Lemon and Gibby

July 2, 2020
 
Chet Lemon and Kirk Gibson were teammates on the Detroit Tigers from 1982 through 1987.
 
Being teammates removed a lot of potential variables in trying to assess their relative contributions. We don’t have to adjust for league or park effects because they played in the same league, the same park. In evaluating their defense, we don’t have to adjust for the groundball/flyball tendencies of their relative pitching staffs. As fellow outfielders…granting that one was a centerfielder and the other a corner outfielder…we don’t have to worry significantly about positional adjustments.
 
Here they are as offensive contributors:
 
Player
PA
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
SB(CS)
BB
Lemon
3244
419
755
154
22
113
393
8 (19)
315
Gibson
3133
461
735
124
31
131
439
142(36)
351
 
And their triple-slash lines:
 
Player
BA
OBP
SLG
OPS+
Lemon
.267
.352
.457
121
Gibson
.272
.358
.485
130
 
They are similar offensive players. Gibson has a slight edge in the power department, and he was a better baserunner than Chet Lemon, but their contributions as hitters are very close.
 
As defensive players, their margins are further apart. Lemon didn’t win any Gold Gloves, but he was thought of as a very good defensive outfielder. Gibson, though fast, was not a natural outfielder: he was a college football star who came into baseball late. He had a less-than-stellar throwing arm.
 
The comparison between Gibson and Lemon is, as you can guess, a continuation of an article I wrote earlier about Dave Winfield and Dwight Evans. I didn’t expect that article to generate such a useful conversation, but a lot of people ended up chiming in, and I thought it would be good to continue along.
 
Winfield and Evans both had good defensive reputations. They had similar defensive reputations: they were judged to be decently mobile corner outfielders with very strong throwing arms.
 
The advanced analytics…the analytics that WAR is founded on…concluded that Evans was a good defensive outfielder (+80 runs saved, according to Total Zone), and that Winfield was something of a butcher (-97 runs saved).
 
What do the metrics say about Lemon and Gibson?
 
Player
FanGraphs Total Zone
Lemon
67
Gibson
8
 
Does that seem accurate?
 
Sure. Of course. That seems like a very reasonable measure of the defensive contributions of Chet Lemon and Kirk Gibson from 1982 to 1987. Lemon was a fine defensive outfielder, and Gibson, though not excellent, was at least capable of getting to a few tough outs.
 
From that, we get the following breakdown of each player’s contribution, and their respective WAR:
 
Player
Off
Def
fWAR
Lemon
81.4
62.6
25.6
Gibson
121.8
-25.2
20.6
 
‘Off’ stands for offense, and it a combination of hitting and baserunner. ‘Def’ is Defense, and it measures defensive runs above the league average, making an additional positional adjustment. That’s explained in the other article, but I’m repeating myself for those who missed it.
 
Tallying both sides of the equation, FanGraphs WAR tally credits Lemon as being a better player than Gibson during their years on the Tigers. Not much better, but a little better. Gibson was a slightly better hitter and baserunner, but Lemon was way ahead on defense, and he played a tougher position. Added up, Lemon is ahead.
 
Do I buy that?
 
Of course I do. The numbers fit the story. Chet Lemon was a good defensive outfielder. Gibson wasn’t a great, instinctive player, but he could run at that point in his career. He had been a wide receiver in college: we can chalk his positive defensive contributions to speed.
 
Not only do I buy it: I think it’s beautiful. It is a beautiful distillation of a wide range of variables that comes to a conclusion that elucidates something useful. It lets in some light.
 
There is a logic to the story that WAR is trying to tell, one that takes what observers noted about each player, and gives those observations a kind of depth by diving into the numbers.
 
We can understand Lemon and Gibson’s defensive contributions in two ways, and they align:
 
 
Player
Consensus Opinion
Statistical Dive
 
Chet Lemon
 
An excellent defensive outfielder who was probably underrated b/c there were some strong OF’s in the AL during his peak
+66 Total Zone Runs
 
 
Kirk Gibson
 
 
 
A fast defensive OF who could play CF in a pinch but was better suited for corner OF. Not a great throwing arm.
+8 Total Zone Runs
 
 
The metrics that WAR uses gets all of this exactly right. It successfully identifies Gibson as being the slightly better offensive player, and it successfully understands Lemon as having an edge defensively. Overall, it gives Lemon a nod over Gibson. It all lines up.
 
I know I sometimes come across as anti-WAR. I’m not. I don’t want to get that reputation, that interpretation. A lot of people put a great deal of work into making WAR a tremendous statistic, and I wouldn’t want to disparage those efforts. Trying to tackle a question like ‘What was Chet Lemon like as a defensive player’ forty years after his career started is a monumentally difficult task, and I am not trying to dishonor that work.

What gets my hackles up, I suppose, is certainty. What concerns me is that there are a lot of people in our community who have a tendency to accept any conclusion of WAR as Gospel Truth.
 
The distinction between Lemon and Gibson is useful because it shows the general accuracy of the metrics that FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference uses, and it gives us a decent frame for what we might expect a comparison of Winfield and Evans to look like.
 
Dwight Evans, like Lemon, was a natural outfielder. Considering that Evans played in a tougher park and had a better arm, and considering that Evans was winning a few of the Gold Glove awards that Lemon didn’t win, we’d expect him to rate a little higher than Lemon. As he does.
 
And if we think Winfield is an overrated defensive player…as I agree he was…we can imagine Gibson as a decent enough parallel. Gibson, like Winfield, wasn’t a natural outfielder, but both men had gifts that made managers think, "I can live with this guy in centerfield in a pinch. It’s not ideal, but I can live with it."
 
The Total Zone metric credits Gibson as being a few ticks in the positive. +8.
 
But Winfield is massively in the negative, and his negative years weren’t just his late years playing outfield where he tallied his demerits. Those years ding him significantly, but he rates as below average for most of the 1980’s.
 
So we get this:
 
Player
Consensus Opinion
Statistical Dive
 
 
 
Dwight
Evans
 
Reputationally excellent defensive OF famous for having a strong throwing arm. Awarded eight Gold Gloves.
+80 Total Zone Runs
 
Dave
Winfield
 
 
 
Reputationally good defensive OF famous for having a strong throwing arm. Tended to play deep to steal homers. Awarded seven Gold Gloves
-96 Total Zone Runs
 
 
While Lemon and Gibson were very obviously different defensive players, Evans and Winfield had identical strengths. Both had extremely strong arms which pushed them to the corner outfield. Both were rangy enough to patrol big fields. Evans probably had better positioning and a better read on balls, but Winfield was a little faster, and his extra five inches of height and background as a basketball player meant he could jump a fair bit better than Evans.
 
I maintain that there is a disconnect here. Evans and Winfield were similar players by reputation, and utterly dissimilar by the advanced defensive metrics. The gap between them isn’t a gap that makes an intuitive sense, as the gap between Lemon and Gibson. It is significantly at odds with their reputations.
 
And that small disconnect…leads to a much broader conclusion: that Dwight Evans was the greater player.
 
Do I buy that?
 
I’ll say, first, that the excellent work that Charles Saeger did in the comments section is very convincing. Charles went deep into the statistical database, and concluded that Evans 192 more putouts than expected, while Winfield has a shortfall of 226 putouts. His research also finds that Winfield, strong arm aside, had a below average assist rate. Charles’ work is so thorough that I have no interest trying to nit-pick at his points. You should read his work and take his word for it. There’s every reason to believe he’s correct.
 
I remain skeptical that Winfield was so poor a defensive outfielder that it makes up for the other differences between him and Dwight Evans. If I was asked to take one player for their whole career, I’d take Winfield.
 
But I am closer to buying the conclusion that WAR outlines than I was a week ago. That should read as a credit to Charles’ work, and Tom’s work. To everyone else who defended WAR, too.
 
There are a few stray questions worth asking, which I will mention to keep the conversation going. I don’t have a conclusion about these questions, just my biases and leans, but I wanted to share them with you.
 
1.   If the metrics are right, how in the world did the observers get Winfield so wrong?
 
I know that the Gold Glove awards in the 1970’s and 1980’s were dubiously slanted towards star hitters. And certainly, Winfield had the type of skills (ability to leap tall buildings, ability to throw baseballs at canon velocities) that would make him look impressive. Still, it is impressive that such a poor defensive player would manage to fool people for so long. It’s a neat trick.
 
2.   How much do co-outfielders impact defensive metrics?
 
Reader ‘rtayatay’ pointed out that Winfield played with Devon White in Anaheim, two years where Winfield rated as a very poor defensive outfielder. White also had a poor defensive year, by his standards, in 1990, and then he bounced back in 1991. Winfield played with Rickey in New York, who was another good outfielder. How much does the presence of a Devon White or Henderson impact the scores of other outfielders?
 
3.   How much blame can we pin on managers or GM’s?
 
Dwight Evans was moved to first-base half-time in 1987, giving him the chance to rest his legs every other day. He was a full-time DH by 1990. Winfield, who had many more miles on his legs, stayed in the outfield for every year until 1992, when the Jays finally made him a full-time DH. He went back out in 1993 and 1994.
 
Those ‘old’ years – those years when a player with less of a reputation would’ve been moved to 1B or DH – significantly cut into Winfield’s reputation. Is it fair to knock him down because managers and GM’s reasoned he could handle the position, when Evans had a team that better recognized his limits?
 
4.   The ‘robbing dingers’ question.
 
The reputation on Winfield is that he played deep to steal homeruns. Charles did a good job showing that Winfield didn’t do a great job of limiting double, but what about homeruns? Is there a reasonable way to calculate how many homers Winfield might have turned into outs, or is the event so rare that we can’t get close to approximating that value?
 
5.   Where are other outliers between reputation and statistical analysis, and what meaning can be gleaned in looking at parallels?
 
I’m interested in Evans and Winfield because…repeating myself….they were defensively similar players: corner OF’ers who could play center in a pinch, who had great throwing arms. They are similar, too, in the subjective opinions of the people who watched them. They are dissimilar in the deep statistical dive into their records.

Assuming that the statistical record is correct, there is useful information to unpack. What were the factors that allowed observers to draw such conclusions? What other players might be underrated or overrated by these factors, and how can we right the subjective judgements of the past?
 
*       *       *
 
Wrapping this up, I suppose some of you…those of you who have skepticism of WAR…will read this as a capitulation. Some of you who are pro-WAR will count this as a victory.
 
That’s fine: I have no control over how anyone reacts to what I write. But I don’t view it as either a capitulation to better reasoning or a failure of skepticism. What drives my thinking – all of my thinking – is a strong rejection of certainty.
 
WAR is a useful statistic, but in its effort to answer all of the questions leads to a mode of thinking that allows for a kind of certainty to creep in that other baseball statistics don’t allow. If you say that Tony Gwynn is the best player because he hit .370 last year, I can counter with Andre Dawson’s 47 homeruns. If you say, however, that Tony Gwynn had a WAR of 8.6, there is no statistical counter to it. WAR has claimed all of the pieces.
 
And it has every right to. I don’t object with the effort to develop an all-encompassing statistic: what I object to is the mode of thinking that a statistic like WAR brings forward: a mode of analysis that is convinced of its certainty. This mode of thinking is becoming pervasive in our community, and it shuts down better conversations. It narrows the avenues we can take towards understanding.
 
Am I certain that Dave Winfield is a better player than Dwight Evans? I am not. But I am still not certain that WAR gets it right, either. I still believe there are gaps in the narrative, errors in the code.
 
 
David Fleming is a writer living in western Virginia. He welcomes comments, questions, and suggestions here and at dfleming1986@yahoo.com. 
 
 

COMMENTS (53 Comments, most recent shown first)

CharlesSaeger
Keeping myself up deliberately to wait out a preteen who doesn't like her bedtime, I figured someone who doesn't look as good as I remembered:

Gary Pettis
PO +210 (that's +35 a year over almost exactly 6 equivalent seasons)
A +11
E -2
1b RHB -56
1b LHB +36
2b RHB -21
2b LHB -63
3b RHB +9
3b LHB -7
Runs +23

His defenses come to -11 runs before his own outs and errors. I'm normally reluctant to ascribe the individual outs over the defenses, but Pettis's putout totals are really good, and his pitching staffs come out to pretty much average after adjusting for assists and strikeouts (he'd be +219 if I didn't adjust). Of course, he might have been ball-hogging.
10:37 PM Jul 8th
 
Brock Hanke
voxpaptart - Thanks. I'll give it a look. It doesn't SOUND like a full-bore ranking system, but I really should look at the results before I comment further.

RE: Bake McBride: When Bake came up with the Cardinals, he was a speed burner deluxe; there were comments that he might be the fastest man in the game. He has an odd history. The Cards drafted him in the "Who?" rounds of the draft. He fell so low in the draft because, at the college he went to, he was a TRACK star, faster than anyone else they had. He played baseball, but as a STAR, it was track. The Cards had the sense to put him in CF, so he and Lou Brock could cover everything to the left of 2B. I actually don't know how he became a RF. I don't remember an injury or anything. But "sliding him over" to play CF for a while is not as desperate a thing as it sounds. He could play center field.
4:05 AM Jul 8th
 
CharlesSaeger
One more: Dale Murphy

PO -90
A -7
E +8
1b RHB -182
1b LHB -110
2b RHB +88
2b LHB +61
3b RHB +43
3b LHB +37
Runs -17 (-12 CF, -11 RF, +5 LF)

This is weird. His defenses come out to pretty much average, not everyone is equal. As a center fielder, he's in the thick of all hits, so this makes sense, but the sheer number of singles are a damning indictment of the defense of Ramirez and Hubbard. In fact, Hubbard is *much* worse: from 1980-1987, Murphy is -96 for singles by LHB, a big second baseman number, but only -30 for singles by RHB, which is big for the shortstop. This ignores other important measures like errors, of course, but it flies in the face of conventional wisdom of the era.

Anyways, back to Murphy. He's actually better than I remember, and the idea of him winning a Gold Glove in 1982 isn't outrageous, by this measure, at +10. (I had always thought Murphy was stretched in center.) Of course, he also won when he was -11 in 1985 and -9 in 1986. This ignores his arm, but he's not Dwight Evans or Jesse Barfield or Kirby Puckett. He's +17 through 1984, -8 career with the Braves, -9 thereafter.
9:10 PM Jul 7th
 
CharlesSaeger
Now batting, number 34, the center fielder, Kirbyyyyyyy Puckett!

PO -52
A +43
E +17
1b RHB +144
1b LHB -84
2b RHB -69
2b LHB -90
3b RHB +42
3b LHB +18
Runs -30 (-17 CF, -12 RF)

Puckett's rating comes almost all from his team fielding. They were good at preventing singles by right handers, which actually bothers me, since I have long disliked Greg Gagne, but he should get the credit. The poor marks from doubles do hurt Puckett and the other outfielders, though the triples mitigate things somewhat. Total Zone calls him -46 before his arm, and since most of Puckett's career came when we have genuine hit location data, I'd be inclined to take it, though his -27 in 807 innings of center in 1993 is a little much. Maybe his glaucoma was starting to affect things even then.

His first two years come to +22, then it's all downhill from there. His last three years come to -21, or -16 if I ignore Puckett's own stats. One thing to note is that his team long knew Puckett had problems in center, as far back as August 1990, when it started experimenting with him in either right or left. (Left makes no sense for Puckett, given his arm and the huge area of left in the Metrodome.) He actually started the 1991 season in right, but given fan outcry and a 2-8 record, he moved back to center after 10 games. I'd call it a mistake, but given the results afterwards, I should probably be ignored.

Why the Gold Gloves, then? Well, like Winfield, he had an Arm, though Jesse Barfield had an ARM and was a better outfielder and only got two Gold Gloves, that can't be all of it. The guy did save a few home runs, and he had probably as much charisma as any ballplayer had. Still, he won two Gold Gloves in center after his team basically said that he wasn't a good center fielder, which has to be as damning indictment of the Gold Glove voting as Rafael Palmeiro winning a Gold Glove at DH or Derek Jeter ever winning a Gold Glove.
8:06 PM Jul 6th
 
voxpoptart
Brock: In terms of Ranking System, I like the elegant one used by the Hall of Stats, which is based on Baseball Reference's WAR, but in this context, adds together something like

Wins Above Replacement
plus
1.7 times Wins Above Average

(If memory serves, it ignores or largely-ignores negative performances: below replacement in the first, below average in the second.)

I'm sure this isn't exactly correct, but the idea is that above-AVERAGE performance is much more heavily weighted (about 2.7x weighted) than the gap between replacement and average, and that this pushes peak seasons forward dramatically. The specifics are on the Hall of Stats site somewhere, just not where I remembered them being.
6:49 PM Jul 6th
 
michaelplank
I was a bit older and a big Phan. Looking at the game logs on BR, I remembered that Maddox was hurt for a few weeks in August and they slid McBride to CF and got Johnstone back in RF on a regular basis. That was a strong team, 1 through 25.
1:51 PM Jul 6th
 
CharlesSaeger
@michaelplank: Ah. I seem to remember that McBride played for the Cardinals. I was a toddler during all this, so what did I care?

I'd love to see Luzinski complaining to a coach that Maddox was a ball hog. "Did he push you out of the way, Greg? No? OK, I'll talk to him. He was supposed to do that."
1:13 PM Jul 6th
 
michaelplank
Not that this really changes your point, but they basically platooned Johnstone and Martin in RF early in the season, then traded for McBride in June and he more or less became the regular, with Martin still getting some starts against lefties.

Luzinski famously stood sideways in the outfield, facing the foul line, with his back to Maddox in CF.
12:35 PM Jul 6th
 
TheRicemanCometh
Charles, great stuff!

Still, any idea why there was such a change in one year? I can't imagine the talent level of the individual players changed exponentially in one off-season. It must be the pitchers pitching more strikes and getting ahead of the hitters, which is likely a Billy effect. Any other ideas?
9:31 AM Jul 6th
 
CharlesSaeger
Yet another one:

Garry Maddox
PO +371 (!) (that means +39 each full season)
A -3
E -4
1b RHB +156
1b LHB -47
2b RHB -26
2b LHB -37
3b RHB -57
3b LHB -33

His defenses are weird. Based solely on hits, he'd be -11. His teams were only good at preventing singles by RHB, which means Larry Bowa was a better shortstop than I remembered. Anyways, Maddox was really good from 1975, when the Phillies first got him from San Francisco, through 1980, when they finally won the World Series, at +56 runs.

Here's an argument for being sure to count both outs and hits: in 1977, the Phillies had an outfield of Maddox flanked by Greg Luzinski and Jay Johnstone. Jerry Martin spelled Luzinski in the late innings in left, while Bake McBride and Martin shared platoon duties with Johnstone. Flanked with such amazing fielding, is it any wonder McBride was +56 PO that year?
10:45 PM Jul 5th
 
CharlesSaeger
(Add a colon when trying to look at my doc. BJOL took it out)
5:50 PM Jul 5th
 
Brock Hanke
MWeddell - Thanks. I've actually had this question written down for about three years now, but couldn't find anyplace to put it. Even if I could reduce it to the size of a Hey Bill, that would put Bill in the position of having to critique his colleagues and competitors. I'm not going to ask Bill to do that. The is just the first thread I've found where the question would not be COMPLETELY out of the thread's context. My desire for an answer is huge, because I can't use the NHA system to deal with players who weren't done with their careers by 2001, and all everyone else offers is career accumulation of their favorite fundament stat. Well, screw it. We already HAVE enough fundament stats. What we need is an updated Ranking System.
5:41 PM Jul 5th
 
CharlesSaeger
I uploaded my spreadsheet breaking down the 1979 and 1980 Athletics:

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1ovb5nJO1nae8CnW9cqy6OKF1bGSuUowPobKIJDUtXvU/​edit?usp=sharing

Were I to go whole-hog on this, I'd make sure to adjust catcher OSB/OCS for turf and LHP, and do more analysis of first basemen's putouts. You have no idea how much working with the latter sucks. But neither will change things much, especially for this team.
11:31 AM Jul 5th
 
MWeddell
Interesting comment, Brock. I'm glad that my comment accidentally helped encourage you to write it down.​
11:22 AM Jul 5th
 
MarisFan61
Charles: Thanks especially for the work on Barfield.
He's my all-time favorite defensive player. When he was on the Yanks, he caused me to reverse my kitchen-and-other interruptions while watching games: I'd never leave the TV when the Yanks were in the field.

It was easy to have the impression that runners didn't run on him, and I'm not surprised that he still had high numbers of assists, but I wouldn't have guessed he was still that far above expectation.

And yes, he's very much alive, always a great presence at Yankee Old Timer Days. He's one of the reasons I never miss going to it, and I always manage to yell to him that "the main reason I come is to watch you throw," and he smiles and gives a thumb-up. You can tell during the warm-ups that he does love doing those throws -- I imagine, a combination of showing them off (why not) and just loving doing it.
At last year's event, unexpectedly our seats were right near the door where the players went on and off the field, and I got some pics with him.

A few years ago on Reader Posts we did a thing where we picked an all-time defensive "Hall of Fame," going through all the eras and picking players at each position from each era. Jesse made it.
1:21 AM Jul 5th
 
Brock Hanke
RE: MWeddell's comment about dWAR and "counting stats": This is not ENTIRELY on that subject alone, but I've been trying to find a place where the following might not be too disruptive, and this seems to be as good as any other:

I don't have any problem with Win Shares vs. WAR, Linear Weights, WAA, WPA, or any other of what I call the "fundament" stats. A "fundament stat" (yes, I made the term up) is not a ranking system. It is the foundation of a ranking system. All of them are. The only real, actual ranking system that I know of is in the New Historical Abstract, a book that is 20 years old. It's fundament is Win Shares, but that's another book, called "Win Shares." The NHA system uses 1) compiled career Win Shares as a counting stat, (2) three years as a peak, (3) five consecutive as a prime, and (4) Win Shares per 162 games as a rate. There is also a timeline and a subjective component.

Now, THAT is a ranking system. If you use ANY counting stat, accumulated over the years of a career, as your RANKING system, what you will quickly find out is that Dizzy Dean is not in your Hall of Fame, and neither is SANDY KOUFAX. Their careers are too short. That is true of ANY fundament stat. Just simple career accumulation is not satisfactory. But it's been 20 years, and the only thing I know of that even attempts to get beyond career counting stats is JAWS, which is, well, not exactly competitive with the NHA system.

What I do not know is why no one else has even tried a system that could actually compete with the NHA system. I mean, it's been 20 years now. And I have gotten VERY tired of trying to talk to people about Hall candidates and finding out that the only thing they know is the career accumulation of their favorite fundament stat. So, the constant use of WAR as the stat of choice does not bother me. The fact that JAWS is the Most Complex Ranking System other than the NHA is just another annoyance to me.

So. In order to do something that would actually compete with the NHA system, you would need access to a large, detailed database. I don't have that, and I would not be surprised to find out that there are only about 25 such full databases in the world. But someone really should try.

Now, two questions: 1) Does anyone know of a system that is sophisticated enough to compete with the NHA system? And 2) If there is none except JAWS, does anyone know WHY there isn't one? Everyone who has a fundament stat likes to crow about why his is better than anyone else's, but they don't have a Ranking System at all. And the discussion of Hall candidates has largely devolved into comparisons of career rankings of career accumulated fundament stats. This is a VERY BAD situation for analysis to be in, given that it's been 20 years since the NHA. So, does anyone actually KNOW why no one puts together a competitive system? I mean, I don't really want to try to get Bill to do a 20-year update of the NHA, because he's working on refining Win Shares, his fundament stat. So, you don't have to worry about Bill scooping you. So, why hasn't anyone done that?

Oh, and Maris - Not your fault about the comparison speed for the pitcher Bobs. I'm actually so old that I remember Bob Lemon well, much less Bob Gibson. I just typed that off the top of my head. Sometimes it pays to be 72 years old.​
12:45 AM Jul 5th
 
CharlesSaeger
Heh. Once I did the 1979 Athletics in a spreadsheet, it became a simple matter of moving the formulas over to another tab and inputting the 1980 data. I didn't break down the players at each position, meaning that I left all left fielders together rather than break out Rickey and the mortals.

By my reckoning, all positions other than catcher got better by at least 11 runs. Catchers were the only above-average position in 1979, and I didn't bother to adjust their stealing numbers for LHP and artificial turf because I really don't care so there's a some weasel room with them. I did give outfielders credit for a third of a run for each added assist; I don't trust individual assist totals but the team did go from 0 extra outfield assists (I figure per H-HR) to 13 extra outfield assists.

Pitchers went from -5 runs to +7 runs, based only on assists, errors, and hits. I really don't care that much about them.
Catchers went from +4 runs to +3 runs. Again, meh.
First basemen went from -11 runs to +7 runs. Based only on hits, they went from -5 to +8.
Second basemen went from -23 runs to +3 runs. Based only on hits, they went from -11 to +11. Neither team was good at turning the double play, but the 1979 team was so bad that it turned 26 fewer DPs than its opponents in spite of having 456 fewer runners on first.
Third basemen went from -8 runs to +10 runs, or -4 runs to +8 on hits alone.
Shortstops went from -26 runs to 2 runs, or -14 to 8 on hits only. The shortstops in 1979 made 40 errors, which is José Offerman territory.
Left fielders went from -13 runs to +13 runs, or -7 to +10 only on hits. About 4 of those additional runs came from assists. Snicker as you like.
Center fielders went from -9 runs to +15, or -9 to +12 for hits only.
Right fielders went from -5 runs to +18, or -8 to +10 on hits alone.

The team as a whole went from -96 runs to +78 runs, or from -62 runs to +70 runs based only on hits. They went from 29 errors worse than expected to 1 better, as well as sucking slightly less on DPs. (Paging Nina Hartley on the last one.)
9:51 PM Jul 4th
 
CharlesSaeger
The latest one I've figured is one who is an exception to something I said earlier, and I knew that he'd be an exception. The rule is that once the runners know your arm is good, they stop running on it, leading to lower assists. But there are two postwar outfielders whose arms were so good that this didn't stop them from racking up assists: Roberto Clemente and

Jesse Barfield
PO +238
A +70 (!)
E +7
1b RHB +135
1b LHB +21
2b RHB -41
2b LHB +11
3b RHB -13
3b LHB +6
Runs +57 (+55 RF, +2 CF), plus having one of the two best arms since WW2. And nobody is close to them. Total Zone gives him +67 runs on his arm alone.

He's about +15 runs from the defenses overall—nothing remarkable, Chet Lemon was about 10 runs better on this front—but getting an extra 238 PO sticks out. I have Barfield at +16 runs in 1985, +15 in 1987, and +13 in 1988, and you have to add about another 7 or so for all the runners he kept from advancing or just pegged out.

Pour one out for the single most awesome right fielder of my lifetime, without any question. Yeah, he's still alive, but he ended his career on pathetic Yankee teams (the best kind, to be sure) instead of with his old team in the World Series.
5:02 PM Jul 4th
 
CharlesSaeger
Before figuring it, I'm going to guess: Billy Martin. He gets blamed for a lot of things that went wrong with that team in the end, often correctly, but without him, that team wouldn't have gotten good for him to screw up in the first place.

More practically, the Athletics in 1979 gave up 1606 hits, worst in the league. These are the Oakland Athletics, playing in Oakland-Alameda Stadium, the worst pitchers' park in the AL, giving up more hits than anyone. You have to ding the fielders for that.

The next year, with a fairly close strikeout total (769; it was 726 in 1979) and home run total (142; it was 147 in 1979), the A's gave up 1347 hits, fewest in the league. It wasn't close, either; the Yankees gave up 1433 hits, next fewest. They went from a bit better than average in doubles allowed (236) in 1979 to 179 in 1980, again a big margin (the White Sox gave up 217). They went from average in triples allowed (40) to second fewest (32) behind the Blue Jays (29). The improvement in the pitching staff was almost all in not walking folks, dropping from a comical 654 walks allowed to a respectable but not remarkable 521 walks allowed.

I think you've uncovered something, Dave. I've long known the pitching stats of the 1980 Athletics weren't that remarkable, and that they weren't great before Billy. But this … wow. The Athletics went from worst to best defense in the league, a difference of about 260 hits or about 200 runs, while keeping much of the same personnel. The catchers were Essian and Newman both years. The first basemen were Revering and Newman both years, Wayne Gross was the main third baseman both years, Picciolo and Guerrero were the main shortstops both years (though the one with the most playing time flipped between them). Rickey and Dwayne Murphy were in left and center both years. The big changes were Tony Armas going from a backup outfielder in right to the full-time right fielder, and Dave McKay and Jeff Cox, not even on the 1979 team, replacing Mike Edwards and Dave Chalk at second.

If you want your starters to complete 94 games, get great fielders behind them. And somehow, Martin figured out how to make his existing fielders great by only getting a new second baseman.
4:46 PM Jul 4th
 
DaveFleming
Here's another one for Charles...I thought about making this an article, but we've had enough articles on this subject, and I don't want to annoy anyone with a third.

The Oakland A's in the early 1980's had a terrific OF of Tony Armas, Dwayne Murphy, and Rickey Henderson. Armas, for those unaware, was a defense-first OF who learned to hit for power right as his legs went. Dwayne won a few Gold Gloves. Rickey could cover ground.

Anyway...Total Zone credits them as a terrific outfield, both as individuals and collectively.

1980: Armas +21, Murphy +22, Rickey + 18, TOTAL +61
1981: Armas +15, Murphy +9, Rickey +22, TOTAL +46 (strike-shortened)
1982: Armas +16, Murphy +11, Rickey +11, TOTAL +38

This bolsters the stat: same OF, same pitchers, etc. Their reputation matches the numbers.

But I've skipped a year. The trio also played together in 1979:

1979: Armas -2, Murphy -16, Rickey -15, TOTAL -33.

Rickey was a half-time player in 1979, and Murphy was a rookie. Armas was in the negatives in 1979, but he rates as a very good defender in 1978 (+12) and 1977 (+7).

What gives? How were these guys so individually and collectively GREAT in 1980-82, but so individually and collectively AWFUL in 1979? How does the same outfield trio see a 94 run shift in Total Zone runs in a single year?

I might post this in the Readers' comments section.
4:17 PM Jul 4th
 
CharlesSaeger
Lemon in 1977 had 509 PO in CF (per bb-ref.com) against an expectation of 430, which adjusts for the team assist and strikeout rates. The expectation would be 399 PO otherwise. For the season:

1b RHB: 553 versus expected 520
1b LHB: 465 versus expected 439

These definitely ding Lemon (and the rest of the team), but the key culprits for singles are shortstops (against RHB) and second basemen (against LHB).

2b RHB: 125 versus expected 125
2b LHB: 93 versus expected 97
3b RHB: 23 versus expected 27
3b LHB: 22 versus expected 20

These are more normal, and they tend to involve everyone but the middle infielders.

I have Lemon as +5 in 1977, though -7 if we take away his putouts and errors, which is what you'd expect if you docked 1/11th of a run to the center fielder for each extra single your team allowed.
12:22 PM Jul 4th
 
stevebogus
I don't have a bunch of numbers prepared to back any of this up, but I think positioning and the ability to "read" the direction of the ball quickly are just as important as being able to run and throw well.

I never thought of Chet Lemon as a great outfielder, though he was pretty good. In 1977 he had 512 putouts, which is Richie Ashburn territory. We now know that Ashburn's Phillies teams had several extreme flyball pitchers, which meant Richie led the NL in outfield putouts almost every year he played there. With Lemon in '77 he was probably the best fielder on a putrid fielding team. Alongside Lemon (mostly) were Ralph Garr and Richie Zisk. Zisk was a big guy who was beginning to slow down, and while Garr was still fast he had troubles figuring out where the ball was going to come down. I think the rule that year was Lemon took everything he could get to. TotalZone credits Lemon with 18 defensive runs, Zisk at -9, and Garr at -16. Not only that, but Oscar Gamble played 360 innings (-8 runs) and Wayne Nordhagen 275 innings (for -9 runs). That is just spectacularly bad. That team also had possibly the worst doubleplay combo ever. Jorge Orta at 2B was -24 runs and Alan Bannister at SS was -29 runs.
11:15 AM Jul 4th
 
MWeddell
I rather liked Charles' comment about Sparky playing Kirk Gibson at DH and CF in the same season. it reminded me of an old Baseball Abstract comment about Roy Smalley being a SS / DH, back when Bill's criticisms of managers could be quite biting.

I liked Charles' comment even better when it turned out to be very accurate. Here are the leaders in most seasons with at least 20 games each at DH and CF:
3 seasons - Bernie Williams, Johnny Damon & Kirk Gibson
2 seasons - Lew Ford, Dave Henderson & Tony Armas
1 season - 13 players (but if it happens just once, it could be some kind of mid-season injury, not the pattern we're looking for) It included Tony Phillips, another player managed by Sparky Anderson

As for seasons with 20 games each at DH and SS:
1 season - 7 players including Roy Smalley and Derek Jeter
8:33 AM Jul 4th
 
CharlesSaeger
A couple of others:

Jim Rice
PO -157
A +19
E +6
1b RHB -139
1b LHB +30
2b RHB +57
2b LHB -105
3b RHB +24
3b LHB +48
Runs -36 (-33 LF, -2 RF, -0 CF)

Dave Parker
PO +21
A -2 (I think it's clear that assists don't work when you clearly have an arm because runners stop advancing once they know)
E -49 (!) (that's what you get for fielding .965 in the outfield)
1b RHB +133
1b LHB +23
2b RHB +2
2b LHB +14
3b RHB +1
3b LHB +6
Runs -2 (RF -4, LF +2, CF -1); +3 as a Pirate, -6 afterwards

Parker's awful error rate is driving down his rating. His team defenses were good but largely saving singles, especially against RHB; most credit for singles by RHB go to the shortstop and center fielder before the second baseman, right fielder, left fielder, and third baseman, who all get about the same (0.07-0.08 runs for each one).
11:22 PM Jul 3rd
 
CharlesSaeger
@garywmaloney: WAR doesn't give a weight to fielding. Instead, it uses external systems and swaps them. As for weight in the systems, I found the SD of team 3b fielding (easiest position to evaluate) to be 10-12 runs. Win Shares is less than half that. I'd say that Win Shares is wrong, not the other systems, which are using PBP and detailed hit locations to evaluate fielders.
11:12 PM Jul 3rd
 
garywmaloney
Does any of this strike you as . . . waaaaay too much weight and importance given in the WAR system to fielding, as opposed to offense? This was the most striking difference between Win Shares and WAR, and one reason I think Bill got more things right with his system than the WAR-mongers.
10:50 PM Jul 3rd
 
CharlesSaeger
As Tiger teammates:

Lemon: 2147 PO, expected 2105 (+42)
Gibson: 1259 PO, expected 1312 (-53)

There may be a teammate effect, though there's other factors at work. First of all, even if Lemon wasn't affecting Gibson's positioning, you'd still expect Lemon to be positive and Gibson to be negative, since Lemon was simply a better fielder than Gibson and there's only 27 outs.

Second … did you know that Gibson played the outfield for 100 games only 5 times in his career? 1984 to 1988; that's it. Gibson got hurt so often that someone in the midseason issue of Sports Illustrated in 1990 remarked that Gibson played in neither the NL nor the AL but rather the DL. A lot of Lemon's positive rating in PO came while Gibson was either DHing or nursing a boo-boo.​
3:27 PM Jul 3rd
 
CharlesSaeger
And, Gibson:

PO: -68
A: -28 (I don't use it for anything, but I think it's clear that Gibson couldn't throw)
E: -14 (he was known for his bad fielding percentage in the 1980s)
1B LHB: +30
1B RHB: +144
2B LHB: +16
2B RHB: +29
3B LHB: +14
3B RHB: +9
Runs: +7 (+7 LF, -1 RF, +1 CF)

Gibson had bad traditional stats, but I give him a slight positive rating (again, ignoring his arm, which would drop it by -17 using Total Zone). Why? He played on good defensive teams. I rate PO as a percentage of team PO-A-SO, with a modifier for outs by LHB relative to league, so a team will be at +0 overall for outs, since they're fixed at 27 a game. But essentially, Gibson started at positive by his team stats, and his own stats moved it downward so that it shows up slightly above average, which pretty much fits his reputation: good but not great range, bad everything else.

One thing I didn't realize was how much Gibson played right, even though he couldn't throw, and center, even late into his career. Sparky in the mid-1990s was using Gibson both as DH, who is your worst fielder in the lineup that day, and CF, who is the best of your three OF playing that day. I can see giving the regular CF a day off at DH or something, but this is the regular DH playing CF once a week, which I don't get at all. Is there something I'm missing?
2:04 PM Jul 3rd
 
DaveFleming
One small note, of no particular relevance:

'Judgement' of fly balls has to be one of the big factors separating the good CF's from the bad ones. Just from my own experiences playing outfield casually, I always found judging fly balls in center to be vastly more difficult than judging fly balls in right or left. Because there's less visible horizontal dimension to a ball hit to center (less of a z-axis to understand x and y? I'm not sure how to describe it...), it's harder to make an intuitive read of where it will land.

I'd love to see a skill's contest that pitted good CF'ers against one another, and just had a machine firing dead-center fly balls at different angles and velocities to see who made the best read. An obscure skill, certainly, but I'd enjoy seeing it.
9:43 AM Jul 3rd
 
waisanhart
When the Tigers acquired Lemon, Sparky tried to move him to right field and install Gibson in center field as part of the "next Mickey Mantle" project. Lemon didn't like it all...he knew he was the better outfielder of the two. 1982 was a disaster for the Tigers...they had come close to making the playoffs in the strike-interrupted 1981 season and thought they were ready to compete in the ridiculously tough AL East. In first place into mid-May, they collapsed in the middle of the season, fell under .500, and played better in September to finish 83-79 as I remember. Gibson had a bad year and Sparky admitted his error, moving Gibson to right and Lemon back to center. Gibson was amazingly fast when he was young, but just was not good at judging fly balls. Lemon did play deep, but was terrific at tracking down fly balls. I was starting college near Detroit in 1982 and Bill James was interviewed on Detroit radio in May...I had never heard anyone talk about baseball the way he did...I was captivated. He ended the radio interview predicting the Tigers to finish under .500, astounding both me and the radio host...I forgot about him until the fall, when I remembered his prediction...while technically wrong, he was essentially correct about the Tigers...so I bought my first Abstract. I appreciate this article as an invitation for recalling my introduction to the mind of Bill James.​
8:58 AM Jul 3rd
 
CharlesSaeger
Lemme redo Lemon here, as I chanced upon an error I'll blame on my sticky 7 key affecting K by LHB in 1986:

PO +157
A +3
E +3
1b.lhb +81
1b.rhb +95
2b.lhb +32
2b.rhb +38
3b.lhb -6
3b.rhb +7
Runs (PO, E, H): +51
7:38 AM Jul 3rd
 
MarisFan61
Well, I was going to do what Brock just did, and in fact I did do it -- I just typed too slow. :-)

But anyway, even if Brock hadn't beat me to it, by the time I was done with it, I wasn't going to put it here anyway, because it's LONG. It wouldn't have been fair to clutter Dave's page with such a long thing on a different subject.

So, it's going to be on Reader Posts. I hope some of you will be interested to come over there and take a look.
2:42 AM Jul 3rd
 
Brock Hanke
Heh. I thought it was going to be the pitchers Lemon and Gibson, too, and I thought about that for a few minutes before I actually read the essay. There ARE similarities between the two pitchers. They both came up in the 1950s. Both hit very well for pitchers, although Lemon was better than Gibson. Neither one of them was a pitcher before coming to the majors. Lemon was a 3B backed up behind Ken Keltner, and Gibson was a star BASKETBALL player in college; when the Cardinals did not offer him enough money to sign him right out of college, he played a year for the Harlem Globetrotters. This was not a fame scheme, because Bob wasn't famous yet; he was playing for the Trotters because he was that good a basketball player. Both of them were good fielders. Lemon had trained as a 3B, and Gibson's odd pitching motion ended with him in front of the mound, completely balanced, looking for all the world like a SS waiting for a grounder. There are, of course, differences - Gibson threw harder and had more strikeouts and was a much better pitcher overall - but there are more similarities than I was expecting.
12:50 AM Jul 3rd
 
rtayatay
I'm not doing a great job of staying on topic, but thinking about Dwight Evans made me thing about the uniqueness of Fenway, and then thought about the Devon White / Winfield combo, and I wondered if Fenway creates some kind of fielding park factor. So I did a quick little study on the Red Sox OF. In BB Ref, you can look at each team's defensive position and it lists out who played games at that position. I looked at 2000-2019 for LF, CF, RF for the Red Sox. Here are a couple observations.

2000-2019 Total Runs Above Avg (I think this still includes a positional adjustment):

LF +4
CF -72
RF +133

There is a 205 run difference in the 20 years between Red Sox CF's and RF's. That raises a question in my mind as to whether the system is assigning value in the right way between the OF positions.

Secondly, the Red Sox OF of 2018 and 2019 would make a great study. The same 3 players played the majority of games both years (Benintendi, Bradley, Betts... Killer Bees? The Bosox Bees?). They played 384 games in 2018 and 407 games in 2019. As an OF, they show as +51 runs in 2018 and -9 runs in 2019. A 60 run difference. Does that smell right to you? The same 3 guys, no one 'falling off a cliff' age-wise - does the 60 run difference accurately illustrate their contributions, or are there other factors that aren't being accounted for correctly?
10:31 PM Jul 2nd
 
CharlesSaeger
Well, I got through Lemon tonight:

PO +157 (and almost the same ignoring SO, A, and LHB at +144)
A +3
E +3
1b.lhb +120
1b.rhb +57
2b.lhb +41
2b.rhb +29
3b.lhb -4
3b.rhb +6
Runs (PO, E, H): +52


Some notes:
* When Lemon finished his career in right, he had moved there because the Tigers got Gary Pettis. It is absolutely no disgrace to move to right to accommodate Gary Pettis, truly one of the great no-hit, great field outfielders of all time.
* Lemon had about 504 extra outs from LHB than expected, which means little since 304 of those outs came while Lemon was in center.
* Lemon's teams saved 249 hits over the course of his career, and they're all over the field.
* Lemon was +58 runs in center and -7 in right (mostly at the end of his career). He only played an inning of left. He was +22 runs with Chicago and +30 with Detroit. I have his best season as 1983 with +12 runs. Winfield, for the record, was +11 runs in 1979 (and -13 in 1980); Evans was +11 in 1975.
* Lemon being +58 runs (sans arm) is in-line with Total Zone, which has him at +44.
8:21 PM Jul 2nd
 
Steven Goldleaf
I also honestly thought this would be a comparison of Bob Lemon and Bob Gibson. I'd like to read that too.

But this reminds me of Bill's old article about Carney Lansford's fielding, which had almost no range but which got him a lot of praise nonetheless because he dove for every ball, even those hit straight at him, so he LOOKED like he was fielding the hell out of the ball. Range Factor suggested otherwise. So your arguments in Winfield's favor seem to take us back to primitive pre-sabermetric days. How can he be a bad fielder if observers thought otherwise? Easy, that's how. It practically answers itself.
6:27 PM Jul 2nd
 
jfenimore
Living in the NY metro area, I saw Winfield play a lot. He was a hitter playing a corner field. I don't believe anyone ever thought of him being able to play center. I saw Dewey when the Bosox played the Yanks, and being a Met fan, I saw just how dangerous he was during the '86 WS. He was a very underrated player, maybe even more so than Bill's thought about Willie Randolph.
3:14 PM Jul 2nd
 
CharlesSaeger
@voxpoptart: Retrosheet game logs is how we have those numbers, and they're in the tables on Baseball Reference (they're under the menu Finders & Advanced Stats, Fielding, Advanced Stats). Once you have them, outfield arms are pretty easy to evaluate, or at least the advancement rates. Tim Raines is +7 for his career here, even though he had a weak arm (I think a Project Scoresheet publication at the time used the phrase "limp noodle" to describe his arm); he was really quick at getting to the ball, so his legs gave him a leg up to cut off the ball and prevent the advance, which effectively meant the same thing to the scoreboard.

I suspect Winfield's arm is what gave him the Gold Gloves. Unlike intangibles like defensive range, it's easy to see. It's why we overrate fast players: speed is easy to see and quantify. Throw out "and quantify" and you have throwing.

I should note that while I don't think Winfield was a good outfielder, there's a non-zero chance he was an adequate one. Outfielder fielding stats are harder to quantify than 2B/3B/SS due to park effects and the nature of their job. The job of an outfielder is to help a team fail well, so a lot of it already pertains to hits already allowed.
2:22 PM Jul 2nd
 
MarisFan61
Don: I copied off of your post before you hit "Post." :-)
2:16 PM Jul 2nd
 
MWeddell
kgh,
Remember that dWAR is measuring against average and for an entire career. So for a player that is consitently above or below average defensively, it acts as a counting stat. Therefore, only players with long careers are likely to be among the leaders in dWAR above or below average.

Look in the comments of the Winfield / Evans article for some leaderboards I prepared on this.

I suspect that if one were to measure defensive runs below average per game or per inning played without the positional adjustment, the worst defensive player would be someone like Ryan Doumit, not a Hall of Famer.
2:08 PM Jul 2nd
 
doncoffin
And I was expecting Bob Lemon and Bob Gibson...
1:43 PM Jul 2nd
 
kgh
1. If the metrics are right, how in the world did the observers get Winfield so wrong?

How indeed? I have a possible answer, but first a little more context on Big Dave's D. Baseball reference includes a page of the top 500 RFs by JAWS on which we find our man ranked 19th. However, when we resort the page by dWAR, we find Winfield at . . . 499, better only than Gary Sheffield. Dwight Evans was a good outfielder, but Winfield doesn't only fall short of Dewey Evans (314 by dWAR), but he falls short of just about everyone else. Another Yankee, this one a lifetime Yankee, has met the same fate: Derek Jeter, 13th by JAWS, also winds up at 499 by dWAR. So, what does it take for lauded players to have such a gap in observers' perceptions and the metrics? I think that we perceive two things clearly: great, spectacular plays and boneheaded blunders. Everything else just happens with little or no thought about the player in question: "Soft liner to right . . . drops in for a base hit." "Grounder between short and third . . . base hit." This is the beginning and end of the discussion of these instances. Base hits, yes, but these are the missing putouts that researchers uncover. They need to be uncovered because they are not seen as such. I remember Winfield climbing the left field wall at Yankee Stadium to catch a HR, tearing the padding on the wall in the process; I remember him making accurate throws to home and third, nailing runners. And we know what people saw and remember Jeter doing. We saw plenty of base hits, too, but they were just base hits.

1:41 PM Jul 2nd
 
MWeddell
Dave wrote: "What concerns me is that there are a lot of people in our community who have a tendency to accept any conclusion of WAR as Gospel Truth."

My experience on the BJOL Reader Posts has tended to be the opposite frankly, but others disagree with me. Many posters here resent it when I or others mention WAR. Charles S. in the comments to the Winfield / Evans article (and elsewhere) can "cook from scratch" when it comes to analyzing fielding statistics but most of us cannot.
1:40 PM Jul 2nd
 
MWeddell
For what little it is worth, I never thought that much of Lemon's fielding prowess during his Tiger years. (I'm a lifelong Tigers fan, although I lived elsewhere for some of 1982-87, so I didn't see too many games during that period.) Chet Lemon seemed to play an uncommonly deep CF in a stadium where it was 440 feet to straightaway CF. Maybe that turned out to be the right decision statistically, but as a fan I noticed many singles falling in front of Lemon.
1:35 PM Jul 2nd
 
voxpoptart
I'm only qualified to speculate on your first question. I think, if observers were wrong, it's easy to understand how; and I have a question about how the metrics deal with throwing arms, which might bear on the rightness of the metrics regarding it.

* If Winfield was an excellent athlete who made poor positioning choices and tended to make poor first steps, everyone can see the athleticism, and the spectacular conversions of seemingly-obvious hits into outs. It's much harder to see the alternate universe in which a long parade of singles and doubles WOULD have been turned into outs by Winfield simply having stood in the right place to begin with.

It's even harder if you're watching on TV, in which case you only get the angles the camera feeds you, and not generally watching that first step or that silent before-the-pitch positioning. And most viewers, including me, are TV viewers most of the time.

* Here's my question. Winfield had an excellent arm but a below-average assist rate. Presumably, he often saved fractions runs by preventing runners from even bothering to challenge him. Do the defensive metrics of his day have a tally of this? I assume, given the existence of Retrosheet, that they could tally often each outfielder allows a runner to take an extra base; I just honestly don't know if that's figured in to the totals. Tom? Charles?​
1:13 PM Jul 2nd
 
DaveFleming
Michael's comment about Winfield's natural ability echoes something a reader named Rick...not sure his handle on this site...sent along.

Winfield was an extremely gifted athlete. He was like George Springer: someone who had all of the physical attributes you could hope for. He could have had a career in many sports, and opted for baseball. He likely could've had a different career in baseball, but he went with outfielder.

Winfield played like that. As Rick noted, Winfield didn't charge balls in the outfield, and he'd wind up on his throws like a pitcher: good arm, but slow release. As a hitter, he had STRENGTH, but his swing wasn't textbook, and he had to cheat on a good fastball, which made him vulnerable to off-speed pitches.

Evans was less gifted. As a hitter, he had to figure out: this is the pitch I'm looking for, this is what I want, and I'm letting the other one go.' Evans didn't have the natural strength to clobber his way to success: he had to think his way into being an elite hitter, and his walks were a part of that effort. Winfield had more natural ability, and thus was able to skip some of the lessons Evans learned.

And Evans, as a young player, ended up on a good OF: he had two MVP's around him as he was figuring things out. What is Rice doing? What's Lynn doing? What's Yaz doing? Winfield was the best player on the Padres from the moment he arrived: who was he going to learn anything from?

I've talked about their similarities, but there are interesting differences between them. Who do you want to bet on, the preternaturally gifted athlete who can do anything, or the guy who has a lesser skill set, but figures out his limits and works within them?

It is a wonderful thing to have a gift, as Winfield certainly did. And Winfield worked hard to hone his gifts into a major league career: he didn't slack off. He busted his ass.

But there are ways in which having a great talent can limit what you do with that talent, and there are ways that being anonymous can be a tremendous benefit. Winfield found his feet in the spotlight, hitting cleanup as the anointed savior of the Padres franchise. Evans could figure stuff out in the 7th slot, ad his defense justified the waiting.
12:14 PM Jul 2nd
 
MarisFan61
A couple of things from pieces by Bill in the old Abstracts:

-- Bill waxed a little poetic about that Detroit outfield -- I think it was about that Detroit outfield.
It was the article that had that delicious line about Sparky Anderson, something like "knows as much about hitters' tendencies as I know about the ovulation cycle of an orangutan."
It was about the team having a superb defensive efficiency despite the unlikelihood of their being good at positioning. In trying to understand it, he offered, "What do you see when you look at their outfield? Three center fielders," although then mentioning that "they all have their deficiencies." He suggested further that maybe defensive positioning wasn't as important as we might have thought, and that maybe outfielders' range was a bigger factor than we thought.

-- Not necessarily in the same article, Bill said a thing that makes this thing in this article understatedly funny: "Gibson....was a better baserunner than Chet Lemon." Bill commented on how it seemed Lemon made some incredibly stupid play on the bases pretty regularly.
12:14 PM Jul 2nd
 
MarisFan61
Honest, I thought this was going to be Bob Lemon and Bob Gibson. :-)
(really)
12:02 PM Jul 2nd
 
Tanner_Boyle
Maybe instead of being compared to every other outfielder in the league, they should only be compared to the outfielders on their team.

I mean, it's kind of hard to catch balls in a different stadium with two different teams playing in a different country.

Winfield could only catch or not catch the balls hit into his area. Not someone else's.
11:58 AM Jul 2nd
 
michaelplank
As a kid in the late 1970s, I recall a general narrative that Winfield (already being a great and somewhat famous amateur athlete, as you documented in the previous article) was of course destined to be the latest five tool superstar in a line including Mays, Aaron, Robinson, etc. Parker was viewed in a similar way. There was just a widely held belief that anybody that big, that fast, that athletic, with a good arm, had to be a great defensive player too. (It helped if you could steal some bases.) It was really never dispelled. Andre Dawson and Dale Murphy regularly won Gold Gloves into the 1980s...
11:46 AM Jul 2nd
 
CharlesSaeger
I'll get to Lemon and Gibson tonight, to see how their stats look. The teammate effect is part of why I want to look at hits as well as outs, though I should mention some things:

* Winfield's assist rate is below average, though I don't accept the idea that his arm was below average; I think bb-ref.com gets his arm right at +22. (Evans's assist rate was average, just to underscore how bad assists measure these things.) Park effects will effect things; Jim Rice's assist rate is +19, in large part due to him being able to play jai-alai off the Green Monster. I'm not counting assists in anything right now because of this. I'm guessing that both Winfield, playing half his career in Death Valley, and Evans, playing his whole career in a park where one field is affected by the Green Monster, did have park effects on their fielding.
* As I remember it, Henderson was stretched in center. He played it in New York because he had legs, but he was hardly Willie Mays. He surely didn't have a center fielder's arm. The Yankees did stop using Winfield occasionally in center when they acquired Henderson, however.
11:44 AM Jul 2nd
 
FrankD
Another great article. I agree with your assessment of WAR by paraphrasing lines from Inherit the Wind: "WAR is a statistic, a very good statistic, but its not the only statistic. " WAR is a model based on filtered inputs and assumptions. WAR maybe the best model we have now in evaluating baseball players. However, WAR is a model and has all the problems that any model has in that: not all inputs are known or used; certain effects are parameterized using assumptions or just treated as a constant; etc. I'm not attacking WAR. But, its fine to question WAR. And since WAR is a model, as it is adjusted/corrected WAR should continue to improve.

As an aside: without this analysis I too would have said that Winfield was way better than Evans and that Gibson was better than Lemon. This analysis has also got me thinking about my knee-jerk reactions/memories .....
11:43 AM Jul 2nd
 
rtayatay
I'm glad we're continuing this conversation. Thanks for keeping it afloat. What really interests me about the 1990 Devon White / Dave Winfield comparison is that I noticed White's numbers being abnormally low *after* looking into the Angels' low numbers on balls hit to the OF, doing well on extra-base hits, all things that would make you wonder if their OF's were as bad as it might seem. From my outside-looking-in perspective, that's what I question the most about WAR defensive numbers - they vary in what seem to me a much greater degree than offensive numbers, which makes me think the variance is due less to personal performance and more to circumstances. Why did White happen to have his worst year for that part of his career in 1990? I suspect it's connected to events out of his control.​
11:42 AM Jul 2nd
 
 
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