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The Backlog, What They’re Missing, Outfielders

Some players are getting into the HoME quite easily. Others are a little clogged up.

Some players are getting into the HoME quite easily. Others are a little clogged up.

In the last few months, we’ve made tremendous progress at the Hall of Miller and Eric. So it’s once again time to check out our backlog. As we wrote when we discussed our infielders on Friday, we’re going to do it a little differently this time. In addition to the simple biographical stuff and whether or not they’re in the Halls of Fame, Merit, and Stats, we’re going to discuss three things about each player. First, we’ll offer a simple explanation as to why the player lives on. Second, we’ll examine a potential fatal flaw in his candidacy. And finally, we’ll look to the seasons that are the reasons players haven’t been elected yet. Today we look at the outfielders, and Wednesday it’ll be pitchers.

Since we last checked in on the outfielders, there have been a number of changes. Some have been elected, others written off, and still others added to our pile.

  • New outfield backlog: Roy White, Reggie Smith
  • Old backlog now in the HoME: Bob Johnson, Willie Davis, Harry Hooper
  • Old backlog receiving obituaries: Wally Berger, Larry Doby, Hugh Duffy, Cy Seymour

There are eleven outfielders who we’ve discussed along the way who have neither been elected nor been given obituaries. Those players will receive more attention today. Some, of course, are sure to get elected to the HoME, and it’s probable others will receive obituaries. We hope you enjoy.

LEFT FIELD

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

Why He Lives On: High-OBP hitter with a little pop and some speed. A core player on a dynasty with strong All-Star or fringe MVP seasons from 1894–1897.

Potentially Fatal Flaw: Kelley’s last great season was 1897. In 1900, at age 28, he had his last very good season. After 1900, Kelley started missing about 40 games annually, eating into his value. Eventually his bat gave out. He slid downhill and by 1905 wasn’t worth a roster spot anymore. A healthier Kelley might well have already been elected to the HoME.

Seasonal Struggle: What a sordid affair. In July 1902, Kelley, acting player-manager of the Orioles while Mugsy McGraw was suspended, was himself suspended indefinitely for umpire baiting. He didn’t play until the end of the month, but not before the team had been bought out by two NL owners who gutted it to the betterment of their Senior Circuit franchises. Kelley’s next appearance came with Cincinnati whose owner, John T. Brush, was one of the two principals who had bought the O’s. But Kelley didn’t appear until the 31st having made a stop in Boston trying to convince some of the Boston Americans to join him with the Reds. He missed a month of the year and ended up in only 100 contests for the season. To top it off, Kelley’s signing and the attendant rumors about his managing the Red Legs led incumbent Bid McPhee to resign mid-campaign, with Kelley then taking the reins. The whole thing kind of stinks, doesn’t it?

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

Why He Lives On: All those home run titles and all those walks in such a short time! His career includes two MVP-level seasons, a near-MVP season, and a couple plain-old All-Star years.

Potentially Fatal Flaw: It’s good to have a cast-iron stomach. It’s bad to have a cast-iron glove. Kiner’s wasn’t in the Stargell/Sheffield category of awfulness, but it was close. But maybe it was just the short career length that kept Kiner from being able to achieve their level of awfulness.

Seasonal Struggle: After five years from 1947-1951 during which he averaged 7.4 WAR, Kiner was establishing himself as a HOMEr. But in 1952 he began to struggle. The Isolated Power fell more than 60 points from the previous seasons, and the BABIP also fell 60 points. Only the latter ever recovered. Kiner actually had a second flaw. He could also have used a cast-iron back. He started to lose power in 1952 and 1953, and by 1954 and 1955, he was no longer the same hitter. Give him just one more All-Star year, another three WAR in one of his latter seasons, and he leaps past Kelley, Medwick, and White, and quite possibly into the HoME.

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

Why He Lives On: An MVP type year, three All-Star years, two very near to All-Star years.

Potentially Fatal Flaw: While we use the word “fatal” with a not-so drastic connotation, Medwick’s trouble may have started with a potentially fatal June 1940 beaning. Medwick did recover to finish the season well, and his 1941 campaign went well, but beginning in 1942, age 30, he fashioned only one season above average and lots of them below it. I don’t know whether the knock on his noodle shaved years off of his career, but he aged rapidly and ungracefully.

Seasonal Struggle: Things got real ugly in 1942 and 1943 when Ducky averaged 1.3 WAR after 4.7 and 3.8 surrounding them. Playing full time, Medwick first posted a career low OPS+ of 115, then sunk down to 97, earning his release from the Dodgers along the way. His fielding, which had been about average also fell below par. His power was just gone. Isolated Power dropped from .199 to .103 and .103. It never recovered. Medwick had a last hurrah in 1944, but was done as a good player or even an average one after age 32.

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

Why He Lives On: He played forfreakinever, was consistently good, and never lost the ability to hit.

Potentially Fatal Flaw: Flaws, really. Like Kiner, he was iron-gloved and he also had a Beckleyesque inability to generate a peak. The glove costs him a lot. Maybe as much as ten wins when scaled to modern times. The peak thing is tough for us to really understand. We have to extrapolate him to a modern schedule to reasonably compare him to modern players. Maybe that process overfits him and makes him seem less peakish than he really was? Possible. Or maybe he just had an amazing ability to keep popping out above-average seasons that never looked great. Ultimately, O’Rourke presents a wide variety of really annoying puzzles. There’s the aforementioned questions of extrapolation, defense, and low-peakedness. There’s the fact that we have little base-running information on him, and it’s mixed. We aren’t even certain whether we want or need anyone else from the 1870s or 1880s. And left field isn’t wanting for plaques either. Plus O’Rourke’s bat, while very good, doesn’t scream “induct-me.” Good thing we have another year of these elections to get this all worked out.

Seasonal Struggle: In a weird way, it’s every season. O’Rourke finished in the top-ten in his league in WAR (pitchers included) just once, 1877. He was sixth. Seven other times he finished in the top-ten in WAR among position players. Never once, however, did he finish higher than sixth. Actually, that’s by BBREF’s version of WAR with Total Zone. We like DRA a lot around here, and O’Rourke is about three times worse on defense by DRA than by Total Zone. And there were mediocre seasons sprinkled in with his good ones. In a strong from 1875-1886 where he otherwise averaged 4.8 WAR with adjustments, O’Rourke threw in three clunkers, at 2.0, 2.5, and 1.5. He began striking out a lot and walking very little in 1878. As for the other two seasons, that’s where the real defensive struggles began. It’s interesting that we’re asking for both more consistency and more greatness out of the same player.

Roy WhiteRoy White, LF, 1965–1979, (-, -, -)

Why He Lives On: Two fringe MVP years, four solid All-Star years, one near-All-Star year, three others above average. And, in a word, DRA. Which says he was something like the Bobby Veach of his day.

Potentially Fatal Flaw: Michael Humphreys, author of Wizardry, which lays out DRA, explains that Yankee Stadium’s humongous left field prior to 1974 probably gave White (and his predecessors) a five-run advantage over players in other parks. Eric stopped voting for him once this was pointed out because it knocks White down from a pretty easy vote to a very borderline one. He’s not in any danger of having Miller write his obit, but it’s not clear yet what his path to a plaque is.

Seasonal Struggle: White was consistent enough that were no real mid-career outliers. Still, a secondary issue for White is that five of his seasons are a complete waste. The 383 games he played in 1965, 1966, 1967, 1978, and 1979 add up to 1.0 WAR. Blech. On the other hand, he played like an All-Star in darn near all of his other ten years. Convert just one of those rotten seasons to one more All-Star year, and he’s in like flint. Lucky for him he’s not out like Flint (Rhem) or like (Silver) Flint.

CENTER FIELD

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

Why He Lives On: 223, 178, 174, 188, 155, 177, 165, 100, 169, 141, 132, 152. Those are his OPS numbers from 1882–1893. Any questions?

Potentially Fatal Flaw: 14%, 13%, 5%, 0%, 18%, 2%, 27%, 40%, 9%, 23%, 45%, 54%. Those are the percentages of games Browning missed from 1882–1893. In 162-game-notation that’s equal to appearing in 139, 141, 154, 162, 133, 130, 118, 97, 147, 125, 89, and 75 games, or 126 a year. That’s about what Rickey Henderson and Larry Walker appeared in, but while they were both excellent hitters like Browning, their careers were longer, they were good fielders (Browning, probably not), and they played in unquestionably strong leagues (Browning’s AA, not so much either).

Seasonal Struggle: 1889 is a dagger through Browning’s heart. The one year he failed to hit, sandwiched in between seasons of 3.2 and 6.2 WAR was a goose egg. Most sources indicate that things in the Louisville reached epic-fail proportions that you’ll just have to read about, including the Johnstown Flood and a player strike. Perhaps the hard-drinking Browning took it a little personally. Browning escaped to the Players League in 1890 and resumed his terrorizing of MLB pitchers, but the lost season takes its toll on his chances for internet enshrinement. The four or five WAR he’s missing could make a big difference on our ballots.

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

Why He Lives On: Because he was a damn good player. Just not quite good enough to vote for with ease.

Potentially Fatal Flaw: A late start doesn’t help. Gore played in industrial leagues for a paper mill company in Maine into his early 20s. He didn’t reach pro ball until age 23 and didn’t appear in the big leagues until age 25. Since he’s only a good season or two away from the HoME, he misses those early years terribly.

Seasonal Struggle: Much like Browning above, Gore’s 1888 torpedoes his chances. Between seasons of 2.5 WAR and 3.2 WAR, he put up a negative number. Because Gore is so close to voteable, this awful season does more damage than it would to someone with plenty else to counterweight it. Hard to say what happened in 1888. Whether injury or a roster crunch, Gore only played in 64 games and hit poorly when he did. Whatever the reason, his power sank to career-low values in terms of his ability to generate extra-base hits on contact (his ISO was the second worst of his career), and his BABIP dropped 50 points to the second lowest in his career. Contemporary sources liked to cite wine and women, but this has the earmarks of injury.

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

Why He Lives On: Outstanding fielder and good hitter (123 career OPS+) who never had a bad season (though he rarely had a great one).

Potentially Fatal Flaw: The courage of his convictions. Griffin retired after 1898 due to a contract dispute with Brooklyn. Griffin’s side would be upheld by two New York state courts, but his career was over. During the multi-month battle, the Dodgers sold him to Cleveland who sold him to Saint Louis. Griffin wanted part of either of these baseball wastelands and chose to stay home. Too bad for us fans and for baseball that the industry treated its players so poorly for so long. Careers like Griffin’s, Amos Rusie’s, George Davis’, Curt Flood’s, and Charley Jones’ were gutted, ended, or at least interrupted by short-sighted ownership treating its players like enemies rather than partners in a highly prosperous business relationship.

Seasonal Struggle: It’s not the seasons he played that were problematic, it’s the ones he chose not to play (see above). If we’re isolating one season, perhaps it’s the 1893 season he played at 4.0 WAR in between 5.3 before and 6.2 after. Could the change of distance from mound have caused him a problem? Nah. It was more likely an injury. He played in a career low 95 games.

RIGHT FIELD

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

Why He Lives On: Like Beckley and O’Rourke, there’s enough career value that we can’t just ditch him due to his low peak. But also, there’s a certain parallel to be drawn with the recently inducted Harry Hooper in that Rice had an excellent arm that isn’t likely well accounted for.

Potentially Fatal Flaw: For the Hall of Fame, he came up 13 hits shy of 3000. Of course, he’s in the Hall of Fame. For us, the lack of much peak is the issue. That’s really it. And when you don’t have a peak, you can’t skimp on the career totals. Not that 13 hits would ever be at issue for us.

Seasonal Struggle: 1918 was a bad year for most of the world, so if Sam Rice loses out on a virtual plaque in the Hall of Miller and Eric, it’s no big deal. But his wartime service does make a big difference in his case. Rice only got into seven games in 1918. In 1917, 1919, 1920, and 1921 he had All-Star type seasons, and the missing 4–6 WAR do make a big difference. Especially since his 1927 season was poor due to defensive regression and a somewhat low BABIP. The combo of a missed season and a dud of one makes it very difficult for a player with no real peak to accumulate the career value necessary to get a vote.

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

Why He Lives On: He might have had a spectacular arm, and in the event that we get some much-needed data from Retrosheet, the statistics might be enough to merit even stronger consideration.

Potentially Fatal Flaw: Not enough great seasons. Jesse Barfield and Magglio Ordonez, for example, Match Slaughter’s three 5-win seasons. It could be said that Harry Hooper had even a larger issue in terms of super-peak, but his was mitigated by thirteen seasons better than Slaughter’s eighth best. Of course, the reason for this was the War. Slaughter was the wrong age at the wrong time. He missed his age 27, 28, and 29 seasons, the heart of his career. Most players peak in that age range, and Slaughter’s OPS+es were rising throughout his early 20s. When he returned from the service, those figures remained around where they’d been before the War.

Seasonal Struggle: After averaging 6.3 WAR in 1948 and 1949, Slaughter dropped like a rock to only 2.9 total WAR the next two seasons. He began to hit for less power in 1950 and was nursing an injury in 1951. Perhaps that injury is also why his defense regressed. Given the time he missed due to the War, he needed continued excellence those years.

Reggie SmithReggie Smith, RF, 1966-1982, (-, M, S)

Why He Lives On: Lots of good and very good seasons and played a lot of centerfield.

Potentially Fatal Flaw: Inability to stay on the field. Smith’s rate stats are excellent, his real problem was not playing enough. He averaged 124 games a year from 1967 to the end of his career. In the last decade of his career, he only got to within 25 games of a full season twice. He never played 150 or more games in a season after age 26. In 1979 and 1980 he suffered serious injuries, including one to his shoulder that required Dr. Frank Jobe to repair it. The injury was so severe that Smith was limited to pinch hitting for all of 1981. He was done after 1982, age 37, and went off to Japan despite an excellent good-bye campaign in the states. Basically, continued injury problems nicked away at his seasonal WAR and took a nice chunk out of his career number.

Seasonal Struggle: Real problems were 1975 and 1976. In the two years before, he averaged 5.3 WAR. In the two years after, it was 6.0. But in those two years, it was only 2.8. While nagging injuries were probably to blame in 1975, there were even more pains the next year. A BB rate that crashed, a K rate that spiked, and 40 points off a BABIP will do that to a guy.

If you’ve missed it, take a look at our infield backlog, and check out our pitching backlog coming on Wednesday.

Miller and Eric

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