Saturday, March 31, 2012

Great Players Who Changed Teams in Mid-Career

Last winter, when Albert Pujols signed with the Angels, he became one of the greatest players ever to change teams in mid-career. How does he stack up historically with other Hall of Fame-caliber players who've switched?* Let's take a look at a few.

*Players who switched early- or late-career don't qualify for this particular study (e.g., Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, etc.)

Shoeless Joe Jackson
Traded from the Indians to the White Sox.
Age and seasons played at switch: 27 / 8
WAR* before switch: 35.4
WAR after switch: 30.7

Tris Speaker
Traded from the Red Sox to the Indians
Age and seasons played at switch: 28 / 9
WAR before switch: 56.2
WAR after switch: 76.8

Jimmie Foxx
Traded from the A's to the Red Sox.
Age / seasons played at switch: 28 / 11
WAR before switch: 61.3
WAR after switch: 32.8

Frank Robinson
Traded from the Reds to the Orioles.
Age and seasons played at switch: 30 / 10
WAR before switch: 61.5
WAR after switch: 45.9

Orlando Cepeda
Traded from the Giants to the Cardinals
Age and seasons played at switch: 28 / 9
WAR before switch: 31.0
WAR after switch: 17.9

Joe Morgan
Traded from the Astros to the Reds
Age and seasons played at switch: 28 / 9
WAR before switch: 27.1
WAR after switch: 76.4

Dale Murphy
Traded from the Braves to the Phillies
Age and seasons played at switch: 34 / 15
WAR before switch: 45.5
WAR after switch: -0.8

Barry Bonds
Signed with Giants as a free agent
Age and seasons played at switch: 28 / 7
WAR before switch: 50.2
WAR after switch: 121.6

Ken Griffey Jr.
Traded from the Mariners to the Reds
Age and seasons played at switch: 30 / 11
WAR before switch: 68.7
WAR after switch: 9.9

Alex Rodriguez
Signed with Rangers as a free agent
Age and seasons played at switch: 25 / 7
WAR before switch: 37.1
WAR after switch: 78.5 (through 2011)

Alex Rodriguez
Traded from Rangers to Yankees
Age and seasons played at switch: 28 / 9
WAR before switch: 61.0
WAR after switch: 43.6 (through 2011)

Albert Pujols
Signed with Angels as a free agent
Age and seasons played at switch: 31 / 11
WAR before switch: 88.7
WAR after switch: ?

Due to Pujols's age (31), the most comparable team switches in history were that of Frank Robinson and Ken Griffey Jr.

Robinson was 30 when the Reds dumped him under the mistaken belief that he was an "old 30." Robinson went on to win the Triple Crown with the Orioles remain a top player for half a dozen years. Griffey didn't have such a great story. He was the same age when he forced the Mariners to trade him ahead of free agency, but a succession of injuries stripped away his skills, and he never came close to approaching the heights he had achieved in Seattle.

Obviously we don't know what Albert is going to do from now on, but we do know that he's the most accomplished player ever to switch teams in mid-career. 88.7 WAR is a Hall of Fame career on its own; it ranks 28th of all time, tied with Carl Yastrzemski and ahead of guys like Joe DiMaggio, Roberto Clemente, Paul Waner, Willie McCovey, and many other Hall of Famers.

Which path will Pujols follow? Considering the money committed to him, Angels fans have to hope for neither. They have to hope for something beyond Robinson and closer to Tris Speaker or Joe Morgan, who were significantly younger when they were traded to their new teams. It's hard to see that happening, but people have doubted Albert Pujols before and he's always proved them wrong.

*WAR = Wins Above Replacement as calculated by Baseball Reference.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Where does Chipper Jones rank all time?

Chipper Jones announced his retirement today, effective at the end of the 2012 season. So now would be a good time to assess his career and see how he ranks among the game's greatest third basemen.

Here's a listing of career WAR among the top third basemen (according to

1. Mike Schmidt: 108.3
2. Eddie Mathews: 98.3
3. Wade Boggs: 89.0
4. George Brett: 85.0
5. Chipper Jones: 82.7
6. Brooks Robinson: 69.1
7. Ron Santo: 66.4
8. Scott Rolen: 66.2
9. Home Run Baker: 63.7
10. Graig Nettles: 61.6

A few notes:
- We'll leave Alex Rodriguez out of this for now. As of now, he's played more games as a shortstop than as a third baseman, so I'm not ready to include him here yet.

- Adrian Beltre is still about 14 WAR behind, but he'll probably shoot up the list to number 6 or 7 before his career ends.

If Jones matches his 2011 season this year (2.8 WAR), he'll move past Brett to claim the number four career spot, but at age 40, he'd have to play out of his mind to surpass Boggs. Not gonna happen.

OK, so fourth or fifth by career value. Now let's look at peak value. How many 7+/8+/9+ WAR seasons did Jones have compared to the top six guys:

1. Mike Schmidt: 9/3/2
2. Eddie Mathews: 8/4/0
3. Wade Boggs: 6/5/1
4. George Brett: 5/4/1
5. Chipper Jones: 3/0/0
6. Brooks Robinson: 3/1/0
7. Ron Santo: 4/2/1

Hmmm, it turns out that Jones only had three 7+ WAR seasons and zero 8+ WAR seasons. Even his MVP year only ranks as a 7.0 WAR. I think the problem is that Jones ranks as an average to below-average fielder, which brings down his overall totals. By offense alone, that 1999 season scores as 8.2 oWAR.

So is this enough information to rank Jones confidently? In my mind, yes. By both career and peak value as a player, Jones clearly ranks below the top three of Schmidt, Mathews, and Boggs. And I think Brett was a much bigger offensive force than Jones ever was, and he was a better fielder to boot.

Which puts Chipper Jones as the fifth greatest third baseman of all time. Not shabby, not shabby at all. Next up: Cooperstown.

If you want to read a couple of other assessments of Chipper Jones, check out Rob Neyer and Cliff Corcoran. (Spoiler alert: They basically come to the same conclusion.)

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Great Teenage Hitters

UPDATE: Just hours after publishing this post, the Nationals optioned Harper to Triple-A. We'll see if he comes back up this season as predicted below.

If Bryce Harper makes the Nationals club this year, what can fans expect? If you go by history, not much. Very few 19-year-old position players have made much of an impact in the majors. Here are the best seasons by teenage hitters in baseball history:

Mel Ott - 1928
.921 OPS, 3.5 WAR*

Edgar Renteria - 1996
.757 OPS, 3.0 WAR

Ken Griffey Jr. - 1989
.748 OPS, 2.8 WAR

Ty Cobb - 1906
.749 OPS, 2.6 WAR

Travis Jackson - 1923
.712 OPS, 2.3 WAR

The news gets a lot more encouraging when we expand our search to 20-year-old players. There are too many good seasons to list, but the top 5 by WAR are:

Alex Rodriguez - 1996
1.045 OPS, 9.4 WAR

Al Kaline - 1955
.967 OPS, 9.0 WAR

Ty Cobb - 1907
.848 OPS, 8.4 WAR

Mel Ott - 1929
1.084 OPS, 8.0 WAR

Ted Williams - 1939
1.045 OPS, 6.8 WAR

So should the Nationals hold Harper back a year and wait till he's 20? Only if they have someone better on the roster. You'll see that Cobb and Ott appear on both lists, so the year of seasoning in the majors actually helped them get better. That's how it could play out for Harper too.

Of course, financial considerations play into the decision. They don't want to start the clock on his arbitration eligibility too soon, so what they're probably going to do is the same as what the Giants did with Buster Posey: Wait until late May or June so that this year won't count against his service time and they'll get the rest of this season plus two more pre-arbitration years.

*WAR = Wins Above Replacement provided by

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Great pitcher/centerfielder combos

This year, whenever Clayton Kershaw takes the mound and Matt Kemp mans center field, the Dodgers will boast one of the greatest pitcher/center field combos of all time. Last year, they combined for 17 Wins Above Replacement* — 10 for Kemp, 7 for Kershaw. That's not the highest total of all time, but it's not too far off. In fact, based on my research, it ranks as the sixth highest pitcher/CF total of all time. Here's the top 10:

1. 1912 Red Sox: Tris Speaker (11) / Joe Wood (9.6)
2. 1965 Giants: Willie Mays (11) / Juan Marichal (9.2)
3. 1956 Yankees: Mickey Mantle (12.9) / Whitey Ford (5.8)
4. 1937 Yankees: Joe DiMaggio (9.0) / Lefty Gomez (8.9)
5. 1997 Mariners: Ken Griffey Jr. (9.4) / Randy Johnson (7.7)
6. 2011 Dodgers: Matt Kemp (10) / Clayton Kershaw (7)
7. 1985 Cardinals: Willie McGee (8.5) / John Tudor (7.5)
8. 1964 Dodgers: Willie Davis (7.6) / Don Drysdale (8.2)
9. 1953 Phillies: Richie Ashburn (6.0) / Robin Roberts (9.6)
10. 1964 Dodgers: Willie Davis (7.6) / Sandy Koufax (7.8)

Just a few steps behind: Puckett/Viola 1988, Jones/Maddux 2000, Aaron/Spahn 1961, Wynn/Messersmith 1974, Jones/Glavine 1998, Snider/Newcombe 1956

Some notes:

- No surprise to see Speaker and Wood at number one. Those were two genuinely historic performances, but if you notice, they barely beat out Mays/Marichal, which were simply two great seasons of many for those two all-timers.

- It's great to see Willie Davis, a truly underrated Dodger, on this list. He had numerous good seasons and a couple of great seasons; 1964 was his best but not either Koufax's or Drysdale's best.

- Willie McGee is the big surprise on this list. He really only had one good season, but he won the MVP for it and went to the World Series. That's called great timing.

*I used Baseball-Reference WAR totals. Fangraphs only provides historical WAR for position players, not pitchers, so I couldn't compare the two totals.