Return of the Seamhead on Crystal Math

I could quibble with the headline (“Stats Geek: Clemente, Waner almost an even match”), but once I learned that it was the title of Pittsburgh Post-Gazette columnist Brian O’Neill’s regular offering and not another example of a P-G writer pejoratively yanking my chain (I tip my cap to Gene Collier’s phrase “seamheads on crystal math” if not the sentiment behind it, though he and I have long since buried the hatchet), I was happy to find myself getting a nice press hit today.

Back in December, O’Neill consulted me for a JAWS comparison of Pirate rightfielders Roberto Clemente and Paul “Big Poison” Waner, the latter of whom will have his uniform number retired by the club on Saturday. Not to be confused with his brother, teammate, and fellow Hall of Famer Lloyd “Little Poison” Waner — nicknames derived from a Brooklynese lament, “Them Waners. It’s always the little poison on thoid and the big poison on foist!” — Paul Waner was the superior of the two; as legend goes, Lloyd was elected by the Hall of Fame Veterans Committee in a case of mistaken identity. Da Big Poison is also a a very good comp for Clemente:

Baseball historians say Waner and Clemente are near equals. Both could run, hit and field like almost nobody else. The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract ranks Clemente eighth and Waner ninth among all right fielders.

Jay Jaffe has developed a rating system for Baseball Prospectus to discuss the merits for the Hall of Fame, and he ranks both even higher. Jaffe puts right fielders in this order: 1) Babe Ruth 2) Hank Aaron 3) Mel Ott 4) Frank Robinson 5) Al Kaline 6) Clemente 7) Waner 8) Dave Winfield 9) Reggie Jackson 10) Sam Crawford. (That possibly unfamiliar name is the all-time triples leader who played alongside Ty Cobb in Detroit).

“If Clemente had lived,” Jaffe wrote in an e-mail in December, “he’d have probably emerged from the pack for sole possession of fifth.”

I haven’t space to outline Jaffe’s methodology, but he uses peak years and career record to come up with the overall rating. You don’t hear arguments about Clemente and Waner the way you do, say, Mickey Mantle and Joe DiMaggio, but no players who played the same position for the same team are more closely matched among baseball’s all-time greats, according to Jaffe’s system.

O’Neill had simply asked how the duo compared with other famous franchise mates, with an eye towards the aforementioned Joe D. and the Mick. In running the numbers, I discovered that Clemente and Waner were actually the closest call, JAWS-wise, among Hall of Famers from the same team. Since O’Neill didn’t run down the others, and since this is likely too unwieldy for BP Unfiltered, I’ll show the work here:

Player          POS  Career   PEAK   JAWS
Babe Ruth 9 234.2 107.0 170.6
Hank Aaron 9 209.9 85.0 147.5
Mel Ott 9 175.8 84.8 130.3
Frank Robinson 9 165.1 76.2 120.7
Al Kaline 9 129.9 64.6 97.3
Roberto Clemente 9 126.3 67.7 97.0
Paul Waner 9 124.7 68.2 96.5
Dave Winfield 9 131.6 61.0 96.3
Reggie Jackson 9 126.3 64.6 95.5
Sam Crawford 9 112.3 57.3 84.8

Clemente put up 6.3 WARP during his final season at age 37. Even two seasons totaling that would have been enough to distinguish him from the other four players with whom he’s clustered here. Going around the horn and then some for other team-specific battles in the rankings among HOFers:

Player          POS  Career  PEAK    JAWS
Johnny Bench 2 122.2 73.7 98.0
Gary Carter 2 117.8 68.9 93.4
Yogi Berra 2 116.2 66.0 91.1
Carlton Fisk 2 118.3 59.5 88.9
Bill Dickey 2 107.0 62.8 84.9

Among the two pinstripers wearing #8, Berra has a solid edge, though the latter is no shame.

Player          POS  Career  PEAK    JAWS
Lou Gehrig 3 147.1 84.7 115.9
Cap Anson 3 159.3 64.0 111.7
Eddie Murray 3 140.3 69.2 104.8
Jimmie Foxx 3 129.9 73.9 101.9
Roger Connor 3 133.0 68.7 100.9
Dan Brouthers 3 116.1 70.1 93.1
Tony Perez 3 109.4 61.2 85.3
Johnny Mize 3 102.9 67.4 85.2
Willie McCovey 3 107.0 62.1 84.6

Connor, Mize, and McCovey all had stints with the Giants, though the latter’s was by far the biggest chunk of his career, whereas O’Connor and Mize would see significant time elsewhere.

Player          POS  Career  PEAK    JAWS
Eddie Collins 4 178.0 84.9 131.5
Rogers Hornsby 4 163.7 96.0 129.9
Joe Morgan 4 168.0 86.1 127.1
Nap Lajoie 4 167.1 83.7 125.4
Ch. Gehringer 4 132.3 77.0 104.7
Rod Carew 4 128.7 70.4 99.6
Frankie Frisch 4 119.8 66.2 93.0
Ryne Sandberg 4 112.8 72.0 92.4
Bobby Doerr 4 112.5 69.3 90.9
Billy Herman 4 106.8 69.6 88.2

Hornsby and Herman both spent significant portions of their careers as Cubs, though not as much as Sandberg.

Player          POS  Career  PEAK    JAWS
Honus Wagner 6 194.4 86.8 140.6
Cal Ripken 6 169.2 89.1 129.2
Arky Vaughan 6 131.4 90.0 110.7

Another one for the Pittsburghers, as two of the top three Hall of Fame shortstops were at their best as Pirates. The underrated Vaughan even bests Wagner in peak score.

Player          POS  Career  PEAK    JAWS
Stan Musial 7 197.3 90.8 144.1
Ted Williams 7 172.0 93.3 132.7
C. Yaztrzemski 7 144.3 67.2 105.8
Ed Delahanty 7 111.9 73.1 92.5
Jim O'Rourke 7 129.0 55.7 92.4
Billy Williams 7 117.2 66.3 91.8
Willie Stargell 7 105.8 60.3 83.1
Al Simmons 7 104.7 60.6 82.7
Joe Medwick 7 98.2 64.1 81.2

A pair of Red Sox at #2 and #3 here make for the highest ranking of “teammates,” though the gap is considerably wider than between Clemente and Waner, or Berra and Dickey. Medwick played significantly in St Louis, though it’s not really close with Musial, who actually played more of his games in leftfield but accumulated more WARP in rightfield).

Player          POS  Career  PEAK    JAWS
Willie Mays 8 206.1 91.9 149.0
Ty Cobb 8 190.0 81.8 135.9
Tris Speaker 8 173.2 77.8 125.5
Mickey Mantle 8 155.1 85.3 120.2
Joe DiMaggio 8 120.2 77.3 98.8

The most famous intra-team positional battle isn’t really all that close on either peak or career values, even with Joe D. holding about an eight-win edge on defense.

Anyway, it’s always fun to see my name spelled correctly and my system in the paper. Thanks to Brian O’Neill for casting JAWS in a more flattering light than his colleague.

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