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Compilers Are Great, Part V

reggie-smithWe’re at a point now in our discussion of compilers where we’re approaching the elite. Of the eight eligible guys on this list, seven are in the HoME. However, there are only four who are in the Hall, including only the only one not in the HoME (though he’s incredibly close).

So why is this? To me, the answer is very clear and can be understood by looking at this graphic below from The Hall has done a very poor job electing players since the 1960s, at least compared to what they did before that. And every one of those in the HoME but not in the Hall played since then. Only one of those in the Hall played since then.


So compliers used to be embraced but they aren’t now? I don’t know about that. What I think is that the Hall standards have gotten more strict.

Today is the fifth 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, #45-#37, and #36-#28 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 #27 through #19.

Willie Davis, #27

Seasons: 18
5 WAR seasons: 16
1 WAR seasons: 4
Best year: Willie Davis was a stud. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. And he makes this  list (rather than eclipsing it) only because I use DRA and don’t round. In 1964, Davis put up 7.98 adjusted WAR. He did so with only a dozen homers and 22 walks on the year. That’s because he was phenomenal in every other aspect of the game. And guys who are great at everything are sometimes overlooked. Davis is such a guy.
Commentary: Davis was a great player indeed. He’s a HoMEr, though he never received a single vote for the Hall. He made just two All Star squads. Though known for his glove, it was only Gold three times. The career hits at 2561 are nice but not elite. His Black Ink existed only in triples. It’s no surprise at all that he was overlooked, but he shouldn’t be. My adjustments give him more 3-WAR seasons than Duke Snider. He was worth more than 2-WAR more than Billy Hamilton or Richie Ashburn and as many times as Ken Griffey and Joe DiMaggio.

Orel Hershiser, #26

Seasons: 18
5 WAR seasons: 4
1 WAR seasons: 15
Best year: To the surprise of nobody, Hershiser’s best season was 1988. He won the NL Cy that year after pitching 59 consecutive scoreless innings to close out the season. His right arm and 7.74 WAR then took the Dodgers past the Mets and then the A’s to win the World Series. All told, he gave up five earned in 42.2 innings that post-season.
Commentary: What people might forget about Hershiser is that his run from 1987-1989 was truly exceptional. I convert those seasons to over 22.4 WAR. Hershiser is also the poster boy for ignoring a pitcher’s win-loss record. In 1986, 1987, and 1989, he was exactly a .500 pitcher each year, once with an ERA+ of 90, once at 131, and once leading the league at 149. On the other hand, his magical 1988 campaign saw that same 149 ERA+ with a 23-8 record. The torn labrum and reconstructive shoulder surgery in 1990 ended his dominance, but his 51.7 bWAR and #63 ranking among all pitchers punched his ticket to the HoME despite just three All Star games and only 204 wins.

Don Sutton, #25

Seasons: 23
5 WAR seasons: 4
1 WAR seasons: 22
Best year: In 1972 Sutton put up 6.27 WAR with a 19-9 record and an NL-leading nine shutouts. Tough year when you only go 10-9 when not shutting out your opponent.
Commentary: For me, Don Sutton is the epitome of a pitcher never being great for an individual season but still being great for his career as a function of continued goodness. At no point did he win a Cy Young. He never finished second either, and only placed third once. He won 324 games but made just four All-Star teams in 23 years. The only important thing at which Sutton excelled was controlling the strike zone. He never until his final season issued over 2.8 walks per nine. And he led his league in WHIP four times. What’s remarkable about Sutton is his durability. As a rookie with the Dodgers in 1966, he threw 225.2 innings. The only time he fell under 200 again until 1987 was the strike-shortened 1981 campaign. And aside from 1983, he won in double figures every year from 1966-1987, yet he only managed to reach 20 once. He’s exactly what this list is about. He had more seasons of three wins than Juan Marichal had of two. And he had more three-win campaigns than the likes of Stan Coveleski, Dazzy Vance, and Jim Bunning. And if you’re looking for the guy with the best 15th best season ever, Sutton is topped by only 15 pitchers. He was so consistently good.

Just as an aside, on my list of best pitchers in their 15th best season, each of the top-34 are in the Hall or pitched for the Yankees: Roger Clemens, Mariano Rivera, Mike Mussina, Andy Pettitte, Tommy John, Kevin Brown, Luis Tiant, Jack Quinn, Jack Powell, and Sad Sam Jones. It’s a silly point, I know. But to me, stuff like this is half the fun of baseball research.

Reggie Smith, #24

Seasons: 17
5 WAR seasons: 6
1 WAR seasons: 15
Best year: Smith had his best year in 1977 when he posted 6.76 WAR at the age of 32. He made his fifth of seven All-Star teams, led the league in OBP and OPS+, hit over 30 homers for the only time in his career, and finished fourth in the MVP voting. Further, he helped the Dodgers to the World Series where he homered three times in a losing effort against the Yankees.
Commentary: Smith’s problem is like a lot of players on this list. He was a good hitter, a good fielder, and a good baserunner, but he wasn’t great enough at any of it to get the attention he deserves. It’s strange that if we just moved 90% of his value on the bases and in the field to the hitting side of the ledger and deleted the other 10%, he’d be viewed more positively even though he’d be worse. Seriously, following through on that experiment, Smith would be a more valuable hitter than Roberto Clemente, Pete Rose, or Derek Jeter. Back in 1988 just three voters thought he was worthy of the Hall, and I can’t really blame them. He’s right on the borderline for me. Then again, he did post five seasons of 5+ WAR. Tony Gwynn and Andre Dawson failed to do that. And he had another five at 4+, which is something Dave Winfield and Harry Heilmann failed to do.

Sam Rice, #23

Seasons: 20
5 WAR seasons: 6
1 WAR seasons: 16
Best year: In 1920 Rice posted 6.18 converted WAR, the best he ever managed. He was electric that year, hitting .338 and leading baseball with 63 stolen bases (and another 30 caught stealing). Rice was 30 that year and in just his third full season in the majors, suggesting a player who wasn’t destined for Cooperstown, but he made it.
Commentary: Rice is a near clone of Reggie Smith on a year-by-year basis, and he’s another player who added value with the bat, glove, and feet. A career .322 hitter, Rice twice led the league in hits and once in triples. In fact, he’s one of seven players ever to triple 10+ times in a season for a decade consecutively. Historically he’s best known for a controversial 1925 World Series catch. It was called an out, but Rice wouldn’t talk about it throughout his life. It wasn’t until after his death that a note he left indicated that it was indeed a good catch.

Max Carey, #22

Seasons: 20
5 WAR seasons: 5
1 WAR seasons: 16
Best year: My conversions, specifically the use of Defensive Regression Analysis, really enhance the profile of Max Carey. He was truly an outstanding center fielder. That’s why his 1917 season is worth a career best 6.66 WAR. With just one homer and a .296 average, it doesn’t look like much. But he did lead the league in steals and post a 126 OPS+ overall.
Commentary: The Hall came calling in 1961, and the HoME also approves. With my conversions, there were three years above 6 WAR, two more over five, three over four, three over three, and still three more over two. He led the league in runs once, triples twice, and stolen bases ten times. The reason Carey hung on as long as he did is because he still had good speed and was able to play some very good defense until the end.

Derek Jeter, #21

Seasons: 20
5 WAR seasons: 5
1 WAR seasons: 16
Best year: In 1999 Jeter posted career highs with 24 homers and 102 runs batted in. Other career highs came in all triple slash categories and OPS+. Yeah, and WAR. Even with sketchy defense, something he’d become known for almost throughout his career, he put up 7.24 WAR in 1999. After the regular season he hit at least .350 in every round of the playoffs, helping the Yankees to their third World Series title in four years.
Commentary: Yes, I’m also surprised to see Jeter on this “compiler” list. I’d have guessed that he had at least one 8 WAR season in him, but as a truly awful defender, that never happened. I don’t offer any extra credit for hitters in the playoffs, but it’s not like I ignore October either. Without it, Jeter is near the line for me, though clearly over it. With it, I won’t hesitate to throw him a vote when he’s eligible. Overall he looks a lot like Joe Sewell with a few extra campaigns of little value. In some kind of joke, the 1996 Rookie of the Year and 14-time All-Star won five Gold Gloves that he absolutely didn’t deserve. In what will be an awesome accomplishment but will devastate this Red Sox fan, I suspect a few years from now he’ll become the Hall’s first unanimous selection.

Zack Wheat, #20

Seasons: 19
5 WAR seasons: 4
1 WAR seasons: 16
Best year: In 1916 Wheat put up his only meaningful Black Ink leading the NL in SLG and TB while putting up 6.95 WAR.
Commentary: While Wheat did have three years above 6 WAR, he had just two other above 4. He builds his Hall and HoME case largely on the seven additional good seasons above 3 WAR. He has more seasons at that level or higher than Ed Delahanty, Billy Williams, Joe Medwick, Ralph Kiner, Willie Stargell, and others.

Joe Torre, #19

Seasons: 18
5 WAR seasons: 7
1 WAR seasons: 15
Best year: Joe Torre won the 1971 NL MVP, but his best year was five years earlier in 1966 with 7.67 adjusted WAR. That year he smacked a career high 36 home runs while catching 114 games. Only Mike Piazza, Gabby Hartnett, and Javy Lopez have ever done the same as catchers who hit .315. Catchers on this list are hard for me for two reasons. First, I convert catcher WAR so it looks like the WAR of players at other positions. Second, I don’t love my catcher adjustments. No matter how you cut it though, Torre was an excellent player in 1966.
Commentary: So you might know that we’ve recently removed Torre from the HoME’s player wing. To review, that’s not because he’s undeserving; it’s because we’ve decided we want to honor the person rather than the career. And since Torre the person was better as a manager than as a player, we think, he remains in the HoME with that distinction. Of course, we continue to acknowledge that Torre is a HoME-level player. I list him as a catcher since he played more games there than at any other position. And as a catcher, he has more 5-win seasons than Bill Dickey, Carlton Fisk, or Gabby Hartnett. Nine All-Star games, an MVP, a Gold Glove, an RBI title, and a batting title highlight Torre’s playing career. It’s a shame he didn’t get more Hall attention as a player, but at least he’s acknowledged in upstate New York now.

We’re almost there. Next week it’ll be #18 through #10.




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