How good was the Springfield Power Plant team?

When C. Montgomery Burns sent Waylon Smithers out to scour the American League, the National League, and the Negro League, a pretty solid roster was assembled for the Springfield Power Plant. But was it really the best roster that Smithers could have assembled?

Thanks to FanGraphs and Rally’s WAR database, we can see just how good of a job Smithers did. All these numbers are from the 1992 season, as the episode aired on February 20, 1992.

The verdict: the roster probably should have led Mr. Burns to release the hounds or, at least, the Robotic Richard Simmons. But just how bad was it?

Catcher: Mike Scioscia

“Will…I…be…able…to…play…softball…tomorrow?”

“No, Mr. Scioscia. At this time tomorrow you’ll barely be able to breathe.”

Scioscia retired after the 1992 season, a season in which he had just a .260 wOBA. Rally pegged him as a -0.9 WAR player, hardly good enough to be a mercenary on a company softball team.

And he certainly couldn’t use the radiation excuse for his dropoff in performance.

The better option for the team would have been Darren Daulton. He posted a career-high .402 wOBA with the Phillies and had a 7.4 WAR in what was easily the best year of his career.

To be fair, Daulton was coming off a -0.3 WAR 1991 season. A safer bet would have been Mickey Tettleton, who was coming of a 5.2 WAR season in 1991. However, he fell to 3.0 WAR in 1992, over four wins below Daulton.

[Wins lost: 8.3]

First base: Don Mattingly

“I thought I told you to trim those sideburns! You’re off the team! FOR GOOD!”

“…I still like him better than Steinbrenner.”

Smithers could’ve done better than Mattingly and his 2.3 WAR in 1992. Like Scioscia, a significant amount of wins were lost on this pick.

Frank Thomas should’ve been the pick at first base. His .432 wOBA was second-best in baseball in 1992 and his 7.6 WAR was stout in his third year in the majors.

Maybe it was the sideburns that drew Smithers to Mattingly.

[Wins lost: 5.3]

Second base: Steve Sax

“You just don’t know when to stop talking, do you, Saxy boy?”

What was Smithers trying to prove with Sax? That he had an eye for old, washed-up talent? Sax’ .279 wOBA was second-worst among qualified second baseman in 1992 and his -0.6 WAR nearly beat out Scioscia for worst on the team.

Ryne Sandberg and his 7.1 WAR would have been a far better choice for the team. Although I guess he wouldn’t have been a candidate to serve six consecutive life sentences for all the unsolved murders in New York.

[Wins lost: 7.7]

Shortstop: Ozzie Smith

“aaaaaaaaaahhhhh COOL!”

Finally, a semi-respectable pick. While Smith’s .339 wOBA wasn’t anything special, it was the second-best among shortstops. Obviously, Smith’s defense was his strong suit, and that pushed him to being a 4.3 WAR player in 1992.

However, Barry Larkin had a much better 1992 than Smith. Larkin’s .374 wOBA easily was the best by any shortstop and his 5.7 WAR was outstanding as well.

[Wins lost: 1.4]

Third base: Wade Boggs

“And I say England’s greatest prime minister was Lord Palmerston!”

“Pitt the Elder!”

It’s tough to blame Smithers for picking Boggs, who was coming of a 6.0 WAR 1991. However, his wOBA dipped to .315 in 1992 and his WAR plummeted to just 2.2.

Robin Ventura or Gary Sheffield should’ve been the pick. Their 6.1 WARs topped third basemen in 1992. As a White Sox fan, I’ll say Smithers should’ve gone with Ventura, although seeing Sheffield get punched out for thinking Pitt the Elder was England’s greatest prime minister would’ve been pretty great.

[Wins lost: 3.9]

Right field: Jose Canseco

“Never fear, ma’am, I’ll save your cat!”

Splitting time between Oakland and Texas, Canseco compiled just a 2.1 WAR in 1992. The juicehead’s defense is what brought him down, as his .357 wOBA was at least respectable.

The right pick here would have been Larry Walker, who posted a 5.8 WAR in his third full season with Montreal. While Danny Tartabull’s .397 wOBA led all right fielders, Walker’s .379 wOBA and good defense put him at the top of the right field WAR charts that year.

[Wins lost: 3.7]

Center field: Ken Griffey Jr.

“It’s like there’s a party in my mouth and everyone’s invited!”

Believe it or not, Griffey wasn’t the right pick for center field. His 5.4 WAR was nice, but there were plenty of players with better WARs in 1992.

Kirby Puckett was one, coming in at 6.7. But he wasn’t the best.

That would be Andy Van Slyke, with a 6.9 WAR. I’ll admit I was pretty surprised at that one.

[Wins lost: 1.5]

Left field: Darryl Strawberry

“Are you better than me?”

“Well, I’ve never met you before, but…yes.”

A major back injury limited Strawberry to just 43 games and a -0.3 WAR with the Dodgers in 1992. However, Strawberry regressed from a 6.5 WAR in 1990 to a 3.7 WAR in 1991, so Smithers isn’t completely exempt from criticism here.

Injury or not, the left field pick should have been obvious. Barry Bonds led baseball with a .469 wOBA and posted a 10.0 WAR in his MVP season of 1992. Those numbers were untouchable, and maybe picking Bonds would have meant it wouldn’t take a walk-off hit by pitch to beat Shelbyville.

[Wins lost: 10.3]

Pitcher: Roger Clemens

“Sir, he’s in no condition to pitch.”

Clemens had a great 1992, leading baseball with a 2.54 FIP. But, once again, Smithers strikes out with this pick.

In his final year with the Cubs, Greg Maddux posted an 8.4 WAR with a 2.58 FIP en route to winning the National League Cy Young. Plus, he’s too smart of a person to be tricked into clucking like a chicken because of some hypnotist.

[Wins lost: 0.5]

Total WAR lost: -42.6. Way to go, Smithers.

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31 responses to “How good was the Springfield Power Plant team?

  1. pretty sure Strawberry was playing right and Canseco was playing left

  2. “All these numbers are from the 1992 season, as the episode aired on February 20, 1992″

    This is flawed logic. Their most recent data was how they did in the 1991 season. Sax, for example, had a great season in 1991. Fail.

    • I don’t see what the problem is. If this actually happened, the players would have played in the 1992 season. They were picked for 1992. Also, if you’re really going to argue this, know that the players were picked for the episode based more on name recognition (and, likely, willingness to appear in the episode) than anything else. This is just a fun post, man. That’s all it is.

    • Steven Ellingson

      This is one of the most ridiculous comments I’ve read all day. Did you really just say “Fail”? Because you don’t think he fairly reviewed Smithers’ team building ability?

    • He appropriately calls fail because the wrong data set is being used.

      GMs over this past offseason who chose to employ Sabermetrics in their roster decisions had last season’s data as the most recent. If we’re going to judge Smithers like Beane, Epstein, etc. etc., you can only reasonably expect them to look at the information available unless someone has a suped-up DeLorean.

      If you really want to get into it, the ringers chosen may have played a full season in 1992, but they only played a single game as ringers for Springfield. So if you want to make the most accurate assessment possible, you should run the numbers for only the first Spring Training game each MLB player (not just the ringers) appeared in at the start of 1992. That performance would most closely approximate the February 1992 airing of the program.

      It’s exactly the same as assembling a ringer team today early in February and then eight years down the line judge it by the players’ 2011 stats. a chance at playing in 2011, too.

  3. Steven Ellingson

    Because I like stuff like this almost as much as real baseball analysis, there’s a couple of things I’d like to see.

    How many WAR did this team acrue in 1992? Assuming that the rest of the staff was in the 1 WAR area, how good of a team would this have been?

    Who would have been the best picks coming into 1992? Who SHOULD he have picked, based only on what we knew in 1991?

    • Steven, thanks for your comments…I’d have to go back through Rally’s database to fully answer your second question and it’s about 2am here, so check back for that tomorrow. But the team accrued 22.4 WAR on their own. If the team had four other starters at 1.0 WAR, seven relievers to combine to 3.0 WAR, and a bench that combined for 1.0 WAR, that’s a 27.4 WAR team. That’s a very rough estimate, though.

      Rally doesn’t categorize WAR by team and their formula is different than that of FanGraphs, but that estimated 27.4 WAR in 1992 would have been sixth-best among MLB teams in 2009. If you’re not comfortable with a 27.4 team estimate, the median WAR in 2009 was a hair over 19.0. So, in the likely event that the other 16 players on the theoretical roster were replacement level, that 22.4 WAR likely would be somewhere in the above-average range.

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  5. this is why i love the internet. awesome job, dude.

  6. Of course, what we really need to know is what Strawberry’s numbers were against lefties in 1992. Gutsy move by Burns, lifting him with the game on the line; personally, I think he got lucky with the HBP. Of course the media is more results-oriented than process-oriented so we’ll never hear anything about it.

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  8. Well, he was picking a team to play in 1992, so using their ’92 stats is valid since it was all about predicting their performance vs. Shelbyville’s team of gladiators which was going to crush SNPP like nine flabby grapes.

    I can’t believe I just wrote that, either.

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  10. Wonderful and hilarious at the same time. Good Job (as in looking backwards….? I can’t believe I wrote that either.)!

  11. This is beautiful. Just beautiful.

  12. Speaking of Boggs… true story from a Brewer fan I sat in front of a couple of years ago:

    It turns out the guy was a long-time season ticket holder. He used to have tix by the visitor’s on-deck cirlce. He said that when MIL was playing in the AL, the Rays were in town. Boggs was winding down his career with them at the time. The guy and his buddy kept heckling Boggs every time he was on deck by yelling out “Lord Palmerston!” in a Barney Gumble voice. Finally, late in the game, Boggs had enough . He turned to them, shook his bat, and yelled back, “Pitt the Elder!”

    • My respect for Wade Boggs just went up infinity.

    • Too bad it didn’t happen. Boggs didn’t play for the Rays (and the Rays didn’t exist) until 1998, the same year that Milwaukee switched to the NL as a part of the realignment/expansion that included the Rays coming into existence. Boggs played with them two years (98-99). During those years, the NL Central only played the AL Central in interleague play, and thus Milwaukee never played a game against the Rays while Boggs was with them. The guy in front of you was full of shit.

  13. The air date is about 6 months after the teams would have been chosen since it takes about 6 months to create a Simpson’s episode.

  14. What, no mention of the fact that beer-league softball teams field *four* outfielders, pitch in slow arcs (why bother with Clemens?), play six or seven innings rather than nine, and don’t award first base for a HBP (invalidating the ending of the episode)?

  15. seeker70:
    It turns out the guy was a long-time season ticket holder. He used to have tix by the visitor’s on-deck cirlce. He said that when MIL was playing in the AL, the Rays were in town. Boggs was winding down his career with them at the time….

    That’s a funny story, but Boggs didn’t go to Tampa until 1998, the (Devil) Rays’ first season. That was also–not coincidentally–the Brewers’ first season in the National League. Milwaukee didn’t play Tampa Bay in 1998 or 1999 (their interleague opponents in those years were all in the AL Central), and then Boggs retired.

    Something doesn’t fit.

  16. Since live animation is a terrible strain on the animators the game occured during the 91 season. We saw the results in early 92. If it happened. Which it did.

  17. You know, I never bothered to check all the info on the Boggs story. It was so entertaining to me that I took it as fact. Maybe, too, I filled in a few things or misheard something. It could have been when Boggs was still with the Red Sox, or maybe the fan himself was confused about when it actually happened.

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