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Wovenstrap has cottoned on to something I've wondered for years. Since I've been the one campaigning here for yearly Fielding Win Share leaderboards . . .  
 
Willie Mays had maybe the greatest Fielding WS numbers ever for an outfielder, with his best numbers posted in the 1950s - many 7s and 8s, truly remarkable, and exactly what I'd have expected. He dominated the best-season-ever comparisons . . . until the 1990s, when Jones is posting insanely high numbers -- better than Mays's best, and more of them.  
 
And I thought, REALLY? Was he getting more chances than Mays had? Were the other outfielders complete dogs, and he was a super-charged Garry Maddox out there?  
 
OR -- and this feeds off something in "Win Shares" (great book) -- were Jones's Fielding WS numbers, or even Mays's, a kind of Park Effect? You had demonstrated that Marv Throneberry's ridiculous 1962 Fielding Linear Weights numbers were a Park Effect from the Polo Grounds. Mays played there.  
 
Your thoughts, please. Thanks.
Asked by: garywmaloney

Answered: 2/2/2023
You're closer to the heart of the issue than anyone else who has written to me about this.  I don't question that Andruw Jones was a very, very good defensive outfielder.  The issue is compelling evidence.   Paul Blair and Garry Maddox were near-legendary defensive outfielders in their day.  Is there compelling evidence that Jones was BETTER than Maddox or Blair or Richie Ashburn or Joe DiMaggio?
 
And the answer is, No.  There is no compelling evidence that that is true.  
 
40 years ago and more, Pete Palmer and others were trying to measure the number of runs saved by defensive players, sometimes with good results and sometimes with unfortunate outcomes, but you have to start somewhere.  The problem is that fielding stats were so poorly designed, in the 1870s and 1880s, that they don't make any intuitive sense.  Henry Chadwick tried to create one set of fielding stats that worked for all nine positions, which is just completely impossible, since the responsibilities of the positions are so wildly different.  I have pointed this out before, but between 1880 and 1980 hitting stats added many new categories, and pitching stats added some new categories.  Hitting stats in 1880 did not include RBI, or walks by batters, or caught stealing or GIDP or on base percentage or slugging percentage.  They did include stolen bases, but the definition of a stolen base in 1880 was fluid and fungible; it was more like the official scorer saying "we'll call that a stolen base, I guess."  At some periods a runner might go from first to third on a single, and the official scorer might say "We'll call that a stolen base", or he might not call it a stolen base.   
 
The point is that batting stats, BECAUSE THEY MADE SENSE, could be refined and improved gradually to make MORE sense.  They could be, and they were.  But the official FIELDING stats, because they made no sense, were precisely the same in 1980 as they had been in 1880.  You take an 1881 baseball guide and a 1981 baseball guide and look at the fielding stats, it's exactly the same categories. They had been so badly designed that no one had any idea what to do with them.  
 
Obviously, we are not where we were in 1980.  Obviously, we have made tremendous progress in understanding the defensive contribution of each player; not me, but "we" collectively.  We as a field.  But, having made this progress, having developed multiple ways to measure defensive contributions, people want to say, "OK, we've got it now.  We've figured it out.  Fielding is now on the same level as hitting, so that we may say WITH GREAT CONFIDENCE that one run saved by a fielder is the same as one run contributed by a hitter."  Not talking about the same level of value, but the same level of confidence as to the accuracy of the statement.  
 
But we're not.  We're not at the same level of confidence or understanding.  There is no way to argue rationally that we ARE at the same level of confidence or understanding.  Whereas we might have been at 10% of the same level of confidence in 1980, we might be at 60% or 70% of the same level of confidence now.
 
Yes, I understand that the people who have studied fielding--John Dewan, and Tom Tippett, and Tom Tango and Pete DeCoursey and Sherri Nichols and David Laurila and others too numerous to mention.   I understand that these are very intelligent people, I understand that they have worked very, very hard to measure fielding, I understand that they have been entirely sincere and honest in their work and that they believe absolutely in their conclusions.  I don't question any of that, but it is not the same.  We grew up with batting statistics and fielding statistics.  We relate to them as our native language.   Fielding statistics are a language we learned as adults.  It isn't the same.  It isn't the same in a lot of different ways.  
 
Park effects.  We should note, to begin with, that park effects are not as big an issue as they used to be because the differences between parks are not as obvious as they used to be.  But do we understand park effects in fielding the same way that we understand them in hitting? 
 
It is obvious that we do not.   Do we understand the effects of fielding behind a left-handed or right-handed pitcher. . .do we understand that in fielding statistics to the same extent that we understand it in regard to hitters?  Obviously we do not. . .or fly ball pitchers or ground ball pitchers.   Do we understand the interactive effects as fully? 
 
When a third baseman plays next to a shortstop who has limited range, he shifts a step to his left.  Do we understand the effect that this has on his fielding stats?   When center fielder plays behind a great defensive second baseman, he may react a little bit less aggressively to a pop up in shallow center, because he may assume that the Brendan Rogers will get that, whereas Christian Arroyo might not.  We just don't really have that depth of sophisitication in our interpretation of the data.  
 
Our experts in this area have created measurements that SHOULD work.  They have thought through thorougly the question of "how can we measure this fielder's ability", and, while I do have some disagreements with the decisions they have made, that's not the real issue.  The real issue is after-the-fact skepticism.  
 
And we get back to the key concept:  compelling evidence.  Science requires not merely that intelligent people work diligently and honestly on the problem; it depends on harsh scrutiny from other research.  It depends on 50 others researchers trying to tear down the work of the first 10 researchers--and failing.   Only after the work has been subject to a generation of harsh scrutiny from people who are sincerely trying to prove that it ISN'T true can the evidence be considered compelling.  It's a little bit like a trial.  A prosecutor--entirely sincere in his work, entirely honest--may nonetheless become convinced that Steven Avery is guilty of murder, when additional research may show this is clearly not true.  It's a prima facie case, a case that appears to be true as long as no one is there to research the other side.  And even when the defendant has an attorney to help him disprove the prima facie case, the system still fails sometimes. 
 
We have a prima facie case that Andruw Jones was a greater defensive outfielder than Garry Maddox--and that is ALL that we have.  Another generation of researchers may conclude that that was a valid argument, or they may conclude that it was completely wrong.  The evidence is not compelling; it is merely designed in such a way that it SEEMS compelling to those who have done the work.  I won't live long enough to see the end of that argument, but I am 100% confident that there is another side of the case to be presented.  
 
 
 

 

I’m a strong advocate for peak value being underrated by the "career WAR = Hall of Fame" crowd, personally. It’s pretty rare for hitters to have 3-4 monster years but not be able to hold a career together, but it’s pretty common for pitchers - there are a fair number of guys in the Dwight Gooden/Herb Score/Sandy Koufax/Johan Santana group, I assume because pitcher health seems to be so much more finicky.  
 
Those guys are a lot more interesting to me than the Don Sutton/Jim Kaat types, even if those guys threw a lot more innings as the 15th best pitcher in baseball.
Asked by: Drew

Answered: 2/2/2023
 That's a little disrespectful of Don Sutton and Jim Kaat, both of whom had years as one of the top four pitchers in baseball.  Apart from that, one argument seems as good to me as the other.  But if you wanted more people to think that way, you would need to come up with a single comprehensible number for Peak Value. . .I don't know, Impact Value or something.  Impact Seasons value.  Then, having come up with that measure, you would have to thread your way through the messy and confusing public discourse in order to create wide acceptance of the number.   Which sounds like fun, actually. . . Hey, Tom, you want to work together to create that number?   Something that says, in essence, that Rusty Staub and Thurman Munson are basically even in career WAR, but that Thurman had more impact because more of Staub's value was piled up slowly over the years.

 

Hey Bill, in my younger days as a sports fan my whole focus was on the current season, rooting for a team to win (a game, a division, a league championship). A Hall of Fame selection was notable, but just an afterthought by comparison.  
 
I would bet that over 40% of discussions on this site (Reader Posts mainly, but those things get asked of you here in Hey Bill, too). It could be just my perception since I partake in Reader Posts frequently. But my sense of it is that the game of who is or isn't or who should or shouldn't be in the Hall of Fame has surpassed  interest in who will win the World Series.  
 
It might be just a baseball thing, too. I don't see nearly as much interest in hockey or basketball or football HoFs.  
 
That's not meant to be a criticism. I think Baseball's Hall of Fame generates great interest in the game. So there's that. But I wonder if you agree with me, for one thing, but also if you can remember when interest in the HoF became so dominant. If in fact it has.
Asked by: Gfletch

Answered: 2/2/2023
 My perceptions of the issue are not notably different from yours.  The Hall of Fame is a much bigger deal than it used to be.  THe importance of the World Series has been diminished somewhat by the layers of short series that precede it.  
 
I could be wrong about this, but I think that our field has something to do with this.  You have to remember that until about 1990 there were no methods established to evaluate a career.  If the Hall of Fame elected a Rick Ferrell or a Freddie Lindstrom or a Travis Jackson, you and I might think it was a poor selection, but there were no objective standards by which it could be compared on the next afternoon's sports talk show.   The creation of objective standards, to some degree, energized the discussion by giving the public an easy way to enter the discussion.  

 

HeyBill,  
 
So much in the court of public opinion in Popular Crime seems to pivot on the behavior of the accused, from Lizzie Borden through the Ramseys to the Murdaugh case this week.  
 
I think I would be screaming at the top of my lungs 24/7, but my lawyer friends say that just makes you look volatile...the one trait you don't want to project.  
 
If you were unjustly accused of murder today, how would you respond in terms of public behavior? Would you take a polygraph? Take the stand?
Asked by: OldBackstop

Answered: 2/2/2023
 If you want to take the stand you basically have to shoot your lawyer first, so then you've got another murder trial on your hands.  The potential situations in which you could find yourself are so varied that it is hard to generalize about them, but certainly one would want to appear as calm and normal as is possible in an extremely successful situation.  The most important thing, I guess, is not to say anything that proves not to be true. Not following the Murdaugh case closely.  

 

On your question of yesterday regarding youtube.tv pulling plug on mlb.....everyone's situation is different....I have bought MLB.tv  for years.....blackouts of local teams in weird areas exist....where I live, blackouts cover Mets, Yanks.....so I pay extra for either Hulu or youtube.tv each year just to get access to YES for Yankees and SNY for Mets (much prefer watch Mets whenever possible because Gary C, Keith and Ron among best in play by play biz)......hope this helps if what you are seeking is all 30 teams...asuume you get blackouts of Royals (Cardinals?) and need a regional sports net for all 30 clubs.  
Good luck, and as always, love your work!  
PS regarding teams with just two top players, a pitcher and a position player...did not Felipe Alou sted of Dusty Baker pilot the 2003 SF Giants? Memory tells me Dusty helmed 2003 Cubs, misused Prior and others from pitching staff and lost NLCS to Marlins that year.
Asked by: wbinaz

Answered: 2/2/2023
 You are correct that Dusty was actually managing the Cubs in 2003.  Where, as usual, he did a fantastic job, leading a team which had won 67 games the previous season to the division championship, their first post-season appearance in 14 years, after which, as usual, people in our field pissed on his shoes about how he didn't manage the team the way THEY would have managed it.  

 

Hi Bill, I was looking up a couple of player/managers and stumbled across Charlie Grimm and Vic Harris.  Harris managed in the Josh Gibson/Buck Leonard Homestead Grays and won several Negro League pennants.  Among other teams, Charlie Grimm managed the Cubs after Hornsby and won three pennants with them.    
 
Curious if you think either or both are deserving of the Hall?  Also, do you think "player/managers" get less credit for their team's success?
Asked by: ForeverRoyal

Answered: 2/1/2023
 No idea about the second question.  What about Hughie Jennings, Joe Cronin, Frankie Frisch, Lou Boudreau?  Would Boudreau be anywhere near the Hall of Fame if not for the fact that he was player/manager of a World Championship team? 
 
 A few years ago I developed a set of Hall of Fame credentials for managers. . . a manager gets so many points for each win of his career, so many points for each team that over-achieves, so many points for winning a pennant, so many for winning a World Series.  The system generally tracked Hall of Fame selections.  The only guys who showed up as Hall of Fame managers who weren't already there were the guys who have since been selected, like LaRussa, Bobby Cos and Joe Torre, and also Lou Piniella, which suprised me.  I don't remember Charlie Grimm being on the list.  
 
Grimm screwed up the 1935 World Series perhaps worse than any other manager ever screwed up a World Series--and totally got by with it.  Grimm had four really good starting pitchers--Lon Warneke (20-13, 3.06 ERA), Bill Lee (20-6, 2.96), Larry French (17-10,2.96) and Charlie Root (15-8, 3.08).   Warneke pitched a shutout in Game one, but Root got hammered in Game 2, so it's 1 to 1.  But then he used Lee, Warneke AND French in Game 3, using Warneke and French in relief.  He lost the game, so now he is down 2 games to 1, and THERE ARE NO DAYS OFF in the series.   He's just blown his entire pitching staff on one game; he has to start his 5th starter in Game 4, loses that game, and he's basically out of the series.  I can't think of a worse World Series blunder--and nobody ever said a word about it.   It was like it didn''t happen.
 
In 1956 Grimm managed the Braves through a bad September collapse.  That was very widely written about at the time.  I didn't become a baseball fan until 1961, really, but people were still talking about the Braves' collapse in '56.  The Phillies in 1964 knocked them out of the conversation.  

 

I was a bit lazy with my last question about the Red Sox and the relevance of their 2022 interdivision record looking to the future. I went back and looked at all MLB standings since 2001 (the last time MLB switched over from a "balanced" schedule), and found 5 teams with wild swings (under .400 vs. over .550) between their seasonal interdivision and outside division records: 2001 Angels (17-41 vs. 58-46), 2006 Mariners (19-38 vs 59-46), 2009 Blue Jays (26-46 vs. 49-41), 2021 Angels (29-47 vs.48-38) and the 2022 Red Sox (26-50 vs. 52-34).  Of these teams, the Red Sox performed by far the best outside of their division, the only team with a winning percentage over .600. The 2006 Mariners were perhaps the closest comparison with the 2022 Red Sox, though they played 19 fewer interdivision games. The first 3 teams improved by 10 games or more the following season; only the 2021 Angels regressed a little. Does any of this seem relevant to expected improvement for the '23 Red Sox?
Asked by: SLanzarotta

Answered: 2/1/2023
 Not to me, no.  There are MANY factors that play into the question of whether a team will be better next year than last year--many, many, many.  Even assuming that this factor somehow will help the Red Sox in 2023, it would not seem to be a large enough element to be mathmatically relevant--compared to, for example, whether Adalberto Mondesi plays well.  When Mondesi came up, I thought he would be an MVP.  He had real power, incredible speed, a quick and bat and a tremendous arm.  Among Correa, Xander, Lindor, that generation of shortstops, I thought (and still think) that he probably had the most ability.  He went steadily backward because of (1) injuries, and (2) an inability to stop swinging at everything that moved.   That level of ability probably isn't there any more, but I like the move (acquiring him) because you never know; he COULD be that rare player who finally DOES put it all together.   But questions like that swamp this petty concern about the balanced schedule.  

 

Regarding the "Bad News Bears" question, how about the 1999 Red Sox? In my memory (admittedly, I was 10 years old at the time), the team was essentially Pedro and Nomar against the world. The site doesn't have team Win Shares data from that far back, but looking back at it now, the next-best players are hitters like Troy O'Leary, Trot Nixon, and Jose Offerman, and pitchers like Bret Saberhagen (who only made 22 starts) and Derek Lowe in a relief role.
Asked by: brc

Answered: 2/1/2023
 Yeah, I cut them off my list at the last moment, because (a) they didn't really win anything, and (b) I have to be careful talking about the Red Sox.  But yes, they're a similar team.  The 1999 AND 2000 Red Sox.  

 

My thought on the Bad News Bears type teams:  1915 Phillies.  Pete Alexander 43 WinShares.  Gavvy Cravath 35 WinShares.
Asked by: bhalbleib

Answered: 2/1/2023
 Yes, but they had three other really good players.  It's true that they had a really good pitcher and a really good position player, but that's not the criteria for the list.  

 

Hey, Bill. RE: Peak and Prime. I've always thought the the importance of peak and prime seasons to a player's career had to do largely with pennants. You've pointed out many times that a group of pitchers who have one great season and one weak season will win more pennants than a group with the same overall value, but consistently mediocre. That would also apply to batters.  
 
On the other hand this is my analysis, not yours. What do you think are the reasons why Peak and Prime are important? Am I somewhere near the mark, or way off?
Asked by: Brock Hanke

Answered: 2/1/2023
 It is true that BIG seasons matter because big seasons have a disproportionate impact on championships.   Sandy Koufax is underrated by many people because they don't take note of his enormous impact on the pennant races of 1963, 1965 and 1966.  He had more impact on pennant races that Walter Johnson or Lefty Grove.   Just looking at his career totals doesn't tell you that. 
 
But also, peak seasons matter because they are a truer measure of GREATNESS, rather than sustained pretty-goodness.  Rusty Staub and Harold Baines. . .who are, by the way, extremely similar players, extremely similar careers.  They had Hall of Fame careers, except that they were never quite GREAT.  They were just very good for a long, long time.    Article posted today relates to the issue.  

 

It's remarkable that you don't take Andruw's run of 9.8 etc. defensive WS more seriously. He's got more 8.0+ seasons than the rest of the list put together.  
 
 
Asked by: wovenstrap

Answered: 1/30/2023
 I take it VERY seriously.  I know that it's 50% fact and 50% bullshit.  What is remarkable is that you take it at face value.  What was it that Ann Landers used to say. . . She'd have a letter once a month from some woman who was complaining that she loved her husband and he had so many great qualities, but he didn't have a job, drank like a sponge and occasionally beat her.  Her last line would be "Wake up and smell the coffee, sister."  So wake up and smell the coffee, brother. 

 

I just re-watched the original Bad News Bears.  What a wonderful film.  
 
As I am sure you recall, the team was pretty awful until they added the league's most dominant pitcher (Amanda Whurlitzer) and the league's most outstanding hitter (Kelly Leak).  
 
I started to wonder if there was a major league equivalent to the Bears.  In other words, was there a team that won the pennant with the best pitcher, the best hitter, and a mediocre supporting cast.  
 
The team that came immediately to mind was the 1988 Los Angeles Dodgers with Cy Young Award winner Orel Hershiser, MVP Kirk Gibson, and not much else.  
 
Do any other teams come to your mind?
Asked by: Riorunner

Answered: 1/30/2023
 The first that comes to my mind is the 1980 Phillies.  They had not only the MVP (Mike Schmidt), but the OBVIOUS MVP; Schmidt had 37 Win Shares, nobody else in the league had more than 30.  And they had not only the Cy Young Award winner (Steve Carlton), but the OBVIOUS Cy Young Award Winner; Carlton had 29 win Shares, nobody else in the league had more than 21.  Other than that, they had no one on the team with even 20 Win Shares.  They had only two players with 20 Win Shares, whereas Atlanta (81-80) had three, Cincinnati (89-73 had four, Houston had four, LA had five, Montreal had three, St. Louis had three, and most of the other teams had two.   I remember that because I wrote about it at the time--exactly what you are talking about--and that was before I had a significant audience, but it stuck with me.  Not to get into my-example-is-better-than-your-example, but Hershiser and Gibson totaled only 56 Win Shares, whereas Carlton and Schmidt had 66, and the '88 Dodgers had a third very good player in Steve Sax, who had 24.   I'll look around for other similar teams. . ..will try to expand this in a few minutes, but will post it now because the softward may cut me off any second now. 
 
Just occured to me before I got to the research. . .the 1912 Red Sox.  Smoky Joe Wood went 34-5 with some incredible ERA for the 1912 Red Sox--and was not the MVP on the team.  Tris Speaker (a) won the MVP Award and (b) had more Win Shares than Wood.   Wood and Speaker were very close friends, friends for life.    But that team also had five other players with 20 or more Win Shares.  

 

Whether Peak Value was still relevant was brought up, which you say many do continue to consider it...I think it's underused, that it should be almost, not quite but close to, as important as Career Value.  
 
Example: I don't think a player like this exists, but if a player for 5 years had seasons comparable to Babe Ruth's best- put those seasons in the middle of Ruth's peak, era adjusted, and no one could tell them apart- but then aged very poorly for whatever reason and gradually by 2 years after that 5 year run was an average MLB player, 2 years after that was replacement level, played one more replacement level year due to name recognition, then that was it for 10 year career.  
 
I'd think that guy is a HoFer- assuming no scandal- due to amazing peak value though whether using traditional stats or WAR or WS his career totals would say he wouldn't belong.  
 
I don't think that describes anyone real, but if it did would that player belong in your view?  My view is he would.
Asked by: Anyone

Answered: 1/30/2023
 Hank Greenberg?  Greenberg had relatively few high-value seasons, but extremely high value, and Hack Wilson maybe.  Must be others.   I'll try to research that when I research the other question we were talking about, about the great pitcher and great hitter on the same team.
 
 
 

 

There are two forms of robo-umps.  One is a the fully-automated, and the other is based on challenge-calls.  With challenge-calls, the change in catcher will be minimal.  With the fully-automated, the catcher is going to have pre-framing skills (the strike zone being based on the batter's height, and so, no obvious indicators for the pitcher as to the automated top/bottom of zone).
Asked by: tangotiger

Answered: 1/30/2023
 OK.  I don't really know what the status of the transition to automated umpiring is.  From what I can see, there would be a third option, which is that the automated tracking systems could send beeps to the umpire to help him get the calls right, but the umpire makes the actual call.  Somebody has still got to sort out whether that was a swing or not a swing, and (in time) that too could be automated.  That might be the part that MOST needs to be automated.   Those calls seem REALLY arbitrary, and certainly they are called VASTLY different now than they were when I was a kid.  When I was a kid, the issue was whether the hitter broke his wrists.  Now, it is whether the bat travels across the plate.   Both of which are wrong, in my opinion.  The issue ought to be whether the bat crosses the back of the plate before the bat speed decelerates.  

 

Hey Bill, congrats to KC. Here’s an observation from a very casual football fan, not meant as indictment, just an observation… Football is an odd TV sport because you flat out can’t see a large percentage of the significant actions happening on the field. You watch the quarterback looking toward receivers that ran out of frame five seconds ago, then he makes a decision to throw it here or there or away and you often have no way to evaluate if it was the right decision or to know what were the crucial plays or missteps that shaped the outcome. I’m not sure there’s a fix to this, because you don’t want a camera angle from the Goodyear blimp. But am I wrong in thinking this really separates it from the other sports?
Asked by: PB

Answered: 1/30/2023
 Well. . the more players you have on a side, the more difficult it is to follow them, and also, the larger the field, the more difficult it is to capture it all in one shot.  These things would make football like that European sport that people are always talking about. . .sockum or something.  
 
Myself, I find it impossible to follow all the action in College basketball.  The NBA, you can follow what is happening because the game is much simpler and much more predictable, but I've personally seen hundreds of college games, and the only way I can figure out what is happening defensively is to watch it on TV and re-run the play several times to track what everybody is doing.  
 
A friend of mine who has published several books about the NFL traces the popularity of the sport to the development of slow motion; he argues that the number of people listing football as their favorite sport exploded in 1963 (I think it was) when the technology evolved to the point at which instant replay was feasible.  Which could be interpreted either as support for your point or as a contradiction to it.  

 

 
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