Bill James' Superstars Project
time since last meaningful Mariners Moment: 21 years, 11 months, 12 days...


Bill James put umpty-leven Twitter polls in his feed yesterday, with the idea of voting-off "50 True Superstars."  First of all, it's interesting that with every measuring device open to Bill James, he used a vote-off on this one.  A H2H matchup tells us some things that nothing else does, we'll give it that.

His goal was to answer the question, "Is it true that the comings and goings of MANAGERS tend to align with a franchise's turning points?"  James thinks so, and the Mariners are a clear case in point.  They were a laughingstock until Piniella, a real laughingstock, and the moment Sweet Lou got here, they no longer were.  Eventually they switched to Mike Hargrove because Howard Lincoln thought Lou Piniella was an embarrassment, both physically and politically, both in manner and in beliefs.  They went to Hargrove and slowly slid back into the realm where nobody took their ballclub seriously.

But James got 25% of the way through his manager's process and switched to a different question, noticing that the question works better when applied to superstars.

This question worked very well for the 1977-2017 Mariners also.  Edgar Martinez' last big year as a player was 2003, as a 40-year-old All-Star, he hit .294/.406/.489 in Safeco Field, an OPS+ of 141.  The Mariners were 93-69 that year, the last fumes of Sweet Lou's run (Gillick was the GM; Bob Melvin was the manager).


The next year Edgar was done, .263/.342/.385, and the Mariners lost 99 games.  They have not mad the playoffs since.  Just saying:  if you're looking for a loose answer to the question, "do franchises rise and fall with their superstars?", the Mariners couldn't provide a clearer example of it.


James of course had many more bullet points with which to info-tain in his article, "Explaining the 50 superstars project."

Ichiro beat out Miguel Cabrera in the fan voting.  It's one of the few H2H's where James expresses his disagreement.

√ 1964 was the season the Yankee dynasty ended; 1965 was also the year Mickey Mantle got old.  No, Egbert, we are not filing a deposition here; we're just chatting baseball, noticing some interesting things about it.  But notice too that around 1965, there was chaos in the front office that prevented the Yankee$ from smoothly continuing their line of stars, Gehrig to DiMaggio to Mantle surrounded by Berra and Ford and Co.

√ The Red Sox had an UP cycle in the 40's behind Teddy Ballgame, but then sunk in the 50's until the 1967 miracle team; what happened?  Teddy broke his elbow in the 1950 ASG.  He was still great by rate stats, but was in and out of the lineup after that.  Drove in 100 RBI only once from then on; had been driving in 120 every year before.  Did you know that?

√ Cards, similar - when Musial lagged, they drifted into a down cycle.  Bob Gibson lifted them back up.


The point is, James can study this issue - if he has a list of superstars.  TRUE superstars, Teddy Ballgame types, Stan Musial types, not Garry Carter, Ron Santo types.

James' prelim list is


1900s—Cy Young, Honus Wagner, Nap Lajoie

1910s—Walter Johnson, Pete Alexander, Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker

1920s—Babe Ruth, Rogers Hornsby, Lou Gehrig

1930s—Lefty Grove, Jimmie Foxx, Mel Ott

1940s—Joe DiMaggio, Bob Feller, Ted Williams, Stan Musial

1950s—Yogi Berra, Roy Campanella, Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle

1960s—Henry Aaron, Bob Gibson, Sandy Koufax

1970s—Joe Morgan, Tom Seaver, Reggie Jackson, Johnny Bench

1980s—Mike Schmidt, George Brett 

1990s—Greg Maddux, Randy Johnson, Roger Clemens, Ken Griffey Jr. 

2000s—Barry Bonds, Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, David Ortiz

2010s—Clayton Kershaw, Mike Trout


Everybody and his brother thought there would be a "recency bias," but when James went to a "secondary polling system" (to get from 40 players above to 50 total), then the older player won 15 of the 27 votes.

√ James made an arbitrary call when Nolan Ryan beat Christy Mathewson 55% to 45% with 2,272 votes cast.  He decided to include them both in the next round.


It's pretty clear that the influence of One Magnificent Player is diluted in baseball, relative to basketball.  That said, it will be interesting if you can still detect an ebb-and-flow with respect to Babe Ruth and George Brett.

Mariners Takeaways:  Would you rather have Ken Griffey Jr., Randy Johnson, Alex Rodriguez (all on the list above) and Edgar Martinez?  Or would you rather have Schmidt, Brett and two other guys from the 1980's?  It is pretty blinkin' incredible that the 1980's - 1990's Mariners have no pennant to show for their draft picks.  Ah well.


Dr D

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