Jose Bautista’s Historic Pace

In discussing Thursday how Jose Bautista has been, without question, the best and most valuable player in the American League this year, the topic of where his first “half” ranks historically was raised. Bautista played 84 games through the break and tallied 6.6 wins above replacement. Last year, he finished with 6.9 WAR in an excellent breakout campaign. He essentially matched his production from a year ago in half of a season.

Nobody else is even close to him this season either — it would actually take the combined WAR totals of Adrian Gonzalez and Jay Bruce, an MVP candidate and an All-Star, to match his singular productivity. But where does his 6.6 WAR total through the first half of the season rank?

According to our splits data and the yeoman work of David Appelman, Bautista’s 6.6 WAR is the second-highest total since the 1974 season. That was the first year in the sample given the full availability of detailed event information on a game-by-game basis. Babe Ruth produced insane totals in 1920 (14.1), 1921 (14.4), 1923 (15.4) and 1927 (13.2) but we don’t have the capability of determining his totals through the same period.

In any event, here are the top four WAR totals through July 10 in a given year from 1974-2011:

Joe Morgan, 1975: 7.17 WAR
From 1972-76, Morgan ranged from 9.2-11.4 WAR per season, with the high end of that range coming in his historic 1975 season. In that five-year span, nobody was even close to his level of production. Morgan produced a whopping 50.5 WAR in that stretch. Teammate Johnny Bench ranked second… at 36.7. The Reds keystone cornerman hit .327/.466/.508 in 1975, with a +14 fielding mark. He walked 21 percent of the time and whiffed in only eight percent of his trips to the dish. He actually hit better — albeit by a slim margin — the next season, but didn’t rate as highly on the fielding spectrum. As amazing as Bautista has been this year, Morgan was even better three decades ago.

Jose Bautista, 2011: 6.64 WAR
He’s, uh, really good. Hopefully the ankle injury he suffered Thursday night won’t keep him sidelined for too long. Otherwise, I’ll feel some responsibility for derailing his historic pace.

Barry Bonds, 2002: 6.63 WAR
From 2001-04, Bonds had a Morgan-esque stretch of his own. The Giants outfielder amassed 47.9 WAR over those four years. Alex Rodriguez had the second-highest total in the same span, at “just” 34 WAR. Bonds’ 2001-04 is the gold standard for performance in recent memory, so to keep with a current frame of reference, Bautista is on a Bondsian pace. Everyone remembers his 2001 season with 73 home runs, but he produced just as many WAR in the season mentioned above. Bonds hit an insane .370/.582/.799. His batting average was higher than the OBP of 107 of 151 qualifying players. His OBP was higher than all but 10 players’ slugging percentages. And his SLG on its own would rank about halfway down the list of OPS leaders that year. Just a remarkable season.

Frank Thomas, 1994: 6.62 WAR
His WAR totals suffered given poor fielding at the easiest position and several seasons as a designated hitter, but he was undisputably awesome in this strike-shortened campaign. He finished the season with 7.3 WAR as the strike obviously cut short his 8-10 WAR pace, but Thomas still won the MVP award. He hit .353/.487/.729, similar to Bautista’s current numbers when era adjustments are applied.

Only two other players produced more than 6.2 WAR through July 10 in the 38-year sample. Rickey Henderson had 6.28 of his 10.5 WAR in 1990, and Cal Ripken, Jr had 6.27 of his 11.1 WAR in 1991. All of the seasons mentioned here are among the best of all time. Bautista is en route to joining that club, with a first half for the ages. A strong second half will cement his 2011 as one of the best seasons in baseball history.




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Eric is an accountant and statistical analyst from Philadelphia. He also covers the Phillies at Phillies Nation and can be found here on Twitter.


84 Responses to “Jose Bautista’s Historic Pace”

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  1. brendan says:

    2 things about his ankle injury – first, dont expect him back anytime soon. watch a replay and tell me you didnt cringe. second, what a stupid injury. seriously, he goes out of his way to play 200% all the time. good for him and all, but when you’re gonna be out EASILY by over 5 feet, you dont need to barrel into third base with some insane slide. it was really stupid, he caught his spikes in the dirt, and now he’s probably going to miss enough time to lose the chance to put up a truly historic season.

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    • Eric Seidman says:

      Maybe I’m just overly optimistic, but reports have him day to day, and he did walk off the field on his own. I’d say he doesn’t play this weekend and is back Monday.

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    • George says:

      Or, on the other hand, your amatur diagnosis could turn out to be meaningless and he won’t miss much time at all.

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      • brendan says:

        ya hopefully, it’s not like i’m cheering for him to be out. anyway, it doesn’t change the fact that the injury should have been avoided. in a blowout you shouldn’t be doing that to yourself when you’re guaranteed to be out

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    • Falcon says:

      So playing hard no matter what because you want to win and be the best is now stupid? It’s a problem to play “200%” (even though that’s not possible)? It was a freak occurrence that he caught a spike in the dirt, not some bone-headed play. He makes that slide a hundred times out of a hundred and nothing happens, it was a freak incident. He plays hard to win and if you’re going to fault him for not taking a play off, then you neglect the fact that he failed miserably in the majors for roughly 6 seasons, when he had to go balls out all the time just to justify his playing time. He’s not going to stop doing that just because he earns a big pay cheque now

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      • brendan says:

        ya it’s a freak accident that could have been avoided. the same way lots of players gracefull step out of the way during a double play (on the run to second) when they’re going to obviously be out. do you fault them for that? no, it’s just called not being stupid by pointlessly continuing to charge in and slide for no reason to risk hurting yourself. you want evidence that it’s possible? go watch the replay from his injury. he wants to play hard so he can help his team? good for him, he better hope he didn’t tear or break anything while trying to help his team maintain that 9-4 lead.

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      • gaweenbob says:

        I doubt that he was running/sliding that hard just trying to be safe; he was probably trying to break up the double play. Can’t fault him for that.

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      • cs3 says:

        or he could just DH as soon as the ankle back to like 75%.
        no reason he cant swing a bat with a brace and just take it easy o the base paths.

        but really this doesnt appear to be anything that requires more than 3-4 days to heal enough to play on. ive rolled my ankle countless times playing soccer, baseball, skim boarding etc and the only time it took more than a week in order to heal enough to play, i couldnt put any wait on it… turned out to be a slight fracture.
        Bautista walked off the field without problem which is a great sign.

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  2. J0EYWALNUTS says:

    His ankle injury is not bad at all. He’ll probably miss 2-3 games at most.

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  3. Devon Young says:

    I’m starting to wonder… if Bautista holds up this greatness for another 2-3 seasons after this year, and then falls off quickly (’cause he’ll be in his late 30’s), might he get into the HOF? I know he’ll not have the counting stats or milestones to get in, but, might his peak be enough to get him enough votes?

    I know, probably not… but… I’m wondering how close he’ll come or if he might benefit from the newer approach to stats than simply lookin’ at his BA, HR, & RBI career totals.

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    • Josh says:

      I don’t think he will make it into the HOF simply because 2-4 great seasons won’t get you in. You need a lot more consistency.

      That being said, I think the HOF benchmarks need to be reconsidered in this baseball age.

      For pitchers for example, the 300 win mark is definitely unreachable these days and will have to be fixed to 250 or so.

      For hitters, I think the 500 homer mark and 3000 hit mark are OK, but there needs to be another metric. Home run hitters are going to be judged on the 500 homer mark, while slap hitters like Ichiro and Jeter will be based on the 3K hit mark. But how about those players in between?

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      • Sultan of Schwinngg says:

        30 year old Sabathia has 170 wins. Assuming he stays in NY, there’s almost no possible way he doesn’t win 300 games.

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      • Felonius_Monk says:

        Re: CC

        Assuming he can continue to post ~16 wins per year, he’s going to have to pitch until he’s 39 to break 300, and this is assuming no major injuries in that time period, which seems generous. Otherwise he might have to continue until he’s 40. Good as he is, I’m not convinced his overweight body is going to hold out with A1 health over that period.

        I’d say it’s fairly unlikely he’ll see 300.

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      • Sultan of Schwwingg says:

        Not sure why you are assuming a 16 win avg when he’s led the league every year in wins since becoming a Yankee, and is showing no signs of slowing down. I’d rather use a 20 win avg, which means by the time he’s 36 (and half way through his contract :)), he’ll have 271 wins.

        Also, Wells, and this: http://www.hardballtimes.com/main/article/does-size-matter-part-5
        “fat pitchers have much more staying power than any other group”

        I really think 300 is in the bag for the huge lug if he chooses to stay in NY.

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    • GMH says:

      Bautista would need to put up a decade of great numbers to have a chance at the Hall of Fame. I think Luis Gonzalez is a good comp, and there is no way Gonzo is making it to Cooperstown.

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      • Scott says:

        Luis Gonzalez had 5 good years, only one of which was exceptional, right in the heart of the steroid era. He only placed in the top 15 for MVP voting once and would be lucky to even make the top 10 list of players from that 5 year span.

        Bautista is all alone right now. He’s the only guy hitting home runs and he’s added a freakish OBP to that. If he keeps it up until he’s 35 and then fades out gracefully, he could end up with 400 career homers, .280/.400/.550 splits and a few MVP awards. That’s easily Hall caliber.

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    • The Nicker says:

      I did a Community Post on this, but I’m fairly certain the answer is no, which makes this sort of season all the more rare.

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    • joser says:

      I think we’ll have to wait and see. If the current depressed run environment continues, and 2010’s “Year of the Pitcher” becomes the 20-teens “Decade of the Pitcher,” then a sustained performance like Bautista’s — assuming it lasts a few more years, even if not quite at this peak — may stand in even sharper relief. It may not look quite so good to the old guys guarding the hall right now, but in 15 years some of them will be dead, and our perceptions may certainly have shifted. We still have yet to come to a consensus regarding players from the steroid era; it’s far too early to judge those from the “post-PED” era (if indeed that is what we’ve entered).

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    • James says:

      To me, this immediately brings to mind Ralph Kiner, and I’d say if he is in the ballpark of Kiner’s counting stats, that might be enough to get him in. Like the other commenters, I generally think a longer timeline of success is required, but if he is arguably the best hitter in all of MLB each season over a 5-6 year span, that would be an exceptional circumstance, and Kiner is somewhat of a precedent. Koufax is another late bloomer with a relatively brief period of excellence.

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  4. George says:

    It wasn’t a blowout at the time…it was 9-4 and JoJo Reyes was on the mound against the Yankees (and he soon gave up a 3R HR).

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    • juan pierre's mustache says:

      any game jo-jo reyes enters becomes a save situation

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      • joser says:

        I know this was meant as a joke (and I chuckled, imagining the “all hands on deck” in the bullpen even as he throws his warm-up pitches before the first inning), but it’s kind of intriguing alternative to the idiotic save stat: assuming the pitching team is is not losing at the moment, then — given the on-field state, the pitcher on the mound, and the opposing offense — how likely is the game to be tied by the 9th inning? If the answer is at least 50%, it’s a save situation. So when just about any Royals starter takes the mound against the Red Sox, he’s eligible.

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  5. Telo says:

    (This will kind of be an old theme, but I think it’s especially applicable here)

    I definitely don’t get tired of seeing articles about how awesome Joey Bats has been. But here’s the thing about taking WAR out to 2 decimals, as I see it:

    We have three major components of WAR – hitting, fielding, and positional adjustment (and now baserunning… but let’s ignore that). If I had to rank them on a scale of 1-10 by how accurately each component truly measured value, I would say it shakes out to:

    Batting – 9.5
    Positional – 9
    Fielding – 5
    Baserunning – too new, no idea

    Fielding is a legitimate part of a ballplayers value, no matter where he is on the field. But I am almost certain that my high school Chem teacher would say that because we are including such an uncertain component, that taking even 1 decimal place may be wrong, and taking 2 is absolutely wrong, and actually makes your final number less accurate. Especially so when we are using two separate fielding metrics, depending on when the players played.

    I know this is a fun article and not meant to be any sort of rigorous study, but I’d love to see a Joey Bats article that focuses only on the hitting side, and calculate the value out from there. Since we can really nail down just how good of a season it’s been behind at the plate compared to others throughout baseball history. Leave the fielding out of it. Looking at 6.34 or 7.14 just doesn’t mean anything to me. They might as well be the same.

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    • Eric Seidman says:

      Yes, one, or even none is the appropriate number of decimals to use in a rigorous research post. I only went to two decimals here to show the minute differences between the few players in Jose’s range. Obviously 6.62 is no different than 6.64, but again, this is more fun and anecdotal. So tell THAT to your damn CHEM TEACHER.

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    • Cam says:

      His OPS+ is the 18th best since 1900, behind only Bonds, Ruth, Williams, Hornsby, Mantle and Gehrig. It’s the third-best season by an actual human being since Jackie Robinson.

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  6. Hurtlocker says:

    Seriously, there is HOF talk about Bautista!!! Talk about a small sample size and a player that has a lifetime BA of .254?? One and a half great seasons don’t make a career and baseball has a hundred stories of guys that looked like world beaters for a short period of time. If this guy does this for 4-5 more years then talk about how great he is, but not now. Afeter all, Isn’t the basic tenant of good studies a robust sample size??

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    • George says:

      They don’t have hundreds of stories of guys doing this for two seasons.

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    • Jerome S. says:

      If Bautista did this for four-five years, he’d be one of the greatest players of all time.

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      • GMH says:

        No, he wouldn’t. He would be similar to Chuck Klein, who was the anti-Bautista. Klein’s career nose-dived after he hit 30, but he had one of the greatest starts of any MLB player. Klein’s numbers from 1929 to 1933, even when accounting for the hitter-friendly context of the era, are just sick. And Bautista hasn’t even put up one full comparable season yet.

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      • mike oo says:

        Bats hasn’t had a comparable season to Klein?

        And it’s bc of some reason other than the 80 years of baseball that seperates them? Not seeing it….

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    • Yirmiyahu says:

      baseball has a hundred stories of guys that looked like world beaters for a short period of time

      .

      No. Baseball has maybe 50 examples of this kind of two-year stretch, period. Examples of a guy having a stretch like this and then falling back to earth? A couple at most.

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    • Hurtlocker says:

      100’s is an exaggeration indeed, my apologies. It’s also a gross exaggeration to get caught up in the fenzy of making this guy the greatest ever after 1 1/2 years, discussion of the HOF and other hyperbole. Many players (not 100’s of course) have had flashs of greatness over short periods, but the proof is in the ability to maintain that greatness.

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    • Sultan of Schwinngg says:

      Something the ‘you’re as historically great or terrible as what you have done lately’ crowd should keep in mind, in regards to Mr. Bats: There is another player that comes to mind who had a run of similar PA’s over an equivalent time period; his name is Brady Anderson.

      Bautista’s had an incredible run, no doubt, but all this fawning over him is premature. If I were to guess, I’d guess that it would take just one month of .700 ball before criticism about his being resigned for big bucks would begin.

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  7. YazInLeft8 says:

    Morgan was obviously an awful broadcaster, but the fact is the guy knew how to hit (whether he can properly talk about it or not).

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  8. Adam W says:

    OPSBIs could be a funny junk stat if there was a way to look at OPS (or its components, or even linear weights) and somehow come up with a context-neutral RBI total a la xBABIP.

    Sounds like a job for Cistulli…

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    • Levi says:

      Interesting idea, I don’t know that it would really be helpful for anyone though really. I mean, just about everyone here knows that RBI are pretty useless. Some team/park/league adjusted version of RBI would tell us nothing wOBA or wRC+ doesn’t already.
      More importantly, it would never catch on in the MSM. Any time you take a traditional stat and make it even marginally advanced (think OPS -> OPS+), they cower away and deem it useless (at least most of them do).

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      • pft says:

        One thing any decent CEO has in common is they are all wary of adjusted stats and estimators, especially those that make no attempt to estimate error.

        RBI’s always change the scoreboard, and are an absolute number, meaning the number is accurate and not estimated or adjusted. Theoretical estimators and uncertain adjusted stats (especially park) have issues, and the last I checked, the scoreboard does not increase 0.3 runs when JD works a walk with men on 2nd and 3rd..

        The main complaint about RBI’s is that those who have more opportunities with ROB have higher totals of all RBI’s. The key assumption for those who ridicule RBI’s is that they are entirely luck, because players do not have clutch skills, or unclutch. This assumption is unproven.

        You can use OBI% to adjust for opportunity, but it’s funny how the RBI haters choose not to.

        RBI’s are not be a good indicator for evaluating talent or predicting future performance. They are useful when you talk about MVP, and want to know those who produce the most ACTUAL runs for their team, as opposed to those who produce THEORETICAL context neutral runs for a league average team in a lineup of league average hitters.

        In other words, RBI’s have value in MVP discussions, even if they have little value in best player discussions (at least not without considering opportunity). That is a key distinction.

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  9. MikeS says:

    Frank Thomas 1994 is one of the most amazing partial seasons ever. His traditional stats of .353, 38 HR, 101 RBI, 106 R, 109 BB, 61 K make for a great season that would have got him MVP consideration if accumulated over a full season even in that era. He did that in 113 games!

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    • Him and Bagwell in 1994 have a legitimate gripe with the player’s union. If either of their Hall cases fall short because they don’t have the full-season totals that they would have achieved there, the BBWAA should be even more embarrassed with themselves than usual.

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      • joser says:

        If the BBWAA knew how to be embarrassed with themselves they all would’ve quit long ago.

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      • Felonius_Monk says:

        I see absolutely no way whatsoever that the Big Hurt fails to make it – he’s an absolute shoe-in IMO, maybe not a first ballot guy but he gets there. Bagwell, though, you might have a point…

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  10. Mr Punch says:

    Telo, I think, is basically right. WAR is certainly a much better stat than, say, OPS, but like OPS it has a fundamental “apples and oranges” flaw: in this case, the plain fact that “replacement” means something different for hitting and fielding. A player who can’t hit at all will not have a career no matter how well he fields, whereas Jason Giambi has played 2000 MLB games.

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  11. Barkey Walker says:

    “He essentially matched his production from a year ago in half of a season.” Your confusing above replacement from above zero. His excess production above replacement is matched from a year ago in half a season. You can make these statements about wRC (I’d give you 2011 vs 2010), but not WAR.

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    • Drew says:

      WAR calculation is based on plate appearances, too.

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      • Barkey Walker says:

        Not sure I get your point. WAR is about value above replacement, wRc is about production. To provide “twice the production” you would need twice the wRc. Two provide twice the excess production over a replacement level player, you would need twice the WAR.

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    • Jason B says:

      Good point, good point.

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  12. OmnImpotent says:

    Maybe xRBI could be a useful stat? Base it off of their stats and see what their production would be in an average situation

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  13. Rey Ordonez says:

    “A player who can’t hit at all will not have a career no matter how well he fields”

    Ummm I’m not sure Mets fans would agree with that statement Mr. Punch.

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  14. Rey Ordonez says:

    Thanks Mr. Punch….My phone is ringing off the hook. Rafael Belliard, Alberto Castillo, John McDonald, Jeff Mathis…..The calls keep on coming!

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  15. west says:

    He’ll be caught just like Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, A-rod, Lance Armstrong etc.

    “CAN’T WAIT” – Bart Scott

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  16. So I think we all need a daily reminder of how good Barry Bonds was. Thanks, Eric.

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  17. Hank says:

    Please tell me you are not taking WAR out to 2 decimal places…..

    Taking the # out to 1 decimal place is bad enough… but going to hundreths on a # which has that huge an error bar? (unless you are that confident in the accuracy of 1/2 seasons of UBR and UZR #’s?)

    I think the best we can do is say he’s in the 6-7 range (like everyone else on the list). Anything else is not really assessing or understanding the error bar on a half season WAR #

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    • joser says:

      And if he’d just left it at that — “they’re all in the 6-7 range” there’d be twice as many comments on here complaining that they weren’t all equivalent, or demanding they be ranked, or going ahead and taking it out to as many decimal places as necessary to come to numerical ordering. You can’t win.

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  18. disygi says:

    i wonder when they’re gonna start testing him for roids…

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  19. Sultan of Schwinngg says:

    TIL

    Josh Reddick is twice the player Joey Bats is, per Fangraphs SSS defensive standards (Hi, Gutierrez, Crawford and Gardner!).

    http://www.fangraphs.com/statss.aspx?playerid=3892&position=OF#fieldingadvanced

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    • jim says:

      not sure what your point is here… are you trolling/sarcastic?

      even if you’re being serious, you can’t really apply 400 innings of UZR and make any sort of judgment at all

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      • Sultan of Schwinngg says:

        Sarcastic.

        Reddick has 1.6 WAR w/ 60 PA. Extrapolate that over a full season (which Fangraphs does all the time) and he’s the league’s best player.

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      • Pretentious Porcelain Poodle says:

        Find me an article that made a full season projection based on a sample size of 60 PA – and no, ESPN articles don’t count – only Fangraphs’

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      • Sultan of Schwinngg says:

        Brett Gardner was referred to as the 4th best outfielder in MLB primarily because of his UZR tab through one season . If you’re going to argue that there’s much difference between that SS and Reddick’s SS when 400+ games is the benchmark, I’m not listening.

        Same with Crawford, same with Guiterrez, prior. Same with Joey Bats, an ugly defender who has somehow managed a 36.8 UZR/150 at 3B, which, even though is only 20% of his total defensive UZR/150, still accounts for 20% of that total, and WAR.

        I guess I’m being somewhat of a prick for bringing this SSS crap up often, but I think it’s bizarre how the most popular (dare I say, closest mainstream) Fangraph’s stat is being constantly misapplied by its own writers.

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      • Jason says:

        Here is an article predicting the death of Jorge Posada based on about ten swings:

        http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/index.php/posada-looking-old-in-the-dh-role/

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  20. Templeton1979 says:

    He’s a Thunder God. T.G. Bautista

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  21. Danaerys Dies says:

    Bautista is rule the people of Toronto

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