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Compilers Are Great, Part III

johnny-damonEveryone loves pitchers like Sandy Koufax, but he gets his share of doubt around here since he only posted six good seasons, and only seven better than 1.06 adjusted WAR for me. Dizzy Dean is similar but without the peak Koufax had. That’s why he’s not a HoMEr. But at least people can say that those two were great. There are a bunch of pitchers on today’s list right near Dean on my all-time list who don’t feel like Hall of Famers to most people.

And they shouldn’t be in the Hall. But the guys on this list are every bit as good as Dean from a career level. They were just never great.

Today is the third in our seven-part series about guys who were good to excellent for a long, long time, many of whom don’t get the credit they deserve. Check out #60-#55 and #54-#46 if you haven’t already.

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.

So here we have #45 through #37.

Jerry Koosman, #45

Seasons: 19
5 WAR seasons: 6
1 WAR seasons: 15
Best year: Met fans may be disappointed to know that Koosman had the best year of his career in 1979 after he was shipped to the Twins. He posted a 20-13 record and 7.24 WAR. On the bright side for the New York, the player they acquired for him turned out to be Jesse Orosco.
Commentary: Koosman won a pair of games in the 1969 World Series and one more in 1973. He won 20 games twice, made two All-Star teams, and finished his career with a 222-209 mark. Right now he ranks #112 on my all-time pitcher list, right behind our pal Dizzy Dean.

David Wells, #44

Seasons: 21
5 WAR seasons: 2
1 WAR seasons: 17
Best year: In 1995, Wells put up 5.34 WAR pitching for the Tigers and Reds. He posted a 16-8 record overall but was better before going to the Reds for the stretch run.
Commentary: He pitched a perfect game, owns a couple of rings, made three All-Star teams, won 20 games in 1990, and owns a career record of 239-157. Wells, my 106th ranked pitcher, is truly long and low. He has six seasons of 4+ WAR, ten of 3+, and 14 of 2+. He seems like the type of pitcher old Vets groups might have considered electing. Let’s hope they don’t.

Jim Kaat, #43

Seasons: 25
5 WAR seasons: 4
1 WAR seasons: 15
Best year: I suspect very few think of Kaat as a White Sox, but that’s where he was in his 16th and 17th seasons, and where he had his two best. A 7.78 WAR season in 1975 was highlighted by 303.2 innings at an ERA+ of 126, which helped him to a 20-14 record.
Commentary: It’s not uncommon for people to advocate for Kaat’s induction into the Hall. At least it wasn’t about ten years ago. As the 102nd ranked pitcher on my pitcher list, I think he falls a little short. On the other hand, a 283-237 record over 4500+ innings is impressive indeed. He had a full complement of 15 tries in front of the BBWAA and never reached 30%. He did make three All-Star teams and win an incredible 16 Gold Gloves. The problem for Kaat is the lack of any meaningful prime, I think. He has only eight seasons of better than 2.8 WAR. More than 100 other pitchers can say the same.

Eppa Rixey, #42

Seasons: 21
5 WAR seasons: 3
1 WAR seasons: 17
Best year: At the age of 34, Rixey put up 5.98 WAR in 1925. He went 20-11 with a 142 OPS+.
Commentary: Four 20-win seasons highlight a career that saw a 266-251 record. The 100th best pitcher ever by my reckoning was the NL lefty wins leader until Warren Spahn came around.

Fred McGriff, #41

Seasons: 18
5 WAR seasons: 3
1 WAR seasons: 15
Best year: In 1989 McGriff won the first of two home run titles as well as titles in OPS and OPS+. Those numbers led him to the first of three Silver Slugger Awards and 7.07 WAR.
Commentary: McGriff is just the 41st best 1B ever. He is clearly not deserving of the Hall of Fame, and folks like me get all upset when writers use votes on him. Some of us need to realize that all sorts of first basemen below the line are in: Killebrew, Chance, Perez, Cepeda, Bottomley, and Kelly to name a few. David Ortiz is just five years from getting in too. The ten seasons of 30+ homers are very nice, as are the 493 in his career. He should be proud of the five All-Star nods and the six top-10 MVP finishes. But McGriff’s problem is he has just three seasons of All-Star quality. The only HoMEr at 1B who doesn’t have double that is Eddie Murray. However, Murray does have ten 4-win seasons compared to McGriff’s five. Put another way, if Murray just sat out his second, third, and fourth best seasons, he’d still be a shade ahead of McGriff.

Here’s the argument about McGriff that better addresses the writers who support him. They mention that he was clean of PED taint. That’s because either he never used, he used and wasn’t caught, or he used and nobody started a whisper campaign against him. Let me make very clear – absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

Jack Powell, #40

Seasons: 16
5 WAR seasons: 4
1 WAR seasons: 15
Best year: With a 23-19 record over 373 innings, Powell had his best season, 6.14 WAR, in 1899 with the St. Louis Perfectos. He did this despite an ERA+ of just 113.
Commentary: Powell is one of the game’s beautiful losers, compiling a career mark of just 245-254 in spite of being a very good pitcher. That mark gives him the record for most wins by a pitcher with a losing record. His career ERA+ of 106 over nearly 4400 innings says he was better than his record, that’s for sure. He won 20 games four times and led the league in saves three times. Oh, and much of what you need to know about McGriff is that Powell ranks in front of him. The 95th ranked pitcher on my list has eight seasons of 4+ WAR but not enough greatness to get into the Hall.

Johnny Damon, #39

Seasons: 18
5 WAR seasons: 3
1 WAR seasons: 17
Best year: In his final campaign in Kansas City in 2000, Damon put up 6.14 WAR while leading the AL in runs and stolen bases.
Commentary: Aside from the above, Damon has almost no Black Ink, just leading the AL in triples once. And he only made two All-Star squads in his career. Yet, if he could have hung around for 231 more hits, he’d get a ton of Hall consideration. Damon has 15 seasons of 1.99 or more WAR. Among center fielders, only he, Cobb, Mays, Speaker, and Mantle can say that. Of those who can match Damon’s 235 career homers, only Bonds, Rickey, Biggio, and Morgan join Damon with 1000+ RBI, 1500+ R, and 400+ SB. He’s 27th on my center field list, and he clearly was a good player for a long time. He’s shy of the Hall though.

Ernie Lombardi, #38

Seasons: 17
5 WAR seasons: 2
1 WAR seasons: 15
Best year: In 1938 Lombardi won a batting title in spite of being too slow to run out almost any infield single. And that was his best and only MVP season, posting an adjusted 6.94 WAR.
Commentary: Catchers are hard to figure given how different they are from everyone else on the field. It’s clear that Lombardi was an outstanding player, but I give him only two 5-WAR seasons. Even though he has a dozen at 2.5 or more, he’s short of the HoME. A second batting title is great, and his seven All-Star berths were nice too.

Willie Stargell, #37

Seasons: 21
5 WAR seasons: 4
1 WAR seasons: 15
Best year: Willie Stargell isn’t in the HoME because even though he could hit like a HoMEr, he was a bad defender and a bad baserunner. But in his best year, 1971, Pops was actually a positive in both of those areas. And boy did he hit – to the tune of 48 home runs and 125 runs batted in. All told, he was worth 7.46 WAR that year, the first of two during which his Pirates won the World Series.
Commentary: As the HoME goes, players aren’t in just because they’re great at something, even if that something is hitting. Stargell just lost too much value in other aspects of his game. Still, he has two rings, a 1979 co-MVP, two home run titles, a ribbie title, two OPS+ titles, and 475 career home runs. He’s just 27th on my left field list, and we can see why when we look at career depth. He has just six seasons of more than 3.1 WAR. That’s the same as Tom York and Jeff Heath. Who?

In one more week, I’ll review then next nine players on the list, #36 through #28.




2 thoughts on “Compilers Are Great, Part III

  1. Miller
    I hear Kevin roped you into joining our fantasy league. Good luck and may you always come in second (to me) every season.

    Posted by verdun2 | February 13, 2017, 6:28 pm
  2. Yes indeed. I shall do my best, which isn’t always so hot…

    Posted by Miller | February 13, 2017, 6:43 pm

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