December 18, 2000

Finding A Missing Twin
by Steve Lombardi

I have a friend who enjoys playing the "Player A - Player B" game. This is a tease where one is given data on two baseball players - without disclosing the actual identity of the players. Rather, each data group is given a label (such as "Player A" or "Player "B"). Usually, Player A is someone well known and Player B is someone of equal achievement or greater. However, Player B is typically someone that you would not associate with Player A - here, the intent being to categorize Player A via the shocking yet illuminating comparison to Player B.

My friend did not invent this trick - and, I have always assumed that he "learned" this method from Rob Neyer (of ESPN.com) who, in turn, (again, my assumption) probably liberated it from his former employer, STATS Inc. Perhaps, it originated with Bill James? Nonetheless, regardless of roots, at times, the "Player A - Player B" thing can be fun.

What follows is an interesting Player A - Player B coupling - and one that should be topical (with more to follow on the latter):

Player A

Player B

AgeDebuted

23

21

FullSeasons

12

12

PlateApp/G

4.39

4.17

R/G

0.60

0.58

RBI/G

0.61

0.50

IBB/162G

7.72

7.09

OutsMade/G

2.96

2.77

SB%

63.8%

69.0%

OB%

.363

.369

SLG%

.477

.436

2ndary Avg

.239

.404

Total Avg

.787

.841

RC/G

6.1

5.8

PwrSpd

162.7

253.8

See the closing of this feature for a glossary of some of these statistical terms.
"G" above and as follows implies "per game." (Special note on Player B: While
he played in 12 full seasons, he also played in parts of three others.)

Examining the career offensive outputs for both players, one can easily conclude that their merits are fairly congruent. The two most notable differences being Secondary Average (2ndary Avg) and Slugging Percentage (SLG%). The differential in Secondary Average is significant. However, that merely tells us that Player B’s offensive contributions were not adequately reflected by his batting average. The difference in Slugging Percentage is marginal (5%) and is easily explainable - given some background information. Player A played most of his career in a ballpark more conducive to hitting while Player B toiled in two stadiums which traditionally favored pitching.

To this point, everything shared has been focused on offense. How about in the field? Actually, both of these players were standout center fielders. In fact, the similarities do not end there. Physically, the players resembled each other. Player A stood 5’ 8" tall while weighing (a reported) 180 pounds. Player B was just a shade taller and a tad lighter at 5’10" and 170 pounds.

By now, you may have ascertained the identity of one of these players. However, it is doubtful that you have determined the other. Therefore, the answer will be disclosed - replete with a restatement of the statistical comparison.

Player A
Kirby Puckett

Player B
Jimmy Wynn

AgeDebuted

23

21

FullSeasons

12

12

PlateApp/G

4.39

4.17

R/G

0.60

0.58

RBI/G

0.61

0.50

IBB/162G

7.72

7.09

OutsMade/G

2.96

2.77

SB%

63.8%

69.0%

OB%

.363

.369

SLG%

.477

.436

2ndary Avg

.239

.404

Total Avg

.787

.841

RC/G

6.1

5.8

PwrSpd

162.7

253.8

Earlier herein, it was stated that this exercise should be topical. It is expected that much about Kirby Puckett will be seen and heard within the next three weeks - with his potential enshrinement in Cooperstown imminent. (Conversely, if Puckett is not elected to the Baseball Writers of America Hall of Fame, one may find his name in the news even more - as the subsequent lamenting should be plentiful.)

Within the past few weeks, this writer has been witness to several arguments made placing Kirby Puckett as one of the fifteen best center fielders of "all-time." From the perspective of conventional wisdom, this claim is difficult to refute. Still, that brings us back to Jimmy "The Toy Cannon" Wynn.

Seemingly, there are two paths from which to chose here:

  1. If Puckett is one of the 15 best CFs ever, then Jimmy Wynn deserves to stand in that pantheon alongside Kirby. Or,
  2. If Wynn is not to be considered among the best CFs of all-time, then Kirby Puckett’s status needs to be reconsidered.

Now that we have attempted a player for player match, perhaps something more elaborate is in order? For your analytical digestion, the following is humbly submitted: 

Player A Player B Player C Player D Puckett
AgeDebuted

21

20

20

22

23

FullSeasons

13

11

14

14

12

OB%

.357

.361

.348

.364

.363

SLG%

.442

.445

.469

.484

.477

2ndary Avg

.287

.315

.348

.335

.239

Total Avg

.762

.791

.801

.834

.787

RC/G

5.4

5.8

5.7

6.3

6.1

PwrSpd

91.4

168.9

229.3

116.6

162.7

(Special note on Players: While "A" played in 13 full seasons, and "D" played in 14 full seasons, they both also played in parts of three others. While "B" played in 11 full seasons, he also played in parts of six others. Lastly, while "C" played in 14 full seasons, he also played in parts of four others.)

Once again, the "players" compared to Kirby Puckett fall within the same offensive career parameters (sans, for the most part, Secondary Average and Power-Speed):

Also, each of these five players (including Puckett) were extremely adept at playing centerfield in their time. (Although Player B moved from CF to RF half-way through his career - to make room for a better fielding CF on his team.)

Four players, like Jimmy Wynn, fairly similar in terms of Kirby Puckett’s offensive and defensive performance. All of them, as did Wynn and Puckett, debuted in the Major Leagues during their early twenties (and playing for roughly a dozen full seasons). Who are they? See the answers below:

Player A
Chet Lemon
Player B
Bobby Murcer
Player C
Dale Murphy
Player D
Fred Lynn

Kirby Puckett

AgeDebuted

21

20

20

22

23

FullSeasons

13

11

14

14

12

OB%

.357

.361

.348

.364

.363

SLG%

.442

.445

.469

.484

.477

2ndary Avg

.287

.315

.348

.335

.239

Total Avg

.762

.791

.801

.834

.787

RC/G

5.4

5.8

5.7

6.3

6.1

PwrSpd

91.4

168.9

229.3

116.6

162.7

Chet Lemon, Bobby Murcer, Dale Murphy, and Fred Lynn - each a former Major League All-Star CF (as was Puckett).

This is interesting. Many today would say "Kirby Puckett - Top 15 CFs of All-Time" without hesitation. But, honestly, how many would be as quick, and without reservation, to proclaim "Chet Lemon (or Bobby Murcer or Dale Murphy or Fred Lynn) - Top 20 CFs of All-Time"?

Based on the statistical comparison, and unlike the popular "Sesame Street" game, each of these things does belong with the others. The alignment is somewhat convincing.

Rather than taking the low road and suggesting that Kirby Puckett does not deserve something, the aim of this lesson is to stay on the high road and point out that there are "ballyhoo-challenged" others in existence who have achieved (equal to noted and celebrated individuals) and deserve to be remembered.

Toy Cannon, this one’s for you.

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Some statistical terms used in this feature - in no order:

AgeDebuted = Age at which a player debuted in the Major Leagues. If a player only appeared in a handful of games initially, that age was skipped and the age at which the player began to play more regularly was used.

FullSeasons = Number of seasons in which the player appeared in nearly an entire season.

PlateApp = Plate Appearances.

OB% = On Base Average
SLG% = Slugging Percentage
(If you do not know these statistical terms, you more than likely will not understand anything in this feature.)

2ndary Avg = Secondary Average

A measure of a player's offensive contributions that are not adequately reflected by his batting average. A player may have a relatively low batting average and still make a significant contribution to his team's offense. Secondary Average reflects these contributions. A Bill James creation.

Secondary Average = [D+(2*T)+(3*HR)+BB+SB-CS]/AB

That is, add the bases reached via extra base hits to walks and net stolen bases (stolen bases minus caught stealing) and divide the sum by at bats.

While Secondary Average is roughly comparable to batting average, the spread for players is broader than batting average.

Total Avg = Total Average

A ratio of the bases a player accumulates for his team and the outs he costs his team. Total average is a Thomas Boswell statistic.

Total Average = (TB+HBP+BB+SB)/(AB-H+CS+GIDP)

If a player has a Total Average over 1.000, that is very good.

IBB/162G = Intentional Base-on-Balls earned per 162 games played in their career.

OutsMade = Outs Made

Every batter who comes to the plate is attempting to achieve a positive outcome, but another way of looking at baseball is to say that batters and baserunners should be doing everything possible to avoid making outs. The context of a baseball game is the 27 outs allotted to each team. Some players are responsible for a greater percentage of their team's outs than others. This value is the sum total of all outs for which the player is responsible. It includes batting outs, baserunning outs, caught stealing, and additional outs caused by hitting into double plays. Outs made figures into the calculation of runs created per game.

Outs Made = AB-H+SH+SF+CS+GIDP

RC/G = Runs Created Per Game

Runs created is an accumulation stat; the more a player bats, the more runs he creates (assuming he makes some positive contribution). Converting runs created into runs created per game provides an indication of how valuable this player is to have in the lineup. RC/G is somewhat like ERA is for pitchers; it recasts the offensive contribution of the player in the context of a nine inning (in this case, 27 out) game. To calculate RC/G, multiply RC by 27 and divide by the number of outs the player is responsible for, thus: RC/G = 27*RC/Outs Made

PwrSpd = Power-Speed

Bill James claims to have developed this stat in the early 1980's. It is a way of stating a player's combined ability to hit home runs and steal bases. The formula is:

Power-Speed = (HR*SB*2)/(HR+SB)

It is so designed that if a player hits 30 home runs and steals 30 bases, his power-speed number will be 30.0. If he hits 20 homers and steals 40 bases, it will be 26.7. Willie Mays is the all-time career leader with a 447.1 Power-Speed for his career.