It has been said in this space before, but it bears repeating: We live in the greatest age of baseball information ever. There is baseball-reference.com, baseballprospectus.com, fangraphs.com and even ESPN is getting much heavier into the statistical world. And of course, there is MLB.com. If you want to know about any player that ever played, you can easily look them up and see their numbers in glorious clarity. One of the fun things to do with all that information is to try to compare similar players of other eras. This Fan has fun doing that and figured it would be nice to share some of that fun with you.
Who was the better player, Frank Howard or Boog Powell?
This was an interesting comparison and the numbers are closer than you would think. Both of these mammoth first basemen played a long time. Powell played sixteen full seasons and part of another. Howard played fourteen full seasons and parts of two others. Howard was 6'7" and Powell was 6'4". Both finished in the top ten in MVP voting three times. Powell won the MVP once and that wasn't even close to his best season. Powell had 61 more career RBIs but Howard hit seventy more homers. Howard averaged 33 homers per 162 games, Powell 27. Powell finished with a .361 OBP, Howard finished with .352 (Powell had more than 300 more career walks). Howard struck out 170+ more times than Powell. Powell was always a first baseman whereas Howard played a lot of outfield (and badly). Boog Powell finished his career with an impressive 134 OPS+. Howard finished at a fantastic 142.
Two final things clinch Howard as the better player. First, in 1968, when the pitchers had their best year in history, Howard hit 44 homers and finished with a 170 OPS+. That same year, Powell hit 22 homers and had a 126 OPS+. Secondly, Howard finished with 39.2 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) and Powell finished at 39.7 but had 500 more plate appearances. Howard wins by a nose, but it's pretty darn close and both players were great and are not remembered well.
Who was the better player, Phil Rizzuto or Pee Wee Reese?
The Scooter versus the Pee Wee. Actually, Pee Wee wasn't that small since he was five feet, ten inches tall. Rizzuto was really the pee wee as he was only five feet, six inches tall. This one is a little harder to compare since Reese played sixteen seasons and Rizzuto 13. Both lost precious time to the war. So for the sake of valid argument, let's compare their peak seasons from 1946 to 1954. Measured by WAR, it's not even close. Reese beats Rizzuto 42.6 to 31.4. Rizzuto was a slightly better fielder (his fielding percentage and range were slightly better) but Reese stole more bases and had a 99 OPS+ compared to Rizzuto's 93. Rizzuto finished in the top ten three times in MVP voting and won it once. Reese was in the top ten in MVP voting an astounding eight times but never won. They say that winning is everything and Phil Rizzuto had more rings on his finger. But Reese was the better player.
Which was the better player, Brooks Robinson or Craig Nettles?
This is a lot closer than you would think. Robinson had the reputation and is in the Hall of Fame. Nettles, like Robinson, earned a reputation of his own during the Yankees run of the late 70s. Robinson played 23 seasons, 17 of them full time. Nettles played 21 seasons, 16 of them full time. Robinson hit for a higher career average and had more than 400 more hits in his career. But Nettles hit more than 120 more homers. Robinson drove in 1357 runs, Nettles, 1314. Nettles clearly has Robinson in OPS+ with a career tally of 110. Robinson finished at 103. But the edge in fielding goes to Robinson who was an amazing 293 runs over replacement for his career in the field. Nettles finished with a still impressive 148. The final Wins Above Replacement (WAR) are really close. Robinson finished with 69.1 and Nettles with 61.6. Robinson grounded into 100 more double plays than Nettles but Robinson struck out a couple hundred less times. All in all, it seems if Robinson is in the Hall of Fame, Nettles should be there too.
This was fun. We'll have to do it again some time.