Hall of Fame Catchers

The great thing about comparing catchers is that we have so much more data available for measuring how good they are at defense. For measuring most players defensively I stick to Range Factor (the average number of putouts plus assists) per nine innings compared to the league average for the position as well as Defensive Wins Above Replacement (henceforth DWAR). The nice thing about these statistics is that they can be compared across all eras (though the method of calculating DWAR changes somewhat as we get closer to the modern era) unlike statistics like Total Zone Runs and Ultimate Zone Rating.

But with catchers we can compare how good they were at throwing out runners, as well as how many passed balls they allowed. This gives a bit better overall picture. Another thing I’m going to do for each position is compare players to the current average hall of famer at their position. I want to hopefully raise the bar for each position, so by choosing players that are at least average and removing the ones below average it’ll be a positive step forward.

Player WAR H+BB HR BA OBP OPS OPS+ TB CS% vsLgAvg
Average HOF 52.64 2564 221 0.288 0.361 0.814 119.7 2964 0.044

And here’s the list of every single candidate I considered, alphabetical by first name. This list contains 37 players that played in the MLB, and three that played in the Negro Leagues. I’m going to reference the “out of the 38” a bunch of times in this piece so remember that’s what I’m talking about. Current hall of famers bolded:

Player
AJ Pierzynski
Benito Santiago
Bill Dickey
Bill Freehan
Biz Mackey
Bob Boone
Brad Ausmus
Buck Ewing
Buster Posey
Carlton Fisk
Del Crandall
Elston Howard
Ernie Lombardi
Gabby Hartnett
Gary Carter
Gene Tenace
Ivan Rodriguez
Jason Kendall
Jim Sundberg
Joe Mauer
Joe Torre
Johnny Bench
Jorge Posada
Josh Gibson
Lance Parrish
Louis Santop
Mickey Cochrane
Mike Piazza
Ray Schalk
Rick Ferrell
Roger Bresnehan
Roy Campanella
Ted Simmons
Thurman Munson
Tony Pena
Victor Martinez
Walker Cooper
Wally Schang
Yadier Molina
Yogi Berra

Just for fun, here’s a list of some statistics with the lowest ranking HOFer and highest ranking non HOFer reflected.

Category Worst HOFer Best Outside the Hall
WAR Schalk (28.5) Torre (57.6)
All Star Games Lombardi (7) Freehan (11)
H+BB Campanella (1694) Simmons (3327)
HR Schalk (11) Parrish (324)
BA Schalk (.253) Mauer (.308)
OBP Rodriguez (.334) Schang (.393)
SLG Schalk (.316) Posey/Posada (.474)
OPS+ Schalk (83) Tenace (136)
TB Schalk (1675) Simmons (3793)
CSvsLgAvg Piazza (-.08) Molina (.13)
RF/9vsLgAvg Lombardi (-.2) Freehan (.51)
Gold Gloves Fisk/Piazza (0) Molina (8)
Silver Sluggers Parrish (6)
Top10 MVP Ferrell (0) Mauer (4)
Top10 WAR Schalk/Ferrell (0) Simmons (5)
Top10 OPS Schalk/Ferrell (0) Simmons (5)

The average hall of fame catcher has 52.6 WAR, 2564 H+BB, 221 HR, .288 BA, .361 OBP, .814 OPS, 120 OPS+, 2964 TB, and .04% above average CS%.

When compared against the average hall of famer, a few locks rise above the rest:

Player Prime Years WAR H+BB HR BA OBP OPS OPS+ TB CS%
Ivan Rodriguez 1994-2004 68.4 3357 311 0.296 0.334 0.798 106 4451 .15
Johnny Bench 1969-1977 75 2939 389 0.267 0.342 0.817 126 3644 .08
Mike Piazza 1993-2002 59.4 2886 427 0.308 0.377 0.922 142 3768 -.08
Yogi Berra 1950-1956 59.5 2854 358 0.285 0.348 0.83 125 3643 .04
Average HOF   52.6 2564 221 0.288 0.361 0.814 120 2964 .04

Not all of them are better than the average hall of famer in every category, but they are clearly the best catchers in baseball history. I’m not going to spend a bunch of time on any of these guys, since they’re all clearly in.

Then there are a couple of guys that are currently in that should be clearly out.

Player Prime Years WAR H+BB HR BA OBP OPS OPS+ TB CS%
Ray Schalk 1913-1920 28.5 1983 11 0.253 0.34 0.656 83 1675 .08
Rick Ferrell 1931-1938 29.8 2623 28 0.281 0.378 0.741 95 2190 .03

 

Schalk is in for his defensive acumen according to his hall of fame plaque, with several of his cohorts saying he was the best catcher of the deadball era. He’s eight percent better than league average at throwing out runners, which is tied for the fifth best out of the 37. He made .06 more putouts and assists per nine innings (Range Factor/9) than the league average, which puts him at eighteenth out of the 37. He does lead all 34 catchers in top ten in the league DWAR, doing so 11 times. That’s two more than the next guy, Gary Carter. But I just don’t see his defense being so valuable to make up for how bad he was on offense. He also fails to reach the 2000 hits plus walks total. My rule (that has almost no exceptions, well, one or two exceptions) is that if an MLB player has fewer than 2000 H+BB they’re out. If they have 4000 or more H+BB, they’re in.

Given Schalk’s very underwhelming offensive numbers, his argument basically comes down to that he threw out 3.6% more baserunners compared to league average than the typical catcher in the hall of fame did. That’s not enough. Ferrell was much stronger offensively but still not great, and was at best the sixth best catcher of the 1930s. As far as I can tell he was mostly inducted because he caught a quartet of knuckleballers at one point in his career. On a possibly related note he led the league in passed balls allowed five times. Ferrell is out as well.

Next up is the biggest Cooperstown omission among all the backstops. Well, kind of. He’s in the hall of fame, but not as a player. That’s right, we’re talking Joe Torre

Joe Torre vs. Carlton Fisk

Player Prime WAR H+BB HR BA OBP OPS OPS+ TB CS%
Joe Torre 1964-1971 57.6 3121 252 0.297 0.365 0.817 129 3560 .03
Carlton Fisk 1972-1985 68.3 3205 376 0.269 0.341 0.797 117 3999 -.01

Torre was primarily a catcher during his career but partway through switched positions. He won an MVP as a third baseman in 1971. Due in part to the positional switch Fisk enjoys a significant advantage in WAR, since he was a catcher throughout his whole career. Fisk played for longer, and Torre was better at his best, especially given that he played in a more pitching dominant era.

As you can see Torre was actually ok at throwing out runners. And while that’s a big part of catching, it’s not all of it. The wear and tear gets to a lot of players later in their careers, and Torre didn’t help his cause with the rest of his defense either. His Range Factor/9 was .43 below the league average. Torre had some other fairly run of the mill numbers (for a hall of fame catcher) with four Top 10 OPS seasons and three seasons in the top 10 for WAR amongst position players. He was dynamite in that 71 season too, it was a very deserved MVP. He led the league in batting average (.363), total bases (352), hits (230), and RBI (137).

Fisk’s numbers are fairly comparable to Torre’s, but the greater longevity gives him a leg up in some career numbers. Amongst the 34 catchers he’s third in home runs (behind only Bench and Piazza) and second in total bases, trailing only Ivan Rodriguez. Oh, and one time during the World Series he waved at a baseball and it did what he wanted. Meanwhile Torre never had a single at bat in the playoffs.

Fisk was elected to the HOF with 79.6% in 2000, his second year of eligibility. Torre never got more than 22% of the vote. Is Fisk actually better than Torre? I would give him a slight edge, since he logged so much more time at catcher, no easy task. I’m not trying to set this up as a choice between the two though. I think both Torre and Fisk are pretty clear hall of famers. They’re not shoe ins like the first set, but they belong in Cooperstown.

That was kind of anticlimactic, so let’s just speed up the boring part and name two guys that are in Cooperstown who pretty clearly belong there as well.

Gary Carter and Bill Dickey, Come on Down!

Player Prime WAR H+BB HR BA OBP OPS OPS+ TB CS%
Gary Carter 1977-1986 69.9 2940 324 0.262 0.335 0.773 115 3497 0.03
Bill Dickey 1929-1939 55.8 2647 202 0.313 0.382 0.868 127 3062 0.06

You could quibble and say that Carter’s BA/OBP/OPS isn’t good enough, but he did finish top ten in the league for OPS three times, and had nine top ten appearances in WAR for position players. That’s more top ten WAR appearances than any other catcher, Bench is next with eight. Carter is in for sure.

Currently there are 18 catchers in the hall. I’m looking to pare that down just a bit. We’ve removed two, and added one, with nine total confirmed so far. Next up is the hometown boy.

Joe Mauer vs. Mickey Cochrane

Player Prime WAR H+BB HR BA OBP OPS OPS+ TB CS%
Joe Mauer 2006-2013 53.4 2874 137 0.308 0.391 0.834 126 2856 .06
Mickey Cochrane 1927-1933 52.1 2509 119 0.32 0.419 0.897 129 2470 -.03

Mauer and Cochrane had remarkably similar careers given how far apart they played. Both were MVP winning catchers that were great hitters that drew walks without a lot of power. Both suffered significant injuries relatively late in their careers, after they’d essentially already made their hall of fame case. Mauer’s caused him to move to first base where he wouldn’t be as productive with his bat, especially compared to other first basemen. Cochrane suffered a head injury during the 1937 season and never played again. By that point he was already 34 years old and was coming off one of the worst seasons of his career in 1936. 1936 saw his lowest OPS+ and TB in ten years. He’d had a good opening month in 1937 but was clearly on the downside of his career.

On their own Cochrane’s numbers look considerably more impressive but given that he played in the hitting boom of the late 20s and early 30s they’re really about on par with one another. There are a few points in Cochrane’s favor. He has two MVPs to Mauer’s one. Though oddly neither of Cochrane’s MVP seasons were in his top five seasons statistically. Cochrane also appeared in the top ten in the league for OPS six times compared to Mauer’s four, and in the top ten in the league for WAR seven times, again to Mauer’s four appearances. Only Buck Ewing had more top ten appearances in OPS among catchers than Cochrane did. And only Gary Carter and Johnny Bench had more top ten appearances in WAR.

That said, Mauer’s peak value was clearly higher than Cochrane’s. Cochrane only ever led the league in a statistical category once, with his .459(!) OBP in 1933. Mauer led the league in OBP twice, BA three times, CS% twice, and OPS, OPS+, and SLG once (yes those last three were all in 2009).

I’d give Cochrane the slight edge here, but that just goes to show how deserving Mauer is of being in the hall. Most people consider Cochrane one of the greatest catchers ever. Yes, Cochrane had his career cut short due to injury while Mauer extended his by switching to first base. And Mauer undoubtedly provided less value at first than he did at catcher. Since he switched away from being a full time catcher after 2013 Mauer’s BA is just .277 with a .361 OBP. He’s averaged just 2.3 WAR per season in that time frame. That’s compared to 4.8 WAR per season from 2005-2013 and a .323 BA with a .406 OBP.

But despite all of that Mauer still has a higher career WAR than Cochrane. He wouldn’t have gotten there without his four above average seasons at first, but those above average seasons still count for something. If Mauer doesn’t get into the hall it’ll probably be for the dumb reason of his career lingering on for too long and people remembering the pretty good but not great first basemen rather than the transcendent catcher.

From 2005-2013 Mauer was more than just the best catcher in baseball. He was an all time great. He had 42.8 WAR during that nine season span. That’s better than the best nine year stretch that Torre, Fisk, or Dickey ever had, and just .4 WAR behind Berra’s best nine year stretch. And that’s not me cherry picking a time frame for Mauer either, that’s essentially just his entire career at catcher.

Joe Mauer and Mickey Cochrane are not top five all time catchers. But unless that’s your standard for hall of fame they both deserve to be there.

Yadier Molina

Player Prime WAR H+BB HR BA OBP OPS OPS+ TB CS%
Yadier Molina 2009-2014 35.4 2185 126 0.284 0.336 0.739 98 2457 .13

 Yadier Molina is tough to evaluate because I’m not sure what the bar is for a player like him getting into the hall of fame. The catchers that got into the hall with the best defensive reputations are Ray Schalk, Ivan Rodriguez, Roy Campanella, and maybe Johnny Bench. Molina is more deserving than Schalk but that’s not the bar. Rodriguez has more hits than any catcher ever, won an MVP, and is an undisputed top five catcher all time. Roy Campanella had a very brief MLB career but for a few years was one the top five players in the game. And Johnny Bench is the greatest MLB catcher of all time.

The underlying question here is how much does defense really matter? Is it more important for a shortstop than a catcher? How much better do you have to be defensively to get into the hall?

Among the 37 catchers considered only Ivan Rodriguez and Roy Campanella were better at throwing runners out than Yadier, who is 13% better than average over the course of his career. The next closest non hall of famer on that list is Bob Boone at 7%, followed by a bunch more at 6%. Range Factor/9 isn’t a point in Yadier’s favor though, with his RF/9 .26 below the league average. Despite that (and driven by his strong CS%) Molina finished in the top ten in DWAR six times in his career. That said both Jim Sundberg and Bob Boone finished in the top ten for DWAR more than Yadier did. Plus, Molina was never able to crack the top ten in WAR, which factors in DWAR. The only catchers with more gold gloves than Yadier are Rodriguez and Bench, though Molina’s eight gold gloves are just one ahead of number four on the list, Bob Boone, with Sundberg one behind him.

But Bob Boone was not a good hitter, he was around Ray Schalk level. And while Sundberg was better, he still wasn’t as good as Molina. Schalk and Ferrell are the only catchers with a lower OPS+ in the hall than Yadier. But if you compare Molina to someone like Ozzie Smith, another defensive specialist, it looks pretty good for Yadier in some ways. Their OBP’s are basically the same, Yadier has a 98 OPS+ compared to Ozzie’s 87. Ozzie’s career high in OPS+ is 112, from 1991 when he hit .285 with a .380 OBP, .747 OPS with three homers. Compare that to Molina’s best offensive output, which was from 2012 when he had a 137 OPS+. Yadier hit .315, with a .373 OBP, .874 OPS and 22 HR. There’s no doubt amongst the two defensive specialists that Molina was a superior hitter.

But catchers aren’t shortstops. Talk about throwing out runners and pitch framing all you want but most baseball people would tell you shortstop is the most important defensive position and they’d be right. And Molina still can’t touch someone like Ozzie in career value. Molina has 2185 H+BB. Ozzie had 3532. Molina has 8 Gold Gloves. Ozzie had 13. And his 76.5 WAR is more than double Yadier’s. It’s a fun comparison, but it really is apples and oranges.

As it stands right now I wouldn’t put Yadier in the hall. He’s still got time left and there are plenty of less deserving players in Cooperstown, but if we’re trying to raise the bar he’s a casualty of that effort.

Roy Campanella

Remember when I said that to be in the hall you had to have at least 2000 H+BB? Well, Roy Campanella is the exception that proves the rule.

Player Prime WAR H+BB HR BA OBP OPS OPS+ TB CS%
Roy Campanella 1949-1955 34.2 1694 242 0.276 0.360 0.860 123 2101 .15

Campanella didn’t debut in the major leagues until he was 26 years old. But if it hadn’t been for the color barrier he certainly would have hit the ground running sooner. From 1938-1946 Campanella was the catcher for the Baltimore Elite Giants in the Negro Leagues. By the time he was a full time starter in the MLB in 1949 Campanella was already one of the best, if not the best, catcher in the game. If he’d gotten the chance to break into the MLB sooner, he would have started putting up monster numbers even earlier in his career.

There are only four catchers in MLB history that have won two MVP awards. Johnny Bench, Mickey Cochrane, Yogi Berra, and Roy Campanella. Pretty good company. Berra and Campanella are the only ones of that crew to win three.

Berra actually came into the league around the same time as Campanella, making his debut in 1946. From 1948-1955 Campanella was at least as good, if not better, than Yogi.

From 1948-1955 WAR H+BB HR BA OBP OPS OPS+ TB CS%
Roy Campanella 33 1429 209 0.286 0.368 0.890 131 1820 60%
Yogi Berra 35.7 1610 195 0.294 0.356 0.851 129 2072 50%

Not only did Campanella throw out 10% more runners trying to steal than Berra did, he made a lot more plays in the field. Campanella’s range factor per nine innings was .81 better than the league average. To provide some perspective, the hall of fame average is .26 and the next best among the 37 is Buck Ewing at .6. Ebbets Field did have more foul territory than most ballparks at the time, but the other Brooklyn catchers of that era didn’t approach Campanella’s kind of range.

Campanella’s career ended after 1957 at age 36 when he was paralyzed in a car accident. Realistically though at that point Campanella had already established his greatness and had actually started to fade. From 1956-1957 his OPS+ was just 85 and he wasn’t the player he used to be. Campanella’s career was shorter than it should have been, but the value missed was on the front end, not the back.

I think Campanella belongs in the hall. I tend to value peak value more than career value anyhow, and it’s not his fault some of his prime years were spent outside the MLB due to institutionalized racism.

Ted Simmons vs. Gabby Hartnett

Player Prime WAR H+BB HR BA OBP OPS OPS+ TB CS%
Ted Simmons 1972-1983 50.1 3327 248 .285 .348 .785 118 3793 0
Gabby Hartnett 1924-1937 53.4 2615 236 .297 .37 .858 126 3144 .12

Ted Simmons is in many ways the opposite of Campanella. Campanella had two seasons with a WAR higher than 6, Simmons never did. Out of the 37 catchers Campanella only had more H+BB than two (Walker Cooper and Buster Posey) but only one (Ivan Rodriguez) had more H+BB than Simmons. Only Rodriguez and Fisk have more TB than Simmons. But what makes Ted Simmons anything other than a Harold Baines level player behind the plate? At his best Simmons was a great catcher, it seems like he just got lost in the shadow of Johnny Bench.

Simmons and Bench overlapped for a lot of their careers, both playing in the national league. Simmons never had a season with six or more WAR, but he had four seasons with over five. And if you look at his numbers, he looks almost exactly like the average hall of famer but with more longevity. If he’d retired after 1983 (he had one sub replacement level season as a starter and a few as a backup until retiring after 1988) his numbers would line up with the average hall of famer near perfectly.

One funny thing about Simmons is how often he was intentionally walked. The Cardinals had some decent with Simmons as the backstop but topped out at 90 wins and never made the playoffs with him on the roster. So the lack of help probably had something to do with it, but Simmons led the league in IBB twice. Only Willie McCovey was walked intentionally more times in the 70s then Simmons was. That means Simmons had more intentional walks than guys like Johnny Bench, Rod Carew, Reggie Jackson, Joe Morgan, or Mike Schmidt during the 70s. Not that second in IBB during the 70s makes him a hall of famer, but it’s interesting.

Gabby surpasses Simmons by just a bit except in the counting statistics. The biggest knock on Hartnett is that he’s only the fourth best catcher of the 1930s. You’ve got to put Josh Gibson, Mickey Cochrane, and Bill Dickey ahead of him in my opinion. But he’s not far off some of those guys. The biggest distinguishing factor is how much better Hartnett was at throwing out runners, 12% better than the league average and he led the league in CS% six times.

You could make the argument that Simmons should be ahead of Hartnett given the longevity and that he was generally able to stay healthier year to year. But it’s not like Hartnett had a short career or missed a bunch of games. Hartnett was better defensively and even if he played in an era with a bizarrely high number of great catchers I don’t think you can punish him too much for that. I’d give Hartnett the slight nod over Simmons. And given the current constitution of the hall, Simmons belongs. In my hall of fame they’re both in too, though Simmons isn’t a complete slam dunk.

Ernie Lombardi vs. Jorge Posada

Player Prime WAR H+BB HR BA OBP OPS OPS+ TB CS%
Jorge Posada 2000-2009 42.7 2600 275 0.273 0.374 0.848 121 2888 -.02
Ernie Lombardi 1935-1940 45.9 2222 190 0.306 0.358 0.818 126 2693 .03

 The fifth best catcher of the 1930s vs. one of the “core four.” I’d always assumed when Posada came up for election to the Hall he would enjoy an undeserved amount of support due to his time on the Yankees. But when he came on the ballot in 2017 he got just 3.8%, dropping off immediately. I was wrong.

I was also wrong in thinking that he didn’t have a credible case for getting into the hall. Posada was great at getting on base, had some pop in his bat, and played a pivotal role on some great Yankee teams. He was a bit below average defensively, but not so much that he was a liability. Basically a watered down Mike Piazza.

Posada won five silver sluggers. There was a brief window after Ivan Rodriguez and Mike Piazza had fallen off before Joe Mauer took off where Posada was arguably the best catcher in the MLB (apologies to Victor Martinez and AJ Pierzynski, who didn’t provide a lot of competition).

But it’s hard for me to get too excited about Posada as a hall candidate. He didn’t put up the kind of career numbers to rival someone like Ted Simmons. He didn’t have the peak of a Roy Campanella or Joe Mauer. It’s true that he was part of some great teams and had almost a whole other seasons worth of at bats in the playoffs. It’s also true that his OPS was over 100 points lower in the playoffs compared to the regular season.

Ernie Lombardi is in a similar boat. On offense he was comparable to Posada. It’s true that Lombardi has over a career .300 BA. Among the 37 only five had a higher BA, three are in the hall and the other two are Joe Mauer and Buster Posey, both of whom may be headed to Cooperstown. But Lombardi played in the hitting happy 1930s.

There are some ways in which Lombardi stood out a lot more than Posada. Lombardi won an MVP. He had a top ten OPS four times. The only other players among the 37 with that combination are Torre, Mauer,  Hartnett, Bench, Campanella, and Cochrane. Not bad company.

It’s also true that Lombardi led the league in passed balls nine times. You read that right, nine times! It’s hard for me to believe that he was an especially great catcher if he led the league in passed balls nine times. He was also so slow that infields played him extremely deep, knowing that he was unlikely to beat out a throw. He once joked that given how far into the outfield Brooklyn’s shortstop Pee Wee Reese played he thought Reese was the center fielder.

Like Posada, Lombardi’s numbers line up close to the average catcher in Cooperstown. On the plus side he won that MVP and was consistently a strong hitter in the league. On the other hand he was a bad catcher that was at best the fifth best catcher in baseball during his prime. I’d give Lombardi the slight edge over Posada. But given the small hall approach I’m taking, I’d leave both out.

Buck Ewing vs. Roger Bresnehan

Player Prime WAR H+BB HR BA OBP OPS OPS+ TB CS%
Buck Ewing 1883-1893 42.7 2017 71 0.303 0.351 0.807 129 2444 .01
Roger Bresnehan 1902-1908 45.9 1966 26 0.279 0.386 0.764 127 1690 0

Welcome to the dumbest part of this post. Ewing and Bresnehan are the earliest catchers in the hall of fame, so it kind of makes sense to compare them. Ewing played in an era where you could be an everyday players for 10+ years straight and never play 120 games in a season. Bresnehan played in an era in which you could hit ten home runs and lead the league.

Bresnehan got on base more but unlike Ewing he was mostly incapable of hitting for power. And when I say power I’m setting the bar lower than home runs, I’m talking about doubles. In fairness he did eclipse the all important 20+ doubles in a season landmark four times in his career, and even once hit 30.

Bresnehan was the catcher to popularize wearing shin guards, which is nice but not really hall worthy. His most compelling case for the hall of fame is probably what led to him becoming a catcher in the first place. According to his hall of fame bio, this is how the story goes:

As a pitcher, Bresnahan was displeased with the Orioles’ backup receivers, leading manager John McGraw to ask if Bresnahan wanted to catch. From that day on, Bresnahan was a catcher.

Ewing on the other hand finished in the top ten for OPS eight times! That’s more than any other catcher in the history of the game! Of course it’s easier to finish in the top ten for OPS when there are only ten batters in the whole league. While there were a few more than ten batters in the league when Ewing played, it’s fair to say the competition was not as deep or stiff.

That said, most of Ewing’s contemporaries and the players that immediately came after him point to him not only as the best catcher of his time, but one of the best players of the 19th century.

So who’s in? Well, I do have that (only somewhat) arbitrary line of hall of famers needing at least 2000 H+BB. So let’s put Ewing in and keep Bresnehan out. Who cares if one barely missed that line and the other barely cleared it?

Gene Tenace vs. Bill Freehan

Player Prime WAR H+BB HR BA OBP OPS OPS+ TB CS%
Gene Tenace 1973-1980 46.8 2044 201 0.241 0.388 0.817 136 1882 .01
Bill Freehan 1967-1972 44.7 2217 200 0.262 0.34 0.752 112 2502 -.01

In many ways Gene Tenace and Bill Freehan have polar opposite arguments for the hall of fame. Freehan was a highly acclaimed catcher in his time that was praised for doing all the little things right that make a player great. Tenace struggled to hold down a job, but looking back at his body of work has a surprisingly compelling case.

More than anything, what stands out about Freehan’s case is the all star appearances. Here’s a list of every player in the history of the game that’s not in the hall to be named an all star 11 seasons or more:

Pete Rose (banned because he gambled on the game)

Barry Bonds (steroid allegations)

Alex Rodriguez (steroid allegations and not yet eligible)

Derek Jeter (not yet eligible)

Mark McGwire (steroid allegations)

Manny Ramirez (steroid allegations)

Miguel Cabrera (not yet eligible)

Roger Clemens (steroid allegations)

Mariano Rivera (not yet eligible)

Bill Freehan

One of these names is not like the other. That’s a list of all time greats that either aren’t in because they’re not yet eligible, or aren’t in because they pulled some shady shit. And then there’s Bill Freehan, 11 time all star.

Freehan finished 2nd in MVP voting in 1968, catching Denny McClain’s 31 win season and getting a world series ring with the Detroit Tigers. He had a WAR of 7. He won a gold glove every year from 1965-1969. If you’re going to have a discussion of “who was the best catcher of the 1960s?” it comes down to Freehan and Joe Torre.

But that’s the thing. Part of the reason Freehan had so many all star appearances is because there wasn’t much competition. He’s below average in almost every significant category compared to the average hall of fame catcher. The only statistic he scores well in is RF/9, with a .51 compared to a .26. Obviously that speaks to how well he fielded his position, but for a catcher the more important fielding statistic has to be CS% compared to league average. And in that regard Freehan was very average.

Another thing that separates Freehan from other “best at their position of” whatever time they played in is that his peak just wasn’t as long or as high as the other players that make that case. In 1967 and 1968 he had an OPS+ above 140, but those were the only seasons in his career he was above 126.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is Gene Tenace. Tenace was only named to one all star team. He was nobody’s idea of the consummate catcher. He did win World Series MVP in 1972, when he batted .348 with four home runs and an OPS of 1.313 but that was really his only moment in the sun. When he first came up for election to the hall of fame in 1989 he got two tenths of one percent of the vote.

But looking at his stats now he looks like one of the best catchers of his era. He led the league in walks twice. He has the second highest OPS+ of all the catchers considered here, behind only Mike Piazza. He’s fourth in OBP, behind only Mickey Cochrane, Joe Mauer, and Wally Schang. Among his full time seasons (minimum 400 plate appearances) his OPS+ never fell below 130. And he wasn’t bad at throwing runners out either, though his RF/9 is a pretty rough -.25, lower than any hall of fame catcher.

The question with Tenace is if he played long enough to be considered hall of fame material. Unlike someone like Roy Campanella, Tenace’s numbers for when he was at his peak aren’t so jaw dropping that you have to let him in. I have Tenace on the outside looking in too.

Josh Gibson, Louis Santop and Biz Mackey

These are three Negro League catchers. Josh Gibson is very well known (the “Black Babe Ruth”) so it goes without saying he’s in. Santop was the best negro league catcher of the 1910s and Mackey was the best negro league catcher of the 1920s. Bizarrely Mackey actually took over for Santop as the starting catcher for the Hilldale Daisies after Santop committed an error in the 1924 Colored World Series.

I covered this in the intro but thought I’d just reiterate it here. I don’t like talking about statistics of negro league players, because they’re often incomplete and unreliable. What is the perspective when given a number like a .470 batting average for Louis Santop one season? It’s not directly comparable to major league numbers.

But at the same time the best of these players were as good or better than the best major leaguers. I don’t think that can really be disputed. Negro League teams frequently won exhibitions against major league all star teams. Numerous MLB stars raved about some of the players in the Negro Leagues. And once black players were allowed to enter the game, they quickly became some of the best in the league.

My point is, it’s not like negro league players are overrepresented in the hall of fame. If anything they’re still underrepresented. I have a hard time believing that there should be more white catchers from the pre-integration era in the hall of fame than black catchers. And with that both Santop and Mackey are in.

Buster Posey

When all is said and done he should be headed to the hall, but given how much of his career is left I don’t want to judge it quite yet.

And voila, we have seventeen hall of fame catchers!

Josh Gibson
Johnny Bench
Ivan Rodriguez
Mike Piazza
Yogi Berra
Mickey Cochrane
Bill Dickey
Carlton Fisk
Joe Torre
Ted Simmons
Gary Carter
Roy Campanella
Joe Mauer
Buck Ewing
Gabby Hartnett
Louis Santop
Biz Mackey

From an era balance perspective we’re doing ok here, though not great. The bizarre amazing catcher revolution of the 1930s makes it look a little weird, but here’s a decade by decade breakdown.

1880 1
1890 0
1900 0
1910 1
1920 1
1930 4
1940 0
1950 2
1960 1
1970 3
1980 1
1990 2
2000 1

 

And how are we doing compared to the average hall of famer? Currently in the hall the average hall of fame catcher has 52.6 WAR, 2564 H+BB, 221 HR, .288 BA, .361 OBP, .814 OPS, 120 OPS+, 2964 TB, and .04% above average CS%.

The new average hall of famer has 57.5 WAR, 2785 H+BB, 264 HR, .292 BA, .362 OBP, .833 OPS, 124 OPS+, 3317 TB, and still .04% above average CS%. In fact the only measurable dips are in DWAR Top Ten appearances (from 3.3 to 2.9) and RF/9 compared to league average, from .26 to .21.

See, improving the hall of fame is easy if I’m just allowed to do it by fiat!

First basemen are next, though it might be a while.

 

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Hall of Fame Introduction

Sometime in December of 2017 I was engaged in a debate over whether Johan Santana should be in the baseball hall of fame. This was shortly after the Jack Morris selection, who the veterans committee appointed to the hall very shortly after he spent 15 years on the ballot without getting elected. I was of course a proponent of Johan’s cause, pointing to his extraordinary peak value and how favorably he compared to many current hall of famers, Morris included. Then, I was asked a question that bothered me, because I didn’t know the answer to it.

“Sure Nathan, but if you were building the hall from scratch would you put Johan in?”

It’s a fair question. The baseball hall of fame has become watered down over the years. While most players enshrined there deserve the honor, many do not. Some were appointed because they had teammates on the veterans committee. Some were elected because writers had a fundamental misunderstanding of how valuable RBIs and Saves are.

At the same time there are some people that the hall has missed. Sometimes because writers are opposed to including certain players implicated in steroids scandals, or sometimes because they just weren’t appreciated enough in their time.

All this prompted my next little project, trying to determine what the hall of fame roster would look like if I were given carte blanche.

Era Imbalance

Beyond the mistakes of who should be in and who should be out of the hall, there are a few things that I think that it does poorly. First, it overvalues certain areas. Breaking down players by decade is an imprecise science, but here’s what the composition looks like by decade.

Decade # of players
1870 1
1880 13
1890 15
1900 20
1910 20
1920 35
1930 40
1940 15
1950 18
1960 21
1970 20
1980 20
1990 12
2000 1

Given how many players served in World War II, the dip in numbers of players from the 1940’s isn’t surprising. But look at the numbers of players from the 1920s and 1930s. 75 players total from the 20s and 30s, 39 from the 50s and 60s. That’s not right.

While a lot of players that peaked in the 90s are still on the ballot, that decade looks like it may end up being underrepresented in the hall as well, partially driven by the steroids scandals. But I do not believe that baseball players were so much better in the 20s and 30s than they were from the 50s-80s.

If anything given how many more teams there are the later decades should be represented to a greater extent than the 20s and 30s are.

Negro League Representation

Part of that decade disparity is that rather than taking the approach of treating Negro Leaguers as equals with their MLB counterparts from the same time, those players are essentially thrown in on top of the MLB players. In my opinion we should be putting those players from the Negro Leagues in competition with the MLB players.

Of course, that causes some issues. Most notably the Negro Leagues didn’t keep reliable statistics the same way that the MLB did. So if you were to place the Negro Leagues players in competition with the MLB players, some might argue that would be to the advantage of the MLB (white) players. I disagree.

It was fairly common for MLB players, sometimes in All Star team form, play Negro League teams. By all accounts from the MLB players and the outcomes of these games themselves, players in the Negro Leagues were at least just as good as the MLB players, if not better.

Some Negro League players had remarkable longevity once they started playing in the MLB too. Satchel Paige was name as an all star in 1952 and 1953, when he was 46 and 47 years old! Buck Leonard was offered a major league contract in 1952, when he was 45. Almost immediately upon arriving in the league players like Jackie Robinson, Larry Doby, and Roy Campanella became the best players in the majors. And they weren’t even the highest regarded players in the Negro Leagues.

Now, the Negro Leagues were not always that competitive. Before Rube Foster brought together the Negro National League in 1920 the organization and talent wasn’t near what it would be from 1925-1947. And their official seasons were not as long. But given how good the league was during that era equal representation as far as possible should be the goal of the hall.

Not Short on Shortstops

Eras should be balanced, and the negro leagues should be properly represented. The last area that the current hall of fame composition falls short is positional representation. The hall doesn’t have to be equally proportioned but it should do better than it’s doing now.

Position Current
C 18
1B 22
2B 21
3B 18
SS 25
OF 69
P 78

 

Outfielders are overrepresented, and shortstops even more so. Catchers, third basemen, and arguably pitchers are all somewhat underrepresented. Ideally the positional distribution would be a bit flatter.

Who Qualifies and What Comes Next?

In trying to build a hall from scratch, I first had to start with a fairly wide array of players. I included every hall of fame player. I decided to add every player with at least 42 WAR (Wins Above Replacement) along with players with at least four gold gloves, silver sluggers, or all star appearances. I also included all players that earned a certain amount of MVP shares over the course of their career. I also included every player in the Twins hall of fame because let’s be real this whole exercise is just an excuse for me to shill for various Twins hall of fame cases. All in all I compiled a list of over 600 players,

So I’ll break everything down position by position, starting with catchers and moving along from there.

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Hate Me Now

kevin-garnett-celtics

He’s insane. He’s a maniac. He has a competitive disorder. He doesn’t know how to stop. He doesn’t shut up. He’s Kevin Garnett, and he’s my favorite athlete of all time. Growing up in Minnesota, Kevin Garnett was the Timberwolves. There was a rotating cast of incompetent characters around him, but KG was the only constant. The only all star[1]. He was more identifiable than the team itself. When he got traded to the Celtics in the summer of 2007, the Wolves weren’t just trading their best player, they were trading the franchise. So my allegiances followed.

download (1)

After the championship in 2008, it seemed like there would be more to come. There weren’t, but each season was a treat.

In 2007, I became a Boston Celtics fan. Some people would misunderstand it as jumping on the bandwagon. It wasn’t. If KG had gotten traded to the Toronto Raptors I would have become a Raptors fan. For six seasons, I lived and breathed the Boston Celtics. The Timberwolves were still there, but they were never relevant. They went through seasons winning 15-24 games, a perennial doormat. Last year they won 31 games. It was the first time the Wolves had won 30 or more games without Garnett. Meanwhile, the Celtics were enjoying the type of success I had never seen in Minnesota. They won the championship in 2008. If KG hadn’t gotten injured, they would’ve won again in 2009. They were agonizingly close to another championship in 2010. After that followed three less successful seasons, with the difficult moments becoming more difficult each year. The 2004 All Star team in 2011. The Perkins trade, which was the real death of Ubuntu. Ray Allen’s departure to Miami of all places, which stung worse than any trade or free agent signing I’d ever gone through.[2] And finally the Rondo injury, which guaranteed an early playoff departure.

bos_a_garnett_b2_200

It wasn’t always easy being a Celtics fan, and KG’s injury in 2009 was especially tough.

Even during the worst moments of those seasons, I still never gave up on the Celtics. I talked myself into every move, and kept hope during even the bleakest moments. I had become attached. I couldn’t get enough of Paul Pierce’s cocky grin, even if he ended too many games with low percentage elbow jumpers. I loved how brazen Rajon Rondo had become, taking over playoff games as early as 2009. Ray Allen was a machine, a workhorse that never stopped, who I always wished would start shooting the ball more, or remember how to drive to the basket. KG was still KG. He never stopped. He couldn’t stop. For the first time a national audience was seeing what Minnesotans had always known. He was an all time great who brought it every night, and loved getting into opponents heads. He said whatever he wanted to. His teammates loved him, and his opponents hated him.

I came to love a lot of the role players over the years as well. Early on my old friend Sam Cassell was there, always yelling, playing back to the basket as a point guard. Tony Allen, who couldn’t shoot a three pointer to save his life but could drive the likes of Dwyane Wade and LeBron James crazy with his defense. Glen Davis, who thought he had KG’s jumper when he most definitely didn’t, but could still frustrate Dwight Howard with his defense. Plus, in the 2009 playoffs he came up with one of the best nicknames ever, the Ticket Stub. Nate Robinson in 2010, who could score points in bunches for a team that frankly was terrible offensively, even though his irrational confidence would occasionally hurt the team. Avery Bradley, whose defense made up for the fact that he was a point guard who could neither pass the ball nor shoot it.

These guys were pretty great too. And I'm getting closer to forgiving Ray Allen.

These guys were pretty great too. And I’m getting closer to forgiving Ray Allen.

Jeff Green, who somehow ended up being compared to James Worthy on a regular basis, even the nights he logged only 18 minutes and shot 1-4 from the field. They were a team. They were Celtics, and that meant something. I had become a true Boston Celtics fan. This past summer, Doc Rivers, Paul Pierce, and KG all departed Boston. Any semblance of that team was gone. I had always assumed that when that happened my allegiances would travel to wherever KG went next, in this case Brooklyn. Or maybe I would go back to being a Wolves fan again. There were a few problems with this plan though. The first being, I had never been a Timberwolves fan, I had only ever been a KG fan.

I didn’t realize it until this summer. I started paying attention to the Wolves during the 1996-1997 season, KG’s second year when he started to show how great he would become. The Wolves made the first of their eight consecutive playoff appearances, with KG going through multiple supporting casts; Marbury-Gugliotta, Terrell Brandon-Joe Smith, Troy Hudson-Wally Szczerbiak, and finally Cassell-Sprewell, the tandem that would help KG get to the Western Conference Finals.

Here's KG, pounding the chest of the only Timberwolf that ever really mattered.

Here’s KG, pounding the chest of the only Timberwolf that ever really mattered.

There were great moments. For a brief period, it looked like KG and Marbury would be the start of a dynasty. He won the All Star Game MVP in 2003. Frequently it would be his job to play the point. Though KG played poorly in the 1998 and 2000 playoffs, other than those series his “bad in the playoffs” reputation was way overblown. In the 99, 01, 02, 03, and 04 playoffs, his PER never dipped below 24. In game 7 of the Western Conference Semifinals in 2004 against the Kings, he had 34 points and 21 rebounds[3]. If Sam Cassell and Troy Hudson hadn’t gotten injured, the Wolves may have been able to upset the Lakers the next round[4]. But the bad moments were worse. Latrell Sprewell had a “family to feed.” The Joe Smith shenanigans. Terrell Brandon’s injury. Malik Sealy’s death. Ndudi Ebi. Marko Jaric. Randy Wittman. Through it all, KG remained loyal. Through it all, KG made it clear that he wasn’t more important than the team, when he undoubtedly was. He demanded zero trades. Started zero rumors. KG was always a professional. The Timberwolves organization wasn’t. They gave players under the table money, had an incompetent owner and vice president, and never gave KG the supporting cast he deserved. In the final three, especially painful years when KG didn’t reach the playoffs, the Wolves made all the wrong moves. Trading for Ricky Davis. Trading for Marko Jaric. Signing Mike James. KG gave it his all every night. The rest of the team never did in those last three seasons.

When he was traded, I was ecstatic. It should have happened after the 05 season, which was the most disappointing season ever for the Wolves. He would show everyone he was a champion. And he did. The first thing he said after “ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE!!!!” was “this was for everyone in ‘Sota.” After that, he talked to Bill Russell, saying “I hope we made you proud.” Not many people consider KG a classy individual, but I am one of them.

A jersey that is more than just laundry.

A jersey that is more than just laundry.

That season, and all the following season, KG made one thing extremely clear to me; being a Boston Celtic meant something. It was important. Being a Minnesota Timberwolf never meant anything. Playing on the same team as KG meant something, but the franchise didn’t mean anything. And after six seasons of being a loyal Boston Celtics fan, learning and understanding what it meant to be a Celtic, it’s not just something I can toss out the window. I’ve never lived in Boston. None of my family is from there[5]. My favorite athlete of all time no longer plays for them. But I can’t just toss this team out the window and move to the Nets like it never meant anything.

In some ways, it would be easy to do. Only Rondo is left from the 2008-2010 core, and the organization is more concerned about the 2014 draft than the win total for this season. Kris Humphries and Gerald Wallace might start, two players that were acquired in the KG trade that aren’t important to the franchise and the franchise isn’t important to them. But over those six seasons I became more than a KG fan. I became a Celtics fan. I don’t know how things will go in Brooklyn this year.

This still doesn't feel right, and it probably never will.

This still doesn’t feel right, and it probably never will.

The proclaimed one year window is now, and anyone that has followed KG isn’t surprised that he’s opposed to the idea of sitting out games to rest. I’m not sure what I’ll do when the Celtics play the Nets, or the Wolves. But one thing is for sure, it won’t be the same watching KG and Paul suit up for Brooklyn. I’ll cheer for them, but it wouldn’t mean anywhere near as much if they win a title there as another one would’ve meant in Boston. Being a Brooklyn Net doesn’t mean anything. Being a Timberwolf doesn’t mean anything. Being a Celtic does. So, through it all, the Boston Celtics remain my favorite NBA team. They’re going to lose a lot of games this season. Maybe 60. But in the meantime, I’m talking myself into Jared Sullinger being healthy, Jeff Green becoming an all star, Avery Bradley learning how to play the point, and Rondo becoming a top five player in the league. Danny Ainge will work his magic again, and in the not too distant future, the Celtics will be back.

BostonCelticsChampionshipBanners


[1] Yes, I know Sam Cassell and Wally Szczerbiak made the All Star team as Timberwolves, but both came as a surprise and both were riding KG’s coattails to get there.

[2] Even counting Torii Hunter signing with the Angels (he was offered way more money and the Twins were clearly going in a different direction) or Johan getting traded to the Mets (this was a painful one). Both were because the small market Twins couldn’t afford their stars. That wasn’t the case with Ray and the Celtics. It felt spiteful.

[3] KG had 34 points. The Wolves had 83 total that game. So KG scored 41% of his teams points.

[4] Darrick Martin was starting at point guard this series. Who is Darrick Martin you ask? Exactly.

[5] Though my Dad did live there for seven years, and saw Larry Bird play in the Garden.

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Destroy and Rebuild

For as long as I can remember, I have loved ranking things. And when I say that, I mean it literally, I can’t remember a point in my life where I didn’t love ranking things. As a four year old I was all about having tournaments to figure out which Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle action figure was the best[1]. A couple years later I started ranking baseball cards after aggregating different statistics[2], figuring out peak and career value. After I stopped collecting baseball cards around age 14 something even bigger took its place, Fraquetball[3]. Fraquetball took my hunger for statistics and ranking things to a whole new level. But I eventually did graduate from high school, and Ultimate replaced Fraquetball.

But there was one key way which Ultimate never really lived up to Fraquetball. Frankly, Fraquetball did a better job keeping statistics than Ultimate ever did. I can tell you how many saves I had playing for Jesson 5[4], but I can’t tell you how many points I threw for Hendrix. In Fraquetball we voted on MVP, Rookie of the Year, Silver Slugger, Golden Glove, had the playoffs, and the kind of trash talk that would put Ultimate to shame. There were all sorts of opportunities to rank players and teams from across history. Ultimate never really did that for me. But now rankings are more important than ever in Ultimate. With what some would say is a flawed algorithm[5] determining which regions get more bids to Nationals, all of a sudden the difference between the number 18 and 19 teams in the nation is drastic. In both Division I and Division III there’s discussion of what the best way to distribute those bids to Nationals, and whether certain teams deserve the extra bid the algorithm says they’ve earned. So who better than me to determine which method is the most sound and give you a pre-series top 25 for both divisions? And who better than me to rank the top 25 teams in both divisions?

The Current System

The current system does a fairly good job. Of course there are problems with it. There aren’t penalties for forfeits. In some cases this leads to teams forfeiting games rather than playing them to protect their ranking. It could also discourage teams that have had a surprisingly strong start to the season to back out of later tournaments to protect their ranking. Their earlier results only decay if they play more games later on. Not only that but it can occasionally incentivize teams to lose. Team strength is rewarded, but region strength is not. If there’s a team on the cusp of a bid in your region, and your team has either safely secured one or has no chance of doing so, mathematically you increase your chances of making Nationals if you lose to that team. That means that if a region has three of the “first four out” teams they are not rewarded for it, even though qualifying out of their region is more difficult.

Another issue that has come up is that the algorithm invalidates results for teams that had roster violations early in the season. On the surface this makes perfect sense and poses no problems, teams that don’t have the right rosters shouldn’t have their results count, otherwise we’re enabling cheaters. The problem arises when you consider the teams they lost to. All of a sudden the teams that beat the roster violating teams are robbed of their win, even though they did nothing wrong. In fact, they won in spite of the other team having illegal players on the roster[6].

A new problem for the algorithm has also arisen this year. In the past top tier teams had occasionally played games against lesser competition, winning by scores like 13-0 or 13-3 but still hurting their ranking because of how poorly rated the competition was. Now USAU has changed the algorithm so that blowouts that hurt a team’s rating are excluded from the calculation.

But there are things it does well too. For quite a while RRI was the determining factor in ranking Ultimate teams, and the current system usually does a better job than RRI. RRI was too sensitive to point differential, and the current system places more emphasis on winning games than RRI did, sometimes for worse but usually for better. And the current system has a formula that can be objectively followed. It rewards teams for their performance in the regular season. All the tournaments before the conference tournaments are no longer merely warm-ups. If your team doesn’t perform during the regular season it will hurt them in their attempt to qualify for Nationals. And while performing well during the regular season gets your region that extra bid, you still have to perform at Regionals to get to Nationals. A related benefit is that the rankings usually do ensure that the best teams get to go to Nationals. It may be that not every one of the top 20 teams in Division 1 ends up with one, but you can be sure that every one of the top ten teams does. This has not always been the case.

The Old System

The old system based bids to each region based on how that region’s teams performed at Nationals the year before. This meant that the regular season only served a purpose in seeding teams once they got to Nationals. If a team that performed well at Nationals the year before fell off their region would still benefit. Likewise if two teams from the same region performed strongly at Nationals their region would get an extra bid the following year. This could occasionally result in an inferior third place team that didn’t earn the bid themselves going to Nationals. Under the old system, if a team comes out of nowhere during the regular season, defying everyone’s expectations, their performance doesn’t affect how many bids their region gets to Nationals. The old system also placed importance in placement games at Nationals, games after both teams had been eliminated. It’s debatable how much emphasis teams placed on these games, so the system was placing great importance on games where the teams cared less about the result. One of the positives to this system was that every team knew how many strength bids there would be to Nationals in their region at the beginning of the year, and historically strong teams could usually count on a bid.

The Even Distribution System

The idea here is simple. Each region has a set amount of bids every year. DIII Nationals would probably have to expand to 20 teams to make this work. One of the problems for this system is that it is less rewarding to strong teams from deep regions. That third place DIII or DI team in the region has to beat one of the teams in front of them, no matter how superior they are to the second place team in a considerably weaker region. Because of that flaw, this method could potentially lower the quality of play at Nationals. If this system were in place we’d never see the likes of Minnesota, Luther, or Iowa at Nationals in DI. DIII is more fluid, so it would work a bit better in that division, but the same type of problem applies.

The Subjective System

The subjective system isn’t all bad. It could work a couple ways. You could either have some sort of poll, a la college football, ranking the top teams in their respective divisions and deciding bids to nationals based on the top finishers, or it could go the committee route, a la NCAA Basketball. A committee could determine the number of bids per region at the end of the season, just like Selection Sunday. The positives are that humans would be better able to factor in things the computer cannot. Humans could factor in whether a team had injuries at a certain tournament, a team known for playing very open lines until the series starts, the strength of teams that haven’t played out of region games, and the history of a team. The downside is that the subjective system is subjective, and susceptible to lack of information and biases.

The Hybrid System

The Hybrid System would take the USAU formula and give it we’ll say 1/2 weight, and the other half to the subjective system poll, which could encompass rankings from Ultiworld, Skyd, and for the hell of it let’s say me. Why not? The Hybrid System combines the best of both. It balances out subjectivity with hard numbers. It takes hard numbers and humanizes them, accounting for factors the computers cannot. Alas, this system also combines the worst of both systems. The hybrid system could also be called the Subjective/Oblivious system. It not only has subjectivity, but also flawed computer rankings that we didn’t trust entirely in the first place! The idea would be that the two different takes would balance each other out.

The New Perfect Formula that Accounts for Everything

It doesn’t exist.

So which one of these is best? What does history tell us? What would each system give us this year?

Division I

Chances are if you’ve made it this far you know what the current system gives us this year. In DI half the regions have two bids, while the Southeast and North Central have three each, and the Metro East and Great Lakes have one each. Everyone agrees[7] that each region needs to have at least one bid, so I’m not going there. The last four teams in are Tufts, UNCW, Whitman, and Stanford. The first four out are Texas A&M, Dartmouth, Northern Iowa, and Missouri[8].

All things considered, it looks pretty good. Tufts is 5-6 against the top 18[9], and 12-2 against the rest, with both losses coming against Dartmouth, by a total of three points. Though they had a rough go of it at Easterns they reached the semifinals of Stanford invite. Whitman only played at the Stanford Open and Invite. They’re 2-3 against the top 18, and 7-1 against the rest, with a loss to Las Positas. Less deserving than Tufts, but they’re riding that win against Wisconsin at the Stanford Invite to a bid. UNCW is 4-8 against the top 18, 16-0 against the rest. One might be tempted to say that their early season results are helping them too much, but given that the ratings decay, and on March 6 they were ranked 13th at 1856 and now they’re 16th at 1789 it’s not an argument that holds too much water. UNCW deserves a bid. Meanwhile Stanford is 1-9 against the top 18, with their lone win coming against UNCW. They’re 5-2 against the rest, though that is a little deceiving. That 5-2 record includes wins against Dartmouth and Texas A&M, but also losses to UCSD and British Columbia. Stanford is certainly the weakest among the last four in, but their head to head record against the other fringe teams gives their strength bid more credibility.

Among the First Four Out teams Texas A&M is 1-7 (win against Central Florida) against the top 18, and 11-1 against the rest (loss to Georgetown). Dartmouth is 4-7 against the top 18 (wins against Colorado, Harvard, and Tufts twice), and 7-1 against the rest (loss to Georgia Tech). Misssouri and Northern Iowa haven’t beat anyone in the top 18, are 1-1 against each other, and have mostly beat up on teams beneath them with the occasional loss. All in all, it looks like the rankings did a pretty good job this year[10]. Their purpose was to select the top teams in Division 1, and though I would probably put Dartmouth in over Stanford, if Dartmouth had beat Stanford they probably wouldn’t have this problem. Given all that, here’s my top 25 (both reflective and predictive) in Division 1:

Nathan’s Top 25 DI Teams (USAU Ranking, then Ultiworld Ranking[11] in parentheses)

  1. Pittsburgh (5, 6)
  2. Oregon (4, 2)
  3.  Carleton (7, 8)
  4. Minnesota (3, 1)
  5.  Wisconsin (1, 4)
  6. Central Florida (9, 3)
  7. North Carolina (2, 5)
  8. Texas (6, 9)
  9.  Colorado (10, 7)
  10. Harvard (11, 14)
  11. Tufts (15, 15)
  12.  UNCW (16, 16)
  13. Ohio (12, 17)
  14. Arizona (14, 10)
  15. Dartmouth (20, 13)
  16. Whitman (17, 19)
  17. Stanford (18, 11)
  18.  Texas A&M (19, 20)
  19. Florida State (8, 18)
  20. Florida (13, 12)
  21. Georgia (25, NR)
  22. Michigan (33, 21)
  23. Georgia Tech (29, 23)
  24. California-Davis (31, NR)
  25. Northern Iowa (21, NR)

I think given all the parody this year, it’s hard to go with anyone but the reigning champs as the number one. No, they haven’t had the kind of championship defense you might like to see, but they’ve won a championship, and are returning a lot of veterans. They know how to win at Nationals now. They don’t need to convince themselves. They’re a well coached team so I don’t think they’ll get complacent either. Add on to that Alex Thorne’s various lingering injuries that have kept him off the field, I’m betting Pitt takes it up a notch at Nationals. I can see putting them beneath teams like Minnesota, Oregon, Wisconsin, and North Carolina if you want your rankings to be entirely reflective, but mine are both reflective and predictive, so Pitt gets #1.

I’ve got Carleton higher than USAU or Ultiworld for similar reasons. No, they haven’t had the best regular season. But Carleton has demonstrated many times they know how to peak at the right time. In 2011 a lot of people had written them off after a poor Regionals performance. Then they won Nationals. In 2009 they lost to North Carolina State in a late season match. Then they ran the table to win Nationals. I don’t know the last time Minnesota finished ahead of Carleton in the series, in fact it’s likely that it’s never happened. Do you really think this is the year that changes? Carleton still has a ton of talent, and I’d be surprised if they didn’t continue their run of five consecutive semifinals appearances.

Other than that I don’t think there are many surprises in my top 20. I have Florida and Florida State ranked lower than most because of how little they’ve done since Warm Up (Div 1). Florida won a not that great Trouble in Vegas tournament, with close calls against BYU and Arizona State. At Easterns the only team they beat was Brown. Florida State hasn’t been much better. They made the semifinals of a not that great Tally Classic tournament where they lost to Georgia. They went 1-3 at Easterns, with their only win being over Florida. The Southeast may have three bids to Nationals, but given that Georgia and Georgia Tech are not that far behind we may see one of them pull off an upset to reach Madison.

Since Queen City Tune-Up Michigan has turned it around, the only team they’ve lost to outside the top 20 since then is Brown at Easterns Qualifier, who they beat later on in the third place game. California-Davis had a bad Stanford Invite, but other than a loss in January to UCSB they haven’t lost to a team outside the top 20, and boast two wins over Washington, a win over UCSB, Brown, and Victoria. Northern Iowa hasn’t beat any of the teams ranked ahead of them either, but they still have some impressive wins. They’re 1-1 against Missouri but have the better point differential between the two games, and have wins against Washington University, Oklahoma, and Tennessee. And while Ultiworld has James Madison in their top 25, JMU was barely able to top Duluth at Hellfish Bonanza, 12-11. UNI beat them 13-3.

If you applied the hybrid system model to these DI rankings, with the computer accounting for half and then my rankings counting a quarter, and Ultiworld’s counting a quarter, here’s what the top 20 looks like:

1. Wisconsin

2. Minnesota

3. Oregon

4. North Carolina

5. Pittsburgh

6. Carleton

7. Texas

8. Central Florida

9. Colorado

10. Harvard

11. Arizona

12. Florida State

13. Ohio

14. Tufts

15. Florida

16. UNCW

17. Stanford

18. Dartmouth

19. Whitman

20. Texas A&M

You don’t end up with much movement, but Dartmouth does move into 18th ahead of Whitman, which would mean the New England Region would get the Northwest’s strength bid. (footnote that’s too important to be a footnote, I ran the top 20 with the preliminary rankings and Whitman was ahead of Dartmouth, then ran it again with the finalized top 20. While Whitman didn’t drop out of the top 18 for the computer, they did drop enough to make a difference here).

So one bid changes hands. While I have Dartmouth ahead of Whitman I hardly think it’s a travesty, since the 17-20 teams are all fairly evenly matched. Looking back to 2012 other than the Whitman forfeit controversy there wasn’t much to gripe about in the end results either. And even then you couldn’t argue with Whitman’s results, just them using the system to their advantage, which is hard to blame them for. 2011 was a bit different, Region strength still accounted for several bids, but the rankings still didn’t give us much to complain about when you looked at the final bid allocation. Yup, other than overranking Florida a bit and Tufts-B[12], the rankings did a stand up job this year. They may not be perfect, but the end results have worked so what’s there to complain about? Why did I even bother writing a Russian novel length post about this? Not so fast my friend. The current system does not do nearly as good a job in Division III.

Division III

It could be that I’ll eat crow after DIII Nationals, but I doubt it so here goes. These computer formula rankings are just messed up. It gets the first few teams right, Kenyon, Bentley, Puget Sound, and Wake Forest. Kenyon has beat Case Western Reserve and Clemson twice. They haven’t lost to any DIII teams and have played many out of region opponents. Puget Sound won DIII Warmup, the tournament featuring many of the top teams from last year’s DIII Nationals. Wake Forest has wins over both Georgetown and George Washington. Bentley has consistently beat their own DIII competition in Bowdoin, Middlebury, Brandeis, and also beat impressive DI teams like Vermont and SUNY-Buffalo. After those top teams though, the rankings start to run into trouble.

SUNY-Geneseo is 12-2, but their resume leaves something to be desired. Their “signature” wins are against Amherst, the 42nd ranked DIII team that went 2-5 at DIII Warmup and SUNY-Fredonia, the 25th ranked team that went 5-4 at the Kentucky Classic, though they did finish second there. They also feature a loss to St. Joseph’s, a team that doesn’t have any notable victories.

Stevens Tech is third, and has a 13-1 record. But once again, they don’t have the kind of wins that you might expect a number 6 team to have. Their most impressive victories are against Dickinson and Lehigh, DIII teams ranked 28th and 33rd respectively.

Meanwhile much stronger teams are on the outside looking in. Carleton College-GOP are the defending DII Champions, made the semis at DIII Warmup going 5-2, and they don’t have any ugly losses. John Brown has played mostly DI competition, beating teams like Arkansas and Texas St. When they played Missouri they only lost 9-11. Claremont may not be a top 5 DIII team this year like they were a couple years ago, but they have still had a relatively impressive season. They went 5-2 at DIII Warmup, finishing second. They didn’t do as well at Trouble in Vegas[14], but their performance at Warmup shows they’re a legitimate DIII contender.

I’d take any of GOP, John Brown, or Claremont over Geneseo or Stevens Tech. So while the computers are working for DI, I don’t think they’re working for DIII. The problem with the human element is that there is so much less coverage of DIII. There’s less game footage, less coverage of DIII teams at tournaments, less talk of who might have missed what tournament and how that impacted the team. Can we still really fairly rank teams? How could you make well thought out rankings given the lack of interaction between some teams, and other variables like so many DIII teams playing tight or loose lines early on in the season? What kind of person would be able to accomplish something of that nature? I’m glad you asked.

These rankings aren’t entirely reflective, based only on past accomplishments, or predictive, based on how I think they’ll perform in the series. It’s a combination of those two factors. I’ll go over teams where there are major discrepancies in the rankings.

Nathan’s Top 25 DIII Teams (USAU Ranking, then Ultiworld Ranking[15] in parentheses)

  1. Puget Sound (2, 1)
  2. St. John’s (8, 10)
  3. Bentley (1, 2)
  4.  Harding (8, 5)
  5. Carleton College-GOP (22, 7)
  6. Middlebury (5, 12)
  7. Wake Forest (4, 8)
  8. Claremont (16, 3)
  9. Pacific Lutheran (14, 6)
  10.  Rice (15, 9)
  11. John Brown (20, NR)
  12. Brandeis (6, 18)
  13. Xavier (9, 25)
  14.  Oberlin (24, NR)
  15. Truman State (12, 16)
  16.  St. Olaf (32, 21)
  17. North Carolina-Asheville (18, 23)
  18. Stevens Tech (3, 4)
  19. Trinity (10, NR)
  20. SUNY-Geneseo (11, 13)
  21.  SUNY-Fredonia (25, 13)
  22. Wentworth (13, NR)
  23. Navy (17, 19)
  24. North Park (21, 15)
  25. Occidental (34, NR)

I have St. John’s ranked higher than USAU or Ultiworld because I’m not really factoring in their Huck Finn results. They were missing a large portion of their team, and the weather was beyond horrible. They did well at Warmup, beating my tenth and eleventh ranked teams, but they did even better at Chicago Invite. Beat a strong Northwestern team, and only lost to Iowa 6-8. Plus, they’re a North Central team. They’re used to playing in the North Central crazy weather that will take place at Nationals.

Ultiworld and I both have GOP rated a lot higher than USAU. They made semis at Warmup, and are the defending champs. It’s really a shame only one of St. John’s and GOP will be going to Nationals[20].

The ratings decaying hurt Claremont’s ranking, but it doesn’t really matter to them since it’s the auto bid anyhow. The ratings place more value on their more recent Vegas tournament, Ultiworld places more value on Warmup[21], I’m somewhere in between.

The USAU formula is a little more skeptical of Rice, but given their track record last year it’s tough to figure out where they’re really at. They made semis at Warmup, which is much more than they accomplished in the regular season last year, where they shocked Harding at Regionals then proved it was no fluke by beating St. John’s at Nationals and making semis.

John Brown doesn’t have the historical track record of a lot of these teams, and I wasn’t at the tournaments they played at so I don’t know what their team looks like. But their results are very strong. Their ranking would be even higher if their win over Arkansas still counted. I’m willing to forgive an Ultimate Point loss to Trinity, since they were playing in a much tougher pool on Saturday and had to exert themselves much more.

I don’t know why Xavier, Oberlin, and Trinity aren’t ranked by Ultiworld. I already went over why I’m less optimistic about Stevens Tech, SUNY-Geneoso, and SUNY-Fredonia. St. Olaf’s USAU ranking is hurt by three of their victories not counting toward the rankings, along with their best loss. And let’s not forget they only lost to GOP by one point at Southerns.

So if you were to go with the Hybrid Method, where human rankings account for ½ of the formula and the computer takes on the other half[22], here’s what the top 25 would look like[23] and the bid distribution.

  • Puget Sound                   Auto Bid
    Bentley                             Auto Bid
    Wake Forest                   Auto Bid
    Harding                           Auto Bid
    Stevens Tech                    Auto Bid
    Middlebury                     Strength Bid
    St.  John’s                        Auto Bid
    Brandeis                          Strength Bid
    Pacific Lutheran             Strength Bid
    Rice                                   Strength Bid
    Claremont                         Auto Bid
    SUNY-Geneseo               Strength Bid
    Truman State                   Strength Bid
    Xavier                                Auto Bid
    Carleton College-GOP
    Trinity
  • Wentworth
  • Navy
    UNC-Asheville
    John Brown
    North Park                        Auto Bid
    SUNY-Fredonia
    Oberlin
    St. Olaf
    Bowdoin

Georgia College                       Auto Bid

This changes the rankings a bit, the Northwest gets a bid from New England, but that’s the only bid that ultimately changes hands. By combining the two different human rankings you essentially water each of them down, so the impact is limited. That’s probably a good thing, since it means outliers have less impact on the rankings.

The North Central is still left on the outside looking in on strength bids. GOP is ranked 6 on average between me and Ultiworld, but that’s not quite enough to average out their poor ranking by the computer.

So with that I leave you. The hybrid bid system is fun to play around with but it’s not like it’s going to move things around much. It didn’t do so at all in Division 1, and it moved one bid in Division III. I guess I didn’t really determine which method is best. Other than USAU deciding to let me choose everything, which is clearly the best strategy but one that probably has less than 50% chance of happening, I think the hybrid system is one that would work best. We’d need to make sure we held voters to high standards, and limited the number of voters though. I know that with more votes outliers would have less impact, but I’d be worried about how educated voters were instead of voting based on reputation. So I’d give half the weight to the formula, 1/6 to Skyd (they’d need to expand their rankings beyond top ten), 1/6 to Ultiworld, and then 1/6 to Ben Wiggins. Why Ben Wiggins you ask? Well he seems like he really has his shit together, and he hasn’t let me down yet[24].


[1] Astronaut Rafael was the top dog. He couldn’t be beat. Even after he lost his right arm. Meanwhile Michelangelo’s winning percentage couldn’t have been higher than 15%.

[2] 20 years later I’m almost ashamed to admit the categories. For hitters it was batting average, HR, and RBI. For pitchers it was Wins, K, and ERA. 6 year old Nathan had yet to discover sabermetrics, or even walks.

[3] I’m not going to try to explain Fraquetball in this post. If you want you can visit fraquet.tripod.com

[4] 208

[5] I’m not smart enough to come up with a better one. In the last seven years I’ve taken one math class, though I did get an A, for whatever that’s worth.

[6] I’m aware that most roster issues are paperwork related, not ineligible players related, but the point remains the same. Should the teams that beat the roster violators really be punished?

[7] Even me.

[8] For the purposes of the rest of this entry I’m not counting teams that have had all their results disqualified, but I am counting games they’ve played against other teams in my own yet to come subjective rankings.

[9] 18 was chosen since that’s the cutoff point. Anyone after that didn’t earn a bid for their region.

[10] Other than the fact that Tufts-B is ranked 34th. Can anyone explain this? What’s going on? I DON’T UNDERSTAND!!!

[11] Sorry Skyd, you only do top 10 so you don’t make the cut.

[12] Seriously, I know it hasn’t been long, but this is still driving me crazy. 34th! Oh, and since I wrote this an article has been published on Skyd about the magical 34th place Tufts-B team.

[13] Honestly, how did that happen?

[14] I never have any idea how seriously to take results from Vegas. I mean, it’s a bunch of college kids hanging out in Vegas for the weekend with their best friends. Are any of them actually focused on Ultimate during that weekend?

[15] Ultiworld has Kenyonranked fourth, since they’re going DI I moved everyone else in their rankings up 1 and put Xavier in at #25 based on the writer’s comments.

[20] Or maybe neither of them will. I’m also allowing for that possibility.

[21] And I’m assuming they haven’t even seen Claremont’s results from Vegas, or else they really wouldn’t be third.

[22] Computer is the tiebreaker.

[23] Based on comments I put Xavier down as #26 for Ultiworld, and then ranked my remaining teams based on their USAU rating. Not perfect I know.

[24] It warrants mentioning that I’ve never met Ben Wiggins, nor do I anticipate meeting him at any point in my life. But doesn’t he seem like he’s got his shit together? I trust him way more than Tyler Kinley or Lou Burruss. Not sure why that is, it just is.

Posted in 2013 College Ultimate | 5 Comments

Rewind

So HUX happened. It was kind of a while ago. But I had some other stuff going on. I ran a half marathon, did some school stuff, and didn’t find the time to write a recap. But rest easy, now I have. But what can I tell you about HUX 2013 that you haven’t already heard from those who do not lie[1]? Probably a few lies I suppose.

Friday night I found hanging out in Conway for the first time in quite a while. Dom was hosting the alum and current team at a party on Friday night, and the only important take away from the party is that we threw Matt Adams in the fountain after midnight. That involved carrying him something like four miles to the fountain. Saturday morning I woke up early to bring cones to the fields[2], and with our first round bye most of the alum watched the Alum and Some Women’s team play Hendrix. The women had picked up a couple league players along with a good chunk of the UCA team, so they were pretty strong. They jumped out to a quick lead against the Sugar Gliders, though Micah was all over the place early. There were a couple points when she was getting the disc every other throw, breaking the opposing zone. But the Alum and Some team had much more effective hucks, and were dominating the field position game. They were ahead 9-5, seemingly cruising toward a first round win. But the Gliders started to fight back, and had a couple other handlers step up to make for a more balanced offense. With Alum and Some leading 9-8 I had to leave for the men’s first round game, and the Hendrix comeback came up short, with Alum and Some winning 12-10.

Our game was against Midwestern State. They were from somewhere in Texas. Wichita maybe? Who knows? Nobody knows[3]!  Anyhow, we were about to flip for color. I saw they were wearing a maroonish color, and most of us were wearing orange. But I was wearing white. So I told Midwestern State to say that we flipped for color and that I lost so I wouldn’t have to change. In my defense I was wearing orange shorts, and didn’t feel like going double orange so early in the day. But yeah, basically I made everyone on my team switch so I wouldn’t have to. Sue me. We played Midwestern State, they weren’t very good, we won 13-4.

Our next game was against Tulsa. Last year we played Tulsa and won 13-8. I have played Tulsa many times, and lost zero times. Losing to Tulsa just doesn’t happen. They’re Tulsa. They’re the fun team that’s never quite as good as us. I think I probably view the Tulsa Ultimate team the same way Harding views Hendrix. Anyhow, we lost to Tulsa. They threw zone, we’d break their zone and then people on our team would make terrible decisions near the end zone. If you turn it over on the end zone line eight times[4] like we did you’re probably not going to win the game. I played a fair amount in the Tulsa game, and given my strained hip flexor I was not feeling very good afterward, especially given that we lost. We had one more game before our game against Hendrix, against our old foes, Oklahoma State Ultimato. Well, I suppose the OK State Alum team would be our old foes, not the current team.

Oklahoma State and Hendrix have a storied history[5]. First, I’d like to say that when we played their team this year they seemed like good people. They were nice, and their boombox actually provided some good music for our game. Some Wu-Tang, Lupe, NaS, Macklemore, the works. But once upon a time Ultimato was not held in high regard by this writer. Our games were contentious. We didn’t get along with them my freshman year (2006-2007) but it got a lot worse my sophomore year. We played them at HUX, and they actually dared to challenge us to play pokey instead of flipping. They said they had a champion, and before their player got in the circle he mentioned that he’d played dozens of times and only lost once. Once Abram got in the circle, their player shouted in horror, “that’s the guy I lost to!” To Ultimato’s credit, it was the longest I’d seen anyone last in pokey against Abram. The game had a lot of calls, mostly from Ultimato. At one point Neil pulled to them, it landed in their end zone, and he got a layout Callahan[6]. By the end both Oklahoma and Rhodes had come over to watch and cheer us on. We won 12-11. Despite the fact that they lost they still made a highlight video using a bunch of footage from this game, neglecting to mention among their pithy comments that they in fact lost the game. Anyhow, we were in their pool once again at Sectionals. We were playing for third place in the pool, after losing to Arkansas and Kansas State. The winner would be in the 6th place bracket, still alive for a Regionals bid come Sunday, and the loser would be relegated to the tenth place bracket. We played a really tight rotation, as I recall there were 2 non V-Lines called, and we won 12-9[7]. After getting eliminated by Harding on Sunday we ended up playing them again on Sunday. This time the lines were much more open, since the season had essentially already ended. On a related note we lost that game 8-15. They were really excited about it. Next up on the Oklahoma State-Hendrix rivalry train was a game at High Tide in 2010. We’d gone almost two years without playing them once. The bad blood that once existed had largely dissipated. It being High Tide and a co-ed tournament, there were fewer opportunities for the two teams to blow up at one another. They won 11-6. We played them again in the 11th place game at Sectionals. This time it was the two men’s teams going at one another, in the last game of the season, the last game of my college career. I talked about how important the game was, how you want to end a season, I was pretty much a man possessed. After losing to Miner Threat I was pretty pissed and there was no way I was ending my Hendrix Ultimate career with a loss. One of their players kept talking about his 40 inch vertical. They hucked it to him a lot. William d’d it a lot. We got ahead 12-2, started calling silly lines and won 15-7.

But this was a different Ultimato team obviously. There were no players left from the bad blood days of 2008, and not even that many players left from Sectionals at 2010. I wanted to rest for the Hendrix game to make sure that I’d be able to play a respectable number of points before my body betrayed me. We lost a quick game, made quicker by telling them that they’d won even though they’d only scored 12 points and there was still plenty of time left in the round.

The Hendrix game is the one that mattered, losing to Tulsa would hurt a little less as long as we beat Hendrix. Last year we lost to them 11-13[8]. The game started off with some spirit games, pokey[9], and the Alum absolutely winning the cheer, courtesy of Colin Hoy and his full body squirrel suit[10]. Last year Hendrix didn’t have any freshmen, but this year they did a better job recruiting and retaining rookies, and they made sure that their rookies got playing time[11]. The game started off with Hendrix having the upper hand, gaining the early 6-3 lead. Most of their points came on hucks to Erik. That can be a pretty effective offense, but after it was working early they started forcing it to him and we started putting better defensive matchups on him. Luke and Abram were working hard in the middle for us, and Hendrix had a hard time shutting them down. Whenever they tried zone defense it was short lived. The highlight point was probably when Ernest put up a ridiculous hammer to the break side at their end zone and Luke made a ridiculous catch for the point. The disc was curving away from him, and I’m still not really sure how he caught it. There were a few very long points, one in which Chompho got 3 d’s in the end zone for Hendrix. But with a deeper bench the Alum ended up winning 13-8. So Saturday wasn’t a complete waste. I was able to play all but a few points in this game, thanks to taking it easy during the Ultimato game. We ended up 2-2 on Saturday, tied with Hendrix and Tulsa. With point differential we actually finished second in the pool, but that really didn’t matter since we’d be playing in the club team pool on Sunday anyhow.

Saturday night was fun. I got a concrete from Shakes. I didn’t get very much sleep. I convinced Colin Hoy that if he wanted to win the party he had to stay up til 5:30 am. I literally dragged him out of bed at a few hours later, but he scurried back to bed. I got to the fields in time, and our game against the College of Ozarks started. We were playing very lethargic Ultimate in this first round. Luckily they were really bad at Ultimate. We forced something close to 0 turnovers. After scoring to make the game 13-8, we started to line up. They then flipped out, yelling about how it was a game to 15, not 13. We’d taken half at 7, so this did come as a surprise. I didn’t play as much this game, probably only about 40-50% of the points. Next we played Fayetteville HS, Darkside. They were a more disciplined team, and had a couple strong players that I recognized from Fayetteville Winter League. We usually threw zone against them, forcing their less experienced players to make more throws, which resulted in more turnovers. We managed to not play terribly this game, winning 13-8. After playing more in this game the hip flexor injury I’d been pretending didn’t exist was starting to get a lot worse, so I took a break afterward. I went over to watch the Alum and Some women’s team play in the semis. They’d gone 4-0 on Saturday, beating Nebraska, Harding, Hendrix, and Lipscomb. Their closest game had been against Hendrix, who only went 1-3. Alum and Some had beat Harding 13-4 on Saturday, but fell behind 0-6 on Sunday[12] thanks to Harding’s zone. Then they decided to throw zone, and went on a run themselves. The game started to hinge on transition offense, with Alum and Some having better hucks that went further, regardless of the wind. Alum and Some won an occasionally heated game 12-10. Since they qualified for the championship game as an unsanctioned team, there was a big discussion about whether they should be allowed to play, with some people saying that they were taking away Harding’s chance at playing Oklahoma in the final[13]. They let Harding play in the final, and their win got reported as a loss. I came back to the Hendrix game to play the last few points against the St. Louis team. They were really good at acting incredulous and indignant. At one point I was about to get a d in the end zone, jumped off my bad leg only to find that I literally couldn’t get any lift off of it. I stayed glued to the ground. They scored. Despite only playing four points in a 6-9 loss I still managed to want to get in a fight with one of their players. So pretty much par for the course.

And that was HUX 2013[14].


[1] Speaking of liars, Ben Lownik backed out of HUX 2013 at the last minute because he “got a job in DC.” Yeah right. Oh wait, he did? No way. On a related note, I’ve set a new, somewhat lower bar as a career goal; never move to DC. Everybody is moving there, but I refuse. I don’t care how many job opportunities that would make sense are available for me there.

[2] If anybody from Hendrix is reading this, I really do need those cones back.

[3] How many inside jokes can I fit into one blog post? Who knows? Nobody knows!

[4] Yes, I counted. It was hard not to count if that makes sense. It doesn’t? Well it does to me.

[5] This whole gigantic paragraph should probably be a footnote since it’s not about HUX 2013 at all, but oh well.

[6] They said he wasn’t in when he landed. He was. Regardless he threw a point for a score.

[7] I actually only played three points this game. I’m not complaining though, since we won, and my defense was even more porous back then. I was a complete and total liability on that side of the disc.

[8] History of Hendrix vs. Alum: 2006-Hendrix wins, 2007-Alum win 13-11 after a bunch of Hendrix players have to leave early, 2008-Hendrix wins 11-7 (should have won by more) against the worst alum team ever, 2009-Hendrix wins 9-8 overcoming terrible calls by #1 Stunna and Joe, 2010-Alum beat the split Hendrix squads, so it really doesn’t count, 2011-Alum win 13-5 with one of the best alum teams assembled.

[9] Abram won, shockingly.

[10] Though he did drop the perfect layout pass, I somehow managed to forgive him.

[11] Though it’s not like they had much of a choice I guess, their solid vets are Cornbread, Spencer, Cabrera, Chompho, Erik, Fullerton (injured), and Lance. On a related note, Hendrix Alum 2014 edition is going to go undefeated. I’m serious. They better let us play in the championship bracket.

[12] Somebody messed up the women’s bracket, since Harding should have been on the other side. Amateur hour at Hendrix once again.

[13] But nobody bothered to ask Oklahoma who they’d rather play. They might have wanted a competitive game after absolutely crushing everyone the whole weekend. Instead they beat Harding 13-3. Thank goodness Harding played that game instead of against Drury in the third place game, which might have actually been a competitive game for them.

[14] Oh, and Harding beat Oklahoma State in the final, just like I predicted.

Posted in HUX 2013 | Leave a comment

Can’t Forget About You

All right, the women’s side of the bracket is smaller as usual, but with nine teams it’s one of the biggest turnouts HUX has ever had on the women’s side. There are some strong teams at the top, and then some teams where this will be their first tournament together.

Pool A

Nebraska

Hendrix

Harding

Lipscomb

Hendrix Alum

Looking at results from 2012, Nebraska is the class of this pool. Though Nebraska didn’t participate in the series, they beat Princeton 9-5, a team that narrowly beat Hendrix at DIII Nationals in Appleton. This is their first tournament of 2013 though, so it can’t be said for sure what level they’ll be playing at this weekend. They’re in a pool of DIII teams though, and they should be able to get through pool play undefeated.

Hendrix Sugar Gliders had the most successful season in their history in 2012. Winning a couple games at Sectionals, going over .500 at HUX, and qualifying and playing at DIII Nationals in Appleton. They followed that up in the fall by going undefeated on Saturday at Itchfest, a tournament that the Sugar Gliders traditionally greatly struggle at. However, they did graduate a strong class, and have three juniors abroad this semester that were playing in the fall. That includes two of their players that with Club experience that were playing at Regionals in the fall. This will be Hendrix’s second tournament of the season, so they have already started playing with their revamped roster. At Mardi Gras Hendrix had  some good games and some disappointing games. They beat LSU and Texas-Arlington, but lost to Arkansas[1] and a Mississippi St team they should have beat. I don’t know if Hendrix can hang with Nebraska, but the rest of the games  in this pool are definitely winnable.

Harding didn’t go to Mardi Gras, but they did play at Big D in Little d, beating LSU and losing the rest of their games, including an 11-13 loss to Arkansas and a 5-7 loss to Texas-Arlington. Harding should play Hendrix tough, and if history is any sort of guide that will be a very close game. They played several times last year, Hendrix usually coming out on top but not always.

Lipscomb is a rookie team, I don’t have anything to say about them other than I expect them to finish fifth in their pool.

Then you have the Hendrix Alum team. What they lack in depth they make up for in skill. Unfortunately they’re missing out on a lot of the top women alumnae from Sugar Glider lore, but they still have a few players that would be stronger than anybody else’s team. The question for the alum is whether or not they’ll be able to build any sort of cohesion. There’s never been a women’s alum team in Hendrix history, so it might take a while to figure out how they want to play. Unfortunately they won’t have any warm up games, since in the first round they’ll be playing Hendrix. If I had to guess I’d bet on a very close game, with the Sugar Gliders jumping out to an early lead and the Alumnae crawling back into the game late. And of course I’m predicting a comeback victory for the alum. I think they’ll take care of Lipscomb in the second round, then lose to Nebraska. The key game for them will be against Harding as well. If they win, they’ll be the 2 seed and have a relatively easy path to the semis. If they lose they may not even end up in the championship bracket. The question is whether there will be enough gas in the tank for this team. We’ll see. I’m a little skeptical. The talent is there, but I’m not sure they have the depth or enough will to win that late in the day.

So for Pool A I’m predicting a three way tie for second place, with Harding, Hendrix, and Hendrix Alum all finishing 2-2. Point differential will be determining who gets left on the outside looking in on Sunday.

Pool B

Oklahoma

Arkansas

Drury

Rhodes

For Pool B we have two solid DI programs, and two very new DIII teams. The Rhodes women have never played at a tournament together, while Drury has but they were unable to score more than 6 in any game last year at HUX. I’m predicting this pool shakes out much cleaner than Pool A, with Oklahoma winning it, Arkansas finishing second, Rhodes finishing third, and Drury finishing fourth. The difference between finishing second and third in Pool A will be that if you finish second, you play Rhodes in the first round on Sunday. If you finish third, you play Arkansas. So point differential definitely matters in Pool A.

That’d bring us to bracket play[2]. I’m predicting the Hendrix Alum take care of Rhodes, while Harding plays Arkansas tough, but falling just short. Arkansas beats Nebraska while Oklahoma takes down the Alum, bringing us a Pool B rematch that Oklahoma wins.


[1] If anybody knows the score to that game they should report it, because right now it’s essentially counting as a 0-13 loss for Hendrix.

[2] By the way, I’m assuming they’re doing a 6 team championship bracket 3 team consolation pool play. Not sure if they are, but it is what I’m assuming so we’re going with that.

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2nd Childhood

Well it’s that time of year again, HUX 2013 is just about upon us. This of course means that I got injured in the two weeks leading up to the tournament.  So I’ll be playing in less than ideal health. And a less than ideal number of points. For some reason they don’t schedule HUX around my health though, so the tournament will be going on this weekend. Of course I’ll be playing on the Hendrix Alum team, which has a similar look to last year. Once again we’re missing some of the older crowd, the only pre 2008 graduate that signed up is Sean, but I think we have an even stronger team this year. And considering last year we went 5-1, we have a good chance at performing even better this year. We’ve picked up four 2012 grads (Ernest, Matt, Will, Colin) and Luke is making the trip this year from Colorado.  We will be missing AMERICA!, Jones and the GZA[1] this year, but the extra help should more than make up for it. Plus I think Jones only played in two of our games last year, and we lost one of those. Last year RZA was present but unable to play, this year his cleats will be laced up. And though Ben won’t be playing, I’m sure his heckling skills aren’t too rusty.

Since I last wrote an Ultimate post I’ve played at Jingle Bell Hell[2], started playing Winter League in Fayetteville[3], and ran and played in Disc-Combobulated, a hat tournament at Burns Park[4]. It’s all been a lot of fun, but HUX is always another level of fun. And for the first time ever, there will be a Sugar Gilder Alumnae team. Though they’ll be missing a lot of the women that usually show up for the alum team, with a few of the 2012 grads signed up and a couple pickups they’ll be a solid squad. With a captain trio of Liz, Olivia, and Reena, the women’s alum team has more former captains signed up than the men’s alum team does. Now that you’re up to speed let’s get to some prognostication, half hearted as it may be.

Pool A

Harding

Lipscomb

Brick City (St. Louis Club)

SW Baptist University

Harding-B

We’ve got two developing college teams, one elite DIII team, another DIII team, and some people that have a strange desire to play at a college tournament in February. Clearly Harding is the class of this pool, and we’ll see if Lipscomb is able to put 6 up against them, but I wouldn’t count on it. They played at Itchfest in October and Harding only won 13-8, but with no other competitive games on Saturday Apocalypse will be able to focus in on that game, and I’m expecting a 13-5 victory. Harding comes into HUX having had something of a down T-Town tournament, going 3-5, their best game probably being a 15-17 loss to Alabama. Harding is the overall one seed and favorite to win the tournament, though they’ve only ever won HUX once (2011). Every other year they’ve played they finished second.

The South Central DIII picture isn’t totally clear yet. After last year you’d expect Harding and Rice to be the main contenders, and on the periphery Air Force, Truman State, and maybe Hendrix. Rice didn’t exactly tear it up at DIII Warmup in California, but they got a few wins including one over a pretty strong Pacific Lutheran team. If I had to guess I’d say the South Central ends up with two bids (Rice and Harding) but there’s always a chance Truman or Air Force could add another one.

Anyhow, I’ve got this pool going to seed other than Harding B taking down SW Baptist.

Pool B

Missouri St

Drury

Rhodes

College of the Ozarks

Wash U-B

This will be Missouri St’s first tournament of the spring, and they might end up with a couple competitive games in this pool. Though Rhodes had a bad tournament at Mardi Gras, losing to Kansas B and Florida C, I expect them to bounce back a bit here. They’ll take care of the lower teams in the pool no problem, and I see them beating Drury to qualify for the championship bracket, and that’s really the game to watch in this pool. They had a number of guys play at the hat tournament, and it was clear that they have some dedicated and talented players.  Plus, I underestimated them at HUX last year, when they beat Drury 15-14 in the quarterfinals and put up six against Harding in the semis. Last year Drury had a good run at HUX until they lost to Rhodes, beating Little Rock and Nebraska. Their time at Midwest Throwdown wasn’t as successful though, and like Rhodes they chose not to participate in the series. Missouri State takes care of everyone in this pool, and I don’t know what happens between the Flycats and Contra B. I’ll say the Flycats take it.

Pool C

Oklahoma State

Central Arkansas

Tulsa

Fayetteville HS

Trinity-B

Oklahoma State and Central Arkansas both had fairly successful weekends at Big D in Little d. Ultimato beat Baylor and Texas-B. While Abduction’s wins aren’t as impressive, they beat a couple B teams and Trinity, their losses were much more impressive. They lost to Texas St 11-13, Arkansas 8-13, and Missouri 13-14. The game to watch is definitely the 1 v 2 matchup here, and I think it’ll be competitive. Abduction is better than they were last year, and might be ready to get over the hump and beat some legitimate DI competition this weekend. Oklahoma St will provide a good test. Last year when these teams played Oklahoma State won 15-7 and 11-2. This year it will be closer. I’m going with Oklahoma State, but I’m betting on a close game. Darkside is playing with the college kids this weekend, and if anyone takes them lightly they shouldn’t. They’ve got players with club experience, playing with the Fayetteville mixed team Robot Unicorn Attack this summer, and they play winter league in Fayetteville too. They’ve got athleticism, and while they won’t be able to take down Oklahoma State and Central Arkansas, I see them beating Tulsa. Hopefully Trinity-B is able to score 6 points in one of these games, but I doubt it happens.

Pool D

Hendrix

Trinity

Dallas

Midwestern State

Hendrix Alum

The strongest pool from 1-5, though Pool C may be the strongest pool 1-4. Hendrix lost a lot of cutters last year, though strangely retained almost all of their handlers. They’ve gotten younger too, having recruited a solid freshman class. They had a fairly strong Mardi Gras tournament, going 5-2, but  their wins were mostly against weak teams, with the exception of Texas-B. Meanwhile Trinity had a decent showing at Big D in Little d, similar to UCA not many quality victories but some quality losses, losing to Arkansas 11-13 and UCA 10-13[5]. Hendrix also played Arkansas at Mardi Gras, losing 4-13. The Trinity-Hendrix match is one of several intriguing games in this pool. Dallas hasn’t played yet this season, and after a fairly strong second year as a program in 2011, they really fell off last year. They only got two wins at HUX, against Haas Hall Academy[6] and Missouri St. B. They had one more lackluster performance and then didn’t participate in the series. Midwestern State didn’t participate in the series last year either, and only notched one win at Big D in Little d 2012, against North Texas B. I don’t think either Dallas or Midwestern State can hang with Hendrix or Trinity, but they’ll be able to put some points (5-7) on the board against each of them. That leaves us with the Hendrix Alum team, the biggest wildcard in the pool. I could see us going 4-0, but I could also see us going 0-4. You might think I’d split the difference and say 2-2, but I’m saying we go 4-0 and finish undefeated on the weekend[7]. That leaves the Hendrix-Trinity game to call. I’m going to go ahead and say Trinity wins.

That leaves us with bracket play. The top two college teams advance to the championship bracket, bottom two go to the consolation bracket, and the other teams disappear into the phantom zone[8]. Not sure how seeding is going to work so predictions are tough, but here’s the top eight college teams:

Harding

Lipscomb

Missouri St

Rhodes

Oklahoma State

UCA

Trinity

Hendrix

I’m going to go ahead and guess that Harding, Oklahoma State, UCA, and Missouri State advance to the semis[9], with Harding beating Mizzou State in the finals[10]. If you care about such things, whatever team finishes third in Pool B wins the consolation bracket, and Darkside goes 3-0 on Sunday because they weren’t up til 4 am like all the other teams in the Sunday pool will be. Wow, this finish was anticlimactic. It’s almost like its 1 am and I’m running out of energy. Well, I’m going to try and finish strong with some concluding thoughts anyhow.

Ultimate is changing quickly, already things work a lot differently than when I was in college. The separation between DI and DIII is much bigger now, since there are entirely different postseasons for them. And frankly, a lot of people in college Ultimate have yet to realize this change, and are lagging behind. HUX is on the same weekend as the Free State Classic again this year, a tournament that is further north, yet still draws better teams. This is partly because of proximity for some teams, but also because of the competition. HUX is never going to draw Kansas State, Arkansas, and Oklahoma like it has in some years past. What it should do is embrace the kind of teams that are signing up, DIII teams. Already 9 of the 16 teams at HUX are DIII, then two DIII B teams, and a DIII alum team. Then you’ve got a few club teams, a few DI college teams, and a couple other less notable teams. My point is, HUX is already starting to look like a DIII tournament. This isn’t a bad thing, it’s a good thing. Why not make it exclusively DIII? If HUX advertised itself as a DIII event, I’m betting they’d make up for losing those three DI teams with even more DIII teams. Truman State, Missouri S&T, John Brown, Grinnell, North Park, Air Force and GOP are all playing at Free State Classic with some of the big DI teams this weekend. They should all be at HUX instead. Instead of trying to compete for every team with Free State Classic, give up on the DI teams. Most of them won’t come to HUX anyhow. If HUX were exclusively a DIII tournament, it’d instantly be one of the top pre-series DIII events in the country. All of a sudden it’s newsworthy (as far as Ultimate news goes). You advertise to DIII teams. Play it up on Skyd. Now HUX isn’t just another tournament, it’s a premier DIII tournament, and at least becomes a preview for SC DIII Regionals. Let’s take a look at what a parallel universe DIII HUX 2013 would look like[11].

Pool A

Harding

Trinity

Lipscomb

John Brown

Tulsa

Midwestern State

Pool B

Hendrix

Missouri S&T

Rhodes

Drury

Dallas

Hendrix Alum

That’s the conservative estimate, here’s the optimistic estimate:

Pool A

Harding

Missouri S&T

Lipscomb

Midwestern State

Pool B

North Park

Trinity

John Brown

Dallas

Pool C

Truman State

Hendrix

Drury

Hendrix Alum

Pool D

Air Force

Grinnell

Rhodes

Tulsa

And that’s not that far outside the realm of possibility.  Wouldn’t this be neat? If they’d done it this year, they’d be ahead of the curve. Next year some other college in the area might get this idea too, but there’s clearly a need that should be filled here. DIII teams want to play DIII teams to get ready for the series. If you choose the date early, get Harding to commit and publicize, I bet you start getting DII teams from all over to sign up. It’d be a leap of faith, but I think it’d definitely be worth it[12].


[1] Yeah, I’m going back and forth between using just first names and nicknames. Get used to it.

[2] We had some Little Rock people and some pickup people. We were ok, had fun, my cleats jingled most of the time, even if I needed to retie them about 4 times per game.

[3] I’m playing on the Red team, the weeks I’ve shown up we’re 7-1, we’re 7-3 overall (it does bear mentioning that Jones and Olivia, both teammates, also missed the week I missed). They’ll have to overcome the challenge of not having the Little Rock contingent again this week but I think when it comes to the tournament we’ll be the top team.

[4] I may have inadvertently reverse stacked (is that a thing?) my team, we went 0-4, though three of those games were close. We had eight teams, over 100 people registered. The final was pretty entertaining, 13-12 and Little Rock Ultimate made a good chunk of change.

[5] What happened at Big D in Little d? Was the weather crazy? Some unexpected results. Seriously, how does Trinity put up 11 on Arkansas?

[6] A truly awful (sorry, inexperienced) high school team who had no business at a college tournament.

[7] We’re getting relegated to pool play again this year. I don’t want to talk about it.

[8] I never should have started watching Smallville. That was a mistake. Because now I’m having a hard time stopping.

[9] There’s a good chance Mizzou St plays UCA in the quarters, in which case I’d guess Trinity would be the team to make the semis.

[10] Like 2011 all over again!

[11] I’m saying John Brown and Missouri S&T would’ve shown up, both have played at HUX several times before, which is a pretty conservative estimate really. Not only would some of those DIII teams from Free State Classic make the trip, you might have a team like Rice show up too. But for now, in the first year of this fictional universe, we’re playing it conservative. Oh, the one team that this whole DIII plan would suck for would be UCA. There’d be a tournament in their backyard they couldn’t play at. Oh well.

[12] I’ll do a women’s writeup whenever the pools are up for them. Don’t worry, I know you were concerned.

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