Monday, July 18, 2016

Time to reconsider Honus Wagner's and Lou Gehrig's greatness? (Part 2)

This is an article at espn.com by Christina Kahrl. Here is the link


She points out that Gehrig did not have to face the good pitchers on the Yankees, and, of course, no black or Latin pitchers. But although those things are true, I wonder how much they would or should change our estimate of Gehrig. My guess is not much.

Yesterday I pointed out that Hank Aaron only faced black/latin pitchers about 13% of the time and that Gehrig not facing his own pitchers would lower his OPS+ by just 3 points, leaving him still 4th best all-time.

But, as you many of you may know, the Yankee pitchers were not quite as good as they look since they did not face the great Yankee hitters. So that decline for Gehrig is probably not that big.

I calculated Gehrig's OPS+ using the formula they have at Baseball Reference. Then I assumed that the Yankees staff is 1/8th of the league and took them out and got a slightly higher league average OBP & SLG and then recalculated Gehrig's OPS+ (I did all this without park effects). His OPS+ fell from 183 to 180. As far as I can tell, BR does not account for not facing your own pitchers.

Now to the question of not black/latin pitchers. This math may get gory. About 10 years ago I estimated that from 1947 to 2006 or so about 15% of innings were pitched by black/latin guys. I also determined that collectively those guys were about as good as the remaining white guys (white guys who did not get replaced).

So, I tried to figure out how many HRs this cost Ruth. I removed the bottom 15% of pitchers (by innings or batters face, not sure which). Then I calculated the HR rate for the remaining pitchers. It was, collectively, about 5% lower than for all pitchers. So I declared that if Ruth had faced black/latin pitchers 15% of the time, his HR rate would fall by 5%. I assumed that the HR rate for those black/latin guys who were now in baseball would have been the same as the best 85% of white guys.

I did something similar with Gehrig. I tried to estimate how much to decrease his OBP and SLG to recalculate his OPS+. The first thing I did was rank all AL pitchers over the years 1925-38 by runs per game (per 9 IP). Then I removed the bottom 15% (by batters faced).

The top 85% allowed 4.92 runs per game while the whole group allowed 5.20. So we have runs per game falling by about 5.6%. That means OBP & SLG would be lower. But by how much?

Using all MLB teams from 1925-38 (this was easiest using the Baseball Reference Play Index since there was no option just to get AL teams, you have to use all MLB teams), I ran a regression with team runs per game as a function of OBP & SLG. Here is the equation

R/G = 11.82*SLG + 18.37*OBP  - 6.12

Using that formula, to get runs per game to go down 5.6%, both OBP & SLG would have to go down about 2.545% each (assuming they each go down by the same %).

That is what Gehrig would face with the better pitching in the league from black/latin guys (remember, as a group they are about as good as the remaining white guys). Runs go down 5.6% so we have a corresponding drop in the league in OBP and SLG.

The formula for OPS+ at BR is 100*[OBP/lg OBP + SLG/lg SLG - 1]

Gehrig had a career OBP & SLG of .447 & .632. Lowering those by 2.545% each gets us .436 & .616. The league averages (taking out Yankee pitchers) were .353 & .411. That gets me a 173 OPS+. I started with 183 (recall I am not doing park effects here-also recall that maybe the Yankee pitchers were not that good since they never faced the great Yankee pitchers). So Gehrig falls 10 points in OPS+ (maybe less).

At BR's leader list

http://www.baseball-reference.com/leaders/onbase_plus_slugging_plus_career.shtml

Gehrig would fall from 179 to 169, and be in a tie with Trout for 9th best ever (but probably a bit higher).

But, if these good black/latin pitchers are added to the league, the league OBP & SLG go down, then Gehrig's OPS+ is calculated with a lower league average and it would come back up. In fact, it would all cancel out. He goes down 2.545% and the league average goes down 2.545% .

But (yes, another one), there is one potentially big factor left out so far. If blacks/latins are added to the league, many of them, as we know, will be position players and that should raise the league average for things like OBP and SLG (think of it as a 2 stage process-first black/latin pitchers come in and league OBP & SLG go down a bit-then black/latin hitters are added to the league and that would bring the league OBP & SLG back up).

Maybe we end up an even higher league OBP & SLG than we started with (I think this likely since black/latin position players have been a bigger % of the total than in pitching) and that would lower Gehrig's OPS+. That means we need some estimate of how much league OBP & SLG would be affected if you added in all the good black/latin hitters, who would generally replace the worst white hitters (not entirely since some weak hitting guys who were good fielders would stay).

So I need to come up with that estimate to adjust Gehrig's numbers again.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Time to reconsider Honus Wagner's and Lou Gehrig's greatness?

This is an article at espn.com by Christina Kahrl. Here is the link


She points out that Gehrig did not have to face the good pitchers on the Yankees, and, of course, no black or Latin pitchers. But although those things are true, I wonder how much they would or should change our estimate of Gehrig. My guess is not much.

Take a look at the pitchers that Hank Aaron faced at Baseball Reference. Rank them by PAs. I did that recently and after a good chunk of them (the top 100 in PAs vs. Aaron) it looked like 13% of those PAs were against black/latin pitchers. That is the kind of thing that has to be taken into account in these discussions. If Ruth & Gehrig had to face about the same proportion of black/latin pitchers that guys today do (or post 1947), we need to put a number on it and then try to figure out how many HRs they lose from facing, on average, better pitchers. Remember, that Ruth & Gehrig would still hit some HRs against those guys.

But suppose that you did have them in about the same proportions that we have had them since 1947? I estimated about 10 years ago that would be about 15%. Then I estimated that it would have reduce Ruth's HRs by 5%. See


Sure, Gehrig did not have to face the good Yankee pitchers. But in the original Total Baseball, if I recall correctly, Pete Palmer said that in OPS+ (that is what we call it now-he called it adjusted production), they took into account that you did not have to face the pitchers on your own team. In the 2nd edition of TB, Gehrig ranks 3rd all-time in adjusted production with 182. Ruth had 209, Williams had 186. At Baseball Reference right now, Gehrig now ranks 4th in OPS+ (I don't think it takes into account not facing your own pitchers but I am not sure). OPS+ is Ruth 206, Williams 190, Bonds 182, Gehrig 179. So my guess is that taking into account not facing your own pitchers is not a big deal. Maybe Sean Forman can say something about this (I have asked BR about this).

From 1928-31, Gehrig had a 1.040 OPS against the A's. The A's had 2 good lefties, Grove and Walberg and the A's led the AL in ERA+ 3 times with a 2nd. They led once in FIP ERA and were 2nd 3 times.

Gehrig did have an OPS of 1.109 overall in those 4 years. So he did not do quite as well against the A's. But remember, this was the best or 2nd best staff over those 4 years and he did not drop off by much and it was in about 380 PAs.

I also estimate that, if we take the Yankees pitchers out of the league averages for OBP & SLG, and then recalculate the league OBP & SLG, so that we can recalculate Gehrig's OPS+, I get it going down 3 points. If it falls from 179 to 176, he is still in 4th place. See

http://www.baseball-reference.com/leaders/onbase_plus_slugging_plus_career.shtml

Friday, July 15, 2016

Bryce Harper Is Having An Historically Large Dropoff This Year But It Might Not Be A Long Term Concern

Last year, at age 22, Bryce Harper had an OPS+ of 195. The only player to ever have a higher OPS+ at age 22 or younger with 400+ PAs was Ted Williams who had 235 in 1941, the year he batted .406.

But so far this year, Harper's OPS+ is just 134, a drop of 61. To see how this ranks historically, I used the Baseball Reference Play Index to call up all the seasons since 1900 when a player 23 or younger had an OPS+ of at least 170 (I first tried a cutoff of 180 and using players 22 or younger, but that was a short list). Again, a minimum of 400 PAs was used.

Then I found their OPS+ the next year and ranked them by how much their OPS+ changed, with the biggest losers listed first. That is all in the table below. Harper does not have the biggest decline ever, but he is close.



Player
OPS+
Year
Age
Next Yr.
Change
Boog Powell
176
1964
22
112
-64
Reggie Jackson
189
1969
23
127
-62
Bryce Harper
195
2015
22
134
-61
Arky Vaughan
190
1935
23
148
-42
Mel Ott
174
1932
23
138
-36
Eddie Mathews
170
1955
23
143
-27
Eddie Collins
171
1909
22
152
-19
Ted Williams
235
1941
22
216
-19
Albert Pujols
187
2003
23
173
-14
Jimmie Foxx
173
1929
21
161
-12
Mike Trout
179
2013
21
168
-11
Ty Cobb
206
1910
23
196
-10
Mike Trout
176
2015
23
169
-7
Frank Thomas
180
1991
23
174
-6
Stan Musial
177
1943
22
174
-3
Eddie Mathews
172
1954
22
170
-2
Shoeless Joe Jackson
193
1911
23
192
-1
Ted Williams*
216
1942
23
215
-1
Willie Mays
175
1954
23
174
-1
Ken Griffey
171
1993
23
171
0
Eddie Mathews
171
1953
21
172
1
Stan Musial*
174
1944
23
183
9
Ty Cobb
193
1909
22
206
13
Mickey Mantle
180
1955
23
210
30


*The next year for Williams and Musial in these cases was actually after they returned from military duty. Williams had three years in between and Musial had one.

There are 18 players on this list. 13 are in the Hall of Fame. Those not in the Hall are Albert Pujols, Harper, Mike Trout, Boog Powell and Joe Jackson. Trout and Pujols both have good chances to make it. Jackson might be in if not for the 1919 World Series scandal.

Boog Powell is probably not Hall worthy but he still hit over 300 career HRs and won an MVP award later in his career. He had a couple of seasons with an OPS+ in the 160s and two more in the 150s. He had a total of six seasons in the top 10 in OPS+, including the 176 at age 22. So a good career.

Powell, along with Reggie Jackson, are the only two guys here to see a drop off of 60 or more in OPS+. Jackson is in the Hall and, as seen above, Powell had a pretty good career. So even with the big decline so far this year, Harper's future still looks pretty good.