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The Downing Era vs. the Delgado Era, Part One
by Asher B. Chancey, BaseballEvolution.com
April 10, 2009
Today is Thursday, 21-Feb-19 16:22:41 PST
Without consciously realizing it, I have secretly become obsessed with Carlos Delgado. As I’ve mentioned before, whenever I start writing something but don’t finish it, I always email it to myself so I can return to it later. The following is a compilation of no fewer than four different things I’ve written and then emailed to myself in the last twelve months. Thought we'd go ahead and see if we could make it productive . . .
A couple of years ago – 2006, to be precise – Scott and Keith acted like I was crazy for putting Carlos Delgado on my Top 200 list. But in reality, I can see no principled distinction between the value of Carlos Delgado and the value of Will Clark. Each of them had two seasons which could be considered truly great – seasons in which each of them could arguably be considered one of the top three players in his league - while being excellent hitters in their other seasons. For Clark, those seasons were 1988 and 1989, and for Delgado those seasons were 2000 and 2003. Neither player won his league’s MVP in either of their peak seasons – Clark finished fifth behind Kirk Gibson in 1988 and second behind teammate Kevin Mitchell in 1989 (Mitchell was the best player in baseball that season), while Delgado lost to Jason Giambi in 2000 and Alex Rodriguez in 2003.
And for the record:
Delgado: 8559 PA, 440.2 ABR, 40.3 ABW, 138 OPS+
WiClark: 8283 PA, 404.6 ABR, 39.7 ABW, 137 OPS+
Will the Thrill was a better pure hitter who played most of his prime in an era of pure hitters – 1986-1993 – while Delgado has been a better power hitter who has played all of his career in an era of power hitters – 1994-2007. In the end, they shake out pretty similarly, and I can see no reason to rank one significantly higher or lower than the other.
But really I’m playing devil’s advocate here, aren’t I? I mean, I don’t actually think Delgado is that great of a player, do I? Isn’t what I’m really doing is pointing a finger at the modern era, and underscoring that players from the last twenty years look, but aren’t, better than players from previous eras? Aren’t I secretly harboring a suspicion that the adjustments for era that we need to make should be drastic rather than subtle?
So here's the deal – what happens when Carlos Delgado hits his 500th homerun? Delgado looked to be down for the count in 2007 and the first half of 2008, when his numbers looked truly bad, but now he has rebounded quite a bit, has gotten his yearly OPS back up over .800,
and sits only 31 homeruns away from 500, a mark he could easily hit this year if he is healthy. So what then? This is a guy who is probably the Rusty Staub of this generation. Will Delgado be to 500 homeruns what Darrell Evans and Dave Kingman were to 400 homeruns?
Better question – is Delgado going to be to 500 homeruns what Graig Nettles, Harold Baines, Dale Murphy, and Frank Howard are to 380 homeruns?
But this isn’t about Carlos Delgado – this is about comparing turn-of-this-century players to players of the 1970s and 1980s.
One of the great debates concerning baseball has always been comparing players of different eras. Having grown up in the 1980s, it has always been particularly important to me to try to reconcile the careers of players from that decade with players from other eras. As we now know, the decade of the 1980s was perhaps the most competitively balanced epoch in baseball history. It just so happens that what followed – from 1993 going forward – has been a wildly non-competitive period during which hitting has overwhelmed pitching and the game has arguably experienced a paradigm shift.
In my mind, there is no greater symbol for the modern era of baseball than Delgado. He’s rarely been one of the top ten players in all of baseball in any one season, and he certainly is not among the top twenty players overall for the period 1990-2010. But as Delgado nears the end of his career, he is approaching milestones that traditionally (i.e. before 1993) meant Hall of Fame and standing amongst the top 20 players of all time. Consider:
* Going into the 2009 season, Carlos’ 11th RBI will be his 1500th. There are 48 players in history with 1500 RBI; we’ve added 14 to the list since 1993.
* Carlos needs 74 runs to get to 1300 (the Tony Phillips line). There are currently 116 players with 1300 runs, and we’ve added 34 since 1993.
* Carlos is 24 doubles away from 500. Of the 48 players who have crossed the Goslin/Olerud line, 20 have done so since 1993.
* Carlos needs 31 homeruns to get to the once mythical 500 homerun mark. Including Gary Sheffield, who sits at 499, there are 25 players on the 500 list, 11 of which have joined since 1993.
* One stat that has gone by the wayside in the last twenty years is total bases. Carlos needs 73 total bases to get to 4,000. Of the 76 players to have topped Carlton Fisk in total bases, 28 have done it since 1993.
* Eleven RBI get Carlos to 1500. He and Jim Thome will be the 49th and 50th players to cross that barrier. 18 of those 50 players will have crossed since 1993.
In the rate stats, as well, Carlos is crossing barriers which are historically impressive, but contemporaneously ordinary. Historically, he is 37th all time in OPS. But of the 36 players ahead of him, 17 played after 1993. He is 84th in Adjusted OPS, but just 18th on the active list. He is 65th in runs created, but again 18th on the active list. His adjusted batting runs are good for 62nd all time, but just 12th on the active list, and his batting wins are similar (65/12). He is stunningly 19th all time in at-bats per homerun, but 12 of the top 19 guys are active or retired since 1993.
Delgado’s career numbers and rankings amongst history’s greats lead to the conclusion that he is one of the 50 to 75 greatest players of all time, but his rankings amongst his contemporaries indicate that he probably shouldn’t be considered one of the top 25 players of his own era.
There are two possible conclusions to be reached here. I’ll give you the obviously erroneous one first:
There are roughly ten times as many historically great hitters in this era than in all the other eras in the history of the game combined.
. . . or . . .
The offensive accomplishments of hitters in this era are not slightly but rather significantly less impressive than the offensive accomplishments of hitters of earlier eras.
I think Carlos Delgado is actually a perfect symbol of the need to make serious adjustments when comparing players from the era since 1993 to historical players. So much so, in fact, that I have decided to dub the era running from 1993 to the present “the Delgado Era.” This is both appropriate and convenient: it is appropriate because Delgado made his debut in 1993; it is convenient because it spares us having to come up with a name for the decade running from 2000 to 2009 (which somehow after nine years we still haven’t done).
I think that if you compare offensive achievements of players from the 1980s to players of the Delgado Era, you’ll find that hitting 30 homeruns in the 1980s is shockingly close, as an accomplishment, to hitting 40 homeruns in the Delgado Era. Actually, we shouldn’t limit it to the 1980s, because that would ignore the fact that the competitiveness of the 1980s was not limited to the 1980s but actually stretched from roughly 1973 to 1992. So, instead of referring to “the Delgado Era vs. the 1980s,” we’ll find a player that typifies 1973 to 1992 the way Delgado does 1993-2009.
How about Brian Downing? Okay. From now on, its “the Downing Era,” the period from 1973 to 1992, vs. “the Delgado Era,” the period from 1993 to 2009.
This is going to be an ongoing project. But to start, consider these “Anecodotal Comparisons of the Delgado Era and the Downing Era.”
1. Carlos Delgado ranks 30th on the career slugging percentage list. Jim Rice ranks 89th. But Delgado has finished in the top ten in his league in slugging percentage seven times, and never ranked higher than second, while Rice finished in the top ten eight times and led the league twice, coming in second three times.
2. Sammy Sosa is the sixth all time homerun hitter, while Mike Schmidt is 13th. Sosa led his league homeruns twice; Schmidt did it eight times.
3. One player from each era led the National League in homeruns twice and finished second three times in a six-season span. In the Delgado Era, that player was Sosa, who combined for 332 homeruns in those six seasons. In the Downing Era, that player was Dale Murphy, who combined for 218 homeruns in that period.
4. Sosa hit 60 or more homeruns three times without leading the league in any of those seasons, while Schmidt led the league with fewer than forty homeruns six different times (an amazing stat, really).
5. More on Schmidt’s numbers: In 1984, Schmidt and Dale Murphy tied for the NL lead with 36 homeruns. In 2001, 36 homeruns did not crack the top ten in the National League, and 17 major league players had 38 or more homeruns. Carlos Delgado had 39 that season.
And by the way, Keith Glab, don’t think I don’t realize the analysis so far has been limited to counting stats, which we all know are no way to compare players across eras. Don’t worry, we’re just getting started. . . .
Questions? Concerns? Comments? Asher lives in Philadelphia, PA, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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