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Here's an article by intrepid correspondent Callum Hughson. Imagine how much you'd like it if I had any idea how to format these things.

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During a random trip to my local library I came across a recent baseball book by Toronto Sun columnist Bob Elliott, titled The Northern Game. I checked it out and gave it a read. The main point of interest for me was the appendix. Here, Elliott asked Canadian baseball experts from all over the nation for lists of the greatest provincial and national baseball players of all-time. Taking the honours at first base was a late 1800s ballplayer named Bill Phillips. Now I canít tell you all that much about Phillips, other than he was born in Saint John, New Brunswick, that he began his career at 22 and that he played during some of the early tumultuous years of professional baseball. Like most modern Canadian baseball fans would, I scanned my brain to come up with another choice. The most logical was Justin Morneau. As we all know, Justin has had a very short major league career. But after sifting through the data, I came to the conclusion that even if Morneau retired today, he should still be considered the number one Canadian first baseman of all-time. Hereís how I came to that conclusion.



First off, when modern day players with gaudy stats are mentioned against players of an earlier era, many will reply that overall batting statistics were far lower during this era. Is this true? Definitely. When this is the case than we need to delve further into the individual players statistics. Today, we are going to compare the two players in three different fashions, Win Shares, Defensive Range Factor, and individual performance against that of their peers.

Win Shares

Bill Phillips Career Win Shares

Year Win Shares
1879 7
1880 10
1881 8
1882 10
1883 7
1884 8
1885 17
1886 18
1887 12
1888 9
Total 106

To be fair, the Win Shares system is drastically skewed towards pitching in the 1800s, with the top ranked pitcher accumulating around 50 Win Shares per season. In todayís baseball climate of five-man rotations, pitch counts and bullpen specialization the top pitcher usually ends up with about 25 Win Shares. Thatís why this is only one of three criteria.

Phillipsís top season was in 1886, with 18 win shares, but outside of 1885 and 1886, Phillips was essentially a 10-WS-per-season type of player.

Justin Morneau Career Win Shares

Year Win Shares
2003 1
2004 10
2005 8
2006 27
Total 46

Morneau, at age 25, has 46 career win shares. Taking an extremely conservative approach, letís assume that Morneau experiences a drastic decline in production and produces at a rate that is slightly above that of Ty Wiggintonís 2006 production (14 win shares), and assign him 15 win shares a season for the next four years. Well, in this drastic example, Morneau will tie Phillips in four seasons and overpass him by the time heís 30. Now I, like many, do not predict such a drastic decline for Justin. In fact, the accepted baseball prime age begins at 27, so the best years for Morneau may in front of him. Either way, Morneau takes this round.

Defensive Range Factor

Strong defensive play from the first base position was a greater part of 1800s baseball than it is of todayís. But we can still look at range factor to determine how each player performed defensively against their peers. Below is a table that lists each playerís career range factor, the league average range factor during their playing years, and the overall performance against this average.

Player

Career Range Factor

League Average Range Factor

Difference

Phillips

10.43

10.23

+ 0.20

Morneau

9.19

7.99

+ 1.05

As you can see, during Phillips playing time in the late 1800ís, first baseman had to field considerably more chances than todayís players. While his career number is higher, he only posted a range factor that 2% greater than league average. Conversely, Morneauís range factor is 15% better than league average! In fact, Morneauís career range factor differential (1.05) is similar to that of two highly regarded first baseman of the 1980ís, Keith Hernandez (1.22) & Don Mattingly (0.92). Morneau wins this round and goes up 2-0.

Performance Against Peers

This table compares each playerís statistics against league averages during their respective careers.

Player

BA

OBA

SLG

OPS

Phillips

.09

-.01

.30

.29

Morneau

.06

.02

.69

.70

As you can see, Phillips had a career OPS that was 0.29 points greater than the league average. But Morneauís career average is .70 points greater than league average. Remember, this includes Morneauís poor 2005 campaign. This season his OPS was a staggering .163 points better than league average! Justin also receives this point, and shuts out Bill Phillips 3-0.

Now back to my statement that he should be crowned the number one Canadian first baseman of all-time, even if he retires todayÖ I think the argument can be summed up like this. Bill Phillips was an above average player during his playing career. Justin Morneau, on the other hand, has proven in two of his three major league seasons that he isnít merely above average, but exemplary. On top of this, Morneau is still two years short of his expected peak. This indicates that Morneau is the better player, and should be considered the best Canadian-born first baseman ever.

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This article was written by Callum Hughson of mopupduty.com, a blog hosted by four lifelong baseball fans.

Pinch Hit: Phillips vs. Morneau | 11 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.
Ryan C - Wednesday, October 25 2006 @ 01:45 AM EDT (#157188) #
Nice analysis and article, but I respectfully disagree.  Morneau's career is just too short at this point to declare him better than a man with a 10 year career IMHO.

You say Morneau has had two exemplary seasons, but I only see one.  This year has been great for Justin, but in 2005 he finished dead last among "qualified" MLB 1st basemen, in AVG and OBP.  In 2004 he had less than 300 ABs.
daryn - Wednesday, October 25 2006 @ 08:31 AM EDT (#157192) #

I don't think if he retired today you can say, "he's the best all-time because if he had continued to play his numbers would have been the best"

I DO think you can conclude he has more talent if you like.... but "best all-time" has a cumulative factor to it.

I agree that at the rate he's going, he may only have to succeed for 3-5 more years to become the best all time even in the face of a longer career by Phillips.... but in my opinion, not yet...

daryn - Wednesday, October 25 2006 @ 08:50 AM EDT (#157193) #

actually, this analysis reminds me of a pet peeve that happens every year at the beginning of the year. (in this case, beginning of a carreer)

A player that has hit 18HR/yr consistently for 5 years, suddenly hits 3-HR on opening day, has a 2-HR day and we find him with 8 dingers by April 24.  Then the talking heads are all over this stat, "if he continues at this pace, he'll hit 50 this year and probably win the MVP... "

I think you should be allowed to sue someone just for saying that.

I believe that if you took his monthly average (3) times the number of months left in the season (5) to get his likely total for the rest of the year, (15), and add that to his current total and THAT number is impressive, THEN you can talk about his "pace".... but the rest is just over-hype created by simpletons that are incapable of separating a hot month from a real statistical possibility.....

there is a stronge possibility is that this guy is going to hit 18 HRs, since he's already got 8, he's might only hit 10 more all season.... why? maybe he gets hurt a lot, ... maybe pitchers will figure him out..... maybe he always starts hot.... maybe he's really a 4th fielder playing behind Manny Ramirez, and Ramirez is hurt right now...

maybe he gets lucky and maintains his career average the rest of the season, then he's just had a career year with 23 dingers... nice for sure, but not remarkable...

who knows... but the real story here is "how come a 18HR guy got 8 in April?", not "On what date will he break Ruth's record, and should we have a parade? or interview his High School coach"

Now, I know the Statistical IQ in here is of such a level, that no one needed me to point this out....

but boy!     It feels good to vent once in a while!!
Daryn

KmanMUD - Wednesday, October 25 2006 @ 12:07 PM EDT (#157200) #
Hello. I somewhat Co-wrote this article with Cal on our website. Now as the article states:

" Taking an extremely conservative approach, letís assume that Morneau experiences a drastic decline in production and produces at a rate that is slightly above that of Ty Wiggintonís 2006 production (14 win shares), and assign him 15 win shares a season for the next four years. Well, in this drastic example, Morneau will tie Phillips in four seasons and overpass him by the time heís 30. Now I, like many, do not predict such a drastic decline for Justin. In fact, the accepted baseball prime age begins at 27, so the best years for Morneau may in front of him."

I think everyone needs to look at this in the proper context. There has been no real standout Canadian Born 1st Baseman. The best, Mr. Phillips, was slightly above average. As the above quote shows, Morneau has to stay slightly above average for the next four - five seasons to surpass him in WS. That's it. There is no proclimation that he's the best thing since sliced bread, only that he should play at an above average level for the next few years, thus surpassing Phillips.

Mick Doherty - Wednesday, October 25 2006 @ 12:10 PM EDT (#157201) #

Not suggesting this will happen to Morneau, but it's interesting that three of his "Most Similars" at BBRef are Josh Phelps, Ron Blomberg and Carlos Pena.

"I'll take first basemen who looked really promising then completely disappeared before the age of 30 for $500, Alex ..."

Mike Green - Wednesday, October 25 2006 @ 12:29 PM EDT (#157202) #
Following up on Mick's point, Morneau's age 25 comparables include Greg Walker, Alvin Davis, Richie Sexson and Paul Konerko.  Walker and Davis disappointed; Sexson and Konerko have not, so far.
Callum - Wednesday, October 25 2006 @ 01:35 PM EDT (#157206) #
My apologies Ryan, I should have explained it a little bit better. As far as having two exemplary seasons, I should have clarified that they would include his 2006 season and the second half of 2004. He had 256 AB's in the second half of 2004, yet still hit 17HR, 55RBI's and had a more than respectable .872 OPS. Although it is not included in the article, IMHO his 2005 is an aberration based on untimely injuries and illness.
Jim - Wednesday, October 25 2006 @ 02:40 PM EDT (#157207) #
Morneau's PECOTA most similars going into LAST season included Sexson, Konerko and Teixeira in the top 5.  That is before the great season.  I wouldn't worry about him turning into Josh Phelps.
Craig B - Wednesday, October 25 2006 @ 11:25 PM EDT (#157215) #
Jim, you might havce a shorter memory than I thought, but Josh Phelps was on the cover of Baseball Prospectus in 2003.  They (and PECOTA) were predicting that he would be a very, very big star.

Pinch Hit: Phillips vs. Morneau | 11 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.