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Compilers Are Great, Part IV

tim-hudsonAs we continue to look at our compilers, this week we reach the level where some get into the Hall of Fame, others get into the HoME, and still others don’t get the attention they may deserve.

One reason some lack appropriate attention is time. Roger Bresnahan and Enos Slaughter, for example, guys we’ll discuss today, feel like Hall of Famers to a lot of people. That’s not necessarily because they’re deserving (we think they’re both clear boarderliners); it’s because they’re already in the Hall. Bresnahan has been there since 1945, and Slaughter joined 40 years later. To people of a certain age, 1985 doesn’t feel like all that long ago, but it’s almost a third of a century. Slaughter has been a Hall of Famer for the entire baseball life of anyone born after about 1975. Many don’t think of him as anything other than a Hall of Famer.

There are other guys on this list like Jeff Kent, Tony Phillips, and Tim Hudson who have played recently enough that most fans can remember watching them. They feel more like guys we know rather than guys we’ve always known to be Hall of Famers.

What I’m saying is that we often develop our perceptions because of the way feel rather than because of the way we research.

Today is the fourth 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#54-#46, and #45-#37 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 #36 through #28.

Roger Bresnahan, #36

Seasons: 17
5 WAR seasons: 5
1 WAR seasons: 15
Best year: It was in his tenth year, 1908, that Bresnahan was at his best. He played 140 games, 24 more than his third best season. He led the NL in walks and had his fairly typical OBP of .401.
Commentary: The overall numbers aren’t striking. Bresnahan only had four years where he topped 110 games. And he never hit over five homers or drove in over 56 runs. But Bresnahan was a star, ranking 14th on my current catcher standings. That’s what catcher adjustments can do.

Fred Tenney, #35

Seasons: 17
5 WAR seasons: 6
1 WAR seasons: 15
Best year: In 1902, Tenney put up 6.62 WAR behind a triple slash line of .315/.409/.376, which was not so unusual for the day.
Commentary: Tenney ranks 33rd among first basemen for me, right between Hall of Famers Frank Chance and Tony Perez. His six seasons of 5+ WAR are impressive. It’s as many as George Sisler, Willie McCovey, and Hank Greenberg. It’s more than Jim Thome, Eddie Murray, and a bunch of Hall of Famers. So Tenney is a rare example of a peak/prime compiler. Just one more data point to say we shouldn’t give compilers a hard time.

Tommy John, #34

Seasons: 26
5 WAR seasons: 3
1 WAR seasons: 21
Best year: Contrary to what I think would be the typical guess, John had his best season before the surgery, putting up 5.88 WAR for the 1968 White Sox despite making only 25 starts.
Commentary: For me, John is the better version of Jim Kaat, what Kaat would be if he were still undeserving of the Hall. He led the league in winning percentage twice, made four All-Star teams, finished second in the Cy Young voting twice, went 288-231 on his career, and ranks 79th among all pitchers for me. There are 65 pitchers in the HoME, so we can see just how close John is.

Enos Slaughter, #33

Seasons: 19
5 WAR seasons: 15
1 WAR seasons: 3
Best year: Slaughter had his best season with 7.15 WAR for the 1949 Cardinals, leading the league in triples.
Commentary: Slaughter is a great example of a player who may not quite deserve to be in the HoME but absolutely belongs in the Hall. Aside from adjusting shorter seasons, we only credit actual MLB stats and don’t fill in what might have been. See, from age 27-29 Slaughter served in the military. Before he left he led the NL in hits, triples, and total bases. When he returned he led in runs batted in. He made ten All-Star teams, owns four rings, and finished in the top-3 in the MVP voting four times. In some ways it’s unfortunate for him that he’s best known for his “Mad Dash” in the 1946 World Series. Even with the missed time, I rank Slaughter 28th among right fielders, just behind Vladimir Guerrero.

Jeff Kent, #32

Seasons: 17
5 WAR seasons: 4
1 WAR seasons: 15
Best year: Kent’s best season was his 2000 NL MVP campaign where he put up 7.26 adjusted WAR to go with 33 HR, 125 RBI, and a triple slash of  .334/.424/.596.
Commentary: Kent is in the HoME, and I’m just barely okay with it. If we were to kick five guys out, he’d be one of them. Yeah, he made five All-Star teams, he won four Silver Sluggers, and he hit a bunch of home runs for a second baseman. Blah, blah, blah. The truth is that Kent is an example of why these compilers are pretty great – because they can do things that seemingly similar players can’t. Let’s look at Kent and contemporary Chuck Knoblauch through their best six seasons.

                  1    2    3    4    5    6   Total
Jeff Kent        7.3  7.2  5.3  5.1  4.3  3.9  33.01
Chuck Knoblauch  7.4  6.0  5.5  4.3  4.3  3.9  31.31

They’re pretty close, right?

But Kent was pretty impressive for another decade, averaging over 2.3 WAR per year, while Knoblauch posted another 7.85 WAR the rest of his career.

Wally Schang, #31

Seasons: 19
5 WAR seasons: 2
1 WAR seasons: 16
Best year: Schang’s best season might have been 1919. While he hit zero homers, he did walk 71 times and post a triple slash of .306/.436/.373.
Commentary: Schang is a great example of being very good for long time. He had as many 5-win seasons as Darren Daulton or Javy Lopez, fewer than Mickey Tettleton. But he was worth 2.5 WAR fifteen times. Only Carlton Fisk, Ivan Rodriguez, and Gabby Hartnett could last that long while being high-quality players.

Tim Hudson, #30

Seasons: 17
5 WAR seasons: 15
1 WAR seasons: 4
Best year: In what to some seems like just another year because he only went 16-7, Hudson put up 7.72 WAR in 2003 and finished fourth in the Cy voting.
Commentary: Hudson won 20 games only once, but that’s a poor standard, and a standard from last century. He had two 7-win seasons, another at six, one at five, three more at four, and a pair at three. He looks a decent amount like Orel Hershiser, Dave Steib, and Chuck Finley. That trio, like I expect Hudson to be, was ignored by the Hall. Also, that trio, like I expect Hudson to be, is all in the HoME.

Jose Cruz, #29

Seasons: 19
5 WAR seasons: 4
1 WAR seasons: 16
Best year: Curz was 36 years of age in 1984 when he put up 6.89 WAR, leading the NL in the all-important category of sacrifice flies.
Commentary: Nobody who made it into the HoME surprised me as much as Jose Cruz. His career high in homers was just 17. He never drove in 100 runs. He never scored 100. And he made just two All-Star teams. But he played in the Astrodome, which seriously suppressed scoring. Cruz looks a lot like Zach Wheat, who we’ll hear about later. He isn’t the type of guy people have in mind when they complain about compilers, but he’s a guy who just kept producing – eight seasons at 4+ WAR and four more over 2.5.

Tony Phillips, #28

Seasons: 18
5 WAR seasons: 5
1 WAR seasons: 15
Best year: In 1993 Phillips put up 6.45 WAR, much of which came on the basis of a league leading 132 walks. That pitchers would offer 132 free passes to a guy who homered only seven times speaks volumes about Phillips’ eye. In fact, only two other players in the last century, Ferris Fain and Eddie Stanky (twice), can boast seasons of that many walks and that few homers.
Commentary: I just said that Cruz was the biggest surprise HoME member. But maybe it’s this guy. He never made an All-Star team. He received MVP votes only once. On the other hand, he had a very good glove at a lot of positions, and he did have a plus bat overall. He might have a peak season of 6.45, but he also has more years at 5+ than Billy Herman and Lou Whitaker and more at 4+ than Craig Biggio. Lots and lots of impressive work is something fewer players can boast than most of us think. Phillips was a very good player for a very long time.

Next week, I’ll take a look at nine more, #27 through #19.




3 thoughts on “Compilers Are Great, Part IV

  1. A true pleasure of mine was watching Jose Cruz play. Around here we got the Astros a lot so I got to see him play more than a lot of people. He never got much press unless the Astros made the playoffs, then you got the constant “He’s the most underrated player in the game” refrain. Thanks for adding him.

    Posted by verdun2 | February 20, 2017, 8:30 am
  2. He may well have been. Of course, once you hear that 30 times, the guy’s no longer underrated.

    Posted by Miller | February 20, 2017, 12:25 pm

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