A few months ago, a baseball fan on Facebook complained that the stat, WAR, was flawed because it could not tell the difference between Lou Brock and Curtis Granderson.
I believe that supports WAR as a legitimate statistic.
Granderson, who started his career with the Tigers and was their center fielder on the 2006 American League championship team, retired today. And he might have been the better all-round player than Brock, the more historic player.
Granderson retired after 16 seasons and 2,057 games. His WAR was 47.3. Brock spent 19 seasons in the majors and played in 2,616 games, roughly 20 percent more than Granderson. Brock’s WAR was 45.3. So, yes, it’s far to say that WAR can’t tell the difference between Granderson and Brock.
That is where we, as humans, come in. No stats tell it all. They are tools to use to make a decision, and like it or not, WAR is one of those tools. It includes batting, base running and fielding, it adjusts for position and adjusts for the league. That is a solid stat – but not a perfect stat.
First, why the argument for Brock? That is easy, Brock did one thing better than any of his contemporaries. He stole bases at a record-breaking level. He led the National League in stolen bases eight times, topped by a major-league record 118 in 1974 when he was the runner-up in the voting for the National League MVP Award. He also led the league in caught stealing seven times.
Brock could hit, too. He finished with a .293 career batting average, and he had some pop in his bat with 149 home runs, although that wasn’t a difference-making ability. His career OPS of .753 was decent and above average, as his career OPS+ was 109 (100 is considered average), but it certainly is not an eye-popping number.
Defensively, despite his speed, Brock was not a solid outfielder. He led all National League left fielders in errors nine times and all NL outfielders in errors seven times. His career defensive WAR, which I believe has more flaws than regular WAR, was -16.0, but it is hard to overlook that damaging number for an outfielder.
To summarize Brock, he was a good hitter – better than a slap hitter but not a power guy – who did the most damage when he was on base, and he was not an asset in the field. That isn’t a Hall-of-Fame player … except for the impact he had on the game on the bases. He was elected to the Hall of Fame on the first ballot by the Baseball Writers of America in 1985.
Granderson, on the other hand, likely will never make the Hall of Fame. And he shouldn’t. So, it’s a fair question: Why might he be considered the equal to or better than Brock? It goes back to Brock’s historical impact, which Granderson did not accomplish. Brock was a legendary base-stealer, Granderson was a very good player.
The most glaring difference between Granderson and Brock comes in the power category and batting average. Granderson hit 344 home runs – more than twice as many as Brock, who had many more at-bats – but hit just .249 (Brock hit .293). Granderson had the edge in OPS (.803 to Brock’s .753 and 114 OPS+ to Brock’s 109). Granderson topped 40 home runs and 100 RBIs in a season twice.
Why place more emphasis on OPS than batting average? I can’t take a stat seriously that gives the same weight to a single as it does a home run.
Granderson could run, too, but not to the level Brock did. Granderson had 153 career stolen bases, far short of the 938 by Brock, but we already have determined that Brock was the better base runner. However, it seems clear that Granderson was the more dangerous player with the bat in his hand.
Defensively, Granderson was never a contender to win a Gold Glove, but he was better than Brock. Granderson’s defensive WAR was 3.8 – far ahead of Brock’s -16.0 – and he was mainly a center fielder, a more challenging position than left field, which Brock played.
Maybe you still cling to Brock and the stolen bases. That’s fine, the impact Brock made in late 1960s and early 1970s was huge. It landed him in the Hall of Fame, and I think it’s a deserving honor.
But if I’m starting a baseball team today and have the option of Brock or Granderson, I would be tempted to take Granderson. I would be getting a guy who was more dangerous at the plate and was not somewhat of a defensive liability in the field, although I would be forfeiting a game-changing force on the base paths..
And if I had been voting for the Hall of Fame, I likely would have voted for Brock, and I would never vote for Granderson.
Confused? I can’t blame you.