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Career Leaderboards

August 28, 2014

Man, those career lists on FanGraphs and  Baseball Reference. So much fun. From Mike Trout’s go-go rookie season, I’ve been obsessively looking at his stats through the scope of history, as have so many other articles and stories.

Every couple of weeks, I’m like “jeez, who’s he passing for total player value now,” and then I’m like “did I just think the term ‘total player value’ to myself” and then I think, “god, I need to do something with my life.” Here’s some WAR for you (stats as of August 28th, 2014):

Fangraphs (fWAR) – Trout, in 464 games, is at 27.6, right above Roy Sievers, and right behind Willie McGee.

Baseball Reference (rWAR) – Trout comes in at 26.8, just above Jose Bautista, and tied with Mike Bordick.

Why the discrepancy? Two reasons. This from FanGraphs’ stat library:

  • Calculating Defense (2002-Present). For recent seasons, each system uses a different defensive metric. fWAR uses UZR, while rWAR uses Total Zone. UZR is considered more accurate, but is only available from 2002 onward, while TotalZone values can be calculated for any player in baseball history. As such, fWAR uses UZR for every year from 2002 onward, and it uses Total Zone for earlier seasons.

  • Baserunning. Both rWAR and fWAR includes base running, although they use different metrics. fWAR uses Ultimate Base Running (UBR) & Weighted Stolen Base Runs (wSB), while rWAR uses their own linear-weights-based system.

According to Baseball Reference’s highly-scientific “Fan Elo Rater,” Trout is already the 301st best hitter in MLB history, just ahead of Andres Galarraga. (Of course, I just rated Zack Greinke better than Wilbur Wood without looking at stats or doing any kind of in depth thinking required for such a groundbreaking test of statistical and performance perpetuity.)

Trout’s climb up the leaderboards is fun to watch, and I check every couple of weeks to see what names from the past he’s eclipsing, not to mention what names from the present.

For example, in fWAR, Trout recently passed teammate and future reality star Josh Hamilton; in rWAR, he’ll probably pass him by the end of the season.

By the way, both websites have crazy fun tools at your disposal if you’re willing to poke around and geek out for a bit. I just created this graph that plots the cumulative WAR for Trout, Ty Cobb, Mel Ott, Mickey Mantle, Al Kaline, and Alex Rodriguez, six stars who came out guns blazing at early ages.

The cumulative WAR by age is pretty interesting. Kaline’s slope is something of the outlier. His best seasons were a lot less best seasony than the other guys, but he steadily packed together a 22-year career. Through their age-22 seasons (which 2014 counts as for Trout; he turned 23 on August 7th), the Milville Meteor leads them all at fWAR at this stage, with the season not even over yet.

Still, that’s a pretty big drop off from the previous season. A lot has been written this year about Trout’s weakness (stuff up in the zone) and his drastically-reduced running game, but this 22-year-old could be about to capture his first MVP trophy (in, ironically, his ‘worst’ season). Comparing his progressing stats against the all-time greats, with all of these nifty internetty tools that we couldn’t with, say, Albert Pujols, is almost as fun as actually watching Trout play. Almost.

The other guy I’ve obsessively checked this season, as I have every season for the last four years, is Adam Dunn. Dunn has been around seemingly forever – he broke into the bigs at 21 years old in 2001, and slugged a homer every 12.8 at-bats that year. Of course, everybody was slugging homers that year, but his 19 homers in 66 games was prodigious, even for that record-setting year. He also struck out in 25.9% of his plate appearances and walked in 13.3%. Nothing crazy there – though both of those would be relative lows for Dunn.

Over the next decade, Dunn established himself as the best Three True Outcomes (plate appearances ending in a homer, walk, or strikeout) player since, like, Rob Deer. I began writing about this back years ago, and it’s worth talking about it now again, as Dunn has recently addressed his potential retirement. He’s a free agent at the end of the season, and it may not be likely that the White Sox – on the verge of competing next year with the emergence of Jose Abreu this year and Carlos Rodon next – retain his services.

Not that there isn’t room for Dunn on a competing team; just maybe not in an everyday situation. But here’s where Dunn stands on the career boards, as of August 28th, 2014:

*459 homers. This year, Dunn passed Dave Kingman, Vlad Guerrero, Jeff Bagwell, and Carl Yastrzemski. He’ll pass Jose Canseco by the end of the season. Next year, assuming there’s a next year for the Big Donkey and that he hits 20+ homers, he’ll pass Dave Winfield, Chipper Jones, Carlos Delgado, Willie Stargell, and Stan Musial. If he signs somewhere, by the end of 2015, he’ll be within spitting distance of 500 homers, a mark once fabled, now somewhat watered down, considering 11 of the 26 members played during the PED era.

*1,310 walks. This season he passed Ty Cobb, Rusty Staub, Jack Clark, Ken Singelton, John Olerud, Al Kaline, Edgar Martinez, Luke Appling, and Fred McGriff. In the next month, assuming 13 walks, he’ll pass Ken Griffey the Elder, Mark McGwire, and Tony Phillips to be 39th all-time. Seventy walks next year will push him ahead of Manny Ramirez, Tim Raines, Eddie Murray, Todd Helton, Willie McCovey, Rafael Palmeiro, Jason Giambi, Reggie Jackson, Tris Speaker, and Dwight Evans, into 29th all-time.

*2,348 strikeouts. He passed Sammy Sosa last month to take over third place on this dubious list. Dunn is currently 620 strikeouts ahead of all-time leader Reggie Jackson’s pace at this age. Of course, Mr. October played for 21 seasons, and Dunn is already thinking about his rocking chair. Dunn is 200 strikeouts behind Jim Thome, and 249 behind Jackson. Would they throw a party after Dunn’s 2,598th K? Even in these weird days of irony and high strikeouts, that would be a bit weird. But who knows.

I’ve said this before, but even with the crazily escalating strikeout numbers, there’s just nobody active who will come close to threatening Dunn, let alone Reggie, in this stat. The closest player who still has some seasons left before he hangs ‘em up is David Ortiz, sporting 1,553 K’s. That’s 800 behind Dunn. And Big Papi is 38 years old. Ryan Howard is only 34 – Dunn’s age, for what it’s worth – and is at 1,551, but he’s essentially a platoon player, and probably won’t be around in four years.

Mark Reynolds is 30, and at 1,390 … but he’s a sub-.300 OBP guy, and there’s no defense for him starting regularly. Likewise, B.J. Upton (he’s only 29!) has a 1,328, but he’s been terrible for two years now, as Atlanta tries to offload his contract.

The only person I can see challenging this is … oddly … Mike Trout. Because he’ll be around for a long time (barring a Mickey-esque ankle injury), and he’s racking up strikeouts at an “excellent” pace. He’s now at 451. I think it’s totally possible that Trout ends his career as the all-time leader in so many statistics. God, what will Trout’s farewell tour be like? How will he be remembered?

And so, that’s kind of my point. It’s fun to project a player’s career as it passes over us day by day; as we see Adam Dunn break into the league with a crazy AB/HR ratio (he’s 10th all-time in that category), and look into the future and see what names from the past he’ll pass in specific individual stats.

Baseball, more than any other sport, is inextricably caught up in its own past and sense of history. Ironic, of course, because of the controversies and falsehoods surrounding not just its origins, but also its less-than-ethical stances on American issues. But for a sport whose stories and numbers are a constant presence in the game, thinking about players like these in the scope of the game’s history, makes it all the more fun.

From → History, Stats

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