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Yo Joe! Scouting Reports and LeBron

Here is my annual plug where I ask you to take part in Tom Tango’s superb 2014 Fan Scouting Report, where you do the baseball reports. I’ll have more to say about these in the coming days, but these scouting reports have been pretty remarkable the last few years. They have broken all sorts of ground and broke ground on things like Andrelton Simmons defense long before that information was mainstream. You probably believe you know your baseball team as well as anyone — and you do. Fill out a report on your team, it’s really a lot of fun.

From Brilliant Reader Brett:

Yo Joe! Is everyone really starting their emails to you with “Yo Joe!” now, or are you adding that in when you write up your posts. Either way, shouldn’t it, grammatically, be “Yo, Joe!”?


Yo Joe! I’m not sure.

From Brilliant Reader Andrew:

Yo Joe! I’ve been wondering something about measuring defensive value. Since current defensive metrics are based on watching video of every defensive play, how do we measure defensive WAR for players before this was possible? What criteria do we use to judge the defensive value of players from, say, the 1910s other than opinions from the times? Because it seems as if we didn’t have video to challenge conventional wisdom, then players like Derek Jeter or Torii Hunter would have been immortalized as all-time defensive greats.


A few people have asked me something along these lines … there’s a long answer that I will try to get to at some point here. The short answer is that there a couple of ways, using game data and play-by-play data, that some smart people use to estimate defensive value of older players. Even for players going back 100 or so years we do have SOME THINGS to use — putouts, assists, innings played, etc.

Quick point about Torii Hunter — Defensive WAR and the Dewan Plus-Minus has been very inconsistent on him but the numbers show him to be a fantastic outfielder in his prime, from 2001-2005 or so. I think with Hunter, when people still call him a great defender, there’s something else at wor,. Many people tend to believe defensive skill is much more consistent skill than offensive skill, and that defenders age better than hitters. Neither is probably true, though that debate rages on.

From the great Alan Sepinwall:

Yo Joe! By going back to Cleveland to start over with an untested new supporting cast, LeBron probably gave up his shot of equaling or passing Jordan’s number of championships. But would bringing the city of Cleveland its first title in any of the four major sports since 1964 be considered such a huge accomplishment that sports historians may give it the weight of multiple championships? i.e., if LeBron retires with only, say, 4 rings, but at least 1 of those was in a Cleveland uniform, is there a chance he could ever be considered MJ’s equal (if not superior)? And if not, what would a present or future NBA player need to do to nudge ahead of MJ in history?


Well, of course, I would give a Cleveland title the weight of 15 championships so LeBron would pass Russell in my book. But I do think LeBron has a chance to do something Jordan did not — that is take two different teams to a championship. I’m as big a Jordan fan as you can find, and I consider him the money player I would want playing for my soul. I would also say that repeating as champion is very hard, doing it three years in a row is spectaculalry hard, having two threepeats is insane.

But that was a great Bulls team Jordan won with, a team with another Top 50 player, with amazing role players, and later with one of the greatest rebounders and defenders in NBA history. The Bulls were far and away the best team at the start of every season (largely because of Jordan). Jordan’s brilliance came from leading that team and staying motivated long after there seemed anything else to prove.

Meanwhile, LeBron is starting anew for the third time. He carried a supremely untalented Cleveland team to the Finals. He led an amazing Miami team to four straight Finals and two championships. He is now starting with a different Cleveland team that has talent but has done nothing. The Jordan-LeBron argument will be fascinating as time goes on but if he leads Cleveland to a couple of championships, I don’t think the “Jordan was a better winner” argument will hold much value.

From Brilliant Reader Jeff:

Yo Joe! I’ve been reading ‘Yo Joe!’ lately and you mentioned David Eckstein as a player who overachieved.
This led me to look at his career WAR on Baseball Reference and I started looking at the top of the list.
I noticed every eligible position player in the top 50 career all-time WAR leaders was in the hall of fame with the exception of:

1.       Pete Rose (we know why),
2.       Bill Dahlen, and
3.       Lou Whitaker.

I wanted to ask, who was Bill Dahlen? Why hasn’t he made the hall of fame?


Bad Bill Dahlen was a shortstop who played in the 1890s and 1900s in Chicago and New York — he was called “Bad Bill” because he had a vicious temper, and because he did not mind getting thrown out of games so he could get to the track. He battled alcoholism throughout his career but was still considered one of the great defensive players of his day. He wasn’t a bad hitter either — he led the National League in RBIs in 1904 and had what looks like a fantastic season in 1894.*

*Then, 1894 was one year after the distance between the mound and plate was stretched to 60 feet, 6 inches and pitchers were not ready for that. Four players hit .400 that year.

That said, yes, we have to take his WAR with a truckload of salt — he had his best years before the turn of the century, meaning before there was even an American League, when the rules were in flux and the game was rough and tumble. There has been a little bit of Bill Dahlen Hall of Fame consideration through the years but it has never really taken off.

From Brilliant Reader Frank:

Yo Joe! My wife says our son cannot play football. I’ve looked at the evidence and it is the sensible and reasonable position to keep children away from football. But I let him eat sugar in horrifying quantities, which I understand is what will give him diabetes and cancer. Sometimes I let him drive in the car with his head out of the sun roof. I go slow. Sort of. But he does ride in a car a lot, which is extremely dangerous on a statistical level. Does any of that even matter? I’m saying no football. Until he starts crying and begging and which time I plan to cave in and let him do whatever he wants.


Sounds sensible.

From Brilliant Reader Gary:

Yo Joe! With regard to the chat about eliminating a baseball player every inning of extra innings… I always thought this is what soccer should do in extra time, get rid of the stupid penalty kicks, start the overtime with 10 on a side, every 10 minutes take another player off, things would get settled real soon with that much open space.


I’m all for any rule change in any sport that puls players in penalty boxes. In tennis, I think if one of the doubles players hits the net, she should be in the penalty box for two points and her partner should have to play solo.

From Brilliant Reader Walton:

Whatever happened to Bill James’ Win Shares that he introduced in the 2nd edition of his Historical Baseball Abstract? I thought the concept made a lot of sense, but it seems to have completely lost out to WAR. Sort of like BetaMax vs. VHS, in my opinion.


I know Bill has had done quite a bit of reconsidering on Win Shares — he tends to use Win-Loss Shares now when doing some of his research, though he has not shared much of that data. i think Win Shares are still valuable, and I use them in conjunction with WAR. But WAR has definitely made the mainstream jump — largely I think because of the amazing work of Baseball Reference and Fangraphs in making those stats searchable and useful.

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26 Responses to Yo Joe! Scouting Reports and LeBron

  1. DJ MC says:

    Joe, you definitely should see about getting Sepinwall and Schur together for a Poscast with some sort of mega, three-way draft about TV. Could be something traditional like sitcoms or dramas (or shows overall). Maybe something more silly like theme songs. Or even off the rocker completely like game-show hosts.

    I’d probably listen to that one on repeat for a good two weeks.

  2. In regards to letting you son play football, I didn’t have a hard “no” on it, but I certainly never encouraged it. I’ve never been a fan of the injuries and the macho culture of some of the football teams I was involved with as a kid. My younger son played one year (in 6th grade), with vigor (if not real skill), but the coach decided he was too small and benched him towards the end of the season (benching a kid completely is crazy in youth ball btw). That little discouragement caused him to quit. Coaches can be real idiots & not understand how their efforts can turn a kid off to a sport really quick. But, in this case, the idiot coach did me a favor. No more football! Now he’s a 6’2″ athletic beast and the football coaches are after him every year to play wide receiver or defensive back. But, he won’t. He’s already settled on his sports (Basketball & Soccer). So, problem solved without a fight!!

    I really hope the emailer was joking about letting his son stick his head out of the sun roof from a moving car. If he’s not joking, someone needs to smack him upside the head. Irresponsible parenting is never funny. Good parents don’t care if their kids whine and cry. They do the right thing, especially where safety is involved & seat belts/car seats in a car are just non-negotiable. Eventually the kids figure out mom and dad aren’t going to cave & the whining stops.

    • Jake Bucsko says:

      I am often astounded by the lack of negativity and personal attacks in this comment section as opposed to almost any other comment section, but I have to say…BR Frank is kind of an asshole.

      Qualifier: what I got from his email was that he was sarcastically saying that his son should be able to play football despite its dangers because of the similar danger of eating lots of sugar and riding in cars. If this is so, man, you are some kind of jerk. If I misinterpreted, then my apologies.
      (aside: remember in the 70s when people used to call Franco Harris soft for running out of bounds and avoiding contact? Maybe he was onto something)

    • MikeN says:

      I wouldn’t have a problem letting my son stick his head out of a moving car. I wouldn’t say seat belts and car seats are nonnegotiable either. The benefit for those items on an instance by instance basis are simply negligible. As for car seats, those mandates are there primarily for the benefit of car seat manufacturers. They are even trying to get a regulation that they have to be installed by professional installers.

      • Frog says:

        Don’t understand your comment about seat belts not being beneficial instance to instance. If you mean most of the time they are not needed? – i.e. most of the time you are not in a crash, well that’s true. But you can’t plan for the instance when you are in crash. If we knew that we were going to be T-boned by an inattentive driver at the intersection near the ball ground on this coming Saturday morning that would be great and we’d make sure we stop just before that road, make sure no one has their head ot the roof, make sure everyone is buckled up, probably, and then proceed. If we knew.

        • MikeN says:

          Yea, roughly what I’m saying. The chances of a seat belt being beneficial on a particular trip are extremely small. Or I should say, the seat belt is beneficial, but the amount of benefit is extremely small.

          Now if the post above is saying there is some additional problem with having the head out of the car other than not being buckled in, I’d like to know.

          • Brett Alan says:

            But that’s crazy. Yes, the chances of it being beneficial on one given trip are small, but if it’s needed, the benefit is extremely large–it can literally be the difference between life and death, or movement and paralysis.

          • MikeN says:

            You can say that about a lot of things. You are letting a highly flammable material into your house that could blow up at any moment?

  3. Jake Bucsko says:

    I really wish we’d just leave the Jordan/LeBron thing alone. I know nobody will, and it’s a hallmark of sports discussion to compare current greats to past ones, but it’s just unfair to LeBron.

    Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player who has ever lived. Some may make the argument for Russell because of the 11 titles in 13 years, but given that there were only 8 teams in the league for much of his run, his 11 titles are just as, maybe even less, impressive as Jordan’s 6.

    Saying that LeBron isn’t as good a winner or whatever as MJ is true. He’s not and never will be. This is not an insult! Saying that he’s not the greatest player ever is true of literally everyone who isn’t MJ. There’s no shame in being one of the 5 best players ever. Nothing LeBron does in Cleveland can make him the GOAT. That ship has sailed.

    • Adam says:

      Positions like this are exactly why there will continue to be this debate. And your position is demonstrably false. If, over the next five years in Cleveland, LeBron wins 5 titles and has averages of: 70 regular season wins/yr, 30 pts, 10 rebounds, 11 assists, 3 steals, and 2 blocks, while starting every single game and hitting a last second game winning shot in half of his team’s NBA Finals wins (the other half being blowouts) then he would absolutely pass Jordan. Is he likely to do that? No. Is it possible. Sure.

      • Jake Bucsko says:

        Adam. That is not possible.

        Unless you also want to allow for the “possibility” that Mike Trout surpasses Babe Ruth by hitting .400 every year for a decade while averaging 80 HRs a year.

        Or the possibility that Joaquin Phoenix wins Best Actor every year for the next 5 years straight to become the greatest actor ever.

        You suggesting insane numbers and situations that are more than just “not likely” but in fact “impossible” is not proof that my position is false.

        • Adam says:

          I do not think the word impossible means what you think it means.

          • Jake Bucsko says:

            I appreciate the Princess Bride quote, but for all intents and purposes, it is impossible. It is technically possible that Jennifer Lawrence will show up at my house tonight carrying a briefcase of money and two plane tickets to Hawaii, but it is so far out of the realm of likelihood that it may as well be impossible.

    • invitro says:

      Actually, Wilt Chamberlain is the greatest basketball player ever. And Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is #2. If you look at their stats, and know the history of the NBA, you would know this. 🙂

      Jordan is I think the best guard ever, and there’s no shame in that.

      LeBron and Chris Paul round out the top five. The second team: David Robinson, George Mikan, Magic Johnson, Jerry West, and Charles Barkley.

      • Jake Bucsko says:

        I was going to make a snarky comment about how much I know and how much you know about “the history of the NBA, but then you followed up with Chris Paul being the 5th best player ever and threw in David Robinson and Barkley over Tim Duncan (and about a couple dozen others) and I just shrugged.

    • MikeN says:

      You can’t say LeBron will never be as much a winner as MJ. Jordan did not reach a finals until his 7th year in the league. LeBron reached one in his 4rd year. Then 4 straight finals with two wins. On top of that he had the #1 seed twice and took the champs to 7 games another year. Jordan won one playoff series his first four seasons. Then lost in the conference finals to the champs twice.

      At that point, the careers of LeBron 2010 and MJ are not that far off. Especially with Jordan throwing away a 2-1 lead against the Pistons by going into ballhog mode in 89.

  4. ajnrules says:

    Bill Dahlen’s path to the Hall of Fame is stronger than you may think. He finished fourth in the pre-integration committee VC voting for 2013, but came two votes off from election. Barring any changes to veteran’s voting he stands a good chance at getting inducted alongside Ken Griffey Jr

  5. David says:

    Two things.

    First, in regard to football, yes, you are going to make some choices that are bad for your kid. Does that mean that you should make ALL choices that are bad for your kid? Sure, you feed your kid copious quantities of sugar; should you also give him heroin, meth, and a case of beer to polish it off? There’s nothing wrong with saying “no” to some things and not to others. It’s not inconsistency; it’s good parenting.

    Second, in regard to Win Shares, there are many problems. First, without loss shares, there’s a real problem. Second, the defensive component was BRILLIANT for its time. However, in the meantime, it’s become apparent that, with Win Shares’ defensive analysis (and offensive, actually, though it’s less of a big deal there, for reasons I’d care not to explain), you CAN’T go negative. That is to say, Dave Kingman (or feel free to insert any other crummy defender you choose), according to Win Shares, NEVER hurt his team defensively. That is a problem. Thankfully, once you add in loss shares, that kind of disappears. The problem is that the various versions of WAR already came and usurped Win Shares. Now it’s fighting from behind, and I can’t see that it’s compelling enough to topple WAR.

  6. Matt Schlichting says:

    Never knew about the Fan Scouting Report. That was fun. Although this is depressing and accurate:

    It will be very, very interesting to see what the Indians do with Lindor and Ramirez.

    • MCD says:

      It’s always interesting to look at what other fan bases think of their teams. Does Yan Gomes *really* have better sprint speed than Asdrubal Cabrera and David Murphy, or did Indians fans not heed the “DO NOT CONSIDER THE POSITION THE PLAYER PLAYS!” warning?

  7. Lyle Spatz says:

    This is from my 2004 bio of Dahlen:According to BillJames’s compilations, there are thirty position players in baseball history who had 400 or more Win Shares and are now eligible for the Hall of Fame. All thirty are in the Hall. Additionally, there are twelve position players in history who had 375 to 399 Win Shares and are eligible for the Hall of Fame. Eleven of the twelve are in the Hall. The lone exception in the 375-399 Win Share category is Bill Dahlen. Tommy McCarthy, with 170 Win Shares is in the Hall of Fame; Bill Dahlen, with 394 Win Shares, is not.
    James has also suggested that one Hall of Fame criterion should be whether the player was, in any season, the best in the game at his position. Dahlen meets that test in multiple seasons. James gives Dahlen his highest rating for defensive wins as a shortstop, an A+, the same as Honus Wagner, Ozzie Smith, Mark Belanger, and Dave Concepcion. Dahlen ranks in the top ten in nine of 11 fielding categories (Ozzie Smith is in seven).
    Remember, when Dahlen’s active career ended, in 1909, he had played in more games (2,444) than anyone in major league history, a record he held until Wagner passed it in 1915. He also stood second in walks and in total plate appearances, and in the top ten in runs batted in, extra base hits, singles, and stolen bases. Dahlen stole at least twenty bases in fifteen different seasons, including a high of sixty in 1892. Additionally, he ranked 11th in runs, hits, doubles, and total bases, and 13th in triples and home runs. Dahlen was first man to play 2,000 games at shortstop and the first to compile 2,000 hits at the position.
    Dahlen’s Total Player Rating, as judged by Total Baseball VII, is 51.1, a score that is 31st among all major leaguers and 24th among non-pitchers. It is the highest rating for anyone not in the Hall of Fame, and obviously higher than may who are already members. Among those position players whom Dahlen ranks ahead of are Joe DiMaggio, Carl Yastrzemski, Robin Yount, Roberto Clemente, Charlie Gehringer, Ed Delahanty, and Reggie Jackson.
    Granted, Dahlen does not compare with any of these men offensively. A good portion of his high ranking is due to his superb abilities at shortstop. As mentioned earlier, only one shortstop from any era – Rabbit Maranville – has exceeded Dahlen’s total putouts, and just two—Ozzie Smith and Luis Aparico– have topped him in total assists. By Total Baseball’s measurements of Fielding Runs, Dahlen prevented more runs from scoring than any shortstop ever, and more than anyone at any position, except Nap Lajoie and Bill Mazeroski.
    Dahlen “is not only one of the best players not in the Hall of Fame, but he’s certainly better than at least fifty players already in it,” said John Thorn, the co-author with Pete Palmer of the first seven editions of Total Baseball. That was in 1994, the year the Veterans Committee voted former Yankee shortstop Phil Rizzuto into Cooperstown. Like many of us, Thorn believed that admitting Rizzuto while denying admission to Dahlen was a gross injustice. “The problem with the veterans committee is that their knowledge of the game’s history only coincides with their own connection with the game. There’s not anyone alive who remembers when Dahlen played,” reasoned Thorn.

    • Brian says:

      Regarding Tommy McCarthy, should we start considering his presence in the HOF more of a ceremonial one for “inventing” the hit and run much like we do Candy Cummings’s for his supposed “invention” of the curveball? That makes much more sense than trying to figure out how he got in based on his numbers.

  8. Mark Daniel says:

    Regarding defensive stats, BR Andrew asks about defensive metrics as measured by people watching video and tracking defense. Is that how they do it? They watch video? What video? The TV broadcast? How do they know where the fielder is positioned? Or does fielder positioning not matter?

    • J Hench says:

      Really good article on FanGraphs about this recently (ummm…here:, but short answer is, right now, no. Defensive stats are focused on the outcome (is a potential play in a particular area made or not made). Where a player is positioned might help or hinder him in making a play, but if, in the end, the play is made, that’s what matters. If a player’s positioning enables him to turn more balls hit into his zone into outs, isn’t that something you’d the defensive stats to capture?

      The increased use of shifting does create problems, and everyone is eagerly hoping for the release of Fieldf/x, which should have positioning data and a host of other details (how hard the ball is hit, vector, etc.) so that video review becomes less relied on.

  9. KHAZAD says:

    Damn, I miss Win Shares! Was it the most scientific stat? Not really, but they don’t all have to be. We can still keep track of things that are not perfect. We still talk about pitchers wins and saves for pete’s sake. We use OPS+ and ERA+, not because they are perfect, but because they are easy to read and give you an instant sense of that players value. Not a perfect one, but it still gives you a good idea.

    One of the best things about win shares was it’s simplicity. You don’t need loss shares or wins above bench or anything like that. If you want to get complicated or try to make it perfect, there is WAR and other readily available stuff to look at. If you want to complain that a below replacement level player gets a positive value, remember that they get less (for their playing time) than an above replacement level player, and that a below replacement level team would still win some games.

    Looking at the historical totals was fun, but I really liked looking at different years and seeing who the top totals were, and I liked doing comparisons on players in different eras on my team, and seeing newer guys moving up the all time list, both overall and for my team list. There should still be a place where we would be able to look at this.

  10. mrhonorama says:

    A few observations re: Michael vs. Lebron:

    1. It’s not always explicitly stated about Lebron, but I think the perception among some fans is that for all of his talent and accomplishment, he’s never maxed out his talent. I don’t mean this in the way you’d look at a real underachiever, but I sometimes watch Lebron and wonder if he has truly tapped into his gifts fully. In particular, even though he posts up now more than ever, I still don’t think he posts up enough — in the half court, with his skills, that’s where he should be dominating. Of course, he’s great on the perimeter too, but I don’t think he presents the same match up challenge. I think Lebron has a tremendous basketball IQ, but he should post up much more. His teams would benefit.

    2. It’s interesting to hear about how talented MJ’s Bulls teams were, because in the years immediately after the run of six titles, I’d often read (or hear) so-called experts saying the Bulls teams were not as good as some previous iteration of the Lakers or Celtics. In some ways, this was true — the Bulls didn’t have as many Hall-of-Famers as certain of those legendary franchises most talented squads. But those Bulls teams were very well put together.

    3. One area where Jordan, so far, has it all over Lebron is iconic moments. The Shot in Cleveland, the switching hands in the first Bulls championship versus the Lakers, the Shrug against the Blazers, the flu game, his final shot as a Bull to beat the Jazz (after hitting the penultimate basket on a quick layup and then stripping Karl Malone of the ball on defense to set up his game winner). Lebron has done many amazing things on the court, but they haven’t been so precisely encapsulated. In the end, this shouldn’t make a difference in evaluating, once all is said in done, who was the greatest player, but it naturally colors people’s thinking.

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