interactive MDS plot

I’ve used d3 to create an interactive MDS plot. Roughly speaking, MDS (multi-dimensional scaling), is an algorithm that tries to represent the dis-similarity, i.e. the “distance” between a set of points, in lower dimensions. So in this case, I compute a “distance” between each pair of contestants based on how much their rankings differ, and then run the MDS algorithm and plot the results in 2d. In any case, I can’t post javascript here, so I put it here,

Click the numbers on the left to change the plot. The numbers represent the minimum rank to consider, that is, if you click 42, the MDS will be computed using ranks 42-50. Since 1-41 haven’t been posted yet, if you click those you will see the “Poz” entry move further and further away from the other names. I will update it as the new rankings from Poz get posted.


Poz100 player-rank heatmap

I have created a heat map that shows frequency of player-rank combinations. I limited it to the top 60 or so players to try to make the labels reasonably readable.

Here it is, click on it to enlarge it,





under-the-radar pitchers

my under-the-radar pitcher is Dazzy Vance. In 1924 he struck out 7.6 per 9, in a league that averaged 2.8 per 9. His numbers in other years are great also, but thats just an illustration. In terms of performance relative to your peers, I think you can make a good argument that his 1924 is the 3rd most dominant pitcher season ever, only behind Pedro 1999-2000 (of course).




We’re about 5 months into this journey through Joe’s top 100. It occurs to me that, in doing this list, Joe not only is providing his take on the top 100, but also, as a by-product, of how he ranks the greatest at each position. What I’d like to do is take a trip around the diamond to see how each position is unfolding, and with the help of our friendly neighborhood Wisdom of Crowds (WOC), take a predictive look at what’s still ahead. Because of the length of the posting, I think I should only do one position at a time, or it will be too lengthy to read and react. This one is especially long because I’m outlining the method…..others will be shorter.

What I propose is to take a look at each position with the following 5-point outline:

1. “Poz-to-Date” – This is a summary of who Joe has selected so far (in order). I’ll also provide Joe’s overall rank and the players’ rank within the position (assuming that the WOC correctly predicts the remaining players):

2. “WOC Crystal Ball” – This will outline who the WOC predicts is still to come. I re-ranked the WOC predictions based on recent Joe postings. For example, the WOC predicted Eddie Mathews at 46, but we’re now down to 44 and Mathews hasn’t been mentioned yet So, Mathews is re-ranked at 43, and all others have been re-ranked accordingly.

3. “Close but no Cigar” – No, not a tribute to the re-emergence of Ms. Lewinsky. This would be my thoughts on who would would be viable alternatives at each position. I’ll suggest the “next 5″ at each position that is neither named by Joe nor by the WOC. For pitchers, since they’re more plentiful, I think we should go 10. This is NOT meant to criticize Joe or his selections, because there is no right or wrong. This is merely to give recognition to those that, in all likelihood, didn’t miss the cut by much. In fact, when this is all done, I’m hoping Joe shares with us who some of his “close calls” were.

4. “Maybe Down the Road” – This would take a speculative look at current players that might (emphasis on “might”) one day be seriously considered for top 100 status. This would exclude anyone such as Jeter, Pujols, Suzuki, etc. that has already been named by either Joe or the WOC.

5. “Guilty Pleasures” – I didn’t know how else to describe this one, but here goes. This would be a place to mention someone who is clearly short of top 100 status, but who maybe would be in consideration for top 150 to 200, but who never gets much notice in the sweep of history, and kind of gets lost in the shuffle. For position players, this might be someone who is more top 15-20 at a position rather than top 10, or maybe top 40-50 for pitchers rather than top 25.

My criteria for a “guilty pleasure” would include that the player NOT be in the Hall of Fame. The player might be someone that had a short but eventful career, or just someone that is maybe better than generally acknowledged. Above all, it someone who you connect to in some way for some reason. For example, my guilty pleasure among catchers is Bill Freehan. In my opinion, he’s not top 10. I would have him comfortably behind Bench, Gibson, Berra, Campanella, Piazza, Carter, Cochrane, Dickey, Rodriguez, Fisk, and probably Hartnett too. But, I think he’s in the next tier down, he’s underrated by history because he played in a low-scoring era, but he was a very valuable player defensive and offensive catcher, and he was notorious in some way as he finished high in MVP voting behind 2 of the more well-known seasons of the last 50 years – he was 3rd in MVP voting in ’67 (Yaz’s triple crown year, the last one until Cabrera) and 2nd to his battery mate Denny McLain in ’68 (the last 30-game winner). To me he is the quintessential guilty pleasure.

This is a place to give some props to those players who are on the outside looking in. Everyone’s contribution is encouraged.

Since this is under Pedro’s post, let’s do pitchers first. Here then is the rundown on pitchers:

1. “Poz-to-Date”
Name – Overall – Poz Rank at Pitcher
Curt Schilling – 100 – 26
Mariano Rivera – 95 – 25
Old Hoss Radbourn – 92 – 24
Robin Roberts – 91 – 23
Bullet Rogan – 89 – 22
Nolan Ryan – 87 – 21
Gaylord Perry – 83 – 20
Smokey Joe Williams – 79 – 19
Bert Blyleven – 68 – 18
Kid Nichols – 65 – 17
Steve Carlton – 53 – 16
Bob Feller – 48 – 15
Sandy Koufax – 46 – 14
Pedro Martinez – 44 – 13

2. “WOC Crystal Ball”
Name – * Rank – * Rank at Pitcher
Bob Gibson – 39 – 12
Warren Spahn – 38 – 11
Randy Johnson – 30 – 10
Christy Mathewson – 29 – 9
Pete Alexander – 28 – 8
Lefty Grove – 23 – 7
Tom Seaver – 21 – 6
Satchel Paige – 20 – 5
Cy Young – 15 – 4
Greg Maddux – 14 – 3
Roger Clemens – 11 – 2
Walter Johnson – 6 – 1

3. “Close but no Cigar”
Since it’s pitchers, I’m naming 10 instead of 5 as with the other positions to come. I would go with the following as strong alternatives to some of the lower ranked pitchers on the list;
Phil Niekro
Carl Hubbell
Fergie Jenkins
Juan Marichal
Jim Palmer
Eddie Plank
Mike Mussina
Ed Walsh
Roy Halladay
Tom Glavine

Niekro’s ommission seems to be the one most readers have latched onto, undoubtedly because of his high WAR. I think Niekro would have been a fine addition somewhere in the 80-100 range. I never thought of him as a “great” pitcher, but more as a valuable pitcher who pitched well for a very long time and accumulated a lot of innings. I think he’s in a group with Gaylord Perry, Bert Blyleven, and Nolan Ryan in terms of their WAR, their # of seasons, their ERA and ERA+, and the # of innings they accumulated. Incidentally, it also seemed like all 4 of those tended to end up on pretty bad teams for a fair amount of their careers.

I think if I had to pick 2 pitchers I would have liked to have seen included, I’d probably go with Niekro and Hubbell.

4. “Maybe Down the Road” – Among current players, I’m not getting a real strong vibe of any really strong candidates. I guess if I had to go with someone, I’d pick Kershaw with his 3 early ERA titles, but he’s a long, long way off. Sabathia is young enough that he could last long enough to get to 300 wins, but I don’t see him as top 100 material. Besides, he hasn’t been looking too good lately. Verlander? He’s good, but I’m just not feeling it. Nobody is really jumping out at me as obvious top 100 material.

5. “Guilty Pleasure” – I have two guilty pleasure pitchers. Neither is to be taken seriously as top 100….but maybe they can make a top 150-200 list someday. :)

a. Wes Ferrell
If you use 7-year peak WAR (part of the “JAWS” equation and exclude the pre-1900 pitchers, Ferrell comes out as the #15 pitcher in terms of peak WAR. Now, I suppose that a chunk of that is due to his success as a hitter, which is one of the reasons I like him so much. He doesn’t have the prettiest record – his ERA was over 4.00 and he walked more batters than he struck out – but as many (including Bill James) have pointed out, he pitched in high run environments, so he was actually pretty decent (ERA+ of 116). He pitched on generally bad teams, but managed a .600 winning pct. and won 20 games 6 times. In context, he was actually a pretty decent pitcher. But the hitting is what really gets me. In what essentially amounts to 2 full seasons (about 1,200 AB’s), he hit 38 HR’s, 57 2B’s, 12 3B’s, 208 RBI, and 129 walks. In other words, he was hitting on the same annual level as roughly 19 HR’s, 29 2B’s, 6 3B’s, 104 RBI, and 65 walks. His batting line was .280 / .351 / .446. Imagine the attention a player like that would get today.

b. Wilbur Wood
Definitely not an all-time great, but he does rank 40th among post-1900 pitchers in peak WAR. Which, when you consider that he really only had about 12 years in his career, and about half of that was as a reliever, ain’t bad. The thing that gets my attention about him (aside from being the best left handed knuckleballer ever and winning 20 games his first 4 years as a starter) is this:

There are 112 seasons in which a pitcher achieved a WAR of 10 or higher. More than half (60) of those were pre-1900.

Of the 52 post-1900 10+ WAR seasons, 13 were by lefty starters. They were:

Name – 10+ WAR Years
Lefty Grove – 2
Randy Johnson – 2
Sandy Koufax – 2
Steve Carlton – 2
Wilbur Wood – 2
Dick Ellsworth – 1
Hal Newhouser – 1
Rube Waddell – 1

No doubt, a lot of his WAR result was attributable to his ability to pitch a high number of innings.

Wood was “sort of” like a couple of others in his knuckleball fraternity…..a little bit Phil Niekro as a starter, and a little bit Hoyt Wilhelm as a reliever. He led the league 3 straight years in appearances as a reliever, and also led the league in games started 4 straight years as a starter. His injuries and weight no doubt kept him from pitching as long as other knuckeballers, but he remains one of my favorite “guilty pleasures”

That’s it for me on pitchers. I’ll put together summaries on the other positions and post them where/when it seems appropriate. In the meantime….interested to hear other’s contributions.