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!"?

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.

Joe:

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?

Joe:

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?

Joe:

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.

Joe:

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.

Joe:

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.

Joe:

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.