Revisiting the player of the 1990s discussion

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bonds pirates.jpgSince my Ken Griffey Jr. retirement piece received so much feedback…
After the 1999 season, Ken Griffey Jr. was famously named the Player of the Decade by the players themselves, as part of the MLBPA’s Players Choice Awards. No balloting was ever announced, so we don’t know how close the vote was. The choice garnered quite a bit of publicity at the time, making it the only Players Choice Award to ever really do so. The MLBPA still hands them out every year, with Albert Pujols collecting Player of the Year awards after each of the last two seasons. Interestingly, there was no vote after last year to select a player of the aughts.
But this is about the 1990s. Let’s look at the players who should have considered along with Griffey for the award.
Ranked by OPS+, here’s a list of the top 10 hitters from the 1990s (minimum 1,000 games)
1. Barry Bonds – 179 – .302/.434/.602, 361 HR, 1,076 RBI, 343 SB in 1,434 games
2. Mark McGwire – 172 – .268/.411/.615, 405 HR, 956 RBI, 9 SB in 1,221 games
3. Frank Thomas – 169 – .320/.440/.573, 301 HR, 1,040 RBI, 28 SB in 1,371 games
4. Jeff Bagwell – 159 – .304/.416/.545, 263 HR, 961 RBI, 158 SB in 1,317 games
5. Edgar Martinez – 154 – .322/.430/.532, 196 HR, 750 RBI, 38 SB in 1,295 games
6. Ken Griffey Jr. – 152 – .302/.384/.581, 382 HR, 1,091 RBI, 151 SB in 1,408 games
7. Albert Belle – 150 – .299/.376/.581, 351 HR, 1,099 RBI, 172 SB in 1,336 games
8. Gary Sheffield – 145 – .294/.401/.517, 227 HR, 763 RBI, 143 SB in 1,189 games
9. Larry Walker – 142 – .313/.390/.571, 262 HR, 851 RBI, 189 SB in 1,278 games
10. Rafael Palmeiro – 139 – .299/.375/.534, 328 HR, 1,068 RBI, 67 SB in 1,526 games


That’s a list of the decade’s best hitters. Not quite making the cut was Juan Gonzalez, who had 339 homers and 1,068 RBI but a 137 OPS+.
As for the best players, there are a few more names that have to be considered:
Mike Piazza – 156 – .328/.391/.575, 240 HR, 768 RBI, 13 SB in 981 games
Barry Larkin – 126 – .303/.388/.466, 137 HR, 639 RBI, 266 SB in 1,293 games
Craig Biggio – 125 – .297/.386/.441, 136 HR, 641 RBI, 319 SB in 1,515 games
Roberto Alomar – 122 – .308/.382/.460, 135 HR, 732 RBI, 311 SB in 1,421 games
Ivan Rodriguez – 106 – .300/.337/.465, 144 HR, 621 RBI, 60 SB in 1,169 games
And let’s not forget the pitchers. This time, I’ll sort by ERA+, with a minimum of 1,200 innings pitched
1. Greg Maddux – 162 – 176-88, 2.54 ERA, 1,764 Ks in 2,395 IP
2. Pedro Martinez – 156 – 107-50, 2.83 ERA, 1,534 Ks in 1,359 IP
3. Roger Clemens – 152 – 152-89, 3.02 ERA, 2,101 Ks in 2,178 IP
4. Randy Johnson – 141 – 150-75, 3.14 ERA, 2,538 Ks in 2,063 IP
5. David Cone – 135 – 141-85, 3.21 ERA, 1,928 Ks in 2,017 IP
6. Kevin Appier – 131 – 120-90, 3.47 ERA, 1,494 Ks in 1,868 IP
7. Mike Mussina – 130 – 136-66, 3.50 ERA, 1,325 Ks in 1,772 IP
8. Tom Glavine – 129 – 164-87, 3.21 ERA, 1,465 Ks in 2,228 IP
9. Kevin Brown – 128 – 143-98, 3.25 ERA, 1,581 Ks in 2,211 IP
10. Curt Schilling – 126 – 99-79, 3.31 ERA, 1,561 Ks in 1668 IP
Those are our candidates for player of the 1990s offers. Only one pitcher can really be considered. Maddux not only had the best ERA+ of the decade, but he also threw 167 more innings than anyone else in the 1990s.
Here’s how Bill James’ Win Shares system rated the players for the decade:
1. Barry Bonds – 351
2. Craig Biggio – 287
3. Frank Thomas – 273
4. Jeff Bagwell – 263
5. Ken Griffey Jr. – 261
6. Rafael Palmeiro – 244
7. Roberto Alomar – 243
8. Barry Larkin – 242
9. Mark McGwire – 234
10. Greg Maddux – 231
And how WAR sees it:
1. Barry Bonds – 85.2
2. Ken Griffey Jr. – 65.9
3. Roger Clemens – 63.2
4. Greg Maddux – 61.1
5. Jeff Bagwell – 59.6
6. Frank Thomas – 54.3
7. Barry Larkin – 51.7
7. Craig Biggio – 51.7
9. Edgar Martinez – 49.9
10. Randy Johnson – 49.5
I think I like WAR’s list better than one generated by Win Shares, but pretty much any way one looks at it, Bonds was the decade’s best. He had 50 points of OBP and 20 points of slugging percentage on Griffey despite playing in a significantly harsher offensive environment. Griffey does make up some of it defensively, but only some. Bonds was an excellent defensive left fielder in his prime, and Griffey’s defense faded as the decade went on. If the talent gap between the AL and NL was as big in the 1990s as it was in the aughts, there could be a real argument between the two. However, the leagues seemed pretty evenly matched back then, even as the Yankees started treating the World Series as their birthright in the second half of the decade.
WAR’s assertion that Clemens was better than Maddux seems misguided to me, though Maddux did get a lot more help from his defense. Personally, I’d go with a top five of Bonds, Maddux, Griffey, Biggio and Thomas. Even though he spent the first two years as a catcher, Biggio played in the second-most games in the decade (behind Palmeiro). Only Bonds scored more runs than his 1,042. Some would argue that Alomar was the better player, but Biggio did have the slight edge offensively in OPS+ and he played in almost 100 more games. He played in 220 more games than Larkin.
Thomas versus Bagwell is another toughie. The two were born on the same day and they’re remarkably close on three lists here. Thomas did have a substantial edge offensively, but WAR things Bagwell’s defense more than made up for it. I’m not quite so sure. Plus, Thomas did play in an extra 54 games.
As for Piazza, the fact that he played in just 21 games in the first three years of the decade is too much to overcome. If one instead goes from 1993-2002, he’d probably be No. 2 behind Bonds.

The Braves cave, a little anyway, on their outside food policy

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On Friday the Atlanta Braves announced a new policy for outside food, prohibiting ticket holders from bringing in their own. This was a reversal of their old policy — and the policies of the majority of teams around the league — which allowe fans to bring in soft-sided coolers with their own food and beverages, at least as long as the beverages were sealed.

The Braves claimed that the policy change was “a result of tighter security being put into place this season throughout the league,” but this was clearly untrue as no other teams are cracking down on outside food like this. If there are new security procedures, everyone else is able to accommodate them without an opportunistic crackdown on fans bringing in PB&J for their toddlers. It seemed more likely that this was a simple cash grab.

Today the Braves have reversed the policy somewhat:

While they’re looking for kudos here, this is likewise an admission that the “security” stuff was bull because, last I checked, security procedures aren’t subject to popular referendum and aren’t changed when people complain. What really happened here, it seems, is the Braves, for the first time in living memory, were called out by the public for their greed and realized that even they have some responsibility to not be jackasses about this sort of thing.

Still, a gallon bag policy is not the same as it was before. You could bring coolers into Turner Field and still can bring them into most parks around the league. But I guess this is better than nothing.

Donald Trump may throw out the first pitch at the Nationals opener

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It’s just gossip now, but Politico is hearing that Donald Trump is in talks to throw out the first pitch at Nationals Park on Opening Day. The Nats are not commenting. Neither are the Palm Beach Cardinals of the Florida State League, who no doubt feel slighted given that the president effectively is a local.

With the caveat that, on Opening Day, tickets are likely to be more expensive and thus you’re likely to have a lot more rich people and friends-of-the-owners in attendance, thereby ensuring a more conservative crowd, I’m struggling to imagine a situation in which Trump strolls on to a baseball field in a large American city and isn’t booed like crazy. He’s polling as low as 36% in some places. He’s not exactly Mr. Popular.

Oh well. I look forward to him three-bouncing one to Matt Wieters and then grabbing his phone and tweeting about how it was the best, most tremendous first pitch in baseball history. Or blaming Hillary Clinton for it in the event he admits that it was a bad pitch.