Yo Joe! Getting to the heart

Happy September 9. On this day 15 years ago, Cal Ripken hit into his 329th career double play, breaking Henry Aaron’s record. There’s a very good chance that, before he’s done, Albert Pujols will pass Ripken.

From Brilliant Reader Ryan:

Yo Joe! Is it your intention to work the phrase "gets to the heart of" into every blog post? I'm considering turning into a one-man drinking game.

Joe:

I have no idea what you’re talking about.

From Brilliant Reader Chris:

Yo Joe! I’m OK with a lot of the newer stats but think WAR is dumb.
I’ve never seen an answer to these questions:
1) what or who exactly is a replacement player?
give me a name if possible, someone who represents that perfectly.
2) what would a team’s record be if it had 25 guys like that?

Joe:

I think people (and I’ve fallen for this) get too caught up in the theoretical “Who is a replacement player?” question. Generally speaking a replacement player is called that because it is supposed to be the level of player a team can easily acquire as a replacement (for, let’s say, an injury) through the minor leagues or low-level trades or mid-season signings.

But I think people tend to use this explanation as a way to bash the concept. The CONCEPT — this gets to the heart of what I’m trying to say — is simply to find a stable level to use for comparison. There is a system called “Wins Above Average” (WAA) which compares players to average, and it works pretty well when talking about the Hall of Fame (where it matters how much better a player is than the average). But if you used only WAA, average players would score exactly 0 and average players are worth quite a lot in Major League baseball.

For instance, this year Milwaukee’s Wily Peralta scored EXACTLY 0.0 in Wins Above Average. He also has thrown 171 innings, he has a 3.84 ERA, the Brewers are 16-12 in games he started. To say he’s worth nothing is ludicrous. At the same time, if you compare him against a baseline of 0, his numbers won’t look that much better than a replacement level player. As it stands now, he has a 1.4 WAR, which shows him to be of value but not a star, which is where he probably should be ranked.

As for a team of replacement players — again it’s theoretical but I’ve seen numbers ranging from 35 to 50 wins. Like WAR, don’t like WAR, like WAR but have problems with it, whatever you think, it’s pretty clear that a team of replacement players would be awful.

From Brilliant Reader Arthur

Yo Joe! I love the game but also cringe at the prospect / memories of 4 hour extra innings epics.
How about each team has to subtract a fielder for every inning over
nine. So they play the 10th inning with 8 men on the field, the 11th
with 7, etc.

Joe:

I like it — your thought gets to the heart of something I’ve long wanted in more sports: The penalty box theme. It’s my favorite part of hockey, the best penalty going in sports. You committed a penalty. You have to leave. Your team has to play shorthanded because of you. It’s the child-raising timeout long before there was a timeout, and I’m all for getting it into baseball, football, basketball, everything.

I think if football would have a penalty box for players, the game would be more interesting. An offensive lineman holds, fine, he has to sit out the rest of the series. Well maybe “interesting” is not the word I’m looking for here.

From Brilliant Reader D:

Here is a question that I've pondered for the last 5 or so years:

Would Derek Jeter be considered an all time great if he played his entire career in a small market like Pittsburgh, Kansas City, or Milwaukee?
My opinion is Jeter would be comparable to Barry Larkin - a Hall of Famer and local legend, but not nearly the immortal Jeter is made out to be.
I know this is probably sacrilegious to most, but I figure the inventor of Jeterate would know the answer.

Joe:


Your question gets to the heart of this thought I’ve had about Jeter all year — that there has never been a player in baseball who was both so overrated and so underrated.

I know a lot of people will chalk this up to New York — but I think it might be something else: Longevity. Jeter has just been in our baseball consciousness for so long. There is little doubt in my mind that, pound for pound, Barry Larkin was as good a player as Derek Jeter. I believe Alan Trammell was too. But Jeter got 3,000-plus more plate appearances than Larkin or Trammell — that’s six full seasons more.

So, yes, I feel sure he has been overrated by people who want to give him max grades on all the intangible things that can’t be measured reliably. People kept giving him Gold Gloves, and people will call him one of the world’s great leaders, and people will talk endlessly about the effects he had on the Yankees and baseball with his mere presence. This is Jeterating, and it’s at high pitch now that we’re at the end of his career.

On the other hand, I feel sure he’s been underrated by people who miss the sheer relentlessness of his career. He played 150-plus games at shortstop THIRTEEN times — more than any player in baseball history including Cal Ripken. On top of that, he had one season with 149 games and another with 148. He cracked 200 hits eight times. He hit .300 or better 12 times. These aren’t advanced stats, but I’m not trying to make a point about how GOOD a player Jeter was but rather how PRESENT a player Jeter was. It’s one thing to say Larkin was as good a player as Jeter. It’s another to say that Jeter was as good as Larkin with about 25% more career.

Which finally gets to the heart of your question — would Jeter be as beloved and famous and all that if he played somewhere besides New York? I say yes, assuming as he played on a good team and got some time in the postseason. Cal Ripken is considered an all-time great. George Brett is considered an all-time great. Joe Morgan is considered an all-time great. Robin Yount is considered an all-time great. Roberto Clemente is considered an all-time great. All of these players had good careers, they had long careers, they had postseason moments, and they were in smaller markets. Sure, the pinstripes have helped Jeter’s Q Rating, but it really has been the Yankees winning — and Jeter’s constant presence in October — that has most helped his legacy.

The way I see it is like this: The Young Nomar Garciaparra was a better player than Derek Jeter. The shortstop version of Alex Rodriguez was better than Derek Jeter too. But Jeter lasted. Nomah and A-Rod, for various reasons, did not. That’s what separates Jeter, and that would be true no matter where he played.


You can email me with comments, questions, or whatever.