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Compilers Are Great, Top Nine All-Time

lou-whitaker-1984On one level, I’m disappointed by the names on this list. On another, I think it points out one of the greatest instances of the Hall of Fame really blowing it. Every player on this list is in the Hall of Miller and Eric. And all but one are either in the Hall, PED users, or the criminally under-appreciated Lou Whitaker.

In all of baseball history, there are only five people who can total 200 Rbat, 25 Rfield, 25 Rbaser, and 5 Rdp. (Before we go on, Whitaker reaches 209, 77, 32, and 16 on these levels, easily eclipsing most of them). In any case, the other guys are Barry Bonds, George Brett, Carlos Beltran, and Larry Walker.

I’ve recently discussed the reasons Walker isn’t in the Hall. His reasons aren’t too different from Sweet Lou. Whitaker was very good at everything that makes a player valuable. He just wasn’t great at any of it.

So here you have it, the final post in our Compiler series. Clearly, at least one of these players hasn’t gotten the credit he deserves. Check out other posts in this series: #60-#55#54-#46, #45-#37, #36-#28, #27-19 , and #18-#10 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 let’s get to the top nine!

Ozzie Smith, #9

Seasons: 19
5 WAR seasons: 4
1 WAR seasons: 18
Best year: For the first and only time in his career, Ozzie hit over .300 in 1987. And in the year of the homer, Ozzie hit none. Still, it was the best season of his career. When a stinky hitter and an excellent defender begins to hit a little, that’s likely to happen. That year he finished second in the MVP voting to Andre Dawson. Oh, the dark ages of what constituted baseball analysis. Dawson hit 49 homers but was just a 4-win player. Ozzie was clearly better, but Tony Gwynn and others were better still.
Commentary: Fifteen All-Star games and thirteen Gold Gloves highlight a career with no meaningful Black Ink and an 87 OPS+. But Ozzie was as good as he was because of defense. Those numbers made him one of nine shortstops ever with ten seasons at 4.5+ WAR, and one of eight with 15 seasons of 2.2+.Ozzie isn’t stereotyped like many of the others on these lists. That’s because unlike most of them, he was an all-time great at something. Most guys on this list are just good across the board. Ozzie was pretty bad at one thing and excellent at the rest.

Gabby Hartnett, #8

Seasons: 20
5 WAR seasons: 5
1 WAR seasons: 17
Best year: If you’re looking for what seems to be an outlier of a year, it’s 1930 and 7.98 WAR for Gabby Hartnett. He hit 37 homers, 13 more than any other season. He drove in 122, 31 more than his second best. And he put up an incredible 1.034 OPS. Hartnett was a bit of a, well, catcher. He had several great years at the plate, but many of them were quite pedestrian. It’s hard to stay healthy wearing the tools of ignorance.
Commentary: Catchers don’t really fit on any list. Hartnett was awesome and clearly a Hall of Famer. He won the 1935 NL MVP, and he’s something like the eighth best catcher ever. By my numbers, no catcher had more 7-WAR years. Only one had more at 6-WAR, and two had more at 5-WAR. So called compilers at other positions are studs at catcher.

Eddie Murray, #7

Seasons: 21
5 WAR seasons: 5
1 WAR seasons: 16
Best year: I like a power hitter who posts his best season when he hits the sixth most homers of his career. That’s exactly what Murray did in 1985. Leading the league in walks, OBP, and OPS+ suggests that good stuff will happen. And in 1984 good stuff happened for the 1977 AL Rookie of the Year and the guy who made his fifth of eight All-Star teams.
Commentary: Steady Eddie, yeah. By MAPES, he’s pretty much the same as Dick Allen, though they had very different shapes to their careers. Neither got along with the press, but somehow Allen took it on the chin a lot more than Murray. We have to respect the 500 homers and 3000 hits. However, he really didn’t have value in his last two years. As recently as 1996, 22 homers and 79 batted in obscured below replacement level value. Murray is a no-brainer because of the milestones, and that’s okay with me.

Carlton Fisk, #6

Seasons: 24
5 WAR seasons: 4
1 WAR seasons: 19
Best year: In his first full season of 1972, Fisk led the AL in triples, won his only Gold Glove, was an All-Star for the first eleven times, finished fourth in the MVP race, won the AL Rookie of the Year, and posted a career high 7.88 converted WAR.
Commentary: Fisk was a survivor. Only two catchers had more 4-WAR seasons. None had more above 3-WAR. We can all agree he was an all-time great. Lesser players don’t put up a 134 OPS+ at age 42. Of course, because he’s a catcher I don’t know about where he should really place on this list.

Rafael Palmeiro, #5

Seasons: 20
5 WAR seasons: 7
1 WAR seasons: 18
Best year: The game changed in the few years after 1993, a year I convert to 7.09 WAR for Palmeiro. He hit more homers eight times and drove in more runs seven, but 1993 was the best year of his career with 7.09 WAR. The reason isn’t just because of the offensive spike later in the decade. It’s also because the three-time Gold Glove winner had just about the best defensive year of his career, and he was 22/25 on the bases.
Commentary: We know why a guy with over 500 homers and 3000 hits is outside the Hall, right? It’s the finger wagging. It’s also that he was never really great. His career totals are a function of the era in which he played, and maybe other things. The guy is nearly a Jim Thome doppelganger though. And word is that he’s going to get in on his first try next year. Musial, Anson, Connor, and Rose are the only four at the position who put up 2+ WAR more times than Palmeiro did.

Paul Molitor, #4

Seasons: 21
5 WAR seasons: 7
1 WAR seasons: 19
Best year: Do you remember the part of Molitor’s career when he was always hurt? Well, by his fifth season, 1982, he was finally healthy from April to and through October. He led the game in runs, hit .302, stole 41/50 bases, didn’t hurt the Brewers too much at third, and excelled in the post-season. All told, he was worth 6.49 WAR that year.
Commentary: Today we think of Molitor as a DH, and we should. He played there more than anywhere else, but he also had 400+ games at second and third. Rfield and DRA agree that he was a plus defender. Given that I don’t categorize players as designated hitters, just because the competition is pretty weak there on a career level, I put Molitor at third, where I rank him ninth overall, a shade ahead of Brooks Robinson. Looking at his profile, it’s pretty clear if we lopped off his Minnesota years where he “compiled” 530 hits, he wouldn’t be in the Hall today. With just 2789 hits and limited power, the voters might not have given him a second look. If we remove those years from his MAPES profile, the seven-time All-Star would still be HoME-bound, dropping to 14th place in between Graig Nettles and Deacon White. Overall, only Chipper Jones had more 2-WAR seasons among guys who I call third basemen. Nobody had more years at 3+, and only the big three of Schmidt, Mathews, and Brett had more at 4+.

Lou Whitaker, #3

Seasons: 19
5 WAR seasons: 4
1 WAR seasons: 18
Best year: In 1983 the 1978 AL Rookie of the Year made the first of five straight All-Star teams, won the first of three straight Gold Gloves, and had his best year with 6.80 adjusted WAR. With just a dozen home runs that year, Whitaker would post ten better seasons. He did set a career high in doubles, run the bases well, and play solid defense. It’s this strength across the board that was a Whitaker hallmark, and likely the reason he was overlooked by the BBWAA, receiving just 15 votes in 2001, the only time he was on the ballot.
Commentary: If you asked me who would top this list when I began this study, it would have been Sweet Lou. He so clearly belongs in the Hall of Fame if you think a Hall close to its present size is appropriate.

Sam Crawford, #2

Seasons: 19
5 WAR seasons: 7
1 WAR seasons: 16
Best year: Hmm, Wahoo Sam never had an 8-win season. That’s not what I would have guessed. But in 1903 he did have his best season at 7.22 converted WAR. He only hit four homers after leading the league two years earlier, but his power came in the form of 25 triples. He also hit .335 with impressive defense.
Commentary: At this level, we’re looking at someone who pretty much everyone considers a Hall of Famer if they think about him at all. He hit .309 in his career with a 144 OPS+ and an all-time high 309 triples. It would be nice to have more baserunning data from Crawford’s era. BBREF considers him a plus baserunner for the only three years for which we have CS data, but they see him as a negative for his career. We might predict that someone with over 300 triples and a decent career doubles total is pretty fast and likely a strong runner. Maybe Crawford doesn’t truly belong on this list, and perhaps that’s why anyone you ask would call him a Hall of Famer.

Manny Ramirez, #1

Seasons: 19
5 WAR seasons: 8
1 WAR seasons: 17
Best year: At age-27, just when many think you hit your prime, Manny certainly hit his with 44 bombs and 165 batted in in just 147 games in 1999. He led the league in SLG, OPS, and OPS+ in addition to runs batted in, overall putting up 7.02 WAR.
Commentary: Very few people would ever have called Manny a compiler. And that’s because we too frequently use the word to describe players we don’t understand, those who are strong across the board rather than great at one thing. Well, Manny was great at one thing, hitting the baseball. The 11-time All-Star won a batting title, three OBP titles, three SLG titles, and three OPS titles. Add a homer crown, and RBI crown, and an OPS+ crown, and you have someone with a bunch of Black Ink. Yes, Manny could hit. He was a poor runner who grounded into a bunch of double plays. And he was a historically bad defender, though he was made to look worse by playing left field in Fenway. There are 50 players ever who had -10 runs as a defender, runner, and double play maker. Manny’s one. There are 20 at -15 in all three categories. Manny is still one. And just eight other players join Manny at -20 or worse across the board. Billy Butler and Victor Martinez are still active and basically just designated hitters. Aramis Ramirez almost certainly would have been one if he played in the American League. Mike Piazza was kind of famously well known for his defensive struggles. The only reason that Paul Konerko wasn’t a DH is that fellow chart member, Frank Thomas, had that role in Chicago. And then there’s Harmon Killebrew, a guy not in the Hall because his bat wasn’t strong enough to make up for the rest of the things he did poorly. Manny was an amazing hitter, someone called the best righty they’ve ever seen by a number of folks. But there were those PED suspensions. Plural. After Bonds and Clemens get into the Hall, we’re going to look at PED users differently, but I don’t know that we’ll get to the point that someone who failed multiple tests will be forgiven.

Thanks for checking out this series!

Miller

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Discussion

One thought on “Compilers Are Great, Top Nine All-Time

  1. Wonderful series; an eye opener. Generally I groan when the Vet’s Committee vote comes up, but I’m holding out hope for Lou Whitaker (and Trammel also) in the near future.
    This kind of series is why I tell people to read your stuff.
    v

    Posted by verdun2 | March 13, 2017, 8:51 am

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