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Compilers Are Great, Part VI

harry-hooper-discThis next group has a very inconsistent vibe to it. Four are 19th century stars, while another also played more than a century ago. There’s also a great starting pitcher who’s considered a great closer, a Hall of Famer, a guy on the current ballot, and a deserving player who’s just about never considered as such.

This is a group of players who should remind us what it means to be a compiler. Only one of them screams greatness to anyone, which is funny because his “great” years weren’t his best. And once again we see that the compilers of years ago are in the Hall, while the more recent compilers are rejected.

We need to do better work getting guys who were very good for a long, long time into the Hall. After all, we used to do so.

This is the sixth of seven posts in our series of 60 players 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, #36-#28 and #27-19 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 #28 through #10.

Bid McPhee, #18

Seasons: 18
5 WAR seasons: 5
1 WAR seasons: 17
Best year: The year was 1890 and Bid McPhee put up 6.53 adjusted WAR. Every once in a while I’m reminded how arrogant it is of me to think I’m really able to adjust these numbers from a century and a quarter ago. Yes, I’m doing my best, and yes I think I’m doing a decent job. But there are a bunch of things we don’t really know, particularly with glove and legs. And so much more too. Let me admit that my error bars when rating players from this era are quite wide. That’s part of the reason we try to keep the HoME with a fairly equal representation of players across eras. Anyway, McPhee hit just .256 in 1890. He did so with a bit of power in 22 triples. But he added only three homers. I like his campaign so much because of his defense. Yeah, I could be wrong.
Commentary: He’s what Lou Whitaker would have been if the Tiger played 100 years earlier and wasn’t quite so good. He has more 4-WAR years than Craig Biggio, more 3-WAR years than Bobby Grich, and more 2-WAR years than Ryne Sandberg. And for what it’s worth, his 17th best season at 1.46 WAR is greater than any second baseman in history.

Jake Beckley, #17

Seasons: 20
5 WAR seasons: 3
1 WAR seasons: 17
Best year: In 1893 Beckley hit .303 with five homers and 106 batted in. All told, I have that season worth 5.76 WAR. To find a first baseman with a worse best year, I have to move from Beckley’s #25 ranking to Mark Grace at #51.
Commentary: It can be said that no player represents this list better than Jake Beckley. He’s the highest ranked player on the list who’s not in the HoME or going (unless something very surprising happens). Overall, I rank him a shade ahead of HoMEr Mark McGwire, but Big Mac is in the Hall due to more greatness, better competition, and the full representation of Beckley’s era. But let’s not discount Beckely because his best wasn’t amazing. If we look at his tenth best campaign, he tops all but ten first basemen ever. He’s ahead of Eddie Murray, Johnny Mize, Rod Carew, Hank Greenberg, Bill Terry, Willie McCovey, Seorge Sisler, Ernie Banks, and many more. First base is a tough position. There’s so much greatness and extended goodness that an exceptional player like Beckley gets shut out.

Dennis Eckersley, #16

Seasons: 24
5 WAR seasons: 5
1 WAR seasons: 16
Best year: Shh, don’t tell anyone that Eck’s best year wasn’t 1990 when he put up a 0.61 ERA and recorded 48 saves. It was way back in 1979 when starting for the Red Sox he posted a 17-10 record and a 2.99 ERA. ERA+ is a better indicator, and in his best campaign his 149 mark was the best in the game. All told, I give him 7.34 adjusted WAR that year, just 0.01 better than his 1978 campaign.
Commentary: Dennis Eckersley’s career is a perfect example of why relievers, basically, don’t belong in the Hall. See the chart below. His best three seasons and seven of his best nine were in the rotation, not the pen. And I adjust WAR some for the leverage of reliever innings.

Eckersley   1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9   10   11   12
Starter    7.3  7.3  5.3  5.1  4.8  4.5  3.9  3.0  2.2  2.1  0.8 -0.4
Reliever   5.2  4.9  3.3  3.0  2.9  2.3  0.6  0.1  0.1 -0.1 -0.7 -2.0

Eckersley feels like a Hall of Famer to a lot of people, and he is. But if we take away just his second best season in the rotation, he’s probably on the outside looking in. If we take away his second best and seventh best, he’s almost certainly out.

Jim O’Rourke, #15

Seasons: 23
5 WAR seasons: 2
1 WAR seasons: 21
Best year: If you think it’s not a big deal when your best season is worth 5.81 WAR, you’re right. In just the last 50 years, hitters have done that 731 times. But the 1884 season when O’Rourke led the NL in hits and batting average is the best that he could do. In fact, to find a left fielder on the list with a worse best year, we have to scroll all the way down from O’Rourke’s #18 ranking to Jeff Heath’s at #49.
Commentary: O’Rourke is what Jake Beckley would have been if he, amazingly, had a couple more shoulder seasons. O’Rourke had eight years at 4+ WAR. Goose Goslin didn’t. He had 13 at 3+. Al Simmons didn’t. And O’Rourke beats even Ted Williams when we get to season 18. In fact, he beats every left fielder ever aside from Bonds, Rickey, and Yaz.

Monte Ward, #14

Seasons: 17
5 WAR seasons: 5
1 WAR seasons: 16
Best year: By 1887 Ward was no longer a pitcher. As a full-time shortstop, he put up his best year at 7.63 WAR. The highlights of the campaign were a .338 BA and 111 of whatever constituted a stolen base back then.
Commentary: As I write up this list, I’m reminded of how different the game was during Ward’s time. In 1887 Ward earned stolen base credit for fielder errors. And maybe other stuff too. It’s a bit murky to me. Ward had a great career, like most of the guys on this list, because he kept producing and producing. Luke Appling can’t match his 16 2-WAR seasons. Robin Yount falls short of Ward’s dozen at 3-WAR.

Gary Sheffield, #13

Seasons: 22
5 WAR seasons: 5
1 WAR seasons: 16
Best year: As soon as Sheffield got out of Milwaukee he put up his best season. In San Diego in 1992 he won a batting title and total base title, which helped him to 6.90 WAR overall. That year he also made his first of nine All-Star teams and finished third in the MVP voting.
Commentary: Sheffield bounced around a lot during his career. That’s because he was coveted and also because he was tough to deal with. There’s so little Black Ink on Sheffield’s record. Aside from 1992, there’s only an OBP title, an OPS title, and an OPS+ title in 1996. On one hand, there are only 17 guys ever who can match his HR and RBI totals. On the other, he’s clearly a product of his era since only ten of those guys are in the Hall. Only six right fielders ever can match his 16 2-WAR seasons. While the ballot glut and PED use keep Sheff out of the Hall, reasonable people can rank him as low as #27 or #28 in right field, and that could certainly mean his entry into Cooperstown might involve paying for a ticket.

Willie Randolph, #12

Seasons: 18
5 WAR seasons: 4
1 WAR seasons: 16
Best year: In 1980 Randolph led baseball in walks and put up a .427 OBP on his was to his third of six All-Star berths and 6.51 WAR.
Commentary: With contemporary superiors Bobby Grich and Lou Whitaker outside the Hall, Randolph gets traction in very few communities. He should. He tops 2.5 WAR in 15 seasons. Only five second baseman can say the same. Only six can match his 13 3-WAR seasons. And there are 12 Hall second basemen who can’t match his nine seasons at 4+ WAR. I have no doubt that he was a more valuable player than Johnny Evers or Tony Lazzeri, and I’m almost certain he was better than Bobby Doerr. Oh, and there are three other Hall second baseman clearly worse than those guys. No, Randolph has no business being mentioned with Rogers Hornsby or Joe Morgan, but they don’t represent any reasonable in/out line. He just kept providing value year after year. One day, perhaps, that skill will be appreciated.

Harry Hooper, #11

Seasons: 17
5 WAR seasons: 2
1 WAR seasons: 16
Best year: In 1918 Hooper hit only one home run and posted just a .289 batting average, yet it was the best season of his Hall of Fame career at 6.53 adjusted WAR.
Commentary: Hooper is sometimes included in the group of Hall of Fame mistakes. He shouldn’t be. Sure, his bat ranks just 47th at the position, behind Paul O’Neill and Shawn Green. But value is based on bat plus a number of other things. Hooper ranks #12 by Rfield, and he looks even better by DRA. Among right fielders, he ranks #8 in his twelfth season, so there was clear depth to his career.

Craig Biggio, #10

Seasons: 20
5 WAR seasons: 5
1 WAR seasons: 16
Best year: In 1997 Biggio posted a career high OBP of .415 on the back of 34 HBP. He also led the game with 146 runs, stole 47 bases, homered 22 times, and put up 7.68 WAR.
Commentary: Biggio is the inspiration for my dislike of the term “compiler”. To be fair though, he was a pretty bad player during his last season. The Astros let him hang around for 130 hits in 555 trips to the plate in spite of -1.24 converted WAR. Yeah, Biggio didn’t really deserve to reach 3000 hits. But that doesn’t mean he was less than a great player. I rank him 14th among all second basemen, and I couldn’t care less about whether he finished with 3060 hits or just 2930. He was pretty good at drawing walks, excellent at getting hit by pitches, and he was a doubles machine, standing fifth all-time in that category today. Before Biggio stunk, before people began using the word “compiler”, he was an excellent player. And until his final season, he was an asset, not a compiler.

We cap things off next week with the best nine compilers in baseball history.




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