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Derrek Lee's Place in History (For Now)

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Update [2005-7-15 17:12:3 by Marc Normandin]: I can't shake the feeling there are more +13 WARP seasons out there for first basemen. If you find one in your travels, notify me. Stan Musial had one, but in a year where he only played 2 games at first. Oh well. Also, if you want to hear some audio clips from this past All-Star game weekend, including a Derrek Lee one, go to Baseball Digest Daily through that link.

Powered by Tenacious D's excellent Lee (for the first 2 minutes or so anyways) let's compare Derrek Lee to some of the all-time great seasons by first basemen to see where he stands at the halfway point. We'll take the very best season from some of the greatest first basemen of all-time to put this into perspective.

We'll use AVG/OBP/SLG, HR, Wins Above Replacement Level adjusted for all-time (WARP3), Equivalent Average adjusted for all-time (EqA), and NRAA/162 games (if applicable; the components for NRAA are only available post 1972, which means Gehrig and Foxx and others won't have NRAA scores). I'm looking for seasons with over 13.0 WARP3 to cut down the number of them I have to put in. To put that into perspective for you, that gives us one single season from Lou Gehrig, and one from Jimmie Foxx. Or to put it another way, really, really, really impressive seasons. I included NRAA because WARP3 doesn't really seem to settle into a true representative value until more playing time goes on; Derrek Lee is currently at 10.5 WARP3 for this season, but most likely he will not finish at 21.0 WARP3. And here is why, according to Clay Davenport's definition of WARP3 at Baseball Prospectus:

WARP-2, expanded to 162 games to compensate for shortened seasons. Initially, I was just going to use (162/season length) as the multiplier, but this seemed to overexpand the very short seasons of the 19th century. I settled on using (162/scheduled games) ** (2/3). So Ross Barnes' 7.4 wins in 1873, a 55 game season, only gets extended to 15.2 WARP, instead of a straight-line adjustment of 21.8.

What can we see from this table? Jeff Bagwell and Lou Gehrig have the two highest single season WARP3 totals of all-time, as well as the two highest EqA's. Bagwell and Sisler are tied for the highest Rate2, and Bagwell's NRAA beats out Lee's, and looks as if (using logic here, evidenced by Bags having the highest EqA) that he would have the greatest NRAA for a single season of any first basemen ever. So where does that leave us? Well, if we give Bagwell the benefit of the doubt for playing in the strike shortened 1994 season, then he most likely has the greatest single season for a first basemen of all-time, followed by Gehrig's 1934 season. If you think Bags would have faltered, well then the Iron Horse's 1934 campaign is probably your cup of tea. Either way, let's assume that Derrek Lee finishes out 2005 at the type of pace he is currently at. That would most likely leave him somewhere in between Bagwell's 1994 and Gehrig's 1934 seasons. This is a very large if, but one that should be stated. Part of the reason for doing this at the halfway point of the season is so that we can look back when the year is over and see how much he gained or lost since that time.

It should be noted that Gehrig was not a particularly strong defender during most of his career, but during the 1934 he was at his very best all the way around. It is very interesting how sometimes every facet of your game comes together and you are an unstoppable force. None of these players were able to duplicate their seasons, although I should note that Todd Helton had 2 seasons in a row of over 12.0 WARP3, which is also a difficult thing to do. Of course I was a stickler for 13.0, so many great greater than 12 and less than 13 seasons were left off this list. In a way I can't wait for October so I can check back up on this. Leave your thoughts in the comments section, and vote in the poll.


Greatest 1B season of all-time

This poll is closed

  • 0%
    1920 Sisler
    (0 votes)
  • 10%
    1932 Foxx
    (3 votes)
  • 30%
    1934 Gehrig
    (9 votes)
  • 30%
    1994 Bagwell
    (9 votes)
  • 30%
    2005 Lee
    (9 votes)
30 votes total Vote Now