The book: “The Runmakers: A New Way to Rate Baseball Players”
The author: Frederick E. Taylor
The vital stats: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 272 pages, $24.95
The pitch: It looks so simple. It factors out in some degree looking very accurate with the eye-ball test. But then you have some strange abberations.
It’s what happens when you make numbers pole dance.
Knowing how stats fuel baseball, and should always have a seat in the discussion when we start to accumulate baseball books that have meaning and could hold long-term prominence. Which is why we accept this one by Taylor, a retired professor of American government who also worked for the U.S. Department of Commerce and Department of Defense.
He proposes “potential runs per game” (PRG) as a new measure — the ninth, by his count, after all the OPS, OBP and other abbreviations available. This one takes into account batters not just reaching base or driving in runs, but also advancing runners. It’s advertised as much better than a simple batting average, easier to calculate than any Bill James formula, and getting to the essential part of the game — who produces runs.
So Taylor takes his slide rule and breaks down the history of baseball into eight different eras, then creating a new Top 10 lists of players based on positions, time played, and where they were in the batting lineup.
By his calculations, for example, he concurs that Babe Ruth was the top player (in PRG) during the 1921-41 era, and Ted Williams the same from ’42-’62.
Williams, for that matter, is Taylor’s choice as “the greatest player in getting on base” in the game’s history. Hank Aaron was the man from ’63-’76, Mike Schmidt did the most damage from ’77-’92 and Albert Pujols is your greatest player to date.
But factor it all out a little more and you get some stranger people moving up in the discussion for all-time bests. Such as:
== In the “Live Ball Revived Era” of ’77-’92, players like Jose Canseco (2nd), Kevin Mitchell (3rd) and Danny Tartabull (4th) rank higher than Hall of Famers Jim Rice (8th), George Brett (9th), Reggie Jackson (14th), Kirby Puckett (24th), Wade Boggs (32nd), Tony Gwynn (35th) or Paul Molitor (37th).
== In the “Live Ball Enhanced Era” of ’93-’09, Manny Ramirez is No. 2, ahead of Barry Bonds (3rd), Mark McGwire (6th) or Alex Rodriguez (8th). Derek Jeter and Mike Piazza aren’t on the radar. (By the way, Taylor makes note on page 128 that “‘Manny’ is short for Manuel, his first name.” Thanks for that update).
== Among the all-time left fielders, Ramirez is No. 2 behind Williams. And Vlad Guerrero is No. 7 all time in right fielders (with Ruth at No. 1).
== Mark Loretta (!) is No. 4 in the Top 10 list of the best No. 2 hitters of all time.
== Alex Rodriguez is No. 1 among shorstops of all time (with Nomar Garciaparra No. 3).
== Jeff Kent is No. 5 among second baseman of all time (behind names like Hornsby, Lazarri, Gehringer and Lajoie, and ahead of Jackie Robinson).
== Mike Piazza is the No. 1 catcher of all time (with Roy Campanella third).
== Duke Snider is the No. 6 center fielder of all time (Joe DiMaggio is No. 1).
== Dick Allen is No. 4 on the “Dead Ball Interval Era” of 1963-’76, behind Aaron, Frank Robinson and Willie Stargell.
Argue it all you want. Taylor his stats to back it up. And he encourages more critical eyes looking at his homework.
“You are invited to consider the rankings presented in this book and to second-guess them when you feel you have a point. Don’t automatically accept what you read on the written page — it’s important to be informed, but it’s also important to be independent.”
Just remember: PEDs and PRGs can function as one big happy cocktail. We just don’t think we’re smart enough to even get into one of these measured discussions. But we’ll definitely read the literature on it.
How it goes down in the scorebook: It’s kind of a kick to go to the publisher’s website and see this book touted among others dedicated to beating melanoma, the life of sea turtles or the life and times of the Chesapeake Bay Region.
This must be an awfully important subject, eh? And, very independently thought out. For that reason alone, consider this worth a couple hours of brain processing.