionally gained recognition is by meeting statistical benchmarks.  Magic numbers.  200 hits, 100 runs scored, 100 RBI, 30 homers, 40 homers, a .300 batting average, a batting championship.  

Although Yaz was only slightly better than K--- in career value, he hit these magic numbers many more times.  Look at it.  Kaline had

·      200 hits once

·      100 runs scored twice

·      100 RBI twice

·      1 batting championship, and

·      7 seasons with a .300 batting average/qualifying for batting title.  

 

That’s a total of 13 star-level batting accomplishments.  He never had 30 or 40 homers in a season.  Yasztremski had

·      100 runs scored twice

·      100 RBI five times

·      3 batting championships

·      3 seasons with 30 homers, in all of which he also had 40 homers,

·      6 seasons hitting .300 as a regular, plus

·      A triple crown, and

·      An MVP Award. 

 

That’s 24 star-level magic numbers, counting a 30-homer season as one and a 40-homer season as two.   Of course there are other things you can count; Yastrzemski played in 7 all-star games and won 7 Gold Gloves; Kaline played 7 all-star games and won 10 Gold Gloves, so that would be 38 star-level accomplishments for Yaz, 30 for Kaline.   Yaz played in two World Series, 14 World Series games; Kaline played in one World Series, 7 games, and that was post-prime although he had a tremendous World Series and his team won, Kaline hitting .379 with 2 homers, 8 RBI in the series.  Yastrzemski hit .352 with three homers in 14 World Series games; they both did real good there.

Anyway, I think that is what it is; I think it is that 24-13 edge in "magic numbers" that makes Yastrzemski seem bigger in the public’s mind.   Sometimes analysts think that because we shouldn’t put much weight on the difference between 102 RBI and 96 RBI, that that doesn’t make any difference.   My point was that even though perhaps this shouldn’t make a difference, it does. 

 

 

 
 

COMMENTS (69 Comments, most recent shown first)

travisbecker
During 1955-60 (i.e. pre-Yaz), Kaline had easily the 2nd best AL hitting WAR, but still far behind Mickey Mantle. Mantle = 53 WAR, Kaline = 35. Ted Williams, Nellie Fox, and Minnie Minoso were all around 28 or 29 (for that period only).

Compare that to later, in 1968-72, when Yaz was still playing at a high level but Kaline had started to decline. There was no "Mantle-level" competition for Yaz for AL hitting WAR. Yaz was 1st during that period with 32 WAR, Sal Bando 2nd with 30, a young Reggie Jackson 3rd with 29 WAR. Kaline was 24th with 16 WAR.

Yaz was, overall, a better player than Kaline. But luck favored Yaz a little with the other star players overlapping their respective careeers.

Travis

6:11 PM Apr 9th
 
Steven Goldleaf
Marc--rather than continue the discussion, I invite you to comment on a separate article I'm writing on this subject, to be posted soon. It feels a little obnoxious to be expressing myself so much here. I prefer to be a lot obnoxious in my own allotted space.
1:24 PM Apr 4th
 
Marc Schneider
Stephen Goldleaf:

"The more closely I look at this, the more obvious Kaline's superiority seems to me, making Yaz's winning Bill's poll odder and odder.?"

You can argue about "Kaline's superiority" but, assuming you are correct, I don't think it's odd at all. It's a matter of publicity, big moments, and all sorts of extraneous factors. Yaz has a more exotic name, the 1967 season where he carried a big market, big media team (that has grown only more so in the years since), with a fan base that is in itself famous, and he had a great World Series.

Kaline had none of these things going for him. Playing in a midwestern city that was did not win a pennant until Kaline was past his prime. He never had a signature moment.

I mean, Hank Aaron wasn't really considered a true superstar until he had a big playoff series against the Mets in 1969 and Tom Seaver extolled him. And, then, of course, his pursuit of Ruth. The fact is Kaline (and Yaz although he played a different position) couldn't carry Aaron's jock, yet he was, for a time, thought a better player. (I'm not going to get into the possible racial component there, but Aaron also played in a Midwestern city, but for a much better team that was in two World Series.)

So, while it might be unfortunate, I don't think it's odd at all that an (arguably) lesser player would be considered better in a poll taken decades after they both stopped playing.


1:02 PM Apr 4th
 
Steven Goldleaf
162, not 182, was Kaline's OPS+ peak. Typo. Sorry.
3:32 PM Apr 3rd
 
Steven Goldleaf
Look at Bill's final two sentences above: "Sometimes analysts think that because we shouldn’t put much weight on the difference between 102 RBI and 96 RBI, that that doesn’t make any difference. My point was that even though perhaps this shouldn’t make a difference, it does."

Some of us are talking about who was better, K or Y, but others are discussing why they think Yaz won Bill's poll. I certainly am.

To me, this is about why people haven't thought this through properly. Take one of Bill's examples of why Yaz SEEMS better (not IS better) than Kaline: Yaz's "magical" batting over .300 six times. But Kaline batted over .300 nine times, and had a 12-point BA advantage over Yaz, while facing disadvantageously handed pitching 70% of the time and not batting in Fenway half the time. To my point, and how Kaline got that 12-point advantage in BA, he batted over .285 fourteen times in his career while Yaz beat that mark only ten times--IOW, the magical cutoff of .300 doesn't really work in Yaz's favor but he looks even worse with a .285 standard.

Bill also mentions the magical cut off of 30 HRs--but Kaline hit 27-29 HRs SIX times in his career. He mentions the 100 runs scored and 100 RBIs standard, but doesn't go into the opportunities for each--Kaline batted 3rd most of his career and Yaz batted in the 4 position for the majority of his, allowing Yaz to drive in 100+ runs TWICE with OPS+ of 120. Kaline had 15 seasons of an OPS+ of better than 120, but he drove in 100 runs only three times (not twice, as Bill maintains, btw), with OPS+ marks of 139, 144 and 182. Which is more impressive?

The more closely I look at this, the more obvious Kaline's superiority seems to me, making Yaz's winning Bill's poll odder and odder.​
3:21 PM Apr 3rd
 
George.Rising
@Steven Goldleaf

I think that we're discussing:

1) Who's better, Yaz or Kaline. That question was asked to individuals and then collected in the aggregate through Bill's twitter poll of individual twitter responses.
2) Why did you (and the twitterverse) get the answer that you did to question #1?

At least, that's what I'm discussing. And those questions seemed aligned, not at cross purposes, to me.
1:44 PM Apr 3rd
 
Steven Goldleaf
Not much. Tables are tough here on "comments"

We're talking a little at cross purposes here--some of us are arguing which player was actually better, some are arguing about why people (mistakenly) think one player was actually better.
12:39 PM Apr 3rd
 
George.Rising
Does this look better?

Play G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO
AK 157 650 569 87 166 28 5 19 84 9 70 58
RC 154 650 605 87 185 27 8 17 81 6 38 84

Play BA OBP SLG OPS
AK 0.292 0.369 0.458 0.827
RC 0.306 0.347 0.463 0.810


11:41 AM Apr 3rd
 
George.Rising
I like the Kaline-Clemente comparison, too. Unfortunately, I'd bet it would be 90-10 Clemente among fans on Twitter. But I think Kaline was as good, if not slightly better. But I grew up in Detroit, not Pittsburgh.

The interesting thing about Clemente and Kaline is how similar the road hitting stats were (aside from walks). At home, however, Forbes Field reduced Clemente's HRs but increased all other hits, especially triples, and batting average. In contrast, Tiger Stadium increased Kaline's HRs. (By the way, Cemente only played in Three Rivers Stadium for 2.5 years.)

Career away stats prorated to 650 PA:

Player G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO
Kaline 157 650 569 87 166 28 5 19 84 9 70 58
Clemente 154 650 605 87 185 27 8 17 81 6 38 84

Player BA OBP SLG OPS
Kaline 0.292 0.369 0.458 0.827
Clemente 0.306 0.347 0.463 0.810


So the idea that Clement was more of a higher BA and lower HR hitter than Kaline is mostly a product of the home parks.




11:38 AM Apr 3rd
 
Steven Goldleaf
Does seem a little strange. A far better comparison, I think, would be between Kaline and Clemente, who played in almost exactly the same years, played the same position, had the exact same high in HRs for one year (29), etc. The different positions that Kaline and Yaz played puzzle me especially--I've been pointing out that Kaline played the MUCH more demanding position defensively, which should settle the question of who was the better fielder, given that anecdotal evidence seems to be inconclusive. If we were comparing a SS and a 1B man with similar offensive numbers, and similar defensive reputations, you'd think the difference in their defensive positions would come into the discussion, but here people seem determined to take the position that playing LF and playing RF are a wash. They're not.
7:30 AM Apr 3rd
 
MarisFan61
Something that nobody asked, somewhat to my surprise:

Why particularly the comparison between these two guys?....

Not that it's not interesting; it's very interesting.
But I'd think some of the other comparisons are more natural, including (but not only) because Yaz and Kaline didn't play the same position.
3:01 PM Apr 2nd
 
George.Rising
@thoughtclaw: yes, agreed.

Here's Yaz's breakdown for home and away OPS. A pretty big difference: 125 points for his career and a higher home OPS in 20 of 23 years. And check out especially the numbers from 1975-1983.

Yaz Home Away H-A Difference
Year OPS OPS OPS
1961 0.849 0.597 0.252
1962 0.965 0.704 0.261
1963 0.871 0.915 -0.044
1964 0.844 0.806 0.038
1965 1.055 0.788 0.267
1966 0.921 0.670 0.251
1967 1.106 0.975 0.131
1968 0.903 0.939 -0.036
1969 0.938 0.803 0.135
1970 1.139 0.953 0.186
1971 0.816 0.728 0.088
1972 0.806 0.679 0.127
1973 0.870 0.869 0.001
1974 0.892 0.822 0.070
1975 0.805 0.746 0.059
1976 0.917 0.677 0.240
1977 0.977 0.775 0.202
1978 0.811 0.768 0.043
1979 0.912 0.677 0.235
1980 0.762 0.858 -0.096
1981 0.816 0.585 0.231
1982 0.851 0.729 0.122
1983 0.788 0.747 0.041
Career 0.904 0.779 0.125

Here's Kaline below. He had only 57 points difference for career home and away OPS. Kaline's road OPS is 48 points higher than Yaz's (.827 vs. .779):

Kaline Home Away H-A Difference
Year OPS OPS OPS
1953 0.583 0.686 -0.103
1954 0.554 0.766 -0.212
1955 1.049 0.891 0.158
1956 0.917 0.909 0.008
1957 0.835 0.807 0.028
1958 0.987 0.740 0.247
1959 0.940 0.938 0.002
1960 0.754 0.805 -0.051
1961 0.870 0.950 -0.080
1962 1.011 0.922 0.089
1963 1.038 0.729 0.309
1964 0.851 0.851 0.000
1965 0.800 0.919 -0.119
1966 0.910 0.944 -0.034
1967 1.038 0.878 0.160
1968 0.773 0.862 -0.089
1969 0.855 0.727 0.128
1970 0.830 0.824 0.006
1971 0.930 0.831 0.099
1972 0.978 0.728 0.250
1973 0.767 0.665 0.102
1974 0.844 0.610 0.234
Career 0.884 0.827 0.057


1:16 PM Apr 2nd
 
thoughtclaw
One brief note on George.Rising's posts about Yaz's road stats: Hitters who play their home games in great hitters parks are slightly disadvantaged if you consider only their road stats. The reason for this is that they don't count games played in their own home park, while other hitters have some road stats from that park -- at least the ones in their league. It certainly doesn't invalidate his point, I just thought I'd mention it.
7:42 PM Mar 31st
 
Steven Goldleaf
Yaz made 10 All-Star teams after 1971, in eight of which he had a season’s WAR of 3.6, 3.0, 2.8, 2.7, 2.3, 2.0, 1.3, and -0.2, an average of about 2.1. (His WAR in 1973 and 1977 were pretty deserving of All-Star berths: 5.5 and 5.2.) Kaline had only four seasons (1960, 1962, 1971, and 1974) in which he made All-Star teams with a WAR below 5.4.
5:51 PM Mar 31st
 
Steven Goldleaf
When you overvalue peak value, you undervalue consistency, don't you? Isn't another way of saying "Yaz had greater peak value" (which we've known all along--it's more than clear) just "Yaz was very inconsistent"? He has many seasons where he played no better than an average AL LFer, 1B-man, DH, in some of which he made the All-Star team.
12:57 PM Mar 31st
 
shorena11
While their career values are more comparable than I would have guessed, Yaz had better peak value, so I still consider him better on that basis.
12:21 PM Mar 31st
 
sroney
Unless it has changed in the last few years (which I doubt), Al Kaline has the most homers of any player that never hit thirty in a season. One of his two 29-homer seasons came in a season in which he only played 100 games.

12:01 PM Mar 31st
 
OldBackstop
I would find it hard to believe that Red Sox fans are not overrepresented in your followers compared to Detroit fans, Bill.

Whyntcha try a poll on whether white or red clam chowder is best? ??
5:51 AM Mar 31st
 
DavidTodd
I play in a simulated historical online game of baseball,
Al Kaline cost more than Carl Yastzemski, and has for most if not all of the fifteen years the site has been active.
Kaline is an excellent, sure handed fielder with an excellent arm, Yaz is a good fielder, with a good arm and an average error rating. Al is very good in Centre field, as well.
Kaline is also an excellent baserunner while Carl is average, their banging into double plays are about equal.
Based on their careers as a whole, the two are nearly equal as hitters, with Carl Michael Yastrzemski having a slight edge over Albert William Kaline, I'd forgot his name was Albert.
2:46 AM Mar 31st
 
MarisFan61
.....Let's see, is Colavito still living.....
Yes.
BTW without too much trouble you can find his address.
WHY is there no Colavito-for-the-Hall movement....

Maybe we here can start something.....

I'm not much for "so and so should be in the Hall of Fame." I see it essentially as (using a phrase from Bill) a self-defining institution, and one whose self-definition I'm really totally fine with: If a guy is in, he's a Hall of Famer; if he isn't, he isn't.

But it bothers me if someone who deserves at least to be in the air for it isn't even in the air. Colavito deserves to be in the air for it.
1:52 PM Mar 30th
 
MarisFan61
P.S. I wonder too how a Yaz-Clemente poll would come out.....

THAT'S one that might be just about 50-50, which, as I said, I think would be rare.
1:40 PM Mar 30th
 
MarisFan61
.....Still mostly/just for fun: I'll add CLEMENTE to the Win Shares thing.
Don't know why I didn't think to include him before; he's in that mix.

Here again are the guys I listed (minus Ruth, Mays, Mantle; no need to put them here), with Clemente added.
As before, the data are from this site's new Win Shares section, which is a GREAT new resource.

Top 5 Win Share years
Aaron: 41,38,38,35,35
F. Robinson: 41,41,34,33,32
Yastrzemski: 42,39,36,29,26
Kaline: 31,31,30,29,27
CLEMENTE: 35,30,29,28,27

.....and actually I'm gonna add one more -- a guy who I think deserves some renewed looks; Bill gave him one a few years ago in a series about fielding; the guy showed surprisingly well on that -- was regarded as having a great arm, although that was sometimes said to be overrated, and he wasn't much thought of as a very good overall outfielder; I said at the time that if he really was that good an outfielder, he deserves some Hall of Fame discussion:
COLAVITO: 33,32,29,28,26
1:39 PM Mar 30th
 
Brock Hanke
I'm an old enough geezer to have seen Kaline in his prime, in the 1950s, much less Yaz. One thing I noticed, as time went on, was that the 1950s had a really huge collection of absolute superstar outfielders. Kaline, in the 50s, was playing in a context of Musial, Williams and Aaron in the corner outfield. If you include the CFs, that's Mantle, Mays, Doby, Snider and Ashburn. I may have forgotten a couple. While there were certainly great outfielders in the 1960s and 1970s, there were not so many of them at that high a level. It was harder to stand out from the pack in the 1950s outfield than it was in Yaz' time.
7:52 AM Mar 30th
 
Steven Goldleaf

Here’s a rather crude, old-fashioned way of looking at the difference between Yaz’s career and Kaline’s: Yaz batted 1873 more times than Kaline (11988/10115), about three very full seasons’ worth of ABs, and got 412 more hits than he did (3419/3007). That works out to a .220 BA over three full seasons.

Let’s throw in the rest of the old-fashioned Big Three, HR and RBI, which push Yaz further over the line of mediocrity, though not that much further: Yaz’s advantage there is 53 HR and 258 RBI, which over three seasons of 624 ABs comes to 18 HR and 86 RBI per year. 86 RBI might lead you to think “Not too shabby,” except it is over 624 ABs (Yaz got over 600 ABs only twice in his long career as an everyday player) and I would put him at DH or 1B for all of the ABs Yaz has over Kaline. (Yaz had 412 games at DH, Kaline only 146.) Is .220, 18, 86 a huge advantage? Is it an advantage at all? Is it a detriment?

Now if you further consider that Yaz would have all of these ABs (and many more) with the platoon advantage and Kaline would not, that Yaz would have had them in Fenway, Kaline in Briggs, I don’t see an offensive advantage for Yaz at all, and I still think Kaline had the advantage defensively.

5:47 AM Mar 30th
 
jimmybart
I voted for Yaz, mainly due to the '67 season. But I think the 'Red Sox bias' is a more recent phenomenom (by more recent I mean last 40 years). It seems to me the casual baseball fan's interest in the "Red Sox curse" (and the team itself) took hold after the Bucky Dent HR in 1978, really took off after Buckner in 1986, hit a boiling point with the 2003 Aaron Boone HR, and peaked with the 2004 redemption. I'm 50, so maybe it existed before due to the losses in '67 and '75, but 1978 felt especially brutal given the lead they had mid-summer, then losing to the hated Yankees.

Bill Simmons made an interesting point in his Red Sox book that Red Sox Nation took off with the influx of college students coming to Boston and falling in love with the team, and then spreading their fandom out to the rest of the country after graduation. I believe he referenced the 1967 'Impossible Dream' season as where that relationship really took hold.

Anyway, my point is that while the Red Sox may have been more popular than the Tigers back in the 1960s, the gap is much more pronounced now.




1:08 AM Mar 30th
 
MarisFan61
....I would have rather guessed that the way he put it was, he had the best arm of anyone I saw including the guys I didn't see. :-)
6:14 PM Mar 29th
 
Steven Goldleaf
Yogi, if you're interested in him as an authority, said Kaline had the best arm of any outfielder he ever saw.
5:24 PM Mar 29th
 
MarisFan61
Third base might give some of the most curious polls.

Schmidt vs. Brooks Robinson: Brooks would get more support than we'd think based on our judgments of the players.

Brooks Robinson vs. Adrian Beltre: I think Brooks would win, despite what is suggested objectively.
(I'd probably vote for him; I wouldn't consider it an easy choice; does that mean I think analysis has it a little wrong on them? I think so)
BTW, on Win Shares they're not that far apart, closer than on "WAR," although if you don't care that much about 'accumulation,' they're pretty close on WAR too.

On catcher, Bench vs. Berra: I think Bench would win by a lot, by a bigger margin than how much better he probably was, because I think most people would feel there's a distinct difference, if not a great one -- even among New York people.
(me: I wouldn't be able to pick between them; I consider them to be very very much on the same level)
5:04 PM Mar 29th
 
FrankD
1967 basebrawl with Yankees and Yaz. No warnings back then. Not necessarily additive to this discussion but fun to see Yaz in 1967 and how the game was played

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p5H6oo1O0Q0
4:52 PM Mar 29th
 
George.Rising
If I remember correctly, Yaz's road OPS was under .730 (just over the league average) over his last 9 years (1975-1983).
2:46 PM Mar 29th
 
George.Rising
I think that 1) Yaz is generally considered a better player and bigger star than Kaline, and 2) the reasons for this have been explained well by Bill in his article and commentators on this post. In addition, Yaz had about 2000 more PAs.

My amateur stats work, which neutralizes park and era (although era is not as much as factor for these near-contemporaries), shows that Kaline had significantly better adjusted career hitting proficiency stats.

Al's hitting was helped by Tiger Stadium, but Yaz's hitting was REALLY helped by Fenway. In fact, Yaz's last 9 years (1975-1983) of hitting were pretty mediocre when focusing on his road stats (1980 was an exception). Playing half his games in Fenway obscured the fact that he was fading.

So if Yaz had retired in the mid or late 1970s, his adjusted proficiency stats would been similar to Al's.

BTW, Al didn't have a nickname that I know of, but as kids in Detroit we thought it was funny that his name was also a battery, "alkaline."
2:40 PM Mar 29th
 
jpc1957
I thought you did it on purpose ;), to get the totals roughly equal:

Yaz's Top 5 ~ Kaline's Top 6
2:33 PM Mar 29th
 
MarisFan61
(oops, accidentally did 6 years for Kaline)
1:08 PM Mar 29th
 
MarisFan61
Just for fun (meaning, I don't mean this proves anything):
Best 5 years on Win Shares (not consecutive years) - data from this site.
First 3 guys included for the heck of it.

Ruth: 55,53,51,45,45
Mantle: 51,49,48,39,36
Mays: 43,40,40,40,38 (btw he had 2 other 38's too)
Aaron: 41,38,38,35,35
F. Robinson: 41,41,34,33,32
Yastrzemski: 42,39,36,29,26
Kaline: 31,31,30,29,27,26

(I wasn't doing this to point to any conclusions, but:
Looking at it, I'd say the poll picked the right guy, and it probably gave Kaline more support than he should have gotten. If I'm voting on players without knowing who they are, just seeing those lines, I easily take the "42,39,36,29,26" over the "31,31,30,29,27,26."
I didn't know Yaz had 3 years that towered over Kaline to such an extent.)



1:06 PM Mar 29th
 
Marc Schneider
I think the discrepancy comes from 1967. People still talk about Yaz in 1967. Kaline never did anything like that; in 1968, when the Tigers won, Kaline was a supporting player and the Tigers ran away with the pennant. I always thought Yaz was a bit overrated, especially in his later years, but his 1967 was a year for the ages. Kaline just never had a year like that and his best years came with the Yankees were dominating.

Frankly, in my mind, although both obviously were very good players, they are both second tier Hall of Famers compared to contemporaries like Mays, Mantle, Aaron, Robinson, etc. What's interesting in one of the comments is the extent to which Aaron was overlooked until he approached Ruth's record, although he was much better than either Yaz or Kaline. Yaz clearly benefited from playing on the East Coast and, of course, almost literally willing the Red Sox to the pennant in 1967.
12:43 PM Mar 29th
 
Steven Goldleaf
Manushfan, you don't think RFers and CFers have more defensive responsibility than LFers? Or you don't think there's a difference? I'm not saying it's a huge deal, but it's definitely a deal.
9:06 AM Mar 29th
 
Manushfan
He played LF so he warn't as good.

Pass.
8:33 AM Mar 29th
 
Steven Goldleaf
Another weird little anomaly: Yaz had a much higher peak, as people are acknowledging, and a much longer career, which makes his lifetime totals appear to leave Kaline in the dust, so on both peak and career totals, in terms of WAR, it's Yaz all the way. Yaz's top three seasons score 12.5, 10.5, and 8.5, while Kaline's top three are only 8.4, 8.2, and 7.5, so clearly in terms of top three WAR, Yaz is superior.

But look at seasons 4-18:

Yaz ranges from 6.6 to 2.0, pretty evenly distributed.

Kaline ranges from 6.5 to 2.5, beating Yaz's WAR mark in most of those 15 years, sometimes by 0.1 and sometimes by 1.2.

So it's a question of value, in the end: would you rather have a higher peak or greater consistency? The totals are pretty much the same, so it's a matter of taste.
7:17 AM Mar 29th
 
Steven Goldleaf
In addition to the issues raised my Yaz article of a few years ago, consider this: K has a higher lifetime OPS than Yaz (.855/.841) despite playing in a slightly less friendly home park for his entire career. He also batted righthanded, meaning that he overwhelmingly faced unfavorable righthanded pitching over the course of his career, while Yaz, being a lefty also overwhelmingly faced righthanded pitching, which was a positive for Yaz and a negative for Kaline.

I also think there’s a clear argument for Kaline’s defensive superiority: 2368 of his total starts in the outfield (2371) were in RF (1900) and CF (468), while Yaz’s OF starts (2626) were overwhelmingly in LF (1884). It does require some ability to play caroms off the Monster in Fenway, no doubt, but I think overall Yaz had the easier defensive job, by the simple standard of comparing their assignments.

Subjectively, I remember Kaline being a defensive wizard, and Yaz not so much, but YMMV on that.

5:06 AM Mar 29th
 
MarisFan61
P.S. re my asking, what about (for example) Mays-Mantle...

I guess my basic wonderment is, how often would anything like this -- such a poll match-up of two quite-equal great players -- ever be closer to 50-50 than this.
I'm guessing it would be unusual.

Of course there would always be reasons why whichever guy comes out ahead, which is what most of the material here is addressing. But if in fact it would be rare for it to be particularly closer.....I think that's of interest.
3:40 AM Mar 29th
 
wovenstrap
I used MVP vote totals in favor of Yaz and against Kaline below. I decided to check an additional fact. A bit remarkably, despite never winning an MVP in his career, Kaline's career MVP vote share is significantly more impressive that Yaz's.

Yaz won the award in 1967, and his career MVP vote share is 2.23, ranking #81 all-time, a notch ahead of Don Mattingly. Kaline finished second twice and ended up at 2.93, placing him at 41st all-time, right behind Vlad Guerrero.

Kaline was very respected.
10:40 PM Mar 28th
 
MarisFan61
Bill: Might you consider running the same thing on Mays-Mantle?

My interest in this is theoretical, to see if a basically-even match of great players would still show as much of a margin as this did.
As I said down there, I suspect it would. I think a result like what you got here is actually an indication of a very close call.
10:39 PM Mar 28th
 
BobGill
If you could go back to 1966 and take that same poll, Kaline would've been close to a unanimous choice. He was VERY highly regarded in the early 1960s. In old Baseball Digests I saw one or two articles asking baseball men the question, who's better, Al Kaline or Hank Aaron? The votes were split just about evenly, too.

Also, when sportswriters at that time wanted to refer to typical superstars, it was fairly common for them to write "Mantle, Mays and Kaline." Really -- Kaline was more commonly cited in that context than Aaron. Or Frank Robinson.

But Yastrzemski's 1967 season seems to have tipped the scales in his favor from then on.
9:17 PM Mar 28th
 
KaiserD2
Yaz by my reckoning had 10 and 9 WAA in 1967 and 1968. The 1967 season is marginally better than any single season of either Mantle or Mays. The terrible hitting in the league in those years covered up just how dominant he was. The Red Sox won only 92 games in 1967, meaning that he was responsible for the entire + .500 value of the team. Kaline never had seasons like those.
8:05 PM Mar 28th
 
ajmilner
A few years ago my aunt was doing science homework with her kids, saw "alkaline" on the page and wondered aloud, "Wouldn't 'Al Kaline' make a great name?" My uncle replied, "Funny you should mention that..."

Kaline had a lot of very good seasons but no MVP. Yaz had arguably the greatest individual performance in a pennant race, and the 1967 American League was arguably the greatest pennant race of them all. The final online tally doesn't surprise me.
7:19 PM Mar 28th
 
Steven Goldleaf
Here's my critical piece on Yaz from 2016, if anyone's interested: https://www.billjamesonline.com/all_of_yaz_why_not_play_all_of_yaz1/?AuthorId=23&pg=5


5:25 PM Mar 28th
 
trn6229
Both Yaz and Kaline played for the same team their entire careers. They are both classy guys and leaders of their teams but in a quieter way, like Mickey Mantle. I remember the end of the 1972 season when the Red Sox played the Tigers for the pennant and lost two of three. In your two recent books, you compare Yaz with Billy Williams. Billy was a fine hitter but a mediocre glove. Yaz and Kaline were excellent fielders. Kaline had some injuries later in his career, he missed about a month in 1967, missed time in 1968. The Tigers had five players for four positions in 1971, with Kaline, Northrup, Stanley, Cash and Horton being moved around depending on the pitcher and health. Yaz played a few years as a DH.
4:09 PM Mar 28th
 
stevemillburg
A friend who lived in Boston and went to a lot of Red Sox games in 1967 told me he'd never seen a player single-handedly carry a team to a pennant — through not only sensational clutch play but also just sheer force of will — the way Yaz did at the end of that year. Yaz hit .417/.504/.760 in September/October 1967, with 9 homers and 26 RBI, and went 4 for 4 with a double, a run scored, and two RBI in the pennant-clinching 5-3 win on the last day of the season. My friend said Yaz just kept coming through again and again when the game was on the line. I know it's anecdotal, but that performance still forms the core of the legend of Yaz. Kaline's legend is almost the opposite: quiet consistency, year after year. In a poll, that's never going to beat out a superhuman monthlong peak that propels a team to an Impossible Dream.
3:32 PM Mar 28th
 
danjeffers
Re: just missing statistical benchmarks -- when Yaz got his 400th home run, it made him the first AL player to get both 3000 hits and 400 home runs; Kaline retired with 3007 hits and 399 home runs. I grew up in Detroit and recall that the media there were quite impressed -- and surprised -- when he was voted into the Hall of Fame on his first ballot. Nonetheless, if a Reggie Jackson/Al Kaline poll would have been done around 1985, I'd bet Jackson would have won.
3:15 PM Mar 28th
 
MarisFan61
Kynge: Nice job with that!
Why I say it: because I think that thing has been basically forgotten. I didn't remember it at all, and I don't recall it ever being brought up here -- and it seems like a thing that deserves being remembered, and looked at now and then.

"Star Value" -- gonna try to remember it.
2:16 PM Mar 28th
 
Kynge_Rycharde
In the 1987 Abstract, Bill came up with something called "Star Value" which assigned points for career games played and seasonal accomplishments such as leading the league in a number of categories such as HRs, RBIs, BHs, BA, etc. Points were also rewarded for winning the MVP award, or getting 100 RS or RBIs while not leading the league. Yaz scored at a 73, while Kaline scored at a 34, which may explain the poll results. Thirty years later, with more sophisticated analytic tools at our disposal, we can better appreciate both men's accomplishments and how great they were as players.
1:57 PM Mar 28th
 
bhalbleib
Kaline's prime years in the League corresponded to a period where the axis of AL baseball was squarely in the Bronx, heck his Tigers won 101 games in 1961 (more than any of Yaz's teams ever won, I believe) and no one even remembers them. That axis had shifted so that when Yaz was in his prime, the best AL team came from Baltimore some years, Boston some years, Detroit some years, in other words it was much more competitive. I would guess that led to more media focus on players from all over, rather than just New York.
1:34 PM Mar 28th
 
wovenstrap
I was 10 years old in 1980, living in the NYC area. Yaz was an active player at that moment and would be for another couple of years. I didn't know the history behind it but I knew exactly who Yaz was. Kaline stopped playing in 1974 and it was news to me even when I was in college or so several years later that he was a dominant player.

It is very striking to look at the MVP votes in BR.com. Kaline had his last MVP vote in 1967 at the age 32 (excepting a teeny bit of MVP support in 1972). By contrast, Yaz consistently racked up MVP support all through the 70s, in his 34-38 age range. Andrewhume noted something similar below. To me this suggests either East Coast bias to some degree or possibly that their career arcs were not truly all that similar. It also suggests that *contra* Steven Goldleaf, Yaz was not a compiler.
12:49 PM Mar 28th
 
andrewhume
All Star games themselves are part of why Yaz seems more recent to me. Growing up as an NL fan in the 1970s, I got to see Yastrzemski in the All Star Game every year, plus twice in the 1980s. Kaline only played in one All Star Game after 1971.
12:38 PM Mar 28th
 
MarisFan61
BTW, wanted to add, "69-31" is actually what I'd call a pretty close vote, because it means the choice IS very close. I think that if something like this is anywhere near a clear-cut thing, even if it's somewhat close, we'd get more like 90-10 or 95-5.

Like, let's see: Let's take a couple of the guys I mentioned before, Hank Aaron and Frank Robinson.
They're not THAT far apart, are they? But, even though not very far apart, they're distinctly apart -- and I think such a vote would be at least 95-5, if not 99-1.
Who else.....

Well, I'll look at it the opposite way: What other example might be something like 69-31?

I'd guess that if we did MAYS-MANTLE, it would be something in that range. I don't know who would be on top; it would vary according to who happens to be in the voting sample, including by geography.

Cliff's Notes: I don't think these figures are like how they'd be in (say) a presidential election, where 69-31 would be a landslide. I think that as these things go, 69-31 means that something is a very close match.
12:28 PM Mar 28th
 
nettles9
I would’ve voted for Yaz due to recency bias. I remember Yaz from the late-1970s to early 1980s. I had Yaz Strat-O-Matic cards before any of Al Kaline.
12:14 PM Mar 28th
 
3for3
As a 50 something my image of Yaz was colored by his long slow decline. Not for Kaline, so I voted for AK.
11:20 AM Mar 28th
 
Manushfan
Oh it's Yaz by a little. Donno where someone got the Kaline as better defender bit-Yaz was a great OF for ages there. Kaline I just missed him-started to follow in 75. Yaz was my fave from day one and still is, but I see Kaline as being like him and very comparable. You'd want both on your team.
9:05 AM Mar 28th
 
Mike137
Yaz had about 4 seasons more plate appearances than Kaline, so he leads in career totals for hits, runs, HR, RBI, total bases. That adds to the impression that Yaz was better.

In comparing top players, I think that Wins Above Average is a better number than WAR, it is less sensitive to playing time and is more consistent with what we think of as great. As per Baseball Reference, Kaline beats Yaz in that measure: 55.5 to 50.1.

Huh. According to BBref, Kaline was the better hitter (471 to 450 in batting runs) and Yaz was the better fielder (184 to 153 fielding runs).
8:55 AM Mar 28th
 
Steven Goldleaf
But is that the question Bill's poll asked?
8:54 AM Mar 28th
 
evanecurb
For a brief period (1967-68), Yaz was THE BEST PLAYER IN BASEBALL, or at least he was recognized as such. Karin’e never held that title.
7:57 AM Mar 28th
 
Steven Goldleaf
This could cut either way, but Yaz certainly has his picture next to the word “accumulator” in the dictionary. I wrote a piece here a few years ago showing how for the last ten years or so of his career, Yaz played every day for the Red Sox, though he was scarcely better, and sometimes worse, than an average player (at a corner OF, 1B, or DH spot) but he played, against righties and lefties alike (he was particularly ineffective against lefties) every single day, largely I suspect because he was Yaz, a great fan favorite. This might support him winning the poll (a fan favorite = winning the poll) or it might diminish his victory (accumulating WAR by playing longer—almost 2500 more plate appearances for Yaz than for Kaline). Personally, I liked them both but because I only started following the game seriously in the early 1960s, I have a good memory of Yaz’s entire career but only a partial memory of Kaline’s, and none at all of Kaline’s early career. And I’m pretty old—most folks older than me are dead, and you could look it up.
7:54 AM Mar 28th
 
StatsGuru
I will also note that people were very passionate about Yaz, both ways. Boston fans alternatively loved him or hated him. Opposing fans, especially in NY, pretty much hated him.

I don't remember anyone feeling passionate about Kaline. He was the steady, good respected player.

I think that goes on today with Mike Trout and Bryce Harper. Everyone likes Trout. He's good, he's consistent, no controversy. People are passionate about Harper. He's either overrated or a superstar.​
7:31 AM Mar 28th
 
KaiserD2
I didn't participate in the poll--I don't read twitter--but by my reckoning, the result is correct. Yaz had 8 superstar seasons (4 WAA or more). Kaline had 6. Yaz was much more consistent over his career. And he appeared in two World Series to Kaline's one, and was the dominant player on a contending team in far more seasons that Kaline.

David Kaiser
7:11 AM Mar 28th
 
dburba
The Triple Crown is a massive boost too, I think. I started following baseball in the late 1980s, so for a solid 25 years or so his was the name I heard as the "last Triple Crown winner." That elevated his profile significantly, I think, especially for those of us outside New England.
5:04 AM Mar 28th
 
FrankD
Yes, there is a press bias for Yaz vs. Kaline - Detroit vs I95. Maybe its the nick-name: Yaz. Did Kaline even have a nick-name? Just old Al. But Yaz's big year carried his team to the pennant. Triple crown leading to an unexpected Boston AL pennant. That has to count for something. Recency bias: no way, Christ when did these guys play? Yaz in '75 vs Kaline in '68 - your talking 44 years ago! Strangely enough, I think that was Yaz's HRs in '67. Its not shiny baubles - its winning more important games. Now both guys were very good and deserved the HOF. But, Yaz was better because baubles count too- the highest peak is more important than the area under the curve if the areas are nearly the same.​
1:21 AM Mar 28th
 
ventboys
Shiny objects, for sure, get most of the attention. I'd add in that Kaline was the better defender, so he more of his WAR or Winshares would be on the defensive side. Combined with the differences in offensive park effects, his similar overall value demands that he should logically look like a weaker hitter to the naked eye -- and we haven't yet adjusted for the differences between peak periods.

Yaz famously peaked in 1967-1968, and usually gets some extra "credit" for a peak year of .301-23-74, while Kaline's endless string of similar seasons, in a better but not massively better offensive environment, are dismissed as compiler seasons.

I'm sure that Kaline was every bit the showman, the hero who could rise to the occasion, that Yas was. But Detroit didn't provide the same opportunities for drama that Boston did, as a competitive team or as bastion of media angst.

Yaz put his stat lines together in a park that thrust his statistical chest forward, while Kaline's not only covered his chest in baggy sweaters, it pulled tight the sweaters on his lefthanded teammates, making his numbers look even dowdier than they were.

I'm not sure how I wound up with sweaters and thrusting chests, but I think the point is there, the one you made at the top. Few players have had their careers as enhanced to the naked eye than Yaz, while fewer have had their as thoroughly covered up as Kaline.
11:51 PM Mar 27th
 
MarisFan61
Bill, I think it's more a couple of other things; even if not, these other couple of things are in there.

The first is a thing you've said about Ed Mathews and which maybe you said also somewhere about Kaline but I'm not remembering it: His 'maybe-best' year was very early, and so he spent most of his career as (sort of) a mild disappointment.

The other is that Kaline spent much of his career overshadowed by other right fielders. (For some reason Clemente stands out in my mind as the main one that he was 'competing' with, even though Aaron and Frank Robinson were in there too. I guess it's that Clemente feels more like Kaline's 'type' of player.)

Yaz, on the other hand, didn't have any big competition for main man at his position in his time. So, I guess what I'm saying is that at a major mental level, for many if not most of us, the comparison between Yaz and Kaline has a heavy factor of how they dwelled within their own times.

BTW, if I had to choose between them, one or the other, I couldn't. I think of them as essentially on the same level. If you held a gun to my head, I'd just say I can't help it, shoot. :-)
10:50 PM Mar 27th
 
shthar
Gotta be the sideburns.
10:05 PM Mar 27th
 
 
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