Revisiting the player of the 1990s discussion

25 Comments

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.

It’s May 4 and Daniel Murphy is still out-hitting Bryce Harper

Washington Nationals' Daniel Murphy hits an RBI single during the first inning of a baseball game against the St. Louis Cardinals Saturday, April 30, 2016, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
AP Photo/Jeff Roberson
1 Comment

Nationals second baseman Daniel Murphy flirted with the cycle in Wednesday afternoon’s 13-2 drubbing of the Royals, as he went 4-for-5 with a pair of singles, a two-run double, and a solo home run. That brings his triple-slash line on the season up to .398/.449/.663. Comparatively, teammate Bryce Harper — the defending NL MVP and arguably the best player in baseball — is currently hitting .266/.372/.649.

Murphy has always been an above-average hitter, but this level of hitting is something else. Of course, he flashed it in the post-season last year when he homered in six consecutive games, helping the Mets advance past the Dodgers in the NLDS and sweep the Cubs in the NLCS.

The Nats signed Murphy to a three-year, $37.5 million contract in January. If Neil Walker, acquired from the Pirates to replace Murphy, wasn’t hitting so well, the Mets would probably be jealous. Walker is hitting .296/.330/.582 with nine home runs and 19 RBI.

Video: Jon Lester tosses his glove to get the out

Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Jon Lester throws against the Pittsburgh Pirates in the first inning of a baseball game, Wednesday, May 4, 2016, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
AP Photo/Keith Srakocic
Leave a comment

It’s always fun when this happens. Cubs starter Jon Lester snagged a grounder hit back up the middle by Pirates catcher Francisco Cervelli in the bottom of the second inning. The only problem was that the ball got stuck in the webbing of his glove. Rather than fight to pry the ball out, Lester just lobbed his glove over to first baseman Anthony Rizzo to get the first out of the inning.

Lester has had issues throwing baseballs to first base, so maybe it was a good thing the ball got stuck in his glove.

Lester did this last year, too, by the way.

Alex Rodriguez lands on the 15-day DL with a strained hamstring

New York Yankees' Alex Rodriguez follows through on a single to right off a pitch from Texas Rangers' Shawn Tolleson in the ninth inning of a baseball game, Wednesday, April 27, 2016, in Arlington, Texas. The Yankees lost 3-2. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez
4 Comments

Yankees DH Alex Rodriguez strained his right hamstring running out a ground ball in the fifth inning of Tuesday’s loss to the Orioles. The club announced it has placed him on the 15-day disabled list and recalled pitcher James Pazos from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

Rodriguez lands on DL hitting .194/.275/.444 with five home runs and 12 RBI in 80 plate appearances.

Dustin Ackley replaced Rodriguez in Tuesday’s game, but the Yankees will likely cycle a handful of players in and out of the DH spot while Rodriguez heals.

What’s on Tap: Previewing Wednesday evening’s action

Philadelphia Phillies' Aaron Nola pitches to a Milwaukee Brewers batter during the first inning of a baseball game Friday, April 22, 2016, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Tom Lynn)
AP Photo/Tom Lynn
3 Comments

We were treated to a handful of games this afternoon but we still have eight night games left. Let’s talk about the Phillies.

I wrote this preview of the Phillies just before the season started, predicting them to win only 65 games, which would mark only a marginal improvement over their 63-win season last year. In my defense, I wasn’t alone, as almost every expert as well as the projections had them finishing under 70 wins. And yet, here they are 27 games into the season with 16 wins. That’s on pace for a 96-win season. What the heck.

Aaron Nola pitched seven shutout innings against the Cardinals in a 1-0 victory on Tuesday, marking the Phillies’ sixth shutout of the year, the best mark in the majors. Even as the Phillies prepared to draft him, Nola was described as “major league ready” but no one expected him to be quite this dominant. In his first 19 major league starts, Nola has a 3.37 ERA with a 112/26 K/BB ratio over 117 2/3 innings. This year, not only has Nola been extremely stingy with the walks, but he’s been missing bats at an elite level. He’s only 22 years old.

Nola is joined in the rotation by Vincent Velasquez, the pitcher who highlighted the return from the Astros in the Ken Giles trade. The right-hander made headlines in April with a 16-strikeout performance against the Padres and currently stands with a 1.44 ERA with a 39/10 K/BB ratio in 31 1/3 innings. Unlike Nola, Velasquez was billed as a future ace or a dominant eighth- or ninth-inning guy.

Then there’s Jerad Eickhoff, who came over in the Cole Hamels trade last year. Though he has a ho-hum 4.15 ERA, Eickhoff is occasionally dominant as evidenced by his 32/5 K/BB ratio over 30 1/3 innings. He has a pretty curve. Look at it. Eickhoff probably won’t be an ace, but he wasn’t considered to be a future mainstay in the rotation when the Hamels trade went through. All he’s done so far is exceed expectations. Nola-Velasquez-Eickhoff makes for an outstanding start to a long-term starting rotation.

The offensive tools aren’t quite where the pitching is yet for the Phillies, as third baseman Maikel Franco has wavered between looking like Mike Schmidt and looking completely lost at the plate. He has only five hits (zero home runs) in his last 37 plate appearances. Shortstop prospect J.P. Crawford isn’t there yet, nor is outfielder Nick Williams, catcher Jorge Alfaro, and outfielder Cornelius Randolph. There’s certainly a lot of hope on the horizon.

In the interest of full disclosure, I’m a Phillies fan, but wearing rose-colored glasses isn’t a crime of which I’ve been often accused over the years. It has been one headache after another being a Phillies fan between 2012-15. The front office under former GM Ruben Amaro, Jr. was stubborn and out of touch. Now, under new president Andy MacPhail and GM Matt Klentak, the team has a goal and is seeing it through. No, the Phillies won’t win 96 games this year — they probably won’t even win 80 — but they’re certainly further along than a lot of us gave them credit for being.

The Phillies play game three of a four-game set in St. Louis tonight at 8:15 PM EDT. Lefty Adam Morgan will oppose the Cardinals’ Mike Leake.

The rest of Wednesday’s action…

Detroit Tigers (Anibal Sanchez) @ Cleveland Indians (Corey Kluber), 6:10 PM EDT

New York Yankees (CC Sabathia) @ Baltimore Orioles (Tyler Wilson), 7:05 PM EDT

Texas Rangers (Colby Lewis) @ Toronto Blue Jays (Aaron Sanchez), 7:07 PM EDT

Arizona Diamondbacks (Rubby De La Rosa) @ Miami Marlins (Jose Fernandez), 7:10 PM EDT

Los Angeles Dodgers (Alex Wood) @ Tampa Bay Rays (Drew Smyly), 7:10 PM EDT

Boston Red Sox (Clay Buchholz) @ Chicago White Sox (Carlos Rodon), 8:10 PM EDT

Minnesota Twins (Phil Hughes) @ Houston Astros (Mike Fiers), 8:10 PM EDT