One of my favorite parts of being a SABR member is all the great baseball talk over email. Today, I was emailing with a SABR member who recently interviewed John Thorn, the official historian of Major League Baseball. He asked Thorn for some 20th century players who belong in the Hall of Fame. Thorn mentioned Bobby Grich, among others. This SABR member couldn’t see it.
Yep, Hall Rating has Grich as one of the very best outside the Hall.
- 139 Hall Rating (100 is Hall cutoff)
- Ranks 87th all time (among hitters and pitchers)
- Ranks 7th among 2B (with one non-HOFer ahead of him—Lou Whitaker—and THIRTEEN HOF 2Bs behind him)
Totally agree with him on that one.
He replied with the dreaded “WAR doesn’t match my impression of how good a player was, so WAR is therefore flawed” argument, so I did what I had to do. After rattling off some bullet points, I realized this is a pretty good look at how I dig into a (perhaps) questionable WAR figure and see where it comes from (like I did with Rick Reuschel). I figured I’d share it here.
I kept it as is, so the passion in feverishly jotting down bullet points remains.
My Case for Bobby Grich
- WAR is a complicated stat with a lot of inputs. Let’s cast that aside for now to explain how WAR arrives at that impressive total for Grich.
- Comparatively, OPS+ is not complicated. It combines OBP and SLG (two numbers we know are important), park adjusts them (something we know is very important), and compares them to the league (something we know is incredibly important). An OPS+ of 100 = league average.
- Bobby Grich had an OPS+ of 125.
- How good is that? Among 2B with 8,000 plate appearances, only FOUR IN HISTORY had a higher OPS+ [Rogers Hornsby (175), Nap Lajoie (150), Eddie Collins (142), Joe Morgan (132)].
- In history!
- How is that possible? Grich batted only .266, after all. That compares to a league average of .258. Above average, but not great. Where Grich really stands out offensively is power and patience. He slugged .424 while the league slugged .384. His OBP was .371 while the league’s was .324. That is a huge difference. Add it up and Grich’s OPS was .794 against the league’s .707. That’s how you get an OPS+ of 125. Steve Garvey’s OPS+, for example, was 117. Jim Rice was 128. Dave Parker was 121. That’s how good an offensive player Grich was. He just did it with plate discipline and power during a power-depressed era. That’s how you fly under the radar.
- When we compare Grich to league average, remember that I’m including outfielders, first basemen, etc. (not just other 2B).
- Also remember we’re discussing a second baseman who once led his league in home runs and slugging percentage. That doesn’t happen often.
- Also, offense is only part of what made Grich great. WAR says he was as good defender. So do the four consecutive Gold Gloves he earned in Baltimore. Yeah, but he dropped off in California. WAR agrees with that, saying 89% of his defensive value came in Baltimore.
- Grich’s position had value, too. Second base isn’t as valuable as shortstop, but it is quite valuable. Grich’s career was relatively short by Hall of Famer standards. But he also was an above average performer in his final season, forgoing the slow decline others used to reach career milestones. Despite all this, he stayed at second base for so long that only 18 players in history played more games there. That is much more valuable by hanging on as a DH with middling offensive production.
- Let’s look at Tony Perez (first name that came to mind). In his last 8 seasons he was worth a combined 3.3 WAR. But he used that time to accumulate 626 hits. Makes his totals look much better although he wasn’t providing much on-field value.
- Grich’s walks would rank 5th among HOF 2B. His home runs would rank sixth. This is despite his plate appearances ranking 15th.
- By WAR’s batting component, he’d rank 8th. This is notable because OPS+ (where Grich ranks 5th) is a rate stat. WAR’s batting component prorates batting value over time played. So we see Grich drop a bit because of his shorter career. But he’s still eighth!
- By WAR’s defensive component, he ranks 10th. He’s top ten in both!
- The only second basemen who can beat his offense AND defense (by WAR) are… Nap Lajoie. That’s it.
- Add all of this up and you have a 70 WAR player. That’s 92nd among all players and 61st among position players.
- Hall Rating gives him a bit of a boost because he did it in a shorter time than most (i.e. higher peak).
I guess what I want to know is where this falls apart. A relatively simple assessment of the numbers means that if Grich isn’t a Hall of Famer, then Joe Gordon, Billy Herman, Bid McPhee, Bobby Doerr, Tony Lazzeri, Nellie Fox, Johnny Evers, Red Schoendienst, and Bill Mazeroski have no chance. I quibble with some of those choices, but I’d vastly prefer an inclusive Hall of Fame (since it already is one).