Splitters and Lumpers

I’ve been thinking about baseball player types recently, and an article about psychologist James Flynn struck a chord with me in that regard. To summarize an argument I’m sure I don’t fully grasp, Flynn claims that the intelligence of present day far exceeds that of about 100 years ago. One of the distinguishing factors he sees is that 19th century intelligence focused on “splitting”, distinguishing between two things on a utilitarian level – this object is useful for this purpose, this one is not. Modern thinkers, in contrast, are “lumpers”, finding similarities between things which allow us to lump them together in an abstract category. Thinking about player types, I would argue, is this kind of thinking in action. It’s the principle behind Bill James’ similarity score system. Continue reading

Project: 2012

Ivan Rodriguez – Catcher (4th all-time) 93.1
1991-2011
10270 PA, .296/.334/.464, 2844 H, 311 HR, 127 SB (+146, 46% CS)
1999 AL MVP, 14 All-Star Games, 13 Gold Gloves, 7 Silver Sluggers

Perhaps the greatest defensive catcher of all time, and certainly the most durable. Even Johnny Bench, who could shut down a running game by his mere presence in the lineup, couldn’t match Rodriguez’s baserunner kills. Plus he had the iconic, ball thrust aloft, moment to end the 2003 NLDS. Continue reading

Project: 2011

Ken Griffey Jr. – Centerfield 100.7
1989-2010
11304 PA, .284/.370/.538, 2781 H, 630 HR, 184 SB (+3)
1997 MVP, 10 Gold Gloves, 13 All-Star Games, 7 Silver Sluggers

Possibly the most disappointing Hall of Fame career of all time? From 1990-1999 he was a god. But his 30s were not kind to Griffey. It’s actually quite alarming to think he hit 630 HRs, while missing a huge portion of his games after 2000. Even more remarkable is that this was the highest offensive context in generations. I’m not sure it’s entirely crazy to think that a healthy Griffey could have hit 800 HRs. Anyway, better to think of him as the player he was (which was a great one) rather than the player he could have been. He may have been the closest we’ll see to Mickey Mantle. Continue reading

Project: 2010

Randy Johnson – Starting Pitcher 113.1
1988-2009
4135 IP, 303-166, 3.29 ERA, 4875 K
1995, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002 Cy Young, 10 All-Star Games

Johnson has become a patron saint for young pitchers with dominating stuff who haven’t quite turned the corner. At age 30 Johnson had made 186 Major League starts and sported an impressive 81-62 record with a big strikeout rate, a solid ERA and a massive flaw in the control department. He wasn’t a bad pitcher, more like a solid #2 guy who could dominate a game, then come out next week and walk 7 and lose 8-6. Then something clicked. In fact, if you erase everything before the age of 31 I think Randy Johnson is still an easy Hall of Fame choice. In his 30s Randy Johnson was simply unbeatable. He was a massive, ugly, intimidating beast of a man on the mound. Lefties batted .199 off of him, and hit just 25 HRs off of him in 2104 plate appearances. If he’d learned how to pitch earlier I don’t have any doubt he’d have had the greatest career of any pitcher of all-time. Continue reading