The media always finds players to speak highly of; some aren’t even that great. Let’s take a look at who benefited the most from their publicity.
To start off, I’ll explain how I got to these three players. Believe it or not, these aren’t opinions, but based off a couple measures I see fit.
The first was Baseball-Reference’s ELORater, which basically asks you, the fan, to pick the better of two given players. You can keep picking the better player, for as long as you want, and it’s there mostly just for fun. They then have some fancy way of determining who, based off win percentages and who you beat, the best players of all time in the eyes of the fans.
To qualify for the rankings, which consists of 1,944 hitters, one must have either 3,000 games played plus plate appearances OR eight career WAR. I also took out active players with fewer than five years of playing time, because they have fewer votes for a sample size.
The other metric I used was Fangraphs’ WAR; while not all-knowing, I feel it gives a pretty accurate value of how good a player was in their career.
I used the list of the nearly 2,000 players qualifying for the ELORatings, and found what percentile they fell in. I then also found what rank they fell in fWAR, and then found the difference between the two. The player with the highest (ELO rank-fWAR rank) would, in theory, be the most overrated player ever. The players with the lowest values (negative) will be on the other side of the spectrum. I’ll get to that in another piece.
Say a player ranks in the 90th percentile in ELO, and only 70th in WAR. This would mean the voters thought the player was much better than they actually were.
Let’s look at the results.
3. Doc Cramer
Coming in at number three on our list is Doc Cramer, a player whom, in his time got most of his fame from a stat which doesn’t carry as much as it used to: hits. In the 1930s and ’40s, Cramer totaled 2,705 hits, and a .296 batting average. Pretty good, right? Well, back then it was, especially for a center fielder. When he retired in 1948 he ranked 23rd in career hits; of the 22 ahead of him, every single one has a plaque in Cooperstown.
If you look past hits and average, Cramer wasn’t a good player. He had a .340 OBP and a .375 SLG, worth -198 runs above average on offense and -60 runs above average on defense. His 9.4 fWAR wasn’t very good, given he played in 20 seasons. He had an .811 OPS in nine postseason games, and won a World Series with the Tigers in 1945.
Cramer was ranked 551st in the fan’s ELO voting, but only finished 1,569th in fWAR.
2. Hideki Matsui
I’d argue Matsui is the best player of these top three. In ten seasons, he slashed .282/.360/.462, averaging 23 home runs and 100 RBI per 162 games. That’s not bad. However, with his poor defense, Matsui only had a career fWAR of 12.9. He ranked in the 87th percentile for ELO, but only ranked in the 67th percentile for fWAR, which is a pretty sizeable drop off.
Matsui’s career was a tale of two halves. In his first five seasons, he slashed .295/.371/.485, with a 125 OPS+ and 9.3 fWAR. However, in the second half of his career, Hideki only slashed .265/.346/.430, good for a 108 OPS+ and an fWAR of only 3.6. Fans generally remember a player’s “prime” over their downfall, which is shown in the love Matsui received from the ELO voters.
In addition, to the common fan, offense is valued much higher than defense. Matsui, in his career, was worth 118.6 runs above average on offense, but lost 159.7 runs from his poor defense (per Fangraphs). His great first five years and postseason numbers (.933 OPS in postseason, including 2009 World Series MVP) leave a great taste in the mouths of fans, but they don’t tell close to the whole story of his career.
Matsui ranked 259th in ELO, and only 1,292nd in fWAR.
1. Dante Bichette
Like Matsui, Bichette gets his fame from hitting. In 14 big league seasons, Bichette slashed .299/.336/.499, but was only worth 8.9 WAR. Of the three slash stats, on-base percentage is the least looked at by baseball fans, and that’s where he struggles the most. His .336 isn’t anything special, especially considering the other “flaw” in his career — the same thing that is keeping Larry Walker from the Hall of Fame and Nolan Arenado from ever winning an MVP — Coors Field.
Bichette’s home vs road splits are pretty crazy, despite only playing seven of his fourteen years for the Rockies. At home, he slashed.328/.365/.573. On the road? .269/.306/.424. That’s a difference in OPS of over 200 points. But that’s not what his career stats first tell you. That, paired with his 40 home run (.620 SLG) campaign in 1995, which earned him a second place MVP finish, are why he’s kept in high regard.
Towards the end of his career, his defensive value dropped, worth -40 runs in the field to the Rockies in 1999. Yes. Negative forty. Good (or bad?) for the third worst defensive season ever. Overall, Bichette put up good offensive numbers, but when looking further into his ballpark and defensive numbers, it’s easy to see that Bichette wasn’t anything special.
Bichette ranked 533rd in ELO and 1,605th in fWAR.