Friday, January 25, 2013

Friday Baseball Post

I said last week I had nothing particular to say about Stan Musial, but that's not quite true; I just wanted to wait a week out of respect. But now that I've done that, it's time to consider how his passing affects...the All-Time All-Alive Team and the All-Time All-Dead Team. Hey, I've done the All-Alives before, but I'll start from scratch this time; I didn't look back at the old post until I was done.

I'll start with the All-Dead Team. Talk about a hard OF to crack! We'll certainly carry five OFers on the 25-man roster, and I'd think that the selections have been easy: Williams starts in LF, Ruth of course in RF, and then pick 'em from Cobb, Mantle, and Speaker. Does Musial displace one of them? Yikes! That's a tough call. By the way, just as a shortcut, that group of six count for six of the top twenty all-time in baseball-reference's WAR list.

(Aside: B-R's WAR is fine, in my view, but because of how easy it is to access, it seems to be everyone's go-to all-in-one stat and is therefore quite a bit overused, from what I see. Although I don't see all that much these days, so I guess it depends, and I'm certainly very guilty of it myself).

Let's see...the All-Dead Team has Gehrig and Wagner for sure. Unless I'm forgetting someone, Eddie Mathews is the 3B. The roster construction is tough though. Both Hornsby and Eddie Collins have to be on the team, right? We can fight about who starts at 2B, but clearly they're both in the running. I'm going to want to consider taking Lajoie, and even Jackie Robinson. Truth is, I don't know which of those four guys is better. But how can we have a roster with four guys whose primary position is 2B? And none of them is really a great fit for back-up SS, although Hornsby did spend a full season there at one point. See, I like the idea of Robinson on the team since he's excellent for UT (pretty much everything but C, SS, and CF). You know what? Let's can Lajoie, keep Robinson, and instead have a more reasonable roster by adding George Davis..

I'm going to say that we go with mostly modern pitching staff usage, so 10 or 11 pitchers, meaning we have 14 or 15 roster spots. Without Musial, I count five OFers and seven IFers...that's leaving Ott and Foxx off (and Anson, Conner, and the rest of the 19th century; also, MLB only, since I have no idea how good the Negro Leaguers were, although surely it's likely that one or more could be here). Truth is, though, that Musial is a very nice fit for this team too -- if he's not the LF, he's the backup there, for Ruth, and for Gehrig. If he's #13, then we add Dickey and Cochrane and we're good.

Wait, hold on: I forgot about Gary Carter. I'd really have to think about that one. He's awful good. I'm going to leave him off for now, but I'm open to argument.

Looking back, I think Ott is probably the guy who's being bumped here. Ott for Robinson?

So that's my roster:

Dickey, Cochrane
Gehrig, Hornsby, Collins, J. Robinson, Wagner, G. Davis, Mathews
T. Williams, Cobb, Speaker, Mantle, Ruth, Musial

Now, for the All-Alives...

The starting OF is easy, especially with Musial gone: Bonds, Mays, Aaron. We want Frank Robinson, too, and for a real roster the 5th OFer has to be Rickey Henderson, no? There's no true backup CF unless we carry Griffey, but both Aaron and Henderson could fill in.

I'll skip to catchers, because we're taking three: Piazza, Bench, and Berra.

Now, the IF. Might as well start with 3B since it's the easiest. Schmidt. Alex Rodriguez at SS, no? Morgan, obviously.

Ah, now it gets tricky. In fact, Musial wasn't really in the OF; he was the All-Alive 1B. So instead, we have a whole bunch of guys: McCovey, Thomas, Bagwell...but really, I think it's already Pujols, and it isn't close.

So that leaves the infield bench. Again, roster construction is difficult. See, Ripken is probably the best guy out there. But Ozzie Smith does more for the team -- comes in for defense and pinch runs. And there's really no one for a real backup at 2B -- who, Rose? I don't want him. Molitor? Not really. Even worse, the best three guys off the team right now are probably all 3Bs: Brett, Boggs, Chipper Jones (OK, Yaz and Kaline might not agree, but they don't fit, either). And we need someone to back up at 1B...I think I'll take a LH hitter, because my bench leans righty. And because I want Stretch. And no real backup 2B; if I have to I guess it would be Rose, but I'd rather just let one of the SS play out of position.


Piazza, Bench, Berra
Pujols, McCovey, Morgan, A. Rodriguez, Ripken, O. Smith, Schmidt
Bonds, Henderson, Mays, Aaron, F. Robinson

Who am I missing? What are my bad choices?


  1. So you're really picking teams, like fantasy teams, as opposed to best at their positions? Can't fault your outfield choices but I'd always have Roberto Clemente on my team, for all the things he can do defensively and offensively.

    I'd go with Mantle--switch-hitter as the tie breaker, but of course, which Mantle? Is the criteron an averaged year from a career, or the best year?

  2. Yeah, but who are you going to bump for Clemente? There's a ton of better hitters, and the cheat here is that if you do want a defensive sub, you can presumably always move Cobb or Mantle over and have Speaker in CF; maybe they can't match the arm, but surely they both cover more ground.

    No formal criteria, but I suppose it leans more to career value...certainly it's not best year or even just pure peak, or else it would look different.

    1. It's a fun fantasy but I guess I find it too hard to compare players I've seen with players I've never seen, even on film. I saw Clemente play everyday. I even saw his last hit. I could watch him forever.

  3. Replies
    1. no way carew over biggio any day

  4. Not bad, but he has the wrong position flexibility for this team, though; they hardly need a 4th C. Or a PR. I'd rather have Lou Whitaker, if it's a just-2B...otherwise, I think I'd rather have Molitor or Rose. Which gets me back to carrying both Smith and Ripken, although I certainly can see why you wouldn't want to.

  5. Why didn't you try to fill out the pitcher lists?

    1. Tired? Figured I'd have something to leave for a follow-up post? Also, I had a movie to get to watching.

      Might do it next week, I suppose.

  6. Henderson instead of Griffey, Jr? I'm not seeing that one. Even as a 5th OF, I'd rather have the guy with 630 HRs. On a real team, the 5th OF would mostly pinch hit and you'd rather have power over speed in a pinch hitter. (I hadn't realized Henderson made the majors in 1979 and played 25 years. Geez!)

    1. Really? My 5th OFer is going to be PRing as often as PHing, and the hitting overall is close enough that I'll send up Henderson with the bases empty.

  7. Taking Carew in the IF allows you to get a backup 2B and drop McCovey because he also backs up at 1B. Not the basher, but a much better overall player than McCovey.

    1. Yeah, there's a bit of Giants bias on that one. I'm really not much of a Carew fan...I'm not sure what he gives you over Rose or Molitor.

  8. Josh Gibson was probably the greatest catcher of all time, and his only real competition for that honor are guys who are still alive. Gibson has got to be your starting catcher, even if you're unsure about Negro League numbers.

    Gibson led the Negro Leagues in home runs nine teams in fourteen years (and kicked ass in the Mexican leagues in between). He was still a dominant hitter in the mid-40s, as a relatively old player, and he was outhitting guys who went on to succeed in the majors. He was the best hitter in the Negro Leagues at a time when a whole bunch of other solid Hall of Famers were also playing in the Negro Leagues. and he was a catcher. He's got to be on your team.

  9. On Gibson, see this discussion of his numbers and his major league equivalencies at the Hall of Merit:

    1. Thanks for the link.

      I agree that Gibson was probably the greatest catcher ever, almost certainly the greatest dead catcher, and I should have at least mentioned that.

  10. If you absolutely want a backup shortstop, I would probably prefer Arky Vaughan to George Davis.

    1. Vaughan's awful good...for a bench player, I like Davis's positional flexibility (although it doesn't really matter much on this team, which has plenty), and he's a switch-hitter, and presumably a better pinch-runner, although I suppose it depends on how you think about era effects.

      But I may be showing a bit of Giants bias on it. I don't know.

    2. I can't disagree with your reasoning, but I do think Vaughan provides at least as much value. He played almost 200 games at 3B and 60 in the outfield, so he does have some positional flexibility as well, although Davis played more at both positions, and was used in CF while Vaughan was in LF.

      I think Vaughan was a significantly superior hitter. When BB-Ref neutralizes their hitting stats, Davis has a .282/.345/.386 line while Vaughan's is .318/.406/.453.

      Vaughan did, by the way, lead the league in steals one year-albeit a war year.

      There is a problem comparing the two as the eras were so different. Many players in the 1890-1910 period played multiple positions; fewer did in the 1930s. So I am not sure it is helpful to consider positional flexibility. Vaughan obviously had the ability to play positions other than shortstop but did so less often because of the style of play. The same can be said about base stealing which was far more the norm earlier than in the 1930s.

      As noted in the comment below, it is a fun topic. Thanks for stimulating some thought on the matter.

  11. The trouble with "Lineups" that transcend generations is that both players and the game itself change. Pitchers and hitters are an obvious subject for discussion.
    That said, it is a fun topic for the Hot Stove League.

  12. I love your blog, Jonathan, even if I will never understand the appeal of baseball.

    Zombie baseball, maybe. As a sequel to Zombieland. If I was drunk.

  13. I'll play.
    C Dickey, Carter
    1B Gehrig, Musial
    2B Hornsby, Collins
    SS Wagner, Vaughan
    3B Mathews
    Uti Lajoie

    OF Ruth
    OF Cobb
    OF Williams
    OF Speaker
    OF Mantle

    P WJohnson
    P Young
    P Mathewson
    P Alexander
    P Spahn
    P Grove
    P Nichols
    P Roberts
    P Walsh
    P Hubbell

    C Bench, Rodriguez
    1B Pujols, Bagwell
    2B Morgan
    SS Rodriguez, Ripken
    3B Schmidt, Boggs
    Uti Rose

    OF Bonds
    OF Mays
    OF Aaron
    OF Henderson
    OF Robinson

    P Clemens
    P Maddux
    P RJohnson
    P Seaver
    P Gibson
    P Martinez
    P Blyleven
    P Carlton
    P Perry
    P Niekro

    1. I would replace Rodriguez with Berra.

      And I think a "living" team should probably have a couple of relievers rather than 10 starters. Actually, the "dead" team could have relievers like Wilhelm and Quisenberry as well.

      I would also add Edgar Martinez as my DH. And take Brett over Boggs.

  14. I'd probably take Brett before either Rikpen or Ozzie...still lacking a back-up second baseman...Sandberg? Carew? Whitaker? Grich?

  15. If building an actual team, you need to consider the racism. You have Robinson on the team, Speaker and Hornsby need to be gone, if you accept that Cobb was just a jerk and not actually racist. I suggest Josh Gibson to have another black player and Ed Delahanty would be a good choice to replace Speaker. There are tons of true CFs to replace Speaker with who were very good. Another issue would be having players who would accept being the backups on this team, so I would get some defensive-minded players and not have my starters/backups be so equal in skill.

    I personally would have two at every infield position, but I see the merit in the utility players so you can get more pitchers. At the time of these players, though, you wouldn't need extra pitchers. Jennings I think would be a good shortstop.

    1. That's fair enough, but OTOH it's worth noting that by and large everyone basically accepted integration when it did happen...I'm not certain that the racists of earlier eras would have lived with it, but I think it's more likely than not.

      As I said, I'm pretty much insisting on modern or semi-modern pitching usage, so a five-man rotation and relief pitchers, although of course the great starters before the war had experience pitching in relief, so that's a factor. Anyway, 10 pitchers.

  16. Sandberg as the backup 2B guy, although as a Cubs fan I'd probably start him over Morgan...Surprised he didn't even rate a mention here.

  17. So, as the perpetually unwelcome guest at the party, I got to thinking about this in the context of PEDs, in part because Frank Thomas is in the news critizing users, you know, that Top-20 OPS+ guy who merits only passing mention in this thread.

    I pointed out the other day that Bonds' late-30s OPS+ figures are about 40% or so higher than his career totals, while (ex-Ted Williams) all other HOF-caliber players are about 20% inferior to their overall selves in their late 30s. We have a pretty good idea why Williams was better (he stopped stubbornly hitting into the shift). Bonds, we are to believe, simply "tried a lot harder in his late 30s".

    If Bonds only achieved max effort in his late 30s, and the career trajectory of every other great says that the results of "max effort, late 30s" ~ 20% worse than "max effort, overall career", this would suggest that Bonds was only trying at something like 60% or so of his personal capacity up till age 35. That is, if his observed late 30s totals, net of an inevitable 20% dropoff, were 40% better than his younger self, he must have previously only been trying at about 60% his personal capacity, assuming effort fully explains his observed late-30s results.

    No one knows how hard another person tries. In Bonds' case, by age 33 - having implicitly only tried at about 60% his personal capacity - he became the first (and surely only) member of the 400/400 club, and won his 8th Gold Glove. At (apparently) 60% capacity, Bonds became the Greatest Five-Tool Player Ever.

    If he naturally had the capacity to be 40% better still than the Best Player in History, why on earth wouldn't he have put forth that effort before 1999?

  18. Omar Vizquel, Omar Vizquel! Get rid of Rodriguez, start Smith instead, and have Vizquel be the backup defensive infielder.

  19. Dear Jonathan,

    My nephew Steve Northup sent me your all-time baseball teams.
    Excellent choices. Here's a link to
    Harry Northup's picks for All-Time Poets' Baseball Team

    Best wishes,

    Harry E. Northup

  20. Definitely Brett over Boggs, just in its own right, but also because Brett played something like 4-5 years at first base after Seitzer was called up to the Royals.

  21. In reading this, (and having recently read the True Story of Shoeless Joe Jackson) I wonder why no one mentioned him in their All-Dead team. Cobb and Lajoie of the same era (and team in Lajoie's case) were mentioned multiple times. Joe Jackson was the best of his era at fielding, throwing and hitting for average and power.
    He was screwed over by his team mates and that jerk Comiskey and falsely implicated in the 1919 Black sox scandal but he still holds several records. One being 12 hits in a WS (1919 in fact).


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