Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Greatest Teammates of All-Time

Last week, when I wrote about Seattle's Hall of Fame Trio, I made this off-hand comment:
"It's a fantastic core of players to have, and may in fact be the best trio of talent in 40 or 50 years, especially when you consider their all-around talent and their respective places in history at their positions (I suppose the Orioles and Reds of the 1970s might have a case)."
The comment found its way into that piece naturally - I hadn't planned on saying anything like that, but it seemed the best way to describe things. And, as it came to mind, it made me wonder: what team did have the best collection of young talent playing together at one time, and was there a way to quantify it?

The Method

The question was too intriguing to ignore and so, first chance I got, I started exploring it. First off, I decided to use Win Shares as my metric. I know it's not necessarily a perfect stat, but I think it should work well here. Once that decision was made, I needed to define exactly what I was looking for.

This is how I would describe the query I used: find all teams that have 3 or more players who started their season with that club and played more than half the season there, who are in the first half of their career and who have 300 or more career Win Shares.

A few notes about the query, as it's defined:
  • This will exclude players who were traded to their team mid-season and players who were injured for more than half the season. For example, Randy Johnson's 1996 season will not be counted on this list because he only pitched in 14 games that year. It will also exclude Johnson's 1998 stint with the Astros, but his time with the Mariners in '98 will be counted.
  • Players were determined to be "in the first half of their career" if, at the start of that season, they had earned less than half their career Win Shares. That means that a 34-year-old Randy Johnson would be included on the list, since he had only earned 129 of his 327 career win share by then. However, a 31-year-old Andre Dawson would not be included, because by that time he had already earned 200 of his 340 career win shares. I included a little wiggle room on the percentage of win shares earned, so that players who went over the halfway mark by only a few win shares wouldn't be excluded.
  • Three-hundred Win Shares was kind of an arbitrary choice. I would have liked to have gone higher, since players like Ken Singleton and his 302 career win shares aren't exactly who we're looking for here. Win Shares aren't quite friendly to pitchers, though, and that would have left off pitchers like Jim Palmer and Randy Johnson, so I kept it at three-hundred. But this list is only the first step - it's a starting point, and it gives us a basis to compare teams. From there, we can take a more subjective look at the list and see what we find.
The Results

This method works about as well as we can hope for, but there’s a layer of subjectivity that needs to be taken into account here. As I said before, the Ken Singleton’s and Jose Cruz’s of the world aren’t exactly who I’m looking for. Granted, most of these players will wash out when a trio of them is stacked against a more formidable group, but if one is grouped with a tremendous pair of teammates, it might muck up the rankings. So let’s take a look at the top teams that have been found and see how they stack up.

TeamPlayers (ages, Win Shares to Date, Career WS)Total Career WS
1972-73 Cincinnati Reds
Joe Morgan (28-29 years old, 155-194 WS to date, 512 Career WS)
Johnny Bench (24-25, 107-144, 356)
Pete Rose (31-32, 233-265, 547)
Tony Perez (30-31, 145-170, 349)
1764 WS
1965 Cincinnati Reds
Frank Robinson (29 years old, 252 WS to date, 519 Career WS)
Pete Rose (24, 31, 547)
Tony Perez (23, 0, 349)
Vada Pinson (26, 162, 321)
1736 WS
1963 San Francisco Giants
Gaylord Perry (24 years old, 1 WS to date, 369 Career WS)
Orlando Cepeda (25, 124, 310)
Willie Mays (32, 350, 642)
Willie McCovey (25, 49, 408)
1729 WS
1915 Boston Red Sox
Babe Ruth (20 years old, 1 WS to date, 756 Career WS)
Harry Hooper (27, 104, 321)
Tris Speaker (27, 229, 630)
1707 WS
1955-56 Milwaukee Braves
Eddie Matthews (23-24 years old, 91-125 WS to date, 450 Career WS)
Hank Aaron (21-22, 13-42, 643)
Warren Spahn (34-35, 202-221, 412)
1505 WS
1997-98 Seattle Mariners
Alex Rodriguez (21-22 years old, 36-58 WS to date, 407 Career WS)
Edgar Martinez (34-35, 138-165, 305)
Ken Griffey Jr. (27-28, 179-215, 406)
Randy Johnson (33, 106-129, 327)
1445 WS
1974 Cincinnati Reds
Joe Morgan (30 years old, 234 WS to date, 512 Career WS)
Johnny Bench (26, 170, 356)
Pete Rose (33, 299, 547)
1415 WS
1995 Atlanta Braves
Chipper Jones (23 years old, 0 WS to date, 353 Career WS)
Fred McGriff (31, 188, 341)
Greg Maddux (29, 152, 395)
Tom Glavine (29, 99, 315)
1404 WS
1964 Cincinnati Reds
Frank Robinson (28 years old, 219 WS to date, 519 Career WS)
Pete Rose (23, 19, 547)
Vada Pinson (25, 140, 321)
1387 WS
1901-03 Pittsburgh Pirates
Fred Clarke (28-30 years old, 136-193 WS to date, 400 Career WS)
Honus Wagner (27-29, 91-163, 655)
Tommy Leach (23-25, 16-60, 328)
1383 WS
1960-62 San Francisco Giants
Orlando Cepeda (22-24 years old, 43-98 WS to date, 310 Career WS)
Willie Mays (29-31, 237-309, 642)
Willie McCovey (22-24, 1237, 408)
1360 WS
1965 Milwaukee Braves
Hank Aaron (31 years old, 355 WS to date, 643 Career WS)
Joe Torre (24, 70, 315)
Phil Niekro (26, 0, 374)

1332 WS
1968-71 Cincinnati Reds
Johnny Bench (20-23 years old, 2-88 WS to date, 356 Career WS)
Pete Rose (27-30, 107-208, 547)
Tony Perez (26-29, 33-122, 349)
1252 WS
1909 Philadelphia Athletics
Eddie Collins (22 years old, 11 WS to date, 574 Career WS)
Eddie Plank (33, 196, 361)
Frank Baker (23, 2, 301)
1236 WS
1928-31 Philadelphia Athletics
Al Simmons (26-29 years old, 104-197 WS to date, 375 Career WS)
Jimmie Foxx (20-23, 8-98, 435)
Lefty Grove (28-31, 58-150, 391)
1201 WS
Click here to see all the players and teams that qualified for this list.

The first thing you'll notice is the utter dominance of this list by the 1960s and 1970s Cincinnati Reds. In the eleven seasons spanning 1964 and 1974, the Reds qualified for this list in nine of them, using various combinations of Vada Pinson, Tony Perez, Frank Robinson, Pete Rose, Johnny Bench and Jim Morgan. Pinson and Perez may not be among baseball's immortals, but there's little doubt that the others are. The Reds were able to maintain their place on the list by a fortuitous combination of young stars and long tenure (i.e., they're stars came up early and they stayed on the team for a long time). They were, however, only able to make it to the World Series twice in those eleven years, winning neither time (they did win back-to-back Series in 1975 and 1976, though).

After those Cincinnati teams, we find the 1963 San Francisco Giants, with Orlando Cepeda, Gaylord Perry, Willie McCovey, and Willie Mays. This quartet may, subjectively, place higher than the '65 Reds. The top two stars (Mays & McCovey vs. Robinson & Rose) are a wash, with maybe a slight edge to Mays, while the second-tier stars (Cepeda & Perry vs. Perez & Pinson) give it to the Giants. Again, the objective measure says different, but, unless you believe 100% in the power of Win Shares, a little subjectivity is required.

Next up are the 1915 Red Sox, with a very young Babe Ruth, and the 1955-56 Milwaukee Braves, featuring Hammerin' Hank. Ruth doesn't appear anywhere else on the list - he didn't have any other teammates qualify for the list until Lou Gehrig arrived in 1925, the year in which Ruth dropped off the list by moving into the second half of his career. Aaron led a talented young Braves team in '55 & '56 (winning the World Series in '57). His teammates of Eddie Matthews and Warren Spahn make up probably the strongest trio on this list after Rose, Morgan, and Bench.

After the pair of home run kings, we finally find the team that started this search in the first place, and it is indeed the best collection of young talent in the last 35 years. The '97 & '98 Mariners trio of A-Rod, Griffey, and Johnson are joined on the list by Edgar Martinez, who just barely met the Win Shares requirement. Still, adding the best designated hitter of all-time to a list that already includes Alex Rodriguez, Ken Griffey, Jr., and Randy Johnson does nothing to weaken the list. The 1995 Braves also make the list at this point, showing just how lucky we were as fans during the mid-to-late '90s. Long-time Atlanta teammates Chipper Jones, Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine are joined by Fred McGriff in his last qualifying year to place the Braves this highly. But while our objective measure places these two teams fairly close together, I think it's pretty obvious that the Mariners squad is the superior one, especially considering that A-Rod has nine more years to add to his resume.

I'll stop here and let you check out the remaining sets of teammates yourself. Remember, you can find the full list of teams and players here. Before I go though, I'll offer this subjective list of the best sets of teammates of all-time, using the above list as a starting point. Please let me know if/where you disagree.
  1. 1972-73 Cincinnati Reds (Morgan, Rose, Bench, Perez)
  2. 1955-56 Milwaukee Braves (Aaron, Spahn, Matthews)
  3. 1962-63 San Francisco Giants (Mays, McCovey, Perry, Cepeda)
  4. 1997-98 Seattle Mariners (Rodriguez, Griffey, Johnson, Martinez)
  5. 1965 Cincinnati Reds (Robinson, Rose, Perez, Pinson)


Paul said...

This is a really interesting post and that top 5 list at the bottom of the post is pretty darn good. My question, however, is: why does it matter if the players were in the 1st half of their career? Wouldn't a more accurate (though certainly more complicated) query have included players in the prime of their careers?

Ron Rollins said...

The thing I see is that only 10 of those teams were in the series, out of 27.

Just shows that baseball is really a team game, and you need all 25 guys, not just a couple of stars.

Barry Bonds.

lar said...


Well, one of my initial fears when I was thinking about this list was that I would end up with too many teams like the 1975 Brewers, with a 41 year old Hank Aaron and a 19 year old Robin Yount (that's not a perfect example, since Yount was very productive at 19, but it gets the point across). To me, a list that includes ancient, well-past-his prime players or too-young-to-contribute players (think A-Rod in 1994) just wasn't a very good list.

I decided to use "young" players instead. I figured that would take care of those 1973 Willie Mays years or 1935 Babe Ruth years *and* it would more accurately reflect what I saw on that Mariners squad to begin with (three of the best players ever playing together at relatively young ages). The intrigue, to me, was finding those seasons where someone could look back and say, "Wow! All of *those* guys played together?!" or "I saw them when..."

But, since players age at different rates (Johnson is a perfect example of this), I didn't want to give an arbitrary age as a cutoff. I thought the "first half of their career (as defined by Win Shares)" was a nice compromise. I know, it does kind of drop some players off the list right when they were getting hot (seemingly), like Ruth in 1925, but there's got to be a cutoff somewhere. I guess I just judged in favor of "youth" instead of something else.

How do you think I could define "prime of their career"? It seems pretty complex to me. But if we can come up with something reasonable, I'd be happy to relook at it.

lar said...


I noticed the same thing, but not until it was too late to mention it. Of the "subjective" top 5, the '72-73 Reds were the most succesful, but not for another two years. The '55-56 Braves won it all in '57, but that was it. The '63 Giants did nothing, and neither did the '65 Reds. The '97 M's lost in the LDS. It's surprising, for sure. It's probably reassuring to M's fans, though.

And you're right: it really does emphasize the "team"-nature of baseball.