Positional Strength Indicator

September 1, 2020
                                   Positional Strength Indicator

            Suppose that we take two players, for whom we have no individual batting or fielding statistics.  Player A is Andy Alomar, and Player B is Bobby Buttscretcher.  Andy Alomar plays shortstop and hits third for the best team in the league.   Bobby Buttscretcher plays first base and hits 7th for the weakest team in the league.  Who would you guess is the better player?   Obviously, Andy Alomar is the better player, but what are the odds?  Is there ANY chance that Bobby Buttscretcher is actually the better player? 

            Let me ask another theoretical question.   What if it was possible to compare players just as accurately without any reference to their individual batting and fielding statistics as by doing it WITH reference to their individual batting and fielding statistics?   Can you see the power of that idea?   It would be useful, particularly, in scouting.  In scouting amateur players, their batting and fielding statistics are of limited use.  I promise you:  on almost every college team in America in a more typical year, there is a first baseman who is hitting .350 or .380 and who is first or second on the team in home runs—and no major league team has ANY interest in signing him.   The difference between hitting .380 and .315 is not all that reliable or all that significant as the player moves to more difficult competition. 

            This thread developed—as actually many of my ideas have developed—when I was just messing around, not actually working, but creating Mythical Careers.   I was using my Game Log file to create Mythical Careers, and I thought. . . well, what if I create a player who always hits sixth and always plays third base.  What would he look like? Randomly chosen games from 1950 to 1967, but let’s assume that the player always bats sixth and always plays third base, and let’s assume that he has either a strikeout or a walk in 80% of his games. 

            From that, it occurred to me that one could create a "Batting Order Position Strength Indicator" for every player in my data based on where they hit.  Suppose that:

            If a player hits cleanup in the game, we score that at "10",

            If he bats third, we score that at "9",

            If he bats leadoff, we score that at "8",

            If he bats second, we score that at "7",

            If he bats fifth, we score that at "6",

            If he bats sixth, we score that at "5",

            If he bats seventh, we score that at "4",

            If he bats eighth, we score that at "3", and

            If he bats ninth, we score that at "1". 

            But these numbers apply ONLY if he is in the starting lineup.   If he enters the game late, then he scores at "2" if he has more than one plate appearance in the game, and "1" if he has one or fewer plate appearances in the game.  

            So he can score for a game at anywhere from 1 to 10, based on how crucial a batting order position he is assigned for the game.   In my data I have batting lines for 2,890 player/seasons, and there are 11 players who score at "100" for a season, meaning that they batted cleanup in every game of the season in which they played.  Those 11 players are Joe Medwick (1935, 1936 and 1937), Hank Greenberg (1936 and 1937), Ralph Kiner (1951), Hank Sauer (1952), Rocky Colavito (1965), Joe Torre (1971), Andre Thornton (1984) and Fred McGriff (1995).   Seven of the 11 finished in the top 5 in the league in MVP voting, the exceptions being Hank Greenberg, 1936 (injured, appeared in only 12 games), Ralph Kiner (10th in the MVP voting), Andre Thornton (19th) and Fred McGriff (20th). 

            You might notice that those are all really good hitters.  Three of them won the MVP Award in that season, and seven of the eleven are in the Hall of Fame.  The lowest score in my data, for a player appearing in 100 or more games, is 10.58, by Brian Downing in 1975.  Downing appeared in 138 games that season, and batted 9th in 135 of them, batting 8th twice and 7th once.  The second-lowest score, 11.55, was by Mark Belanger in 154 games in 1973.

            Noting, of course, that a lot of great hitters have hit 3rd or 1st, it is a safe and accurate generalization that the best hitters occupy the key spots in the batting order with great consistency.    The career data is actually more interesting.   In my game logs I have data for 168 players who played in 1,000 or more games, plus 28 more who had shorter careers.  Among those with at least 1,000 career games, the highest and lowest  "career batting order position strength indicators" are these 20:

First N

Last

YOB

C BOP S

 

First N

Last

YOB

C BOP S

Ralph

Kiner

1922

88.6

 

Mark

Belanger

1944

30.5

Bob

Johnson

1905

87.5

 

Jerry

Grote

1942

35.1

Bob

Elliott

1916

87.5

 

Dick

Green

1941

37.7

Kirby

Puckett

1960

87.0

 

Joe

DeMaestri

1928

39.6

Dick

Allen

1942

86.6

 

Manny

Mota

1938

40.9

Fred

McGriff

1963

86.4

 

Ron

Hansen

1938

42.0

Jack

Clark

1955

86.1

 

Woodie

Held

1932

42.3

Joe

Medwick

1911

85.8

 

Bill

Mazeroski

1936

43.7

Del

Ennis

1925

85.6

 

Ed

Kirkpatrick

1944

43.8

Tony

Oliva

1938

84.1

 

Vic

Davalillo

1939

45.4

Hank

Greenberg

1911

84.0

 

Tom

Haller

1937

45.5

Harmon

Killebrew

1936

83.8

 

Gene

Tenace

1946

46.2

Jim

Rice

1953

83.3

 

Freddie

Patek

1944

47.2

Andre

Thornton

1949

83.2

 

Jim

Rivera

1921

47.2

Willie

McCovey

1938

82.8

 

Denis

Menke

1940

47.8

Al

Kaline

1934

82.7

 

Ernie

Lombardi

1908

48.1

Billy

Williams

1938

82.4

 

Jim

Hickman

1937

50.1

Andre

Dawson

1954

82.4

 

Paul

Blair

1944

50.2

Dick

Stuart

1932

81.4

 

Wayne

Causey

1936

50.7

Mark

McGwire

1963

81.1

 

Chet

Lemon

1955

51.9

 

            I would argue that while the Batting Order Positional Strength Indicator is not a PERFECT measurement—that is, Del Ennis is not a better hitter than Hank Greenberg—it is nonetheless a near-perfectly RELIABLE indicator.   That a weak hitter is used in key batting order positions throughout his career, or a strong hitter used in less crucial positions, never happens.  The largest limitation to that generalization is catchers.   Probably most of you know that, in the early history of baseball, once the tradition of the pitcher batting 9th was established, the tradition actually was that the pitcher always batted 9th and the catcher always batted 8th—even if he was a good hitter.  While there were some limited exceptions to that, Mickey Cochrane really broke that practice in the early 1920s.  But what I did not realize until now, until doing this study, is that the practice of burying the catcher low in the batting order persisted, really, until the 1960s.   Ernie Lombardi, Roy Campanella and Bill Freehan have much lower batting order positional strength scores than you would anticipate that they would. 

OK, so that’s offense.  Now let’s do the same for defense.   Let us say that a player is credited with:

10 points if his defensive position for the game is Catcher,

9 points if it is Shortstop,

8 points if it is Center Field,

7 points if it is Second Base,

6 points if it is Third Base,

5 points if it is Right Field,

4 points if it is Left Field,

3 points if it is First Base,

2 points if it is Pinch Hitter, and

1 point if it is DH. 

DH is lower than Pinch Hitter, because pinch hitters are usually position players who are just not in the lineup.  If you’re in the lineup as a DH, consistently, then you’re not highly regarded as a defensive player. 

You can’t switch batting order positions in a game, but you can switch defensive positions, and this requires us to create rules for players who switch defensive positions in a game. . . not interesting, but we have to do it.  

(1)   A player who plays two defensive positions in a game is scored by the average of the values for the two positions, rounded down (so that if you play left field (4) and right field (5), it scores as 4.) 

(2)   A player who plays three or more defensive positions in a game is scored only by the first two.

(3)   If a position player pitches, we score that as "10", the same as catcher.  If, for example, you play 1b,p (first base and pitcher), that would be 6.  First base is three, pitcher is 10, average 6.5, rounded down is six. 

Let’s list the Top 20 and Bottom 20 (among my 168 players) by DEFENSIVE position score:

First N

Last

C DP Sc

 

First N

Last

C DP Sc

Roy

Campanella

97.9

 

Hal

McRae

19.5

Jerry

Grote

96.5

 

Andre

Thornton

20.2

Tom

Haller

94.0

 

Cecil

Cooper

25.8

Thurman

Munson

91.7

 

Don

Mincher

28.2

Bill

Freehan

91.3

 

Fred

McGriff

28.4

Luis

Aparicio

89.5

 

John Sr.

Mayberry

28.5

Dick

Groat

88.5

 

Orlando

Cepeda

29.1

Freddie

Patek

88.1

 

Moose

Skowron

29.1

Mark

Belanger

88.1

 

Dick

Stuart

29.2

Pee Wee

Reese

87.1

 

Will

Clark

29.4

Lou

Boudreau

86.9

 

Norm

Cash

29.4

Darrell

Porter

86.8

 

Donn

Clendenon

29.4

Yogi

Berra

86.8

 

Keith

Hernandez

29.7

Ernie

Lombardi

86.7

 

Mark

McGwire

29.8

Zoilo

Versalles

86.6

 

Dolph

Camilli

29.9

Joe

DeMaestri

86.3

 

Willie

McCovey

29.9

Bert

Campaneris

85.4

 

Ed

Kranepool

30.2

Maury

Wills

83.0

 

Bill

White

30.7

Joe

Cronin

82.9

 

Joe

Adcock

30.8

Ron

Hansen

81.9

 

Hank

Greenberg

31.6

Ted

Simmons

77.6

 

Norm

Siebern

32.1

Paul

Blair

76.6

 

Steve

Garvey

32.2

Willie

Davis

76.2

 

George

Scott

32.4

Amos

Otis

75.9

 

Jim

Rice

32.4

Jim

Fregosi

75.9

 

Willie

Stargell

34.7

 

            These are career numbers.  Again, you can easily see that the players who had more defensive value, the players who played the key defensive positions, are listed highest, and those who were DHs, first basemen and left fielders have the lower scores.  They are arranged by position, of course, but even by position, the players scale by defensive quality.   There are eight catchers on the top-defenders list, but the list starts with Roy Campanella and Jerry Grote, who were great defensive catchers, and works down to Ernie Lombardi and Ted Simmons, who were catchers, but not great defensive catchers.   There are ten shortstops on the list, but Luis Aparicio is the FIRST of the shortstops.  

            Suppose, then, that we combined the offensive and defensive rankings, weighting them each at 50%:

First N

Last

Total

 

First N

Last

Total

Thurman

Munson

81.6

 

Manny

Mota

40.7

Lou

Boudreau

80.7

 

Ed

Kranepool

42.0

Yogi

Berra

79.8

 

Moose

Skowron

42.9

Joe

Cronin

79.4

 

Hal

McRae

43.3

Kirby

Puckett

79.4

 

Don

Mincher

44.3

Luis

Aparicio

78.6

 

Donn

Clendenon

44.4

Earl

Averill

77.8

 

Joe

Adcock

46.8

Maury

Wills

77.0

 

Tito

Francona

47.0

Bert

Campaneris

76.4

 

Elmer

Valo

47.5

Ted

Simmons

76.2

 

Norm

Cash

47.5

Dick

Groat

76.1

 

Ed

Kirkpatrick

47.9

Willie

Davis

76.0

 

Bob

Skinner

49.1

Roy

Campanella

75.4

 

Jim

Hickman

49.3

Pee Wee

Reese

75.3

 

Dwight

Evans

49.5

Amos

Otis

74.9

 

Bill

White

49.8

Larry

Doby

74.8

 

Vic

Power

50.3

Richie

Ashburn

74.5

 

Lee

Maye

50.6

Jimmy

Wynn

72.7

 

George

Scott

50.6

Cesar

Cedeno

72.7

 

Vic

Davalillo

51.1

Craig

Biggio

72.5

 

Jim

Rivera

51.3

Bill

Freehan

72.3

 

Jesse

Barfield

51.4

Jim

Fregosi

72.2

 

Dale

Mitchell

51.5

Vada

Pinson

72.2

 

Andre

Thornton

51.7

Roberto

Alomar

72.0

 

John Sr.

Mayberry

51.8

Bob

Elliott

71.9

 

Norm

Siebern

51.9

 

            Again, those are career numbers.  As you may know, I am not a Thurman Munson fan, but we’re not done here.   There are a lot of really good players on the low-scoring list, because my file of 168 long-term regulars is mostly composed of good and great players.  But the "good list" above contains 11 MVP Awards and 13 Hall of Famers, while the "weak list" contains no MVP Awards and no Hall of Famers.     

            My next observation, trying to shape this into a more reliable rating system, was based on single-season numbers, which, for the sake of brevity, I won’t show you.   While the system did give very high scores to the Most Valuable players in many seasons, particularly when a catcher or shortstop won the MVP Award, it gave relatively low scores to first basemen and left fielders within my game logs who had MVP seasons, like Hank Greenberg, Dick Allen, Harmon Killebrew, Orlando Cepeda, Steve Garvey and Willie McCovey.  

            The reason for this is obvious.  Baseball is 50% offense, 50% defense, but the pitchers account for probably more than half of the defense (run prevention.)  If you assume that defense is 50% the responsibility of the pitcher, then 67% of position players’ value is in batting (50/75).   If you assume that defense is 60% the responsibility of the pitcher, then position players’ value is 71% in batting (50/70); if the pitcher is 70% of defense, then the position player’s value is 77% in batting (50/65). 

            I started adjusting the weight given to offensive and defensive position, trying to make it match better with MVP voting and WAR.   The ratio that seemed to work best was about 3-1, three parts batting to one part fielding. 

            But there is a third element in this, which is the performance of the team.  Bobby Bonds in 1981, his last season in the majors, played center field and batted first or third in two-thirds of his games, thus scoring at 78 offensively and 78 defensively, but he did this for a terrible team, a team which finished 38-65 in the strike-mangled season.   If you play center field and bat leadoff for a great team, that’s one thing; if you do it for a terrible team. . .well, somebody has to play center field, and somebody has to bat leadoff, but it doesn’t necessarily mean as much. 

            By trial and stupidity I stumbled onto a system in which I evaluated each season by:

            The Batting Order Positional Score, times 6, plus

            The Defensive Positional Score, times 2, plus

            A number 1 to 20 based on the winning percentage of the team, as follows.  If the team has a winning percentage of .680 or higher, 20 points; .660 to .67999, 19 points; .640 to .65999, 18 points; .620 to .63999, 17 points; .600 to.61999, 16 points. . . .etc., down to .320 to .33999, 2 points, and less than .320, 1 point. 

            Under that system, the highest-scoring seasons in my Game Log data are the following: 

First N

Last

Year

Team

Offense

Defense

Total

Yogi

Berra

1954

19

59.3

19.8

98

Joe

Cronin

1933

18

59.1

18.0

95

Yogi

Berra

1956

17

57.1

19.5

94

Joe

Cronin

1932

16

59.2

17.8

93

Yogi

Berra

1952

16

56.7

19.8

92

Yogi

Berra

1955

17

55.1

19.8

92

Roy

Campanella

1955

18

53.9

19.7

92

Ted

Simmons

1979

12

57.8

19.7

90

Joe

Cronin

1931

15

56.5

17.9

89

Ron

Cey

1977

16

59.8

12.0

88

Ernie

Banks

1958

12

57.0

18.0

87

Lou

Boudreau

1948

17

52.0

17.9

87

Ernie

Banks

1959

10

59.0

17.9

87

Duke

Snider

1953

20

50.8

15.8

87

Bob

Elliott

1948

15

59.6

11.9

87

Duke

Snider

1955

18

52.7

15.8

87

Thurman

Munson

1978

16

53.1

17.4

87

Lou

Boudreau

1947

11

57.6

17.8

86

Thurman

Munson

1977

16

51.9

18.5

86

Jimmy

Wynn

1974

17

53.0

15.8

86

           

            It’s not a perfect measure of the quality of those seasons or all of the seasons in my data, but I believe there are 6 MVP seasons in the top 13—with a system that makes no direct use of batting or fielding statistics.  You would be hard-pressed to beat that with a system which DID use batting and fielding statistics.   There are 1,740 seasons of 120 or more games in my Game Log Data.   Here is a chart that shows the number of MVPs in each range of Positional Strength Scores:

 

Pos Strength Score

#

MVPs

Pct

90

or

more

8

3

38%

85

to

89

30

5

17%

80

to

84

120

11

9%

75

to

79

225

11

5%

70

to

74

334

3

1%

65

to

69

308

2

1%

60

to

64

253

3

1%

Up

to

59

462

0

0%

 

 

 

 

 

 

74

or

lower

1357

8

1%

75

or

higher

383

30

8%

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1740

38

2%

 

            21% of players who scored at 80 or higher in this system won the MVP Award, versus 1% for those who scored at 74 or lower; actually, just a little better than one-half of one percent.  For a career, Yogi Berra has the highest Positional Strength Score in my data—a cleanup hitter, a catcher, playing for formidable teams.   He might have the highest score ever, even when I get the Willie Mayses and Ted Williamses and such like included in the data, I don’t know.   These are the career Positional Strength Scores for all 196 players within my data, with the Hall of Famers highlighted in Gold:

 

Rank

First N

Last

YOB

PSS

1

Yogi

Berra

1922

77.7

2

Kirby

Puckett

1960

76.6

3

Earl

Averill

1902

75.8

4

Bob

Elliott

1916

75.7

5

Larry

Doby

1923

75.4

6

Joe

Cronin

1906

75.1

7

Thurman

Munson

1947

74.3

8

Lou

Boudreau

1917

74.2

9

Willie

Davis

1940

72.5

10

Eddie

Mathews

1931

72.5

11

Duke

Snider

1926

72.2

12

Joe

Medwick

1911

71.8

13

Maury

Wills

1932

71.7

14

Dick

Allen

1942

71.7

15

Pee Wee

Reese

1918

71.6

16

Al

Kaline

1934

71.6

17

Andre

Dawson

1954

71.5

18

Amos

Otis

1947

71.4

19

Roberto

Alomar

1968

71.0

20

Tony

Oliva

1938

70.8

21

Jimmy

Wynn

1942

70.7

22

Ken

Boyer

1931

70.6

23

Cesar

Cedeno

1951

70.5

24

Del

Ennis

1925

70.4

25

Ted

Simmons

1949

70.4

26

Luis

Aparicio

1934

70.3

27

Hank

Greenberg

1911

70.2

28

Jack

Clark

1955

70.1

29

Reggie

Jackson

1946

70.0

30

Joe

Torre

1940

69.9

31

Al

Oliver

1946

69.9

32

Craig

Biggio

1965

69.8

33

Harmon

Killebrew

1936

69.6

34

Darryl

Strawberry

1962

69.5

35

Minnie

Minoso

1925

69.5

36

Jim

Rice

1953

69.4

37

Roger

Maris

1934

69.3

38

Bert

Campaneris

1942

69.3

39

Fred

McGriff

1963

69.2

40

Dave

Parker

1951

69.1

41

Rocky

Colavito

1933

69.0

42

Roberto

Clemente

1934

68.8

43

Vada

Pinson

1938

68.6

44

Richie

Ashburn

1927

68.4

45

Sal

Bando

1944

68.1

46

Andy

Van Slyke

1960

68.0

47

Ralph

Kiner

1922

68.0

48

Willie

Stargell

1940

68.0

49

Bobby

Bonds

1946

67.9

50

Fred

Lynn

1952

67.9

51

Bill

Madlock

1951

67.8

52

Jim

Gilliam

1928

67.7

53

Davey

Lopes

1945

67.6

54

Roy

Campanella

1921

67.5

55

Willie

McCovey

1938

67.4

56

Jeff

Heath

1915

67.3

57

Paul

Molitor

1956

67.3

58

Ray

Lankford

1967

67.2

59

Steve

Garvey

1948

67.2

60

Bob

Johnson

1905

67.1

61

Billy

Williams

1938

66.9

62

Mark

McGwire

1963

66.8

63

Harvey

Kuenn

1930

66.8

64

Dick

Groat

1930

66.7

65

Vic

Wertz

1925

66.3

66

Dick

Stuart

1932

66.1

67

Jim

Fregosi

1942

65.8

68

Orlando

Cepeda

1937

65.7

69

Red

Schoendienst

1923

65.6

70

Willie

Randolph

1954

65.5

71

Nellie

Fox

1927

65.4

72

Ken

Singleton

1947

65.2

73

Cesar

Tovar

1940

65.2

74

Enos

Slaughter

1916

64.9

75

Keith

Hernandez

1953

64.9

76

Will

Clark

1964

64.8

77

Cecil

Cooper

1949

64.8

78

Hank

Sauer

1917

64.4

79

Gil

McDougald

1928

64.4

80

Floyd

Robinson

1936

64.3

81

Dick

McAuliffe

1939

64.3

82

Lou

Brock

1939

64.1

83

Tony

Perez

1942

64.0

84

Charlie

Keller

1916

64.0

85

Roy

White

1943

63.7

86

Ernie

Banks

1931

63.5

87

Bobby

Doerr

1918

63.4

88

Buddy

Bell

1951

63.4

89

Gary

Matthews

1950

63.4

90

Zoilo

Versalles

1939

63.2

91

Ron

Cey

1948

63.2

92

Frank

Howard

1936

63.0

93

Matty

Alou

1938

62.9

94

Jim

Gentile

1934

62.6

95

Willie

Wilson

1955

62.5

96

Darrell

Porter

1952

62.1

97

Bill

Freehan

1941

62.0

98

Dolph

Camilli

1907

62.0

99

Andre

Thornton

1949

61.9

100

Dick

Howser

1936

61.7

101

Dale

Mitchell

1921

61.6

102

Joe

Gordon

1915

61.3

103

Doug

DeCinces

1950

61.2

104

Jose

Cruz

1947

61.2

105

John Sr.

Mayberry

1949

61.0

106

Leon

Wagner

1934

60.9

107

Bill

Nicholson

1914

60.8

108

Robin

Ventura

1967

60.6

109

Jerry

Lumpe

1933

60.3

110

Rusty

Staub

1944

60.2

111

Dusty

Baker

1949

60.2

112

Paul

Blair

1944

60.0

113

Johnny

Callison

1939

60.0

114

Roy

Sievers

1926

60.0

115

Norm

Siebern

1933

59.9

116

Tony

Phillips

1959

59.8

117

Jim Ray

Hart

1941

59.8

118

Frank J

Thomas

1929

59.7

119

Darrell

Evans

1947

59.7

120

Jim

Northrup

1939

59.6

121

Ichiro

Suzuki

1973

59.5

122

Mike

Epstein

1943

59.4

123

Gus

Zernial

1923

59.3

124

Tom

Haller

1937

59.3

125

Rico

Petrocelli

1943

59.1

126

Toby

Harrah

1948

58.8

127

Felipe

Alou

1935

58.7

128

Bob

Allison

1934

58.7

129

Bill

White

1934

58.6

130

Jose

Cardenal

1943

58.5

131

George

Scott

1944

58.3

132

Rick

Monday

1945

58.3

133

Norm

Cash

1934

58.1

134

Freddie

Patek

1944

57.8

135

Cookie

Rojas

1939

57.1

136

Hal

McRae

1945

56.8

137

Don

Money

1947

56.5

138

Chet

Lemon

1955

56.4

139

Joe

Adcock

1927

56.0

140

Mack

Jones

1938

55.6

141

Sid

Gordon

1917

55.5

142

Bob

Skinner

1931

55.5

143

Ken

Harrelson

1941

55.4

144

Ed

Charles

1933

55.4

145

Ernie

Lombardi

1908

55.4

146

Vic

Power

1927

55.3

147

Moose

Skowron

1930

55.1

148

Brian

Downing

1950

55.0

149

Denis

Menke

1940

54.4

150

Ron

Hansen

1938

54.3

151

Dwight

Evans

1951

54.0

152

Ken

McMullen

1942

53.4

153

Donn

Clendenon

1935

53.1

154

Gene

Tenace

1946

53.0

155

Jim

Rivera

1921

52.9

156

Don

Mincher

1938

52.9

157

Jake

Gibbs

1938

52.6

158

Lee

Maye

1934

52.6

159

Jesse

Barfield

1959

52.3

160

Bob

Cerv

1925

52.1

161

Tito

Francona

1933

51.8

162

Gino

Cimoli

1929

51.8

163

Bill

Mazeroski

1936

51.5

164

Wayne

Causey

1936

51.3

165

Mark

Belanger

1944

50.9

166

Johnny

Oates

1946

50.5

167

Jerry

Grote

1942

50.3

168

Jim

Finigan

1928

50.1

169

Vic

Davalillo

1939

50.0

170

Andy

Etchebarren

1943

50.0

171

Andy

Carey

1931

49.8

172

UL

Washington

1953

49.3

173

Woodie

Held

1932

49.2

174

Ken

Hamlin

1935

48.6

175

John

Donaldson

1943

48.5

176

Gene

Clines

1946

48.5

177

Jim

Hickman

1937

48.3

178

Duffy

Dyer

1945

48.0

179

Elmer

Valo

1921

47.8

180

Joe

DeMaestri

1928

47.4

181

Ed

Kirkpatrick

1944

46.7

182

Ed

Kranepool

1944

46.6

183

Dick

Green

1941

46.5

184

Bobby

Del Greco

1933

46.3

185

Doc

Edwards

1936

46.3

186

Miguel

Dilone

1954

46.2

187

Jose

Tartabull

1938

45.9

188

Al

Spangler

1933

45.5

189

Manny

Mota

1938

45.4

190

Nelson

Mathews

1941

44.9

191

Phil

Roof

1941

44.5

192

Billy

Bryan

1938

42.6

193

Jimmie

Schaffer

1936

41.9

194

Choo Choo

Coleman

1935

36.2

195

George

Alusik

1935

33.5

           

            Of the top 40 players in Positional Strength Score, over half are in the Hall of Fame—21 of 40.   Of the second 40, 11 are in the Hall of Fame; of the next 40, 5 are in the Hall of Fame, and of the bottom 76, 1 is in the Hall of Fame.   For a system that doesn’t have ANY knowledge of who hit .320 with 500 homers and who hit .215 with 16 career homers, that’s a pretty good separation. 

            My main task now is to explain what could be done to make this system more valuable than it would be in its current form.   Before I get to that, though, I would like to point out a couple of very neat things about this system. 

1)      It tells you whether a player’s value is mostly in his offense or in his fielding.  Since the batting order position points are stated on the same scale as the fielding position points, a player whose value is mostly as a hitter will have a higher batting-order score than fielding-position score, and vice versa.   Few other systems would do that, because few other systems (if any) state offensive and defensive value on the same scale. 

 

This is a list of the 20 players whose value is most heavily dependent on batting, among those in my data:

First N

Last

Year

Team

Raw Offense

Raw Defense

Andre

Thornton

1984

Cle AL

100

11

Andre

Thornton

1982

Cle AL

99

11

Dave

Parker

1990

Mil AL

98

10

Hal

McRae

1983

KC AL

95

10

Andre

Thornton

1985

Cle AL

95

10

Andre

Thornton

1983

Cle AL

97

14

Jack

Clark

1991

Bos AL

92

10

Al

Kaline

1974

Det AL

91

10

Rusty

Staub

1978

Det AL

90

10

Rusty

Staub

1977

Det AL

90

10

Andre

Thornton

1986

Cle AL

90

11

Paul

Molitor

1996

Min AL

89

12

Tony

Oliva

1973

Min AL

88

10

Paul

Molitor

1997

Min AL

89

12

Paul

Molitor

1998

Min AL

88

12

Andre

Dawson

1993

Bos AL

93

17

Dave

Parker

1989

Oak AL

83

10

Brian

Downing

1988

Cal AL

82

10

Fred

McGriff

1999

TB AL

98

27

Paul

Molitor

1992

Mil AL

87

16

 

Most of those players were DHs and very good DHs, some playing first base.   And here the opposite list, players whose value was in their fielding: 

First N

Last

Year

Team

Raw Offense

Raw Defense

Brian

Downing

1975

Chi AL

11

99

Mark

Belanger

1973

Bal AL

12

90

Mark

Belanger

1975

Bal AL

13

90

Mark

Belanger

1974

Bal AL

18

90

Andy

Etchebarren

1966

Bal AL

30

100

Brian

Downing

1978

Cal AL

28

97

Jerry

Grote

1967

NY NL

31

99

Tony

Phillips

1983

Oak AL

13

81

Phil

Roof

1966

KC AL

29

97

Jerry

Grote

1970

NY NL

34

99

Jerry

Grote

1966

NY NL

32

97

Jerry

Grote

1971

NY NL

35

98

Roy

Campanella

1949

Bkn NL

36

98

Roy

Campanella

1950

Bkn NL

37

98

Freddie

Patek

1976

KC AL

29

89

Bill

Freehan

1965

Det AL

40

100

Mark

Belanger

1977

Bal AL

30

89

Joe

DeMaestri

1958

KC AL

29

89

Freddie

Patek

1977

KC AL

31

90

Mark

Belanger

1978

Bal AL

30

89

 

Brian Downing appears near the top of both lists.  Of course, Downing had a very unusual career, starting out as a pudgy catcher who hit ninth, and transitioning gradually to a muscular slugger/DH.   I don’t know how many people now even remember him.   Roy Campanella appeared on the "defense only" list before his MVP years, which is a fluke and an error by the system.  The Dodgers having many good hitters, Campanella batted low in the order for several years before moving into the middle of the order, where he won three MVP Awards.  And this is a list of player/seasons in which the value was evenly distributed:

First N

Last

Year

Team

Raw Offense

Raw Defense

Difference

Yogi

Berra

1954

NY AL

99

99

0

Richie

Ashburn

1956

Phi NL

80

80

0

Willie

Wilson

1984

KC AL

80

80

0

Kirby

Puckett

1984

Min AL

80

80

0

Richie

Ashburn

1958

Phi NL

80

80

0

Kirby

Puckett

1985

Min AL

80

80

0

Matty

Alou

1969

Pit NL

80

80

0

Richie

Ashburn

1957

Phi NL

80

80

0

Willie

Wilson

1985

KC AL

79

80

-1

Craig

Biggio

2003

Hou NL

79

79

0

Willie

Wilson

1987

KC AL

79

79

0

Al

Kaline

1960

Det AL

78

78

0

Felipe

Alou

1969

Atl NL

72

72

0

Willie

Randolph

1979

NY AL

70

70

0

Craig

Biggio

1996

Hou NL

70

70

0

Nellie

Fox

1959

Chi AL

70

70

0

Nellie

Fox

1954

Chi AL

70

70

0

Nellie

Fox

1957

Chi AL

70

70

0

Nellie

Fox

1958

Chi AL

70

70

0

Nellie

Fox

1960

Chi AL

69

70

0

Willie

Randolph

1987

NY AL

70

70

0

Roberto

Alomar

1992

Tor NL

70

69

0

Toby

Harrah

1985

Tex AL

69

69

0

Mack

Jones

1967

Atl NL

66

67

0

Gino

Cimoli

1959

StL NL

61

61

1

Dwight

Evans

1975

Bos AL

46

46

0

Jim

Rivera

1957

Chi AL

43

43

0

 

2)      Another thing which is neat about this system is that its center is locked in place over time, which eliminates the need to make a lot of adjustments that would otherwise be needed.   1927 Yankees or 2004 Tampa Bay Devil Rays; they both have a leadoff hitter, a cleanup hitter, an eighth place hitter, a catcher, a shortstop, and first baseman.   Of course, the DH screws with us a little bit. 

 

OK, turning our attention now to the issue of things which could be done in the future to make this system work better than it does. 

One of the things which defines sabermetrics, one of the things which distinguishes sabermetrics from other sportswriting, is that we revisit issues again, and again, and again.  Most of the article that I write—not this one, but most of them—are second looks and third looks and fifteenth looks at things I have studied before.   This is not ideal, from the perspective of the reading public.  I often feel that I should apologize for writing again articles that I have written before, but that is who we are.   We move the ball an inch at a time.  We pick up things we have studied before and study them again, and we try to make progress. This was a first look, but to have real value, it will require a second, a third, a fourth.  

I would suspect that the number one thing that will need to be adjusted is to get better values for the positions.  I think the order of the batting order positions (and the order of the fielding positions) is about right, but the relative values need to be refined.   It may be that the proper scale goes 20-19-17-12-10, rather than 10-9-8-7-6.  

It doesn’t seem right that a catcher and cleanup hitter HAS to rank ahead of a shortstop and leadoff hitter.   It seems there should be some leeway somewhere, some tolerance, that enables the rankings of top players to vary a little bit.  Yogi Berra was a great player, but not necessarily the greatest player in this group of 196.

If we were concerned with (1) rating seasons, or (2) rating careers, then we would need to weight the player’s performance by his playing time in the season or the length of his career.   Kirby Puckett and Thurman Munson would move down, because their careers were short, and Rusty Staub and Darrell Evans and Ernie Banks would move up because their careers were long.  

That would not be too difficult to implement, but that isn’t really the potential value of the system.  The potential value of the system is in scouting.  The value is in looking forward, not backward.   It’s a common thing.  A scout wants to know one thing:  if there is one player in this league who can play professionally, who is it?  

This, I think, is the system that could tell him that.  If you know who played the key defensive positions and who batted in the key spots in the order and who won, you have a pretty good picture of who the best players are.   High school batting stats don’t mean anything, and don’t tell you anything.   This is the system that, if tracked in an organized manner, can tell you who in a high school league, or who in a college league, or who in a low-level minor league, has the ability to play at a higher level.

To make that work, what I think you would need to do is either (a) replace the 20-point "team performance" system with a mixed system, half team performance and have league quality, or else supplement the system by including a league quality indicator.  It doesn’t have to be anything organized or sophisticated; just a number that tells the system what the observer already knows.   You’re looking at kids from 200-person high schools in Idaho, you know the quality of competition isn’t the same as 1500-person high schools in Texas or Florida or California.   You just need a way to tell the system what you know, and make it work with the rest of the facts.   Given that, this is potentially a way of helping the scouting director organize his reports.

If you were using this system as PART of a rating system for historical players, one thing you could do would be to add ten points for "timeline", and increase that with the passage of the years.   A player playing 1900 to 1909 might be "1", a player playing 1910 to 1919 might be "2", a player playing 1920 to 1929 might be "3", and a player playing 2010 to 2019 might be "12". 

Going back in history, the best players dominated to a greater extent than they do now, simply because there were fewer good players.   Honus Wagner, Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth dominated their game to a greater extent than Willie Mays and Mike Schmidt dominated THEIR game; Barry Bonds may be an exception to this, and we all know why so we don’t need to say why.   But if you put in the 1-2-3-4-xxx-12 for the strength of the decade, then that compensates Mike Trout, which enables the later players to be rated against the earlier players, without either one dominating. 

Thanks for reading. 

            

 
 

COMMENTS (19 Comments, most recent shown first)

CharlesSaeger
How does each defensive position score by batting order? Say, find the batting order strength for each game started by the shortstop, by the left fielder, by the designated hitter, and so on, and compare those scores.
10:02 PM Sep 4th
 
shthar
Ah, I see.


7:28 PM Sep 3rd
 
bjames
JohnPontoon
Bill, you describe a system of assigning players numbers from 1 through 10 and then jump to their having an overall value (seemingly) between 10 and 100. I presume that this is what happens in the step you did NOT describe:

1. Figure the player's average for all games played (in a season or in a career.)
2. Multiply by 10.

Is this correct?


That's correct. Rickey Henderson doesn't show up, of course, because he is not in the study.
12:26 AM Sep 3rd
 
shthar
I was gonna ask where Omar Moreno and all those banjo hitters team's used to lead off would show up.

But if Rickey Henderson Doesn't even show up...
11:05 PM Sep 2nd
 
DJ_Man
TJNawrocki gave many good examples of a better hitter historically being slotted 3rd than 4th. I wonder if the results would look better if both #3 and #4 were worth 9.5 points each instead of 9 and 10 respectively.
8:39 PM Sep 2nd
 
JohnPontoon
Bill, you describe a system of assigning players numbers from 1 through 10 and then jump to their having an overall value (seemingly) between 10 and 100. I presume that this is what happens in the step you did NOT describe:

1. Figure the player's average for all games played (in a season or in a career.)
2. Multiply by 10.

Is this correct?
12:09 PM Sep 2nd
 
Guy123
Almost all of the change has come from the better use of the 2 hole.
Actually, the leadoff spot has been upgraded nearly as much as the 2 hold. Here is the average OPS+ by lineup position, now vs. twenty years ago:

1995-1999
1 97
2 99
3 128
4 125
5 112
6 104

2015-2019
1 105 (+8)
2 110 (+11)
3 121 (-7)
4 116 (-9)
5 106 (-6)
6 98 (-6)


12:01 PM Sep 2nd
 
3for3
Almost all of the change has come from the better use of the 2 hole. I'd be curious about how the '9' has changed in the era of the DH. I remember, at one point, teams were putting a faster, decent OBA (relatively speaking) at 9, with the slow low OBA guy (catcher) at 8. Do teams still do this?
11:29 AM Sep 2nd
 
tangotiger
What you would have to do is show the RC/27outs (or wOBA or OPS+, etc) for each decade by batting slot.

Carefully convert that into a runs or wins scale, so you know how to link it to "points". And then you can see how much points you'd want to assign.

Compare that to Bill's initial points and see how they differ.
11:14 AM Sep 2nd
 
hotstatrat
I was thinking the same thing as TJ Nawrocki. As I recall, Al Kaline also usually batted third.

Another matter to consider, if this is revisited; batting order orthodoxy has changed greatly this century, hasn't it? Thanks to you and Tango, etc. many teams are putting their best hitters in the top two spots these days. Perhaps, this century (sticking with your current formula just as an example) the top three spots should be worth 9 points each, and 7,6,5,4, etc. for the rest.
10:32 AM Sep 2nd
 
bjames
Tango--

I had to read this two or three times to understand what you were saying.


You then apply a team adjustment which is a 1 point per ... 0.02 wins!

And therefore, your "By trial and stupidity I stumbled" was actually cleverly arrived at.


It was just intuition, but. . .thanks. Bill
9:16 PM Sep 1st
 
tangotiger
Bill:

Each defensive "point" (on your 10 point scale) you have is roughly equal to 4 runs (or 0.4 wins), if you use either my runs fielding spectrum or your runs fielding spectrum.
See my tweet here: www.twitter.com/tangotiger/status/1300875387304636423

You then show the defensive players on a 100 point scale, so each point is now worth 0.4 runs or 0.04 wins.

You then x2 the defense score, implying a 200 point scale. Each point is now worth 0.2 runs or 0.02 wins.

You then apply a team adjustment which is a 1 point per ... 0.02 wins!

And therefore, your "By trial and stupidity I stumbled" was actually cleverly arrived at.

3:39 PM Sep 1st
 
bjames
Explaining what you have done necessarily involves justifying it. It freezes the process. It is what it is; I did what I did. I don't want to explain it or justify it; rather, I would rather assume that it may be right or it may be wrong; I'll revisit those issues the next time I take up the subject. But I don't want to lock us in place now.
1:17 PM Sep 1st
 
bjames
TJNawrocki
Bill, can you explain why you decided that the cleanup hitter was the most important slot in the lineup, as opposed to the No. 3 hitter?


No.
1:08 PM Sep 1st
 
Guy123
Interesting idea. One small suggestion: flip the value of batting 2nd and 5th. Even in recent years, better hitters have been placed in the #5 slot than the #2 slot. (This is a mistake by teams, but it's the reality.) From 2002-2019, performance in the two slots:
#2: .749 OPS, 100 wRC+
#5: .774 OPS, 105 wRC+

As 3for3 suggests, it's likely this gap was even larger in the 20th century.
11:59 AM Sep 1st
 
3for3
The system might give too much love to players who batted 2d in years that started 19xx, and not enough love for players who batted 2d in years that started 20xx. Larry Bowa and Mike Trout both have the 2 hole as their most common spot in the lineup.
10:51 AM Sep 1st
 
TJNawrocki
Bill, can you explain why you decided that the cleanup hitter was the most important slot in the lineup, as opposed to the No. 3 hitter? Most great hitters have tended to bat in the third slot. Willie Mays hit third more often than anywhere else. Ted Williams hit third more often than anywhere else. Hank Aaron hit third more often than anywhere else.

And most pertinently for this article, Mickey Mantle hit third more often than anywhere else. In 1954, Mantle always hit third and Berra always hit fourth, and Mantle, by whatever measure you choose, was the greater hitter. Yet your system gives Berra max points for his batting order slot, when he obviously was hitting there because he wasn't as good a hitter as Mantle.
10:41 AM Sep 1st
 
Tanner_Boyle
I like the love the system gives to Amos Otis.
8:49 AM Sep 1st
 
Tigfanman
Interesting concept

Enos Slaughter is not highlighted as Hall of Famer
8:17 AM Sep 1st
 
 
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