The Ernie Banks Principle

April 4, 2019

Perusing the Historical Abstract, as I am wont to do from time to time, I’m frequently reminded of methods and arguments that Bill has presented in the past, some of which I’m sure he’d rather never get discussed again, ever, by anyone, much less by a writer on his site, but I think there are long-forgotten passages there that need to get revisited occasionally, not only for their historical or literary significance, but because they can be reused in other contexts.

His discussion of Ernie Banks’ career in the second Historical Abstract (on pp. 594-5), for example, sheds light on the discussion now raging in Bill’s modest article on his Twitter poll asking folks which player they think more highly of, Yaz or Kaline. (Actually, all Bill asked was "Carl Yastrzemski or Al Kaline?" but I don’t think I’m far off in formulating it as I have.)  The Banks piece was specifically focused on his ranking in the HA and, simplified, it said that Banks’ shortstop years, 1953-1961, were the basis for his high ranking—during those early years, Banks accomplished most of what Bill considered in ranking players. The latter half of Banks’ career, the first-base years, was essentially padding: Bill said that Banks would rank roughly where he did (#5 ss) if he had played only through 1961, but based on the decade or more after 1961 at 1B, Banks would barely crack the top 100.

The latter years, in other words, were padding, supporting the gems inside the box, and not to be mistaken for the gems themselves. Banks hit over 200 HRs after 1961, which ain’t hay, but a first baseman with 200-odd HRs and little else to recommend him (in Wrigley, playing every day for a decade, etc.) just isn’t all that impressive.

I’ve already made the case against Yaz, and already referred to it in the comments section of Bill’s current article (Here’s a redundant link: https://www.billjamesonline.com/all_of_yaz_why_not_play_all_of_yaz1/?AuthorId=23&pg=5  ), and I want to remind readers (yet again) that I’m a fan of Yaz’s and am not seeking to demean him nor diminish him. But I can’t help pointing out that in certain respects his career is far more padded than Banks’ is, and is probably as padded as it is possible for one player’s career to be.

There are gems in that career, no bout adoubt it: Yaz’ top three years, 1967, 1968, and 1970, match up with anyone’s for sheer domination and star power. For those years alone, buttressed by the other fine years of Yaz’s first decade, he could have and should have and did cruise into the Hall of Fame unassisted by man, beast, or machine. In my 2016 article, I compared Yaz’s credentials favorably to those of Sandy Koufax, perhaps the player I’ve devoted the grossest tonnage of idolatry to over the course of my lifetime: Koufax also had three monster seasons, plus another decade’s worth of lesser work, which was sufficient to clear his cruise-path as well.

But the drop-off in performance in Yaz’s second-half is amazing, especially if we look at it in certain walled-off portions. One ingredient of Yaz’s Walled-Off Salad is his performance against left-handed pitching. Yaz had a huge dropoff in his OPS against lefthanded pitchers, and it only got worse, much worse, after 1971. Essentially, even at his best, Yaz was pretty close to "Meh" against lefties, and you’ve got to wonder (as I did, at great length) why he wasn’t platooned more, but when you look at this question after 1971, you’ve got to question his managers’ sanity as well.

Since Yaz benefitted greatly from batting in Fenway Park, you’ve got to question seriously the great number of at-bats he got on the road, facing lefties, in the clean-up slot after 1971—I speculated that mathematically he must have batted in the cleanup slot for weeks on end in the ‘70s and ‘80s against lefthanders without getting a single hit, and yet his managers kept writing "Yaz DH" or "Yaz 1B" in the middle of their lineup cards. You can do the work, if you want to, going through the daily lineups, but the numbers there were horrible: in retrospect it’s hard to see how starting Yaz against lefties on the road over his final decade didn’t cost the Sox a few games every year.

But I already made that argument: what I’d like to do here is to apply the Banks Principle to Yaz’s career and to Kaline’s. It just happens (it didn’t have to) that Banks’ career divides approximately by halves into "shortstop" and "first base." To get it divided by Plate Appearances (or Games or At Bats or Hits) exactly in half isn’t to the point, so my standard for "first half/second half" is just to locate the season in which a player passed the halfway mark in career Plate Appearances (for Banks, that would be 1961, which was also his last year at shortstop). For Yaz, that season is 1971.

His marks through 1971 are very strong:

 

PA

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

OPS+

1961-71

7296

.293

.389

.488

.877

140

 

Since I’m only using rate stats here, it doesn’t matter that the two career "halves" are only approximate, but Yaz does have counting stats that are strong as well: 1832 hits, 257 HRs, 939 RBIs in his first 11 seasons. His OPS+, which should take Fenway’s friendliness into account, is very strong.

The dropoff in OPS+, though, is also very strong:

 

PA

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

OPS+

1972-83

6696

.277

.369

.434

.803

118

 

A 118 OPS+ signifies that Yaz was 18% better than the average AL batter for the second half of his career, which might not seem all that alarming, except that the average AL batter was not a DH, or a 1B-man, or even a LFer, which were Yaz’s positions in those years. I don’t know what the average DH/1B-man/LFer’s OPS+ was in the 70s and 80s, but I would guess that it had to be at least close to 118, probably a little higher. Yaz was a good player some of these years, a mediocre player other years, and an abysmal player at some points, padding out his career numbers playing every day but not adding materially to his record. (Last season’s full-time 118 OPS+ finishers, for example, were Andrew McCutcheon, Jose Abreu, Corey Dickerson, Eduardo Escobar, and Joey Wendle, all of whom drove in or scored between 61 and 84 runs in 2018—good work, but not credentials for Cooperstown.)  He was a serviceable player, pretty good OBP, with power maybe lacking in what you want from your DH, 1B-man, or LFer, but definitely not someone you could make a strong HoF case for.

Kaline’s career on the other foot had a strong first half, and really didn’t drop off that much over his career’s second half:

1955-74

PA

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

OPS+

1955-63

6138

.309

.375

.495

.870

132

1964-74

5458

.284

.377

    .461

.838

136

 

In fact, as you can see, Kaline’s OPS+ actually improved during his career’s second half. His OPS dropped off, but that’s to be expected considering this period encompasses the late 1960s when OPS was down all over town. His OPS+ stayed very stable over the two halves of his career.

What this argument boils down to, in my view, is the value of consistency over the value of peak seasons. If you view consistency as the greater virtue, then I’d say you’d choose Kaline easily, but if you focus on peak seasons, you’ll go with Yaz.

The case for peak seasons is one I generally support, the counter-argument going (and I love a good reductio ad absurdum argument, the more absurdum the better) "If a player gets 100 hits a year for thirty years, are you therefore going to elect him to the Hall of Fame because he’s a 3000-hit man?" We measure success by individual seasons, and the goal is to win games and pennants and World Championships in each season, so Yaz’s huge part in the Sox’ 1967 pennant counts for much more than just his impressive stats: players get only twenty-odd shots at winning pennants, and it’s better to mix up great years in which pennants are won with not-so-great years in which they aren’t won than to have a series of pretty-good years where you finish a distant fourth place every year.

Of course, you don’t want to go crazy with that argument either. Teams win pennants, not individual players, and there’s a certain extent to which randomness and luck enter in. A different Ernie Banks Principle says that we don’t want to reduce Banks’ value to 0 just because that is the total number of pennants Banks’ Cubs won over the course of his career. Is it his fault that the Cubs of 1950s and 1960s pretty much sucked turkey eggs?  It’s a tough argument to make that Banks’ 1958 and 1959 were entirely without value. The 1967 Red Sox won the pennant, but it was so close a race that the smallest thing, beyond Yaz’s control (I’m thinking of some other Sox player making the smallest screwup in one close game), and the Tigers rather than the Sox would have won it, giving Kaline the edge in "pennants won." Would that have reduced Yaz’s 1967 stats to zero value? Of course not. His contributions were what they were, but there’s a limit we want to place on a team’s success or lack thereof, even on players who contribute heavily, as no player ever contributed more heavily than Yaz in 1967.

Let me try out another absurdum argument on you: at what point would you feel comfortable dismissing "peak seasons" as your standard? If Yaz had had ONLY 1967, and not 1968 and 1970 (two seasons in which the Sox didn’t win the pennant) as monster years, would you still think as highly of him? (Let’s distribute 10 HRs and 30 RBIs from 1968 and 1970 into other Yaz seasons.) I think one monster year is generally dismissed as a general standard of excellence—even two monster years are usually dismissed. Few cases are made, and none are won, for Roger Maris or Denny McLain or Dale Murphy as having careers of the highest rank, but three will get you into the discussion, Koufax and Yaz being my Exhibits A and B.  But it’s a close thing. We were discussing Koufax’ qualifications for the HoF without his 1966 seasons recently, and we concluded, as I recall, that Koufax, as dominating as he was, would have fallen short without that third monster season.

We’ve exaggerated slightly the value of Yaz’ three monster years, I think, when we put him far ahead of Al Kaline, as Bill’s poll-respondents did. I can see the poll resulting in a wash, and I can see Kaline finishing narrowly ahead, before I can see Yaz finishing ahead narrowly, much less Yaz winning better than 2-1.

Basically, I think there are two good arguments for Yaz beating Kaline: 1) the strength of his peak seasons, and  2) the raw counting stats, where Yaz edges Kaline out in several important categories (HRs, RBI, Hits, etc.)

Not to undermine that basic argument, however, I don’t buy it for a second. Those two things are very strong, but there’s a lot of countervailing evidence in Kaline’s favor that I find much stronger:

1)    Handedness: Yaz batted L, Kaline R, so roughly two-thirds of their at-bats Yaz faced a pitcher complementary to his abilities while Kaline faced a pitcher aligned against his abilities. You could argue, I suppose, that’s just tough luck for Al. Results matter, not how you got those results, and the results are what they are. I guess I’m more impressed by Kaline accruing his results while facing mostly pitchers who are more challenging rather than less challenging. YMMV.

2)    Platoon advantage: this goes along with handedness, but is not exactly the same as handedness. Yastrzemski had a huge platoon difference, almost .200 OPS points, while Kaline had a far more normal difference, only .075 points. To me, this means that Yastrzemski could be pitched to more easily.  A sharp manager or pitcher would be able to target situations where Yaz could be challenged, whereas Kaline was a more unpredictable opponent, therefore more dangerous. Of course, like much of this argument, you could turn this part around and say this means there are situations where Yaz would be much MORE dangerous, but I’d argue back that those situations just mean that it’s clearer when an opponent would know to give him a base on balls, whereas it was much harder to identify such situations with Kaline.

3)    Fenway vs. Briggs. This one puffs up Yaz’s raw numbers by a little bit.

4)    Career length. You could say that this works in Yaz’s favor—he played a little longer, played more games, batted more often, had some better raw counting stats—but I don’t think it does. They both had very long careers, but Yaz’s advantage is mostly in games at the end of his career, when he was basically a slow DH with moderate OBP ability and not much else. This is a variation on my "3,000 hits, 100 x 30 years" argument, above. On a per-game basis,  Kaline’s numbers outpace Yaz’s, even without taking the previous platooning, handedness, home park arguments into account.  More Runs Scored, RBI, HR, per 162 games, a higher unadjusted OPS (.855/.841). Yaz’s entire advantage here seems to boil down to "more games played after he stopped being very good."

5)    Defense. I don’t even get how you argue that Yaz has an edge here. They were both wonderful fielders, multiple Gold Glovers, but Yaz got his GGs in left field and Kaline in right field. Kaline got 95.4% of his defensive starts in RF and CF while Yaz got 93% of his defensive starts in LF or IB. (And Yaz also got 402 starts at DH, which doesn’t count as a defensive position in BBref’s totals, as compared to Kaline’s 144.) I don’t see a bit of evidence that Yaz was a better fielder qua fielder than Kaline (10 GGs compared to 7, for example, plus Kaline played for three full seasons before the first GG was awarded.) I can understand if you want to throw up your hands and refuse to make a call here one way or the other (though I think that’s a copout) but if you want to make the argument that Yaz was the better fielder of the two, I’d like to hear it. I certainly haven’t heard it yet. For whatever it’s worth, probably not much, Yaz committed 9 more outfield errors than Kaline in over 1000 fewer chances, for a .005 difference in OF fielding percentage (.986/ .981).  Anecdotally, Yogi Berra said Kaline had the best arm he’d ever seen. Yaz had a gun, but I don’t know if anyone ever said he had the best OF arm he’d ever seen.  Like I said, I can understand making the argument that they’re about the same defensively, though I wouldn’t know how to frame that argument, but I see no basis at all for arguing that Yaz gets the edge here.

So this entire argument boils down to "Yaz was more famous," which is kinda circular. Yaz, Shoor, he got more ink—I don’t think that’s in question. Kaline was notoriously colorless, bland, white-bread, uncontroversial, Midwestern, 1950s, all of which and more I would concede at the get-go. If all Bill’s poll was seeking to find out was who was more famous, Yaz or Kaline, I don’t know that there was any reason even to run the poll. But I don’t know if there was any reason to run it if all we wanted to find out who was the better player either. The answer to that one is "Al Kaline."

 
 

COMMENTS (33 Comments, most recent shown first)

MarisFan61
Well, most of us consider Win Shares to be pretty close to "facts"....
4:22 PM Apr 9th
 
Steven Goldleaf
Another way to think about this, it belatedly occurs to me, is to ask "OK, if Yaz's big three seasons outstrip Kaline's, do they also outstrip other players whose three best seasons fall short of the Yaz standard? And if not why not?" Remember those Yaz seasons are, as people have been arguing, HUGE: he had WARs in at least two of those seasons that were up there with Ruth, Bonds, Gehrig, etc. Did Yaz also have a better career than Aaron, Mantle, Robinson, etc.? Obviously not, so there are limits to the weight we're willing to give three huge seasons.
12:37 PM Apr 9th
 
Steven Goldleaf
Actually, McAuliffe would have been running on the pitch only if the count were full, which I don't know if it was or not. If not, he'd have been running on contact, which is almost as good.
12:21 PM Apr 9th
 
Steven Goldleaf
"Stubborn in opinions, right on the facts." I'll take that, thanks.

Just for fun, I decided to find a game the Sox won narrowly in 1967 over the Tigers, and I came up with this one on September 18h: https://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/DET/DET196709180.shtml .

Tie game, bottom of the 9th (McLain had gotten bombed out in the 3rd, Yaz tied it up with a solo blast in the top of the 9th, and the Sox would go on to win it in the 10th on another solo blast, this one by Dalton Jones). The bottom of the ninth ended after McAuliffe singled off John Wyatt and Kaline was IBBed by rookie reliever Sparky Lyle, and starter Jose Santiago was brought in to face Mickey Stanley, whom he got to fly to Yaz in LF. I’ve no idea what that fly to LF looked like, of course, but just imagine it went out of the park, thirty feet over Yaz’ head.

Or just dropped in for a bloop hit just out of Yaz’ reach— with two outs, McAuliffe would have been running with the pitch, would have scored easily on any hit, and the game would have been over. All else equal, the Tigers end the season by winning one more game than the Sox, and Yaz’ miraculous year goes to waste. No fault of his, he still has the exact miracle year he did, but if Stanley doesn’t hit Santiago’s pitch where Yaz can get to it, the pennant race ends differently, we probably don’t give Yaz the credit he deserves for his stretch run, and Kaline’s Tigers have two Series appearances and Yaz’s Red Sox only one.

This alternate reality, far from implausible, would undermine much of the case being made in Yaz's favor, and that seems like a lot of weight to place on Santiago's not throwing a pitch a millimeter higher or lower than he did. Of course, reality is what it is, but I think we might be giving Yaz a tad too much credit for results that he couldn't have caused single-handedly. Fun to think about, anyway.

5:15 AM Apr 9th
 
MarisFan61
P.S. I see that "i.e." indeed is commonly defined as meaning "in other words."
Score one for you!

But it doesn't change my disagreement with it. :-)
(Really! That's not what it means or how it's generally used; it's an approximation but not on-target.)
3:34 AM Apr 9th
 
MarisFan61
(corrections: In that first paragraph, besides the typo/misspelling of the singular of "basemen," for which I'll do some appropriate penance, I meant OPS+ at the end there.)
3:22 AM Apr 9th
 
MarisFan61
3 or so stray notes:

-- I doubted what you said about 118 being a 'meh' OPS+ for a first basemen/DH during Yaz's latter period, but you're right. I checked, didn't do the math but, if we consider only players who played regularly at those positions, it's clear that the average OPS was a bit higher than that.

-- I think you're being awfully stubborn in so insisting that the only argument for Yaz is that he's more famous. In the comments on the other thread, there were some intelligent, data-driven posts explaining why people would pick Yaz, although perhaps I'm biased in characterizing them that way because one of them was mine. :-)
I actually started out thinking Yaz and Kaline were so close to equal that I couldn't pick between them, but when I looked at their careers year-by-year, especially on Win Shares, I concluded that in terms of how I see such player comparisons, I'd have to pick Yaz.
I realize that the way you see such player comparisons isn't how I see them or how some others do, but that doesn't reasonably lead to legitimately saying that it all boils down to Yaz being more famous.
BTW [please anyone feel free to say I shouldn't use that abbreviation] :-) I wasn't coming from any pro-Yaz bias -- not that I dislike him or anything, but I 'like' Kaline better.

-- I don't agree that "i.e." means or is synonymous with "in other words." It's not far off from it, but that's not what it means. Don't tell me that's how you use it....
3:19 AM Apr 9th
 
George.Rising
What if Banks had played at Yankee Stadium (killer for RH batters) instead of Wrigley Field?

Let's take Joe DiMaggio as RH power hitter in Yankee Stadium (you could use Skowran or Howard, and it'd be similar). Let's look at Joe D's home-road splits:
He hit 69% as many HR at home as on the road.
88% as many RBI at home.
94% BA at home.

Keeping Banks' road numbers the same and plugging in his home/away % as the same as Joe D's, we get the following adjusted stats for Ernie:

HR RBI BA
376 1368 .252

Compare that to his actual stats, which include Wrigley-inflated stats:
HR RBI BA
512 1636 .274





4:18 PM Apr 8th
 
George.Rising
Good article, Steven. Thanks!

To expand on your point about being fortunate to play in a friendly hitter's park, Yaz's and Ernie's career away OPS were not really very impressive, .779 and .773. If they hadn't played in Fenway/Wrigley, would they be considered anywhere near Kaline in terms of hitting? (Kaline did get a home boost, but about half as much as Yaz/EB in terms of OPS).

Home OPS, Away OPS, and the difference between the two:

Play Hm Aw Diff
Yaz 904 779 125
EB 886 773 113
AK 884 827 57

Plus Ernie hit 290 HRs at home and 222 away.



4:02 PM Apr 8th
 
KaiserD2
When I open that link, Win Shares comes up. If it doesn't you just have to change the filter. Win Shares does show more of a gap between '64 and the neighboring seasons that I do but it's still his fourth best season.

DK
7:59 AM Apr 8th
 
Steven Goldleaf
Looks like WAR to me, David Kaiser, not Win Shares. In any event, there is a significant dropoff between Koufax's third-best season and his fourth-best. No one is claiming that Koufax had only three good years, just that his three best are 1963, 1965, and 1966, his Cy Young Award years, which the link you provided supports.
2:55 PM Apr 7th
 
KaiserD2
http://www.thebaseballgauge.com/player.php?playerID=koufasa01
10:30 AM Apr 7th
 
Steven Goldleaf
Really? What does Win Shares show? I'm not being snarky--I don't have my copy of the Win Shares book handy (is there a way to look them up in the stats section here? Never tried.) I'd think that would have accounted for all the factors you name.
9:31 AM Apr 7th
 
KaiserD2
Steven, I think any park- and team- and era-independent measurement--not just mine--would show that his '64 season is very comparable to the ones you mentioned in total effectiveness, while the 1961-2 seasons were not. I show 3.1 and 3.3 WAA in those years which is very good but nowhere near as good.​
9:05 AM Apr 7th
 
Steven Goldleaf
I'm including all of Koufax's Cy Young seasons in those monster three years, '63, '65, and '66. I'm not including '64, when he missed a few months (and pitched a "mere" 223 innings) nor 1961 nor 1962, when he didn't get (justly or not) a single Cy Young Vote.
8:50 AM Apr 7th
 
KaiserD2
Some comments.

Steven's piece revolves around a concept of "monster seasons." He doesn't specifically define it, but since he says Koufax had only three of them, he apparently is not including Sandy's 1964 or 1965 season in which he earned 7 and 6.5 WAA respectively. Those are amazing seasons, and lots of people have won well-deserved MVPs without performing at that level. As I've said many times, 4 WAA (about 6 WAR) is, historically, good enough to be the MVP on a pennant winner.

Now let's go to Yaz and Kaline and I'm going to give you their full WAA lines.

Yaz: 1961 (-24) followed by 3.5, 5.3, 2.6, 3.2, 5, 10 (1967), 9.3, 3,5, 7.9, 2.6, 2, 4.3, 4.1 (1974), .9, 0, 4.1 (1977), .2, .6, .1, .8, .7, -0.4. Total 8 seasons of 4 WAA or more.

Kaline: -0.6 (1954), 6.8, 5.5, 3.3, 6.4, 3.8, 0.4, 6.7 (1961), 3.2, 2.7, 4.2, 0.8, 3.1, 6.4 (1967), 2.6, 1, 1.7, 1.8 (1971), 0.5, -.4, .2. Total 6 seasons of 4 WAA or more.

Echoing what Steven and others have said: Yes, Yaz had three seasons better than any season of Kaline's. On the other hand, Kaline's 4th and 5th best seem to be better than Yaz's. And last but hardly least, Yaz was merely an average player for 8 of his last nine seasons, while Kaline fell to average only in his last three seasons. Yaz also clearly got more benefit from the second and third rounds of expansion.

As for Banks, here is his WAA line: -0.8 (1954), 4.7, 0.8, 2.2, 4.8 (1958), 6.3, 3.4, 1.9, 3, -0.5 (1963), 2.7, 0.7, -0.2, .6, 1.4, -1.5 (1968), -0.7, -0.8.

Now all three of these guys are from the Silent generation (b. 1925-42.) There is no other shortstop or second baseman in that generation who is remotely close to Banks in 1954-62 in value. Indeed I would argue that there's no one else in that generation who has even close to legit Hall of Fame credentials at those positions. But, on the other hand, Banks was average or below average for the last 7 years of his career, at first base no less, and Leo Durocher was right, he was one of the biggest reasons the Cubs failed to win a pennant in the late 1960s or early 1970s.

I also can't help remarking that the last eleven (11) years of Pete Rose's career are significantly worse than the last 7 years of Banks's career, with the exception of strike-shortened 1981.

David Kaiser




8:37 AM Apr 7th
 
Steven Goldleaf
Sorry again, MichaelPat. It's funny how Bill loves Twitter, whose character-limit has done more to promote the promiscuous use of abbreviations like no one since the headline-writer who invented "FDR" for "Pres. Roosevelt." We've given up using "i.e.," which stands for "id est," which means "that is," which means "in other words," which gets abbreviated "IOW," all because you lazy slobs refuse to learn Latin. What is this world coming to? Pax Romana!
8:13 AM Apr 7th
 
bearbyz
I started watching baseball at the end of 1967 and learning a lot in 1969. At that time Aaron and Kaline were thought of as superstars.

Speed should count. For how much is really difficult to say as it is included in other categories, including defense.
9:18 PM Apr 6th
 
MichaelPat
I must live under a rock, but I do write for a living. I had to look up IOW...

IOW may stand for:

Iowa-Oto language, ISO 639-3 code IOW
Isle of Wight, an island in the English channel, frequently abbreviated IoW
Leibniz Institute for Baltic Sea Research, abbreviated IOW in German

Acronym Definition
IOW Isle Of Wight
IOW In Other Words
IOW Input Output Write

In Other Words.... geez...

D'oh... might have saved you 0.87 seconds (less the time to note you were doing it again). I'm more apt to remember Isle of Wight than In other words...
IOW I/O Write
3:48 PM Apr 6th
 
Steven Goldleaf
Also, kinda got distracted here off my main point, which was to see if the analogy of Banks' second half actually meets up with Yaz's, which it really doesn't. Yaz had a 118+ OPS from 1972-83, compared with Banks' 106 (and a HIGH of 118) from 1962-1971.

Kaline's second-half figure of 136 is twice as good as Yaz' (i.e. 36% better a opposed to 18%) so there's that, but the analogy I was imagining, that Banks = Yaz ,and Kaline is way ahead of both of them, doesn't really hold up.

But I will stand by the statement that Yaz had more padding in his raw career numbers than anyone ever. Just imagine if the Cubs had let Banks bat cleanup for a few more years at the end, despite the low productivity--he would have hit a few more HRs, driven in some more runs, etc. but added nothing beside those raw numbers to his actual accomplishments. That's what the Red Sox did for Yaz the last few seasons.
6:51 AM Apr 6th
 
Steven Goldleaf
And I just got confirmation via “Hey Bill” that , yes, Kaline was significantly faster as measured by speed score, so you could add

6) Speed.

to the list above, except I’m not sure speed counts as an actual advantage. That is, sure it does, it’s much better to be fast than slow, speed kills, but speed is already figured into the equation—if Kaline was able to beat out more infield hits than Yaz, as he no doubt was, we’ve already counted those infield hits in Kaline’s edge in BA, so pointing out his speed advantage is a type of double-counting. With fielding range, same-same. But it’s interesting nonetheless, since I’d imagine the faster player would be regarded as the bigger star, all else equal, whether it’s a kind of double-counting or not.

5:06 AM Apr 6th
 
Steven Goldleaf
Sorry about confusing anyone with YMMV. This is a rare instance where I wasn’t using an obscure abbreviation on this site to mock Bill’s eye-popping choler at them, but I genuinely (and wrongly) assumed everyone understood that one. LOL.

In response to Marc Schneider’s post (at the bottom, or start, of these comments): I don’t know if 1969 and the ATL-NYM playoff is actually the beginning of Aaron’s superstardom, or the perception of that stardom, or anything of the sort. Comparing Kaline to Aaron is comparing two players who were both underpublicized for years and years—the difference, I think, is that when Kaline’s career was beginning to wind down, in the late 1960s, Aaron’s was just entering its superhyped phase. IOW (doing it again, aren’t I?), I think they were perceived about the same, maybe Aaron was a bit ahead because he’d won an MVP, had played in two Series, had the 40+ HR seasons, but then Aaron’s career really took off after he landed in the Launching Pad, and then had some monster years in the early 70s. If you take Aaron’s career after, say, 1966 or so, and switch it with Kaline’s, I think their reputations also switch—that is, Aaron’s last decade was just flat-out better than Kaline’s, and that’s mostly what accounts for Aaron’s enhanced reputation late in his career, not the way he was perceived. Make sense?

And of course, racism cannot be dismissed in this discussion. If Aaron looked and spoke and acted like Mickey Mantle, and if he played in NY or LA for a multi-championship team, how much more pub would he have gotten? Hard to imagine how much, really.

4:54 AM Apr 6th
 
MichaelPat
YMMV. also ymmv. written abbreviation for your mileage may vary: used, for example on social media and in text messages and emails, to mean that you understand people may have a different opinion or experience to yours: Their first album is better, but of course YMMV.

A first for me...
6:37 PM Apr 5th
 
FrankD
Question for all: if you could choose a career, which one would you want, Yaz's or Kaline's ? I'd take the triple-crown leading to WS, and being famous on the East Coast ....
4:03 PM Apr 5th
 
FrankD
In the book The Bronx Zoo Sparky Lyle wrote about the end of the 1978 Bos/NYY playoff game (paraphrasing): That if he could just get in to face Yaz in the last at bat of the game it would make up for the whole season .... I could always get Yaz out Sparky said ..... Sparky was a lefty. Oh, and Nettles said Sparky went for Cy Young (1977) to sayonara (traded in 1978) I digress....

I commented on Bills article and said several things, one of which is that Yaz is better because if comparing two players and one players peak is much greater than another but the area under the curve of the players careers are nearly the same then the peak performances is the tie breaker ......
3:59 PM Apr 5th
 
Steven Goldleaf
Is the information that K earned 2.93 MVP awards shares lifetime (#41 on the all-time leaders list) and Y earned 2.23 (#80) meaningful?

Not that this is dispositive either, but i asked Bill of he could run a Speed Scores study for the two--I remember K as a good, smart, quick baserunner, with a great start out of the box, and Yaz as a good runner, but not outstanding. K had about 10% jump on him in SB % for whatever that is worth.
1:09 PM Apr 5th
 
bearbyz
Yes, he did have a better WAR at age 26. However, at age 20 he had a WAR of 8.2 and he improved that to 8.4. Since that is 2 runs, I just see it as another great season, not really better. According to WAR his best batting season was when he was 20. Thanks for the corrections, I didn't look at home runs as closely as I thought I did.
11:32 AM Apr 5th
 
Steven Goldleaf
Mebbe so, Mark, but

a) the issue with Fenway is more a matter of playing the caroms off the Monster than anything else, which Yaz was very good at--it takes some skill just to gauge where a ball will go when it hits various spots on that huge thing, and position yourself accordingly. Once a guy gets used to playing LF in Fenway, I'd think you'd want to keep him there. But the throw from LF is about 30-50 feet shorter (closer to 2B, 3B, and home) than almost any other field in baseball (see www.andrewclem.com/Baseball/Overlay_comparison.php , which is a cool site) and of course there is much less ground to cover with a smaller LF. It may be "tougher" but aside from learning how to play weird caroms, I don't really see why. Almost no foul territory to cover, too.

b) The Sox don't seem to have been much tempted to put Yaz in RF in long periods without Tony C. (whom I never really heard about as a defensive wiz, and who was in high school, the minors, injured, playing LF, being rested etc. for a lot of Yaz's early career) or Dewey E. As to Yaz playing CF in 1964 (when Tony C. was in LF, btw), you have to remember Bill's explanation for strange things Sox management tried in the 1950s, that still applied in 1964: it was an organization run by morons. (Bill's word, not mine.)
5:33 AM Apr 5th
 
stevebogus
The way I see it, Yaz had the better career. And that is not based on having more seasons of mediocrity at the tail end.

I like Win Shares over WAR, and I like peak value. Yastrzemski from 1967-1970 had seasons of 42, 39, 26, and 36 Win Shares. Kaline cannot match that even if you take his four best seasons.

Beyond that, lets eliminate the best seasons from each player and see how they compare. I'll take away 1967, 1968, and 1970 from Yaz. And I'll take 1955 (31 WS), 1966 (31 WS), and 1967 (30 WS) from Kaline. The next best seasons are:

Yaz 29, 26, 24, 24, 24
Kaline 29, 27, 26, 25, 24

Kaline at this point has a small edge, 131-127, 4 WS over five seasons. Let's look at the next five seasons:

Yaz 21, 21, 21, 21, 20
Kaline 23, 22, 20, 20, 19

Both players had 104 WS in this span. And the next five seasons:

Yaz 20, 19, 19, 18, 13
Kaline 19, 18, 17, 17, 15

Yaz has a slight edge here, 89-86. For these 15 seasons Kaline leads 321-320. They are about as equal in value as can be. But when you throw in the peak seasons Yaz is ahead. If you throw in the remaining seasons, Yaz is ahead. Al Kaline was great. But Yastrzemski had three seasons that Kaline could not match. That is the difference between the two.
5:25 AM Apr 5th
 
MarkBernstein
Regarding defense, I think it’s important — and very difficult — to account for context.

Normally, a capable RF is more valuable than an LF, since RF requires more arm. But it’s a near-run thing for most players: if you wanted to trade for you star who’d been playing LF but whom you wanted to put in RF, that would be far less of a big deal than (say) trading from a 2B you wanted to put at SS.

The context for Yazstremski is twofold.

a: people thought at the time that Fenway’s left field was notably difficult. This may not be true, but people said it often throughout Yazstremski’s career. You still hear this, both in praise (Benintendi) and censure (H. Ramirez).

b: Throughout much of his Red Sox career, Yazstremski played with exceptional right fielders Tony Conigliaro and Dwight Evans. Baseball Reference lists Yaz-1964 as a CF; he wasn't incapable of making the throw.


8:44 PM Apr 4th
 
Steven Goldleaf
OK, bearbyz, but a few corrections and comments: Kaline's best year, according to WAR occurred when he was 26 in 1961, not 1955, and his 1967 wasn't far behind, although his numbers didn't pop out because, well, it was 1967. Also he actually hit 29 HRs twice, in 1962 and 1966, and 27 four times in '55, '56, '59 and '63.

So far in this brief answer, I've cited eight different seasons in which Kaline hit some sort of career peak, and I could name several more, which is saying that he never really had an off-year. He did have only 3 years of 150 games or more, but he had six others where he played in 145 or more, and you must remember that for his first eight years, the AL played only 154, so if he missed five games in any of those seasons he would have missed your tight cut-off.​
6:40 PM Apr 4th
 
bearbyz
Nice article, even though I don't agree with your conclusion, you make a lot of good points. I don't think people look at defense, I know I didn't much, when comparing the two. You are right Kaline was the better defensive player. I always thought Yaz was overrated on defense.

One thing I always had problems with Kaline his best year statistically happened when he was 20. He had his best batting average, OBP and second highest slugging percentage that year. He hit 27 home runs at the age of 20 and had one season better when he hit 29 in 1962. He never once hit 30 in a season.

I also noticed he missed a lot of games in his career. He played 150 games only 3 times, and two of them were in the 50s.
5:25 PM Apr 4th
 
Steven Goldleaf
Here's Marc Schneider's comment that I'm punting from Bill's Comments section to mine, as promised:

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

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

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

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



4:51 PM Apr 4th
 
 
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