Friday, January 16

Didn't we fire this guy?

Somehow, some way, Branson Wright is back, and with some awesome stuff, too. With Rickey Henderson's induction to the Baseball Hall of Fame, many writers have described him as the greatest leadoff hitter of all time. Wright disagrees, claiming that Pete Rose is in fact the greatest leadoff hitter of all time. Despite his name, Wright is totally wrong here. I have nothing against Rose and think he should be in the Hall of Fame, but he was not as good as Rickey Henderson at being a leadoff hitter or any sort of hitter other than a "singles hitter," which is in no way a compliment.

For whatever reason, Wright tries to make his point by including the transcript of a debate that he loses badly to Indians minor league hitting coordinator Bruce Fields. It's a spectacular failure, made all the more so by the fact that Wright voluntarily published it to support his own case for Rose. In bold are Wright's and Fields' dialogue; my comments are in plain text.

Fields: Branson, give me the evidence that Pete was the best leadoff hitter.
The burden of evidence for proving a claim rests on the person making the claim, who in this case is Branson Wright. A fair opening statement from Fields.

Wright: Look at the numbers. He's one of, if not the greatest, hitter of all time. He had over 200 hits in a season 10 times in his career; and just barely missed out on getting 200 hits in three other seasons.
My head already hurts.
This lays out pretty clearly that Wright knows very little about baseball. Rose has the most career hits, but he also has the most career at-bats. He's not even close to being the greatest hitter of all time. Not even close. Let us not forget gentlemen named Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, and Barry Bonds. Just as an example, he and Henderson are #9 and #10, respectively all time in Runs Created, though Rose has 2500 more plate appearances.
Finally, "Number of 200-hit seasons and almost-200-hit-seasons" are terrible, terrible criteria for evaluating a player's hitting skill.

Fields: But didn't Rickey finish his career with the most runs scored (2,229)? Isn't that the leadoff hitter's job, to score runs? That right there puts him No. 1 for me.
It is remarkable that Rickey did this, and run-scoring was his job, though it should be pointed out that one's run total depends largely on your teammates.

Wright: Yes, scoring runs is what you want out of your leadoff hitter, but Rose (2,165) was no slouch in that category.
I'll give this to Wright, though again noting Rose's far higher volume of plate appearances. The run-scoring is a non-point for both sides.

But the leadoff hitter is also about being a table-setter, setting the stage for his team in each and every game. There was no better table-setter than Pete.
Pete Rose career OBP: .375
Rickey Henderson career OBP: .401
There was at least one better table-setter than Pete Rose, QED.

He had the intangibles.
This is not an argument of any kind.

He was a switch-hitter...
Totally irrelevant.

...he was a leader. Rose had a presence.
Nonsense, gobbledygook. Can we get back to the discussion, Branson?

Fields: I want my leadoff hitter to get on base by any means necessary. By a hit, walk, hit by pitch. Rickey's on-base percentage (.401) is better than Pete's (.375).
Thanks, Bruce, I should have read your comment before jumping in earlier. Absolutely it's about getting on base. This essentially ends the argument.

Wright: Yes, but isn't it also about hitting? About putting the ball into play? Rickey struck out (1,694) more than Rose (1,143). You want your leadoff man to at least hit the ball.
I now officially feel embarrassed for Bran. That last statement is completely false. Fields just told you a minute ago that the leadoff hitter's job is to get on base and now you're on this "at least hit the ball" thing. The strikeout numbers are irrelevant, given the OBP numbers - a groundout is an out just the same as a K is.

Fields: And what about the stolen bases? Rickey's the all-time leader in stolen bases (1,406).
With an 81% success rate, to boot.

Wright: The Rickey fans always bring that up.
Yeah, and Babe Ruth fans are always bringing up all those home runs he hit.

Rose hit enough doubles in his career to take the place of a stolen base. Rose had 40 or more doubles seven times in his career."
First off, what's with the arbitrary 40 doubles plateau? Who cares how many times Rose reached that arbitrary figure? Oh, right, the same guy who cares how many times he topped 200 hits.
For what it's worth, Rickey had 510 career doubles, Rose 746. That erases 236 stolen bases (in Branson's view). Rickey stole 1208 more than Pete. No, Branson, Pete Rose did not hit enough doubles in his career to take the place of Rickey's thefts.
Even more important: Rickey had 297 career home runs, Rose 160. Make up that deficit.
Watch me cherry-pick some stats Wright-style: Rose had nine seasons with nine or more (yes, nine) home runs; Rickey had sixteen. Sixteen times he crossed the mythical nine home run mark!
Home runs are getting on base too, my friend, and are considerably more valuable than doubles. Surely Fields will hammer him on this, right?

Fields: Who had the most career RBIs?
Bruce, my man, what are we doing here? You had such a golden opportunity with the home run thing! Everyone (except, possibly, Branson Wright) knows that RBIs are an essentially useless stat, especially for a leadoff man. Hell, Ryan Garko had 90 RBI last year. I do not admit this question as evidence.

Wright: Rose had 1,314. Henderson had 1,115.
Don't care. I had 1,459.

Fields: Dang, you got me there ... OK, how about this. Who would lead off if they were both in their prime on the same team?
Henderson, unless the manager was totally insane.

Wright: Well I could bat Rose second because he's more of a disciplined hitter than Henderson, but I would have Rose lead off because he's the better leadoff hitter.
On the first topic, Rickey's superior OBP punches right through his "discipline" argument, not to mention that having more groundouts and flyouts hardly constitutes plate discipline. On the second topic, you're stating something as fact that Bruce and I have just debunked like 20 times. The only acceptable argument for hitting Rose 1st on such a club is to bat Rickey 3rd because he has a higher OPS+.

Fields: It's hard to say definitely which guy is better than the other.
As I have shown, it's super-duper-easy.

For every two things that Pete brings, Rickey brings two other things.
Then why is it hard to say who's better?

When you put it all together, Rickey brings speed and power. Pete brings hits.
Rickey gets on base better, do not forget this.

He'll put the ball in play, plus he's a pest."
Don't feed Branson's crazy hit-centric views on baseball success.

Wright: So I'm right?
You, sir, are delusional if you still think this.

Fields: You're only going with Pete because you're from Cincinnati.
This may well be the case. There certainly isn't any other good reason.

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