The Futility Infielder

A Baseball Journal by Jay Jaffe I'm a baseball fan living in New York City. In between long tirades about the New York Yankees and the national pastime in general, I'm a graphic designer.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009


Return of the Rickeys

In honor of Rickey Henderson's induction into the Hall of Fame this past weekend, I wrote a follow-up piece to last Friday's look at which contemporary players are the most Rickey-like based upon a 10-category statistical profile:
• Batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage: All three were maintained for this exercise, because they preserve the shape of a player's performance in a way that a single indicator such as EqA, OPS, or OPS+ doesn't. Average and slugging percentage are the only two categories here in which Henderson doesn't rank in the top 30 among this crop; without including them, we wind up with Alex Rodriguez and his translated rate of 55 homers per 650 PA among the top five comps, which is nonsensical.

• Equivalent Average: Fundamentally, this is runs produced per plate appearance, adjusted for park and league scoring levels, and placed on a batting average scale.

• Equivalent Baserunning Runs (EqBRR): This measures how many additional runs a player adds on the bases, via steals as well as advancing on ground balls, fly balls, hits, wild pitches, passed balls, and balks.

• Walks per plate appearance: While walks obviously make up part of OBP, the category deserves special emphasis in any comparison with the man who's second all time in drawing them.

• Power/Speed Number (P/S): This [Bill] Jamesian creation was designed to credit players who hit home runs and steal bases via the formula (2 * HR * SB)/(HR + SB). As with the walks, Henderson ranks second all-time in this category, and his per-650 PA translated rate scores third here, his highest ranking.

• Runs scored per time on base (R%/TOB): While this is a context-sensitive measurement that depends upon a player's teammates, normalizing the players to the same scoring environment removes some (but not all) of the inequity. I've chosen to include this to emphasize top-of-the-lineup types who have the skill to put themselves in scoring position in one way or another.

• Stolen-base percentage (SB%) and stolen base attempts per times on base (SBA/TOB).
After finding the least Rickey-like among the current crop of players (the Brewers' Jason Kendall, with a dishonorable mention for he more hacktastic Bengie Molina) I turned to the most Rickey-like among the players in history. The latter group had to be split into two sub-groups, one for pre-1954 players due to the dearth of caught stealing and other baserunning data, and the other for the Retrosheet era, where those numbers are readily available. Among the first group, it was Kiki Cuyler, a relatively obscure Hall of Famer, who outdistanced the more famous Sliding Billy Hamilton, holder of the all-time stolen base record for over 80 years until Lou Brock came along; Henderson, of course, broke Brock's record.

Brock finishes sixth among the other sub-group behind Joe Morgan (whom nobody guessed as the most similar player), Davey Lopes, Tim Raines, Kenny Lofton and Eric Davis. That's an electrifying group of players right there, cerebral speedsters who could hit, walk, and steal with a great degree of success. Lopes, Raines and Davis are on my short list of personal favorites.
Via the translations, Morgan winds up as an excellent match for Henderson, scoring well above 900 points [out of 1000] in five different categories, and below 800 only in stolen-base attempt frequency. Lopes is a surprising second, edging out Raines. One of the great high-percentage basestealers of all time, he once set major league record with 38 consecutive steals, and it's no coincidence that the 2007 and 2008 Phillies, two teams for whom he was the first-base coach, rank first and fourth in our database in Equivalent Stolen Base Runs, and ninth and 10th in EqBRR. The man could read a pitcher's move, to say the least. As for Raines, who didn't walk or steal quite as often as Henderson but who was a better baserunner (more on that momentarily), with Henderson's admission to Cooperstown now a done deal, it's worth a reminder that he's eminently worthy of election to the Hall.
I didn't say anything about Davis in the body of the piece, but I did add a note in the comments regarding his incredible ability in all but one area: "From 1986 through 1993, Davis' Age 24 through 31 seasons — his statistical prime and then some — he averaged 31 homers and 47 steals per 162 games, yet averaged only 118 games a year, never topping 135." Owner of perhaps the greatest power-speed combo to hit the scene between Willie Mays and Barry Bonds, the guy simply couldn't stay healthy, but beteen a lacerated kidney suffered while diving for a ball in the finale of the Reds' 1990 World Series sweep and a torn rotator cuff doing the same for Jose Jiminez's no-hitter in 1999, few players left as big a piece of themselves out there on the field, or showed more heart. More on his career in my 2007 Hall of Fame ballot rundown.

The article concludes with a couple of other lists, one showing the all-time leaders in stolen base percentage (300 attempt minimum) and the other the Retrosheet era leaders in EqBRR, where Willie Wilson edges Henderson and Raines by a hair, with Paul Molitor and Lopes rounding out the top five, a considerable distance back. A couple of surprising names in that group, to say the least.


Statistical profile hell. I want to know which contemporary players refer to themselves in the third person.
Hmmm... so far as I know, nobody's taken up the mantle left behind by Rickey. Nyjer Morgan has an alter ego, Tony Plush, which counts for something.
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