How Much Does an Inner-Circle HOF'er Help a Franchise?
not that the M's are loaded with hopefuls ...


We started out to write a piece on Bill James' latest project, and wound up with the Sports Is Life post.  Ah well.  Who was that TV artist with the Afro, the Happy Little Accidents guy?  Dr. D may not love baseball, but he does love him some philosophy :- )

James' project is:  (1) Identify the 50 "true superstars" of the game, and (2) figure out how much they REALLY changed the courses of their franchises.  As compared to some "weak" Hall of Famer, let's say.  In other words, how much does a Randy Johnson warp your space-time continuum as compared to a Mike Mussina?  How much of a "Butterfly Effect" does Clayton Kershaw create, compared to Yu Darvish?

Fresh, right?


He won't mind my re-printing his list of inner-circle HOF'ers.  And just let me know if you're curious where he got the names:


1900s—Cy Young, Honus Wagner, Nap Lajoie, Christy Mathewson

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, Jackie Robinson

1960s—Henry Aaron, Bob Gibson, Sandy Koufax, Roberto Clemente

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

1980s—Mike Schmidt, George Brett, Cal Ripken, Tony Gwynn, Rickey Henderson

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

2000s—Barry Bonds, Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, David Ortiz, Albert Pujols, Ichico Suzuki,

            Pedro Martinez 

2010s—Clayton Kershaw, Mike Trout


I grew up on the Big Red Machine.  So their 1-3-4 hitters were the decade's True Superstars; how about that?  Reggie! was the only American League player, and the one starting pitcher the Reds even traded for.  Sparky Anderson took them to 2 championships and 2 other pennants; he way underperformed.  

With the above players, you are not talking about 8 WAR per year, as such.  You're talking about the impetus a player like that gives you to win, talking about the Brand, talking about others getting caught up in his class and elegance -- you're talking about an Alternate Universe.  

Or MAYBE you are.


Of only 4 names in the 1990's, the Mariners had 2.  Consider that this is equal to the Ruth-Gehrig Yankees!

And you have A-Rod as a True Superstar of the next decade; he was active (and great) WITH the Big Unit and Junior.

And you have Ichiro as one of only a few 00's players.  

The Mariners have been uniquely Stars & Scrubs the last 20 years, in terms of the really titanic stars.  Even now, their deployment of Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz and Felix Hernandez is pretty skewed relative to their market.  Felix isn't THAT far off from the above type of player.

And Bob Dutton is gamely pushing them towards another iteration, the Otani-Tanaka type parlay.

Which all speaks to the really lousy job they have done with Scrubs.  It would be hard to MEASURE just how bad the 1990-2017 Mariners have been with the bottom of their talent pyramid.


There is one player on the above list I don't really know.  I mean, I know the name, of course, but couldn't tell you one anecdote about him, couldn't give you a little stat such as Cy Young's 511 wins.  Can you guess which one?


It isn't conceivable that the Mariners have another such player in the org right now.  James Paxton could, at best, give us a few thrilling years as something weird and special.  But that isn't what James is talking about, not at all.

Wait a minute.  The Mariners did buy Ichiro from Japan.  Perhaps that makes the Otani pursuit more important ... but wait.  Is there any feasible chance that Otani could make a run at Inner-Circle HOF'er as opposed to making a run at being Yu Darvish? 


The question had been, HOW MUCH does one of the above players warp a franchise's space-time continuum.  Me, I have no idea.  I'd honestly love to read yours, even if one sentence.  Maybe mine would be "It's a very extreme Position Scarcity roster-building advantage, and it motivates a team to push, and it helps the Brand."

(1) Randy Johnson and Ken Griffey Jr and ARod were all lucky hits by the Mariners.  Probably in Universe A you had a Lost Cause and in Universe B you had a taste of contention.

(2) Rose and Morgan and Bench, I would guess, took a 50th-percentile organization and made it legendary.

(3) Ruth and Gehrig are a warning not to underestimate James' project.

(4) It's not clear to me what the Angels are gaining from Mike Trout.  Maybe this indicates that a Legend is not quite such a big deal?  Or is Trout propping up an Elderly Mike Scioscia regime that would otherwise be a sorry excuse for a baseball franchise?


Is it your impression that True Legend makes a GM's job exponentially easier?  Or no?


Dr D




That teams can have more desire and action in going for it when they have 1 or more of these players locked in. I also see examples of teams seeming like they think they need less help because of having more than 1.  Just ask Piniella.  There's just no 1 way that all people react to any 1 thing.  Statistically it can cover another roster mistake or 2 in having extra WAR packed into 1 roster spot.

Plotting out all of the years that the controlling teams seemingly knew what they had, how they reacted to it in roster construction and the results seems interesting to me.  Also a monumental task. 

Looking through those names, it's conceivable that in some universe Ichiro joined a club in 2001 that still had Ortiz, Alex, Griffey and Randy to go with.  Probably no Olerud with Edgar and Ortiz.  Oh well?  Anybody who still wants to talk about 2001, let's talk about that possible iteration of it.  Although if they were making good timely decisions like that, Edgar might also be on that list, given a couple more years of productivity. 


A monumental task indeed.  Can't even conceive of how James is going to measure the impacts.  What, is he going to go 30 years down the line after each Roberto Clemente, or ?


Here we have yet another very ODD thing about Seattle Mariners history, that they gained a "True Superstar" and ... his main on-field contribution was one season. (Well, they EXPLOITED his presence for one season.)  Which was a Red Sox 2004 type season.  His first season.  After that zip.  You'd never find another such case.

Of course the Mariners used that 2001 season, and they used Ichiro, to prop up their marketing for at least ten years.  And what are the ramifications for the M's vis-a-vis Japan?

Not the contribution of a Robinson Cano.  Many, many times the contribution of a Robinson Cano.


stacked into a single roster spot makes it *more* difficult to leverage that talent when it's in the lineup, compared to leveraging it when it's in the rotation (or bullpen).

WAR is a funny thing.  It takes into account a player's total contributions for the season (or however many games that player participates in) but that right there is part of how the Aircraft Carrier concept rears its head in the rotation but not so much in the lineup.

A SP who's worthy 6+ WAR is a True Ace.  He's a guy that takes over 90% of the games he's in, where no matter who the opposing lineup is the odds are long that they'll pull it out against such a talent.  In 30-40 games (historically speaking here) that Ace manages to contribute all of his WAR, compared to a Mike Trout or Barry Bonds who needs the entire season of 150+ to produce as much value.

So it becomes easy to see, just using the above distribution of contributions, that an Ace is an unstoppable, unavoidable force in a baseball game.  When he's on the mound, he controls the game.  Period.  But when Bonds is in the batter's box, bases are loaded, and his team's down by two, there is a legitimate strain of thought that permits you to, essentially, remove him from the board by sacrificing a run.  There's no such mechanism for 'avoiding' an Ace--he's in your face until he leaves the game.

And just looking at Bonds' own run through the NL in the early 2000's, it's clear to see from his IBB's that this is precisely what opposing teams did to him.  They regularly sacrificed a baserunner, or sometimes even a run, just to take the bat out of his hands.  They wouldn't be doing that if they didn't think it was a net gain for them to do so, right?

So, said all of that to say ;-)

I think an Aircraft Carrier in the rotation makes roster construction and game planning a whale of a lot easier on the manager, organization, and even the rest of the team.  The lineup can scratch out a few runs rather than thinking they all have to hit grand slam homers to win the game; the bullpen can relax knowing it's unlikely they'll need to come in early to save the Ace, and the other pitchers in the rotation don't have to square off against the other team's Ace.  The trickle-down effect seems to manifest everywhere, whereas with a Mike Trout or Barry Bonds it's (almost completely) in the other team's control as to whether or not he can kill them in a given at bat.

So a Mike Trout or Barry Bonds makes it HARDER to construct a winning roster, and deploy it, throughout the course of a season.  It's nice having that killer piece, yeah, but if you don't have a COUPLE of sluggers to line up behind Trout or Bonds, they're easily controlled by opposing teams.  And if you don't have guys getting on base in front of your sluggers, hard to score runs...see where I'm going?

Civics lineups, Stars & Scrubs pitching seems to be a pretty good way to go about roster construction, given the above thesis.  The 2001 D-Backs rode the formula to a world championship, after all...


It's a funny thing but it *always* seemed to me that a Legendary Quarterback (like Montana) was worth 6 or 8 stars or something.  The math doesn't agree.  Peyton Manning's teams won 12 games Every. Single. Year. and then the Colts went 2-14 the year he was gone - but the NFL sabes give Manning credit for only a tiny fraction of those 12-4 records.

Larry Bird ... the Celtics lost close to 60 (?) the year before and then won close to 60 (?) his rookie year and kept winning that.  But the stats guys will insist he was worth only 6 wins or something.

The ONLY version of that in baseball is the Madison Bumgarner, the Clayton Kershaw, and this year the Paxton When He Was Right.

I wish there was a way to prove you right mathematically Jonezie :- )


in roster construction?  Been a few years, but I *thought* I saw that they found a few narrow little slices of player productivity which were impacted by adjacent talent on the same roster (I want to say baserunning was one of the set-in-stone examples of where having a guy like Ichiro elevates other players' baserunning productivity, but I don't remember where or even when I saw the work so take it with a lump or two of salt).

But this is one of those cases (intuition vs. statistics) where I think we have to demand the stats leave no room for the shadow of a doubt regarding the impact of, say, a Franchise QB's impact on a team.  I think it's good to have pause, which is what my understanding of current stats analysis provides, when it comes to (possibly) overvaluing a Sandy Koufax, Randy Johnson, or Peyton Manning.  But I also think that Things Are Done A Certain Way for *generally* very good reasons.  In the NFL, if you got to re-draft every team every year from the available players, the first handful would always--always!--be the franchise QB's.

That ain't no coincidence, and it ain't a demonstration of blind dogmatic adherence to tradition.


First article I remember on that was Baseball Prospectus marvelling at the 100-44 crew, and running a study on synergy.  Especially the idea that a pitcher could get tired when facing a stacked lineup.  In that one they did find an effect, or thought they did, which would be an anti-sabermetric attitude on a sabe's emotional level.

It would be almost impossible to isolate the variables, wouldn't it?  If Roberto Alomar, Jim Thome and Albert Belle CAUSED a better season for Sandy Alomar Jr. (or didn't), the 'study' would indicate that Alomar helped Thome.  You'd get feedback loops and it would be hard to sort out whether Alomar Jr. had been drinking orange juice that offseason or benefitted from stressed pitching.

Seems obvious to me, in any sport, that CONSTANT PRESSURE is desirable.  The Seahawks just scored 36 points in a second half ...

tjm's picture

. . . from both football and basketball in that it isn't really a team sport. Larry Bird, Jordan, LeBron, etc., make every single player on the floor better. Sandy Koufax doesn't. Sandy Koufax simply increases your day-to-day odds on the day he pitches. 

So the M's can have multiple great players and still be pathetic. As we have so horribly seen.


Making the players around them better.  We both remember back in the day, Bird Jordan Barkley Magic, that was the buzz phrase.  Wonder where it went.

The same "isolation" principle that makes baseball uniquely sabermetric and isolatable.  Good stuff.


Not sure why you thought it would be difficult to measure how bad the mariners were at filling the bottom half of the talent pyramid. Isn't that simply a matter of counting up the WAR they got from the players on reach team after you eliminate the top half of the team by playing time per player?

My guess would be that the mariners would rank near the bottom of baseball since 1990 in WAR by the bottom half.


Because then I'd wonder, if you had two franchises at 7 WAR per year, bottom half of roster ... how many players did each team churn through?  A team that churned 25 scrubs a year might be more "futile" in their pyramid; one that churned only 15 might have gotten the support it wanted for the better top of roster, or something.  But yeah, absolutely.

You'd have the question of how many of the 0.3 WAR player seasons were by talented rookies who went on to play well a season or two later, a Justin Smoak type, versus another 0.3 WAR player who was a terrible middle infielder lucky to get what he did.

Injury luck could vary.  The proportion of minor league value could be different even for the same Scrub return between teams; a team with a tall, skinny pyramid might have "shimmed" its pyramid by playing one Willie Bloomquist for lots of years.  So you'd look at years-per-Scrub.  Stuff like that.  


But that's over-thinking it and just my way of chasing my tail - your measurement would give 85, 90, 95% of what we wanted to know, I think.  If you feel like drawing up any data on that I'd be grateful.

Personally would like to know what it looked like with Gillick excluded, and would take Scrubs as everybody after the top 8-10 ML players.  From 1990 (when Griffey 'arrived') to today, I've got a hunch the Mariners' talent pyramid has been much, much worse after its top 10 ML players than ANY other team in baseball.


Great stuff Matt.  You don't chime in enough on the study-design end as well as on other things :- )


Actually I was shocked to realize that Nap Lajoie was little more than a name to me.


I see Alexander had almost nothing in MVP finishes - might have been perceived in his time a little bit as a Don Sutton type (?).  Almost 20 years of excellence; the game warped DURING his career.   His run of 30-win seasons with almost 400 innings got no MVP votes in 1915; ten years later he was going 12-5 with 170 innings and getting lots of recognition.  Not that MVP votes mean that much ...


Nap Lajoie I guess was more or less the earliest player on the list, starting in the 1800's, so that's got to be it for me.  His card reads practically like Ty Cobb's, now that I look, and the guy played 2B?


James has another piece up today, dividing the Angels' fortunes into six phases.  The last being the Trout phase.  (It's interesting that he rates one or two of them by their "energy" - signing FA's, making trades, spending $$.

On this era he writes:


6.   The Mike Trout Era

2010 to the Present

              And what has happened since then?

              Well. . .I don’t want to be judgmental.   The Angel organization has not gone into the tank, but entering this season—despite having had the best player in baseball for most of this decade—the Angels Franchise Strength Index was down to 78, and did not appear to be headed up.   

              There is a special problem for teams that play in the largest cities.   I’ll write more about it when I get to the Mets, but it has to do with what we could call glittering options.   When Albert Pujols was on the free agent market post-season 2011 he was a glittering option.   When Josh Hamilton was available a year later he was a glittering option.   The Angels didn’t ask "Is this player actually going to help us?" They asked "Can we afford him?   Well, hell yes, we can afford him.   We’re a big-city franchise here!"   This leads to an unwise allocation of resources.   

              The Angels have kind of wasted the Mike Trout years, frankly.    They haven’t collapsed, but they have not built around him.   Yes, they have had some terrible luck, but they have not done what they should have done with Mike Trout in the lineup.  

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