SweetSpot: Mike Schmidt



Best seasons by third basemen since 1980, at least according to Baseball-Reference's Wins Above Replacement formula:

1. Adrian Beltre, 2004 Dodgers: 9.6
2. Alex Rodriguez, 2007 Yankees: 9.4
3. Rodriguez, 2005 Yankees: 9.4
4. George Brett, 1980 Royals: 9.4
5. Scott Rolen, 2004 Cardinals: 9.1
6. Wade Boggs, 1985 Red Sox: 9.0
7. Mike Schmidt, 1980 Phillies: 8.8
8. Miguel Cabrera, 2013 Tigers: 8.8 (projected)
9. Wade Boggs, 1989 Red Sox: 8.4
10. David Wright, 2007 Mets: 8.3

Cabrera is certainly having a historic season with the bat. If we look strictly just at hitting by third basemen, the list looks like this in terms of runs produced compared to an average hitter from that season:

1. Cabrera, 2013: 79 (projected)
2. Rodriguez, 2007: 65
3. Rodriguez, 2005: 64
4. Brett, 1980: 61 (in just 117 games!)
5. Jim Thome, 1996 Indians: 60
6. Chipper Jones, 1999 Braves: 59
7. Chipper Jones, 2007 Braves: 58
8. Boggs, 1988 Red Sox: 57
9. Ken Caminiti, 1996 Padres: 56
10. Boggs, 1987 Red Sox: 56

Eric Karabell argues that the first list gives too much credit to defense; he may be right -- Rolen is credited with 3.3 WAR on defense alone in 2004, for example, although he doesn't top 2.0 in any other season. And it's true that none of the players on the first list were bad defensive players in those seasons, except Cabrera, who is credited with minus-1.1 WAR on defense so far. Boggs didn't have a great defensive reputation early in his career, although he later won two Gold Gloves with the Yankees, and Baseball-Reference credits him as a plus defender for most of his career (although not in the class of Rolen or Beltre).

Does Cabrera's offensive output make up for his subpar range at third base? In the video, we discuss Schmidt's 1980 season, when he hit .286/.380/.624. Schmidt posted a 1.004 OPS that year; the only other National Leaguers to reach even .900 were Keith Hernandez at .902 and Jack Clark at .900. Bob Horner and Dale Murphy, both playing in the Launching Pad in Atlanta, were the only other National Leaguers to reach 30 home runs.

SportsNation

Which third baseman had the best all-around season since 1980:

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    54%
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    15%
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    6%
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    20%
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    5%

Discuss (Total votes: 4,911)

As impressive as Schmidt was compared to his peers, Baseball-Reference still credits him with "just" 47 runs produced above average, compared to Cabrera's projected total of 79. As Karabell says in the video, .286 is not the same as .359. But do Schmidt's defense and baserunning advantages make up for Cabrera's edge at the plate? I think it's close. Schmidt was still a very good third baseman in 1980 and B-R credits him with plus-11 runs, compared to Cabrera's minus-15 so far. B-R actually gives Cabrera the minor edge in baserunning, plus-1 to minus-1, although Schmidt did steal 12 bases that year.

Anyway, measuring defense remains imperfect. But in measuring the complete package of a player, it must be considered. Cabrera is having an all-time great offensive season, but it's a good debate whether it's the best all-around season by a third baseman of the past 35 years or so. (And to be fair, WAR isn't going to factor in that Cabrera is hitting an insane .422 with runners in scoring position.)

What do you think?
1965: Reds draft Johnny Bench
Back in the first draft, it was still possible to dig up a relatively unknown kid from rural Oklahoma. Bench wasn't selected until the second round -- the 36th player overall -- and seven other catchers went ahead of him. Jim McLaughlin, the Reds' farm director in 1965, in Kevin Kerrane's classic book on scouting, "Dollar Sign on the Muscle":
A friend of mine with another club said, "You better send someone down to Binger, Oklahoma, to look at this kid Bench. We're not gonna draft him because the general manager's seen another he likes up in New England." ... They took that New England catcher on the first round, and the kid never got above Double A. And we took Bench on the second round. It was kind of a poker game. Nobody else knew much about him; his team hadn't played many games, and our scout was usually the only one there, so we could wait. After the draft Bill DeWitt, my boss, said, "I've never heard of him." I said, "I know you haven't, but you will. And that's why you hired me -- to hear about kids like this one."

Does McLaughlin's story check out? Sort of. There was no catcher from New England drafted in the first round, but the Orioles did take a catcher from Dartmouth in the second round -- one pick ahead of Bench. As to the claim that nobody else knew about Bench, at least one other team saw him: the Dodgers drafted a high school teammate of Bench's in the seventh round, but passed twice on selecting Bench.

1966: Reggie Jackson falls into A's lap
In one of the more famous draft blunders, the Mets' had the No. 1 pick and passed on Arizona State outfielder Jackson to select a high school catcher named Steve Chilcott, who would battle injuries and never reach the majors. "It was a position pick," said Joe McDonald, a Mets executive at the time. "We did not feel we had an adequate catching prospect in the organization."

1966: Braves draft Tom Seaver
The Braves? Yep. Atlanta selected Seaver in the now non-existent January secondary phase of the draft (for players who had previously been drafted). Seaver, pitching at USC, had been drafted the previous June by the Dodgers, but didn't sign after the Dodgers turned down his $70,000 asking price. The Braves took him with the 20th pick of the January phase, setting off a weird chain of events. The Braves signed Seaver for $40,000, but commissioner Spike Eckert ruled Seaver was ineligible to sign because USC had already played two exhibition games (Seaver didn't pitch). But the NCAA then declared Seaver ineligible, because he had signed a pro contract. So Eckert ruled that any team willing to match the Braves' offer would enter a lottery. The Mets, Phillies and Indians matched, and the Mets won the lottery.

1971: George Brett and Mike Schmidt drafted back-to-back
Pretty cool that arguably the two greatest third basemen in history were drafted the same year with consecutive picks. The catch: They went in the second round, Brett and then Schmidt. The Royals' first-round pick was a pitcher named Roy Branch, who briefly reached the majors but never won a game; the Phillies' pick was Roy Thomas, who had a marginal eight-year career as a reliever, although never pitched in the majors for the Phillies.

1976: Trammell and Morris ... and Ozzie (sort of)
In 1976, the Tigers had one of the great drafts ever, selecting Steve Kemp in the January phase and then Alan Trammell (second round), Dan Petry (fourth round), and Jack Morris (fifth round). Trammell and Morris aren't in the Hall of Fame yet, but both could get there someday. No team has ever drafted (and signed) two future Hall of Famers in the same draft. The kicker: They also drafted Ozzie Smith in the seventh round, but he didn't sign, and the Padres selected him the following year.

1987: Mariners draft Ken Griffey Jr.
The Mariners owned the first overall pick, and penurious Mariners owner George Argyros wanted the club to draft college pitcher Mike Harkey, because he would be easier to sign and presumably quicker to reach the majors. Scouting director Roger Jongewaard won out in the end. (Harkey went fourth overall, to the Cubs.)

1988: Dodgers draft Mike Piazza ... in 62nd round
Maybe the most famous late-round pick, Piazza was the Dodgers' final pick that year -- the 1,390th pick overall out of 1,395.

1990: Braves land Chipper Jones
Hard-throwing high school right-hander Todd Van Poppel was the consensus top talent in the 1990 draft -- "the best pitching prospect ever" label had been slapped on him -- but his declaration that he didn't want to sign and instead attend the University of Texas scared teams off him. So the Braves took Jones, which worked out pretty well for them.

2000: Cardinals draft Yadier Molina
The 2000 draft as one of the worst ever -- after top pick Adrian Gonzalez (by the Marlins), the rest of the top 15 were Adam Johnson, Luis Montanez, Mike Stodolka, Justin Wayne, Rocco Baldelli, Matt Harrington, Matt Wheatland, Mark Phillips, Joe Torres, Dave Krynzel, Joe Borchard, Shaun Boyd, Beau Hale and Chase Utley (OK, finally one that panned out). Keep that list in mind when you get excited about your team's first-round pick this year. The only other first-round of note that year was Adam Wainwright (by the Braves). He would eventually get traded to St. Louis, where he would team with a young catcher from Puerto Rico also drafted in 2000.

2009: Nationals draft Stephen Strasburg
The story here is how the Mariners kicked away the No. 1 overall selection. The Nationals headed into the final weekend with a record of 59-99, having gone 3-11 over their previous 14 games. The Mariners were 58-101 and had lost 14 of 15. This was tanking at its best. All the Mariners had to do was lose one game to lock up the first pick. One loss. Easy, right? Instead the Mariners sweep the A's. The Nationals lose all three. Josh Outman's throwing error sets up Yuniesky Betancourt's two-run go-ahead in triple in the fifth inning of the season finale. In other words, if Outman doesn't throw the ball away, Strasburg might be in a Mariners uniform instead of a Nationals one. (With the second pick, the Mariners selected Dustin Ackley.)

Hall of Fame already compromised by PEDs

December, 28, 2012
12/28/12
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The announcement of the 2013 Hall of Fame voting results is around the corner, and there's sure to be plenty of teeth gnashing involved once they come out on January 9. We might be treated to the spectacle of purportedly clean players like Craig Biggio and Jack Morris voted in, while vastly superior players like Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds remain on the outside looking in. Is this a case of results may vary? No, my friends, make no mistake: Results will vary.

[+] EnlargeBiggio
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesBeing a player who was not suspected of using PEDs should enhance Craig Biggio's Hall of Fame chances.
Particularly where purported performance-enhancers are concerned, you already know to expect plenty of slow news day moralizing and some character assassination when the results come out. For that kind of sports-page sermonizing you can thank the guidelines, such as they are. What constitutes a Hall of Fame ballplayer is an opaque mishmash: “Voting shall be based upon the player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.”

The first two are rough synonyms for what a guy did on the field, which we can measure fairly objectively thanks to Alexander Cartwright. In contrast, the next three are entirely subjective and depend on the individual voter's sense -- or flat-out guess -- about these things and their importance; relative to the first two statistical bases for voting, they're sort of apples to oranges. Sure, they might matter, but good luck on nailing down how much and to what extent; results will certainly vary from voter to voter. And that last suggested standard sort of sums of these two broad categories of criteria, which to stretch the metaphor must make it a pluot or something.

Then there's the tradition of some voters withholding their votes for some first-timers on the ballot because these knowing scribes worry about how only a certain kind of player is “supposed” to get in during his first year. This seems like a self-important, self-reinforcing conceit, that first-year winners are special as opposed to their getting in the first year being a special result. Special, as opposed to mere Hall of Fame ballplayers? If a player is special, just vote for him already; even these made-up standards have made-up standards.

For all that, I'm nevertheless looking forward to the day when I may eventually get to vote. You might reasonably think that's because I'll get to use the ballot to sound off about players I've seen, analyzed, touted and excoriated, but that's not quite it. There's little about talking about a player's performance relative to the Hall of Fame which is any different from what every electron-stained wretch in the Fourth Estate gets to do every day … except for the responsibility voting entails, and come the day, I figure I'll be leaning heavily on the first two criteria for election more than the others.

That's because working as a baseball writer for 15 years has taught me that, while there are plenty of ways to be objective about a player's career, there's wisdom in leaning on the expertise of others. I expect to refer to the work of an old Baseball Prospectus colleague, Jay Jaffe, and his Jaffe WARP Score system metric for evaluating players' careers to suggest Hall worthiness using the statistical standards informally established by the examples of who's been voted in already.

Using JAWS to look at this year's ballot on Baseball-Reference.com, we can see that there might be as many as 13, maybe even 14 guys worthy of election because they're at least within a point or two of their already enshrined peers: Bonds, Biggio and Clemens, plus Jeff Bagwell, Curt Schilling, Larry Walker, Alan Trammell, Tim Raines, Kenny Lofton, Edgar Martinez, Rafael Palmeiro, Mark McGwire and Mike Piazza. Lee Smith is kind of tricky, because there aren't a ton of relievers in the Hall of Fame, and the standards for relief greatness have changed dramatically over a very short period of time. Each case is fun to mull over, and it'll be interesting to see how they do.

As simple as that might seem, you can bet voting won't be that simple for most voters, because a good number of them will be publicly wringing their hands over the purported performance-enhancing benefits of PEDs and whether players suspected of using them to enhance their performance should be banned because their use is considered antithetical to those standards of “integrity, sportsmanship, and character.”

[+] EnlargeBarry Bonds
AP Photo/Noah BergerBarry Bonds will likely be more successful with his 2011 perjury trial than with January's Hall of Fame voting.
I admit, I prefer evidence in such matters: Convictions in court or suspensions by MLB, clear violations of baseball's rules against the non-prescription use of prescription drugs. That rule has been on the books since 1971, much longer ago than the 2005 agreement specifically banning PEDs like steroids and amphetamines. Using either was a clear case of breaking rules within the game and -- since 1991, when possession of a non-prescription steroid became a federal crime -- and the law outside of it.

The game's lax enforcement of its own rule across the decades since and the writers' willingness to do likewise by enshrining amphetamine users suggests to me that the issue today is less about the numbers or even guilt and innocence by the nebulous standards of “integrity, sportsmanship, and character,” and more about writers going on about the immorality of steroids and stooping to playing make-believe about some players while doing so.

Witness what's happened to Jeff Bagwell: Innocent by any reasonable or legal standard, he's been loudly pronounced guilty by a few character assassins with votes who retroactively decided he somehow looked 'roid-y back in the day. The witches of Salem got better due process, but that's the problem in a nutshell: The issue of PEDs has become less about actual guilt or innocence, and isn't even about performance or performance-enhancement, if ever it was. Instead, it has become an opportunity for one sportswriter or another to be visible as a noisily moral public person. Swell.

For those who are squeamish about voting for one PED suspect or another, I guess I'd remind them that the Hall already represents a collection of shabby compromises and irrevocable judgments, which we are not free to undo. We don't get to kick out Cap Anson because we can't be sure how many hits he had, or because today we'd consider him a racist guilty of wrecking decades of baseball history by fighting for the game's segregation, probably the worst thing anyone associated with the game's history has been a part of.

And we also don't get to go back and kick out the amphetamine users. I mean, c'mon, no Mike Schmidt or Hank Aaron in the Hall of Fame? By their own admission they broke the same baseball rule on the books that Bonds did, and they did so for the same reason -- to enhance their performance.

Which is why I'd go so far as to say this: If you're worrying for the sake of the sanctity of the Hall where Bonds or Clemens are concerned, you need to ask and answer whether it still has any, or ever did. And after that, perhaps we'll come to the conclusion that the Hall's purpose is not to play make-believe about some players to keep them in or keep them out, but is instead to preserve the game's history, many warts and all.


Christina Kahrl covers baseball for ESPN.com. You can follow her on Twitter.
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.
Barry Bonds, Randy JohnsonAP Photo/Eric RisbergBarry Bonds hit three home runs in 49 at-bats against left-handed power thrower Randy Johnson.
The other night I tweeted something like, "Would love to see Aroldis Chapman face 2001 Barry Bonds." On the Baseball Today podcast, we had a reader ask us about best pitcher-hitter matchups to watch for over the next few years.

With that prompt, I'd thought it would be fun to list 10 of my all-time favorite matchups I would have wanted to see ... although a few of them are recent enough that some of us did see them. With help from Baseball-Reference.com and Retrosheet.org, we can even find results of the matchups.

Ty Cobb versus Walter Johnson (.366, 1 HR)
According to researcher Terry Cullen, Cobb hit .366 in his career off Johnson (120-for-328) -- pretty amazing considering Cobb's average against all pitchers was ... .366. While Cobb reportedly said Johnson's fastball "looked about the size of a watermelon seed and it hissed at you as it passed," he certainly didn't have issues hitting it. Cobb knew Johnson was too nice to pitch inside, so he'd crowd the plate. "I saw him wince when he fired one close to somebody's head, and he used to tell me that he was afraid someday that he would kill a man with that fireball," Cobb once said. "So I used to cheat. I'd crowd that plate so far that I was actually sticking my toes on it when I was facing Johnson. I knew he was timid about hitting a batter, and when he saw me crowding the plate he'd steer his pitches a little bit wide. Then with two balls and no strikes, he'd ease up a bit to get it over. That's the Johnson pitch I hit. I was depending on him to be scared of hitting me." Now, that's what Cobb said; seems a little too simple though, doesn't it? Why didn't every hitter do that? There's no doubt the approach helped Cobb, but unlike most hitters, he could hit Johnson's fastball. (By the way, his only home run off Johnson was an inside-the-parker.)

Babe Ruth versus Lefty Grove (incomplete)
Some say Grove was the best pitcher of all time -- 300 wins with a .680 winning percentage, nine ERA titles, seven consecutive strikeout titles. Wouldn't you love to see Ruth taking a big cut against Grove's legendary fastball? I couldn't find Ruth career's numbers against Grove, but he did hit nine home runs off him, tied with Lou Gehrig and Hank Greenberg for the most against Grove. In the data Retrosheet has available, Ruth hit .300/.349/.438 with three home runs in 80 at-bats, six walks and 27 K's.

Ted Williams versus Bob Feller (.347/.467/.677, 9 HR in 124 ABs)
Those numbers are from Retrosheet, but are incomplete. From 1948 to 1956, Williams crushed Feller -- .389/.511/.833, with eight home runs in 72 at-bats. So, at least initially, Feller fared better before Williams started dominating. Williams did call Feller the best pitcher he ever faced.

Willie Mays versus Bob Gibson (.196/.315/.304, 3 HR in 92 ABs)
With his fastball/slider combo, you might expect that Gibson was tough on right-handed batters and you'd be correct: right-handers hit .204 against him, left-handers .257. Basically, he owned Mays, who struck out 30 times in 108 plate appearances and had just four extra-base hits. In James Hirsch's biography of Mays he tells the story of Gibson once visiting Mays' home wearing glasses. Gibson didn't wear them when he pitched. "You wear glasses? Man, you're going to kill somebody one of those days," Mays said. Hirsch writes that later in his career Mays started conveniently scheduling off days against hard-throwers like Gibson and Tom Seaver, and that he always preferred off-speed pitches to fastballs.

Hank Aaron versus Bob Gibson (.215/.278/.423, 8 HR in 163 ABs)
Aaron had a little more success than Mays. So who did hit well against Gibson? Billy Williams hit .259 but with 10 home runs in 174 at-bats and 24 walks against 14 strikeouts. Richie Hebner had a 1.127 OPS against Gibson in 74 PAs, batting .387. Darrell Evans, facing mostly the late-career Gibson, never struck out against him in 35 PAs, drawing 11 walks and and hitting three home runs.

Willie Mays versus Sandy Koufax (.278/.426/.536, 5 HR in 97 ABs)
Of course, Mays faced the young Koufax, and then the unhittable Koufax. During Koufax's 1962-1966 run, when he led the National League each season in ERA, Mays still hit a respectable .242/.373/.484, with more walks than strikeouts.

Hank Aaron versus Sandy Koufax (.362/.431/.647, 7 HR in 116 ABs)
Of 73 players with at least 40 career plate appearances against Koufax, only five hit .300. Most of that damage was against pre-'62 Koufax, as Aaron hit .259 from '62 to '66.

Mike Schmidt versus Nolan Ryan (.179/.405/.482, 5 HR in 56 ABs)
Ryan came over to the Astros in 1980, the year Schmidt won the first of his three MVP trophies. In the ultimate battle of power hitter versus power pitcher, the results were perhaps what you would expect: Schmidt hit for a low average, but got on base and popped home runs at a pretty good ratio.

Barry Bonds versus Greg Maddux (.265/.376/.508, 9 HR in 132 ABs)
The two came up in 1986, so it's not surprising that Maddux faced Bonds more than any hitter in his career. How good was Bonds? Even the pitcher with pinpoint control walked him 24 times in 157 PAs with just 16 strikeouts. Bonds' nine home runs off Maddux are the most he hit off one pitcher, tied with John Smoltz. Bonds had an .883 OPS against Maddux, but 1.138 against Smoltz and .992 against Tom Glavine. Who did own Bonds? He went 3-for-33 off Chuck McElroy, with just one walk (although two home runs).

Barry Bonds versus Randy Johnson (.306/.452/.551, 3 HR in 49 ABs)
Johnson had 37 intentional walks in his career; 34 were to right-handed batters. Two were to Barry Bonds. The other? Jeremy Hermida. Go figure. The first walk to Bonds came in 2003, runner on second, no outs, sixth inning, Diamondbacks down 2-0. The second one came in 2004 and is more interesting: 2004, game tied in the fifth, runners on first and second. Edgardo Alfonzo hit a fly ball to deep left-center that Luis Gonzalez dropped; Steve Finley was then credited with an error on the throw in as all three runners scored. The walk to Hermida came in 2008, in a game Hermida was batting eighth. Maybe that's when Johnson knew he was nearing the end.

What are some of your favorite matchups?

Follow David Schoenfield on Twitter @dschoenfield.
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 the Boston Red Sox lost the heartbreaking Game 6 of the 1986 World Series, Dennis "Oil Can" Boyd was scheduled to start Game 7.

The game got rained out, which gave Red Sox manager John McNamara an option: Boyd on five days' rest or Bruce Hurst on three days' rest. Boyd had started Game 3 and allowed four runs in the first inning but settled down after that and pitched seven innings (allowing two more runs in the seventh on a two-out single). Hurst had won Game 1 with eight shutout innings and Game 5 with a complete game, allowing two runs. Hurst had started only once all season on three days' rest, in the American League Championship Series, but all things considered, it was a pretty easy decision for McNamara.

He went with Hurst. Boyd was upset he didn't get the call. Hurst departed in the seventh inning with the game tied at 3-all. The Mets blistered the Boston bullpen and won 8-5. Boyd never got in the game. This past November, McNamara said Boyd was too drunk to use in relief.

Boyd wasn't exactly a stable personality to begin with. Earlier that season, upset about not being named to the All-Star Game despite an 11-6 record, he threw a tantrum, which eventually led to his being temporarily suspended from the club. Peter Gammons wrote a Sports Illustrated cover story on Boyd that August.

Now Boyd admits to being a heavy cocaine user while in the big leagues. The revelation isn't really a surprise, not considering Boyd's past issues and factoring in the widespread use of the drug during much of the decade.

Yes, Boyd had a problem, but he also was a symptom of his times. He wasn't the only major leaguer using cocaine in the 1980s. Players from Hall of Famer Paul Molitor to Keith Hernandez to Tim Raines to countless others admitted using the drug. It was the thing to do.

Sound familiar? Sound like another epidemic that spread through the baseball world in the 1990s?

One group of players did something that arguably hurt their performance. Another group of players did something that arguably helped their performance. Yet one group is reviled. George Brett has said he doesn't think Roger Clemens will ever get into the Hall of Fame. "There are a lot of Hall of Famers, a lot of pitchers that are saying [Clemens] better not get in while I’m still alive, because I’ll never come back," Brett told a Kansas City radio station in 2010. "These guys are upset that their records are being broken and they did it the right way, and other people are doing it the wrong way."

Brett, of course, isn't the only person to echo those sentiments. But what's that quote about glass houses? Players in the '80s had their drug of choice; the next generation of players had theirs.

That's why I respect Mike Schmidt, another Hall of Fame third baseman from the '80s. He has said he probably would have used steroids had they been popular in his era. As he says, it was part of the culture. No, that doesn't make using steroids right, no more than it was OK that Oil Can Boyd started two-thirds of his games while on cocaine.

Part of the culture. Maybe Hall of Fame voters will someday begin to understand this.
Morgan-Bonds-PujolsAP PhotoJoe Morgan, Barry Bonds and Albert Pujols all made cases for being the best player in the game during different stages of their career.
The genesis for this article came out of all the recent Hall of Fame discussions. A lot of arguments were along the lines of “Tim Raines was one of the best players in baseball in the mid-'80s,” or “You know, Don Mattingly was the best in the game there for a few years,” or perhaps “Barry Larkin was as good an all-around player as anybody at his peak.”

None of those statements are necessarily incorrect. But are they good Hall of Fame arguments? How many players can you claim were “one of the best in the game” over a period of years? So here’s what I did. I went back to 1969 and looked at each five-year span to determine the five best players in baseball, based on cumulative Baseball-Reference wins against replacement over those five years. (For the purposes of this piece, I looked just at position players.)

So here we go, with the usual caveats about WAR. You’ll see a lot of the same players and you’ll see a lot of Mike Schmidt and Barry Bonds and Albert Pujols in the top spot. But while the best player may not change all that often, it’s interesting to see who pops in some of the top five slots.

1969-1973: Sal Bando (33.6), Joe Morgan (32.7), Reggie Jackson (32.2), Johnny Bench (30.4), Pete Rose (30.1)

Our first entry and we already get a big surprise: Sal Bando, the best player in baseball? It may seem odd now, but Bando was one of the most respected players in the game at the time and finished second, third and fourth in MVP votes in 1971, 1973 and 1974. He hit for power, drew walks and played a solid third base, putting up big numbers for the era in the Oakland Coliseum, a place where batting averages and fly balls often went to die.

1970-1974: Joe Morgan (37.6), Johnny Bench (31.9), Sal Bando (30.0), Reggie Jackson (29.2), Pete Rose (28.8)

No change in the top five, although Morgan takes a big leap ahead of the others, replacing a more mundane 1969 with a monster 1973. You’re going to see a lot of Morgan here, as his 1972-76 run was one of the greatest five-year stretches in baseball history.

1971-1975: Joe Morgan (46.2), Reggie Jackson (33.3), Johnny Bench (31.9), Pete Rose (29.6), Willie Stargell (29.5)

Some believe Rose was a compiler, a good player who merely played forever. That’s not accurate; while he was never the best player in the game -- although he did win the 1973 MVP Award -- he was clearly one of the best for a period of years. This peak coincides with his years in the outfield; his value started declining once he moved to third base in 1975, where it’s fair to say he wasn’t exactly Brooks Robinson.

1972-1976: Joe Morgan (51.0), Rod Carew (33.2), Cesar Cedeno (32.5), Johnny Bench (32.1), Bobby Grich (32.0)

Absolutely phenomenal: Morgan was nearly 18 wins better than the No. 2 player over this five-year span. I don’t know if any player has ever dominated the game to the extent Morgan did over this stretch (that’s another article). Cedeno was a marvelous talent, a power/speed center fielder who hit .298 while averaging 21 home runs and 55 steals per season over these five years. The Astros moved the fences back in 1977 (10 feet at the foul lines, 12 feet in the power alleys), hurting Cedeno’s power. He injured his knee in 1978 and then broke his ankle in the 1980 playoffs, sapping his speed and effectively ending his years as a productive player.

(Read full post)

ESPN Insider Matt Meyers has a piece on Adrian Beltre, arguing that the labels placed on Beltre throughout his career are unfounded and inaccurate. I agree with Matt's general assessment that Beltre has been a tremendously underrated and underappreciated player during his career. Matt points out that Beltre is 19th on Baseball-Reference.com's all-time WAR (wins abovement replacement) for third basemen (or 21st, depending on how you do your search).

Considering Beltre is 32 and coming off an excellent season, he should have more good years left and climb up that list, maybe close to the top 10. That would certainly seem to put him in the Hall of Fame discussion ... except: Except there is probably too little perception of Beltre as a Hall of Famer. Much of Beltre's value derives from his excellent defense. B-R rates him ninth all-time in runs saved among third basemen (behind, in case you want to know: Brooks Robinson, Buddy Bell, Robin Ventura, Clete Boyer, Scott Rolen, Graig Nettles, Mike Schmidt and Gary Gaetti). But Beltre also has 310 home runs and 1,113 RBIs. It's not too much of a stretch to see him topping 400 home runs and 1,500 RBIs ... and the only third basemen to do that are Schmidt and Chipper Jones. George Brett is the only other third baseman with 1,500 RBIs.

Still, Beltre will be facing an uphill battle, no matter where his career totals end up. But he's been a terrific player, even if he's flown under the radar much of his career.
Chipper JonesMike Stobe/US PresswireWhere does future Hall of Famer Chipper Jones rank among the best third basemen of all time?
If you’re an Atlanta Braves fan, maybe you remember the rookie Bobby Cox entrusted to hit third in the lineup in the 1995 World Series. Or maybe you remember September of 1999, when Chipper Jones hit 10 home runs, including two solo shots in a 2-1 victory over the Mets. He followed that performance with one more in each of the next two games as the Braves swept their NL East rivals to turn a one-game division lead to four. Or maybe you recall 2008, when Jones was hitting .400 as late as June 18. Or maybe you just remember that sweet, easy stroke from both sides of the plate that generated more power than you always expected.

Jones recently announced that he’ll be returning for a 19th major league season in 2012. I’m sure he found the $13 million salary to his liking, but he’s also returning because he’s still a productive hitter. Despite undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery on July 9 and then suffering a hamstring strain, Jones is hitting a solid .279/.349/.468, including .386 in August. A line like that will lead a player to believe he has something left.

I would hope everyone recognizes by now that Jones is a first-ballot Hall of Famer. Last week, I exchanged Twitter messages with readers on where Jones ranks among the greatest third basemen of all time. Six names came up in that discussion, and with apologies to Home Run Baker and Ron Santo, here is my ranking of them.

(For the uninitiated, WAR stands for wins above replacement level, an all-encompassing stat that factors in a player's hitting, fielding and baserunning. All WAR numbers used in this story are from Baseball-Reference.com.)

6. BROOKS ROBINSON

"If his feet were slow, his reflexes were the fastest. If his arm was average, his accuracy and quick release were the best. Somehow he always seemed languid, especially as he threw overhand toward first; yet the fastest runners were out by larger margins when Robinson made his syrupy perfectos than when the most kinetic jack-in-the-box third basemen made similar plays as frantically as though they’d just sat on a cattle prod."
--Thomas Boswell


Career: .267/.322/.401, 2896 G, 268 HR, 1357 RBI, 1232 R, 104 OPS+, 69.1 WAR
Best five seasons (1964, ’68, ’67, ’62, ’71): 33.5 WAR
Best 10 consecutive (1962-71): 51.9 WAR
Best 10 hitting seasons: +142 runs above an average hitter

Robinson was so beloved in Baltimore that his final game with the Orioles drew the largest regular-season crowd up to that date in Memorial Stadium history. Robinson won 16 Gold Gloves and the defensive numbers back up his reputation -- Baseball-Reference rates him as the greatest defensive player ever, ahead of Andruw Jones, Roberto Clemente and Ozzie Smith. But I think he’s pretty clearly the No. 6 guy on this list, despite his syrupy perfection at the hot corner. His bat is just too far behind the other guys. Not that he was an easy out -- he had enough power to hit 20 or more home runs six times and hit .317 in his 1964 MVP season. That was also the only year he slugged better than .500. He didn’t walk much, leaving his on-base percentage nearly 100 points less than Wade Boggs', for example. But he was an amazingly durable player, a great teammate and a key member of some of the greatest teams of all time.

5. WADE BOGGS

Wade Boggs
US PresswireWade Boggs may have been helped by the quirks at Fenway.
"There’s no question that Boggs hits the ball farther and harder than Jim Rice or Dwight Evans or Don Baylor. He has titanic power that he hasn’t shown yet. But he will. He regularly hits the ball onto the roof in Chicago and into the waterfalls in Kansas City. He’ll hit 10 home runs in one round of batting practice. He’d win any home run contest he ever entered."
--Red Sox pitching coach Bill Fischer, 1987


Career: .328/.415/.443, 2440 G, 118 HR, 1014 RBI, 1513 R, 130 OPS+, 89.0 WAR
Best five seasons (1987, ’88, ’86, ’85, ’89): 43.1 WAR
Best 10 consecutive (1982-91): 69.3 WAR
Best 10 hitting seasons: +425 runs above average

Boggs never did hit for power, except for that one season in 1987 -- the rabbit ball season -- when he hit 24. Otherwise, his career high was 11, as he was content to slap doubles off the Green Monster, win batting titles (he won five) and collect his 200 hits per season (he did so seven straight seasons). That Boggs became a Hall of Famer and collected 3,000 hits was pretty remarkable considering his first full season didn’t come until he was 25. His great eye at the plate and high batting averages produced some fantastic peak seasons. From 1983 to 1989 he hit .352 with a .446 on-base percentage, leading the AL in OBP in six of those seven years.

And yet I’m always left wondering if Boggs would have been as good anywhere else. During his Red Sox years from 1982 to1992, he hit .369 at Fenway, .307 on the road. On the one hand, Boggs deserves credit for mastering the unique dimensions of his home park; on the other hand, he never developed the power that so many said he possessed. His high on-base percentages made him an incredibly valuable offensive player and he was underrated with the glove, but would he have had a .328 career average if he'd come in a more conventional park? The best players would be stars in any era or any ballpark, and there is just enough of a question with Boggs that I put him fifth on this list.

4. GEORGE BRETT

"Sometimes I think the catcher can hear me, but I try not to let him. I'll say, 'I'm hot,' or 'I’m really swinging the bat good,' or 'I’m going to hit this pitcher.' But, hey, that's where it ends. It's not like I'm always having conversations with myself. I mean, I don't go back to my hotel room and say, 'What do you want to watch on TV, George? Oh, I don't know. Johnny Carson looks pretty good tonight.'"
--George Brett


Career: .305/.369/.487, 2707 G, 317 HR, 1596 RBI, 1583 R, 135 OPS+, 85.0 WAR
Best five seasons (1980, ’79, ’76, ’85, ’77): 41.9 WAR
Best 10 consecutive: (1976-85): 62.2 WAR
Best 10 hitting seasons: +392 runs above average

Baseball-Reference has a fun tool called the MLB EloRater, in which you’re given two players and rate which one you think was better. It then converts those choices into a ranking of players. As I write this, Brett is rated 20th all time among position players, two spots ahead of Mike Schmidt, and the highest among third basemen. So the fans think Brett is the best ever. I just don’t see it, and I say that as somebody who had a Brett poster on his wall as a kid. (OK, I had a Schmidt poster as well.)

It’s easier to compare these two since they were contemporaries -- in fact, they were chosen with consecutive picks in the 1971 draft, the Royals drafting Brett 29th overall, the Phillies selecting Schmidt 30th. Offensively, Brett hit 38 points higher, despite which Schmidt still posted a better career on-base percentage. Schmidt placed in the top 10 in the NL 11 times in OBP, Brett seven times in the AL. Obviously, Schmidt had more power -- 231 more home runs, led his league eight times. Defensively, Brett turned himself into a good fielder after being a bit error-prone early in his career, but he was also shifted to first base at age 34 and played only 15 games at third over his final seven seasons. Schmidt, meanwhile, was a superb third baseman; he may not have deserved all 10 of his Gold Gloves, but he deserved many of them.

As pretty as Brett’s swing was, as California cool as he was, as clutch as he was in the postseason (.337/.397/.627 in 43 games), I have to rank Schmidt higher.

3. EDDIE MATHEWS

[+] EnlargeEddie Mathews
AP PhotoEddie Mathews has the second-best WAR among third baseman in the history of the game.
"He does everything well. He hits, he hits with power, he's a good fielder, he has a good arm, he's a fast runner. Maybe he won't lift a team the way a Mays or a Mantle will, but he's still one of the five or six best players in the game. You talk about Mays, Musial, Mantle, Aaron. He's in that group.
--New York Giants vice president Chub Feeney, 1958


Career: .271/.376/.509, 2391 G, 512 HR, 1453 RBI, 1509 R, 143 OPS+, 98.3 WAR
Best five seasons (1953, ’55, ’63, ’60, ’54): 41.3 WAR
Best 10 consecutive (1953-62): 73.2 WAR
Best 10 hitting seasons: +483 runs above average

Mathews was one of the best young players in baseball history, hitting .302 with 47 home runs and 135 RBIs at age 21. He never hit 47 again and hit .300 only two more times, and while active some viewed him as a disappointment ... not exactly fair given the numbers he put up. You can see this in the MVP voting: Mathews finished second in 1953 in that age-21 year and second in 1959, when he hit .306 with 46 home runs, but had only two other top-10 finishes (eighth and 10th). In 1954, he hit .290/.423/.603 with 40 home runs, but finished only 19th in the vote. The next season, he hit .289/.413/.601 and finished 18th. Man, those were some tough voters.

During my Twitter discussion, one reader pointed only to Mathews’ WAR advantage as evidence that he was the second-greatest third baseman. My issue with using just WAR is that it was "easier" to accumulate WAR during Mathews’ time. Here’s what I mean: A 7.0 WAR season is an MVP-type season. Factoring in the number of teams per season, here’s the ratio of "team seasons" for each 7.0-WAR season:

1950-1959: 1 for every 3.3 team seasons (49 7.0 WAR seasons in the decade, out of 160 team seasons)
1960-1969: 1 for every 2.9 team seasons
1970-1979: 1 for every 5.0 team seasons
1980-1989: 1 for every 5.1 team seasons
1990-1999: 1 for every 4.6 team seasons
2000-2009: 1 for every 4.5 team seasons

To me, this means it was more difficult to achieve a 7.0 season in the '70s and '80s than in the '50s or '60s. I would argue this is because the overall caliber of play improved. Fewer "bad" players means it’s harder to excel beyond an average player or replacement player, which is what WAR measures. Now, the other interpretation could be simply that the '50s had more superstar seasons. Anyway, here is the number of 7.0 WAR seasons for the six guys on our list:

Robinson: 3
Boggs: 6
Brett: 5
Mathews: 8
Jones: 3
Schmidt: 9

2. CHIPPER JONES

"It helps that he has some ridiculous gifts. He was in a visiting clubhouse a while back, reading the crawl on a cable channel from about 30 feet away. A teammate said, 'You can read that?' Jones thought, You can't? He can remember hundreds, maybe thousands of at-bats, what he hit off whom. One night last week, after a game in which he saw two dozen pitches, he could remember in detail all but two or three of them: count, pitch, location, result. He watches game tape like a detective, and if a pitcher tends to slightly open his glove before throwing a curve, Jones knows it."
--Michael Bamberger, Sports Illustrated


Career: .305/.403/.533, 2359 G, 449 HR, 1549 RBI, 1550 R, 142 OPS+, 82.0 WAR
Best five seasons (2007, 1998, ’99, ’08, ’96): 34.9 WAR
Best 10 consecutive (1998-2007): 57.5 WAR
Best 10 hitting seasons: +444 runs above average

Chipper’s game was consistent excellence over a long time. His peak seasons may not quite match those of Brett or Mathews, but he’s never had a bad season. He’s had some injury issues later in his career, but through age 32 he averaged 153 games per season. Brett, meanwhile, battled injuries throughout his career (the turf in Kansas City didn't help); he played 140-plus games nine times, but four of those came after he moved to first base or DH. Considering Chipper’s adjusted OPS is actually greater than Brett’s and Brett moved to first base in his mid-30s, I give Chipper the slight edge.

The call over Mathews is a little tougher. Chipper had the weakest glove of the six, while Mathews was regarded a solid glove. (Baseball-Reference gives Mathews a five-win advantage over Chipper for defense over their careers.) Chipper’s adjusted OPS is actually nearly identical to Mathews’ and right now Baseball-Reference has Mathews as creating 550 runs above an average hitter of his era, Chipper at 549. Yes, Mathews has a good edge in career WAR. I think it’s close, and maybe I’m succumbing to era bias here, but I’m going Chipper by the length of a Louisville Slugger.

1. MIKE SCHMIDT

"I don't think I can get into my deep inner thoughts about hitting. It's like talking about religion."
--Mike Schmidt


Career: .267/.380/.527, 2404 G, 548 HR, 1595 RBI, 1506 R, 147 OPS+, 108.3 WAR
Best five seasons (1974, ’77, ’80, ’76, ’82): 45.6 WAR
Best 10 consecutive (1974-83): 81.5 WAR
Best 10 hitting seasons: +449 runs above average

Schmidt was one of the first players to strike out a lot and not really care about it. He struck out 136 times in 132 games as a rookie (when he hit .196). He led the NL in home runs each of the next three seasons, but also led the league each year in strikeouts (138, 180, 149). At a time when batting average was still the primary way to evaluate a hitter, the fact that Schmidt struck out a lot and didn’t hit .300 led, I believe, for him to be somewhat under appreciated early in his career. But if you trust the numbers at Baseball-Reference, he was a superstar from his second season: B-R ranks him as the No. 1 or No. 2 position player in the National League every year between 1974 and 1983, and first again in 1986. I believe Schmidt clearly remains the greatest third baseman of all time.

And what about Alex Rodriguez, you ask? We’ll cross that bridge once he plays more games at third than shortstop.

Follow David Schoenfield on Twitter @dschoenfield.
The most impressive batting practices I used to watch were those of the Oakland A's in the late 1980s. Back in those days, the Seattle Mariners weren't drawing many fans, but when the "Bash Brothers" came to town, the left-field bleachers would be packed during BP, kids and adults alike fighting for souvenirs. Let's just say Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco weren't exactly working on their opposite-field hitting in those days, so there were plenty of baseballs to be had.

A decade later, I was on the field at Tiger Stadium, watching McGwire take BP during the height of his powers. Honestly, I didn't care what he was using. As he launched home run after home run over the roof in left field, I couldn't believe a human being could hit a baseball that far.

Anyway, Big Mac is in our Ultimate Home Run Derby bracket. Disappointingly, Canseco failed to make the final cut, as did Negro Leagues star Josh Gibson, whom many have said hit 'em longer than The Babe.

So who would win such a fictional derby? Well, let's start by saying who won't win:

Babe Ruth: He'd take a break to wipe off with his Gatorade towel and get a Gatorade drink, and instead ask for a beer and a hot dog, and he'd be done.

Cecil Fielder, Prince Fielder, Boog Powell: Do they have the stamina to outlast this field?

Reggie Jackson: He'd try to show off and jack every pitch 500 feet and pop too many up.

Hank Aaron, Ted Williams, Rogers Hornsby, Frank Thomas, Joe DiMaggio, Albert Pujols: These guys were/are more line-drive hitters with the power to hit home runs, but I'm not sure that would translate over multiple rounds.

Bo Jackson, Rob Deer, Dave Kingman: Deer hit one of the longest home runs I've ever seen, about three-quarters of the way up the left-field foul pole in the Kingdome. I think it would have landed in Puget Sound if it hadn't hit the pole. That said, these guys probably would swing and miss pitches even in BP.

Jose Bautista: Unless the contest is being held in Toronto.

Manny Ramirez: Ability to focus for multiple rounds would be an issue.

Roger Maris, Frank Robinson, Hank Greenberg, Harmon Killebrew: Greenberg had a huge home/road home run split in his career: 205 at home, 126 on the road. As for the others, I guess I'm just biased against players from the '60s.

Alex Rodriguez: Come on, you know he'd start pressing.

Ryan Howard: What if the BP pitcher threw left-handed?

Barry Bonds, Lou Gehrig: Bonds never did well in the derbies in which he participated. Gehrig would conserve his energy for a real game.

My bracket finals:

Mike Schmidt versus Josh Hamilton: If the contest is held during the day, Hamilton has no chance.

Mickey Mantle versus Ken Griffey Jr.: Mantle has the switch-hitting advantage, so he could swing from whichever side gave him the park advantage and he could hit the ball a country mile, as they say. But Griffey was so smooth and effortless, the perfect swing for a home run derby. And he won three of these things. Edge: Junior.

Sammy Sosa versus Mark McGwire: Big Mac moves on in a titanic battle.

Willie Mays versus Jimmie Foxx: Mays had surprising power for his size, but they called Foxx "The Beast." I'll take somebody with that nickname.

Semifinals

Schmidt versus Griffey: Griffey wins. Let's just hope Schmidt doesn't cry after losing.

McGwire versus Foxx: I was standing on Lansdowne Street behind the Green Monster at the 1999 All-Star Game when McGwire hit one over the street, off the top floor of the parking garage and onto the Massachusetts turnpike. My god, was that hit far. He was juiced. The balls might have been juiced. I'll still take Big Mac.

Finals

Griffey versus McGwire: Griffey, baby! In his prime, Junior's pretty swing was a thing of perfection.
Wednesday's Baseball Today was one to remember for me, as Hall of Fame third baseman Mike Schmidt was the special guest in studio. Needless to say, this was not a short interview. Then again, I was also joined by SweetSpot editor/writer David Schoenfield. Wow, two Hall of Famers on one show! Here's why you should listen:

Schmidt
Schmidt
1. When Mr. Schmidt talks, perk up your ears. We talked about the current state of the game, the Hall of Famers that probably will not be joining him in Cooperstown, the kids that don't always listen and, of course, booing. Don't miss it.

2. The Dodgers unveiled a few future stars in Philly on Tuesday -- or will they be superstars? -- and Dave and I discuss Dee Gordon and Rubby De La Rosa ... as well as a fading Roy Oswalt.

3. Was Tuesday night the beginning of the end for the Yankees' Freddy Garcia? It's amazing how one outing can change opinions so quickly. On the positive side, the best is yet to come for a Boston pitcher.

4. The state of the Cubs is not a positive one. A beleaguered emailer searches for hope in a world that doesn't offer much for Cubs faithful. Though we did try.

5. Wednesday's ESPN game pits survivors Tim Wakefield versus A.J. Burnett, and each looks legitimate. However, tune in to see what we picked as the night's top pitching matchup, and whether there will be a bit of Bryce Harper-like retribution.

Plus: Excellent emails, Chipper Jones criticizes Jason Heyward, attendance problems, Vin Mazzaro, why hitting in the NL East is just awful, why Alex Avila is a stud, more stars versus superstars debate with a Jack Nicholson theme and really, so much more. Listen to Wednesday's Baseball Today!
We talked baseball caps. We talked Braves and Derek Jeter and lots of other things. Check it out here.
To go with our Willie Mays package today, SportsNation worked up a list ranker with 30 of the greatest players of all time. Don't agree with me that Willie Mays was the greatest ever? Then Click here to vote yourself.

Here's my quick list without spending too much time thinking about it:

1. Willie Mays: He could hit, hit for power, run the bases and field with the best we've ever seen. Could have won as many as 10-11 MVP Awards.
2. Barry Bonds: If he had played center field instead of left, I'd consider him for No. 1.
3. Babe Ruth: I'd like to see him hitting 95-mph fastballs on a regular basis.
4. Hank Aaron: A testament to longevity, consistency, durability and greatness.
5. Stan Musial: Won three MVPs and finished second four other times.
6. Ted Williams: Maybe the greatest hitter of all time, but I give Musial the slight all-around edge.
7. Albert Pujols: Barring injury, he's this good.
8. Roger Clemens: We don't know what he did and if it helped. But we know what he did on the field. Greatest pitcher of all time.
9. Mike Schmidt: Dominated the mid-'70s to the mid-'80s. Eight-time home run champ and one of best fielding third basemen ever.
10. Walter Johnson: Could have dominated in any era.

11. Honus Wagner: Won batting titles, ran the bases and hit for power in the dead-ball era.
12. Lou Gehrig: Only strike against him is he didn't play a premium defensive position.
13. Alex Rodriguez: You can't deny the numbers.
14. Lefty Grove: The most underrated great pitcher of all time. Won nine ERA titles.
15. Mickey Mantle: If only he had stayed healthy.
16. Ty Cobb: Would love to go back in time and bring him back to 2011.
17. Josh Gibson: They say he hit 'em longer than the Babe.
18. Joe Morgan: The most underrated great position player of all time. Did everything well.
19. Rickey Henderson: The object is to score runs and nobody has scored more than Rickey.
20. Greg Maddux: 355 wins, fourth-most starts, more pitches painting black than anyone.

21. Cal Ripken: Overrated as a hitter, underrated as a fielder.
22. Tom Seaver: Mets fans still can't believe they traded him.
23. Pedro Martinez: At his peak, the best ever. Four pitches that made batters cry.
24. Frank Robinson: And to think he was only third-best NL outfielder of the early '60s.
25. Johnny Bench: Knees gave out, but those first 12 seasons were amazing.
26. Satchel Paige: Was he even the best Negro Leagues pitcher?
27. Rogers Hornsby: No denying his hitting numbers. Too low? Maybe so.
28. Pete Alexander: Won 94 games over one three-year span, impressive even for the time.
29. Cy Young: Yes, you can say I'm disrespecting the 19th century.
30. Sandy Koufax: A little bit of a product of his time and a huge home/road splits, plus short career for this list.

Follow David on Twitter: @dschoenfield. Follow the SweetSpot blog: @espn_sweet_spot.
For the first time this baseball season "Baseball Tonight" anchor/Twitter fiend Steve Berthiaume joined us on the Baseball Today podcast , and let's just say this was one memorable show. Among the reasons you need to listen to Ernie (Mark Simon), Bert (Berthiaume) and Cookie Monster (me!) are:

1. We hit on the big news of the day, that the Royals gave up on Kila Ka'aihue … and of course we discuss that intriguing Eric Hosmer fellow!

2. Bert shares amazing tales of his video game research obsession, and if you're anything like me, you want to know where to sign up. Like now.

3. We all had a favorite player growing up, and it turns out Bert's played on the same team with mine. As for Simon's choice, his came a bit later.

4. More on records not likely to broken, and further introspection on how cool triples are.

5. As Willie Mays celebrates his 80th birthday, we say, hey, is he the greatest ballplayer of all time? Our answers might surprise you.

Plus: Excellent emails, our comprehensive weekend preview and of course we had to check in on Bert's preseason pick from the NL Central (hint, it's not going well, but stop reminding him!) ... all this and more in a very interesting Friday episode of Baseball Today! Have a great weekend and don’t forget to follow all of us on Twitter (@SBerthiaumeESPN, @msimonespn and, of course, @karabellespn)!

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