Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Was Canseco's production really similar to McGwire's?

One of the blogs that I visit daily is A Large Regular. Chris has always got interesting stuff, some good links and topics that I enjoy. But he put up a piece yesterday on the steroid issue and Canseco's book that had some really silly stuff in it. I was incommunicado yesterday, so this is now old news, but there were a couple of things that I wanted to address. I've got a baseball/steroid/media piece in progress, but I wanted to touch on a couple of things that Chris said.

In the process of addressing his reading of Canseco's book, he took a detour into Jayson Stark's column saying that he'd still vote for Mark McGwire for the Hall of Fame. Which is fine. But from there he went off again, comparing McGwire's HoF candidacy to Canseco's, and that's where he said some very silly things.

Think about this - you read stories about Mark McGwire and the Hall of Fame all the time but when's the last time you read a story about Jose Canseco and the Hall of Fame? McGwire was a one dimensional player - a player who could hit home runs - and now that one dimension is greatly soiled by steroids and yet baseball writers like Jason Stark are still writing about voting "yes" on McGwire and the Hall of Fame. Someone should ask Jason Stark if he'll also vote "yes" on Canseco because since McGwire's obvious steroid use is not being held against him - wouldn't it be a double standard to hold Jose's steroid use against him?

Yes, it would certainly be a double standard to block Canseco strictly for steroids while giving McGwire a pass. IF, that is, they had substantially similar induction criteria. The problem with this line of argument is that they don't.

Canseco and McGwire played close to the exact same number of games - 1,887 for Canseco and 1,874 for McGwire. McGwire was clearly the better fielder, winning a Gold Glove for his work at first base in 1990, while Canseco is best remembered for allowing a ball to bounce off his head in the outfield for a home run. However, Canseco was the better baserunner. Jose had 200 stolen bases to McGwire's 12. Do these two things, fielding and base running, cancel each other out? I'm not sure about that so I'll just focus on the offensive numbers both players put up.

Canseco: .266 BA / .353 OBP / .515 SLG / 131 OPS+
McGwire: .263 BA / .394 OBP / .588 SLG / 163 OPS+

First, on the stolen bases - yes, Jose stole a lot of bases, which has some value. He was also caught a lot of times, 88 to be exact. On the whole, he was probably close to break-even, one way or the other, as a base-runner. Not a lot of extra value.

On the defense, even though Canseco played a tougher defensive position, McGwire was probably enough better that it's at least a wash, if not advantage McGwire.

But those offense stat lines are not substantially similar. Not even close. McGwire's offensive career is vastly superior to Canseco's. Canseco's OPS+ is 131. Using OPS as the standard, he was 31% better as an offensive player than the average player. McGwire was 63% better. How big a difference is that? McGwire is tied for 10th on the all-time career list in MLB history. Canseco doesn't make the top 100.

The averages are clearly in McGwire's favor but if you took away the absolutely freakish 70 HR season from McGwire the numbers are fairly close.

In terms of raw numbers:

Canseco: 1877 H / 1186 R / 462 HR / 1407 RBI / 3631 TB
McGwire: 1626 H / 1167 R / 583 HR / 1414 RBI / 3639 TB

Well, some of them are. The R and RBI numbers, the TB numbers - those are all fairly close. But is any of that meaningful? R and RBI are both heavily teammate and lineup position influenced numbers. He's clearly cherry-picked numbers that look similar. But he's left out one of the most important offensive numbers. McGwire walked 45% more than Canseco did, 1317 vs. 906. That's an enormous difference, one that shows up in both the OBP and SLG.

If you took away the (steroid induced) home runs - could these numbers be any closer?

Take them away from both? Or just McGwire? He hit 25% more HR than Canseco did. If we take away the "(steroid induced) home runs" from both players, does that make them look any closer? I rather doubt it.

Don't get me wrong - I'm not trying to make a case for Jose Canseco for the Hall of Fame. What I am saying is that a double standard does exist and I believe neither player belongs but because McGwire was a white home run champion - he'll probably get voted in.

One of the things that I learned years ago is that you should "never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity." And you should never, ever, attribute to racism, not even subtle latent racism, that which is more than adequately explained by non-racial factors. To suggest that McGwire's a better candidate than Canseco just because one's white and the other's not is silly when the performance discrepancy is this big.

Ask yourself, what did Mark McGwire do to deserve such adulation? Once you get beyond his home runs - what's left? Of the players with 500 HR, Mark McGwire is dead last when you look at hits, runs, RBI and total bases among other categories.

Chiefly AB. Which is relevant to this discussion. If you're going to criticize him for acculating fewer raw numbers than the other 500+ home run hitters, it's only fair to mention that he got onto that exclusive list with fewer AB than any of the rest of them.

McGwire was simply a one trick pony and the sportswriters are willing him to ride that pony into Cooperstown. I think that's disgraceful.

In my mind, without steroids McGwire is nothing more than a Jack Clark or a Dave Kingman. I wonder if Jason Stark voted for Dave Kingman for the Hall of Fame because I see very little difference between a Mark McGwire with steroids and a Dave Kingman without. If anything it makes Kingman's longevity and accomplishments are more remarkable.

Dave Kingman - .236/.302/.478 - OPS+ of 115
Mark McGwire - .263/.394/.588 - OPS+ of 163

No further comment necessary.

More importantly if a player who used steroids like McGwire is rewarded with a birth in the Hall of Fame - what message does that send to players who did not use steroids? What about a player like Jim Rice or the recently retired Fred McGriff?

I've seen a lot of this recently, and I'm going to address it further, but let me just ask - how do we know? Anabolic steroids weren't invented in 1987. I'm not accusing anyone of anything, but we don't know who's done it and who hasn't, and that's as true of the 70s and 80s as it is of the 90s...

I know this column went off on some tangents and I apologize for that.


It's an interesting take. But I'm always concerned about accusations of racism, and Chris seemed to buy into them here, when there's no actual evidence to support them.



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