Wrapping up the top 100

Now that our countdown is over, I thought it might be appropriate to post some wrap-up thoughts and conclusions.

First, I suppose that you may be wondering about current Reds and where they might stack up against this list. As you might have noted, only one active player made the list, and barely so at that (Brandon Phillips, #98). There are three other players on the current roster that are somewhere in the top 250 or so...

Aaron Harang sits at #134, hampered by injury and ineffectiveness over the last couple seasons. If in 2010 Harang can reprise what he did in 2006-07, he would be a candidate to scrape into the top 100.

Bronson Arroyo ranks as the 149th greatest Red after his four seasons. While his 2006 was very good, he has settled into a consistent level a couple tiers below that ever since. If he continues on at that level, he is still a couple years away from breaking into the top 100, meaning it's unlikely he'll remain a Red long enough to do so.

Sitting just behind Arroyo, at #151, is Joey Votto --really on the basis of just two seasons played. The quality of Votto's seasons is high-if he can reproduce the value of his 2009, he'll sit somewhere in the #75 neighborhood a year from now.

Coincidentally, recently traded third baseman Edwin Encarnacion ranks between Arroyo and Votto at #150. He's unlikely to improve on that standing. The other 2009 trade-away with any significant tenure was David Weathers, who stands as the 230th greatest Red (if you guessed that he ranks just behind Ron Robinson, you're right!)

More minutia and analysis after the jump...

One of the things that emerged during this project was that for many of us, some of the old-time players were not only unfamiliar to our collective consciousness, but also had some really bizarre names. In that vein, I present to you five more entries for the all-time name team:

  • 1) Mysterious Walker, pitched briefly for the Reds in 1910
  • 2) Twink Twining, another pitcher of little regard during the 1916 season
  • 3) Pinky Pittenger, a middle infielder who played from 1927-29
  • 4) Pee Wee Wanninger, a 1927 shortstop
  • 5) Frenchy Bordagaray, also from 1939, played a bit of left field

A couple of those guys, were they to be acquired today, might just cause Red Reporter's whole head to explode.

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For the next segment, I took the top 100 group, and did some sorting and digging, to see if anything interesting popped up...

First, let's look at the breakdown of the top 100 players, sorted by primary position:

Starting pitcher; 26

Relief pitcher, 3

Catcher, 8

First Baseman, 11

Second Baseman, 8

Third Baseman, 10

Shortstop, 7

Left Field, 6

Center Field, 10

Right Field, 11

That doesn't seem like it tells us much of anything. Let's move on.

What if were to track a count of top-100 guys, and how many of them were represented in each calendar year they played for the Reds? On the one hand, there's a bit of a problem presented by assuming all top-100 players are equally valuable, or that player #100 is significant while #101 is not, but let's see what happens:

Rr1_medium

That's something, I guess. 13 top-100 guys on that 1973 roster. The data looks a bit choppy, though. What if we use 5-year rolling averages:

Rr2_medium

The year listed is the middle of the 5 year data set, and again we see a peak in the mid-70s which makes sense, but I think we can get a little bit more refined.

This next graph shows rolling averages of the percentage of the team's total win shares accounted for by top-100 players (for example, if a 80 win team was good for 240 win shares, and that team had 3 players that ended up on the top-100 list, each player with 20 win shares, that season would get a .25 score on the following chart):

Rr3_medium

This provides an interesting comparison to how successful the team has been over the years:

Rr4_medium

Bullet point observations:

  • Originally, I was surprised at how closely these two graphs tracked with each other, since I assumed that the bad teams of history might have one or two good players who ate up a higher percentage of a team's value. After further consideration, however, it's been made clear that a team can't win on the basis of one or two good players. Remember that Aaron Boone and Danny Graves are tail-end top-100 guys. A winning team would need them, plus 4 or 5 or 6 players who were even better.
  • The graph doesn't seem to track at all prior to 1900. I think this is probably due to the smaller rosters and completely different usage patterns as compared to the modern game.
  • The Reds had an underappreciated period during the 1920's, with 3 2nd place finishes between 1922-26.
  • The ramp-up to the Big Red Machine was steady and determined: starting in the mid-1950's, the team had very few bad seasons. They were good, won a pennant, went back to being good again, then elevated to be a special team in the mid-70's. The sharp drop-off in the early 80's must have been particularly jarring to long-time fans at the time.
  • The Reds have had their droughts before: seven straight losing seasons from 1910-16 (average winning percentage of .442), nine straight from 1929-37 (.399), eleven straight from 1945-55 (.442), and now nine straight (and counting!) from 2001-09 (.457). If you discount the post WWII stretch due to, er...World War 2 and its effects, then this current era is arguably the 2nd worst in franchise history.
  • Originally, in this space, I had written what were some high-level conclusions drawn from the graphs above, the state of the current team, and what it meant going forward. The tone of it was more pessimistic than I wanted, and it was missing one of the "lessons" of this project, namely that some of the best players on the best teams come out of nowhere (see: Bucky Walters and George Foster). So, I'm not making any predictions. We know the team hasn't been good, we think there's a few promising youngsters (with one potential carry-the-team-on-his-back guy), and we hope for a couple out-of-the-woodwork surprises. We'll do the same this time next year.

***********************************************************************

Finally, a few words about the Big Red Machine, another topic where I'm simply adding to the millions of words already spilled. My perspective, however, coming out of this top 100 exercise, is just how unlikely it all was. I can't imagine too many other franchises drawing from well over a century's worth of teams, and ending up with six of the top 12 who happened to be teammates for a minimum of five straight years, with several of the combinations lasting much longer than that (Davey and Johnny were teammates for 14 straight seasons, Pete and Tony for 13 straight). Part of that is a by-product of itself; the players were good, therefore the team was really good, therefore the players were kept around for a long time, therefore they rank pretty high on the list. The only parallel I could think of was maybe the Orioles who: a) were also really good in the 70's; b) also do not have an otherwise exceptional history; and c) employed Frank Robinson.

The success of the Big Red Machine wasn't altogether exceptional; there have been other teams with great stretches, some even greater. The BRM tends to be highlighted, in my opinion, because they were so lopsided in favor of the offense, which was a great one. Easier to get excited about, perhaps. At any rate, the Big Red Machine era seems so extraordinary, partly because it stands out so singularly in the franchise's history. Since 1900, the Reds have had 12 seasons with a winning percentage above .600. Half of those came between 1970 and 1976. Otherwise, as a rule, the historical record is scattered with onesies and twosies. Free agency, varying levels of parity, and the sheer fact that dynasties are rare are all factors in this; nonetheless, the Reds have spawned exactly one dynasty (or even mini-dynasty) in its history.

The funny thing about the Big Red Machine is that they still feel like a relatively recent phenomenon, despite the passage of 40 years time since Sparky was hired. Maybe part of that is due to the direct link from that era that continues to call the games over the airwaves. Or maybe that the heroes from those days are still with us, many of them still connected to the game. Or maybe that the Reds, for the better part of a decade, set an impossible standard that will loom large over whatever accomplishments the present and future Reds teams are able to achieve.

*************************************************

To officially close this project, I would like to say thank you to:

  • Baseballreference.com, for being awesome
  • Dave Studeman, for producing a Win Shares database
  • Wikipedia, for being a go-to resource on basic biographical details
  • Red Reporter, for being the best Reds-related blog in the intertubes

Fin.

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