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Saturday, January 08, 2005

Sandberg, Whitaker, and Trammell

With the election of Ryne Sandberg to the Hall of Fame this week I've heard a bit of rumbling about the apparent snubs of other middle infielders of the 1980s, namely Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker. A quick look at their career lines shows just how similar they were:


G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO AVG OBP SLUG
Sandberg 2164 8385 1318 2386 403 76 282 1061 344 761 1260 .285 .344 .452
16 Seasons
Trammell 2293 8288 1231 2365 412 55 183 1003 236 850 874 .285 .352 .415
20 Seasons
Whitaker 2390 8570 1386 2369 420 65 244 1084 75 1197 1099 .276 .363 .426
19 Seasons

To provide a measure of just how similar these stat lines are Bill James in 1986 developed a system called "Similarity Scores" that he introduced in his book The Politics of Glory that dealt with the Hall of Fame. This system starts by assigning two identical statistical lines a Similarity Score of 1000. From there points are subtracted for differences that two players with exactly equivalent statistics in the following fashion as reported on baseball-reference.com:

One point for each difference of 20 games played.
One point for each difference of 75 at bats.
One point for each difference of 10 runs scored.
One point for each difference of 15 hits.
One point for each difference of 5 doubles.
One point for each difference of 4 triples.
One point for each difference of 2 home runs.
One point for each difference of 10 RBI.
One point for each difference of 25 walks.
One point for each difference of 150 strikeouts.
One point for each difference of 20 stolen bases.
One point for each difference of .001 in batting average.
One point for each difference of .002 in slugging percentage.

There is also a positional adjustment:

240 - Catcher
168 - Shortstop
132 - Second Base
84 - Third Base
48 - Outfield
12 - First Base
0 - DH

Calculating the similarity scores for these three (also reported on baseball-reference.com) we see that the most similar player in history to Ryne Sandberg is indeed Lou Whitaker at 900. Alan Trammell is the 5th most comparable player to Ryno (857) behind Steve Finley, Joe Torre, and Barry Larkin. In looking at Trammell Whitaker is 5th at 868 while Sandberg is 7th at 857. For Whitaker Sandberg comes in first and Trammell second. So clearly these three are very similar indeed.

So why did Whitaker's only appearance on the voting roles garner him just 15 votes in 2001 (2.91%) while Trammell received 74 (15.7%), 70 (14.1%), and 70 (13.8%) votes in the period 2002-2004?

I think there are a couple of reasons.

First, Ryno was perceived as the better all-around player. He had a better reputation for his defense than either Trammell or Whitaker as evidenced by his beating them in Gold Gloves by winning nine to Trammell's four and Whitaker's three. Sandberg also stole more bases than either of the other two by a wide margin and was the more prolific homerun hitter not to mention the cache that goes with being the all-time leader in homeruns at his position when he retired. In contrast Trammell had only one truly great season, that in 1987 when he hit .343 and drove in 105 runs hitting 28 homeruns. However, his others good seasons are a good deal below this level. Whitaker had several fine seasons (1983, 1987, 1991) but none match the level of Sandberg's 1984, 1990, and 1991 seasons.

Secondly, Sandberg had a higher profile because he played in Chicago rather than Detroit, won an MVP award at a young age (the "Sandberg game" certainly didn't hurt), maintained an errorless streak, led his league in runs scored three times, and homeruns and total bases once (1990). In the final analysis election to the Hall is at its essence a popularity contest.

Essentially these sorts of accomplishments can also be boiled down into ratings. Several of these such as the Blank Ink Test, Gray Ink Test, HOF Standards, and HOF Monitor are also tracked on baseball-reference.com. All four of these were also created by James and began to be introduced in The Politics of Glory. Looking at these we see the following:

Black Ink: Batting Average HOFer ~ 27
Gray Ink: Batting Average HOFer ~ 144
HOF Standards: Batting Average HOFer ~ 50
HOF Monitor: Batting Likely HOFer > 100

Sandberg
Black Ink: Batting - 14 (162)
Gray Ink: Batting - 134 (121)
HOF Standards: Batting - 42.7 (120)
HOF Monitor: Batting - 157.5 (62)

Whitaker
Black Ink: Batting - 1 (692)
Gray Ink: Batting - 31 (720)
HOF Standards: Batting - 42.8 (119)
HOF Monitor: Batting - 92.5 (160)

Trammell
Black Ink: Batting - 0
Gray Ink: Batting - 48 (499)
HOF Standards: Batting - 40.4 (141)
HOF Monitor: Batting - 118.5 (112)

The numbers in parentheses are the career rankings.

From these we can see that Sandberg is close or over the top in three of the four measures while the other two are close in only one and not over the top in any. So while I'm not surprised that calls for the induction of Whitaker and Trammell are being made, it seems clear the Ryno's career has more aspects that generally result in election.

Of course, one of the arguments made in defense of Trammell and Whitaker is that using sabermetric analysis their careers look equivalent or slightly better than Sandberg's. This is the case since both walked more than Ryne, a skill that is still undervalued. This shows up in the fact that Whitaker's career OPS is 117 to Sandberg's 114 and Trammell's 110. So I certainly grant that from a career offensive perspective there isn't much to separate these three. However, Bill James has also created a system called Win Shares that attempts to allocates portions of team wins to individual players usig both offense and defense. Doing some analysis on this shared on the SABR-L list this week Cyril Morong has found that Sandberg is 13th among second baseman in Win Shares per 648 plate appearances with 24.16 and Whitaker is 21st with 22.82.

Perhaps I'm biased but I do think that Ryno's career was superior to either of the others judged by his peak performance level and broader array of skills. So if any of them deserve induction it would be Sandberg.

5 comments:

DET0103 said...

Intriguing commentary and analysis Dan, I intend to read it again more carefully as many of Bill James' stats are unfamiliar to me. However, what is still hard to understand given your general summary that these players are very similar, is that Sanberg got in on first ballot, while Whitaker didn't receive enough votes to be reconsidered the next year. Whitaker also won a World Series - something never won by Sandberg. Very odd. This feels like big city media bias or racial bias.

Dan Agonistes said...

You make an excellent point. It's hard to argue that one should garner so many more votes than the other. If I had to guess its the name recognition (gold gloves, mvp, defense record, homerun record at 2b) that primarily controls the voting.

Anonymous said...

Seems that stats-wise, whitaker, sandberg and trammell are all too close to call. So the main arguement for Sandberg (whom I feel deserves to be in the HOF) is based upon intangibles. So how about this one - Lou and Tram were the longest double play tandem in history. Does that not count for anything, given that the stats are very similar, other than popularity contests like Gold Gloves or All Star games? Speaking of Gold Gloves, perhaps Ryne had a little more range, but WHitaker could turn the double play better than anyone, he had the strongest arm of any second basemna I've ever seen.

Anyway you look at it, Lou Whitaker was completely robbed and screwed by the HOF balloters. Again, Sandberg deserves his spot, so this is not to take anything away from him, it is just amazing that Whitaker was treated like dog doo on the bottom of the shoe, while he makes it in on the first ballot.

Anonymous said...

When talking of Ryne vs Lou, keep in mind those gold gloves people tout. While, it is true Ryne won 9, and Lou 3 alot of Lous' gloves were gobbled up by Roberto Alomar. Besides the fact that the voters for them gloves are the same that, 1. vote for the hall of fame. 2. gave a gold glove to Raphale Palmero. (check my spelling?) Even though he played what 30 games at 1st base?

Anonymous said...

Looks like you opened up a can of worms, Dan. If Sanberg is in, so should be the greatest DP combo in the history of BB.

I saw these 2 play every day for several years. To me, they were exceptional. Your stats show me they deserve to be in.