Friday, February 27, 2015


We are loath to traffic in the bracing but often overly brilliantined "compare/contrast" franchise that Bill James invented in order to create a framework for literary form often masquerading as analysis. Such a technique reached its apex (or its nadir) in The Politics of Glory, where the dualist approach was so pervasive as to signal a potentially dangerous compulsion. (Of late, Bill has returned to this technique, improving on it by improvisationally adding more players to the comparison.)

As a stylistic device, it's often fascinating because there is a palpable psychological undercurrent that emerges from it that often transcends the mere content being discussed. The same cannot be said, however, for those who slavishly imitate the form that Bill invented. Contrarian philosophical urgency, which oozes out of Bill's toothpaste tube of discourse almost involuntarily, is replaced by a kind of wan sophistry (as embodied by the Lindberghs and the Keris and the bland inheritors of all the "prairie fire" numberists) that instinctively chooses limpid over lumpen.

To put it another way, Bill's work in this area has always been akin to a blue plate special which relied heavily on the prominent placement of side dishes, which often were plopped on the plate first in anticipation of the main course's arrival (often plopped down with the rough panache of a proud backyard chef). His inheritors have all shown the lamentable (but market-driven) tendency to go nouvelle, serving up tiny entrees on impossibly large plates with some festive food coloring festooned round its edges.

So you can sense our reluctance to traipse through those dangerous swinging doors. But, hey, when in Rome, right?

The recent passing of Minnie Minoso reminded us of just how long there has been a case bubbling over (as opposed to a case of bubbly delivered erroneously to your address...) about his worthiness for the Hall of Fame. Our view is that he's just on this side of that paradisiacal marker, but we would lose no sleep if a lobbying campaign carried him into Cooperstown. Thinking about this again on the occasion of his passing, we're reminded of Ken Boyer--a contemporary of Minnie's who also has been heavily touted for the Hall of Fame by the numbers crowd.

So before we could stop ourselves, we tossed together our version of a "comp" for these two. As you'd expect, ours is radically simpler than what you'd get with WAR (a system that clearly distorts the importance of fielding and uses a transient combination of coarse models and crude interpretations to overstate positional difference).

This radical simplicity is, indeed, radically simple: OPS+ and triples. (Not triples...again?? Fear not: this is our version of the Jamesian "side dish," applied here because we think it's interesting to look at category defined by its scarcity in the time frame being covered.) These are arranged in five-year totals/averages.

What we see here is (despite what is also a calculational strangeness in the offensive component of WAR) just how good Minnie was in this time frame.

That's eight straight five-year slices where he's in the Top 15 in OPS+, an overall stretch of twelve years. By contrast, Boyer has only one five-year slice where he cracks the Top 15. Minnie made it into the top ten four times.

Boyer surprises us, though, with his showing in triples. We had to remember (and without help from Brock Hanke) that Ken came up to the majors with some speed, and even played a passable center field one season early in his career. Playing in a league where ballparks conducive to triples were already giving way to the cookie-cutter stadia of the sixties, Boyer's 3B totals rank well even if they pale in comparison to Minnie's at their peak.

What probably keeps Minnie on the outside looking in with respect to Cooperstown, however, is his lack of a palpable peak at any point of his career. Numbers guys have meta-categorized such a region of players with the glib monicker of The Hall of the Very Good. In Minnie's case, he's probably more accurately in The Hall of the Very, Very Good. Boyer, a fine fielding third baseman (but not quite as good as the numbers guys have claimed) is probably straddling each of these regions.