Yaz and Billy

May 24, 2013

                Billy Williams was born in 1938; Carl Yastrzemski, in 1939.    Both players were left-handed hitters and right-handed throwers.   Both players were left fielders, and both were primarily number three hitters.  Both players were rookies in 1961.   Billy Williams won the National League Rookie of the Year Award in 1961, although he had played a few games in 1959 and 1960, while Yaz was not mentioned in the Rookie of the Year voting in the American League, but did drive in 80 runs in his first season.

                Both players are in the Hall of Fame.  The Cubs are, in a sense, the Red Sox of the National League.    There are five "old" franchises in each league which are still playing in the city where they were in 1950, 1940, 1930, 1920. .. the Cardinals, Reds, Pirates, Phillies and Cubs in the National League, the Tigers, Yankees, Indians, White Sox and Red Sox in the National League.    All of those teams are playing in parks built in the last 25 years except the Cubs and Red Sox, in Wrigley and Fenway.    At the time these men played, both parks were hitters’ parks—Fenway the best hitter’s park in the AL, Wrigley (at that time) the best hitter’s park in the NL.   Both players, in their careers, hit over .300 at home, nowhere near .300 on the road.

                Both players came into organizations that were down and out, and both organizations re-emerged as competitive organizations in 1967--the Red Sox more dramatically, of course, but the Cubs by a wider margin.   The Red Sox improved by 20 games in 1967, from 72 wins to 92; the Cubs improved by 28 games, from 59 wins to 87.  Both organizations had losing records every year from 1961 through 1966, except that the Cubs did manage to go 82-80 in 1963, and both organizations had winning records every year 1967 through 1973.

                Their stats, in general, are close enough to be interchangeable.   Yaz in his best season hit .326 with 44 homers, 121 RBI; Williams in his best season hit .322 with 42 homers, 129 RBI.   Their best seasons are what Henry Aaron did every year.  Their stats are interchangeable in every area except Games Played (Williams never missed a game) and walks, and even in walks, they’re not radically different.    Yaz had a period in the middle of his career where he had big walk numbers; Williams didn’t.   Otherwise, their walk rates are similar.

                Both players are listed in the record books at 175 pounds.  Because Williams was born in June of 1938, convention regards him as 23 years old in 1961, whereas Yaz, because he was born in August of 1939, is conventionally regarded as 21 years old in 1961, although Yaz was actually only 14 months younger than Williams.    Using the conventional age system, this is a "best-ball" career for the two of them, a career for Billy Yastrzemski:

AGE

G

AB

R

H

2B

3B

HR

RBI

BB

SO

SB

Avg

OBA

SPct

OPS

21

148

583

71

155

31

6

11

80

50

96

6

.266

.324

.396

.721

22

160

646

99

191

43

6

19

94

66

82

7

.296

.363

.469

.832

23

151

570

91

183

40

3

14

68

95

72

8

.321

.418

.475

.894

24

159

618

94

184

22

8

22

91

70

72

9

.298

.369

.466

.835

25

133

494

78

154

45

3

20

72

70

58

7

.312

.395

.536

.932

26

162

645

100

201

39

2

33

98

59

84

10

.312

.370

.532

.901

27

161

579

112

189

31

4

44

121

91

69

10

.326

.418

.622

1.040

28

157

539

90

162

32

2

23

74

119

90

13

.301

.426

.495

.922

29

162

603

96

154

28

2

40

111

101

91

15

.255

.362

.507

.870

30

161

566

125

186

29

0

40

102

128

66

23

.329

.452

.592

1.044

31

163

642

103

188

33

10

21

95

59

70

3

.293

.355

.474

.828

32

161

636

137

205

34

4

42

129

72

65

7

.322

.391

.586

.977

33

157

594

86

179

27

5

28

93

77

44

7

.301

.383

.505

.888

34

150

574

95

191

34

6

37

122

62

59

3

.333

.398

.606

1.005

35

156

576

72

166

22

2

20

86

76

72

4

.288

.369

.437

.806

36

155

546

71

146

23

2

21

102

80

67

5

.267

.357

.432

.790

37

150

558

99

165

27

3

28

102

73

40

11

.296

.379

.505

.885

38

144

523

70

145

21

2

17

81

76

44

4

.277

.367

.423

.790

39

147

518

69

140

28

1

21

87

62

46

3

.270

.346

.450

.796

40

105

364

49

100

21

1

15

50

44

38

0

.275

.363

.462

.824

41

91

338

36

83

14

1

7

53

49

28

0

.246

.349

.355

.704

42

131

459

53

126

22

1

16

72

59

50

0

.275

.356

.431

.787

43

119

380

38

101

24

0

10

56

54

29

0

.266

.380

.408

.788

 

3383

12551

1934

3694

670

74

549

2039

1692

1432

155

.294

.378

.491

.868

 

                Bold Face marks the career highs.   Can you walk through that and say which season is Yastrzemski’s, and which is Williams’?   This is the "leftover seasons" career, a career for the sprinter, Carl Williams:

AGE

G

AB

R

H

2B

3B

HR

RBI

BB

SO

SB

Avg

OBA

SPct

OPS

21

18

33

0

5

0

1

0

2

1

7

0

.152

.176

.212

.389

22

12

47

4

13

0

2

2

7

5

12

0

.277

.346

.489

.836

23

146

529

75

147

20

7

25

86

45

70

6

.278

.338

.484

.822

24

151

567

77

164

29

9

15

67

75

90

6

.289

.374

.451

.825

25

161

612

87

175

36

9

25

95

68

78

7

.286

.358

.497

.854

26

160

594

81

165

39

2

16

80

84

60

8

.278

.368

.431

.799

27

164

645

115

203

39

6

34

108

65

76

10

.315

.377

.552

.929

28

162

648

100

179

23

5

29

91

69

61

6

.276

.347

.461

.808

29

162

634

92

176

21

12

28

84

68

67

6

.278

.346

.481

.828

30

163

642

91

185

30

8

30

98

48

53

4

.288

.336

.500

.836

31

148

508

75

129

21

2

15

70

106

60

8

.254

.381

.392

.772

32

125

455

70

120

18

2

12

68

67

44

5

.264

.357

.391

.748

33

152

540

82

160

25

4

19

95

105

58

9

.296

.407

.463

.870

34

148

515

93

155

25

2

15

79

104

48

12

.301

.414

.445

.859

35

149

543

91

146

30

1

14

60

87

67

8

.269

.371

.405

.776

36

117

404

55

113

22

0

16

68

67

44

4

.280

.382

.453

.835

37

155

520

68

127

20

1

23

81

76

68

0

.244

.349

.419

.769

38

120

351

36

74

12

0

11

41

58

44

4

.211

.320

.339

.659

 

2413

8787

1292

2436

410

73

329

1280

1198

1007

103

.277

.363

.453

.816

 

                Most of you will assume, going into our analysis, that Yastrzemski was a greater player than Williams.   Let me be the Devil’s Advocate.    While both Yaz and Williams played in hitter’s parks, Yaz got more help from Fenway than Williams did from Wiggley.     Yastrzemski’s career OPS in his home park is six points higher than Williams (.905 to .899)—but in road parks, Williams was 29 points ahead (.808 to .779).  

                Yastrzemski’s season in 1967, because the Red Sox won the pennant, because it was such a dramatic pennant race and because it was such a surprise, has entered the mythology of the game.    Because the Cubs did not quite win in 1970 and 1972, and because it was not Boston, Williams’ seasons did not get the same standing.   The Cubs finished second both seasons (1970 and 1972), and Williams was second in the MVP voting both seasons.    Finishing second is not the same as winning; I understand that.   But is it Williams’ fault that the Cubs relief ace in 1970 was Phil Regan (5-9 with a 4.74 ERA, 12 Saves)?   If Carlton Fisk had been their catcher rather than Randy Hundley, the Cubs would have won their division both years.  

                Yaz had an easier path to the Hall of Fame because

                1)  MVP Awards unlock the door to Cooperstown, and

                2)  Yaz hung on to get 3,000 career hits, and well past.

                "Hanging on" is not greatness, says my friend Marty, who is a Cubs fan.    The Cubs and Red Sox both had talent-productive cycles in the early 1960s, which matured in 1967.   The Red Sox had a second talent boom in the mid-1970s, with Rice and Lynn and Evans.    The Cubs after 1966 stopped producing talent , which forced them to trade off Williams (and Santo, and Ferguson Jenkins) to try to stay competitive.    Is that Billy Williams fault?

                (Actually, the statement that Yaz had an easier path to the Hall of Fame is negotiable.   Yaz went into the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility, whereas Williams was rejected five times before he was elected in 1987.   However, because Williams retired much younger, Williams was actually younger than Yaz was at the time he was elected to Cooperstown.)

                Yastrzemski stole more bases.   Williams had a better stolen base percentage, and grounded into significantly fewer double plays.  

                OK, let’s get into the Win Shares and Loss Shares.    Since both players were rookies in 1961, I’m going to compare them through calendar seasons (rather than same age), remembering that Williams is fourteen months older.   Williams got a late-season callup in 1959, was declared "Not Ready", got another late-season callup in 1960 and did better:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Batting

Fielding

Total

YEAR

Player

Age

G

AB

HR

RBI

AVG

SLG

OBA

OPS

W

L

W

L

W

L

Pct

1959

Billy

21

18

33

0

2

.152

.212

.176

.389

0

2

0

0

0

2

.000

1960

Billy

22

12

47

2

7

.277

.489

.346

.836

1

1

0

0

1

1

.578

           

                In 1961, as I mentioned, Williams was the National League’s Rookie of the Year, while Yastrzemski was in the lineup all year for Boston, although he didn’t really do much:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Batting

Fielding

Total

YEAR

Player

Age

G

AB

HR

RBI

AVG

SLG

OBA

OPS

W

L

W

L

W

L

Pct

1961

Billy

23

146

529

25

86

.278

.484

.338

.822

13

9

1

6

14

15

.490

1961

Yaz

21

148

583

11

80

.266

.396

.324

.721

10

15

1

6

11

21

.351

 

                Williams was Rookie of the Year in 1961, and justified that selection with a Hall of Fame career, but—like most Rookies of the Year—he was really just kind of an average player as a rookie.  He was a pretty good hitter, not a really good hitter, but a below-average fielder at a defensive position that doesn’t have the highest expectations on the field.    Yaz, with his low on-base percentage and sub-.400 slugging, was just getting acquainted with the American League.    He finished strong, hitting .320 with 4 homers in September, 1961.  In 1962 both players were better.

                From 1962 to 1966 both players were above-average every season, but from 1961 to 1966 Williams was the better player every year.   It’s not just the fact that Williams was older, and ahead that way; Williams in 1964-1965 was substantially ahead of Yastrzemski, more than an "age-step".   In 1963 it is actually debatable who was ahead.   Yastrzemski won his first American League batting title and also led the American League in Walks, Doubles and On Base Percentage, but Williams is still ahead of him by the value formula (2 Wins minus Losses), which I am using to sort the players.  .. .it’s a kind of a shorthand WAR.   I suspect most WAR formulas would put Yastrzemski in front in that season:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Batting

Fielding

Total

YEAR

Player

Age

G

AB

HR

RBI

AVG

SLG

OBA

OPS

W

L

W

L

W

L

Pct

1962

Billy

24

159

618

22

91

.298

.466

.369

.835

16

10

2

5

18

15

.543

1962

Yaz

22

160

646

19

94

.296

.469

.363

.832

16

11

2

5

18

16

.532

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1963

Billy

25

161

612

25

95

.286

.497

.358

.854

20

6

5

4

24

10

.705

1963

Yaz

23

151

570

14

68

.321

.475

.418

.894

20

3

2

4

22

7

.764

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1964

Billy

26

162

645

33

98

.312

.532

.370

.901

21

5

3

6

23

11

.676

1964

Yaz

24

151

567

15

67

.289

.451

.374

.825

15

9

2

4

17

14

.555

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1965

Billy

27

164

645

34

108

.315

.552

.377

.929

22

3

4

5

26

8

.764

1965

Yaz

25

133

494

20

72

.312

.536

.395

.932

16

4

1

5

17

9

.645

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1966

Billy

28

162

648

29

91

.276

.461

.347

.808

18

9

3

5

21

14

.603

1966

Yaz

26

160

594

16

80

.278

.431

.368

.799

15

10

2

5

17

15

.527

 

                In ’62 they’re basically tied, with almost the same batting averages, on base and slugging percentages.    In ’63 they’re different but similar in value.   From ’64 through ’66 Yastrzemski didn’t keep up.   In 1964 Billy Williams started out red hot, hitting .413 through June 5, in the lineup every game.    There was some talk about whether he could hit .400.   "What the *****," he told a reporter.   "I haven’t hit .300 yet."    He faded in mid-summer but was over .300 at the finish line in ‘64 and in ’65, hitting twice as many homers as Yaz in those years.   

                Through 1966 we credit Billy Williams with a career won-lost record of 128-76, whereas Yastrzemski is just 102-82.    128-76 is barely a Hall of Fame level of performance.    102-82 is substantially short of a Hall of Fame course.    There is a point there which can be stated in English and defended in English or math:  through 1966, Carl Yastrzemski certainly did not appear to be headed to Cooperstown.   In 1966 he hit .278 with 16 homers, 80 RBI.   Even in the 1960s, those aren’t Hall of Fame numbers.   He was 26 years old then, and his career high in home runs was 20.    He had never driven in or scored 100 runs,  With the exception of one season, his career high in RBI was 80.    Yes, it’s the 1960s, but from 1961 through 1966 there were 62 seasons in which a player scored 100 runs, and 74 in which a player drove in 100 runs.   Yaz wasn’t on either list.    He was not playing at a Hall of Fame level.

                Let’s deal with Yaz’s defense.    Yastrzemski won seven Gold Gloves, and his ability to play The Wall at Fenway Park was—and is—legendary.    We’re not giving him great defensive won-lost records.     Isn’t it possible, people will ask. . .people always say this as if they were the first person ever to think of such a thing, and you’re not allowed to kick them in the balls anymore. . ..isn’t it possible that Yastrzemski’s defensive ratings are hurt by the fact that he played left field in Fenway Park, where:

                a)  The left field area is very small, and

                b)  The left fielder has to play 20 feet closer to the batter, whether he wants to or not, which gives him less time to react.

                Well, yes, of course it is possible.   Defensive statistics are tricky, and our ability to adjust for things like park effects in fielding is very limited, because we don’t have the detailed fielding information that we do for hitters.   On the other hand, it is not clear or obvious that my numbers are shorting him.    In my method, every fielder competes with the value of every other fielder.   The left fielder competes with the shortstop—just as he does at bat.    The left fielder usually wins the competition with the bat, usually loses the competition as to fielding value.    Most left fielders have defensive winning percentages well below .500. 

                Billy Williams and Carl Yastrzemski, as we can see, are profoundly similar in many different ways.    Billy Williams’ defensive won-lost record, as a rookie, was 1-6.   Carl Yastrzemski’s was 1-6.   Billy Williams’ defensive won-lost record in his second season was 2-5.   Carl Yastrzemski’s was 2-5.    Isn’t it possible that they really are of about the same value in the field, as they are on so many other scales—particularly early in their careers?

                Let’s set that argument aside, and let us assume that Yastrzemski’s defense is being under-evaluated by this method.   I think. . .I sincerely believe. ..that it very probably is.   On the other hand, Fangraphs. . .if I understand the information on their site correctly, which is always a gamble. . .but if I understand what they’re saying, they have Yastrzemski rated defensively at +23 runs in 1966, +23 runs in 1967, and +25 runs in 1968.   I would rather try to defend my defensive ratings than those defensive ratings.   I think it is improbable that Yastrzemski in his prime was 24 runs a year better than an average defensive left fielder. 

                But who knows. . ..let’s just agree that Yaz is probably better in the field than my numbers are giving him credit for, at least in some seasons, and then we’ll return to that issue at the end of the comparison.    We had worked through 1966, and through 1966 Williams was outplaying Yastrzemski pretty much every season.    In 1967, the year that both the Cubs and Red Sox re-emerged as competitive teams, Yaz suddenly vaulted ahead of Williams—and everybody else in baseball.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Batting

Fielding

Total

YEAR

Player

Age

G

AB

HR

RBI

AVG

SLG

OBA

OPS

W

L

W

L

W

L

Pct

1967

Yaz

27

161

579

44

121

.326

.622

.418

1.040

26

-3

3

4

29

1

.983

1967

Billy

29

162

634

28

84

.278

.481

.346

.828

20

7

4

5

24

11

.676

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1968

Yaz

28

157

539

23

74

.301

.495

.426

.922

26

-4

3

5

29

1

.975

1968

Billy

30

163

642

30

98

.288

.500

.336

.836

20

7

4

5

23

12

.661

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1969

Billy

31

163

642

21

95

.293

.474

.355

.828

17

9

4

4

21

13

.619

1969

Yaz

29

162

603

40

111

.255

.507

.362

.870

18

8

2

5

20

13

.616

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1970

Yaz

30

161

566

40

102

.329

.592

.452

1.044

24

-1

2

4

27

3

.910

1970

Billy

32

161

636

42

129

.322

.586

.391

.977

19

6

4

4

23

10

.698

 

                In 1967, 1968 and 1970 Yastrzemski played at a level that Billy Williams would never reach.   In those three seasons Yastrzemski was at the level of Mays, Aaron, Pujols, Musial, Joe Morgan. . .the Hall of Fame’s inner circle.    He had the very high on base percentages, in those years, that mark the almost unbeatable players.  With the exception of those three seasons, neither Yastrzemski or Williams was ever at that level.   In 1969, when Yaz’s average slipped to .255, the two of them were basically even. ..we have Billy an inch ahead, but again, there’s that issue with the accurate evaluation of Yastrzemski’s defense.    

                Yaz was sensational, but Billy Williams wasn’t chopped bologna in those years, either; we have him with won-lost contributions of 24-11, 23-12, 20-13 and 23-10.   That’s a Hall of Fame level of performance if you do it every year, and since 1963 he had been doing it every year.  Through 1970, then, Yastrzemski’s career won-lost contribution was 208-99—which is very much a Hall of Fame level of performance—while Williams was at 219-122.    Yastrzemski had pulled ahead.  

                After hitting 40 homers a year from 1967 to 1970 (basically), Yastrzemski dropped in 1971 to .254 with 15 homers.     Billy Williams continued to roll along just as before, and in fact Williams’ best season was still ahead of him:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Batting

Fielding

Total

YEAR

Player

Age

G

AB

HR

RBI

AVG

SLG

OBA

OPS

W

L

W

L

W

L

Pct

1971

Billy

33

157

594

28

93

.301

.505

.383

.888

19

5

3

5

22

11

.679

1971

Yaz

31

148

508

15

70

.254

.392

.381

.772

14

8

2

5

17

13

.564

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1972

Billy

34

150

574

37

122

.333

.606

.398

1.005

22

0

4

4

26

4

.868

1972

Yaz

32

125

455

12

68

.264

.391

.357

.748

13

7

1

5

15

12

.554

 

                Yastrzemski in 1971-72 went back to being the player he had been before 1967—an above average player, but not much more than that.    Whether Williams’ best season was 1970 or 1972 depends on what you look at.    As I mentioned, he was second in the MVP voting both years.  In 1970 Williams scored 137 runs, which actually is the most runs scored by any major league player in any season in the 1950s, 1960s or 1970s.    He had more homers and RBI in 1970 than in 1972.  

                1972 was a strike-shortened season, which took the edge off of Williams’ numbers.   Williams played in 1,117 consecutive games, which was the National League record at the time—the Cal Ripken/Lou Gehrig record—since broken by Steve Garvey.    By 1972 he had given up playing every game, although he still played almost every game; anyway he had 10% more plate appearances in 1970 than in 1972, which makes the counting stats look better in 1970.   But Williams’ OPS was higher in 1972 than in 1970, whereas overall offensive numbers in 1972 were way down from 1970.    The National League ERA was 4.05 in 1970, 3.45 in 1972.   The league OPS was .721 in 1970, .680 in 1972.   There were 8,771 runs scored in the National League in 1970, 7,265 in 1972.    Compared to the league, what Williams did in 1972 is much more impressive than what he had done in 1970, and also, the raw park effect for Wiggley was much higher in 1970 than in 1972.   

                Anyway, Williams’ by 1972 had a career won-lost contribution of 268-137; Yastrzemski, of 239-123.   Williams was back ahead.      From 1973 on, both players were post-prime.   Yastrzemski had a bounce-back season in 1973 and stayed near that (1973) level for ten years after that.   From 1973 on, Williams never had a season in which he was Yastrzemski’s equal:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Batting

Fielding

Total

YEAR

Player

Age

G

AB

HR

RBI

AVG

SLG

OBA

OPS

W

L

W

L

W

L

Pct

1973

Yaz

33

152

540

19

95

.296

.463

.407

.870

18

5

3

4

21

8

.716

1973

Billy

35

156

576

20

86

.288

.438

.369

.806

15

9

3

5

19

13

.587

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1974

Yaz

34

148

515

15

79

.301

.445

.414

.859

19

3

5

4

24

6

.785

1974

Billy

36

117

404

16

68

.280

.453

.382

.835

13

4

1

4

14

8

.632

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1975

Yaz

35

149

543

14

60

.269

.405

.371

.776

14

9

5

2

19

12

.621

1975

Billy

37

155

520

23

81

.244

.419

.341

.760

16

7

0

4

16

11

.597

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1976

Yaz

36

155

546

21

102

.267

.432

.357

.790

15

9

4

5

19

13

.587

1976

Billy

38

120

351

11

41

.211

.339

.320

.659

8

8

0

3

8

11

.415

 

                Traded to Oakland in 1975, Williams had one good season as a DH, then one bad season as a DH, and retired after the 1976 campaign.   From 1962 to 1975, Billy Williams was a very good player every year, with very moderate ups and downs.    He retired with a career won-lost contribution of 324-180, which is certainly a Hall of Fame level of performance.     At the time that Williams’ retired, Yaz was at 322-163.     Yaz then played on for seven more seasons, and was an above-average player throughout those seven years:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Batting

Fielding

Total

YEAR

Player

Age

G

AB

HR

RBI

AVG

SLG

OBA

OPS

W

L

W

L

W

L

Pct

1977

Yaz

37

150

558

28

102

.296

.505

.372

.877

16

8

4

4

20

11

.643

1978

Yaz

38

144

523

17

81

.277

.423

.367

.790

15

8

3

4

17

12

.598

1979

Yaz

39

147

518

21

87

.270

.450

.346

.796

12

10

2

4

14

14

.507

1980

Yaz

40

105

364

15

50

.275

.462

.350

.812

10