Wednesday, August 25, 2010

McGriff Pennance, Overestimating Overbay, and the First Base Pantheon

(And before we get started, it's nice to be back. We were off in some of the loveliest places on earth, but we were working our ass off while there, and barely had a moment to spare. It's nice to be back here with you kids.)

In the midst of a bit of preemptive nostalgia for the presumably departing Lyle Overbay, we shot out a quick tweet last week speculating on the order of the pantheon of Blue Jays first basemen over the years: "Carlos, Olerud, Upshaw, Lyle. Right?"

Boy, were we wrong, and didn't you let us know it. We got dozens of responses that night (which we didn't see for another day or so) quite rightly haranguing us for leaving out Fred McGriff from that list. It was an honest oversight from a tired and overworked lad who had barely thought the notion through before he tossed it out.

That oversight shouldn't be regarded as a slight towards McGriff, nor should it be interpreted as an indication of our lack of regard for his contributions to the Jays. You might not remember it, but in the eve of last year's 17th/18th Anniversary Notalgia Orgy for the World Series teams, we made a bit of an impassioned plea for recognition of McGriff's part in the team's success in the late '80's.

Still, the backlash against our omission of McGriff (as well as John Mayberry, which is another good point) got us to thinking a little more about that pantheon of first baggers.

Looking back over the history of the team, there were really only six players who held down the position for any length of time: Mayberry, Upshaw, McGriff, Olerud, Delgado and Overbay. (Shea Hillenbrand and Eric Hinske need not apply here.) And a casual look back at their numbers (mostly OPS and OPS+) suggest that in our rush to canonize Lyle, we may have inadvertently underscored his underwhelming performance in comparison to those other names.

Here's what you get when you take that glance.

Career OPS as a Blue Jay:

Delgado - .949 (in 12 years, 1423 games and 6018 plate appearances)
McGriff - .919 (5 years, 578 games, 2322 PAs)
Olerud - .866 (8 years, 920 games, 3689 PAs)
Mayberry - .802 (5 years, 549 games, 2102 PAs)
Overbay - .800 (5 years, 693 games, 2731 PAs)
Upshaw - .762 (9 years, 1115 games and 4172 PAs)

OPS+ as a Jay:

McGriff - 153
Delgado - 142
Olerud - 130
Mayberry - 119
Overbay - 111
Upshaw - 104

(We'd love to supplement this with WAR as a Jay, but we haven't quite figured out that trick. Yet.)

So on that cursory look, you'd almost be left with the impression that Overbay rates as the second worst regular first baseman in the franchise history. (And don't even get us started on how Willie Upshaw has somehow become a legend in retrospect. We love the guy, but we clearly have no perspective on him.)

But don't get us wrong: We're not calling Overbay a bad player, and we're not going to go down the road of calling him out for not being a bigger power threat because "you gotta have that from your first baseman, right?" Lyle's greatest strength was his defense, which is hard to account for, though our memory tells us we'd rate him at the top of the list. (With a caveat that our remembrances of John Mayberry are vague at best.)

Still, looking at the top line numbers for those six guys, it's hard not to be left with the impression that our affection for Lylo and our desire to push him as one of the greats might have something to do with his historical proximity, and our desire to want to think kindly of him as we send him out into the world.


Darren Priest said...

Wow, glad I can say I watched the greatest 1B the Jays ever had. Is not signing Delgado the actual biggest blunder of the Ricciardi years?

Peter D said...

Not signing Delgado may not be the biggest blunder for Ricciardi, but you combine that with not trading him earlier and not offering him arbitration, and you may have a case.

NoisyFlowers said...

Are you really sure Overbay's defense was better than Olerud's?

Patrick said...

According to Baseball Reference:

WAR as a Blue Jay (may include some time not as 1B)
Delgado: 33.8
Olerud: 21.2
McGriff: 18.9
Overbay: 12.6
Upshaw: 10.5
Mayberry: 2.9

Patrick said...

@ NoisyFlowers

Again by Baseball Reference
Total Zone Rating per 1200 innings (career, not just with Jays):
Overbay: 9
Olerud: 7
Upshaw: 5
McGriff: -2
Mayberry: -2
Delgado: -3

Tao of Stieb said...

Interesting that Olerud's WAR puts him ahead of McGriff.

And if you consider those defensive metrics (which might be entirely made up), I think you could safely put Overbay in 4th, ahead of Mayberry.

Darren Priest said...

The WAR vs TZR kinda says it all re: Overbay sucks. I like Overbay (I guess), but Delgado is the archetypal 1B that everyone wants. Not everyone gets to have a Delgado, though.

Patrick said...

Quick food for thought:

WAR 1997-2004
Olerud 35.2
Delgado 34.3

WAR 2005-2009
Delgado 10.4
Hinske+Overbay 11.8

Not saying letting Carlos go for nothing was smart, but the loss of production wasn't as bad as one might think. And hardly worse than dumping Olerud was.

Patrick said...

I should admit that the Olerud/Delgado comparison isn't fair. It really was those two versus Carter (WAR -1.2 in his last year with the Jays)

Beleaguered Sports Fan said...

Olerud's tenure is so nebulous that it's easy to overlook his eligibility into the pantheon. He started out in the great spending spree of '06, and obviously expectations died down after the decline of B.J. et. al. He managed to linger long enough to be part of the great optimism of '10 (but it never felt like he was part of that group). And in between, there's this solid body of work. The only knock against him for me is the Pearl Jam intros. I can't think of the word "Overbay" without hearing "at home drawing pictures...of mountaintops..."

Beleaguered Sports Fan said...

I meant Overbay :)

Alex said...

Delgado could have DH'd too from 2005-2009 or so

eyebleaf said...

Fantastic post. Not looking forward to seeing Delgado in a BoSox uniform.