SweetSpot: Eddie Collins

Mark Simon and I teased this on the Baseball Today podcast, so here it is. Tom from Melbourne, Fla., writes in:
    I have a slew of answers for Friday's ridiculous question regarding greatest difference in WAR in consecutive years. For the analysis, I wrote a program to search player profiles and career stats on Baseball-Reference.com for every major league player in history. Here are the results.

    Largest one-year increase in WAR for batters (min 350 PA in each year): A total of 30 players have had increases in WAR of greater than 6.0 in a year. The largest one-year increase was by Rickey Henderson from his rookie season in 1979 (-1.0 WAR) to his sophomore season in 1980 (8.7 WAR), a difference of +9.7 WAR. The top-10 list includes several Hall of Famers (Henderson, Eddie Collins, Babe Ruth, Mike Schmidt), two active players (Matt Kemp, Josh Hamilton), a guy called "Nails" (Lenny Dykstra, of course), and two guys who had a standout season (Bret Boone, Tommy Harper). Boone went from a WAR of 0.0 in 2000 to an MVP-esque WAR of 8.5 in 2001.

OK, this is Dave again. I'll run Tom's lists with some of my own commentary.



Besides Henderson, Collins and Schmidt were also cases of players developing from their rookie seasons to their sophomore years. Collins increased his average from .273 to .346 and his stolen bases from eight to 63. (Like Henderson, he also barely met the 350-plate appearance cutoff.) Schmidt hit .196 with 18 home runs as a 23-year-old rookie in 1973. What were the odds that player would develop into the best third baseman of all time? As a sophomore, he hit .282 and led the National League in home runs and slugging percentage while playing a great third base. Dykstra was actually healthy in 1989, but after a midseason trade from the Mets to the Phillies, he had hit just .222 with Philadelphia, dragging down his season numbers. In 1990, he hit .325 and led the NL in hits and on-base percentage. Other than 1993, he'd spend much of his remaining seasons on the DL.

Babe Ruth appears twice, both following shortened seasons. In 1922, he played just 110 games, missing the first six weeks because of a suspension due to offseason barnstorming actitivities and then more time when he has suspended again for jumping into the stands to confront a heckler (imagine if that happened today!). In 1925, he suffered his infamous "Bellyache heard 'round the world" season and played just 98 games while hitting .290. Ruth had initially fallen ill during the Yankees' spring training tour, a stomach ache blamed on eating too many hot dogs. Good stories. Ruth later underwent surgery for what doctors called an intestinal abscess although one teammate suggested Ruth's problem occurred a little lower on his anatomy. Others have speculated alcohol poisoning. Whatever the cause of Ruth's ailments, he bounced back in 1926.

The one name that may surprise you is Tommy Harper. The Seattle Pilots selected Harper from the Indians in the 1969 expansion draft and while he led the AL with 73 stolen bases he hit just .235 with just 21 extra-base hits in 148 games. The team moved to Milwaukee in 1970 and Harper discovered his power stroke, hitting a career-high 31 home runs while playing third base.

Here are the five biggest decreases:



As Tom writes, "Sisler missed the entire 1923 season with a severe case of sinusitis which resulted in double vision, and he was never the same after that." After hitting .420 in 1922, his averaged dropped to .305 when he finally returned in 1924. We talked about Ruth. Ashburn looks like a case of a guy who just got old overnight. A fleet center fielder known his on-base skills and range, Ashburn had led the NL with a .350 average and .440 OBP in 1958 at the age 31. In 1959, those numbers dropped to .266 and .360 and his defensive numbers took a big hit. His speed numbers also dropped -- 13 triples to two and 30 stolen bases to nine. Maybe there was an injury involved here, but Ashburn missed just one game and the Phillies traded him after the season. Looks like a guy who just lost his speed to me. Ripken's 1991 MVP season remains one of the biggest fluke seasons in recent decades. He hit between .250 and .264 every season from 1987 to 1993 except for 1991 when he exploded with one of the great offensive seasons ever by a shortstop. Similarly, Boudreau had one of the best shortstop seasons of all time in 1948, hitting .355 with a .453 OBP (he had 98 walks and just nine strikeouts) while being credited with 3.0 WAR on defense alone. Boudreau had bad ankles and even though he was just 31, 1949 would be his last season as a regular.

Anyway, thanks to Tom for the lists. Good stuff.
MorganRich Pilling/Getty ImagesIn the mid-1970s, Joe Morgan was the best all-around player in baseball -- by a large margin.
In 1975, Joe Morgan hit .327 with 17 home runs and 94 RBIs. Those traditional statistics may not seem impressive, but Morgan’s season ranks as one of the best in the game’s history.

As we begin voting Monday on the greatest individual season of all time, consider Morgan's value that season:

  • He drew 132 walks, giving him a league-leading .466 on-base percentage (the highest figure, by the way, in either league between Mickey Mantle in 1962 and Wade Boggs in 1988).
  • Because of his ability to get on base, he created a lot of runs --about 145, 17 more than the No. 2 hitter in the league, Greg Luzinski. But he created his runs in an efficient manner. He used up 354 outs; Luzinski, by comparison, used up 443 outs. So Morgan created more runs while using up 89 fewer outs.
  • He stole 67 bases in 77 attempts. Factor in his speed, and he was one of the best baserunners in the league.
  • He was an outstanding defensive second baseman, not only winning a Gold Glove but also ranking as the third-best overall defensive player in the National League in 1975, according to Baseball-Reference.com.
  • He did all this in an era when second basemen usually produced little at the plate. In 1975, National League second basemen hit a collective .267/.330/.353 (BA/OBP/SLG) -- with just 80 home runs. Morgan hit nearly one quarter of all home runs by National League second basemen. In 2011 terms, that would be akin to a second baseman hitting close to 50 home runs.
  • The Reds won 108 games, Morgan was the near-unanimous MVP winner, and he even drove in the winning run in the ninth inning of Game 7 of the World Series.

Add it up, and you end up with a player who was the best hitter in the league and one of the best defenders and baserunners in his league, and he did so while towering over other players at his position and playing on a championship team.

The wins above replacement statistic attempts to capture all this. In 1975, Morgan’s Baseball-Reference WAR was 12.0, the best of his career and easily the best in the National League. During his 1972 to 1976 peak, Morgan rated as the best player in the NL four times, at least acording to Baseball-Reference.



In 1975, Morgan was a full five wins better than Mike Schmidt, an astonishing total. Only 12 times since 1901 has a player recorded a bWAR of at least 4.5 wins higher than the No. 2 position player in his league:

1921 AL: Babe Ruth (14.0) over Ty Cobb/Tris Speaker (6.6)
1924 AL: Babe Ruth (11.9) over Harry Heilmann (6.2)
1956 AL: Mickey Mantle (12.9) over Yogi Berra (7.3)
2002 NL: Barry Bonds (12.2) over Jim Edmonds (7.2)
1975 NL: Joe Morgan (12.0) over Mike Schmidt (7.0)
1924 NL: Rogers Hornsby (13.0) over Frankie Frisch (8.0)
1967 AL: Carl Yastrzemski (12.2) over Al Kaline (7.3)
1946 AL: Ted Williams (11.8) over Johnny Pesky (6.9)
1923 AL: Babe Ruth (14.7) over Harry Heilmann (9.8)
1926 AL: Babe Ruth (12.0) over Goose Goslin (7.2)
1922 NL: Rogers Hornsby (10.7) over Dave Bancroft (5.9)
1948 NL: Stan Musial (11.5) over Johnny Mize (6.9)

For what it’s worth, only three of those 12 seasons ended in a World Series title -- Morgan, Mantle and Ruth in 1923.

So maybe Joe Morgan didn’t hit 73 home runs or drive in 191 runs or bat .400. But his 1975 season ranks as sleeper candidate for greatest individual season of all time.

* * * *

It wasn’t easy picking the 32 best seasons. I had two rules: Only one season per player, so we’d end up with a bracket of 32 different players; and I considered only seasons since 1901 (sorry, Ross Barnes fans).

It was important to get a diverse list of eras as well as positions. I did put a little more emphasis on more recent decades; basically, the quality of the game has improved over time, thus making it more difficult to post seasons with huge WAR totals like Ruth put up. Here is the breakdown by decade:

1900s -- 1
1910s -- 3
1920s -- 3
1930s -- 2
1940s -- 4
1950s -- 3
1960s -- 2
1970s -- 3
1980s -- 3
1990s -- 4
2000s -- 4

And by position:

C -- 2; Johnny Bench, Mike Piazza.
1B -- 3; Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Rod Carew.
2B -- 4; Eddie Collins, Rogers Hornsby, Jackie Robinson, Joe Morgan.
3B -- 2; George Brett, Mike Schmidt.
SS -- 5; Honus Wagner, Ernie Banks, Robin Yount, Cal Ripken, Alex Rodriguez.
LF -- 6; Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, Rickey Henderson, Barry Bonds, Albert Pujols. (Ruth played left field in 1921, and Pujols primarily played left in 2003.)
CF – 8; Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker, Hack Wilson, Joe DiMaggio, Stan Musial, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Ken Griffey Jr. (Musial started at all three outfield positions in 1948 but played the most in center.)
RF -- 2; Hank Aaron, Sammy Sosa.

So there are our 32 players. I didn’t necessarily pick each player’s highest WAR season. In some cases, a player’s iconic season -- like Ted Williams’ .406 year or Hank Aaron’s 1957 MVP campaign -- was selected. In some instances, maybe a player had other things in his favor that would help him to potentially fare better in the voting, like a big RBI total. Certainly, WAR is a good baseline to use because it helps us adjust for differences in eras, but it shouldn’t be the only factor in determining the better season between two players. Was what Williams accomplished in 1941 more impressive than what Morgan accomplished in 1975? Is Yount being the best hitter in his league while playing shortstop more impressive than what Babe Ruth did in 1921 against an inferior brand of pitching? Maybe you prefer the all-around brilliance of Mays or DiMaggio over the pure hitting dominance of Rogers Hornsby or Lou Gehrig.

Which seasons just missed the cut? There were seven players who had a bWAR season of at least 10.0 who didn’t make the bracket -- Lou Boudreau, Jason Giambi, Ron Santo, Adrian Beltre, Home Run Baker, Norm Cash and Matt Kemp. Sorry, guys. (Just noticed there are three third basemen there; too late now to change the final 32, unfortunately.)

So get to the bracket and start voting. We’ll do one round per day this week, culminating in the final matchup on Friday.

Let the debates begin.

Follow David Schoenfield on Twitter @dschoenfield.
After listing the youngest MVP winners in my previous post, here's a list of the all-time all-young team, the best seasons by players in their age-22 (or younger) seasons*:

C -- Johnny Bench, 1970 Reds (22). The MVP winner led the NL with 45 home runs and 148 RBIs and won the Gold Glove after throwing out 48 percent of basestealers. According to Baseball-Reference's WAR figure, three of the top four 22-and-under catcher seasons belong to Bench (Bill Freehan's 1964 sneaks in). That's why Bench was the most popular baseball player in the early '70s.

1B -- Jimmie Foxx, 1929 A's (21). Only three first basemen accumulated a 5.0 WAR or better at 22 or younger: Foxx (twice), Stuffy McInnis (twice) and Hal Trosky. Foxx hit .354 with 33 home runs and led the AL with a .463 on-base percentage in '29.

2B -- Eddie Collins, 1909 A's (22). I think we'll find that most of the big offensive seasons at these young ages came from outfielders. Based on WAR, Collins is a landslide winner for his sterling .347/.417/.450 line from '09. Tack on 67 steals and great defense and he's an amazing four wins better than the next-best season, Joe Morgan's 1965 campaign for Houston.

3B -- Eddie Mathews, 1953 Braves (21). Mathews' second season in the bigs was so spectacular -- 47 home runs, 135 RBIs, .406 OBP, .627 slugging -- that it put unfair expectations on him the rest of his career. He remained one of the NL's best players throughout his 20s, but his last All-Star appearance came when he was 30.

SS -- Alex Rodriguez, 1996 Mariners (20). Slight edge over Cal Ripken's 1983 or A-Rod's 1998. In '96, in his first full season, he hit line drive after line drive after line drive. He hit .356 with 54 doubles and 36 home runs and didn't turn 21 until late in July.

LF -- Ted Williams, 1941 Red Sox (22). Rickey Henderson was awesome in '80 (100 steals, .420 OBP), but Ted hit .406.

CF -- Cesar Cedeno, 1972 Astros (21). Hit .320/.385/.537 in the Astrodome, with 55 stolen bases. At the time, he looked like a sure bet Hall of Famer. As predicted, many great young center fielders to choose from -- Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Ken Griffey Jr., Tris Speaker, Andruw Jones ... which tells how good Cedeno was.

RF -- Ty Cobb, 1909 Tigers (22). Won the Triple Crown while also leading the league in runs, hits, stolen bases, on-base percentage and slugging percentage. I'd say that was a pretty good season.

P -- Dwight Gooden, 1985 Mets (20). Went 24-4 with a 1.53 ERA, 16 complete games and eight shutouts. Should have won the MVP Award, but received just one first-place vote. Strange because Roger Clemens would win the AL MVP the next season with an identical 24-4 record.

P -- Bob Feller, 1940 Indians (21). If you think Gooden was worked hard, Feller went 27-11 with 31 complete games and 320 innings pitched.

P -- Vida Blue, 1971 A's (21). As mentioned earlier, he's the youngest player to win the MVP Award. With a blazing fastball, he went 24-8 with a 1.82 ERA and 301 strikeouts in 312 innings. He had a long, successful career, but was never again as dominant.

P --Bert Blyleven, 1973 Twins (22). People forget how good Blyleven was at a young age. He went 20-17, but led the AL in adjusted ERA and threw nine shutouts while pitching 325 innings.

P -- Joe Wood, 1912 Red Sox (22). His 34-5 record was impressive even for 1912. They called him Smoky because of his fastball, and Walter Johnson once said Wood threw harder. Wood led the Red Sox to the World Series title but a broken thumb the next season led to arm problems that eventually ended his pitching career (he made it back to the majors as an outfielder).

*22 as of June 30 of that season.

Follow David Schoenfield on Twitter at @dschoenfield. Follow the SweetSpot blog at @espn_sweet_spot.
One of my baptismal moments as a baseball fan came when I was about 9 or so, and I had a new baseball card that was one of those historical tributes, this one to Walter Johnson. Riding in the back of our '76 Plymouth van, I quizzed my dad on how many career strikeouts the Big Train had, thinking there was no way he would get the exact four-digit number. When Dad said "3,509," I was flabbergasted. How could he possibly have known?

[+] EnlargePaul Molitor
Doug Pensinger /AllsportHall of Famer Paul Molitor, who retired in 1998, is the last player to crack the top 10 in all-time hits.
Soon enough, I learned the joy of losing myself in baseball's career stat leaders. In that long-before-the-Internet era, you would pore over the Baseball Encyclopedia or the Street and Smith's annual preview. We never saw Johnson or Ty Cobb play, but through those numbers (which later proved to be subject to correction by baseball researchers), they began to gain a purpose. They began to gain an identity.

Things change. Johnson, who was No. 1 in career strikeouts when I was a boy (in fact, was the tops from 1921 through 1983), is No. 9 today. Steve Carlton passed him first, then Nolan Ryan leapfrogged Carlton and obliterated the mark, finishing with 5,714. Besides Johnson, just one pre-World War II pitcher is left in the top 20. That's Cy Young, resting in 20th place with 2,803.

With marriage and three children, I'm forced to live much more in the present than maybe I'd like to, especially from a baseball standpoint. It's been years since I've luxuriated in the career tables like I did in the past -- one of life's simple pleasures lost to a much more complex existence. And so when I turned my attention to the career strikeout leaders today, it didn't surprise me much that so much change had occurred.

But when I looked over at the career hit leaders, I was taken aback -- by the utter stability of it all. It was as if it were frozen in time, but the truth is, that top-10 list is a boulder that would not be moved.

It was just as I left it as a single man. The most recent player to break into the top 10 was Paul Molitor, whose major league career began before my 11th birthday and ended back in 1998. Carl Yastrzemski was the only other top-10er to play into my teen years.

I mean, I don't know what I was expecting -- and those of you with healthier attention spans will think me a fool for being the least bit surprised, so forgive me -- but how wonderful, how glorious, how … viscerally energizing it was to see these names hold up over time. Rose and Cobb and their angry, cantankerous 4,000-plus hit careers. The classy Hammerin' Hank and Stan the Man holding strong in third and fourth. The classic old-timers -- Speaker, Cap Anson, Honus Wagner -- in the meat of the lineup at 5-7. At eight and nine, Yaz and Molitor, young whippersnappers even as they court the AARP demographic.

And then … this was my favorite. No. 10, with 3,315 hits: Eddie Collins. To my utter shame, I haven't given Eddie Collins a nanosecond of thought in years. My mind has been too polluted by extraneous, worthless details like work and family to give Collins the time of day -- and yet there he sits, steady as granite. Mays couldn't catch him. Murray and Ripken couldn't catch him. Yount and Gwynn, Winfield and Biggio, Henderson and Carew, Brock and Palmeiro and Boggs … all playing in the 162-game era, many with the designated hitter rule in their right pocket, and none could touch Collins, born in 1887, christened in 1906, retired by 1930. When he passed away in 1951, he was fifth all-time in hits. Sixty years later, he's lost only five spots.

Soon, Collins might finally face his top-10 eviction notice. Derek Jeter has 2,926 career hits, more than any ballplayer at age 36 since Yount, two decades ago. By July, Jeter will probably break 3,000 and (with all the subtle media coverage of a moon landing) become the 28th man to reach that milestone, leaving him perhaps no more than two years away from Collins. Behind Jeter looms Alex Rodriguez, barely 600 hits from Collins and Molitor at age 34.

After that? Maybe 36-year-old Ichiro Suzuki has more than 1,000 hits left in him to catch Yastrzemski. Quite possibly, 30-year-old Albert Pujols , who has 1,900 hits in his first decade, picks up close to the same in his second, knocking out Wagner.

And so maybe that stability on the all-time hits list is headed by the wayside. Hours ago, I wouldn't have known what I missed. But now I wonder … I miss Walter Johnson in that No. 1 spot. Is it that crazy that I might miss Eddie Collins at No. 10?

If it is, all I can say is that's the same kind of crazy that made me the baseball fan I am today.

Jon Weisman writes about the Dodgers at Dodger Thoughts for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.

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