Tuesday, April 20, 2004

With the new Veterans Committee (version: 26.0) giving us our 200 eligible players generally it provides an opportunity to rant about some of the names bandied about. You know, the Dom DiMaggio's, Johnny Pesky's, "Indian Bob" Johnson's (come to think of it--we've never heard anything about "Indian Bob" Johnson....but you will), or some other 30's era Red Sox almost-great that plugs Depends and Poly-Grip between naps. It wouldn't be so bad if the Veterans Committee actually did its job--rectify the mistakes made by the BBWAA's inability to hold their Miller Lite and understand that there's more to life than RBI's.

I'll toss out a few BBWAA failures: Carl Mays, Ron Santo, Minnie Minoso, and today's contestant--Joe Gordon. Regardless, I just can't see myself getting through any HOF vote without doing something, anything, involving the failures of the HOF voting process.

The BBWAA and VC sometimes gets things a little sdrawkcab. In Bill James' book "Whatever Happened To The Hall-of-Fame--The Politics Of Glory" James agonizes over the Hall-of-Fame worthiness of Phil Rizzuto and wanders here and there, touching on this one and that. Anyway, he looks at the careers of four men: Rizzuto, Vern "Buster" Stephens, Bobby Doerr, and Gordon. Rizzuto is in, as is Doerr, and Stephens is a topic for another day. Now Doerr is a legit HOFer. A great fielding second sacker, but quite frankly, was helped immeasurably as a hitter by Fenway Park. It was the inability of the folks in charge of Hall-of-Fame selection to understand that being in right handed hitter in Yankee Stadium/Municipal Stadium was a great deal different from being a right handed hitter in Fenway Park. For instance, a right handed hitter in Gordon's day was aiming at a target whimsically referred to as "Death Valley" where the dimensions were 402' to left center, 457' to deep left center, and 461 to straightaway center. On the other hand, Doerr got to shoot at the Green Monster which made Jim Rice a popular Cooperstown candidate. The aggregate park factor for Gordon's career was 98 (ranging from 96-101), Doerr's was 104 (ranging from 99-110--over 100 favors hitters). Even that doesn't tell the full story because of Yankee Stadium's short right field fence and unless you wrapped one around Pesky's Pole at Fenway Park, there weren't many cheap home runs to rightfield there. In short Gordon was shooting at the most difficult part of "The House That Ruth Built" during his time in pinstripes whereas Doerr had a career full of at bats aiming at the Green Monster.

Before we proceed further, this isn't a "Doerr is in the Hall-of-Fame therefore Gordon belongs too." What I did was measure all second sackers from the American League as well as MLB using the following five metrics: OPS, adjusted OPS, Offensive Winning Percentage (OWP), Runs Created Against Position (RCAP), and Runs Created Per Game, or 27 outs (RC/27)--some of which takes parks into account from 1938-50. It just so happened that Gordon and Doerr appeared the most often when I ran the numbers.

What I did was check the top eight in both the AL and MLB on a year-by-year basis and charted how often they appeared in the top three (Gold, Silver, Bronze medals--just for fun we'll call it "The Sabermetric Olympics"), and then do a "Black Ink" type test. The charts are below:

Joe Gordon vs all major league second basemen

1938 3rd    --    --    --   3rd
1939 2nd  2nd  2nd   T1   2nd
1940 2nd  1st  2nd  2nd   3rd
1941   1st  1st  1st   1st   1st
1942  1st  1st  1st   1st    1st
1943  2nd 2nd 2nd   1st   3rd
1946    --    --    --    --    --
1947 1st 2nd 1st   1st 2nd
1948 2nd 2nd 2nd  2nd 2nd
1949     --    --    --    --    --
1950    --    --    --    --    --

So, over the course of Gordon's career, out of 55 possible categories (11 years x 5 statistical evaluations), Gordon has 15 first place entries, including sweeps in 1941 and 1942 (he won the AL MVP in 1942); seventeen second place finishes including being the second best 2B in MLB just two years before he retired; and four third place finishes. So in 55 Sabermetric Olympic events, Gordon copped fifteen gold medals, 17 silver, four bronze, for a total of 36 "medals" out of a possible 55 "events." So, how did Bobby Doerr do in this round?

Bobby Doerr vs all major league second basemen

1938    --    --    --    --    --
1939    --    --    --    --    --
1940  3rd    --  3rd    --   2nd
1941 2nd  2nd    --  2nd   3rd
1942 2nd    -- 2nd  2nd   2nd
1943     --  1st     --   3rd    --
1946  2nd  2nd    --   3rd   3rd
1947    --  1st    --    --    --
1948  1st    --  1st    1st   1st
1949  2nd    --    --    --   3rd
1950  2nd  2nd    --    --    --

Bobby Doerr, in a possible 55 "events" won a total of 26 medals (six gold, 13 silver, seven bronze). Now let's narrow our focus and literally put Gordon and Doerr head-to-head by tossing the National Leaguers out of the equation:

Joe Gordon vs American League second basemen

1938 3rd  3rd    --    --   3rd
1939 2nd  2nd  2nd   T1   2nd
1940 2nd  1st  2nd  2nd   3rd
1941  1st  1st  1st   1st   1st
1942  1st  1st  1st   1st   1st
1943 1st 2nd  1st   1st   1st
1946    --    --    --    --    --
1947 1st 2nd  1st   1st   1st
1948 2nd  1st  2nd  2nd  2nd
1949    -- 2nd    --    --    --
1950    --    --    --    --    --

So, competing strictly against his AL counterparts, Gordon (out of 55 "events") copped 21 gold, 14 silver, and four bronze--for a total of 39. He almost swept the year before he went into the service (four gold, one silver), and in 1947 (four gold, one silver). His struggles in 1946 could be easily dismissed as simple rustiness. How did Doerr fare?

Bobby Doerr vs American League second basemen

1938    --    --    --    --    --
1939  3rd    --    --   3rd   3rd
1940  3rd    --  3rd   3rd   2nd
1941 2nd  2nd  2nd   2nd   2nd
1942 2nd  3rd  2nd   2nd   2nd
1943 2nd-  1st  2nd   2nd   2nd
1946  2nd  1st    --    --   3rd
1947  2nd  1st    --    --   3rd
1948  1st  3rd  1st   1st   1st
1949  1st  T2  2nd  2nd   2nd
1950  1st  1st    --  2nd   2nd

Doerr finished with 10 gold, 22 silver, 10 bronze--for a total of 42 medals. Interestingly, over the course of Gordon's career (excluding 1944 and 1945 when he was in the service), the only year where Doerr was a superior offensive player was 1948. Ironically, those that viewed Doerr and Gordon contemporaneously seemed to view Gordon as superior (during the time when both were active); Gordon was selected to The Sporting News all star team six out of a possible seven times, whereas the VC tabbed Doerr over Gordon. What a great many people don't know is that Joe Gordon is the greatest home run hitting second baseman in baseball history. Despite playing half of his games in good pitchers parks, Gordon enjoyed the greatest HR% (6000 PA qualifier) of any second baseman of any era (4.43). He is fourth all time in total HR from the position (with just 5707 AB) behind Rogers Hornsby (8173 AB), Ryne Sandberg (8385 AB), and Joe Morgan (9277 AB), but nobody popped them out more frequently than Joe Gordon. A final quick note on offense. Among eligible players (ten years major league service, retired five years, not on the commissioner's permanently ineligible list), here are the top ten second sackers in baseball history (using adjusted OPS):

Rogers Hornsby  175
Nap Lajoie  150
Eddie Collins  141
Joe Morgan  132
Bobby Grich  125
Charlie Gehringer  124
Tony Lazzeri  121
Joe Gordon  120
Bobby Doerr  115
Ryne Sandberg  114

So, in the era from 1930-50, Doerr is second only to Gehringer offensively (and also raises the question about Bobby Grich's HOF worthiness--but that's for another day) and he's easily among the top ten hitting second basemen in major league history.

I don't doubt that Doerr was the better glove man of the two and I agonize over the fact that a truly foolproof method of measuring defense hasn't been formulated. The traditional "counting stats" of fielders (put outs, double plays, assists etc.) are dependent on games played, the type of pitchers on the staff (flyball, groundball, strikeout pitchers) etc. Zone Ratings are a relatively new phenomena, Pete Palmer's fielding runs (BTW Gordon had 54, Doerr 181) are falling into disfavor blah, blah, blah. With players of another era sometimes anecdotal evidence is a decent guideline. For instance, Robert Creamer (excerpted from "Baseball In 1941"): "It seems incredible to me now that the Yankees would consider mucking about with their great second baseman. I cannot fathom why McCarthy ever considered moving a fielder as good as Gordon out of a position as vitally important as second base."

The fact that although Gordon and Doerr both played in nine All Star Games (except his rookie season and final AL campaign, Gordon was an All Star every season of his career), Gordon was named to the Sporting News All Star team six out of the seven times they competed head-to-head for the honor. Further, Gordon cracked the top ten in MVP voting five times whereas Doerr just twice (once in 1944 when a lot of the top players weren't in the league--including Gordon). Using Range Factor, Doerr enjoys a clear edge (Doerr's RF was 7.8% better than the league average; Gordon was 3.6% better), and was better than Gordon eight out of 11 seasons. However his superior fielding wasn't perceived as enough to supplant Gordon in MVP voting and TSN's All Star Team (when only one player could be chosen whereas the All Star Game could carry more than one player at a position).

Of course, the final part of Gordon's resume is the fact that Gordon was a key player on six AL pennant, and five World Series championship teams.

So let's get the bandwagon started. I'd like to see two elections to the Hall-of-Fame: the first executive director of the MLBPA--Marvin Miller, and the second best second baseman in the years spanning 1930-50: Joe Gordon.

Today’s link....the Baseball Hall-of-Fame natch. Not much to say here. Just go and check it out.

Best Regards