BPP's All-Dream Project and B-R's EloRater: 100% Agreement

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Illustration by Sarah Wiener via baseballpastandpresent.com

Over the weekend, Graham Womack of Baseball: Past and Present launched his All-Time Dream Project Over 600 readers and bloggers voted for their all-time baseball team (on player at each position). A very simple idea, but the final product was dressed up with essays from such writers as Craig Calcaterra, Josh Wilker, and Dan Szymborski and wonderful illustrations by Sarah Wiener.

I was lucky enough to be a part of the project, writing a short section on "The Best of the Rest" (the players who did not rank first at their positions). Today, I just want to dig into something I noticed when reading some of the comments about the project. First, as Craig Calcaterra writes:

A lot of good stuff, especially if you go to the bottom for the note about what to make of there being only one black player on the team. I always think that’s an interesting question, not because of the race issue as such, but because I think it speaks to how people view "all-time" anythings. We get locked in to older things first, and it’s that much harder for us to appreciate more recent greatness.

For example, I don’t think people pick Rogers Hornsby over Joe Morgan because they’re racist. I think they pick Rogers Hornsby over Joe Morgan because their father said he was the best and because the pictures of him are in black and white and, boy, if that ain’t history, I don’t know what is.

A commenter on Craig's post noted:

That website’s visitors may be biased toward giving older, even 19th century, players their due in my experience.

Now, full disclosure: I occasionally write for Baseball: Past and Present. And I do love me some 19th century ballplayers (*throws an awkward gang sign in the direction of Bob Caruthers' grave*). But isn't this, as Calcaterra says, something we all tend to do?

If only there was another way to see how we, as a whole, subjectively perceive all ballplayers throughout history… like Baseball-Reference's EloRater.

Here's how the results of Graham's project compares to the EloRater (for which some players, like Alex Rodriguez, have received over 10,000 votes compared to Graham's smaller sample):

All-Dream Teams, Baseball: Past and Present vs. Baseball-Reference's EloRater.
Position BPP B-R
C Johnny Bench Johnny Bench
1B Lou Gehrig Lou Gehrig
2B Rogers Hornsby Rogers Hornsby
3B Mike Schmidt Mike Schmidt
SS Honus Wagner Honus Wagner
LF Ted Williams Ted Williams
CF Willie Mays Willie Mays
RF Babe Ruth Babe Ruth
P Walter Johnson Walter Johnson

So, there's that.

In case you missed the punchline, they are the same. Now, these are not the top eight hitters of all time. The EloRater, for example, ranks Hank Aaron fifth (he ranked a distant second to Ruth in Graham's project), Stan Musial seventh (finished way behind Ted Williams and Barry Bonds in left), Ty Cobb eighth (he was far behind Mays), and Tris Speaker tenth (as I noted in my section, Speaker performed horribly in Graham's voting).

Beyond Johnson, the two lists don't have much agreement about pitchers. The All-Dream voting went:

  1. Walter Johnson
  2. Sandy Koufax
  3. Pedro Martinez
  4. Bob Gibson
  5. Cy Young
  6. Nolan Ryan
  7. Greg Maddux
  8. Randy Johnson
  9. Satchel Paige
  10. Roger Clemens

While EloRater goes:

  1. Walter Johnson
  2. Cy Young
  3. Greg Maddux
  4. Pete Alexander
  5. Tom Seaver
  6. Christy Mathewson
  7. Randy Johnson
  8. Lefty Grove
  9. Kid Nichols
  10. Warren Spahn

The two lists are wildly different. This is surprising, but not terribly surprising. I've always found pitcher rankings to be much more difficult than position player rankings.

Even when looking at active players, the top vote-getters on the All-Dream Team were Albert Pujols, Alex Rodriguez, and Chipper Jones. For EloRater, it was Albert Pujols, Alex Rodriguez, and Chipper Jones.

So, why in general do we seem to love nostalgia so much when taking part in projects like these? I keep hearing people say "the players are better now than ever", but we never seem to vote that way.

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