September 26, 2007

Ask SpoFi: To all the baseball stats geeks, I am wondering if it is possible with sabermetric analysis to "prove" which home run record was of higher "quality", Barry Bonds' 756 or Sadaharu Oh's 868? How would you go about it?

posted by smithers to navel gazing at 10:35 AM - 10 comments

(I know it sort of seems like an academic question, but I'm more sort of wondering what kinds of questions these techniques are capable of answering, and where the limits are.)

posted by smithers at 10:37 AM on September 26

I guess it depends on your measure of quality. There is no question that Bonds hit in larger parks against better pitchers. Here is an article that analyzes just the ballpark effect, which puts Oh at 650 Major League homers. Here is another that puts him at 527. On the other side, though, the 500 HR club in Japan is much smaller and Oh still (I believe) has everyone beat by over 200 career homers. And nobody has accused Oh of... well, you know. I'm not a sabermetrics guy. Hope this helps some.

posted by The Crafty Sousepaw at 11:33 AM on September 26

It seems like it would be easy enough to do once you determine how you'd define "quality" (Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance would suggest you cannot, but I digress). If it's simply a relative measure, you could use career OPS+ for both. That shows how much better than the league each athlete was. Given the assumed difference in competition (you could adjust via the stats of players who've played in both leagues, but the sample size and biases would make it suspect), if they were close to the same or Bonds was ahead, you'd conclude Bonds was of higher "quality".

posted by yerfatma at 02:39 PM on September 26

All you've really got to do is prove that Barry Bonds used performance enhancing drugs to reach his career home run mark, and Sadaharu Oh didn't. That seems easy enough.

posted by The_Black_Hand at 03:00 PM on September 26

Total Home Runs? - Oh. Total amount of shout-outs in Beastie Boys albums? - Oh. Case, muthafucking, closed.

posted by WeedyMcSmokey at 03:24 PM on September 26

Proving that Sadaharu Oh didn't use performance enhancing drugs is impossible.

posted by apoch at 03:54 PM on September 26

Dammit, where did I leave my sarcasm-colored glasses?

posted by The_Black_Hand at 04:17 PM on September 26

There are too many non-objective factors at play. The same exact kinds of arguements you run into when comparing players from different eras. These days a case can be made that Japanese players are the equal of American players, but the fact that Japanese leagues don't attract the best world-wide talent factors in. Oh never played against talented Latin players or at least very few black players. Especially in Oh's day I believe Japanese teams could only have a maximum of two gaijin players (who were often MLB washouts). It's a little too apples and oranges to make much of a comparison I think.

posted by vito90 at 02:02 PM on September 27

These days a case can be made that Japanese players are the equal of American players Um, no. All you need to see that this isn't the case is MLB stats of such Nippon Professional Baseball sluggers like Tuffy Rhodes, Randy Bass, and Alex Cabrera. That's not to suggest that the elite players in Japan can't be elite players in MLB (Ichiro, Matsui), but the baseline level of talent in NPB is much lower (probably upper AA or lower AAA) than that of MLB.

posted by grum@work at 11:19 PM on September 28

Grum, Cabrera is from Venezuela and Bass dominated Japanese baseball 25 years ago. I intentionally said "American players" and not "players in America". Although in principle I agree with you. My point is more that Japanese elite players are adjusting to life very well in the MLB.

posted by vito90 at 10:42 AM on September 29

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