In contemporary America, they are known as the Nationals, and to many, as the six year purgatory that Stephen Strasburg, and soon Bryce Harper, will begin their likely long, successful careers in.
In the 1980's, however, these Nationals we know and love (to play) were in Montreal, and were home to some very good players, most notably future Hall of Famers Gary Carter and Andre Dawson.
In Tim Raines, we may eventually see a third Hall of Famer from those 1980's Expos teams, as his support is growing by the year.
Two weeks ago in my slideshow regarding overrated Hall of Famers , I made the assertion that it is illogical for Brock to be considered an all time great, but Raines not to be.
This assertion turned out to be one of the more controversial comments, met with everything ranging from me being "absolutely correct" to my personal favorite of being in bed with Raines.
I would like to set the record straight: I do not think Brock and Raines are equals.
Raines was a much better player.
Both men are of the same mold, and Brock's career was ending right as Raines' career was starting (Raines appeared in six games as a pinch runner in 1979, ironically two of which were against the Cardinals on September 15th and 16th).
Both were average defensively in left field, leaving them to rely on less than traditional means of run production for a left fielder on offense. However, both were highly accomplished in their means of run production.
Both were about the same in terms of batting average (Raines 11.8 percent better than average in his career, Brock 11.0 percent). Neither one saw a big power edge, either (Raines' career SLG was 6.8 percent better than average, Brock's 5.1 percent). However, this skips one of the main areas that Raines had a massive edge on Brock: OBP.
Raines had an OBP of .385 in an era where the average OBP was .331. Brock was far more pedestrian, with an OBP of .343 in an era where the average was .330. Adjusting for era, Raines was 11.9 percent more likely to reach base than Lou Brock (which was, especially for NL leadoff hitters who often hit after two very weak hitters, the most essential part of their job).
The other key area of distinction for both men was the stolen base. Both were accomplished base stealers, with Brock having a large edge in that department, 938 to 808. However, I have seen too many people just look at this number, and determine Brock is a far superior player.
It is wrong.
It is like looking at free throws made and determining Shaquille O'Neal is a superior FT shooter than Ray Allen due to making 309 in 2008-09, while Allen only made 237.
Brock stole 938 bases; he was also caught 307 times. Tim Raines was only caught 146 times. Using the linear weights values of SB = 0.193 runs, and CS = -0.282 runs (found here ), one can estimate Brock's base running contribution to have been worth 94.46 runs in his career.
Tim Raines? 114.77 runs.
Adjusting this number to make the eras even yields approximately 112.43 runs for Raines, still giving him 19 percent more value on the bases that Brock had in his career.
Two points that always seem to come up whenever a Brock and Raines discussion occurs in Brock's favor are his hit total, and his postseason career. Both are very impressive, and worthy of praise. They are not enough to push Brock over Raines.
This is why.
Hits have, to some, become the goal of offense in baseball. They are not the goal. Runs are the goal. Hits are a productive way of reaching this goal, but hits (and batting average, for that matter) do not measure the magnitude of the hit (single, double, triple, home run), and exclude other ways to achieve the goal of run production (walks, HBP's, stolen bases, etc).
Both men achieved practically the same batting average, and had career lengths within 1,000 PA of each other, but Brock outhit Raines by 418 hits (3,023 to 2,605).
However, by citing nothing but hits, we actually PENALIZE Raines for his plate discipline. If we have two men who reach 600 plate appearances in a season, both hit .300, and SLG .500, but one walks 100 times while the other just 40, we can likely assert that the one who walks a lot is more valuable, correct?
Well, the second player, by walking 40 times, had 560 at-bats, and recorded 168 hits. The first player logged just 500, and recorded 150 hits. The first player also reached base 250 times, good for a .417 OBP, while player two reached base just 208 times, good for a .347 OBP.
Had Brock recorded the same walk rate as Tim Raines in his career, he would have recorded 1,442 walks, and his number of at bats would have gone down by 681. That would have cost him 200 hits, finishing his career with 2,823 hits, but he would have reached base 481 additional times. Raines' plate discipline has, to some, perversely become a strike against him in this player comparison.
The other argument for Lou Brock's greatness is his playoff resume. It truly is great, a .391/.424/.655 line in 92 PA, with four HR, and he went 14 for 16 in stolen bases. This resume has led people to declare Brock one of the greatest postseason performers of all time, and in turn, a clutch player who lifts his game for his team in the biggest moments.
I take issue with this assessment, however, for two major reasons.
One, it is a small sample. Weird things can happen in a small sample. One terrific example can be found here on fangraphs . In September 2005, Randy Winn led the world in batting average, and slugged the ball like a monster, recording an .862 SLG in September to go with an eye-popping 11 HR.
Is this because Winn elevates his game to be a demigod in the most important month of the season? Or, is it because players can become hot in a 133 PA sample? I would like to think the latter.
The second, and by far the more pressing reason why I think this, is because the notion of "clutch play" becomes almost a moralistic venture for those who use it. A good player accumulates numbers whenever, but a "clutch" player does it for the team, when it matters.
Well, when one player is set on a moralistic pedestal, it means there are others who are on the other end of the spectrum, others who phone it in when their team needs them the most.
Is this at all fair? Did Ryan Howard go from Philadelphia's hero to a jerk because he happened to have a bad six game stretch during the World Series? Should Ted Williams career be tarnished for hitting only .200 in his one postseason appearance?
Most notably, one man recorded a career hitting line of .311/.409/.474, making six All-Star teams, and winning an MVP award. In the postseason, he only went .234/.335/.343 in 160 postseason PA. This man's name is...Jackie Robinson.
As a fan of baseball (and yes I know his postseasons were against the Yankees), is anyone in the world ready to step up and announce that Jackie Robinson posted a lackluster line in his World Series career because he could not handle the pressure? Given the course of his life, I would make a guess that he was able to handle pressure just fine.
Counting stat leads in hits and stolen bases, as well as a 92 plate appearance playoff sample, is simply not enough to assert that Brock was a superior player. You have to look at the player from a total standpoint, and using the statistic adjusted weighted runs created (or wRC+, explained here ), you see that Raines comes out with a big lead of 137 to 121.
Only 72 men have been fortunate enough to record at least 10,000 plate appearances in their career, and Tim Raines finds himself in the company of Roberto Clemente, George Brett, and Ken Griffey Jr.
Brock, as distinguished of a career he had, finds himself in the company of Dave Parker and Harold Baines. The only real edge that Brock has over Raines, is that Brock enjoyed a career peak that coincided with two World Series teams.
Raines' peak was spent on an average Montreal team, away from much of the public eye.
Brock was a great player who contributed a lot to championship ball clubs, but Raines was simply a better overall player, subjective matters aside.