Wednesday, March 24, 2010

A NOTE TO MY READERS (both of you!)

Before I move on to any new teams (and I'm already about halfway done with the All-Time Brooklyn Dodger selections) I feel I need to go back and revise some of the selections I have made thus far.

While there is no one criteria that makes anyone an automatic pic, the statistic that I had been focusing on the most to make those borderline decisions was *OPS+. What that is (approximately) is OPS (On-Base Percentage plus Slugging Percentage) adjusted for park value, divided by the league average and multiplied by 100. What that does is allow you make an OPS comparison, in the context of the era the players played in. A 120 *OPS+ means that a player's OPS was 20% over the league's average. An 80 *OPS+ means the player was 20% under the league average and a 100 *OPS+ means the player was average. This is REGARDLESS of how the league's average changes over time. So in theory, a 130 OPS should be better than a 120, regardless of when they occured. I felt it was the best tool to use to compare player from different era's. But a recent (rather egregious) example has caused me to rethink this approach.

I came across a poster who, in a response to the recent retirement of Brian Giles, lamented that [Giles] would never garner any serious Hall of Fame consideration despite his .905 Career OPS as compared to recent Hall of Fame inductee Jim Rice’s .854 and more recently Hall of Fame inductee Dawson’s .806. Now… my immediate response was “Duh: inflated modern offenses, moron!” And I was going to quote him their *OPS+ ratings, thinking it would make him look like a fool. So how shocked was I to find:

Giles: 136
Rice: 128
Dawson: 119

Now... I’m sorry, but ANY suggestion that Brian Giles was a better hitter than Jim Rice or a better player than Andre Dawson is just crazy talk. Utter nonsense. And any statistical argument to support that argument fails the Candy Maldonado rule. (IOW: It’s a triumph of Sabermetrics over common sense.) Giles was good, yes, but he sure as hell ain’t no Hall of Famer, and Rice and Dawson just happened to be, both officially and in my own opinion as well.

The final stake in the coffin of *OPS+ as this great stat was a look at their best seasons. Brian Giles’ best season (by both OPS and *OPS+) was 2002. And it WAS a damned good year:

He ranked second in the League in OBP, SLG, OPS, *OPS+ (the last two related to the first two, of course) as well as 2nd in Walks, 6th in Homers and 10th in Total Bases. Not a bad year at all, though it’s probably worth mentioning that it didn’t even garner him an All-Star selection, even as the required representative from PITTSBURGH, and he ranked 13th in the MVP voting.

Now, Rice’s best season was 1978:

He LED THE LEAGUE in Games, At Bats, Hits, Triples, Homers, RBI, Slugging, OPS, *OPS+ and Total Bases – in which he was the first American Leaguer since Joe DiMaggio to get over 400. He also ranked 2nd in Runs Scored and 3rd in Batting Average. He was an All-Star and was named the League’s MVP.

The are the two Dawson seasons that I’d like to use as examples, 1983 and 1987.

First 1983:

In 1983, Dawson, led the league in Hits and Total Bases, Ranked second in At-Bats, Runs and Slugging, 3rd in Runs Scored and Triples and Homers, 5th in Doubles and OPS, 6th in *OPS+ and 10th in Batting Average. He was an All-Star, won both the Golden Glove and Silver Slugger awards and was runner-up for the League’s Most Valuable Player award.

Here's 1987.

In 1987, he led the league in Homers, RBI and Total Base; ranked 4th in At-Bats, 5th in Hits, 7th in Slugging and 10th in OPS. A lesser season, perhaps, be he was again an All-Star, and again won both the Golden Glove and Silver Slugger award. He also was named the League’s Most Valuable Player, despite playing for a LAST PLACE team.

Now… given all that, if, on the basis of OPS or *OPS+ alone, you say that Giles’ 2002 season was better the Rice’s 1978 or Dawson’s 1983 or 1987 season: You. Are. A. Damned. Fool. Despite playing in a FAR less offensive era, in the season mentioned, Rice and Dawson both exceed Giles in every single offensive category except doubles (he beats Dawson by just 1), Walks and OPB. Now: 135 Walks is pretty good. Rice and Dawson never got even half that many. But if you actually remember baseball in the 1970’s and 1980’s you may recall that Walks were only good for LEADOFF hitters and table-setter. CLEANUP HITTERS were supposed to drive in Runs and drawing a walk was considered SETTLING. And despite chasing all those bad pitches, both Rice and Dawson ended up with higher batting Averages at their best, and Rice beats him out for career average. How much better would Rice have been if he’d played today and was encouraged to draw walks? How much worse would Giles had been if pressured to swing first and look for Balls later? The comparison in hitting ability isn’t even CLOSE. So, while I’ll continue to report it, I can no longer justify using *OPS+ as the primary stat by which I judge a hitter.

I’m going to instead use something closer to how they’re rated in fantasy baseball leagues. Some like… TB + BB + SB + R + RBI – SO – GDP, for example. And I’ll look at both career value and peak value, or: best five seasons. I won’t be a slave to that stat, it’s still not perfect, but if I go against it, I will feel the need to justify the decision: Really strong defense, for example, or some serious, sustained post-season heroics. I don't know. We'll see how it goes. (I've already looked at a few teams, and so far the changes make sense to me.)

BTW, using this formula, the season above shake out as follows:

Rice, 1978: 590
Giles, 2002: 573
Dawson, 1983: 526
Dawson: 1987: 505

So again – all is still not right with the world. But if you look at those ratings, you’ll see that Rice and Dawson get their points from having more RBI's, Runs and Total Bases. Giles gets a lot of his points from Walks. (And a Walk is NOT as good as a Hit, but I’ll save that for later.) BUT… if you’re really in love with OPS and/or *OPS+ let me say this: I’ve done a statistical study with all of the seasons and players that I’ve done so far and the “Points” stat, as I’ve described above, correlates VERY strongly with both OPS and *OPS+, independently of a player’s number of plate appearances. So while it sounds amateurish, it DOES jive with other, more respected, statistics. It shouldn’t give any indefensible examples, and I’ll just ignore it if it does, but it does fix some of the issues that I perceive with focusing so much on *OPS+. Mainly, it better measures the kinds of achievment that I'm specifically looking for HERE.

In any case, there will be some changes coming. Each team will be given a link at the bottom of their posts, where you go can see their “depth charts” as well as a record of any changes I’ve made. Once I’ve updated the teams I’ve got so far, I’ll continue with the Classic Dodgers.

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