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It Hurts To Read - De File
Does Collecting Make You Feel Dirty?
It Hurts To Read
With all due respect to Frank Thomas, a tremendous hitter of Hall of Fame stature who deserves all the fun he's having, Andy Behrens's Page 2 column on ESPN today ranks with the stupider assessments of post-1990 baseball greatness in a vast field of stupidity. Does no one remember how great Ken Griffey Jr. was before he left Seattle or how great Barry Bonds was before all the post-1998 madness? Frank's 1994 season was astonishing. But Griffey was more valuable, playing tremendous center field in addition to only slightly less impressive hitting. And Bonds's 1993 season also wins the comparison. His 1996 season does too. He was an excellent outfielder back then and a pretty fine base stealer as well. And with that out of my system, I promise to go a week or so without deluging you in this manner again.

Current Location: 85704

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From: maruta_us Date: September 26th, 2006 01:50 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)

you're right

i must agree with you here. bonds never had down seasons like thomas in his 30s; i think his down years were really down. i mean, bonds has never been available for $500k. sorry about the giants, dude; they started losing by some spectacular football scores...
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: September 26th, 2006 02:04 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)

Re: you're right

Their pitching completely fell apart. I'm actually pulling for the A's now -- and Thomas -- though I would ask that you keep this dirty secret secret!
From: vodkashuffle Date: September 26th, 2006 02:00 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I agree with you. I guess the only distinction that is made in the article is that of a "pure hitter," of which it would be hard to argue against Thomas. If we're talking complete player though, Bonds and 90's Griffey are head and shoulders above Thomas. It's not even a contest. Runs scored, stolen bases and extraordinary defense are all factors in that. I mean, while Thomas is having a resurgence this year, look at his other numbers. 11 doubles...only 75 runs scored. It tells you that Thomas is an albatross on the bases, which he really always has been. 115 runs scored is his career high, which is absolutely astounding considering his on-base percentage.

I guess what I found curious was that there was not a single mention of Alex Rodriguez in the article. Granted, he is having an "off-year," but he is on a historic pace in several statistical categories. He's only 31 and has nearly 2100 hits and 500 home runs!

Sorry for geeking out there, but it's good to see someone else take issue with that article.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: September 26th, 2006 02:09 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Griffey never came close to matching Thomas as a hitter from a statistical standpointl, once you leave aside the home run and RBI totals, which statheads tend to abjure. Bonds came a lot closer in 1993 and 1996. He also surpassed him in the post-1998 era, but even though I think the whole thing is overblown -- there's a reason Canseco and McGwire finished their careers long before Bonds and it's not the fact that Bonds had better enhancements -- I know that, from a statistical standpoint again, that it's really hard to compare the apples of the early 1990s to the oranges of Sosa's prime. A Rod may pass everyone in home runs and other categories. He ranks lower than someone like Thomas -- or Bonds -- from a stathead's perspective, though, because of the lower on-base percentage.
masoo From: masoo Date: September 26th, 2006 02:06 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Note the position of Thomas and Griffey on the following list:


Note the position of Griffey on the following list ... oh wait, you can't, he's not on it:


Griffey was terrific with the bat in 1994, but he was a lot less impressive than Thomas, who in 1994 had the best season with the bat of any American Leaguer in the last 49 years. And Thomas' defense was horrible, plus Griffey played CF, a much more important position defensively. But Griffey was vastly overrated as a defender and didn't deserve most of those Gold Gloves.

cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: September 26th, 2006 02:12 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Of course. I knew you were going to chime in. I remember you talking about Frank back in 1994. How do you rate Bonds in 1993, out of curiosity?

Oh, and I agree that Griffey was an overrated center fielder. But he was still a lot more valuable overall than Thomas because he played good defense and ran well. Same for Bonds.
masoo From: masoo Date: September 26th, 2006 02:28 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Running is much less important than most people think.

I'll be a little more opinionated than I was in the last comment. Griffey didn't deserve those Gold Gloves because he was a mediocre fielder at best. I will grant you that a mediocre defensive centerfielder still probably helps his team more than the world's worst defensive firstbaseman (and Thomas was pretty bad). On the other hand, there's a reason the crappy fielders play 1B instead of CF ... they do less damage there. It's possible the difference between Thomas and an average defensive 1B was less than the difference between Griffey and an average defensive CF.

Bonds in '93? I'm just talking off the top of my head, which is why I stuck those baseball-reference.com links in my previous comment ... their OPS+ is easy to access (and free) and relatively useful. Using that, 1993 was Bonds' best season with the bat before 2001, and as we know, some would argue that Barry's post-2000 numbers are questionable.

Anyway, I'm really only trying to make two points. One, that the author of the piece in question was mostly just stirring shit for something to do, and taking a swipe at Bonds while he was at it, but his contention that Frank Thomas is the best "organically-grown" hitter of his generation isn't that stupid, if you allow him his anti-Barry-steroid bias. Two, and this is just my own bias, but while Griffey is one of the finest players of his time, I've always been bothered by the assumption of many who seem to think he's the best player of his time. Go back and look at that list of active hitters with higher career OPS+ than Griffey. Yes, that is Brian Giles a few spots above Junior. And I'm a huge fan of Giles, but in the meantime, it's safe to say that if Ken Griffey Jr isn't even as good a hitter as Brian Giles, than he probably isn't the best hitter of his generation. Throw in those undeserved Gold Gloves, and he becomes a player I find unattractive. He looks good crashing into walls, though.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: September 26th, 2006 05:38 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Are those stats adjusted for history? Bonds's 1993 performance has to be judged relatively, no? I mean, what he did with the bat in 1993 looks less impressive compared to his post-1998 seasons than it does when comapared to his peers in 1993.
masoo From: masoo Date: September 26th, 2006 06:31 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
OPS+ is "OPS [OBP + SLG] ... normalized for both the park and the league the player played in.... Think of it as a rate above the league average expressed as a percentage."

Barry in 1993 had an OPS+ of 206. He hit .336/.458/.677 ... the league hit .266/.331/.406. (No park adjustments here.) His OPS was 1.136 ... the league was .736.

In 2002, his OPS+ was 275. Barry: .370/.582/.799, league .255/.327/.406. OPS: Barry 1.381, NL .733. Hitting in the NL was down slightly from 1993 ... Barry's hitting stats were up a lot. His performance relative to the league was much greater from 2001-4 than it ever had been before.

There are several problems with OPS+, but as I said, OPS is easy to access and more useful than most easily-available stats, while OPS+ does some of the necessary adjustments to compare across leagues and parks.

Less available, as in you have to pay for it, but IMO more useful are the Baseball Prospectus creations like the Davenport Translations. "Translated Batting Statistics" ... "Converts the player's batting statistics into a context that is the same for everybody.... an average hitter would have a .260 batting average, .330 onbase average, .420 slugging average ...." Barry's translated stats for 1993: .342/.471/.749 ... for 2002: .391/.592/.863.

A couple of others. Frank Thomas 1994: .364/.499/.788 ... Ken Griffey Jr 1994: .322/.400/.707.

FWIW, BP rates Griffey as a better-than-average defensive CF when he was a Mariner. Frank Thomas, no surprise, was a bad defensive 1B ... he was a bit worse at 1B than Junior was good in CF. And, no surprise, Barry was a good LF, about as good in left as Griffey was in center, although Barry lasted longer as an above-average fielder than Griffey, and in fact BP says Barry is only slightly below average on defense in 2006. I'm looking at something they call "Rate2," which normalizes defense so that 100 means you were average, 110 means you were 10 runs better than average for each 100 games, 90 means you were 10 runs worse than average for each 100 games. Here are the relevant Rate2 numbers for Bonds, Thomas and Griffey:

Bonds, LF, 1993: 102. Career: 104

Griffey, CF, 1993: 102. Career: 98

Thomas, 1B, 1993: 90. Career: 92

For reference, Ozzie Smith for his career was 111 at SS. Willie Mays was 105 as a CF. JT Snow was 100 as a 1B. Also, defense remains the aspect of baseball least "figured out" thus far by statheads. This is being addressed ... a v.good book called The Fielding Bible by John Dewan came out this year. But it doesn't get into historical stuff much ... the data is from the last few years. Here is a list of the 2005 Gold Glove winners, along with Dewan's choice for who should have won. Winners listed first, Dewan's shouldas listed second:
1B: AL Teixeira, Teixeira. NL Lee, Pujols.
2B: AL Hudson, Hudson. NL Castillo, Counsell.
3B: AL Chavez, Chavez. NL Lowell, Bell
SS: AL Jeter, Uribe. NL Vizquel, Everett.
LF: no LF won a GG, Dewan says Carl Crawford "almost" shouda.
CF: AL Hunter & Wells, Hunter & Rowand. NL A.Jones & Edmonds, A.Jones & Taveras.
RF: AL Ichiro, Ichiro. NL Abreu, Jenkins
The opening essay in the book is by Bill James and is called "Jeter vs. Everett." The main point is that Adam Everett is the best defensive SS in baseball, while Derek Jeter is below average. It's the latter point that statheads have been trying to make pretty much since Jeter hit the majors.

cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: September 26th, 2006 06:59 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Thanks so much. This is great stuff. I thought OPS+ was historically adjusted, but I didn't quite understand the mechanism. I had remembered Barry's 1993 year being more exceptional than that. I guess I was flooded with hope-for-the-Giants hormones. As horribly as it ended, that year still stands out for me as one that probably won't come again. To win 103 games and not make the playoffs today is close to impossible.
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