you're reading...

Who’s Left? Checking in with Our Backlog, Outfielders

If everyone were as talented as Willie Mays, we wouldn't have to go through this process.

If everyone were as talented as Willie Mays, we wouldn’t have to go through this process.

As our threepart series on our backlog comes to an end today with our outfield post, we’re left wondering if we’ve made any progress. Actually, we’re not wondering, but we bet you are. Please check out the pitcher post from last Friday and the infielder post from Monday so you can see how we view the backlog at those positions. More importantly, check out our 1983 election results and obituaries on Friday and Monday to see if this process has helped us to move on anyone.

Below you’ll see our outfield backlog, along with the years they played and whether or not they’re members of the Hall of Fame, the Hall of Merit, or the Hall of Stats. You’ll also see some brief analysis as to why they should or shouldn’t be in and then a bit of somewhat deeper analysis. Enjoy!

Left Field

Bob Johnson, LF, 1933-1945, (-, -, S)

Bob JohnsonWhy he should be in: A Steady Rollin’ Man with plenty of All-Star seasons and surprising defensive value

Why he should be out:The War, a short career, positional competition

Other thoughts:Johnson has the crossroads blues in a several ways. One, he’s just on the wrong side of the street in left field. He, Jose Cruz, Roy White, Ducky Medwick, and Joe Kelley are all scrabbling for a vote and very closely bunched. Second, Johnson’s also on the wrong side of the play-by-play street. He led his league in assists by a left fielder numerous times and Red Smith said he had a strong throwing arm. He’s not going to get full credit for that arm from the analytical stats, however, until PBP data shows how many base runners he not only killed but also held. That lack of information may require us to make a mental adjustment, which wouldn’t be unprecedented for us since we elected Max Carey in part on the assumption that he had missing base running value. Again, Johnson was on the wrong side of the road by making his debut at age 27. The path from the minors to the majors late in the Jazz Age wasn’t smooth like today. Big league teams truly purchased the contract of players from independent minor leagues who developed their own talent and could command astounding purchase prices. So Johnson as a highly productive player in the PCL might have fallen victim to his own success in a sense. Sad because like so many in the backlog, just another good major league season or two would have done the trick for “Indian Bob.” He must’ve felt like there stones in his passway. Finally, at the other end of his career, at the crossroads of World War Two and peacetime, he found himself out of a job. This despite posting fine seasons in the previous years. The last fair deal had gone down, but Johnson wasn’t party to it.

Joe Kelley, LF, 1891-1906, 1908, (F, M, -)

Joe KelleyWhy he should be in: Joe Medwick is a HoMEr

Why he shouldn’t be in: Joe Medwick is not a HoMEr

Other thoughts: Kelley is Medwick’s 1890s twin. Truly if one, then the other, that’s how close they are. Of course, this can be an exercise in splitting hairs. When it comes down to the end, we may find that we’re forced to choose one or the other. Maybe Kelley has the slightest of edges in peak and prime. Maybe. But toward the end, he has six whole years when his value was lower than yours and mine.

Ralph Kiner, LF, 1946-1955, (F, M, -)

Ralph KinerWhy he should be in: The Hughie Jennings of left fielders

Why he shouldn’t be in: The Hughie Jennings of left fielders

Other thoughts: Two MVP-level campaigns, one fringe-MVP campaign, and two All-Star seasons all in a row, surrounded by a couple above-average years. And there you have it. If Kiner had even an average glove, this might not be an issue. And if I had a hundred bitcoins, I’d be theoretically rich.

Joe Medwick, LF, 1932-1948, (F, M, S)

Joe MedwickWhy he should be in: Roy White, Jose Cruz, and Bob Johnson are better? Really?

Why he shouldn’t be in: We’ll have to overpopulate LF, and he has to beat five guys

Other thoughts: If Medwick hadn’t been beaned, we might not be grappling with him still. He’s the 20th to 22nd best left fielder in history, and if we go deep at this stacked position, he’s in a footrace with Jose Cruz, Roy White, Bob Johnson, Joe Kelley, and Ralph Kiner. Cruz and White are DRA darlings, Kelley is Medwick’s clone, Johnson may have undiscovered value in his arm while Kiner’s all peak. Who’s ready for some parsing?!

Jim O’Rourke, LF, 1872-1893, 1904 (F, M, S)

Jim O'RourkeWhy he should be in: Played forever, never had a bad season at the plate

Why he shouldn’t be in: This peakless wonder couldn’t field at all

Other thoughts: Jim O’Rourke has found his way into all three of the Halls we look at. He racked up lots of hits and value. He was well known in his time. And, yet… Imagine David Ortiz in those funny 19th Century togs. He brings his bat back in time with him, but he also has to play the field. Now imagine instead of playing first base poorly, he has to play the three outfield positions and even catcher. Now you see the conundrum. Ortiz’ bat has been worth 363 runs during his career. On the other hand, he’s known for terrible defense. Despite his reputation for defensive inelegance, he’s only worth -14 fielding runs. Why? Because he’s only played first base in 263 of his 2000 games. A rate of -14 runs in 263 games would produce about -106 runs in the 2000 games he’s played. That is precisely how DRA says O’Rourke performed in 1999 games. In our scenario, instead of being worth 45 Wins, Ortiz would be worth 35 Wins. When we combine DRA and BBREF’s fielding numbers, we get around -75 career defensive runs. That’s pretty bad! And now when we place him in a 162-game context, O’Rourke’s iron glove comes with him too, destroying his peak value and with it his HoME chances. Are fielding metrics utterly reliable, especially back then? No, they are not. But both systems say he was bad. It’s a question of degree. Win Shares doesn’t agree, and maybe we should take it more seriously. But unless it can pump nearly 10 wins of fielding back into O’Rourke’s career, Orator Jim won’t make the HoME.

Center Field

Wally Berger, CF, 1930-1940, (-, -, -)

Wally BergerWhy he should be in: He’s on the center field bubble

Why he shouldn’t be in: The bubble pops

Other thoughts: Because center field is a pretty weak position historically, it’s lower reaches are filled with fellows who don’t stack up well to similarly ranked fellows at other positions. Berger is in this clump with Cy Seymour, Kirby Puckett, Dale Murphy, and a few others whose main claim on the HoME is that they were pretty good prime candidates. If we feel like this position will be more lightly represented (especially with three strong center fielders becoming eligible post-2014), Berger and his ilk are goners. But he’s close enough to keep around.

Pete Browning, CF, 1882-1894, (-, M, -)

Pete BrowningWhy he should be in: What a bat! And his fielding isn’t actually that bad in context

Why he shouldn’t be in: Did all his best work in expansion seasons and in the weaker league

Other thoughts: The original Louisville Slugger. But the effects of the AA’s annual 1882-1884 expansions made it a lot easier to hit .400. Same in 1890 in the Player’s League. Browning’s career is also pretty short. On the other hand, center field is a bit of a wasteland after Max Carey, and Browning could rank highly in that crowd. A question to ask oneself. Self, would I rather have Pete Browning or Bernie Williams?

Willie Davis, CF, 1960-1976, 1979, (-, -, S)

Willie DavisWhy he should be in: He’s the Max Carey of the second Deadball era

Why he shouldn’t be in: He’s the Frank Tanana of center fielders

Other thoughts: We can see Davis two ways. He’s a top-15 center fielder with a couple fringe-MVP years, a couple All-Star years, and a lot of 3-4 win shoulder seasons. Or he is a guy who would be borderline at best at a stronger position thanks to having only a few excellent seasons. Our rules encourage us to strive for balance among the positions, and we may find him desirable in that regard. Or we may tell ourselves that we don’t need Davis because we have three stronger center fielders arriving 2015-2018 that we can save room for. Also that players from several other positions spent time in center, which will help us paper over any holes (Yount, Dawson, Leach, Simmons, and Ward in some bulk plus scraps of many others such as Winfield, Biggio, Bonds, Henderson, Kaline, Yaz, Gwynn, and Aaron).

Larry Doby, CF, 1947-1959, (F, M, S)

Larry DobyWhy he should be in: Nine seasons of 3.5-7.0 WAR; #12 at the position in Runs Above Average

Why he shouldn’t be in: Color barrier caused somewhat late start; we don’t count non-MLB stats

Other thoughts: Doby is a difficult call. We want to vote for him to pay homage to his overall service to baseball as the first African-American in the American League. We also appreciate that he’s in the other Halls. However, we worry that his career value may come up short of that of the final CF inductee. Further, it’s hard to vote for him based on a peak that is lesser than Dale Murphy and maybe Lenny Dykstra and a prime that might trail the likes of Cesar Cedeno and Chet Lemon.

Hugh Duffy, CF, 1888-1901, 1904-1906, (F, -, -)

Hugh DuffyWhy he should be in: Hit .440, played a mean center field, famous

Why he shouldn’t be in: My granny could hit .400 in the 1890s

Other thoughts: Not to trivialize a rare accomplishment, but hitting .440 in 1894 netted Duffy an OPS+ of 173. You’d think he could do better than that when he was also reaching base 50.2 percent of the time, right? When Yaz won the batting title in 1968 by hitting .301, his OPS+ was 171. Now compare both those to Ted Williams, whose .400 season is by far the most impressive .400 season in MLB history. Terrible Ted’s OPS+ on a .406 average was 235, which is the eighth best OPS plus ever by a guy who didn’t play in the two-bit Union Association. Duffy’s 173 OPS+ in his big year ties him for 286th on the all-time list. But this isn’t what sinks Duffy’s candidacy. The real problem is that he only had that one great year. Everything was pretty good. Couple All-Star type seasons. Nothing that jumps out at you. He’s a lot like Brett Butler, actually.

George Gore, CF, 1879-1892, (-, M, -)

George GoreWhy he should be in: He could be as high as the 16th best ever in center field

Why he shouldn’t be in: Weak positional competition and formulary uncertainty

Other thoughts: We’ve noted before how shallow center field is. That’s a strike against Gore’s candidacy because he isn’t a lights-out choice. Additionally, there’s uncertainty. In the case of borderline HoME players, the more adjustments you have to make, the less confidence you can have in the results. Gore played several years before the NL’s slate reached even 100 games. The shorter the schedule, the more the adjustment impacts your perceptions. So if we’re left to choose between Gore and Mike Griffin of the 1890s, Griffin probably wins out. Even if we’re left with Gore and Bernie Williams, whose adjusted numbers seem slightly inferior to Gore’s, Gore should still lose out. The uncertainty swamps the small distance between them.

Mike Griffin, CF, 1887-1898, (-, -, -)

Mike GriffinWhy he should be in: He could be as high as the 14th best ever in center field

Why he shouldn’t be in: 1890sitis?

Other thoughts: I’m glad Griffin comes just after Gore. We can have more confidence in our assessment of Griffin than Gore since there’s fewer games to adjust for in the 1890s schedules. BBREF likes his fielding a lot, but DRA has a mancrush the size of Texas on this guy. We’ve already elected several players whose DRA has propelled them above more conventional rankings. Griffin would simply be the latest, and perhaps the least heralded. We could do worse than him for sure. What we still have to answer is whether the 1890s are threatening to become a rabbit warren.

Cy Seymour, CF, 1896-1910, 1913, (-, -, -)

Cy SeymourWhy he should be in: Excellent defender, above average hitter, decent pitcher

Why he shouldn’t be in: There’s not enough of any of those attributes

Other thoughts: Pitching aside, Seymour is analogous to someone like Dom DiMaggio, though with far different circumstances: short career by games played, real good glove, helpful bat. Dom is far enough away that he was easy to knock out of the running. But Seymour adds three years of average or better pitching and his magical 1905 season. It’s probably not quite enough to vote for him, but it’s also not quite enough to say Cy-anora.


Right Field

Harry Hooper, RF, 1909-1925, (F, -, -)

Harry HooperWhy he should be in: Right field is deeeeep, and he’s a borderliner with upside

Why he shouldn’t be in: Pedestrian peak

Other thoughts:We seem likely to end up taking extra right fielders. The position is stacked, and the leftovers may be better than the candidates seemingly above the line elsewhere. Hooper is one of the leavings, and it’s an open question just how valuable his vaunted throwing arm was. His record of baserunner kills is very strong, but because we have no play-by-play data, we don’t know the full extent of his effectiveness. If he was Clementeesque, then he’s in. If he was “merely” Kalinesque, then he might be in. If he was Staubish, forget it. His peak is not at all sexy, and his career value isn’t remarkable, so he needs those extra runs pretty badly. We may make this call based on informed speculation about just how valuable his arm was.

Sam Rice, RF, 1915-1934, (F, -, -)

Sam RiceWhy he should be in: A consistent performer, fourth best AL RF for 60+ years

Why he shouldn’t be in: Never great, weak hitter at a bat-first position

Other thoughts: If you love Reggie Smith, you probably love Sam Rice too. By some measures, they’re statistical doppelgangers. But most people don’t really love Reggie Smith. Like a lot of guys who are hanging around the backlog, Rice just wasn’t ever great. Over his best five seasons, he trails the likes of Jesse Barfield, Roy Cullenbine, and Felipe Alou in value.

Enos Slaughter, RF, 1938-1942, 1946-1959, (F, M, -)

Enos SlaughterWhy he should be in: Undiscovered arm value pushes him upward

Why he shouldn’t be in: No it doesn’t

Other thoughts: Slaughter doesn’t have enough to get in on merits based on what we currently know about him. Although there are contemporary and historical references to the strength of his arm, the statistical record is mixed. Where we have play-by-play data, he checks in below average. But that data only covers his old-man seasons, and he stopped leading the league in assists just before that. As with Hooper, possessing a cannon for an arm could get Slaughter just enough to slide in. Unlike Hooper, however, the data and narrative appear to be at odds. Until it isn’t, Slaughter is too close to give an obit but not close enough to elect. Come on Retrosheet, what are you waiting for!!!!!!????!!!!

Miller and Eric



No comments yet.

Tell us what you think!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

Institutional History

%d bloggers like this: