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.