July 8, 2003

The SI Player Survey

One of the many magazines I subscribe to is Sports Illustrated. For whatever reason though, I find myself not reading it more and more these days, perhaps because of the abundance of quality sports writing available on the internet. It's probably the same reason I don't read my local sportspage first thing in the morning every single day, like I used to do.

Anyway, this week's edition of SI had a cover guaranteed to get me to read it. It featured Kerry Wood and Mark Prior, with the headline: "Chicago Heat."

If they stuck a baseball-related subject on the cover of Sports Illustrated every week, I would read it every week. Of course, they often prefer covers like two from last month featuring Bo Jackson in a chef's hat and some guy swimming, both of which were completely ignored by me, despite whatever readable contents were inside.

I read the article on Wood and Prior and enjoyed it, but what I found more interesting were the results of the MLB "Player Survey" that SI conducted. For those of you who don't subscribe to SI or do and have not read it yet, the information is available online, by clicking here.

According to SI, they "approached every major league player" for the survey and "550 agreed to participate, though not every player answered every question."

I thought it might be interesting to take a look at how the players responded to some of the questions and maybe make a few comments of my own...

Who's the greatest living player?

Barry Bonds              38.9%

Alex Rodriguez 12.8
Willie Mays 12.1
Nolan Ryan 7.1
Hank Aaron 6.7
Pete Rose 3.6
Roger Clemens 1.9
Stan Musial 1.7
Babe Ruth 1.5
Roberto Alomar 0.8

I can't argue with the top choice and the top 3 look pretty good to me, although I would do a little re-arranging myself. With regard to the other results, I am not sure which I find more disturbing - the fact that 7.1% of those surveyed think that Nolan Ryan was a better player than Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Stan Musial or Barry Bonds, or that 1.5% of players think that Babe Ruth, who died in 1948, is still alive.

Now, maybe the 1.5% of the players who filled in Babe Ruth's name did it as a joke. However, if they didn't, can you imagine idiocy involved in that? First of all, the guy has been dead for 55 years, which in itself makes picking him as the greatest living player extremely stupid. Beyond that is the fact that, assuming Babe Ruth was still alive, don't you think we would be seeing more of him?

I mean, before Ted Williams died, they brought him onto the field prior to the all-star game in Fenway Park a few years ago and it was a huge event. And Willie Mays and Hank Aaron have been honored in similar ways recently. But I haven't seen Babe Ruth anywhere lately, which seems strange to me, considering he is perhaps the biggest figure in sports history. I wonder if maybe the guys who voted for Ruth think he's a recluse or something and is unwilling to take part in these sort of festivities? Or maybe they are like those people who claim to have seen Elvis in the supermarket and they think they have seen Ruth around quite a bit this whole time?

An honorable mention for stupidity goes to those who voted for Pete Rose, Nolan Ryan and Roberto Alomar, because they obviously have no clue what the heck is going on. Although, they look like geniuses next to the guys who think Babe Ruth is alive and kicking...

My personal top 5, off the top of my head:

1) tie - Barry Bonds and Willie Mays

3) Roger Clemens

4) Stan Musial

5) tie - Hank Aaron and Greg Maddux

With a special salute to Rickey Henderson (because who doesn't love Rickey?), Joe Morgan (because I love picking on him) and Alex Rodriguez (because he's frankly too young to be on this list, in my opinion).

Who has the best outfield arm?

Vladimir Guerrero        56.8%

Jose Guillen 13.4
Ichiro Suzuki 13.4
Raul Mondesi 6.0
Larry Walker 2.6
Jim Edmonds 1.3
Torii Hunter 0.9
Bobby Higginson 0.6
Andruw Jones 0.4
Shawn Green 0.4
Gary Sheffield 0.4

Once again, a pretty good top 3 - Vlad, Jose Guillen and Ichiro! all have cannons in right field.

I do wonder how many players made the distinction in their head between "most powerful arm" and "best arm" while voting in this survey. I have no doubt that Vladimir Guerrero and Jose Guillen have the two most powerful outfield arms in baseball, but would you take either of them over Ichiro! if you had a runner on third tagging up and you needed someone to make the throw to the plate?

It is sort of like if the question was "who is the best runner in baseball?" Would the answer be the fastest guy or the guy who was actually the best, most valuable runner? Guerrero and Guillen have the most powerful arms, but they are infinitely less accurate than Ichiro! and it's not like Ichiro!'s arm isn't powerful.

For the 0.9% who voted for Torii Hunter, I wonder if they've ever seen him make more than a couple of throws. Choosing Torii as the "best outfield arm" strikes me as similar to someone choosing Ichiro! or Wade Boggs or Tony Gwynn for "best power-hitter," because you are giving them credit for something they don't do well, simply because of something else they do very well.

What I mean is that, while Ichiro!, Boggs and Gwynn are not good power hitters, they are very good hitters. In the same sense, Torii Hunter does not have a very good outfield arm, but he is a tremendous defensive outfielder. See what I'm saying? It's like giving the Gold Glove to someone because of how they hit - one thing has absolutely nothing to do with the other, just as Torii's throwing abilty (or lack thereof) has nothing to do with his ability to convert fly balls into outs.

Who's the best defensive player?

Andruw Jones             29.8%

Omar Vizquel 23.0
Torii Hunter 13.4
Alex Rodriguez 6.1
Scott Rolen 6.1
Ichiro Suzuki 1.3
Roberto Alomar 1.3
Rey Ordonez 1.3
J.T. Snow 1.2
Mike Bordick 1.2

Wow, there are a lot of things I think are wrong with this one.

Andruw Jones #1 is perfectly fine, although, as I said yesterday, I disagree. Omar Vizquel at #2 is an incredibly poor choice. First of all, I don't think (and most of the numbers and stats would agree with me) that Vizquel was ever that great defensively. He was good and, yes, he never made a lot of errors and he makes some very pretty plays (and - gasp - some of them are barehanded!), but his range was never particularly impressive and the amount of plays he was able to make, barehanded or otherwise, were never that extraordinary. And that was in his prime. He's now 36 years old and any thought of him being the best defensive shortstop in baseball - let alone the best defensive player in baseball - should be long gone. Heck, they even stopped giving him his annual undeserved Gold Glove Award last season.

Torii Hunter, ARod, Scott Rolen and Ichiro! are all decent picks. I happen to think Torii's defense is overrated slightly, but he's still very good. ARod is very good too, and Rolen and Ichiro! are the best defensive players at their position (3B and RF) in all of baseball.

Roberto Alomar is similar to Omar Vizquel, in that I don't think he was ever as good as his reputation and, at this point, ranking him anywhere near the top defensive players in baseball is just crazy.

Vizquel at #2 and Alomar at #6 don't even compare to the ridiculousness of 1.2% of players voting for J.T. Snow as the best defensive player in baseball. First of all, he's a first baseman. Do you realize how rare it would be for a first baseman to be the best defensive player in baseball?! There are certainly rare examples where a 1B can have a big defensive impact, but there's a reason guys like Mo Vaughn and Frank Thomas play the position. All of which isn't even approaching the fact that J.T. Snow isn't even the best defensive first baseman in baseball. Doug Mientkiewicz? John Olerud? Scott Spiezio? Todd Helton? Derrek Lee? Anyway, suffice it to say that if a first baseman is going to have any chance of being the best defensive player in baseball, it isn't going to be J.T. Snow!

The guys who get robbed on this list are Mike Cameron (nothing new for him, as I discussed in great detail yesterday) and Darin Erstad. There is just no way on earth J.T. Snow is a better defensive player than Mike Cameron or Darin Erstad. None.

Whom would you most like to play with?

Alex Rodriguez           16.6%

Barry Bonds 7.0
Roger Clemens 6.5
Sammy Sosa 3.5
Jeff Bagwell 3.1
Greg Maddux 3.1
Derek Jeter 2.8
Scott Rolen 2.8
Jason Giambi 2.6

Kinda shoots a hole into all that media-driven crap about Bonds being such a horrible human being and such an awful teammate now, doesn't it?

One thing I wonder about this question is what percentage of players voted for someone they have never played with before. You know, the whole "grass is always greener" theory?

Personally, I would most like to play with Bonds, mostly because he is the best player in baseball and would give the team the best chance of winning, but also because I think he appears to be a heck of a teammate and very well liked by the Giants. Who knows, maybe it turns out that Jeff Kent and Rick Reilly are the jerks and not Bonds. It wouldn't exactly shock me.

Clemens at #3 surprises me a little, although I guess it is similar to Bonds' situation, in that a lot of the stuff we hear about Clemens being a bad guy is media-driven and most players probably just want to play with great players. One interesting thing is that, according to SI, 80.6% of Clemens' votes came from fellow pitchers. I'd bet the number of right-handed pitchers under the age of 30 that voted for Clemens is damn near 100%.

Also, you'd think Jesse Orosco would find his way onto this list somehow, seeing as though he has played with just about everyone in baseball history...

Who gets the most from the least talent?

David Eckstein           62.2%

Craig Counsell 6.7
Jamie Moyer 4.8
Joe McEwing 2.7
Kevin Millar 1.7
Juan Pierre 1.2
Albert Pujols 1.0
Brad Ausmus 1.0
Eric Byrnes 0.7
Greg Maddux 0.7
Mike Sweeney 0.7

This strikes me as a strange question and I am not sure exactly how I would answer it myself. Is it asking who the guy who works the hardest is or is it asking who the biggest overachiever is? There is a large difference, in my opinion. Either way, Eckstein seems like a good choice, simply because he's like 5'5" and has a lot of trouble simply throwing the ball across the diamond, yet he plays a good shortstop and had a very nice season last year.

One somewhat disturbing thing is that, of the top 11 players, 9 of them are "white guys." Maybe this is a coincidence, but I doubt it. I think, for whatever reason, white guys who hustle and work hard are seen as "scrappier" than "black guys" or "latino guys" who do the exact same thing. This is just my opinion, of course, so I could be way off base here. My suspicion also shows through on the next question though...

Who gets the least from the most talent?

Ruben Rivera             29.3%

Raul Mondesi 6.9
Frank Thomas 3.1
Mo Vaughn 3.1
Adrian Beltre 2.8
Kyle Farnsworth 2.8
Ken Griffey 2.4
Aramis Ramirez 2.1
Esteban Loaiza 2.1
Juan Gonzalez 2.1
Jose Guillen 2.1

Whereas there were 9 white guys in the top 11 in the previous category, there is a grand-total of 1 white guy in this category. Does this mean anything? Maybe not, but the two sets of responses, when put together, strike me as a little strange.

Additionally, there is another question in the survey that asks, "Who's the best-dressed player?" and, of the top 10 guys, Derek Jeter is the only guy who could be considered a "white guy" and his father is black. To me, the answers to these 3 questions seem to suggest that the white guys are "scrappy" and the black guys and latino guys are "lazy" and "stylish." Which, to me, is absurd and plays to all sorts of stereotypes.

Also, the idea that Frank Thomas has gotten "the least from the most talent" is absolutely idiotic. The man is one of the best 12-15 hitters in the history of baseball. He's got a career OPS+ of 163, which is the 10th best in the history of major league baseball. He's a career .312 hitter with nearly 400 homers and over 1,300 RBIs and he's got 2 Most Valuable Player Awards. If he's the guy who has gotten the least from the most talent, then I'm Peter Gammons (I'm not, in case you are wondering).

Same thing with Griffey and, to a lesser extent, Juan Gonzalez. Seems like these guys got on this list because they are seen as "jerks," but that isn't the question. If you don't like Frank or Ken or Juan, don't vote for them on the "Whom would you most like to play with?" question, but that has nothing to do with what they have gotten out of their talent. Thomas and Griffey are future Hall of Famers and Gonzalez is an MVP that has a chance of going into the Hall too. I have a hard time believing a Hall of Fame player has gotten less from his talent than anyone else.

The survey had a whole bunch of other questions that I don't want to get into in detail, but here are some interesting tidbits...

When asked, "What's your favorite non-baseball activity?", 25.7% said "golf" and the next 4 answers were "hunting," "fishing," "time with family" and "movies." I assume that the players were given choices to pick from here and I wonder if "strip-clubs" would have cracked 50% if it were an option and the surveys were done anonymously. Also, how funny is it that golf, hunting and fishing all beat "time with family"? I bet the wives and kids are really happy about that.

Safeco Field won for "Favorite Ballpark" and the Metrodome placed 3rd for "Least Favorite." The Dome also ranked 5th for "Worst-quality playing field." Yay!

74.2% of players answered "yes, unconditionally" when asked, "Should Pete Rose be in the Hall of Fame?" I am not going to touch this topic with a 10-foot poll, but the fact that nearly 3/4 of players answered that way definitely surprises me. Only 9.4% said, "Not under any circumstances."

Billy Beane won for "Who's the best general manager" with 34.1%, getting nearly as many votes as the next 5 guys (Schuerholtz, Jocketty, Sabean, Cashman, Gillick) combined. The recently canned Steve Phillips was #1 for "worst GM." No word on who won for "best looking GM" (that's a little inside joke for those of you who read Moneyball).

Dusty Baker was #1 for best manager with 23.6%, just ahead of Joe Torre (18.7%) and Bobby Cox (13.1%). This doesn't surprise me at all because Dusty is a good manager and he is also supposed to be a "player's manager" - and they're who voted. Larry Bowa won for "worst manager" and, interestingly enough, Tony LaRussa was in the top 5 in both "best" and "worst" - which means someone has to be wrong. Also interesting is that Bob Brenley, who just won a World Series not too long ago, is 7th for "worst manager" and Mike Scioscia, who won it last year, is 4th for "best manager."

I think Bowa isn't the greatest manager in the world, but it seems like he's getting a raw deal here. In the 5 years before he came to the Phillies, they had a combined record of 352-458, for a .434 winning percentage. In the 2.5 seasons he has been Philadelphia's manager, they are 214-196, for a .521 winning percentage. They are on-pace to win 80+ games for the third straight season with Bowa, something they had done exactly one time (1993) since 1987 before he got there.

So there you have it, the players have spoken. Many think J.T. Snow is the best defensive player in baseball, a lot of them want to play with Barry Bonds and a few "special" players are under the impression Babe Ruth didn't die yet.

I'd be interested to see what a "Manager Survey" and a "General Manager" survey would look like...

If you didn't get a chance to read my entry about "The Most Underrated Player in Baseball" from yesterday, I urge you to do so. I worked long and hard on it and I have gotten a lot of positive responses from people who enjoyed it. So, go check it out:

The Most Underrated Player in Baseball (July 8, 2003)

Today's picks:

Atlanta (Ortiz) -150 over New York (Glavine)

Florida (Pavano) +175 over Chicago (Wood)

Pittsburgh (Benson) -115 over Milwaukee (Rusch)

San Diego (Peavy) +155 over Arizona (Bautista)

Tampa Bay (Kennedy) +170 over Oakland (Lilly)

Total to date: + $1,565

W/L record: 165-160 (0-1 yesterday for -100 and slowly fading back to 1,000.)

*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****

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