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Expansion Era Player Conversation

This is one man we shouldn't trust with a Hall of Fame vote.

This is one man we shouldn’t trust with a Hall of Fame vote.

Today we look at the six players the Expansion Era “experts” need to evaluate. To gain entrance a player needs to receive votes from at least 9 of the 12 voters, each of whom can vote for up to five players, managers, and executives on the ballots discussed today and Friday.

Eric: The hagiography of a somewhat above-average shortstop is mystifying to me. Well, OK, Joe Morgan (one of the twelve voters in this election)…. Davey has one season, 1974, that rates as a true All-Star level season. Concepcion benefits from being a giant among midgets (think Don Kessinger, Enzo Hernandez, or Larry Bowa). His lifetime OPS+ is 88, and he wasn’t a good OBP guy, so that overstates things. BBREF suggests he cost his teams about 120 runs on offense. He was a little above average on the bases. And he was more of a very good but not great defender, though some systems like him more than others.

Joe Morgan wants one of these guys in the Hall but not the others….

    G      HR      BA/OPP/SLG   OPS+   SB/CS
A: 2488   101   .267/.322/.357   88   321/109
B: 2328    79   .259/.311/.342   89   649/199
C: 2260   112   .246/.327/.349   88    42/ 54

Concepcion is A. The others are Bert Campaneris and Chris Speier. Turfy-bouncy throws and being allowed to play well past your expiration date by an old-croney manager shouldn’t help him when his historical peers are these guys…and he’s not the best of the bunch (that was Campy).

Here’s who Little Joe might be thinking of when he stumps for his old teammate. A is Concepcion again:

   Games    HR     BA/OBP/SLG     OPS+    SB/CS   Batting  Running  Rfield/DRA   WAR
A:  2488   101   .267/.322/.357    88    321/109   -120      +20      +52/ +98   40.0
B:  2573    28   .262/.327/.328    87    580/148   -117      +79     +239/+148   76.5
C:  2599    83   .262/.311/.343    82    506/136   -199      +92     +149/ +23   55.7
D:  2670    28   .258/.318/.340    82    291/???   -231       +4     +130/+120   42.6

B is Ozzie, C is Luis Aparicio, and D is Rabbit Maranville. Ozzie is clearly head and shoulders better than any of them, and I’m not sure that Morgan even knows who Rabbit Maranville was. But Maranville is a total head-scratcher, and if Davey isn’t as good as Rabbit…. There isn’t even a good “yeah but he’s famous” argument for Concepcion. I think once Morgan dies, Concepcion stops making it on the VC ballot.

Does HoF stand for Hall of Fame or Hall of Friends (of Joe Morgan)?

Does HoF stand for Hall of Fame or Hall of Friends (of Joe Morgan)?

Miller: Even though I can’t see Concepcion as one of the six most deserving players from his era on the outside looking in, I can see his place on the ballot. After all, the BBWAA did vote on him 15 times. He had consistent enough support that one in seven or eight voters believed he was deserving. Giving the guy another look isn’t so wrong. Voting for him, well, that’s another story.

Of course, if you just want me to say that I agree, well, I agree with the rest of what you said. Concepcion, by the way, wasn’t just a giant among midgets as an NL shortstop, he was a midget among giants as a Cincinnati Red. Joe Morgan and Johnny Bench are inner circle guys. Pete Rose is deserving just based on his numbers. And Tony Perez put up numbers that got him in. I suppose we could say that Concepcion and George Foster are kind of similar in how they rank at their respective positions all-time. Which is to say that Concepcion doesn’t belong.

Steve Garvey defines the cavernous that sometimes exists between great and famous.

Steve Garvey defines the cavernous divide that sometimes exists between great and famous.

Speaking of guys who don’t belong, Steve Garvey is on the ballot. For similar players, think Cecil Cooper, Kent Hrbek, or Derrek Lee. I could make some awful low-blow joke about how all of the kids he had in the 80s are now of voting age, but I won’t. Garvey was actually one of my favorite players growing up, as he was, I suppose, for lots of men of a certain age. I remember the mythology around the 1977 season (I think) when Tommy LaSorda told Garvey that he needed to hit for more power, so Garvey hit 33 home runs after stroking only 13 the previous season. And there’s that consecutive game streak. Impressive, that’s for sure, but not worthy of the Hall.

Eric: Garvey is the very sort of reason why we shouldn’t rely on mainstream media people too much, which goes for baseball, politics, and a host of other things. Garvey was wholesome, had a great smile, and media people love a good story. He had them conned. They just passed along the narrative to us. He hit for some average and some pop, played a decent first base, and before sabermetrics really got its hold, he seemed like a great player. Well, Kirby Puckett fits this pattern too. Lots of cranky old writers miss the days when their own narrative of the players was the story. After all, they are writers. They like to tell good stories. Anyway, in all ways, Garvey was never as good as the writers told us he was. Only we didn’t know it until after his career ended. Even more so than Concepcion, he deserves no place on this ballot when there are abundantly more qualified eligible VC candidates at his own position. Keith Hernandez and Dick Allen for example. Hell, Norm Cash for that matter, though he doesn’t belong in the Hall, is more qualified.

One of these two men might belong in the Hall.   The other is Tommy John.

One of these two men might belong in the Hall.
The other is Tommy John.

Tommy John, on the other hand, is a guy we can have a good old-fashioned debate about. On one hand, 288 wins, twenty wins three times, led the league in shutouts three times, and a long, successful career. On the other hand, although he twice finished second for the Cy Young (better than Jack Morris can say!), John only got votes in four seasons. He was only an All-Star four times. He had 10 or 11 below-average seasons, five to seven average seasons, and never a season where he was the best pitcher in his league and very few even arguably close. He compares poorly to someone like Phil Niekro or Gaylord Perry, other long career pitchers who at least had some peak seasons. He’s not my cup of tea, though a more career-oriented voter might like him. I think his lack of support suggests that his career is too much journeyman and not enough ace. And he shouldn’t get any credit toward a plaque for Frank Jobe’s work.

Miller: What I think is amazing is that we call it Tommy John surgery. Why isn’t it Frank Jobe surgery? This is akin, a little bit, to conflating Frankenstein’s monster and Frankenstein. This groundbreaking surgery was performed on Tommy John. All John did was go back to work when he was healthy. I think of John as the Jim O’Rourke of pitchers, extremely long and extremely low. He actually had 14 seasons of 2.0 WAR or below. You’re right that he compares poorly to Niekro and Perry. There’s an interesting argument, if you want to make it, between John and Don Sutton though. Check out their seasonal WAR numbers.

John    Sutton
 5.9      6.3
 5.7      5.5
 5.5      5.3
 4.8      5.2 
 4.4      4.6
 4.2      3.6
 4.1      3.5
 3.2      3.3
 2.6      3.2
 2.4      3.2
 2.4      2.9
 2.4      2.8
 2.2      2.7
 2.0      2.5
 1.8      2.4
 1.8      1.8
 1.6      1.8
 1.5      1.7
 1.5      1.6 
 1.3      1.6
 1.2      1.3
 0.9      0.8
 0.2     -0.1
-0.0 
-0.7 
-0.9

Perhaps this says more about Sutton than it does John. Of course, if you prefer Sutton, and I do, you can point to his sustained run of very-goodness. From 1972-1981, Sutton was baseball’s 13th best pitcher. John was never better than 17th over a similar period. During the course of his career, Sutton was the 8th best pitcher in the game, with only sure-fire HoMErs in front of him. During his career, John is just 13th. So yes, John and Sutton are similar, but Sutton is better.

If the worst thing Dave Parker did was smoke cigarettes, maybe we'd feel differently about him as a candidate.

If the worst thing Dave Parker did was smoke cigarettes, maybe we’d feel differently about him as a candidate.

When Dave Parker was at his best, he was a truly impressive player. From 1975-1979, he was about baseball’s sixth most valuable. Only Mike Schmidt was better among NL non-pitchers during that span. And the MVP Award he took home in 1978, he deserved. Later in his career, he was all coked up. And after that, he was overrated. There are a lot of parallels to Darryl Strawberry, both on the field and off. And when we think about Parker, we should consider Straw, Jesse Barfield, and Kirk Gibson as similarly deserving of Hall recognition. No thanks.

Eric: Parker and Strawberry, members, with Lonnie Smith and Hack Wilson, of the Wasted Talent All-Stars outfield corps. Doc Gooden, Dennis Martinez, and Steve Howe on the mound. But maybe it’s not only drinkers? You wonder about Cecil Fielder, Boog Powell, and Mo Vaughn, too, whether their careers ended too soon because they couldn’t control their eating. There are so many tragic elements in stories like these. Addiction wrecks the lives of the sufferer and the lives of the people around him. In the case of ballplayers, it even affects us, the fans. It cheats us out of years of enjoying great performances. Or even loving to hate those performances. Perhaps not every one of the guys I’ve mentioned was an addict. Not every user is. But for those who are, that disease is devastating in ways that the sane among us can’t easily comprehend because they don’t experience it themselves.

Miller: While I can’t totally disagree with you, I do want to propose an alternative interpretation. It’s quite possible that Dave Parker and Steve Howe and Cecil Fielder did the best that they could. While others can avoid doing things that hurt their bodies and/or performance, they couldn’t. I don’t feel cheated by Dave Parker, and I don’t know that he even cheated himself. He lived the only life he knew how to live as he was living it. Did Parker, for example, get 100% out of his skill set? He almost certainly didn’t. But did he extract near 100% of what he could extract? I think he did and all of us do.

Rest in peace, Quiz. Enjoy your place in the Hall of Great People.

Rest in peace, Quiz.
Enjoy your place in the Hall of Great People.

Eric: A different brand of tragedy was Dan Quisenberry dying of cancer at such a young age. When he was pitching, however, like every dominant ace reliever, he blew away hitters with a devastating…80 MPH sidearm sinker???? I remember an announcer once saying that Mike Boddicker’s assortment of slurves, curves, sliders, and changes would give players “a comfortable oh-for-four.” Quiz must have utterly infuriated opposing batters. Did he even have a second pitch? The Neyer/James guide says he had a curve and a change, but I wonder if he ever needed them against a righty. Quiz ate up righties (.598 OPS against) but his platoon split was 120 points, which meant that lefties were league-average hitters against him (.718 OPS against, .723 league average). Not bad, of course, but lefties tend to get a better look at sidearmers, so he needed a wider assortment against them. He appears to have limited lefty damage very effectively through a mix of pitch selection (developing the change) and simple avoidance. Quisenberry’s unintentional walk rate vs. lefties was twice that of righties, and he struck out only two-thirds as many lefties as righties. In addition, he intentionally walked three times as many lefties as righties. I wasn’t watching the Royals, but his numbers suggest to me that because of that tremendous sinker, his game plan was to never challenge a tough lefty, and then to get big righties to ground the ball to Frank White who would turn two and get the Royals out of trouble. Obviously it worked for many years. It also fit his personality. He was said to be kind, thoughtful, and humble. A person with humility is said to know his own weaknesses, and Quiz clearly knew his. He wisely pitched away from them, and centered on what he could do well. Anyway, it’s all interesting (to me), but with only four great relief seasons, he’s not deserving of a plaque.

Miller: No, Quiz isn’t deserving of a plaque, but is any reliever? Mariano not withstanding, I’m not sure that the best relievers the game has ever seen have a great argument. When the save became an official statistic in 1969, Hoyt Wilhelm retroactively became the career leader. He held the mark until Rollie Fingers took over in 1980. Jeff Reardon became the leader in 1992, followed by Lee Smith in 1993. Trevor Hoffman took the title in 2006, and Mariano Rivera passed him in 2011. I know there’s more to great relief pitching than saves, but what I argue here is that we’re not yet sure how to measure relief greatness. Quiz, for my money, is about as good as Hall of Famer Bruce Sutter. I know we shouldn’t elect anyone who’s as good as the worst Hall of Famer; I simply want to point out that the position is too young and too unstable in how we view the closer to elect anyone but those in the inner circle. Does that mean one or three or five? I don’t know. What it certainly means is that Quisenberry shouldn’t get a vote.

Will the Expansion Era voters pay Ted Simmons the respect that the BBWAA never did?

Will the Expansion Era voters pay
Ted Simmons the respect
that the BBWAA never did?

If there’s any player on this ballot who possibly should get a vote, it’s Ted Simmons. Depending upon how you feel about Charlie Bennett’s career and whether or not you want to call Joe Torre a catcher, Ted Simmons could be the best catcher no longer being considered by the BBWAA. And frankly, they hardly considered him at all when they had their chance. In 1994, he was named on only 17 of 456 ballots cast and forever eliminated from their consideration. It’s not stunning that Simmons wasn’t seen as he should have been. He wasn’t as good as contemporaries like Johnny Bench, Gary Carter, or Carlton Fisk. And he was eligible at a time when all-time greats Mike Piazza and Pudge Rodriguez were just getting started. Even if Simmons is about the 12th best catcher ever, writers were able to compare him directly and easily to five of the guys who were better.

Eric: Simba was a hitter first with a 118 career OPS+, which is a little better than Fisk (117) or Carter (115). He even led the NL twice in intentional walks, so “The Fear” was there. Like Mike Piazza, however, whatever other positive defensive value Simmons brought was obscured by concerns about his throwing arm. On one hand, Simmons nailed exactly the same percentage of runners as his leagues did: thirty-four percent for both, you could look it up. On the other hand, teams probably ran on him more often because of his throwing weaknesses. Then again, recent evidence suggests that catchers’ arms are significantly less important to nabbing runners than a pitcher’s time to the plate. A great arm doesn’t hurt, obviously, and it might reduce attempts, but we routinely base a catcher’s defensive value on something they may have much less control over than we thought. Heck, wild pitches and passed balls may also be more the pitcher’s fault. If the VC is going to keep Simmons out of the Hall it’s not because he didn’t hit enough: long-career catchers with 118 OPS+s don’t grow on trees. It’s going to be because they place so much weight on his defensive reputation. But I’m not sure I understand how defensive reputation is any better than defensive statistics and analysis for catchers. I do think, however, that in fifty years, they’ll look at Piazza and Simmons and wonder why we didn’t elect them right away since by then catcher defense will be a settled argument.

Well, and there’s one more big reason Simmons won’t make it: Whitey Herzog. He’s on the panel, and upon arriving in St. Louis, he couldn’t wait to trade away Simmons. Why? Because they feuded publicly about what position Simmons would play (Herzog had brought in Darrell Porter and wanted Simba to play first and Keith Hernandez left field). Simmons was a smart, free-thinking, opinionated man who preferred to catch. Herzog wanted control of his own team. Both were reasonable positions. Simmons made a mistake in taking it public, and Herzog saw him as a threat to authority. So how’s that going to work out in the voting?

Well, at least no one will complain about bacne.

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