Most Underrated Players of All Time Topic

boogerlips has a point: no one has kept Rose out of the Hall of Fame because they don't think he was a great player who was automatic to end up there, but because of the gambling. 

I actually do think Rose is underrated, but because aside from his hitting, he was a ferocious competitor, one of the best field generals ever in baseball history, as good at out-thinking his opponents as anyone in the game. Teams seemed to feel they had a chance to win when he was in their lineup and on the field with them. His numbers don't show his whole value to a team (I know, we have already seen concepts like leadership spat upon as if baseball were not played in teams but as individual units negotiating salaries, but I stand by the previous sentence and not only in Rose' case). 
7/1/2013 5:45 PM
I am pretty sure Pete Rose was over-rated for exactly the reasons italyprof mentions.

I'll add a controversial name to the under-rated list: Vince Coleman.  I don't believe saberticians have figured out just how valuable incredible speed can be.
7/1/2013 10:13 PM
if teams with lots of sbs won more games than expected, or scored more runs than expected, i might believe that.

so far as i know, neither is true.
7/1/2013 10:19 PM
While I think the SB can be overated, pure speed (coleman, vince, ellsbury, jacoby)  and the threat to run has not been able to be quantified yet.  Much like clutch hitting.  Which, sabermetrics disaprove of, since they cant quantify it either. (see Ortiz, David)
7/1/2013 10:35 PM
please provide evidence of the teams which outperformed their expected number of runs or wins because of the "threat to run."
7/1/2013 11:15 PM
I'm in the wine business.  There's a theoretical debate about aerating a wine: does it have an effect?  There are those that say it doesn't because scientifically, there has been no proof that aerating a wine has any effect.  Yet, anyone who has tasted an aerated wine side-by-side with one right out of the bottle can attest to the difference.

I think the same sort of thing applies here.  Sure, you can't show empirical proof that speed or 'threat to run' has an effect.   Yet, anyone who has watched a lot of baseball can attest to it.  The box score doesn't show that the hole on the right side was bigger because the 1B was holding a little longer, and/or the 2B was shading toward second, and that's why the grounder to the right was a single (with the runner taking third) instead of a double play, yet we've all seen it.  Being in SoCal and an Angels fan, I see it almost every game with Borjous and Trout.
7/2/2013 1:45 AM
Posted by contrarian23 on 7/1/2013 11:15:00 PM (view original):
please provide evidence of the teams which outperformed their expected number of runs or wins because of the "threat to run."
Actually I was reading an article on BP that discussed how inducing errors is a skill much like getting hits, HBP or walks.  I am guessing more research into the matter will show extremely fast player like Coleman or Willie Wilson induced more errors.

Also, I believe (hypothesize that is) that when runners like Coleman were on base it affects pitch selection.  I remember reading an newspaper article in 1985 that crudely showed that players behind Coleman were able to sit on fastballs when he was on base.  This helped both McGee and Herr to their career years.
7/2/2013 1:48 AM
Posted by contrarian23 on 7/1/2013 11:15:00 PM (view original):
please provide evidence of the teams which outperformed their expected number of runs or wins because of the "threat to run."
Just to be clear, I am not saying I have any statistical evidence.  I am saying that it is a hypothesis and I expect sabermetrics to shed more light on the topic in the near future.  
7/2/2013 1:52 AM
Loathe as I am to disagree with contrarian23 in a controversy, since he is usually right about stuff, I must side with pinotfan (might be a first as he knows :-) and zubinsum on this  one (not on Pete Rose - he is not over-rated, and see below).

There are many methodologies that work well, if appropriately used to find out what we want to find out - NOT just one. I am a Marxist but don't claim that Marxist approaches can explain why there is a universe, or life (Engels got himself in some difficulty trying to apply Marxist ideas to science in fact), or even baseball. 

I think business wisdom works well for business. I don't want the government run as a business, nor the colleges where I teach (they are anyway unfortunately). We need different methodologies addressed to the particularities of different circumstances, systems or contexts. 

Having said that, (and I really like both pinot grigio and pinot noir, not a big merlot fan, nor one of chardonnay), pinotfan's example is a good one, it is possible, I would argue even likely that there are aspects of life and things, and effects and realities that CANNOT be accurately captured, or fully captured, by the representational system of mathematics. This is in fact one of the implications of Godel's Proof. 

Take money for example: It is a "Fact" that the 2 billion poorest people in the world live on $2 a day or less (World Bank stats). BUT this is actually misleading since many of the "poorest" people on earth in fact live partially outside fully monetarized systems. Money is a system of representation, an attempt to capture the reality and present it in an understandable way - in this case to measure wealth both in the form of use-values (stuff people need and use, including food or clothing, but also WIS baseball) and exchange-values (prices). In much of the world subsistence agriculture based on communally held land, distributed according to local, tribal, village or clan customs and local assemblies is still how a lot of people feed themselves. Even in a modern country like Russia, with the breakup of the Soviet Union, under Boris Yeltsin, about half of all working Russians were not paid for between 3 and 5 years any salary at all ! How did they live? The land has still not been entirely privatized and since under Soviet rule everyone had a "dacha"- a seasonal home in the countryside, many people went to these to grow potatoes and feed themselves. Putin stays in power in part because he got companies to start paying people their wages again, and because oil prices are high.

This is not captured by the symbolic representational system we call money. 

Similarly,  nearly every modern philosopher from Heidegger to Bertrand Russell to Wittgenstein (though not Noam Chomsky) has argued that language is a symbolic system that is incapable of having a one-to-one relationship with the signified - it can't express everything nor fully capture the reality. Some, concluding that therefore we cannot as humans ever develop a system to fully know external reality have decided that in fact from a human point of view there is no external reality at all, only our representational, symbolic systems, which are self-referential. This is the basis for "deconstruction" and "postmodernism". I am on record in my own field of work as a ferocious opponent of these latter extreme viewpoints, but their conclusions are not completely off the wall (a baseball expression I believe, as is out of left field) if we take seriously what nearly every serious thinker for 100 years has told us: our systems for representing reality are NEVER able to capture 100% of that reality. Having said that, I am convinced that the real questions are: 1) how to get the greatest possible area of reality "covered" by a representational system - that is getting as close an approximation of the external reality of life as we can without losing the forest for the trees (see my map analogy in a previous post above in this thread). Put differently to get the BEST explanation we can at any given time of what we are trying to explain, without for a moment pretending that we can explain anything 100% with the tools we have and can develop (since humans are, ourselves, only one part of reality, we cannot see all of reality nor can we separate ourselves out from it as Descartes thought ("I think, therefore I am"), a fact made clear by Heisenberg's uncertainty principle. or 2) to get to as dense an understanding of all the aspects, quantitative and qualitative, of some phenomenon or activity we want to understand. We cannot do both at the same time for reasons analogous to the Uncertainty problem in physics - you cannot both develop concepts general enough to cover (almost) everything and precise enough to know something very closely. You can write a history of the world or the US that provides a certain sense of how things have developed, or you can write a very close history of the town of Great Barrington, Massachusetts, or of commerce in the middle ages. You can't do both. 

Say what you like about RBI and W-L record, to use two of the most disparaged stats here and in Sabermetrics. They have remained in use in general society because they capture a reality: as even Bill James once put it, W-L record is the only stat in baseball that corresponds entirely to what the goal is of baseball, namely to win games. RBIs may involve other team players etc. (which, if you see my argument in my previous post above is NOT necessarily a bad thing since it may be that the unit of analysis most appropriate to studying baseball is NOT the individual player, but the team) but it measures a fact: these are actual runs that scored because player A did something. Not how many "should" have scored because of other stuff he did (an abstract model, or as we would call it in other areas of life, make believe). 

Oh yeah, about Pete Rose: doesn't it bother anyone here that nearly all the players considered "overrated" here are ones that played on championship teams? In many cases more than one (yes Zubin, I include my own comments about Keith Hernandez here for self-critique as well). Seems a little strange that only players that did not win are apparently under-rated. I increasingly think that methodological individualism, while not invalid or illegitimate in itself, has become so ubiquitous as to blind us to serious aspects of reality. What if when analyzing sports we started with the team? What if when analyzing economic well being or accomplishment we started with the country? or the class? What if when studying nature we did not try to break it up into its component parts, as Cartesian methodologies do, but started with the ecology and the eco-system? 

Red wine or white? 
7/2/2013 7:43 AM (edited)

Just a few points:
1.) Just for the record, I am not 100% an empiricist with regard to baseball, economics, wine or anything else...I fully believe there are elements of life, indeed some of the most precious ones, that cannot be measured, nor should we try to.
2.) That said, baseball does lend itself to measurement more than most endeavors.
3.) The operating principle of any scientific inquiry is that the null hypothesis is "no effect", and the burden of proof is on those who would suggest otherwise.  Hence, the position that "speed has no discernible value beyond that which can be measured in the statistics of the game" is the baseline.  There may indeed be hypotheses as to why this is not the case, but the burden of proof falls squarely on those who offer those alternative hypotheses.
4.) I can imagine several ways one might attempt to assess the value of speed:

4a) Teams with speed win more than their expected number of games, given the number of runs scored and allowed.  I am highly skeptical that this is true, but it would be easy enough to study. 
4b) Teams with speed score more runs than would be expected, given their other offensive stats (note that SB/CS would be included in "other offensive stats" so what we are looking for here is evidence that speed shows up in other ways that improve performance, like reaching on error, taking extra bases, etc).  This is more plausible than 4a, but we should remember that there may well be countervailing effects (teams with speed possibly run into more outs on the bases, teams with speed take more pitches in order to allow runners to steal thereby missing out on opportunities to hit, etc).  Stats Inc (I think it's them, might be someone else) is collecting great data on things like ROE, taking the extra base, etc and has identified players who do this well....their conclusion (I believe, happy to be corrected on this) is the effect is small but measurable.  Of course, we then have to ask, is it repeatable from year to year or just random noise, etc.  I know James studied 30 years ago the issue by looking at teams with matched sets of stats, but where one team had many more SB (and by inference, team speed) than the other...I believe his finding was that the SB teams scored fewer runs, not more, than the others.
4c) Teams with speed get improvements in their other offensive stats (eg, batters hit for a higher average with a fast runner on the bases, due to the pitch selection effect, the first base hole, pitching from the stretch, etc).  This is also plausible, but we have to be careful not to go from observation of individual events to broad conclusions (McGee singled with Coleman on 1st, ergo a fast runner improves the performance of the next hitter) too quickly.  For example, the batting average of a hitter is almost always higher when there is a runner on the much more likely causal relationship is that on base percentage (getting on first base to begin with) helps the next hitter, rather than speed.  Any attempt to study this issue must control for that first, before concluding that any ancillary effect is due to speed.  Just going from memory here, so again my apologies if I have this wrong, I recall James at one point also studying the performance of Dwayne Murphy (I think this was in 1982, when Henderson stole 130 bases) and found that Murphy's performance deteriorated when Henderson was on first (either in absolute he batted worse with Henderson on 1st than with the bases empty...or in relative terms...his improvement with Henderson on first was smaller than the general improvement all hitters experience with the runner on 1st).  Possibly because Murphy was distracted by the runner, or was taking pitches he could have hit in order to allow Henderson to steal, etc.  All of which is to say that there are many variables here, and it is not at all obvious that they would lead to a net positive.  Again, everyone's favorite example of the value of speed, the 1980s Cardinals, are an interesting case study.  The Cards won the pennant in 1985 and 1987, but were putrid in 1986...but their team speed was roughly constant all 3 seasons.  If speed led to improvement in 85 and 87, why did it not do so in 1986 (when McGee, Herr, et al were frankly terrible).  The seminal characteristic of the 1985 team was not that they were fast, it's that they were very effective at getting on base.  Everyone overlooks this. 

Just like everyone forgets that after 1987, the teams the Coleman played on were frankly terrible, as a general rule.  If his speed was making a contribution to offense beyond the direct value of his stolen bases, it sure tried very hard to hide itself other than in 1985 and 1987.

7/2/2013 8:10 AM

First, points 1-4 seem to me quite right and I have no quarrel with them. So the question would be: what is the best way to measure such an effect OR to identify it as a reality if it escapes QUANTITATIVE measurement (which as you point out is probably rarer in baseball than in some other areas of life). 

Case 4 a) as you say, is not very probable.
4 b) has a shot but is more or less as you suggest - our tools need sharpening 
4 c) is a very valuable discussion. I will take only one part of it: you are absolutely right about anecdotal evidence: we should not take individual events and use them to jump to broad conclusions. But that does not mean they have no value. 

Here we have the distinction in social science between nomothetic and idiographic. Nomothetic tries to establish what the "laws" are that govern identifiable phenomona or activity that we are studying. What causes growth in economies? Why do some countries adopt democracy more readily? What makes for championship teams?

Idiographic: The Greek root graphic refers to writing about something, while "idio" comes from the Greek word for individual or single person. The word "idiot" in ancient Greece meant someone who stayed out of political activity, who did attend the assemblies, but kept to their own private life. 

Here though it refers to individual events. This is the domain not of the sociologist, economist, or political scientist but of the historian and the journalist (BIG debate in anthropology whether it is nomothetic or idiographic with a postmodernist wing weighing in as well. When they sort it out I will let you know who won).

Historians, and their subgroup biographers, write about the 30 Years War, the Election of 2000, about 9/11, or the life of Winston Churchill or Addie Joss. 

They are not trying to suggest that all wars, leaders, elections, terrorist attacks, pitchers are like this or work this way. Just telling the narrative of a singularity. 

Now, an individual case, even one that is extended like the use of the shift against Ted Williams in the 1946 World Series raises some issues. First, did it happen? If so, how do we know? 

Let's say we have films of the infield that were taken of every time Williams came to bat and we note that the infielders are all shifted over the right side to a great degree than with other batters. Every time. 

We still have some epistemological issues to confront (epistemological means "how do we know what we know?"). Do we know that the infielders are shifted that way not because of a series of individual decisions to move to the right side, but because of a conscious strategy on the part of the Cardinals? And do we know that this was the case with all infielders or only one or two, the others playing where they felt like based on their own knowledge of baseball? 

We "know" to the extent that we do, because the Cardinals told us. Their manager, their players, have provided individual testimonies, that are more or less in harmony with each other's accounts, that this is what they did. 

Do we know now? Well, what if they just want us to think that this is what they did? That they want us to think that this was a brilliant plan they had all along but are telling us so after the fact? Why would they do this? To look smart and also to look like their victory in the WS was because of their smarts and therefore a credit to them and not the result of being luckier just enough times, and to take credit for something that may or may not have been the result of their actions: Williams' miserable performance at bat in the Series. It is possible Williams was just in a "slump" - if such things exist (I am not sure if they can be shown to exist statistically or not, or whether they can be explained given a statistical significance etc.)

Now here the individual testimonies are crucial to the narrative that gives meaning to what we see when we take a photo of a hot air balloon above the stadium of the Cards' defense during the '46 WS with and without Wiliams at bat. Without the narrative the photo has no meaning. We don't even see a baseball game, just some guys in uniforms and gloves standing around. The numbers NEVER speak for themselves and a picture IS NOT WORTH A THOUSAND WORDS.  (God also does not work in mysterious ways, but that is another conversation for another time). 

There are all sorts of problems with individual memory and testimony. The closer the testimony is to the event the more likely memory is to be accurate BUT the more likely the person is to have a stake in the "spin" the interpretation of the event in their own self-interest. 

BUT, in court, with life and death, freedom and incarceration, justice and injustice, law and punishment, wealth and hardship at stake, we accept individual testimonies as legitimate evidence. We do the same in journalism, or at least we did back when journalists did journalism and did not just interview each other on talk shows. (Disclaimer, I am married to a journalist, who, however, is a strong exception to the generalization about today's journalists just mentioned). 

In doing so, in accepting individual testimony, and not only statistical evidence AS evidence, and in the most important contexts imaginable, and one could add that an umpire's ruling is an individual testimony with all the strengths and weaknesses those entail, we do a qualitative sort of quantitative evaluation of the worth of such testimony. In other words, we try to figure out to what extent such testimony approximates X value, with X being a perfect reconstruction of the events as they happened. We do this by interrogating the testimony as a form of evidence: how long ago was it? How close was the person to what happened? How reliable do they seem as a person? and most important of all: is this an eye witness account, or second hand. 

In court we do not allow most second hand testimony, though we do sometimes (cellmate testifying that the defendant confessed to the crime for example) but with some caution (or ideally this is how we do it). In journalism we are a little looser: usually, at least under the old rules when editors did their jobs (NY Times and Judith Miller I am looking at you; Fox News I am not even bothering, it's pointless - oh by the way, my daughter, born of a US citizen overseas, is eligible to be President of the US some day since she is a natural born citizen under the nationalities act of the 1780s, as are the kids of all the US soldiers I teach for a living who are based overseas and who were born to their parents in foreign countries. In other words, since Pres. Obama's mother was from Kansas, even if he WERE born in Kenya, Indonesia, or the Soviet Union or the North Pole, he is still a natural born US citizen and eligible to be President.  So his birth certificate from Hawaii was irrelevant. Completely. Doesn't matter. If the law were otherwise it would mean that: John McCain was not eligible to be President; the children of US troops overseas are not eligible, and that by serving their country they have disenfranchised their own kids from being Americans, turning them into immigrants. Try telling them that, I know hundreds of them. I will be happy to introduce you to them. But I digress). 

The rules of "old journalism" were that the first source had to be eyewitness and in a position to know and if a political question or one involving a large company or organization had to be high up. The second had to be pretty close and also able to confirm independently. Third sources were preferred when possible but in this case testimony could be second hand so long as the source was credible. The more sources the better. 

But not all sources are or were equal, so that we have a means of quantifying, through approximation, the value, at least the relative value, of qualitative testimony. We should do something similar in baseball when it can be useful (not always, when it serves a purpose though). 

Take an analogous situation to the SB/CS one contrarian23 has discussed above: power hitting in the post-deadball era changed pitching. Pitchers now had to bear down on every hitter, every pitch or risk a run scoring. Before they could be slackers half the time against weak hitters with a deaball, and home runs being rare. Now, we do find that from 1920 or so IP per season go way down and almost no one except Wilbur Wood really tries to pitch as often as before and pitch every inning of every game and so on. 

Now what we really have is a bunch of circumstantial evidence: the ball changed, home runs became more common, pitchers pitched fewer innings. Cause and effect are very, very loosely connected here. What connects them is testimony - we have a lot of people from that time saying that pitchers now had to bear down, which is a way of saying that they did not before which is slander in most places and times. But it may be true. The testimony and the empirical evidence TOGETHER  make the thing more likely. Neither on its own is strong enough in my view. But both need a context: a narrative that gives meaning to the change that occurred, just as the Williams shift is a narrative that gives meaning to what otherwise are just a bunch of facts and imaginary photos we took from a blimp. 

The narrative is that pitching was changed by the end of the deadball (and the spitter) and the rise of the home run. 

Such narratives can and should be challenged, and questioned. And using statistical and empirical methods to challenge them is an important and useful way. 

But just as we cannot throw out the baby with the bathwater and declare there to be no external world because our language cannot fully capture it, and end up with the self-indulgence of the postmodernists (old joke: postmodernist anthropologist interviewing natives of a primitive tribe about heir culture: "But enough about you. let's talk about me"), we should not declare something non-existent merely because we don't find a statistically significant difference that shows us it is there. If a bunch of old players say, "Oh yeah, when Coleman was on we were thrown off and batters took advantage, hitting into the hole, etc." we note it, but take it with a grain of salt unless we see lots of such testimony and even then it could be a combo of memory of one or two events and having heard such discussions by other players from the time thus creating a collective false memory. But if players at the time when Coleman played were already saying it, that is stronger, since memory plays less of a role. Then when we see biographies and autobiographies of managers telling a similar tale it is strengthened. And so on. Evidence piling on evidence, each weighed for its approximate relative value. At that point if we also find empirical evidence that backs it up - hitters had higher averages when he was on base, we have a strong case for the jury. But this is analogous to the "threat of a home run at any time" narrative about pitchers after the deadball ended. 

One last note: there was a similar movement in history to sabermetrics some decades ago, highly sophisticated statistical analyses. it still has influence, though more in political science than in history. One of its great findings was that the industrial revolution never happened. Nope. Can't find any statistically significant "leap" in English production from 1780-1830 (the decades of the industrial revolution) compared with decades before and after. Nor any 5 or 10 year period that dramatically stands out. 

So the industrial revolution is a myth. Statistically speaking. Here I can only say: read Arnold Toynbee's original great lectures on the industrial revolution (you can find them online I think), and see how he defines it, and then draw an opinion about the stats on British growth, (also online). I am with Toynbee (and Karl Marx, who coined the phrase "industrial revolution"). 

Cause, to think that there was no industrial revolution is kinda dumb. really. 

7/2/2013 9:30 AM
Heavy discussions! Our competitive natures, and the desire to be correct, may take us from the path that might lead us to the answers we seek. Baseball does lend itself so readily to empirical observation. There also are players influences on a team's performance that "do not appear in the box score." Other things being equal, a faster runner creates an advantage for his team that a slower runner does not. Intuitive judgements by a catcher or a manager that are hard to quantfiy create advantages as well. We seek answers when even properly designing the questions is problematic. We observe the past expecting to discern its occurrences to predict and quantify the present and future. In doing so, we often overlook the human element in  these events. Often, the results obtained are simply random strokes of fate, a lightning strike of improbables that cause us to jump to a conclusion. For me, a large part of the pleasure of sports is simply that they open doors of discussion and camaraderie that might otherwise be closed. That is a most wonderful "side effect." I certainly am enjoying the discussions here!!!
7/2/2013 10:32 AM
Was Roy White really better than Jim Rice?
7/2/2013 10:47 AM
arvidjosef, I think you have gotten exactly the point I was trying to make. Thanks for a concrete example. 

Bill James, famously, argues that White was better. Now I was a Yankees fan as a kid in the 1960s, and often Roy White was our only good player, or so it seemed at times, sometimes he and Murcer. Period. 

So I have a lot of warm memories of Roy White, and am glad he is appreciated now given that he played a long time before he had a decent team to play for. 

That said. 

I remember when it was a close game, someone on base, and White or Murcer were up, we would think "Hope hope hope, please get a hit. At least we have a chance cause one of  the only two guys that don't suck are up." I never remember feeling "Aha ! We have them now ! Roy White is up. Now they will know why they are afraid of the dark. Now they will know why the fear the night."  Though I DID feel that way later on when Piniella, Munson or Chambliss were up on those championship teams. (When Reggie was up it was just "WOW" !). 

When the Yankees played the Red Sox in a close game in the 70s, and Jim Rice came up to bat, I remember always thinking: "Uh-oh.". 
7/3/2013 6:07 AM
Off the top of my head:
Gene Tenace
Bill Freehan
Joe Torre
Bobby Grich
Lou Whitaker
Alan Trammell
Al Kaline
Ken Singleton
Frank Robinson
Stan Musial
Tony Oliva (personal favorite)
Dwight Evans
Darrell Evans
Luis Tiant
Milt Pappas

Wade Boggs
Bill Mazeroski
Peewee Reese
Andre Dawson
Don Drysdale
Jim Bunning

7/3/2013 11:53 AM
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