Historical Flotsam And Jetsam: Mantle, Moose, CC

A few interesting historical and statistical bits of data came to my attention lately, and I thought I would share them:

1) In Steve’s posts on Derek Jeter a few days ago, he compared Jeter to Mickey Mantle, and noted that Mantle’s decline greatly hurt the club in 1965-1968. In an ensuing discussion that took place on GReader, Matt Bouffard of Fack Youk pointed out that Mantle’s decline has become overstated among pundits and Yankees fans. To quote:

Mickey Mantle’s final four seasons:

1965: 2.9 fWAR, 2.0 bWAR, 137 OPS+, .371 wOBA
1966: 3.8 fWAR, 3.7 bWAR, 170 OPS+, .402 wOBA
1967: 4.4 fWAR, 4.1 bWAR, 149 OPS+, .373 wOBA
1968: 3.9 fWAR, 3.6 bWAR, 142 OPS+, .362 wOBA

When I expressed surprise over the high quality of those numbers due to my impression that Mantle had totally fallen off a cliff at the end of his career, Matt had this to say:

I guess the issue of Mantle’s performance depends on your perspective. There’s no doubt it declined, but there’s no way he could continue to put up 6 or 7+ WAR a year, let alone his 10+ WAR seasons, particularly considering the toll that injuries and hard living took on his body. So in that regard he was a shell of his former self.

However, he was still a very much above average to elite ball player. His traditional numbers did take a dive after ’64, but that had far more to do with the second dead ball era than it did with his age, injuries, and decline. Mantle hit a combined .241 over his last two seasons, but the league averages for those two years were just .236 and .230. And he still had so much power and plate discipline that he finished second in the league in walks both years and 5th and 3rd in OBP.

Personally I’m of the opinion that Mantle probably wasn’t quite as great as his OPS+ says he was over those last two years. Plate discipline remains, whether offense is suppressed or not, so I think some metrics overvalue all the walks he took.

It is a testament to Mantle that despite being hobbled by various ailments by the end of his career, he was still able to perform at a high level. If Derek Jeter’s decline looks anything like Mantle’s, his next contract would not be nearly the disaster many are expecting it to be.

2) In a story about Cy Young voting injustices, Cliff Corcoran said the following:

Just ask Mike Mussina, the pitcher most likely to be harmed by that wins-based voting. Mussina should have won the AL award over his teammate Clemens in 2001, but instead ended his career without a Cy Young. For a lesser pitcher that would have been a simple disappointment, but for Mussina, a borderline Hall of Fame candidate, that could prove to be a crucial omission from his resume when he comes up for election in 2014.

My first reaction was to have the 17-year old version of me well up and dispute the claim, remembering the insane 20-1 start to Roger’s season. However, a closer look at the numbers quelled that urge, as Mussina was clearly the better pitcher by almost any available metric, and got a 5th place finish for his efforts.

Clemens: 5.4 WAR, 20-3, 3.51 ERA, 220.1 IP, 213 K, 1.26 WHIP, 0CG, 0SHO
Mussina: 6.5 WAR, 17-11, 3.15 ERA, 228.2 IP, 214 K, 1.07 WHIP, 4CG, 3SHO

That is not even that close. As Corcoran notes, the Yankees scored 5.74 runs per game for Clemens, but just 4.21 runs per game for Mussina. That was the difference between winning the award and first place, and that result will likely hurt Mussina’s Hall of Fame chances. Also, not to horn in on Matt’s grand cause, but go compare the numbers of Mussina and Tom Glavine. Mussina was the better pitcher by most measures, yet Glavine’s willingness to hang around until he reached 300 wins makes him a significantly more likely candidate to be voted in quickly. I think Mussina will get in eventually, but will have to linger on the ballot for a while and get Blyleven-type support before he makes it.

3) CC Sabathia has been really good for quite a long time. You can make the argument that he has been one of the two or three best pitchers in baseball over the last 5 seasons, with quality and durability being the criteria for eligibility for that title. This article by Cliff Corcoran inspired me to go look at the WAR leaderboards for the last 5 seasons. Cliff looked at the AL top 10 in SNLVAR over the last few seasons, while I expanded the look to 5 seasons and top 15 in the two leagues combined.

It turns out that only two pitchers have been in the top 15 in Fangraphs WAR in every season over the last 5 years: Roy Halladay and CC Sabathia. Using BB-Ref WAR, no one makes that list in all 5 seasons, but CC did qualify in 4 seasons (missed in 2009, was 21st). The only other pitcher to qualify in that many seasons? Again, Roy Halladay. While these criteria obviously exclude some of the best pitchers due to either injury, youth, one poor season, or other factors, they do illustrate the consistent excellence that CC has provided.

0 thoughts on “Historical Flotsam And Jetsam: Mantle, Moose, CC

  1. jim p

    About Mantle, remember at that time, nobody paid attention to OBP. I don’t think it was even considered as a stat. And WAR definitely didn’t exist. All people really had were the Triple Crown numbers by which to judge quality in a ballplayer, and that’s how Mantle was judged.

  2. OldYanksFan

    Mantle was my hero. I loved th man. And yet, even though his decline was hard to watch, and even crippled with injuries, he was able to get 536 HRs. However, the ’65 – ’68 teams may have been the worst in Yankee history, and while I don’t buy that Mickey hurt his team, it’s hard to hurt a 10th place team, going nowhere fast.

    To say Mantle was a fan favorite is a gross understatement. I only went to a handful of games in 1968, and unfortunately, Mantle didn’t start 2 of them. But I can always remember the murmur, applause, cheering and then standing ovavtion (murmur when Mickey stood up off the bench, applause when he went over to the bat rack, cheering when he headed towards the dugout steps with a bat, and the roaring standing ovation when Mickey walked up out of the dugout towards the on-deck circle.

    To compare what Mantle is to Jeter, in terms of what Mickey meant to the team and to NY, is silly. As popular as Jeter is, Mantle was a God. When he retired, there was a gaping hole in the Yankees. With such a bad team, it was hard to find reason to care about them.

    The situations between the 1968 and 2010 Yankees couldn’t be more different. The Yanks are now perennial Winners, and will still be so, with or without Jeter. Considering what Derek is asking for, and that if he declined Arb there would be a pick involved, there are many who feel the Yankees would be a better team to let Jeter walk and use that money elsewhere.

  3. oldpep

    in re OBP in the 60s-actually Street and Smith’s listed both SLG and OBA in the back of their annual BB book. It was my favorite part of the book once I discovered their player and team predictions were garbage. (Though looking back on the minor leaguers they thought were going to impress and especially the write-ups about them is fun.)

    in re Jeter vs Mantle: like the man said-it’s not close. The Mick was god to Yankee fans. Jeter’s a lot closer to Bernie than he is to Mantle.

  4. I’m not old enough to have been able to enjoy Mantle in person but even I know how iconic not just to Yankee fans but all of baseball Mantle was, he wasn’t just a great Yankee he was THE Yankee at the time he played, if he wasn’t what Babe Ruth was to his fans it was very close. Jeter is a fan favorite but he will never be looked at in the same way as Ruth, Mantle, Dimaggio and the others because while he is a winner he doesn’t really have a claim to the greatest of all time at his position like the others do.

  5. Steve S.

    Hanging on too long poses its own risks. Mickey Mantle was retained well past his prime years and the team fell in the toilet in the late 1960s. Not solely due to him, but those Yankee teams were known as a group that got old all at once in 1965, and the franchise didn’t recover until the mid 70s. Was hanging on to Mantle the main reason they lost? No, but it certainly didn’t help. Baseball instituting an amateur draft in 1965 had a much more lingering impact.

    This is what I actually said for anyone who’s interested. I think there’s a huge difference between “greatly hurt” and “didn’t help” but that’s just me. Mo likes to try to put me in boxes I don’t belong in.

    • Moshe Mandel

      My apologies for overstating what you said.

      • Steve S.

        No biggie, and thanks for doing it in public.

    • Overstated or not, I still think “No, but it certainly didn’t help part” is dead wrong. On half his legs, Mantle was still twice as good as anyone else on those ’65-’68 teams. It’s not as if his presence on the roster was strictly for nostalgic purposes, nor was he blocking some hot shot up and coming prospect.

      Besides, Mantle wasn’t lobbying for an above market, multi-year deal while coming off a career worst season. In fact, at his poorest level of play, at his most injured, Mantle never turned in a season remotely as bad as Jeter’s 2010. I just don’t see many parallels comparing someone who went year-to-year in the pre-free agency era to Jeter’s situation.

      Lastly, while I agree that in Mantle’s era there wasn’t much (if any) focus on OBP, let alone concepts like WAR, that doesn’t mean that such metrics aren’t useful ways to reexamine Mantle’s final years. Looking strictly at his Triple Crown numbers, particularly during years when offense was suppressed to its lowest levels since the teens, doesn’t give an accurate depiction of how useful Mantle still was relative to the rest of the league.

      • Steve S.

        Does context mean anything to you? Let me ask you, what was the point I was making in that quoted text?

        • Yes, context does mean something to me. That’s why I was trying to shed a little light on Mantle’s final seasons in the context of what was going on the in the AL at the time.

          I don’t know what point you were making in the quoted text. The only declarative statement I see is that Mantle wasn’t the cause of the late 60s decline, but he did nothing to stem the tide either. I just don’t know what better options the club had at the time. Were they supposed to trade him? Release him? Force him into early retirement? And what viable options did they have to replace his production, which, while not at peak value, was still considerable?

          • Steve S.

            I don’t disagree with anything you’ve posted in your replies. You just seemed to be placing too much emphasis on that single sentence.

            The piece was about how teams can’t afford to give in to nostalgia, and while current conditions are different than the mid-60s there is still some risk. The Yankee payroll projects to get very old nd very top-heavy in a few years. Assuming a Lee signing, extension for Cano and 3rd year of arb for Hughes, the Yanks will have 170-180+ mil tied up in just 8 players, most past the age of 35.

          • The piece was about how teams can’t afford to give unto nostalgia but what Matt is saying is the Yankees of the 60′s didn’t give into nostalgia they simply went with the best player they had at that position on a bad team with no real replacements.

            The two situations (Mantle and Jeter) really don’t compare.

  6. oldpep

    I definitely agree that using anything beside what a player’s value is likely to be is a bad way to do business. I also agree that having so many aging players tying up so much of the payroll can be a formula for disaster.