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  • Speaker over Wagner?

    I have seldom seen Tris Speaker ranked higher than Honus Wagner on all time lists, and I am curious as to why Wagner is considered a notch above. On paper, they appear about equals.

    1) Wagner has 134.5 WAR, compared to 133 for Speaker, and Wagner has played 5 more games...almost identical.

    2) Wagner has a positional and base running advantage, but Speaker has a definite hitting advantage, and played in a better league.

    3) Wagner was more dominant, but Speaker had tougher competition for league leaders.

    4) Wagner is obviously the top all time at his position, while Speaker is usually ranked number 4 at best. Again, he has tougher competition.

    Is Honus ranked higher merely because of his dominance of his league and of his position? I think that being a contemporary of Ty Cobb makes Speaker seem 'second rate' in many peoples minds, while Honus had no such all time great to be compared to.
    Last edited by willshad; 04-07-2012, 03:00 AM.

  • #2
    Originally posted by willshad View Post

    Is Honus ranked higher merely because of his dominance of his league and of his position? I think that being a contemporary of Ty Cobb makes Speaker seem 'second rate' in many peoples minds, while Honus had no such all time great to be compared to.
    I think that is it.Wagner has over 700 stolen bases,the 8 batting titles, and was an incredibly versatile fielder.He excelled at shortstop.He has always enjoyed a higher ranking than Speaker as evidenced by being one of the chartered members of the HOF(tied with Ruth,just behind Cobb).In the classic The Glory of Their Times Sam Crawford, who played 11 seasons against Speaker,ranked Wagner as the greatest player ever.Crawford retired after the 1917 season while Speaker was at the top of his game and Crawford had only played against Wagner for a few years(and one WS).I really believe that Speaker is greatly underrated outside of BBF and maybe a few other baseball forums.Remember the All Century Team polls?(I wish I didn`t)!I wonder what the difference in lifetime batting average is between right-hand hitters and lefties historically?If Wagner had been a left-handed hitter like Spoke who knows what he might have hit.Perhaps Wagner is given extra credit as a hitter in people`s mind because he "endured" being right-handed(and a short stop) and played his entire career in the Dead Ball Era.I would take BOTH of them in a Cool Papa Bell second(and shift Cobb to left field)!
    Last edited by Nimrod; 04-07-2012, 12:13 PM.

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    • #3
      Yes, yes. Wagner was the best ever at the premier defensive position, and the all around best offensive player in his league forever. Those create a presumption that he was the best player around. McGraw said as much in his 30 Years in Baseball.

      I think a lot of fans, while realizing that Speaker was great, aren't familiar with his record, especially in the live ball era, when, of course, everybody was in the shadow of Ruth. He just seems like one of those guys who hit .330 a long time ago.
      Indeed the first step toward finding out is to acknowledge you do not satisfactorily know already; so that no blight can so surely arrest all intellectual growth as the blight of cocksureness.--CS Peirce

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      • #4
        As far as defense I am not sure I would rate shortstop higher than centerfield the way Speaker played it and I think Speaker was better at his position. The main reasons I have tended to favor Wagner are 1) while they have about the same number of games, Wagner got a later start, so he had to catch up and play to a later age at a high level, 2) Wagner lost WAR in some early years because the Pirates wanted him in their huge right field because of his speed and arm, so he may have developed a year or two slower as a shortstop, and he also would occasionally play other positions as dictated by team need and 3) In a draft type situation, Wagner might be baseball's #1 all time draft pick because he outdistances the others at his position by so much.

        Speaker played in a better league, and also proved he could excel in the live ball era.

        Using this source:

        http://seamheads.com/baseballgauge/player.php?ID=123784
        http://seamheads.com/baseballgauge/player.php?ID=123784

        Speaker beats Wagner, and beats him in WSAB also.

        Wagner was probably a better baserunner in areas not measured (yet) in these systems, but maybe to the tune of 1-2 WAR.
        WAR actually rates a replacement level player as being better in WAgner's league.

        Aside from WAR, basically we see two guys with comparable playing time. Speaker outscored Wagner in OPS+ by 8 points which is LESS than an average centerfielder outhits an average shortstop. Wagner was a better runner, and a comparable fielder at a somewhat tougher position.
        Last edited by brett; 04-07-2012, 07:12 PM.

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        • #5
          Wow. That's a great point, Willshad. I've never heard of anybody comparing the two. And I believe that Wagner has been rated much higher by most since Wagner was clearly the best player during his prime. Unfortunately for Speaker, Cobb played during his era. Had Cobb competed against Wagner during his prime instead, I believe that the rankings between the two would be flip-flopped. I honestly believe that they are very close in value. I have Wagner being just slightly ahead of the underrated Speaker.

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          • #6
            I think Speaker also compares to Mays pretty well..he was pretty much his generation's Mays. Their playing time, OPS+, baserunning, and fielding all come out to about equal. I see that Wagner and Mays are often talked about as possibly being the number one player of all time, but Spokes is lucky to be included in the top 10 most times. I know that at that level, there may not be much difference between the number 1 and the number 10 guy..but I have NEVER heard Speaker being talked about as perhaps being the best player of all time.

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            • #7
              In all fairness to Honus Wagner, the fact is that he never played SS until the 1901 season, when he played 61 games at SS and 54 in the OF, by which time he was 27 years old, with 5 MLB seasons behind him ['97 through '01]. I follow the history of the game back through only 1901; so I am in no position to evaluate his play before then. However, prior to 1901, Honus Wagner played OF, 2B, 1B, 3B, and P ... not SS.

              In 1902, at age 28, he played 44 games at SS and 61 in the OF, such that he was not a regular SS until 1903, playing 111 games at the position. In the 1903 season the top defensive players at SS were Bobby Wallace, George Davis and Bill Dahlen, with Honus Wagner about 10 Defense Runs behind them.

              In 1904, Wagner came into his own defensively, joining Corcoran and Joe Tinker as defensive leaders. Honus' best defensive seasons were 1904 thru 1906; but in each of those seasons Terry Turner, George Davis. Joe Tinker, Mickey Doolan and Bill Dahlen were better defensively than Honus was. These defensive leaders were joined by Bill Dahlen, Heinie Wagner and Germany Schaefer in in '07 and '08 and Freddie Parent iand Donie Bush in '09 and Lee Tannehill in 1910.

              Wagner was a defensive leader in 1912 and 1913, clustered with a new crop of SS glove men like Maranville, Weaver and Herzog.

              The point is that Honus Wagner gets plus points on versatility and longevity; but as far as getting a POSITION based leg up on Speaker, that is a non-starter. Defensively he was a dependable and capable SS, but he was not the perennial defensive standout among his peers that hindsight seems to grant him.

              There may also be a halo effect at work in comparing Honus Wagner and Tris Speaker. Honus had an apparently well-deserved reputation and a gentleman of high standards and squeaky clean reputation, while Speaker has has several allegations of betting and/or game manipulation tossed his way.

              Speaker, in CF, was a consistent defensive standout; and while he was never called upon to display as much versatility as Wagner, excelled defensively at a position easily on a par with SS as "critical" and "challenging."

              Both excellent hitters, I would give an overall value edge to Speaker, based on factoring in defense runs he saved his teams in CF, as opposed to the more marginal numbers of defense runs at SS [compared to averages] during their respective careers. The total value [offense + defense], IMO, tips decidedly to Speaker.

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              • #8
                I would assume that Speakers high number of double plays makes him more defensively valuable than most centerfielders as well.
                "No matter how great you were once upon a time — the years go by, and men forget,” - W. A. Phelon in Baseball Magazine in 1915. “Ross Barnes, forty years ago, was as great as Cobb or Wagner ever dared to be. Had scores been kept then as now, he would have seemed incomparably marvelous.”

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                • #9
                  Yep. He played a notoriously shallow CF, convinced by his own observations that many more games were lost by shallow liners and bloop singles than drives over the OF heads. He knew that coming in on a fly ball was easier than going back; but he drilled on the latter skill and honed a distinctively fast jump.

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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by leewileyfan View Post
                    There may also be a halo effect at work in comparing Honus Wagner and Tris Speaker. Honus had an apparently well-deserved reputation and a gentleman of high standards and squeaky clean reputation, while Speaker has has several allegations of betting and/or game manipulation tossed his way.
                    I pretty much dismiss the betting/game manipulation accusations against Speaker. I think Speaker's more negative image is his religious issues he had with predominantly Roman Catholic Boston. It bothered so much he requested a trade out of Boston. He had some very defined personal bias' that have had a tendency to put him in a bad light.

                    In comparision, Hans Wagner had no known predjudices and was by accounts a genial personality and easily likeable individual.

                    Don't get me wrong, I'm a huge Speaker supporter. I rank him 3rd in CF ahead of my own idol Mickey Mantle. Spoke was dimmed a bit in perception because he was playing at the same time Ty Cobb was (somewhat like Tim Raines suffers from comps to Rickey Henderson). Don't forget it was Speaker, not Joe Jackson or Eddie Collins, who beat out Cobb for the batting title one year with a .388 average.

                    That said, I generally have 'Spoke' in my Top 10 albeit in the 2nd half, around 7th or 8th. Wagner is set as 4th behind Ruth, Mays, and Cobb.

                    Yankees Fan Since 1957

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                    • #11
                      top 10 OPS+ seasons(min 100 games), Speaker, Wagner, and their biggest competitor that was of similar age(Cobb for Speaker, Lajoie for Wagner)

                      Speaker 188 185 182 181 178 177 172 172 171 166 avg 177.2
                      Wagner 205 187 186 176 175 174 168 161 160 159 avg 175.1
                      N Lajoie 203 200 199 169 169 155 151 147 143 140 avg 167.6
                      Ty Cobb 209 206 200 196 194 194 193 185 179 171 avg 192.7

                      Top WAR

                      Speaker 11.0 10.0 9.4 9.1 8.7 8.1 7.9 7.7 7.6 6.7 avg 8.62
                      Wagner 11.6 10.6 10 10.0 9.4 9.0 8.1 8.1 7.9 7.9 avg 9.26
                      N Lajoie 9.7 9.6 9.6 9.4 7.9 7.1 6.1 5.4 5.3 5.3 avg 6.35
                      Ty Cobb 11.9 11.4 11.1 11 10.6 10.3 8.6 8.4 7.2 6.9 avg 9.74

                      Does Speaker's tougher competition bridge the gap? I would say that it does and then some. I.e, inside the numbers, I gave Speaker the advantage.

                      However, upon further scrutiny, I discovered that Speaker's WAR and OPS+ were declining steadily until the Live Ball era came around in 1920.

                      year WAR OPS+
                      1916 8.0 185
                      1917 7.3 172
                      1918 4.5 143
                      1919 3.9 126

                      In 1920, Speaker then posts a 172 OPS+ and a 9.1 WAR! In 1923, he then posts a 182 OPS+ and a 9.3 WAR!

                      Thus, I think Wagner wins this, although it's very close. Why? Because both players lost quite a bit of speed, as evidenced by their SB and dWAR numbers. HOwever, the LIve Ball era allowed Speaker to post strong OPS+ and WAR numbers despite the loss of speed. Wagner, on the other hand, couldn't fall back on this new live ball and suffered a much greater decline.
                      Last edited by pheasant; 04-10-2012, 06:00 PM.

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                      • #12
                        Originally posted by pheasant View Post
                        top 10 OPS+ seasons(min 100 games), Speaker, Wagner, and their biggest competitor that was of similar age(Cobb for Speaker, Lajoie for Wagner)

                        Speaker 188 185 182 181 178 177 172 172 171 166 avg 177.2
                        Wagner 205 187 186 176 175 174 168 161 160 159 avg 175.1
                        N Lajoie 203 200 199 169 169 155 151 147 143 140 avg 167.6
                        Ty Cobb 209 206 200 196 194 194 193 185 179 171 avg 192.7

                        Top WAR

                        Speaker 11.0 10.0 9.4 9.1 8.7 8.1 7.9 7.7 7.6 6.7 avg 8.62
                        Wagner 11.6 10.6 10 10.0 9.4 9.0 8.1 8.1 7.9 7.9 avg 9.26
                        N Lajoie 9.7 9.6 9.6 9.4 7.9 7.1 6.1 5.4 5.3 5.3 avg 6.35
                        Ty Cobb 11.9 11.4 11.1 11 10.6 10.3 8.6 8.4 7.2 6.9 avg 9.74

                        Does Speaker's tougher competition bridge the gap? I would say that it does and then some. I.e, inside the numbers, I gave Speaker the advantage.

                        However, upon further scrutiny, I discovered that Speaker's WAR and OPS+ were declining steadily until the Live Ball era came around in 1920.

                        year WAR OPS+
                        1916 8.0 185
                        1917 7.3 172
                        1918 4.5 143
                        1919 3.9 126

                        In 1920, Speaker then posts a 172 OPS+ and a 9.1 WAR! In 1923, he then posts a 182 OPS+ and a 9.3 WAR!

                        Thus, I think Wagner wins this, although it's very close. Why? Because both players lost quite a bit of speed, as evidenced by their SB and dWAR numbers. HOwever, the LIve Ball era allowed Speaker to post strong OPS+ and WAR numbers despite the loss of speed. Wagner, on the other hand, couldn't fall back on this new live ball and suffered a much greater decline.
                        OPS+ and WAR are relative rates. Since everyone, not just Speaker was benefiting from the live ball, it's not fair to penalize him for his good OPS+ rates. If anything, he should be given more credit, because he did not adapt to the live ball style, while others did. For instance, Cobb's OPS+ decline when the live ball era hit. If anything, I think that 1918 and 1919 may have been mid career off years or injury years for Speaker, rather than the start of an early decline.

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                        • #13
                          Dead Ball era, 1909-1919
                          Speaker .341/.422/.481 165 OPS+, 82.9 WAR over 6809 PA
                          Ty Cobb .386/.454/.539 192 OPS+, 100.9 WAR over 6442 PA

                          Live Ball Era, 1920-1927
                          Speaker .358/.447/.538 153 OPS+, 50.0 WAR over 4822 PA
                          Ty Cobb .360/.435/.512 146 OPS+, 39.0 WAR over 4398 PA

                          Here, Speaker trounces Cobb in the Live Ball era. Speaker was clearly declining from 1917-1919. As a matter of fact, Speaker's first 6 years of the Live Ball era were 7 OPS+ higher than the last 6 years of his Dead Ball era stats. Then, the Live Ball era hits and he posts his 3rd and 4th highest WAR despite being past his prime. Thus, I believe Wagner played better during the Deadball era. But we don't know how Wagner would have done in the Live Ball era. I would like to think that he would have done well. But this is what makes comparing players Dead Ball players to Live Ball players so difficult. On one hand, Speaker was allowed tack on several extra WAR points due to the Live Ball. Speaker's speed was gone by 1920, supported by the fact that he never had more than 9 SB in a season after 1920 even though he regularly had 30+ prior to 1918. On the other hand, Speaker adjusted very well to the Live Ball era. He actually collected more WAR than Heilmann and Cobb. So one argument would be that Speaker should be placed above Wagner since he proved that he could play at a high level during the Live Ball era too. The other side of the argument is that Wagner never benefitted from the Live Ball era and thus, had a sharp decline in his stats during the twilight of his career. This really is tough. I will admit that I'm relying on statements from other players and managers that Wagner had a bundle of power. And thus, I believe Wagner would have smashed the ball during the Live Ball era. I.e, I'm relying on some faith here that Wagner beats Speaker. After all, he did beat him during the Dead Ball era. But this is nearly a coin flip overall, in my opinion. And people have a good point for putting Speaker over Wagner. I can't fault them at all for that.

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                          • #14
                            Ty was born in 1886 and Tris was born in 1888.

                            Tris didn't play a full season until 1909, Ty played his first full season in 1907. Before the 1909 season began Ty had 17.8 WAR already and Tris had -0.2 WAR.

                            Ty was 33 in 1920 and from 1920 to 1928, when he was 41 years of age he racked up almost 4800 PA and had a 143 OPS+ with 40.7 WAR. Speaker's age 31 season was 1921 and from 1921 to 1928, his age 40 season-he couldn't last until his age 41 season, he racked up over 4300 PA and had a 148 OPS+ with 41.2 WAR.

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                            • #15
                              Huge fan of both Wagner and Speaker. Usually rate Wagner a skosh above
                              Buck O'Neil: The Monarch of Baseball

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