Baking the Perfect 1990s First Basemen with Kenneth Morgan

Kenneth Morgan, P&P’s resident statistician, helped kick off 1990s First Basemen Week by investigating the ultimate 1990s first baseman stat-line. Then throughout the last two weeks, you heard testimonies as to why certain players are the most 1990s first baseman.  Today, with the support of baking metaphors, Kenneth helps bring us home with a statistical investigation into which 1B of the decade is the most 90s. Tweet Kenneth @KCMorganUW.

The numbers you see preceding each ingredient are the weightings I gave each one, out of 100. So, the ten ingredients you see listed above are in order of importance. How did HR% end up on top of the heap? I think I’ll let The Simpsons explain:

Mark McGwire: “Do you want to know the terrifying truth? Or do you want to see me sock a few dingers?!”

Everyone: “Dingers! Dingers!”

-The Simpsons, “Brother’s Little Helper”, Oct. 3 1999

If you notice the date that this episode aired I think it effectively summarizes the mindset of the 1990’s baseball fan.

First basemen also enjoy walking, lacing doubles down the line and into the gaps, and driving other teammates in. You might be wondering why HBP% was included. Can you think of another defensive position where a higher percentage of players wore as much armor while at-bat? Mo Vaughn, Mark McGwire, Andres Galarraga, et al. Sure, I guess we’ll wait those extra 10-15 seconds for you to undress your elbow and shin pads and lumber on down the first baseline after a walk or HBP.

Did you know that during the 90’s Andres Galarraga was hit 100 times, while Eddie Murray was only hit ONCE in 4000+ plate appearances? Were pitchers scared of Eddie’s charging-the-mound capabilities? For someone with the nickname “steady” he must’ve done a lot of contorting in the box to avoid all of those close shaves!

Let’s now put all of these ingredients into our oven and see if it gives us the 1990’s first baseman we wanted. I used a process in the same vain as how Mr. Carson Cistulli calculates his NERD and SCOUT scores on Fangraphs.

Step 1: I looked at statistics compiled from 1990-1999 for all qualified first basemen. I only looked at 1B who had at least 3000 plate appearances, sorry Travis Lee. This left me with 17 first basemen: Mark McGwire, Frank Thomas, Jeff Bagwell, John Olerud, Fred McGriff, Cecil Fielder, Mo Vaughn, Will Clark, Wally Joyner, Mark Grace, Mark Palmeiro, Eddie Murray, Don Mattingly, Gregg Jefferies, Eric Karros, and Andres Galarraga.

Step 2: I calculated the averages, standard deviations, and z-scores for all 10 of the statistics listed above.

(A Z-score is a measure of how many standard deviations a certain number is away from the mean (average) of a distribution. For a real-world example, let’s say we decided to graph the height of everyone who played in the MLB in the 1990’s. The shape of this graph would closely resemble the shape of Mount Everest; whose tallest point would represent the average height (probably 5’11” or 6’0”) of these players. Most MLB players from the 90’s would be closely grouped around this average and about 70% of them would be between 5’9”-6’3”. Former Mariners 2B Joey Cora (5’7”) would have a Z-score of about -2.0, as he was well below the average height of his peers. Former Mariners SP Randy Johnson 6’11” would have a Z-score of about +2.0-3.0 as he towered above the average MLB player and his height was extremely unique compared to 1990’s MLB players.)

Step 3: Find the average z-score for each first baseman, weighted appropriately by the weights listed in the ingredients.

-Our goal is to find the most 1990’s first baseman, not the best from this decade, nor the worst from the decade. Essentially we’re looking at the person who was most “average” in relation to the other 16 players in this group that we’re using. In order to find this player, we’re looking for the one whose average z-score is closest to 0.0. This may seem odd for a goal to be 0, but remember that 0 here means average. Average is our goal.

Step 4: Scale results onto a 0-100 scale, where 100 represents the most 1990’s first baseman possible!

Step 5: Graph!

Sweet cuppin’ cakes, John Olerud scored a perfect 100/100 (meaning he had a z-score of EXACTLY 0.0)! I didn’t know what to expect out of this somewhat arbitrary experiment to find the quintessential 1990’s first baseman. I like the order of this list though, especially the top three. John Olerud, Fred McGriff, and Will Clark. That’s about as 1990’s as you get!

The face of the 1990s

All stats via Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference.

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