By In Stuff

The Wonder of Trout

Mike Trout is 25 years old and with his latest barrage — homering in four straight games — he just went over 50 wins above replacement for his career. You might not be a fan of WAR, but it’s still a meaningful moment because 50 WAR is just about where the Hall of Fame conversation begins.

By Fangraphs numbers, there have been 187 players in baseball history who finished their careers with 50-plus WAR. Most of them are in the Hall of Fame. Nine are on active rosters. They are:

  1. Albert Pujols, 91 WAR
  2. Miguel Cabrera, 68 WAR
  3. Carlos Beltrán, 68 WAR
  4. Chase Utley, 63 WAR
  5. Ichiro, 58 WAR
  6. David Wright, 53 WAR
  7. Matt Holliday, 51 WAR
  8. Mike Trout, 50 WAR
  9. Robinson Cano, 50 WAR

Now, obviously, all nine of them will not go to the Hall of Fame. Pujols, Cabrera and Ichiro have their tickets stamped, Beltrán I think will make it after some squabbling. Utley will be a divisive Hall of Fame candidate. Cano, I think, will go.

Wright and Holliday are both terrific players who are probably not quite Hall of Famers,  though Wright could get back in the picture if he could get healthy and have just a handful of good years.

But the point is not to prematurely talk Hall of Fame but instead to point out that 50 WAR is sort of a watershed moment, that invisible line where people begin thinking about legacy. Fifty WAR is a fantastic career. Hall of Famers Tony Lazzeri and Orlando Cepeda had 50 WAR. Hall of Famer Jim Rice had 51. Larry Doby, Enos Slaughter, George Sisler, these are all Hall of Famers in the range of 50 WAR.

And there are other superb players — Will Clark, Minnie Minoso, Jack Clark, Jimmy Wynn — who also compiled around 50 WAR but fell short of the Hall of Fame. I would say 50 WAR is just about where the discussion begins.

And Mike Trout is there at age 25.

By season’s end, he will probably have the highest WAR ever for a 25-year-old — only Mickey Mantle and Ty Cobb are ahead of him now. This is the craziest part about Trout; he has already had a Hall of Fame career and, if we are lucky, it has only just begun. We have never seen anything quite like him in the long history of baseball. He’s like Willie Mays but he walks more. He’s like Mickey Mantle but he steals bases. He’s like Ken Griffey Jr. but he hits for a higher average. He’s like Albert Pujols but fast enough to play centerfield.

There’s that expression you hear sometimes — a baseball player is so good that someday you will tell your grandchildren about him. Well, Trout is so good and so young that there’s no reason to wait. If you have grandchildren, go ahead, tell them about Mike Trout right now. Or find someone else’s grandchildren.

Win Talk

Over at Sports On Earth there is an interesting story where pitchers talk about what they think about the pitcher win. Some, like Kyle Hendrick, think it might go away. Others, like Clayton Kershaw, echo the thinking I’ve had about it lately which is that it’s not the most telling stat in the world but it has too much history and psychological power to disappear.

But the most fascinating comments came from Cubs manager Joe Maddon.

“I would say getting the win is always the end-all for a pitcher,” he said. “I would say 17 [wins] with a 4.00 [ERA] over 12 with a 2.00, they’ll take the 17 with a 4.00.”

Now, Joe Maddon is a interesting guy, a funny guy, a thoughtful guy. He’s also a bit of a jokester, which could play into the quote too. But, when all is said and done, he can’t possibly mean that a pitcher, even in theory, would take a 17-win season with a 4.00 ERA over a 12-win season with a 2.00 ERA. He can’t possibly believe that the 17-win pitcher helped his team win more even by allowing two runs more per nine innings. Something has to be lost in translation.

The thing the pitcher win has always had going for it, the thing that I believe gives the win so much power, is the name: “Win.” The idea of Major League Baseball, of course, is to win. The singular goal when starting the game is, of course, winning that game. And so somehow the pitcher win has become muddled up with an actual win even though the two are not at all the same thing.

A pitcher cannot “win” a game. A pitcher can use his talents and the defense behind him to prevent runs from being scored. That’s it. If a pitcher ever strikes out 27 batters and hits a home run for the only run of the game, yes, that pitcher actually “won” the game. Hasn’t happened yet. Never will happen. So the pitcher win is a very different thing from actually winning.

Here’s the easiest way to look at it:

In 1990, Bob Welch won 27 games with a 2.95 ERA.

That same year, Roger Clemens won only 21 games despite a 1.93 ERA.

Welch won the Cy Young Award. He finished ninth in the MVP voting. Welch won the oohs and ahhs of baseball fans across American — I mean, seriously, 27 wins!

Clemens was so much better than Welch that season, it’s hard to know where to even begin. By WAR he was between three and four times as good, depending on which version you prefer. He had 80 more strikeouts, 23 fewer walks, allowed 20 fewer hits, threw twice as many shutouts, and gave up 19 fewer home runs. He did this even though he pitched half his games at Fenway Park, which was a crazy hitting park that season, while Welch pitched his home games at Oakland Coliseum which was then, and remains today, a hitter’s tomb.

Welch got the credit because his team averaged 5.21 runs per game for him in a generally low-scoring year  — he won five games where he allowed four runs in seven innings or less, and he won another and another four games where he gave up three runs and did not pitch a complete game.

Clemens won one game where he allowed four runs and two more where he allowed three runs. So there’s your win difference. But in addition, Clemens had two no decisions where he did not allow any earned runs, and he lost a game when he pitched seven innings and allowed one run.

I don’t mean to relitigate the 1990 Cy Young voting but to just make the Maddon counterpoint. Pitchers unquestionably want the TEAM to win. In theory, a pitcher might say that for any single game they would rather give up four runs and win than two runs and lose, that makes sense. But the pitcher will win many, many, many fewer games giving up four runs than giving up two.

See, the win stat doesn’t work that way. ERA isn’t the perfect stat either but it’s WAY more important and telling than the pitcher win.

Updated PANCON

Time for our regular check on the Panic Condition or PANCON of some teams around baseball. We base PANCON on DEFCON, and here are the conditions:

PANCON 5: All is normal, the team is playing as expected.

PANCON 4: There is a little edginess, a few players talk about how everybody needs to “pick it up,” trade rumors float around, etc.

PANCON 3: There is palpable concern. Players-only meetings are called. The manager starts shifting lineups. Bullpens are shuffled around.

PANCON 2: Trouble — manager is on the hot seat, fans start a website, players start anonymously talking about how teammates must play harder, the clubhouse becomes an unhappy place.

PANCON 1: Full-scale panic. Manager gets fired. Players get traded. Fans give up hope.

And our update:

PANCON 1: Nobody.

PANCON 2: Nobody quite yet.

PANCON 3: Pittsburgh, Miami, San Diego.

The Pirates are the team to watch here. They are playing pretty terrible baseball — they’re last in the National League in runs scored, and that’s a pretty old lineup out there. Of course, everyone is watching Andrew McCutchen, who is hitting an atrocious .212/.288/.401.

Now, if you want a reason to hope with McCutchen — he has been a notoriously bad starter his whole career. He is a .252 lifetime hitter in April, some 50 points worse than he hits the other five months of the season. Even in his MVP season, he hit just .247/308/.423 in April. So there’s hope that he will warm up.

But coming off a tough 2016 season, it’s kind of scary with Cutch at the moment.

DEFCON 4: Kansas City, Toronto, Oakland, Mets, Philadelphia, Seattle, Atlanta, San Francisco and Washington.

The Royals and Blue Jays have played a bit better lately, moving them out of PANCON 3. But we’d like to welcome … the Washington Nationals! They have the best record in the National League and they’re STILL at PANCON 4 because of that staggeringly bad bullpen and because, well, these are bad times in Washington.

The Washington Wizards just lost Game 7 to Boston on Monday, the Capitals lost a Game 7 to Pittsburgh (again), and the Nationals have never won a single postseason playoff series. This Tweet from Dan Steinberg kind of saying it all:

So, yes, you kind of getting the feeling that the Nationals will be in PANCON 4 for the rest of the season. And that’s if things go well.

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46 Responses to The Wonder of Trout

  1. German Andrade says:

    ” This is the craziest part about Trout; he has already had a Hall of Fame career… and, if we are lucky, it has only just begun”.
    Not exactly – he needs to play for at least 10 seasons (he is in his 7th year) to qualify for HOF consideration and I am not sure if 40 games in 2011 count as a full season. I certainly hope he plays for 20+

    • Bryan says:

      To get 10 seasons, he could be unable to play due to injury, appear on Mike Trout appreciation day (Aug 7 or pick a day after Sep 1 to take advantage of extra roster space) as a pinch runner, receive a standing ovation, be replaced after the batter takes one pitch and that would count as playing a season. Brandon Webb is only 38 and could easily get 3 more seasons by that method if the 10 year rule was the only thing holding him out of the Hall of Fame.

    • David Hendrickson says:

      Being on the Opening Day roster counts as a full season. Check out Addie Joss, who IS in the HoF despite only playing in 9 seasons (1902-1910). The 10th, and “last”, season of his career (1911) he never played in a regular season game. He was given credit for a 10th season for the purposes of HoF voting.

      And, he had a really good explanation for playing 0 games that year: He was dead (died during spring training).

  2. Bryan says:

    WAR by Age 25 favors an early call-up, being healthy and not being a pitcher or serving in the military. First 846 games of career (Trout’s current count) for some of the best ever early career hitters since 1913:
    Babe Ruth: 337/466/697, 1.163 OPS, 210 HR
    Ted Williams: 350/486/646, 1.132 OPS, 190 HR
    Lou Gehrig: 339/441/631, 1.071 OPS, 167 HR
    Albert Pujols: 331/418/629, 1.047 OPS, 227 HR
    Frank Thomas: 324/450/597, 1.047 OPS, 199 HR
    Chuck Klein: 358/412/633, 1.045 OPS, 199 HR
    Joe DiMaggio: 345/407/625, 1.033 OPS, 202 HR
    Hank Greenberg: 323/415/611, 1.026 OPS, 193 HR
    Ralph Kiner: 286/405/581, .985 OPS, 241 HR
    Willie Mays: 315/389/593, .982 OPS, 203 HR
    Mickey Mantle: 310/417/564, .981 OPS, 183 HR
    Mike Trout: 308/407/565, .972 OPS, 180 HR
    Ryan Howard: 279/371/573, .944 OPS, 246 HR
    Information provided by Play Index.

    • Rob Smith says:

      Interestingly, I believe the Ruth numbers you show include the time he was primarily a pitcher.

      • Bryan says:

        Yes, pretty sure it includes games even if Ruth was the relief pitcher and didn’t bat. Tried Dave Stieb and his first 100 games he played 9 games and had 1 PA, his entire career is 13 games and 2 PA, so at least for a DH era pitcher it’s counting pitching only games in the Batting Game Finder.

    • Mark Daniel says:

      Interesting list.
      I took that list and added top 3 WAR seasons for each player. I did that because I know Trout has 2 seasons with a WAR over 10 (according to b-ref). Here are the top 3 WAR seasons for each player:

      Trout 10.8, 10.4, 9.3
      Ruth 14.1, 12.9, 12.4
      Williams 10.9, 10.9, 10.6
      Gehrig 11.8, 10.4, 9.6
      Pujols 9.7, 9.2, 8.7
      Thomas 7.3, 6.9, 6.9
      Klein 7.5, 6.6, 6.5
      DiMaggio 9.1, 8.2, 8.2
      Greenberg 7.7, 7.7, 7.1
      Kiner 8.3, 8.3, 8.1
      Mays 11.2, 11.0, 10.6
      Mantle 11.3, 11.2, 10.5
      Howard 5.2, 3.8, 3.1

      I don’t know what it means, other than speed and defense help contribute to WAR in a significant way. As an example, Trout’s 2012 season (10.8 WAR; 49 SBs) was better than Ted Williams 1941 season (10.6 WAR; .406/.553/.735).

      • Rob Smith says:

        Don’t forget the calculations that include park/league effects, etc. Williams played in a hitter friendly park, while Trout plays in a pitcher friendly park.

    • Master says:

      Getting an “early call-up” kinda sorta implies talent. Furthermore, Trout is a superior all-around talent to everyone you listed except for Mays and Mantle. And he’s right there with them.

  3. Rob Smith says:

    Below are Trout’s comps through last season (his 24 year old season)

    Mickey Mantle (960.6) *
    Ken Griffey (950.5) *
    Hank Aaron (926.7) *
    Frank Robinson (925.1) *
    Mel Ott (911.2) *
    Miguel Cabrera (911.2)
    Orlando Cepeda (905.9) *
    Vada Pinson (890.3)
    Al Kaline (888.3) *
    Jimmie Foxx (876.3) *

    The obvious player that doesn’t belong on this list is Vada Pinson. Of course he didn’t walk as much or hit as many HRs as Trout & really isn’t the best comp. But interestingly he did decline notably after his age 24 season. It doesn’t look like that’s going to happen with Trout.

    • Bryan says:

      The problem is that his career to date already having 811 games really limits the comparisons. Age 23-24 seasons and playing at least 100 games in CF since Ty Cobb ranked by OPS+:
      201 – Ty Cobb
      195 – Mickey Mantle
      175 – Mike Trout, Willie Mays
      174 – Tris Speaker
      171 – Ken Griffey Jr
      159 – Hank Aaron
      158 – Joe DiMaggio
      Aaron is high on the comp list because they are both awesome young baseball players but also because Aaron plays 732 games through Age 24, Trout 811, Mays 458 and Tris 616.

  4. kehnn13 says:

    I’m not sure which Reference you used Joe, but according to baseball reference, Ruth had over 50 WAR in his age 25 season as well (52.7).

  5. Cory says:

    They are playing pretty terrible baseball — they’re last in the National League in runs scored, and that’s a pretty old lineup out there

    Did you mean “odd” instead of “old”? The Pirates have two OFs on the roster right now, and one of them, Gregory Polanco, is injured. The other, McCutchen, is, well, you nailed it. Moreover, they have a bunch of young guys without any real position to constantly play: Frazier, Hanson, Ngoepe (good defensively at SS, but often has to play 2B, and can’t really hit), Jose Osuna, John Jaso playing OF, etc. Among regular position players, Bell, Hanson, and Osuna are under 24; Polanco and Frazier are 25. Harrison is 29, McCutchen and Mercer both 30. That’s not an old lineup.

    It’s also possible you meant BAD instead of old. That’s a pretty big typo, but its depressingly accurate.

    Now, Joe Maddon is a interesting guy, a funny guy, a thoughtful guy. He’s also a bit of a jokester

    Yeah, I remember that great joke he made after Chris Coghlan took out Jung Ho Kang, and Maddon remarked that Kang had plantar fasciitis. Hilarious! What a prankster.

  6. SDG says:

    So the question is why doesn’t Trout have Jeter fame? Both played in big cities. Is it just the championships? Because Posada never had Jeter fame either.

    • Bryan says:

      Because of the volume of media. Jeter is pretty much the last baseball star to get the pedestal treatment. Instead of SI, Game of the Week, This Week in Baseball and a small number of media outlets being able to focus a lot of attention on one player, Harper “finally” has a season that’s lived up to what seems like a decade of hype in 2015 and he’s “unquestionably” the best player in baseball, Miggy is the champion for a segment of the media who downplay Trout’s talent, maybe Betts is better than Trout, how much money is Machado going to make and so on.
      Joe Posnanski writes a cover story for SI about some mediocre at best fielder scraping his way to 3000 hits and it’s “The Moment, The Power (and Glory) of 3000 Hits” while S.L. Price writes a cover story for SI about one of the greatest players of all-time scraping his way to 3000 hits and it’s “Nothing dies pretty, Reputations, marriages, dream careers: They can sail for decades undented; even at 38, you can be all kinds of gorgeous. But the end? The end is pain, the pain is ugly”.
      Not all that long ago that would be one of the few available in depth looks at the career of either player and entire careers would be summarized .310 hitter with 5 rings vs .295 hitter with 1 ring. Now Trout needs to share the media attention with some guy who hit 10 RBIs in a game that would have been a tidbit in a sidebar in SI a mere 20 years ago.
      It’s absolutely fantastic for someone who follows the game, you can find out whatever you want about whatever player(s) and/or team(s) you want to know and get multiple perspectives on any issue. For Mike Trout it means if he struggles in August 2015 (1 HR in 29 games), there will be a dozen articles explaining why his career is on a downslide and the dozen players who deserve the title of best player in baseball now that Trout is cooked.

      • kehnn13 says:

        Two points to note when describing Jeter as a “mediocre at best fielder”

        1. Defensive War is based on league average defense, so a fielder who is roughly plus or minus 1 each season for Defensive War is right around league average.

        2. Shortstop is one of the hardest defensive positions to play. Is a league average defensive shortstop ever a “mediocre at best” fielder?

        • SDG says:

          As to your second point, yes. Jeter has a negative dWAR almost every year he played. He should not have been winning gold gloves.

          Piazza was an even better hitter than Jeter at an even harder defensive position, but everyone has called him a defensive liability and it’s a big part of his reputation (although fangraphs has said he’s actually an asset on the non-throwing-out-runners part of C defense). His bad defense was a punchline. No one ever said “but he plays an important defensive position!” as an excuse. Jeter should have been elsewhere on the field. Any other player would have been, especially when far-superior shortstop ARod joined Jeter’s team.

          It’s part of this weird phenomenon where Jeter is not just a good baseball player but some kind of exemplar of the American hero. Don’t get it. Never will get it.

          • kehnn13 says:

            Not speaking to Jeter vs ARod at short when he joined the Yankees but, in general, if you take all of the league average or thereabouts shortstops out of the position, you either run out of shortstops or you’re left with very bad offensive players… it isn’t like there are other shortstops out there who are better fielders and provide equivalent offensive output.
            I also don’t think most people thinks Gold gloves are indicative of anything more than a player’s popularity.
            Finally, calling Jeter “just a good baseball player” is over the top. he has the 7th best WAR among shortstops on the site I looked at, which is quite a bit better than just good (and WAR includes fielding).

          • Darrel says:

            We actually here much less of the kind of comment kehnn13 posted above when discussing Jeter these days. Pretty sure it’s because Yankee fans are now seeing what an honest to goodness major league shortstop looks like. Now when they watch the game they understand what non-yankee fans were saying about Jeter’s defense all along.

          • invitro says:

            “some kind of exemplar of the American hero. Don’t get it.” — Do you get why Yankee fans would consider Jeter an American hero? Just as a brief example, I don’t think Jeter is worshipped particularly differently than George Brett is in KC. The only difference is that there are a lot more Yankee fans, living all over the US (and world, probably).

          • SDG says:

            Invitro – This isn’t about Yankee fans (and all of baseball – this goes way beyong Yankees) seeing Jeter as a great player. This isn’t about praise for his ability to get on base, like KC fans feel about Brett. It isn’t even about that he does charity work or whatever. It’s this idea that Jeter is of some superior character, that he has this innate quality that makes him admirable for reasons beyond what he does on the field or even in his personal life. That what he does can’t be measured. That he’s some kind of clutch hero and true teammate and all the ridiculous sports cliches. That ARod is called a distraction and a baby for having his dating life all over the tabloids and no one ever touched Jeter for the exact same thing.

            I have nothing against the guy personally. Put together great ABs, never says anything stupid in public, seems to be trying to do something ambitious and interesting with his post-baseball life, maintained a high quality of play for a long time. I just don’t understand why the sports media talks about him in a way that’s usually reserved for war heroes. Why the NY tabloids that loved ripping into other big stars leave him alone.

      • ZekeBob says:

        “Miggy is the champion for a segment of the media who downplay Trout’s talent…”

        Was this intended to be a joke? The majority of media takes I’ve seen are of Joe’s ridiculous variety, denigrating Cabrera, implying his MVPs were robberies, etc.

        Everyone I’ve ever seen who argued for Miggy just said it was a close choice between two great picks and had nothing but praise for Trout, including acknowledging his superiority in the field and on the base paths.

        If anything, I would argue their main beef was with the bizarre assertion some writers had that Trout was the guaranteed better choice because of WAR. Pieces like this one that read more like a hagiography than an assessment don’t help.

        • Bryan says:

          5 voters felt Trout was more valuable than Miggy: Joe Posnanski, Bob Dutton, Tim Brown, Ken Rosenthal and Brendan Kennedy.
          1 voter felt Chris Davis was more valuable than Miggy: Bill Ballou
          1 voter felt Josh Donaldson was more valuable then Miggy: John Hickey
          25 voters felt Miggy was more valuable than Trout: everyone except the Top 5
          6 voters felt Davis was more valuable than Trout: Bill Ballou, Mel Antonen, Daryl Van Schouwen, Patrick Borzi, John Hickey and Jeff Wilson
          3 voters felt Donaldson was more valuable than Trout: John Hickey, Bill Ballou, Mel Antonen
          Mel Antonen also felt that David Ortiz (or Oritz) was more valuable than Trout
          Bill Ballou also felt that Robinson Cano, Adrian Beltre and Dustin Pedroia were more valuable than Trout
          I’m not clear on who is denigrating Miggy, all voters consider him one of the two most valuable players including Joe. Unless denigration is “should have been unanimous”.
          Here is Joe talking about Bill Ballou’s ballot: again I’m not clear on what you consider denigration, he examines the choices by Bill’s stated criteria and is most puzzled by Chris Davis meeting the contender status playing for a 9th place team while Mike Trout fails to meet contender status on a 10th place team and wondering why Ortiz and Longoria who are on playoff teams and by definition on contenders are behind Trout on Bill’s ballot and then riffs on the importance of the word Valuable.
          Ballou does get denigrated in some articles by my standards of denigration.
 – He was also listed 7th on the ballot of Bill Ballou of the Worcester Telegram & Gazzette, who should be publicly shamed for that.
          But generally they are polite about it – – “most interesting American League voters, with highlights” where Ballou places 2nd to Phil Rogers who places Kipnis 5th and Victorino 10th.

    • Doug says:

      It’s not just championships. He plays on the West Coast for a team that’s been mostly mediocre during his time there, and the one year they made the playoffs they got swept in the division series. I’m sure the fragmentation of media culture and the changing stature of baseball in America over the last 20 years doesn’t *help*, but it feels like this is a pretty classic case of a superstar in a moderately crummy situation.

      • SDG says:

        All true, but that also applies to Barry Bonds and Ken Griffey Jr. Both had the kind of fame that transcends the sport. And there have been other West Coast players more famous than Trout who aren’t as good.

        I assume Trout will sign a record-exploding contract for the Yankees the second he hits free agency, and maybe he will become more famous then. Probably still won’t reach Jeter levels though. I wonder if it reflects the state of baseball fandom in America – only makes the news when a player (or ex-player) does something awful.

        • MikeN says:

          Bonds and Griffey both had some success in the postseason. Griffey scoring from first was not routine.

      • Patrick says:

        This “Why isn’t Trout famous like Jeter?” question seems like a bizarre argument based on a few cherry-picked examples of specific media and fan adulation.
        Mike Trout is universally regarded as the best player in baseball. He’s been an all-star every year of his career, and was the elected started every year except the year where he wasn’t in the majors until the end of April. He’s got enough awards (MVPs, SS, AS MVP, ROY, Hank Aaron Award) to fill the mansion he could buy with the $34 million he’s going to start earning next season. He’s appeared on multiple SI covers, which, considering he’s yet to win a postseason game (and thus be featured in postseason covers) is pretty impressive. He’s talked about like a sure-fire HOFer, and you can already see articles popping up contemplating his place among the greatest ever:

        I mean, we’re crafting a pretty specific definition of famous if Mike Trout somehow doesn’t fit under its definition

        • Brett Alan says:

          The definition of famous is the usual one. Meaning NOT in the sports world per se. No one was saying he’s underrated. But he’s not a celebrity. He’s not on TV much, he doesn’t appear on the cover of People, he’s not hosting SNL. Jeter did those things. Just about every American, sports fan or not, knew who Jeter was, like they know who LeBron James is. Trout, not so much.

  7. Darrel says:


  8. invitro says:

    I’ve been awaiting another Trout update from Joe. It made me think of a question for you guys and gals. If you could have Trout or Theo Epstein working for your team, who would you pick? I ask, of course, because I’d take Epstein. Well, in my particular case of having the Astros as my favorite team, I’d take Trout because they’ve got GM’ing covered, but for most teams I’d take Epstein. Anyone else?

    • Pat says:

      Red Sox fan here: I would desperately want Theo Epstein. I don’t know why my team can’t get guys like that….

    • SDG says:

      Well, Epstein would figure out a way to get Trout :).

      I suppose there’s a tipping point based on how good your team is already. How many good players you already have, how many good prospects, before you decide if Trout is going to be the guy that puts you over the top. And on a practical level, better to load your team with Hall of Very Good players than have one or two superstars surrounded by the twine and old chewing gum that make up the current Mets roster.

  9. invitro says:

    “Now, Joe Maddon is a interesting guy, a funny guy, a thoughtful guy.” — It’s beside the point, but I’ve about come to the conclusion that Maddon’s success is chiefly because he lets the GM do the strategy part of the manager’s job. My main reason is what I read about Epstein choosing the pitching assignments for the World Series, and other articles I’ve read about Epstein in Chicago. Next is that book on the Devil Rays… I don’t remember the name, a Jonah Keri book? I didn’t finish it as it had too much about Wall Street guys and not enough baseball. Anyway, actually it’s probably mostly because I’ve long felt that if a baseball manager let smart math/stats guys do all the strategy, and just concentrated on motivating the players and doing the psychology thing, that manager would be very successful. And I want Maddon to be an example. 🙂 I don’t mean at all to denigrate what Maddon’s skills are as a baseball-people-person, which are clearly important and superb.

    Also, there was a Sports Illustrated article on the Cubs/World Series/Maddon/Epstein a few weeks ago, that had a picture of Maddon’s lineup card for WS Game 7. I *loved* seeing that — that kind of showing fans something interesting they’ve got no other way of seeing is superior sports journalism. Anyway, Maddon had written the initials of about a dozen eye-rolling “motivational phrases” all over it. I’m thinking, no way could a deep strategical mind rely on all that hocus-pocus psychobabble. 😉 Oh, here’s where you can view it too if you’re interested: … (I’m definitely reading this Verducci book on the 2016 Cubs, too.)

    • SDG says:

      Here’s the thing, though. If a manager was a great psychologist, a great people person, how would the average fan ever know? We attribute a great player to his own innate skills (or maybe a coach who taught him a specific technique) and we praise the GM for having the foresight to get that player. But the manager? We don’t see if, say, the manager fosters a culture of not taking conditioning seriously so a player gets injured a lot. Or a culture of playing through debilitating injuries and ruining a player long-term. Or if some managers really are able to get their players to focus and play hard every game and have the right spirit. How do we see that? How does anyone know? Plenty of players speak highly about managers the stats-focused fan thinks is an idiot, of managers that win, of managers that lose.

  10. Pat says:

    “If you have grandchildren, go ahead, tell them about Mike Trout right now. Or find someone else’s grandchildren.”

    I’m sorry, I’m just imagining one of Joe’s Brilliant Readers leaning into a baby perambulator to whisper, “Do you have any idea how good Mike Trout is?” about fifteen seconds before being dragged away by police.

  11. Bryan says:

    “I would say getting the win is always the end-all for a pitcher,” he said. “I would say 17 [wins] with a 4.00 [ERA] over 12 with a 2.00, they’ll take the 17 with a 4.00.”
    Team success vs next contract.
    Highest ERA with min 17 wins 2010-16:
    2015 Colby Lewis – 17 wins, 4.66 ERA – Texas 88-74, 1st AL West
    2010 Phil Hughes – 18 wins, 4.19 ERA – Yankees 95-67, 2nd AL East, Wild Card
    2016 David Price – 17 wins, 3.99 ERA – Boston 93-69, 1st AL East
    2010 Ervin Santana – 17 wins, 3.92 ERA – Angels 80-82, 3rd AL West
    2015 Collin McHugh – 19 wins, 3.89 ERA – Astros 86-76, 2nd AL West, Wild Card
    Lowest ERA with max 12 wins and min 25 starts 2010-16:
    2014 Chris Sale – 12 wins, 2.17 ERA – White Sox 73-89, 4th AL Central
    2013 Jose Fernandez (RIP) – 12 wins, 2.19 ERA – Marlins 62-100, 5th NL East
    2013 Matt Harvey – 9 wins, 2.27 ERA – Mets 74-88, 3rd NL East
    2010 Josh Johnson – 11 wins, 2.30 ERA – Marlins 80-82, 3rd NL East
    2014 Cole Hamels – 9 wins, 2.46 ERA – Phillies 73-89, 5th NL East
    Cole Hamels signed a contract for $150mil guaranteed in 2012 and couldn’t make any extra money until 2019 ($20mil to play vs $6mil buyout). Sale not going to get paid for that performance until 2018 ($12.5mil to play vs $1mil buyout) and still has to inspire enough confidence to get a long term contract in 2020 if he wants the big bucks relative to MLB standards. Johnson and Harvey got some nice arbitration boosts after those seasons and Jose Fernandez made about $2mil more than MLB minimum in 2016 and around MLB every other year of his career.
    Would Cole be happier with his pile of money being a mediocre pitcher with a bunch of wins which most likely means he’s on a playoff team but possibly a spot starter or moved to the bullpen? Is David Price happier with his $217mil contract and mediocre 2016 than his teammate Sale with his $32.5mil contract?

    • MikeN says:

      Thank you. It seems clear to me that pitchers would rather have the wins.
      How many pitchers make the Hall with an extra five wins a year while giving up 2 ERA?

      • invitro says:

        If the two cases have equal effects on their future salaries, sure, they’d rather have the wins… it means their team did better, and with Joe’s particular cutoffs, it should mean their team did dramatically better (with 17 wins & 4 ERA).

        But I can’t tell from what Bryan wrote if the two cases have equal effects on future salary. I would strongly expect that the 2 ERA would have a higher future salary… if the IP are equal in the two cases. Did I miss something?

        I was just wondering a couple days ago if anyone had ever done a study of how often a player takes less money to go with a better team (or just a different team for any reason). I wouldn’t expect it to happen much — does it? Any recent examples?

        • Bryan says:

          4 ERA is less money but assuming Cole Hamels plays well only in 2018 he will gets his 2019 option picked up, play well in 2019 to get a big money 2020 free agent contract. His 2014 performance is essentially meaningless to his salary.
          So if a genie offered Cole two options for 2014
          A) You get traded with Ryan Howard to the Dodgers as a salary dump, you’ll have a 4 ERA and win 17 games and the team goes to the playoffs
          B) You stay in Philly with a 2.46 ERA, 9 wins and you finish last in the NL East
          If Cole was a free agent in 2015, I’m positive he wants to pitch well in 2014 since it would cost him a lot of money. Instead he can’t be a free agent until 2020. I really don’t know if he would pick A or B, it’s possible in that set of circumstances Joe Maddon is correct and Cole would prefer the Dodger scenario.
          I’m positive Harvey or Johnson who were poor by MLB Ace pitcher standards would want to pitch well and get those arbitration raises but once a pitcher has financial security like David Price it can’t suck that much to get a bunch of wins with a high ERA. Ideally Price wants to pitch well in Boston, but would he want to pitch well for a 100 loss team over his current situation, that’s not as clear cut.

          • MikeN says:

            So you think the front offices are so thoroughly competent throughout baseball that big win high ERA pitchers won’t get big contacts now?

      • Patrick says:

        To respond to both of your points:

        1. A lot of pitchers probably make the Hall with an extra five wins a season. That’s 50 wins if you pitch the minimum number of seasons to qualify, and more like 70-100 if you have a HOF type career. I can’t think of too many pitchers for whom that wouldn’t make them look impressive. But while we can find extreme examples on an individual season basis of a great ERA not resulting in a lot of wins and vice versa. It’s pretty rare to find a career with that.

        2. I think big win pitchers have their health (it’s hard to win 18+ games unless you’re making 30+ starts) and health is a very valuable commodity today. But I think if given the choice between an 18-win 100 ERA+ guy and an 13-win 130 ERA+ guy and the same number of starts, the teams will take the latter.

  12. Geoff Williams says:

    Hi Joe

    Big fan. Minor point, Adrian Beltre is an active player (albeit on the DL) with over 50 Fangraphs WAR.

    I ran the same fangraphs search and it excluded him too

    He’s a clear cut active HOF too, as you have stated

    • invitro says:

      Good catch. And Joe didn’t include pitchers… the ones with 50 Fangraphs WAR are Sabathia, Kershaw, Verlander, and Colon.

      The bb-ref list has a fair number of differences:
      1. Albert Pujols (17, 37) 100.9 R
      2. Adrian Beltre (19, 38) 90.0 R
      3. Carlos Beltran (20, 40) 70.0 B
      4. Miguel Cabrera (15, 34) 69.6 R
      5. Chase Utley (15, 38) 64.1 L
      6. Robinson Cano (13, 34) 63.7 L
      7. Ichiro Suzuki (17, 43) 59.6 L
      8. CC Sabathia (17, 36) 58.8 L
      9. Zack Greinke (14, 33) 56.5 R
      10. Clayton Kershaw (10, 29) 56.2 L
      11. Ian Kinsler (12, 35) 54.3 R
      12. Felix Hernandez (13, 31) 51.6 R
      13. Mike Trout (7, 25) 51.1 R
      14. Cole Hamels (12, 33) 51.0 L
      15. Dustin Pedroia (12, 33) 50.9 R
      16. Justin Verlander (13, 34) 50.4 R
      17. Joe Mauer (14, 34) 50.1 L
      18. David Wright (13, 34) 50.0 R

      I don’t know if the HoF discussion really starts at 50 WAR. Maybe 55 WAR. I don’t read much baseball news, but I can’t remember anyone here talking about Kinsler as a HoFer. Is he? Is he close? He seems a long way off to me.

  13. DB says:

    I think it really starts at 60. According to B-R, it looks like there are 126 players between 50 and 60 (182-308). Most of them not in the Hall. Once, you hit 65, you are basically in other than those criminally underrated players like Randolph and Evans. Then you have the PEDs, etc. guys or guys that are not yet eligible or active. That is why Mussina and Schilling are such outliers. 70 or higher, you should have made the Hall. Other than Dahlen and McCormick all are pretty recent guys, Mussina, Schilling, Grich, Trammell, Whitaker, Reuschel, Walker. Interesting to see what happens to Rolens.

    • Bryan says:

      Baseball-reference pitching WAR only for pitchers and only position player WAR for Babe Ruth who is over 100 either way anyways.
      BBWAA inducted 5 players who debuted before 1901 based on how they played in the 20th century, then it was clarified that the BBWAA was only to vote on players who debuted in the 20th century. Cy Young 170.1, Christy Mathewson 95.4, Honus Wagner 130.9, Nap Lajoie 107.4 and Willie Keeler 53.8. Keeler is a really odd inclusion considering the BBWAA had only elected 9 players when they elected Keeler and two other players in 1939. Keeler’s .341 average and 495 stolen bases got more votes than most notably Roger Hornsby’s .358 average and 301 HR.
      (% elected by BBWAA who have been eligible) Debut after 1901, still either pitching or position player WAR only:
      (92%) 100+ WAR – 22 elected by BBWAA, Bonds and Clemens on ballot, A-Rod and Pujols not yet on ballot
      (100%) 90-99.9 WAR – 11 elected by BBWAA, Beltre not yet on ballot
      (82%) 80-89.9 WAR – 14 elected by BBWAA, Eddie Plank elected by Old Timer’s, Schilling and Mussina on ballot, Chipper not yet on ballot
      (100%) 75-79.9 WAR – 6 elected by BBWAA, Pete Rose not elected
      (53%) 70-74.9 WAR – 9 elected by BBWAA, Arky Vaughan, Johnny Mize and Ron Santo elected by Veteran’s, Larry Walker on ballot, Thome, Jeter and Beltran not yet on ballot, Lou Whitaker, Alan Trammell, Rafael Palmeiro and Bobby Grich not elected
      (58%) 65-69.9 WAR – 19 elected by BBWAA, Red Faber, Stan Coveleski, Pee Wee Reese and Goose Goslin elected by Veteran’s, Manny and Edgar on ballot, Halladay, Rolen and Miggy not yet on ballot, Luis Tiant, Rick Reuschel, Kevin Brown, Graig Nettles, Buddy Bell, Dwight Evans, Willie Randolph and Kenny Lofton not elected
      (39%) 60-64.9 WAR – 11 elected by BBWAA, Ed Walsh elected by Old Timer’s, Jim Bunning, Hal Newhouser, Richie Asburn, Zack Wheat and Home Run Baker elected by Veteran’s, Sheffield on ballot, Pettitte, Andruw, Helton, Abreu, Cano and Utley not yet on ballot, Tommy John, David Cone, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Ken Boyer, Willie Davis, Sal Bando, Reggie Smith, Keith Hernandez, Mark McGwire and Jim Edmonds not elected
      (25%) 55-59.9 WAR – 8 elected by BBWAA, Mordecai Brown elected by Old Timer’s, Eppa Rixey, Joe Gordon and Enos Slaughter elected by Veteran’s, Vladimir Guerrero and Sammy Sosa on ballot, Mariano Rivera, Tim Hudson, Mark Buehrle, CC Sabathia, Johnny Damon, David Ortiz and Ichiro Suzuki not yet on ballot, Eddie Cicotte, Jack Quinn, Jerry Koosman, Frank Tanana, Dave Stieb, Bret Saberhagen, Chuck Finley, Sherry Magee, Bob Johnson, Jim Wynn, Joe Torre (as a player), Dick Allen, Bobby Bonds, Darrell Evans, Chet Lemon, Will Clark, Robin Ventura and John Olerud not elected
      (18%) 50.54.9 WAR – 9: Early Wynn, Sandy Koufax, Whitey Ford, George Sisler, Bill Terry, Mickey Cochrane, Gabby Hartnett, Tony Perez and Kirby Puckett elected by the BBWAA, Joe Tinker elected by Old Timer’s, Waite Hoyt, Harry Hooper, Max Carey, Joe Sewell, Sam Rice, Billy Herman, Bobby Doerr and Orlando Cepeda elected by Veteran’s, Fred McGriff and Jeff Kent on ballot, Jamie Moyer, Johan Santana, Cole Hamels, Justin Verlander, Felix Hernandez, Zack Greinke, Clayton Kershaw, Lance Berkman, Jason Giambi, Torii Hunter, David Wright, Mark Teixeira, Joe Mauer, Dustin Pedroia, Ian Kinsler and Mike Trout not yet on ballot, 30 not elected
      (6%) 45-49.9 WAR – 4: Hoyt Wilhelm, Ralph Kiner, Jim Rice, Lou Brock elected by the BBWAA, Johnny Evers elected by Old Timer’s, Addie Joss, Burleigh Grimes, Dave Bancroft, Edd Roush, Kiki Cuyler, Heinie Manush, Tony Lazzeri, Earl Averill, Ernie Lombardi, Larry Doby and Nellie Fox elected by Veteran’s, Roy Oswalt, Bartolo Colon, Omar Vizquel, Miguel Tejada, Jimmy Rollins, Evan Longoria and Joey Votto not yet on ballot, 46 not elected
      BBWAA also elected Herb Pennock 44.3, Dizzy Dean 42.7, Rich Gossage 41.9, Bob Lemon 37.3, Catfish Hunter 36.5, Rollie Fingers 25.1, Bruce Sutter 24.5, Rabbit Maranville 42.8, Pie Traynor 36.1 and Roy Campanella 34.2
      Information provided by Play Index

  14. shagster says:

    Defcon -Pancon bit needs … .

    What’s nice about the Trout numbers story, and this also comes across in Joe’s note about Brett and the 10 RBI’s, is that the numbers now allow folks to get past the ‘NY centric’ media hype of ordinary things. We can see ‘some player out in Milwaukee’ for his/her excellence at a time the media’s hyping the latest up and coming mediocrity for ‘Stanks,
    Sox, Mets, etc. simply BC that’s the story closest to where the reporters take their coffee.

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