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Roberto Clemente, What If?

roberto-clemente-1955As most of you know, Roberto Clemente died in a plane crash on October 3, 1972 at the age of 38 when the aircraft he was on taking supplies to Nicaraguan earthquake victims crashed. Clemente was a great baseball player, no doubt, and he was a greater person. So please excuse my insensitivity when I make this post only about baseball – only about what might have been in Clemente’s career if that tragic plane crash never happened.

The Methodology

The methodology I’m using today to figure this out is similar to what Eric and I did at the start of the process to try to evaluate the quality of coaches. First I looked at players with a similar PA and OPS profile to Clemente through their age-37 seasons. Then I looked at what those players – and there weren’t too many – did from their age-38 seasons through the end of their careers. Next, I looked at the average of those comparable players. And finally, I added those numbers to Clemente’s career totals to try to determine where he might have finished up had he retired when he chose.

The Comps

When you’re an all-time great like Clemente, there aren’t too many comparable players. I’d have preferred those within 500 plate appearances and 5 OPS+ points. Instead, I opened it up to 600 PAs and seven OPS points. Yes, I could have opened it up more to increase the list of comparables, but doing to was offering comps at a lower rate than I thought the widening of standards justified.

So, the list of comparables is Rod Carew, Andre Dawson, Dwight Evans, Al Kaline, Paul Molitor, Joe Morgan, Rusty Staub, and Billy Williams.

The Averages

Overall, some comps were just about done. For example, Billy Williams played just 120 more games with 36 runs, 11 homers, 41 batted in, and a .211/.320/.339 line the rest of the way. On the other hand, Paul Molitor scored 300, homered 38 times, drove in 331, and finished with a .302/.359/.430 line in his age-38 season until retirement.

On average, it was 123 runs, 22 homers, 133 batted in, and a .262/.344/.387 line.


           R     H    HR   RBI   BA   OBP  SLG  WAR
Actual    1416  3000  240  1305 .317 .359 .475  94.5
What If   1539  3260  262  1438 .311 .357 .470  96.8

As we can see from the above chart, Clemente would move up some career lists. The one I care most about is my MAPES list. Right now, I rank Clemente #24 overall among position players and #5 overall among right fielders. Unfortunately for Clemente, the two guys in front of him on my all-time list are both right fielders, Frank Robinson and Mel Ott. And while he closes the gap on both, he can’t quite catch either.

On the all-time WAR list among position players, he goes from #26 to #22. In hits, he moves from #30 to #13. In runs, he goes from #90 to #60. And he moves from #121 in doubles to #75.

Roberto Clemente is an all-time great, one of baseball’s best defenders ever. And he really only lost a couple of years to his career through his charity and warmth of heart. Because Clemente the person was who he was, I don’t suppose we’d think of Clemente the player any differently with a couple of additional WAR, but this little experiment suggests that he would move up the charts some, especially in career hits. Thank you, Roberto.




9 thoughts on “Roberto Clemente, What If?

  1. There are only a few great ballplayers about which you can say “He was a better man than a ballplayer.” Clemente is one of them.

    Posted by verdun2 | April 5, 2017, 8:25 am
  2. Can you think of another? I can’t, which isn’t to say there isn’t one, just that I can’t think of who it may be.

    Dale Murphy? I don’t think I’d call him a great ballplayer.

    Posted by Miller | April 5, 2017, 9:29 am
    • So I wrote this whole thing on my phone last night, but since my technological prowess lags behind even my below average skills, well…

      As for Murphy, he’s not on my line (though the power plus the peak-y peak I understand might put him on yours, Ryan). I rank him in a virtual tie with Mike Cameron, 38th in center field. But even if he were, say, 20th, I don’t agree that his character puts him over. Similarly, someone lacking character wouldn’t put them under.

      There are two things operating here. First, I use a WAR-based (bWAR, if you will) system, so I need to quantify character in wins. I don’t have reason to believe Murphy’s character led the Braves or Phils (and my BBREF search now reminds me to say “Rockies” too to victories). The other reason is more important, at least to me. It’s that I don’t find myself qualified to judge the character of other individuals. I have opinions, strong opinions. But I know I’m wrong about so many things. And about other things, I know my opinions will look silly over time. Anyway, I think I can judge statistical performance decently. I know my judgments of character will be massively flawed.

      I hope that makes sense.

      Posted by Miller | April 7, 2017, 7:03 pm
      • Agreed to this, i was just thinking if anyone would deserve a boost for character, it could be dale Murphy. Like you, i can be satisfied with an analytical approach, we cant reasonably measure the value of ones character.

        Posted by Ryan | April 8, 2017, 1:58 pm


  1. Pingback: Dale Murphy, Black Sox, PEDs, and Character | the Hall of Miller and Eric - April 19, 2017

  2. Pingback: Shoeless Joe Jackson, What If? | the Hall of Miller and Eric - April 24, 2017

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