Monday, January 31, 2005
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Who belongs in the Hall of Fame? Should the players who are there really be there? More importantly, what standards should be used to determine whether someone belongs in the Hall of Fame?
Fortunately for those of us who love to yuck it up about baseball, the Hall of Fame rules provide a blessedly ambiguous statement about what voters should consider:
"Voting shall be based upon the player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played."
The question of who should be in the Hall of Fame was one the seeds that launched the idea for Church of Baseball. And the Hall of Fame will come up frequently in our posts.
The recent election of Wade Boggs and Ryne Sandberg to the Hall of Fame affords us a unique opportunity to start our discussion. Why? Boggs and Sandberg are perhaps polar opposites as players with respect to the likely reasons behind their selections. And this raises some interesting questions about the standards that apply to Hall of Fame contenders.
It's a Hit
More than anything else, Boggs is in the Hall of Fame because of his remarkable eye and effective swing. As a pure hitter Boggs was easily one of the best. Let's review:
Boggs is a career.328 hitter (#34 all time), had 3,010 hits (#23 all time), had 578 doubles (#15 all time), a .415 OBP (#26 all time) and was on base 4,445 times (#18 all time).
Boggs' lifetime statistics are even more impressive when he is compared to contemporary players. When compared to players who retired after 1950, Boggs' performance as a pure hitter really stands out: He rises to #4 behind Ted Williams, Tony Gwynn and Stan Musial for batting average, up to #16 for hits, #9 for doubles and on base percentage and #12 for times on base.
Boggs also holds the AL records for consecutive seasons with 200 or more hits (7) and for consecutive seasons leading in intentional walks (6). And his 3,000th hit was a home run. He is the only player with that distinction.
Boggs' hitting statistics are even more impressive when considering that his great years were in the 80s - not a decade like the 90s, which was a veritable boon for offensive play. He hit over .350 five times in the 80s - and he only played from 1982. No one hit more than .330 three times (Puckett) in the 1980s except for Boggs - 6 times. In fact, in the 80s his batting average never slipped below .325. He led the league in on-base percentage from 1983 to 1989 (except for 1984, where he held the #2 spot), and he led the league in batting 5 times.
In the 90s, Boggs slowed down, hitting above .330 only twice and falling below .300 three times. His offensive dominance as a pure hitter dissipated, although he was still dangerous, hitting .332 in 1991, .342 in 1994, .324 in 1995 and a respectable .311 in 1996.
Boggs had great plate discipline, which resulted in his racking up 4 seasons with 100+ walks and never striking out more than 68 times in a season. In fact, he walked nearly twice as much as he struck out.
But Wade Boggs, for all of his hitting prowess, had a number of deficiencies. He was slow (but smart) on the base-path. This limited his ability to capitalize on his hitting prowess. With his average and on base percentage, one automatically thinks of Boggs as being a classic lead-off or #2 hitter. But lack of speed kept him from being exactly what you look for there.
And Boggs never hit for real power (Boggs' doubles numbers are impressive, but he played a good long time at Fenway). Boggs went through his career thinking that the homers would come, but they rarely did. Imagine Boggs with real pop in his bat.
Early in his career Boggs was a mediocre fielder at best. Long work rectified that, and he eventually won two Gold Gloves.
Boggs also never came truly close to winning an MVP, coming in #4 in the voting in 1985. This reflected the fact that Boggs was never a real team leader. He certainly contributed greatly to the teams on which he played, but he pretty much did his job, and not much else. And he never produced a lot of RBIs, although his lifetime .344 batting average with runners in scoring position demonstrate that Boggs could produce. (Keep in mind that Boggs' job was rarely to produce runs.)
Oh yes; and Boggs' affair did not do him well in the press.
In short, one aspect of Boggs' game got him into the Hall of Fame. The other aspects of his play and his character didn't hurt him (much), but they didn't really help all that much either. Gold Gloves are nice, but if he never won one, I doubt he would have had trouble getting into the Hall of Fame.
Should one or two dimensional players be in the Hall of Fame, even if their performance in those limited areas is exceptional?
Could be a Double, Could go All the Way
Sandberg is in the Hall of Fame for a completely different reason. Sandberg was the dominant offensive and defensive second baseman of his day in the National League and probably in major league baseball.
Sandberg was no pure hitter, but he hit well. He had a respectable batting average for his era, but never reached higher than #4 on the leader board, with a career high .314 batting average. His on base percentage was not quite as respectable, but solid. He kept his strikeouts fairly low, and maintained a decent strikeout to walk ratio.
Sandberg also had speed, routinely stealing over 20 bases a year and 54 in 1984. He also scored over 100 runs in 7 seasons - same as Boggs, though in fewer seasons. And Sandberg hit for power, racking up 403 doubles, 76 triples and 282 home runs (he hit more than 25 home runs in 6 seasons, and a league leading 40 in 1990).
Sandberg stood out defensively. He won the NL Gold Glove from 1983 to 1991.
Sandberg also garnered respect and was recognized for the value he brought to his team. In 1984, Sandberg won the NL MVP, and reached #4 in the voting two more times.
Why is Sandberg in the Hall of Fame? He's there because he was the premiere second baseman in the National League (and probably all of baseball) - and a five category player who did everything well.
So what's the downside? Well, Sandberg doesn't really stand out all that much, except for his stellar defensive work. Put Sandberg's offensive numbers against, say Jim Rice's (who was not elected into the Hall of Fame) and you can see a big difference. And what about Dale Murphy (who won two MVPs and five Gold Gloves)?
This is not to say that Rice or Murphy were better than Sandberg or that they belong in the Hall of Fame. The point here is that while there is no doubt Sandberg was a great player, there is doubt as to whether he was better than others playing the game around the same time he did.
No one aspect of Sandberg's game got him into the hall of fame. If he had a lifetime .240 average, had no real pop in his bat and had average speed, I'm not sure we would be talking about Sandberg in the Hall of Fame, even with his defensive prowess.
Should a very good, five category player be in the Hall of Fame?
Here's another perspective.
The Yankee Clipper was voted into the Hall of Fame in 1955. (In his third year of eligibility!)
DiMaggio won three MVP awards, was batting champ twice, led the league in home runs twice, led the league in RBIs twice and struck out only 8 more times than he hit home runs while playing in a pitchers park all of his career (center-left field 457'). His walks to strikeout ratio is better than 2 to 1. DiMaggio owns a remarkable hitting streak of 56 consecutive games, which has been a record for over 60 years. DiMaggio had great speed on the basepath, and would have stolen lots of bases, had he played in an era when stealing bases was valued. DiMaggio's defensive play was outstanding. His career numbers should include a recognition that he lost 3 peak years to World War II.
DiMaggio was on the leader board in just about every category in almost every year he played. He either won or was in the top ten voting for the MVP in 10 of the 13 seasons he played.
Here's what they say at BaseballLibrary.com: "The Yankee Clipper could do everything well. He may have been the best all-around player ever, with a generous dash of class added in. . . . Many experts consider Joe DiMaggio the best player in the history of the game. He is admired not only for his achievements but for his refusal to rest on his natural skills, working instead to constantly improve his play. He was responsible to himself, his teammates, and his fans. He had pride. He was more than an exceptional athlete; he was the consummate professional."
Here's what some of his contemporaries said:
Joe McCarthy (Joe D's manager): "He's the most complete player I have ever seen. He can hit, hit for power, run, throw, and play the outfield." Asked if DiMaggio could bunt: "I'll never know."
Red Ruffing (Pitcher and teammate): "You saw him standing out there and you knew you had a pretty darn good chance of winning the baseball game."
Yoggi Berra (Catcher and teammate): "He never did anything wrong in the field."
DiMaggio brought everything to the game, and then some - discipline, power, speed, production, defense and respect - in great quantities. What Boggs did as a pure hitter, DiMaggio did with every aspect of his game. What Sandberg did with every aspect of the game, DiMaggio did better (or just as well).
Is it fair to compare Boggs and Sandberg to someone who probably should be considered one of the 10 or 15 greatest players ever to have played the game?
Do Boggs and Sandberg deserve to be in the Hall of Fame?
Do they deserve to be in next to DiMaggio, Cobb, Schmidt and Ruth?
I was looking over some individual player statistics the other day a came across something interesting.
I found three guys - Player A, Player B and Player C - whose numbers, I thought, warranted closer examination:
Player A had a pretty good year:
BA: .272; OBP: .377; SLG: .571; Runs: 113; Hits: 156; HR: 44; RBI: 134; BB: 86
Player B also had a pretty good year:
BA: .281; OBP: .391; SLG: .538; Runs: 89; Hits: 160; HR: 39; RBI: 110; BB: 103
Player C hit it out of the park:
BA: .333; OBP: .438; SLG: .630; Runs: 116; Hits: 191; HR: 47; RBI: 148; BB: 127
Player C clearly had the best year of the three. But what about Players A and B? Who had the better year?
Player B had the better pure hitting year - higher average, higher OBP and more walks. But Player A made his hits count more, getting five more home runs, 24 more RBIs and scoring 24 more runs.
So, I'd say Player C had the best year, Player A had the second best year and Player B came in a close third.
Then again. . .
Player A is Carlos Delagado in 1999.
In 1999, Delgado's .272 batting average did not earn him a spot in the top ten of league leaders (Garciaparra led the league at .357 and R. Palmeiro was #10 at .324). Similarly, his OBP (.377) was nowhere near #10 for the league (Garciaparra at .418). Delgado's power (SLG .571) earned him the #8 position for slugging, though he was far behind Manny Ramirez's league leading .663.
Delgado's runs (113) and hits (156) fell short of the #10 spot of the league in both categories (Juan Gonzalez #10 at 114 runs, and Shawn Green #10 at 190 hits). But Delgado's power and production earned him #3 spots for homers and RBIs, behind Griffey and Palmeiro (48 and 47 home runs) and Ramirez and Palmeiro (165 and 148 RBIs). Delgado's 86 walks put him ten shy of #10 on the leader board.
Delgado didn't show up a lot on the leader board, but he produced with a solid average and great power.
I'd give a lot to have Player A's year.
But I'd give more to have Player B's year.
Player B is Harmon Killebrew in 1966.
In 1966, Killebrew's .281 average put him at #5 for the league, behind Frank Robinson's league leading .316, but ahead of Yaz's #10 average of .278. Killebrew's OBP of .391 put him at #3 behind Robinson's league leading .410, and just behind Al Kaline's .392. Killebrew's power (SLG .538) put him again behind Robinson's league leading .637, but at #2 and ahead of Kaline's .534. From a leader board perspective, Killebrew's #5 BA, #3 OBP and #2 SLG beats Delgado's #8 SLG. And it doesn't end there.
Killebrew's runs (89) and hits (160) earned him the #8 position for the league, behind league leaders Robinson (122 runs) and teammate Tony Oliva (191 hits). Killebrew was #2 to Robinson's league leading 49 homers (Killebrew at 39) and Robinson's league leading 122 RBIs (Killebrew at 110). Harmon could take heart in the fact that he beat the triple crown winner in walks, leading the league at 103 compared to Robinson's 87.
To sum up: Killebrew was within the top five in the league for batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, home runs, RBIs and walks. Delgado, for home runs and RBIs. Killebrew also made it on the leader board for runs and hits. Delgado beat Kellebrew in the number of doubles each hit 39 to 27, but both ended up #10 on the leader board for that category.
So who had the better year, Player A or Player B? Killebrew or Delgado?
Here's another perspective. Player C's numbers are the numbers for the player's in 1999 who held Killebrew's positions on the leader board in 1966; e.g. the player in 1999 who was #5 on the leader board for batting average (Killebrew's spot in 1966), hit .333.
Does this mean that Killebrew would have had Player C's year if his 1966 year were played in 1999? Absolutely not.
But the leader board analysis does indicate that Killebrew was more valuable in 1966 than Delgado was in 1999, despite Delgado's better raw numbers. And the MVP voting indicates the same thing.
In 1966, Frank Robinson (triple crown winner), Brooks Robinson and Boog Powell took the numbers 1, 2 and 3 spots in MVP voting. Three Orioles dominate the voting in a year when the Orioles win the World Series in a sweep. No big surprise.
Spots 4, 5 and 6 were the domain of the Twins, the number 2 team of league, with Killebrew, Kaat and Oliva, respectively. Killebrew had 96 MVP points in the voting, and, realistically, had a better year (offensively) than the other Robinson. He and Boog Powell had roughly equivalent years (offensively).
Delgado made it to #12 in MVP voting with 16 points. He fell behind winner Ivan Rodriguez, Pedro Martinez, Roberto Alomar, Manny Ramirez (whose 1999 year looks similar to Killebrew's 1966 year on the leader board), Rafael Palmeiro, Derek Jeter, Nomar Garciaparra, Jason Giambi, Shawn Green, Ken Griffey, Jr. and Bernie Williams.
Despite the fact that Delgado's raw numbers are more impressive than Killebrew's, when compared to the performance of others in the year they produced those numbers, a strong argument can be made that Killebrew's 1966 was better than Delgado's 1999.
A favorite late-night pastime of mine is opening up the Baseball Encyclopedia to a random page to review the career of whichever player I might hit upon. You can find some real interesting players in just such a random way; players who were once considered minor, or even major, stars but who have now faded into the background, overshadowed by the immortals. One such player is Mickey Vernon.
Years: 1939 - 1960
Teams: Washington, Cleveland, Boston AL, Milwaukee NL, Pittsburgh
Height: 6'2" Weight: 170
Class: Sisler Class First Baseman
Vernon is an interesting player. No, he does not have the statistics of such immortals as Ruth, Gehrig and Williams. Nor do his overall lifetime statistics place him just beneath such Baseball gods and demi-gods. Vernon may fall into a third-tier. A talented ball player whose inconsistencies seem to diminish his career, particularly in light of today's inflated numbers. Yet, some players take on a new sheen when their numbers are analyzed and put into context.
James "Mickey" Vernon is such a player. Vernon played 16 full seasons from 1939 - 1960 and hit as high as .353 and as low as .242. Sometimes he stole bases (25 in 1942, 15 in 1948) sometimes he didn't (1 in 1954, 4 in 1953). He belted out 20 homeruns in 1954 and 3 in 1948. Bill James wondered about Vernon's seeming inconsistency only to discover that Vernon had played hurt for many years. One off season Vernon underwent surgery and his back problems ceased. In the 1940's and 1950's, players tended to hide injuries, rather than ride the bench, lest they lose their job to younger, healthier players.
Despite the inconsistent statistics, Vernon is an impressive player who should not be forgotten.
His lifetime statistics are quite good.
Vernon led the league in batting average twice and doubles three times. He lost two years to WWII.
Vernon's best year may have been 1953:
Batting Average: .337
On Base%: .403
Vernon was third in the MVP voting that year. Not bad, particularly for a thirty-five year-old. Players in the '40's and '50's tended to peak at 27-30 years of age. Today, players seem to peak at 32-35.
I make the argument that Vernon's numbers, as good as they are, belie his talent and abilities. I do not argue that a player who may have been great but for injuries, should be considered great, only that the statistics accumulated by a player need to be viewed outside the context of today's inflated, eye-popping statistics.
Runs Batted In
I'm not sure where Vernon batted in the line-up and that is going to effect his RBI numbers. He looks like a classic 2nd place hitter: speed, a contact hitter, good doubles numbers. That's just my impression. He may have led off, batted third or fourth.
He was with the Washington Senators for 13 out of his 16 full seasons. Not a good team during those years. I believe they reached .500 twice between 1946 - 1955. Still, except for 1948, Vernon drove in at least 80 RBI's a year for the lack-luster Senators. In 1956 he went to Boston and in 119 games , hit .310 and drove in 84 runs (more than Ted Williams that year and Williams hit .345).
I believe, had he played for a better team during his prime, Vernon would have been a consistent 90+ RBI man. Also, Griffith's Stadium was a tough stadium for homeruns. It's likely his power numbers would have been at least slightly better in a different park.
Although his stolen bases look paltry by today's standards, Vernon was probably a fast runner. Between 1942 and 1950 (excluding his two war years), Vernon was one of the top ten leaders in stolen bases for the American League. He wasn't a terribly successful base swiper. He stole 137 bases in his career and was tossed out 90 times.
The accounts I've found indicate he was either a very good or superb fielder. He led the league three times in fielding percentage ('51, '52, 54). He also led the league in errors three time, though all three times were before 1951. One could speculate that his back problems may have hurt him in those years.
Vernon is an interesting First Baseman, especially for the '40's and '50's. Unlike most of the top first basemen, Vernon had speed, a good glove, some pop in his bat and he could hit for average, a Sisler Class rather than Gehrig Class first baseman. Probably comparable to Mark Grace, though Vernon displayes a bit more power. I find that particular skill set interesting in a first baseman from that era. He was the best First Baseman in the A.L. in the 1950's.
1. Vernon made the All-Star Team seven (7) times;
2. He did reasonably well on the Leader Boards. He was in the top ten:
4 times for batting average
6 times for hits
9 times for both doubles and triples
8 times for RBI's
7 times for stolen bases
Vernon was also President Eisenhower's favorite player.
Who was the greatest First Baseman in baseball history? I don't have an answer to that question (but I do have my suspicions). However, I may be able to shed light on who actual baseball players believe was the greatest First Baseman. Or rather, whom they would choose to play First Base if they had to win one game.
That was a question put to former Major League players in the 1986, Nick Acocella and Donald Dewey edited book, The "All-Stars" All-Star Baseball Book. The editors asked that players only select those whom they played with or against. This rule was not always followed. Players argued that they could evaluate talent from different eras. However, by and large, most players did select contemporaries. Players from the 1920's through the 1980's participated.
The book also included the selections of some older players who predeceased the publication of the book. These lists were compiled from articles and interviews with players over the years. Thus, Ty Cobb is included, even though he died in 1961.
Bill James has spoken logically about peak value and career value when evaluating ball players. In essence, the questions asked by the authors appears to involve peak value. If you could have someone at their best, for one game, who would it be?
My goal was to determine who the players of the 20's and '30 selected as the First Baseman of choice, since that era was rich with the likes of Gehrig, Foxx and Terry. My suspicion was that Gehrig would easily dominate the choices.
Sixty-four players from the '20's and '30's responded to the questionairre and the results are as follows:
Lou Gehrig - selected by 27
Bill Terry - selected by 19
George Sisler - selected by 8
Jimmy Foxx - selected by 3
Dolf Camilli - selected by 2
Johnny Mize - selected by 1
Joe Judge - selected by 1
Three players made either/or selections:
Gehrig or Greenberg;
Terry or Gehrig;
Fox or Gehrig.
Surprisingly, Gehrig was not a nearly unanimous decision. However, this makes a certain amount of sense. All of the 19 players that selected Bill Terry played predominantly in the National League. Thus, Terry was who they saw day in and day out. In addition, they may have been following the rules of the choice closely: choosing only a player they had played against. Their only exposure to Gehrig would have been during the World Series, if at all.
Gehrig was not only the top choice of American Leaguers, he also received eight votes from those who played predominantely in the National League. Very impressive.
Sisler was a surprise. His career came to an end before the long-ball era really took off. Still, he received 8 votes, all from American League players.
Foxx receieved the endorsement of three players. This makes a certain amount of sense. Foxx was a direct contemporary of Gehrig. Both played in the '20's and '30's, in the American League. Gehrig is clearly the better player.
Dolf Camili was another interesting choice. A fine player, an MVP winner, but not the same caliber as Gehrig or Foxx.
Joe Judge was selected by a teammate, Ossie Bluege. Bluege was an outstanding glove man at Third for the Washington Senators. Judge was a fine player for many years. Again, not the caliber of Gehrig, Terry, Fox or Sisler.
A more interesting question might be; Who chose whom to play First Base. There are some interesting findings.
Gehrig was the choice of:
* denotes Hall of Famer
Johnny Mize *
An impressive array of talent endorsed Lou Gehrig as their First Baseman. I've left a curious choice to the last. Carl Hubbell, the Hall of Fame pitcher for the New York Giants also chose Gehrig over teammate Bill Terry. Perhaps there was bad blood between Terry and Hubbell. Perhaps Hubbell gave an honest answer. Perhaps Gehrig was so impressive that friendship took a back seat to Hubbell's evaluation.
Terry has a number of impressive backers;
Still, Gehrig's lineup seems more accomplished.
Of more interest, are those who chose George Sisler.
Also, at some earlier point, Rogers Hornsby chose Sisler to be on his team.
Not shabby for a guy whose career was cut short.
As an aside, Walter Johnson and Babe Ruth were asked for their all-star team, although not for the Acocella book. Ruth and Johnson both chose....Hal Chase, a supposedly fabulous glove man and notorious crook.
So that is where actual ball players stand when selecting the greatest First Baseman from the '20's and '30's. It should be noted that, while these men were contemporaries, the selections were not made until the 1980's. One wonders if their ultimate selections matched up with their opinions when they played. Time and legend can effect such evaluations. Perhaps Gehrig was not regarded with the same awe then as he is now. For the Acocella book, Hank Greenberg selected Jimmy Foxx. According to the authors, Greenberg had been asked a similar question years before and at that time he selected Gehrig. Perhaps, just perhaps, the temptation to select someone other than the presumed greatest played a part in that switch.
If I had to win one game, I don't necessarily see any benefit in choosing Gehrig over Sisler. If there is one, it's marginal. Sisler, at his peak, was an outstanding hitter (2 .400+ seasons) with some pop in his bat and tremendous speed. He was considered the finest fielding First Baseman of his time. Sisler walked more than he struck out and he did not do either too often. Would Gehrig's power and walks be more valuable over the course of a season? Undoubtedly. In one game, I'm not so sure.
In any event, all the First Basemen named here were, at the very least, fine players.
Additionally, two players, whose only crime was their skin color, should not be left out. Cool Poppa Bell, a speedy, switchitting centerfielder in the Negro Leaugues from 1922-1946 selected Hall of Famer Oscar Charleston. Bell has also been elected to the Hall of Fame. Buck Leonard (the Gehrig of the Negro Leagues) was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1972. Leonard selected Johnny Washington of the Baltimore Elite Giants.
* This information was compiled from the Acocella & Dewey book and the 1985 edition of Bill James' Historical Baseball Abstract.
Evaluating baseball players is something we all do, but also something that is probably a lot harder than most of us think. Comparing players to each other is even harder.
So, how do you do it?
We think the first step is to start with a question: What do you want to know?
Bill James used to rank players by their "peak" value and "career" value. That is, how good was a player while he was playing at the top of his game, and how good was he over the course of his career. But that's not the only way to skin this cat.
What if you had to choose a player for one game? How about a short series? Or a long series? How about the month of August? Or just the post-season? And what about a whole season? Or just a few years? Or who would populate your team if you had a 10-year window? How about 20 years?
Here's an example. Let's compare two pitchers.
Player A and Player B play in the same era, but different leagues. They have nearly identical lifetime ERAs, but player A has 3 extraordinary ERA seasons, 3 Cy Young Awards and an MVP. Player B has one Cy Young and a consistently good ERA. Player A was a strikeout leader, Player B struck out a lot, but never led the league. Player A led the league in ERA 5 times, player B, twice. Player A had three 20+ win seasons, Player B had two.
I randomly chose two years, four years and five years for each player (the only criteria being that the pitcher had to have pitched at least 100 innings). Player A has the edge:
Player A: .708 winning percentage and a 2.67 ERA.
Player B: .817 winning percentage and a 2.98 ERA.
Player A: .677 winning percentage and 2.44 ERA.
Player B: .721 winning percentage and 2.81 ERA.
Player A: .727 winning percentage and 2.41 ERA.
Player B: .697 winning percentage and 2.62 ERA.
Although, overall, Player B had the higher winning percentage, for the most part, Player A had a lower ERA - and winning percentage is more effected by one's team than is ERA.
But here are some facts that may make Player B the preferred choice, depending on what question you're asking:
Player B had 14 100+ inning seasons, and each one of them was a winning season. His first seven years and second seven years split like this (the order of the seven-year periods may or may not be sequential):
One Seven Year Stretch:
2.6 ERA, 105 wins, 39 losses (.729 win. perc.) and 5 of the 7 years were 200+ inning years.
Other Seven Year Stretch:
2.9 ERA, 127 wins, 57 losses (.690 win. perc.) and 6 of the 7 years were 200+ inning years.
Player A had 10 100+ inning seasons, and one was a losing season and another went even. Here are his splits:
One Five Year Stretch:
1.95 ERA, 111 wins, 34 losses (.766 win. perc.) and 4 of the 5 years were 200+ inning years.
Other Five Year Stretch:
3.92 ERA, 50 wins, 47 losses (.515 win. perc.) and only 1 of the 5 years was a 200+ inning year.
Indeed, 14 years of consistency mark Player B's career, with an ERA fluctuating between 2.01 and 3.24 during those years; while Player A varied widely in ERA between 1.73 and 4.48.
If I needed a guy at his peak performance for a game, I'd pick Sandy Koufax, Player A. During his last four years of pitching, he was arguably the best to play the game. Certainly, he dominated the league, and both leagues in Cy Young awards (his were won when one Cy Young was awarded in major league baseball). But if I wanted a guy to build a franchise around for the next ten to twenty years, I would choose Whitey Ford, Player B. The Chairman of the Board was the defensive anchor of those great Yankees teams of the 50s and early 60s.
And even if I had only 5 years to choose from, I would rather take 5 randomly chosen Ford years then 5 randomly chosen Koufax years. On the other hand, if I could choose the 5 years, I might take Koufax.
Comparing Koufax and Ford, or any single or group of players, should be dependent on the question asked. Who do you want starting any particular game? Koufax at his peak. But what if you didn't know what you'd get? What if it were Koufax of 1958? Would you risk that for the possibility of getting the domination Koufax could provide? And how about a ten year period - who would you pick? Whitey Ford. But maybe Koufax's dominance for a few years is worth a few poor years?
It comes down to what you're looking for.