Brooks Robinson Sachin Tendulkar and Player Value

Mr. Rickey, I thought when I signed the contract I signed for one thing. There is a ‘W’ column, and there is an ‘L’ column. I thought it was my obligation and duty to put as many as I could under that ‘W’ column.

Leo Durocher Nice Guys finish last.

Kirk: Mr. Spock, have you accounted for the variable mass of whales and water in your time re-entry program?

Spock: Mr. Scott cannot give me exact figures, Admiral, so… I will make a guess.

Kirk: A guess? You, Spock? That’s extraordinary!

Spock: [to Dr. McCoy] I don’t think he understands.

McCoy: No, Spock. He means that he feels safer about your guesses than most other people’s facts.

Star Trek IV 1986

I read (via Glenn) Tunku Varadarajan’s piece on Cricketer Sachin Tendulkar impending retirement a particular phrase jumped out at me.

In purely sporting terms, however, he is but a shadow of his old self, in which he shone as one of the three or four finest players cricket has produced in its long, languorous history. He is now merely a “good” or “better than average” player. Had he been only 24 and this proficient, he’d be an honest contender for a place on the national team. But he is now so much less good than he once was that, when he plays, the more dispassionate among us can see only an ugly gulf between Sachin’s apogee and his plateau.

Now I presume Mr. Varadarajan is a fan of Cricket in general & Mr Tendulkar in particular but that phrase in the middle of a piece on Mr. Tendulkar and graceful exits says more about Mr. Varadarajan that it does about Mr. Tendulkar and the team that plays him.

I freely admit that the source of my sparse knowledge of cricket  is an interest in the origins of baseball & my Doctor Who fandom (5th Doctor don’t you know) but I think I can explain the fallacy of this piece by quoting the Bill James Baseball Abstract (1985) page 359 where James critiques a negative evaluation of Brooks Robinson by another writer (full disclosure I’m a HUGE Brooks fan).

an analytical structure that reduces the player’s rank (of all time greats) for several years in a row, as it happened at the end of Robinson’s career, is irrational, because it assumes that the player is being used by a team for several seasons although he has negative value (not to mention that Robby was being used by a team that was winning 95 games a year). If a team is willing to play a player, then by definition that player must have value.

So if a player has value the question becomes: ‘What is that value’?  Is it as a draw selling tickets such as Babe Ruth for the Boston Braves? You’ve got to figure a legend like Tendulkar must sell tickets which can’t hurt when you have to sell tickets for a five day test.

But cash aside the real value of a player, if your goal is victory, is this measured by only one standard: Can I put a better player on the field who can help us win given the budget the team has?

And that’s where Brooks Robinson circa 1975 comes in.

That year Brooks had one of his worst years at the plate as a full time player.  In 539 at bats he hit only .201 with 6 homers and 54 RBIs a far cry from his 1964 MVP season when he hit .317 with 28 HR & 117 RBIs.

Yet his fielding stats were still impressive, his fielding percentage was a full 25 points above the league average at .979  range factors he would win his final gold glove at third and his WAR rating (wins above replacement) was 1.8  It was the lowest of his career but still positive meaning he had more value than a the player (Doug DeCinces) who would eventually replace him.

In 1976 & 77 his final years in the Majors as a part time aged 39 & 40 player Brooks Continued to out field DeCinces Aged 25 & 26 (.969 vs .941 in 76 & 1.000 vs .958 in 77) and didn’t have a lower range factor than him till his final year in the majors. But that defense couldn’t make up for a huge difference at the plate for those two years ( .211 Avg .307 slugging vs .234 Avg .357 slug in 76 & .149 Avg .255 slug vs .259 avg .433 slugging in 77) that finally caused him to be replaced.

What significant about those numbers is this:  DeCinces batting numbers in 76-77 those years are OK but nothing particularly special, one might even consider them below avg for a major league hitter but Brooks numbers at the plate were just plan awful.  Certainly not up to the standards of a player at the major league level.

If after 1975 Brooks Robinson produced merely average numbers at the plate such as he did in the 1972 season (.250 Avg with 8 HR 64 RBI and a slugging percentage of .342) he likely would have continued to start at third until his fielding numbers dropped or he decided he simply didn’t want to play anymore.

That brings back to Sachin Tendulkar Let me remind you of Mr. Varadarajan description of his current skills as a cricketer:

Had he been only 24 and this proficient, he’d be an honest contender for a place on the national team.

So Mr. Varadarajan doesn’t say Mr. Tendulkar skills have deteriorated to the point where he is a liability to his team. He doesn’t say he is still a good batsman but a liability in the field. No he says without equivocation that a 24-year-old with Mr. Tendulkar’s current skills would be an honest contender for the National Cricket Team of India.

For my readers who likely know little about cricket, A cricket team consists of 11 players not counting the bench.  There are 1.237 BILLION people in India. a large number of which likely dream of being on the National Cricket team when they were younger just as I dreamed of being Brooks Robinson as a kid.

I submit and suggest that if his skills are good enough to make the national team given the talent pool in India not only does he belong on the team but unless he just doesn’t want to play anymore he has no business retiring as he would be a solid player on any professional team in the country that would have him.

The problem here isn’t Mr. Tendulkar’s lack of skill but the expectations and others.

Mr. Varadarajan et/al might be disappointed that when Mr. Tendulkar he  goes to the Cricket Pitch he is no longer seeing the Babe Ruth or Hank Aaron of Cricket, but if they are seeing the Tony Oliva or Mike Napoli of Cricket neither they nor India’s team are being cheated.


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