How much of a difference would Jackie Robinson have made had he played on the 2006 Los Angeles Dodgers? How much of a difference would he make in 2007? How would his performance stack up against baseball's current superstars? Using our top-rated Diamond Mind Baseball simulation software, we played out the 2006 season and our projection for 2007 season with Jackie on the Dodgers to find out.
The current Dodgers have Jeff Kent at second base. Third base, which was a revolving door in 2006, and is projected to be manned full-time by Wilson Betemit in 2007, is the weaker position in their lineup. Although Robinson is commonly thought of as a second baseman, he began his career in 1947 at first base, then later spent several seasons dividing time between third base and left field. Given that the Dodgers' need was greater at third base both in 2006 and 2007, that's where we positioned Jackie.
In "The New Bill James Baseball Historical Abstract," James says that, as a third baseman, Robinson "rates as even more sensational than he was as a second baseman. ... He's off the charts [statistically]. Nobody else (post-1940) is even in the same zone." We could have moved Kent to third and put Jackie at second, but we think, if Jackie were on the Dodgers now, Kent would be left at second and Jackie would play third.
On the offensive side, we used Jackie's 1951 season for our simulations. Although his "headline" stats for that season are not quite as impressive as his 1949 MVP season, his OPS+ (on base + slugging percentage relative to the rest of the league, where 100 is equivalent to the league average) in 1951 was 154, the best of his career (1949 was his next best at 152). We had him batting third in the 2006 and 2007 Dodgers batting order.
We simulated each season 100 times and averaged the results. For 2006, we then continued running seasons until we generated one that was closely representative of the average results, to include game-by-game highlights.
The 2006 Dodgers won 88 games and claimed the NL wild card after ending the regular season tied with the Padres for the NL West division lead. With Jackie added to their lineup, the Dodgers averaged 96 wins over our 100 simulated seasons and won the division by nine games over San Diego.
Despite getting off to a slow start, hitting just .250 in April, Robinson turned in a massive season. He was particularly tough on left-handers, pounding them to the tune of a .403 batting average.
On those figures, Jackie would have led the NL in 2006 in batting average (AVG), on base percentage (OBP), hits (H), runs (R) and doubles (2B); he would have been second in Runs Created (RC); fourth in on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS), fifth in runs batted in (RBI) and stolen bases (SB); and seventh in slugging percentage (SLG) and total extra base hits (2B+3B+HR).
Highlights of Jackie's 2006 season included:
• April 5 -- Hit walk-off game winning HR in the bottom of the 12th to beat Atlanta, 4-3.
• June 15 -- Stole four bases, including home, in 6-4 win over San Diego.
• July 4 -- Hit game-tying two-run HR and RBI double in 5-2 win over Arizona.
• July 8 -- Trailing 12-2, the Dodgers come back to defeat the Giants 14-12, with Robinson hitting walkoff two-run game-winning HR in the bottom of the ninth.
• July 23 -- Goes 3-for-4 with two HRs in a 9-1 win over the Cardinals.
• Sept. 26 -- Goes 4-or-5 with two doubles and a HR in 11-2 win over the Rockies.
To project Jackie into the 2007 season, we used our 2007 Projection Disk, which utilizes our research on player performance trends to model the performance of all the MLB players in the upcoming 2007 season. Again, we used Jackie's 1951 season for his performance. In our 2007 season projections, we have the Dodgers winning just 81 games and finishing second in the NL West, seven games behind the Padres, and out of the postseason. With Robinson in the Dodgers' lineup, they upped that total to 86 wins, still falling three games short of the Padres in the NL West, but leapfrogging several teams to capture the wild card.
Jackie turned in another big season in 2007, though he not quite the equal of 2006. That might be because he had less success against left-handed pitching in 2007, hitting just .357 against them. (No doubt the addition of several top left-handers by the Dodgers' division rivals, including Barry Zito, Randy Johnson and David Wells, had something to do with that.)
Our projections have Jackie leading the league in 2007 in batting average, hits and runs created; second in on-base percentage; fourth in slugging percentage and OPS; fifth in runs scored; and 10th in stolen bases. Interestingly, Robinson narrowly topped the NL in runs created in 2007 after finishing second in that category in 2006 to Ryan Howard, despite a drop in 2007 from 157.5 to 139.8.