Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Why the Jays Shouldn't Retire Alomar's Jersey

I want to start this off by making this quite clear - growing up Roberto Alomar was may favourite Blue Jay. My dad used to go on and on about how no one had ever played defence like him in the history of the game - I now know he was probably right. Robby was my idol - I wanted to be just like him, I even had those beauty blue and green Cooper batting gloves he is showing off above.

But today when I was driving to work listening to the Fan590, I was slightly surprised and shocked to hear that the Jays would retire his number 12 jersey on July 31 as part of his hall of fame induction ceremony at the Rogers Centre. Don't get me wrong, as a lifelong fan of Robby, knowing his number will never be disgraced by little league caliber defence courtesy of Edwin Encarnacion is a dream come true. But I couldn't help but wonder whether he of all the Jays in our short but glorious history deserved to have his number retired.

The first place I started was the Jays whose names are currently featured in the Level of Excellence at the Dome. Alomar is joined by other position players George Bell, Joe Carter and Tony Fernandez, as well as pitcher Dave Stieb. Among these 5 Players, Alomar has the 4th lowest career WAR with the Jays at 22.2 Wins. Only Joe Carter ranks below him. Dave Stieb ranks the highest with a 49.2 career WAR, Tony Fernandez at 38.4 WAR, and George Bell at 23.5 WAR.

Ok so before you start tearing my argument apart, I am clearly ignoring the one major difference between Alomar and his 4 comrades in the LoE - games played as a Blue Jay. As a Blue Jay Alomar played the fewest games among the position players listed above. So sure, my argument ends there - no he wasn't the most valuable, "but look what he did in such a short time span."

That's what I have always thought too. But unlike a Jays radio broadcast featuring two Grandparents hypothesizing about stats - I have the means to test my theory. Thanks to the wonderful fellas at fangraphs.com, I now know that Devon White posted 1 more career win than Robby did in 50 fewer games, while Fred McGriff posted 1 fewer career win than Robby did in 140 fewer games. Both White and McGriff produced more Wins over their careers as Blue Jays per game than Alomar did.

So there goes that theory I had - which brings me back to my issue with retiring Alomar's number. Again, let me reiterate that I love him as a player - but I can't help but think we are retiring a guy's number simply because he is being inducted into the hall of fame wearing our cap; despite the fact he accumulated over 2/3 of his career WAR playing elsewhere.

That's right - Alomar finished his career with 68 WAR, yet accumulated only 22 of those wins here in Toronto. Sure he was part of the two world series titles, but his contribution to the team only ranks 10th all-time among Blue Jays position players in WAR. In 1992 he only posted 0.2 more wins than Devon White and in 1993 his 6.1 WAR doesn't come remotely close to the 8.4 Wins posted by John Olerud.

As far as my research can show me, I have come to these two conclusions. Roberto Alomar was the most valuable player to ever don a Blue Jays uniform. Roberto Alomar was not the most valuable player to ever don a Blue Jays uniform based on his play with the Jays - actually nowhere remotely close. Based on that, I think the right thing to do was to place his name in the LoE like the club did and honour the fact he was inducted into the HoF like they plan to. But to make his #12 the first number ever to be retired by the TBJ is a slap in the face to 15 players who contributed more (and sometimes far more) value to the Jays than he ever did.


  1. A bit problem with the analysis is the defensive impact of WAR. Fangraphs has him as a slightly below-average second baseman, depressing his WAR total. If you feel as though he truly was a world-class defender you have to adjust your view of straight WAR totals for comparison.

  2. It does seem odd to retire the number of a player who was only with the organization for five years, and whose WAR with the club doesn't even outdistance his contribution to any other club (he had about the same number with Cleveland over just three seasons, according to Baseball Reference). Not to mention the arguments stated above. That said, the Hall selects the logo "based on where a player makes his most indelible mark". As subjective as that sounds, who (other than Tribe fans) remembers Alomar better for his work with the Indians? As far as I'm concerned, if the team is willing to stick with the precedent it is setting and retire the number of any future HOFer elected as a Jay, I'm fine with it.

  3. It's results like Alomar's Total Zone rating that continue to remind us that we have utterly no clue how to measure defence accurately.

  4. Well herein lies the problem with advanced statistics is that they aren't perfect despite many SABR heads beliefs that they are. Who decides when developing these statistics how much value defence is worth compared to offence and thus how do you balance it all in one stat?

  5. My concerns exactly - his contribution to the Jays while significant at the time were not among even the best in his career. What bothers me is would the Jays have retired his number if he wasn't in the HoF (probably not considering when they put his name in the LoE they didn't retire it then) or if he went in with a team other than the Jays (no reason just theory).

    I've been thinking about this and I keep wondering what the Jays would have done had Roger Clemens not been in the 'steroid saga' when he were to retire. He obviously would have been first ballot Cooperstown had he not been indicted. Which then poses the question would the Jays have retired his number? He too was very valuable when he was here, HoF, yet produced the majority of his success elsewhere.

  6. Fact.

    But seriously this is why the "old school" scouts and coaches don't buy into so much of the mathematical analysis of things like defence when someone like Alomar has a poor Total Zone rating. Anybody who knows anything about baseball knows that Roberto Alomar may be one of the greatest defensive baseball players ever.