Thursday, July 2, 2015

Tough Act to Follow

Poor Didi Gregorius. Not only is he taking over for a future, first-round Hall of Famer (Derek Jeter). He’s also taking over for someone who set a record for holding the same position for the same club for the most years (20). Finally, he’s doing that for the most storied baseball team on the planet (the New York Yankees).

"Didi," meet Captain Clutch

He’s not, however, the first player to ever have done something like that. I mean, off the top of my head, I can think of Mantle taking over for DiMaggio and – because I’m a Pirate fan – Richie Zisk taking over for Clemente and Dave Cash taking over for Maz. And, when you think about it, someone had to take over for Gehrig, and Schmidt, and Banks – though who that might actually be isn’t right on the tip of my tongue.

Who else is out there?


So, here’s what I did:
  1. I started out with a list of all the Hall of Famers
  2. I narrowed down the list to players who retired with a team they had played with for at least 10 years.
  3. I further narrowed down the list to players who played at the same position for at least their final 10 years
  4. Finally, I made sure everyone was a starter in all those years

Of course, that does eliminate quite a few guys. At the same time, though, who thinks of Ty Cobb as an A, or Babe Ruth as a Brave, or Robin Yount as a center fielder, or Cal Ripken as a third baseman? Did you realize that Eddie Murray played with 4 other teams after the Orioles? That the one and only year Al Kaline didn’t start in right field for his 22 years with the Tigers was his last one, where he got 558 at bats, all as a DH?

Cobb as A

Unfortunately, this also eliminates almost all pitchers. When a Sandy Koufax or a Walter Johnson retires, it’s not always obvious who’s the team’s new number one (though maybe I could do a separate post just for these guys). And closers? Jeez, I don’t think any of them ever stayed with the same club for 10 years.


All of those hefty requirements resulted in a list of 20 players:

Old Guy Team Position New Guy
Cap Anson White Sox 1B Bill Everitt
Ernie Bank Cubs 1B Jim Hickman
Yogi Berra Yankees C Elston Howard
Lou Brock Cards LF Bobby Bonds
Roy Campanella Dodgers C John Roseboro
Roberto Clemente Pirates RF Rihie Zisk
Bill Dickey Yankees C Aaron Robinson
Joe DiMaggio Yankees CF Mickey Mantle
Carlton Fisk White Sox C Karkovice
Frankie Frisch Cards 2B Stu Martin
Lou Gehrig Yankees 1B Babe Dahlgren
Tony Gywnn Tigers RF Bubba Trammel
Barry Larkin Reds SS Felipe Lopez
Bill Mazeroski Pirates 2B Dave Cash
Bid McPhee Reds 2B Joe Quinn
Ryne Sandberg Cubs 2B Mickey Morandini
Ozzie Smith Cards SS Royce Clayton
Bill Terry Giants 1B Gil Mancuso
Pie Traynor Pirates 3B Lee Handley
Ted Williams Red Sox LF Carl Yastrzemski

"And no anchovies …”

Well, that’s all well and good.  What I want to know, though, is who made out? Who was a disaster? What team didn’t miss a beat? What team created a hole on the field that didn’t get filled for another 20 years?

A good way to look at that is WAR, wins above replacement – pretty much the standard way these days to evaluate players’ all-around performance. I used WAR in two ways:

  • Comparing the 2 players WARs from year-to-year - i.e., the old guy's last year and the new kid's first
  • Comparing their yearly WAR averages over their whole careers

The first one gives you a good straight-up number. The second one, though, compensates for any single-year effects – the old guy’s having a particularly poor last year, the rookie’s a little wet behind the ears, etc.


It may be hard to believe, but some teams actually saw an improvement when they went with the new guy. As a matter of fact, this situation actually describes two-thirds of the sample. That’s not too surprising, though, when you simply consider the age difference between the two. The best (or should I say “worst”?) examples of these include Berra to Howard (4.2 difference in WAR) and Mazeroski to Cash (4.1).

Now, of course that’s the year-to-year view. It’s a very different story when you look at career WAR. In that case, there are only two Hall of Famers who had lower total WARs that their replacements. And they are Brock to Bonds (1.74) and DiMaggio to Mantle (0.09)

That last number brings up another possibility to measure success, the least amount of change from year to year. Year-to-year, we’ve got three under 1.00 – Gehrig to Dahlgren (-0.1), Terry to Mancuso (-0.5), and Gwynn to Trammel (-0.8). Career-wise, we’ve got the DiMaggio-Mantle 0.09 mentioned above, but the even more equitable Mazeroski to Cash difference of 0.01 as well.

Yankee Clipper, meet Commerce Comet

Of course, this won’t mean all that much if you’re going from one mediocre performance to another. What I’m really interested is are any transitions that went from one all-time great to another all-time great. And a good way to get a bead on that is to simply total the two players’ WARs. Year-to-year that gives us Dimaggio-Mantle (9.4), Clemente-Zisk (7.1), and Berra-Howard (6.8). Career? Don’t be too surprised that DiMaggio-Mantle again lead the pack (12.2). Runners up include Clemente-Zisk, at 7.1 (and, yes, that’s mostly Roberto), and Schmidt-Hayes (and, indeed, that is almost all Schmitty).


Okay, now comes the fun part …

Biggest falling off year-to-year?  Would you believe Teddy Ballgame to Yaz?  Yup, Williams' last year clocked in (out?) at a very respectable 3.0. The 21-year-old Yazstrewski, however, was a little overmatched, with a WAR of -0.3.  Total difference?  -3.3.

Splendid Splinter, meet Carl Michael Yastrzemski

Career? Wow! This one is huge. In fact, we’re going from Gehrig’s absolutely incredible 6.6 to poor Babe Dahlgren’s pretty darn unimpressive 0.35.

Iron Horse, meet The Babe 
(actually, just a Babe – 
actually, that’s really just short for “Ellsworth”)

Totaling both WARs together? Interestingly, the lowest totals include genuine all-time stars Cap Anson and Carlton Fisk. Of course, their partners in crime were also Bill Everitt and Ron Karkovice.