The Greatest of This, the Greatest of That

November 29, 2022
  

The Greatest of This, the Greatest of That

            The method that we introduced yesterday, evaluating players by their performance over a period of years, rather than in one year.  It is essentially an effort to stabilize data which otherwise jumps up and down. We concluded that Freddie Freeman is now the best player in baseball. 

            Of course, in that conclusion we are looking only backward, whereas in all the other years the system is able to look both backward and forward.   In the future we may assign the most recent years to someone else, not Freeman.  We’ll see.  But there are a lot of other things that we can do with this method or a similar/related method.   By the same method by which we identified the best player in baseball at each point in time, we can also choose the best player in the National League in each year, and the best player in the American League.   We could choose the greatest catcher, see how that evolves over time, or the greatest second baseman or whatever.  We could identify the greatest player under 25, or the greatest player over 30.   We’ll do some of that later.

            First, let’s deal with the "problem" of the system, in real time, being able to look only backward.   In retrospect, we can say that the moment in time at which Ty Cobb surpassed Honus Wagner to be the greatest player in baseball was 1909, but in 1909 it was impossible to know that.  It is a separate question, but I think still an interesting question, of who was the greatest player in baseball at each moment in the past, based only on what could have been definitely known at that time. 

            For that, we use essentially the same method, but just a little bit different.  I weight the last ten seasons for a player at 1-3-5-7-9-11-13-15-17-19.  That also totals up to 100 (100%), but the most recent season counts at 19% of the value, rather than 10% if we just chopped the 19-year window in half.   By that system, the greatest player in baseball (based on what could have been known at the time). .. the #1 guys are:

 

Cy Young

1898

-

1903

Honus Wagner

1904

-

1910

Ty Cobb

1911

-

1919

Babe Ruth

1920

-

1931

Lou Gehrig

1932

-

1937

Mel Ott

1938

-

1940

Joe DiMaggio

1941

 

 

Mel Ott

1942

-

1945

Ted Williams

1946

-

1947

Stan Musial

1948

-

1955

Mickey Mantle

1956

-

1961

Willie Mays

1962

-

1967

Henry Aaron

1968

-

1972

Joe Morgan

1973

-

1979

Mike Schmidt

1980

-

1987

Wade Boggs

1988

-

1989

Rickey Henderson

1990

-

1991

Ryne Sandberg

1992

   

Barry Bonds

1993

-

2006

Alex Rodriguez

2007

 

 

Albert Pujols

2008

-

2012

Miguel Cabrera

2013

-

2015

Mike Trout

2016

-

2019

Freddie Freeman

2020

-

2022

 

            As you can see that is pretty much the same list we had before, with some small differences and the dates are different.   We can also look at who the best players are looking FORWARD from a specific year:

 

Cy Young

1894

-

1898

Honus Wagner

1899

-

1906

Ty Cobb

1907

-

1910

Walter Johnson

1911

-

1913

Tris Speaker

1914

 

 

Babe Ruth

1915

-

1926

Lou Gehrig

1927

-

1931

Mel Ott

1932

-

1935

Joe DiMaggio

1936

-

1938

Ted Williams

1939

-

1942

Stan Musial

1943

-

1944

Hal Newhouser

1945

 

 

Stan Musial

1946

-

1950

Mickey Mantle

1951

-

1957

Willie Mays

1958

-

1962

Hank Aaron

1963

 

 

Dick Allen

1964

 

 

Henry Aaron

1965

 

 

Carl Yastrzemski

1966

-

1967

Pete Rose

1968

 

 

Joe Moran

1969

-

1973

Mike Schmidt

1974

-

1981

Rickey Henderson

1982

 

 

Wade Boggs

1983

-

1986

Barry Bonds

1987

-

2000

Albert Pujols

2001

-

2012

Miguel Cabrera

2008

-

2009

Robinson Cano

2010

 

 

Mike Trout

2011

-

2016

Freddie Freeman

2017

-

????

 

Making the point that the same data looks very different if looked at from a different angle.   In the years 1911-1920 Walter Johnson is the greatest player in the game looking forward, but in the same years Babe Ruth is the greatest player in the game looking backward.  The method looks at the same ten-year span, but looking forward from 1911, 36% of the value is in the 1911-1912 seasons, only 3% in 1919-1920, whereas looking back from 1920, 36% of the value is in the 1919-1920 seasons, only 3% in 1911-1912.

 

            Yesterday I had a list of the best players in baseball over time.  We can also do this by the league, the best player in each league over time.  This is the chart for the American League:

 

American League

Cy Young

1901

-

1904

Nap Lajoie

1904

-

1907

Ty Cobb

1908

-

1917

Babe Ruth

1918

-

1929

Lou Gehrig

1930

-

1937

Jimmie Foxx

1938

 

 

Joe DiMaggio

1939

-

1940

Ted Williams

1941

-

1942

Luke Appling

1943

 

 

Lou Boudreau

1944

-

1945

Ted Williams

1946

-

1951

Mickey Mantle

1952

-

1963

Brooks Robinson

1964

-

1965 

Frank Robinson

1966

 

 

Carl Yastrzemski

1967

-

1970

Reggie Jackson

1971

-

1975

George Brett

1976

-

1980

Robin Yount

1980

-

1983

Rickey Henderson

1984

-

1992

Frank Thomas

1993

-

1997

Alex Rodriguez

1998

-

2007

Miguel Cabrera

2008

-

2011

Mike Trout

2012

-

2018+

 

            I dislike citing a player as the best player in the league for one year, as this is not a one-year look at the question, but sometimes there’s just no other way to go.  The toughest spot on the chart above is the 1964-1965 period. 

            The charts are based on the 19-year formula given yesterday, and I respect that formula and go along with whatever it says at least 95% of the time.  The formula says that Mantle is still the best player in the American League in 1964, which is a reasonable thing to say, but Mantle’s era of greatness ended in 1965, and he dropped to third on the 19-year list.   Occupying the 1-2 spots are Harmon Killebrew and Al Kaline. 

            But Kaline and Killebrew were both injured in 1965, and actually weren’t a lot more valuable in that season than Mantle was.  If I put one of them on the 1965 line, he would be a one-year holder of the best player in the league title, since Frank Robinson came over in 1966, winning the MVP and the Triple Crown, and scoring as easily the league’s greatest player based on that and his ten years of outstanding play before that in the National League.  I would be listing Killebrew or Kaline as the best player in the league for only one year, in which neither one of them was remotely close to being the best player in the league.  I can’t do that. 

            The 19-year system ranks the top four players in the league as 1. Killebrew, 2. Kaline, 3. Mantle, 4. Brooks Robinson.   I thought about just ignoring that, and listing Tony Oliva as the best player in the league in 1965, which I think he probably was; Oliva fits the profile of the dominant all-around star better than Brooksie does.  But I decided to list Brooks Robinson as the American League’s best player in 1964-65, since (1) he was the MVP in 1964, and (2) he had a very strong season again in 1965.  By Win Shares, Mantle was actually more valuable than Robinson in ’64, but by a kind of meaningless margin (34 to 33); it is reasonable to say that Brooks took over the number one slot in 1964, and it’s the best I can do. 

            I terminated these charts are 2018.   The 2018 ranking should be based on all the years from 2009 to 2027.  We’re missing 15% of the relevant data for 2018 (5% for 2023, 4% for 2024, 3% for 2025, 2% for 2026, 1% for 2027.)  Missing 15% is OK, but if we go to 2019, we’re missing 21%.   Let’s just mark the years 2019 to 2022 as TBD. 

            This is the National League chart:

National League

Cy Young

1900

 

 

Honus Wagner

1901

-

1912

Pete Alexander

1913

-

1919

Rogers Hornsby

1920

-

1928

Paul Waner

1929

-

1931

Mel Ott

1932

-

1942

Stan Musial

1943

-

1944

Bob Elliott

1945

 

 

Stan Musial

1946

-

1953

Willie Mays

1954

-

1966

Henry Aaron

1967

-

1969

Pete Rose

1970

 

 

Joe Morgan

1971

-

1976

Mike Schmidt

1977

-

1985

Tim Raines

1986

-

1989

Barry Bonds

1990

-

2004

Albert Pujols

2005

-

2010

Andrew McCutchen

2011

-

2015

Joey Votto

2016

 

 

Freddie Freeman

2017

-

2018+

 

            Andrew McCutchen, I think, has never quite gotten his due.  He did win an MVP Award, but then, so did Jeff Burroughs.  Andrew was, I think. . .well, he wasn’t Bonds; he wasn’t Pujols, he wasn’t Trout.  But he was best player in the National League, year-in and year-out, for five years. 

 

            Tomorrow, I’ll give you the lists for the greatest catchers, second basemen, third basemen and starting pitchers, over time.  Thanks for reading. 

 
 

COMMENTS (6 Comments, most recent shown first)

wovenstrap
For what it's worth, Rallymonkey is clearly correct. Freeman was the best player in baseball, according to Win Shares, in 2020 only, the shortened COVID year. He's never really been that close outside of that year.
9:44 PM Dec 1st
 
Rallymonkey5
I take back part of my last comment. Best player in baseball is easy, it’s Ohtani.
6:11 PM Nov 30th
 
abiggoof
World Series matchups of best AL and NL players by this data:

1903 Young and Wagner
1909 Cobb and Wagner
1918 Ruth and Alexander
1926 Ruth and Hornsby
1936-37 Gehrig and Ott
1946 Williams and Musial
1962 Mantle and Mays
1972 Jackson and Morgan
1980 Brett and Schmidt

I can buy that.
5:41 PM Nov 30th
 
Rallymonkey5
Freeman is not the best player in baseball. Not saying Trout is, Trout’s injuries stopped him from being the choice a few years ago. Not sure who it is, Judge, Mookie, Turner, Correa, Machado maybe. But not Freeman.

The formula that spits that out makes less sense than Jack Kralick for 1961 Cy Young.
3:18 PM Nov 30th
 
abiggoof
By this, the last time the best player in the AL won a pennant was 1990.
2:30 PM Nov 30th
 
Manushfan
Pie Traynor is going to be prominently mentioned....
3:23 PM Nov 29th
 
 
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