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In WAR, You Sometimes Tie

Sandy Koufax

I always put a card here,  and people love Sandy, so why not.

BBREF is good for a lot of things. It’s like the Swiss Army knife of baseball. On Monday, sandwiched around trying to sell a house and buy a car, I was looking through the career WAR leaderboard. Now this is something with which I’m generally familiar at the top, but as you move down the list there are some pretty fascinating ties. So today, we’re going to look at some of those ties, offering surface-level commentary and trying to understand perceptions of quality.


Mike Trout and Fernando Valenzuela, two of the game’s most talked about rookies. Trout’s in his sixth season, fifth full. It took Fernando seventeen to get here. Next up for Trout, with 0.1 more WAR, are Don Mattingly, Jose Canseco, Lenny Dykstra, and Red Schoendienst.


This is a fun one – Hugh Duffy, Charlie Keller, and Tony Oliva. All three were clearly very good players. Hugh Duffy found his way into the Hall, though he probably shouldn’t have. Charlie Keller has six outstanding seasons. In fact, his sixth best season is about fifteenth best among all left fielders. But he was done after that. It’s hard to hit homers with a bad back. Oliva is a little like Keller. He was an All-Star for five years, excellent for eight, and then done. His eighth best season is around the twentieth best among right fielders. Of course, knee and other assorted injuries ended his run. Because of superior defense, my MAPES system actually prefers Duffy to Keller and Oliva, though the Hall of Fame is a stretch.


This is where we see Hall of Famer Travis Jackson and very clear not Hall of Famer Steve Finley. By MAPES, Finley was already behind Mike Trout heading into this season. He’s even behind Hall mistakes in center field like Earl Averill, Edd Roush, and Earle Combs. Clearly, the Hall has its shortstop problems. Jackson is just one example thereof.


This is a fun tie. Herb Pennock is in the Hall, but he shouldn’t be unless you’re in a camp that wants the Hall large enough to include the likes of Bartolo Colon. And no, that’s not a joke about Big Sexy’s size. Dizzy Dean is in the Hall. He’s not in the HoME since he really gave us about six years and nothing else. Harry Stovey isn’t in either. He wasn’t quite great enough when he was great, and he really only put up twelve years of note. And then there’s J.D. Drew. He was hated by Philadelphia fans because he wouldn’t sign with them for less than $10 million. He wasn’t beloved by St. Louis fans because of the perception he didn’t work hard enough and because they thought he’d be better than they perceived he was. He killed it in Atlanta for just a season. He was good in Los Angeles for two. And then Boston fans had their turn at not appreciating him after he signed for five years and $70 million in 2007. Drew was hurt a lot, topping 140 games just twice. And he seemed to underperform. That’s because fans have a hard time seeing the little things that Drew did well. He was an excellent all-around player. And while he’s no candidate for the HoME, his eleven 2-WAR seasons match Sammy Sosa and Vlad Guerrero among right fielders. And they top Elmer Flick and Ichiro Suzuki (unless he somehow makes it this year).


Decon White is in the Hall of Fame, and as the greatest ever third baseman before Home Run Baker, he should be. Omar Vizquel has his backers too. He played until he was 45, totaled 2877 hits, and is perceived by some to be the greatest fielding shortstop this side of Ozzie Smith. Omar’s Rfield number at BBREF is a very impressive 128. However, his DRA, which I think is a superior fielding measure, is -31. Vizquel is just about the most overrated player in the game’s history if you prefer DRA to Rfield. The truth, I’m sure, is somewhere in the middle. But when some group wages a campaign for Omar in 25 years and it succeeds, just know that it shouldn’t have.


Ernie Lombardi played seventeen years. He’s in the Hall probably because today’s advanced metrics didn’t account for his miserable base running at the time. Thurman Munson played for twelve years. He isn’t in the Hall, though he is in the HoME due to an outstanding peak and prime. His five best seasons top Mickey Cochrane. His seven best top Carlton Fisk. And his ten best top Bill Dickey.


Jim Rice and Frank Viola are tied here. Why’d I bother writing an entire How the Hall Failed post on Jim Rice when I simply could have pointed out this tie?


Here you have undeserving Hall of Famer Nellie Fox, if you trust DRA and realize Fox was a pretty mediocre hitter, even for a second baseman. And you also have Sandy Koufax. Since I’m a baseball fan, I love Sandy Koufax. But I really can’t stand the historical company he keeps. He’s no Walter Johnson. He’s no Greg Maddux. And he’s no Clayton Kershaw. Yes, Sandy Koufax was amazing. However, even if we look at Koufax by his best five seasons consecutively, he’s behind Pedro Martinez and Bob Gibson and Lefty Grove. If you prefer to look at only four, he still trails those three – and at least a dozen other guys by both measures. Again, I love Sandy Koufax. Don’t tell anyone, but we sort of saw Koufax in Minnesota and New York from 2004-2008, except they called him Johan Santana. It’s amazing how narrative affects our perceptions.


Ralph Kiner and Dennis Martinez are tied. See Rice and Viola above. To be fair, Kiner did have an amazing power peak. But he was done at 30. El Presidente didn’t really get started until he was 33. He once said, “My concentration wasn’t on baseball; it was on drinking.” Imagine if it were on baseball.


This is one of my favorite ties of all. Bobby Doerr is a Hall of Famer, though he barely, barely, barely missed the HoME. Felix Hernandez is one of the best pitchers of his generation. And then there’s Toby Harrah. For seventeen seasons, Harrah got on base and knew what to do once he was there. But he hit .264 in his career while playing in Texas and Cleveland. He never reached the playoffs, and the back of his baseball card wasn’t exciting. It’s with great confidence I say Harrah was better than Hall of Fame third basemen Freddie Lindstron, George Kell, and Pie Traynor. If he wasn’t such a hack on defense, he’d likely be in the HoME. Of course, he really was bad defensively. Really bad.


Hall of Famer Waite Hoyt and Mark Teixeira are tied. Don’t get too excited Tex fans. Your guy was a Yankee, but he wasn’t a 1927 Yankee.


Here we have Clayton Kershaw, 70 spots above Koufax, by the way. We also have a guy killed by perception, Ron Cey. He didn’t have a baseball body. He wasn’t as pretty as Steve Garvey. And he certainly didn’t hit for the average Garvey did. On the other hand, Garvey’s career OBP was .329 and Cey’s was .354. Steve Garvey certainly played in the right generation for a player of his type. Ron Cey didn’t.


Please see #339 and #315 David Ortiz fans. He’s tied with David Wells. Then again, Papi will probably produce for another eight or twelve years, win three more World Series for the Sox, and become a unanimous Hall of Fame selection. (I can’t say bad stuff about Papi).


Hall of Famers and HoMErs Max Carey and Bill Terry are tied with HoMErs Bucky Walters and Jose Cruz. We’re looking at the borderline here. Someone could certainly prefer Frank Tanana to Walters. Most people prefer Joe Medwick and Willie Stargell to Cruz. Carey was in a conversation with George Gore, Mike Griffin, and Willie Davis for a couple of center field spots. And Bill Terry isn’t so, so far ahead of Jake Beckley, Will Clark, and John Olerud. Hall and HoME lines are hard to draw and blurry. And even if you get them right, there’s a consideration about peak, prime, and career that’s pretty messy too.


I’ve fallen in love with Joe Gordon these past few years. Amazing bat, amazing glove, incredible peak. And the guy he’s tied with shows either that reliever WAR is bunk or that relievers just aren’t all that valuable – Mariano Rivera. If you’re like me, you have about 70 movies and songs in your personal top-ten lists. Well, with that said, Mariano is clearly one of my ten favorite players ever. As a reminder, in 141 innings in the playoffs, he had a 0.70 ERA.


Hank Greenberg and Willie Stargell are tied. The former is in the HoME, the latter isn’t. The former reached #208 all-time in 13 seasons, the latter in 21. That pretty much explains it.


Sal Bando and Jackie Robinson. Yes, it took Bando sixteen years to accomplish what Robinson did in ten. Still, players from the 1970s and 1980s are criminally underrated. And we just ignore the greatness of the third basemen of that era. Sure, we bow down to Schmidt and Brett, but Buddy Bell, Graig Nettles, Darrell Evans, and Sal Bando were truly great too. And how great is it for Bando to be able to say he’s tied with Jackie Robinson in all-time WAR!


Willie McCovey and Andre Dawson are tied. Seems about right.


Ed Walsh and Willie Randolph. It’s not just third basemen of that era who are underrated. Nearly everybody is. If I twist my brain in certain ways, I can find a path to the Hall for a ton of players. But somehow I can’t find one for Randolph, a guy who I think is clearly qualified. There’s nothing sexy about him. Comparisons to Bid McPhee and Ross Barnes hardly help. And it’s hard to make a case for too many guys with but one year better than 5.8 WAR. Randolph, though, is one.


Goose Goslin and Buddy Bell. Hey, another third baseman from an overlooked era. These two really are similarly great historically. A more apt historical comparison for Buddy Bell, however, is Brooks Robinson. If Bell were fifteen years older and began his career in Baltimore and Brooks were fifteen years younger and began his career in Cleveland, our perceptions would pretty much flip.


No-brainer Hall of Famer Carlton Fisk is tied with a guy who received just eighteen career Hall of Fame votes, Kenny Lofton. Perhaps it’s not just Tim Raines who Rickey Henderson has crushed.


Hall of Fame voters, please take note. Here we have one of the 1970s greatest pitchers in Jim Palmer. We also have one of the 2000s greatest players in Carlos Beltran. This may be true only for the next few days. Beltran is having a fine 2016 campaign. Maybe by the time it’s done he can be tied at #92 with Bobby Grich.


Frankie Frisch is a Hall of Famer. Pretty much everyone agrees. Red Ruffing is a Hall of Famer. Pretty much everyone agrees. Ron Santo is a Hall of Famer. Even though it took forever, pretty much everyone agrees. And then there’s Alan Trammell. Let me guess. He played in the 1970s or 1980s and didn’t hit for huge average or huge power.


I bring this one up for no reason other than it’s the highest tie on the all-time WAR leaderboard. Pedro Martinez is tied with John Clarkson. While it’s absolutely crazy to try to compare players with careers a hundred years apart, I’m very thankful for WAR for letting us try.






  1. Pingback: WAR Ties, Pitchers | the Hall of Miller and Eric - July 20, 2016

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