FACTS ARE STUPID THINGS

Posted in No Politics Friday on July 5th, 2009 by Ed

WARNING: BASEBALL POST. Neither read nor comment if you don't care.

I had a bar debate last evening about whether Ken Griffey Jr. or Frank Thomas was the best AL player of the 1990s. Griffey, ever the choice of the uninformed, led the league in media darlingship and gee-whiz outfield catches, but offensively the picture isn't quite as flattering. Note the year-by-year comparison ("Bwin" is batting win shares, i.e. how many additional games a team wins on account of the player's hitting).

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Some comments. First of all, holy shit look at Thomas in 1994. Second, Griffey was injured in 1995 and Thomas in 1999, so discount those years. In 1990, Thomas played a mere 60 games – yet still almost equaled Junior (155 games) in Batting Wins (!!!). Thomas also had one truly lousy season (1998) in which Griffey was far superior. Other than that…Griffey hit more homers and had more RBI. Homers and RBI are exactly the kind of statistics for stupids which lead people to make stupid arguments about who was the better ballplayer. RBI is a measure of how good the batter in front of you is at getting on base. And HR are a poor measure of anything other than home runs. Note the many years in which Griffey hit more HR but actually slugged lower than Thomas.

So, essentially Junior was a better home run hitter. That was never in dispute. Big Hurt was a better…oh, I don't know…everything else. Excepting the players' injured seasons (95, 99) and Thomas's terrible 1998, Griffey posted fewer Batting Wins, a lower OBP/batting average, and a lower OPS in every season throughout the decade.

This is where the Griffey fans start whining about his defense. I'll quote a Bill James colleague here:

As for fielding, Griffey was always overrated. He was a very good fielder in his prime, but was not deserving of 10 Gold Gloves. According to Bill James' Win Shares formula, Griffey ranked among the top three fielders in the AL in only two seasons.

My theory is that, in his prime, Griffey became enamored with making homer-robbing catches and landing on SportsCenter. Because of that, he played very deep and didn't cover as much ground as other elite center fielders. But those highlights landed him plenty of Gold Gloves.

And if you want things to get really ugly, we can take a look at what happened to Junior after 2000.

So, are we done here? Good.