Tonight on the car radio, I listened to a debate between WFAN host Richard Neer and some random caller about Mike Mussina's Hall of Fame candidacy. It's an interesting debate, but unfortunately Neer chose to focus mostly on Mussina's W-L record as support for Mussina's election to the Hall. That isn't what this post is about. Toward the end of the segment, Neer said something along the lines of:
"It's impossible to compare players across different eras."
Richard! There are ways to do this! The great although imperfect stats ERA+ and OPS+ are capable of such a comparison. I won't explain these stats too in-depth right now (see the "My Favorite Stats" posts on the top right of this blog for more info), but ERA+ and OPS+ tell us how good a player's ERA and OPS were compared to the league average, adjusting for park factors. Yes, ERA and OPS aren't the end-all be-all statistics for a player, but they are useful to get a general idea of how good a player was during his era. I wish there weren't 101 callers ahead of me on the WFAN phone line or I'd have let my voice be heard.
(side note: I rarely listen to WFAN and have never attempted to call in prior to tonight. I gave in, as I couldn't resist the chance to make snooty comments on live radio about superior baseball statistics.)
***EDIT***: A reader pointed out that perhaps Neer meant it is impossible to know how players would have performed in different eras, i.e. "How would Babe Ruth do if we put him in a time machine and stuck him in the 2008 Yankee lineup?" I guess it is possible that's what he meant. However, I think it's pretty clear such a scenario is impossible and is a pretty pointless thing to say on the radio.