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Compilers Are Great, Part II

jack-clark-1979One thing that’s true about “Compilers” is that they’re often misunderstood. Even guys who would never be considered compilers by reasonable people can be seen negatively if they play for a long, long time. Carl Yastrzemski is one such player. When I was a kid, word was that the only reason Yaz ended up with 3000 hits is that he played for so long. On one hand, it’s clear that you need to play for quite a while to compile 3000 hits, especially if you’re a .285 career hitter. But there are two problems with the argument that Yaz just hung on. First, he played four years beyond the time he reached 3000 hits. He did so with a passably 108 OPS+ and 2.4 WAR from age 40 on. The second reason is that Yaz was a peak stud, averaging about 9.5 WAR from 1967-1970, not someone who just hung on.

Sometimes we just make arguments to fit a narrative that’s already in our heads.

Welcome back to the second in a seven-part series on guys who were good to excellent for a long, long time, many of whom don’t get the credit they deserve. As you may already have read when I discussed players 55-60, criteria to be included on this list include:

  • They must have had at least one 5 WAR season with my adjustments. If they don’t have even one season where they played like an All-Star, they’re just not good enough to make our list.
  • They cannot have had a season with an adjusted WAR of 8 or more. That’s because we’re not interested in guys with too high a peak.
  • For the same reason, they also cannot have a prime where they averaged 6 WAR per season. For that reason anyone with 42+ adjusted WAR for their best seven seasons is eliminated.
  • They must have had at least 15 seasons posting at least a single WAR. If not, they haven’t been good enough for long enough.
  • And they must be retired. We don’t want to take the chance that a current player knocks himself off the list with a late-career surge.

Ezra Sutton, #54

Seasons: 18
5 WAR seasons: 4
1 WAR seasons: 15
Best year: In 1884, the third sacker led the NL with 162 hits for the Boston Beaneaters and put up an adjusted 7.02 WAR.
Commentary: I rank him #34 among third baseman, just ahead of Hall of Famer Pie Traynor. To be honest though, converting statistics from a century and a quarter ago isn’t the easiest work.

Stan Hack, #53

Seasons: 16
5 WAR seasons: 1
1 WAR seasons: 15
Best year: The long-time Cub had his best year as WWII ended in 1945 at 6.34 WAR. But it is was still a time when not every major leaguer was back. So it was his best converted WAR, not necessarily his best year.
Commentary: Just one step up from Sutton at third is Hack. He had a couple of hits titles, a couple of stolen base titles when you didn’t need 20 to lead the league, and four All-Star games.

Lave Cross, #52

Seasons: 21
5 WAR seasons: 2
1 WAR seasons: 16
Best year: A .387/.424/.528 triple slash line in 1894 led Cross to 132 runs batted in and 7.23 converted WAR.
Commentary: Our cavalcade of third basemen rolls along. I have Cross 31st in history. Among third sackers, only George Brett and Chipper Jones topped Cross in BA, R, and RBI.

Dennis Martinez, #51

Seasons: 23
5 WAR seasons: 2
1 WAR seasons: 15
Best year: Remember how David Ortiz pranced around the league destroying opposing pitchers at age 40. Well, El Presidente rocked when he was 41, to the tune of 6.17 adjusted WAR and a 12-5 record in 1995.
Commentary: Martinez had an outstanding career, going 245-193 over nearly 4000 innings. He won an ERA title in 1991 while also leading the league in shutouts. In another, the strike-shortened season of 1981, he also led the league in wins. And he made four All-Star teams during his career. We must wonder aloud about his alcohol demons and how they may have held him back from immortality.

Jack Quinn, #50

Seasons: 23
5 WAR seasons: 1
1 WAR seasons: 20
Best year: Way back in when he was just 30, 1914 in the Federal League, Quinn posted 5.57 adjusted WAR for the Baltimore Terrapins on his way to a 26-14 record.
Commentary: The Slovakian-born (before Slovakia existed as it does today) spitballing (after the spitter was banned but before pitchers stopped using it) righty pitched until he was 49, posting a 247-218 record, even leading the league in saves (before saves existed and way before we awarded Hall plaques for them) twice. The 120th ranked pitcher in history used to hold all sorts of age-related records that have since been broken by Jamie Moyer, Julio Franco, and others.

George Van Haltren, #49

Seasons: 17
5 WAR seasons: 2
1 WAR seasons: 15
Best year: Back in 1896, Van Haltren posted 5.60 WAR, won a triples title, and produced a triple slash of .351/.410/.484.
Commentary: He’s the 33rd best center fielder ever, quite similar to Vada Pinson. His important Ink ends after a stolen base title in 1900, and he posted a 122 OPS+. The speedster retired with 583 stolen bases, which is 21st all-time, and 1642 runs, good for 38th.

Jack Clark, #48

Seasons: 18
5 WAR seasons: 2
1 WAR seasons: 15
Best year: Jack the Ripper had a great year at the plate in 1987. In addition to 35 homers and 106 batted in, he led the league in walks, OBP, SLG, and OPS+. Because Clark was poor defensively and didn’t add value elsewhere, he totaled “only” 5.74 WAR that year.
Commentary: Clark was a slugger throughout much of his career, topping 20 homers ten other times. He also led the league in walks two more times – in both of his seasons with the Padres. Four total All-Star nods and a career 137 OPS+ help Clark to the status of the 33rd best right fielder ever. That’s just one slot ahead of Hall of Famer Kiki Cuyler. If you’re a fairly big Hall type, Clark wouldn’t be such an awful selection.

Jimmy Ryan, #47

Seasons: 17
5 WAR seasons: 2
1 WAR seasons: 16
Best year: Ryan was a hitting star for the 1888 Chicago White Stockings, leading the NL in H, 2B, HR, SLG, and TB. That campaign was good for 6.44 adjusted WAR.
Commentary: A contemporary of George Van Haltren and the 31st center fielder on my list, Ryan was a near-identical player in terms of value. Aside from the 1888 season, he only once led the league in another important category, total bases in 1889. He’s currently 37th in career runs and 45th in career triples.

Luis Gonzalez, #46

Seasons: 19
5 WAR seasons: 5
1 WAR seasons: 15
Best year: Gonzalez was a good player who went wild on the NL in 2001, smacking 57 homers and driving in 142. Those numbers came with a triple slash of .325/.429/.688 and an OPS+ of 174 and 7.78 WAR.
Commentary: Yes, the 2001 season was an outlier. Still, Gonzalez was a very solid player for many years. He led the league in hits in 1999, and he made five All-Star teams. Right now Gonzalez is 17th in career doubles, and he ranks 31st on my list among left fielders. His career highlight, of course, was the game winning his in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series against Mariano Rivera.

One week from now, we’ll review #45-#37 on the list.

Miller

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