As a Red Sox fan, I’ll forever love that 2004 team, which means I’ll forever love Johnny Damon. I was even okay when he went to the Yankees in 2006. And I was very happy when he finished his age-37 season in Tampa with a 109 OPS+ as well as positive value at the plate, on the bases, and avoiding double plays.
One thing that’s guaranteed, however, after someone’s age-37 season comes his age-38 season. And we know that almost all players are done by that age. Damon, coming off a 2.5 WAR season was left without a team until the Indians signed him in mid-April. His first game with Cleveland wasn’t until May 2, and he got off to a very slow start, slashing just .171/.261/.256 through the end of his first month. Things improved a little in June and in July, but it really appeared that Damon was done. As August rolled around, his line was just .222/.281/.329. But the truth is that Damon was getting a little unlucky with just a .239 BABIP, miles below his worst season. Had Damon – again, a 2.5-win player from the previous season – been given a full Spring Training and average luck, he might have had another 90 hits in 2012. That would have brought him to 2859.
Of course, there’s no way 2859 hits gets him to the Hall of Fame. But maybe a reasonable 2012 would have given him a 2013 contract. And with even 100 hits that year, we’d have likely seen a team sign him in 2014 to get him to 3,000 hits. While he wouldn’t have deserved it, I think those hits plus what might have been a top-25 finish in runs scored might have punched his ticket to Cooperstown.
For other greats of the game – some even better than Johnny Damon, if that’s possible – check out past posts in this series.
Center Field – 21-40
Where do we project the active player(s) to finish in our rankings?
Andrew McCutchen is closest to the top-40. Then there’s Curtis Granderson, Adam Jones, Jacoby Ellsbury, Lorenzo Cain, and Carlos Gomez. In other words, future HoMErs at the position are Mike Trout, very young, or nonexistent.—Miller
Centerfield isn’t flush with young talent in its prime at this moment. With McCutchen’s fall from superstardom to mere averagedom, the only youngish guy with even half a chance would be Kevin Keirmaier, and he trails Gomez and even Denard Span. But you know what I think? Mookie Betts is probably the best young centerfielder in the game. But since the BoSox are lousy with slick fielding outfielders who could be good centerfielders, he’s “stuck” playing second-center at Fenway.—Eric
Where do our rankings diverge the most from the conventional wisdom?
Aside from the fact that Mike Griffin was a complete mystery to me before we took up this project, I’d reckon Chet “The Jet” Lemon among our least conventional rankings. Well, sort of. He’s more conventional these days what with the sabrmetric revolution and all that. But anyone born prior to 1980 wouldn’t have thought of him as a borderline Hall guy, and no one born after that ever heard their sports-fan mentors talk about him either. He’s probably an All-Star season away from tiptoeing over the line. On the less positive side, the guy who hit .440 isn’t in our starting lineup, and we rank him behind Wally Berger, a guy who sounds like a 1950s sitcom character actor. Well, it turns out that .440 in 1894 just ain’t that impressive because the whole damn league hit .309 and the league scored about three more runs a game than it has for the last decade of our own times. Also, Kirby Puckett. We didn’t #MeToo him, though I personally don’t savor the idea of letting domestic abusers into our Hall, he did it to himself. Yeah, eye troubles and a Dennis Martinez fastball to the head didn’t help his case, but almost never walking, gaining weight over his career and killing his footspeed didn’t do much to push things along. But he got in on his first ballot, and Jim Edmonds got lost on his. They have facts, we have facts, I guess.—Eric
Willie Wilson! By my numbers, Willie Wilson would be a perfectly unobjectionable Hall of Famer. I can’t imagine anyone outside of the Kansas City area who would look to this ranking as anything other than lunacy though. Wilson wasn’t a good hitter. But forget that 1982 batting title. What Wilson had was amazing legs. He’s the only player in baseball history with at least 100 runs in the glove and 100 on the bases. That might not be as big a deal as I thought when I did the PI search at BBREF. See, only three players ever posted 100 runs on the bases. In addition to Wilson, it’s Hall of Famers Rickey Henderson and Tim Raines. When we lower the rates to 75 runs in the field and on the bases, we add Ozzie Smith, Max Carey, Luis Aparicio, Kenny Lofton, and Willie Mays. Maybe you know something I don’t, but I don’t believe anyone ever, including the ten guys who gave him Hall votes in 2000, truly advocated for his election. I’m not doing that now, but I couldn’t offer a hearty objection if you did.—Miller
Where do we disagree with one another the most?
What do you know! We have an actual disagreement here. I think Cy Seymour is very close to the line (99), while Eric has him right on the line of a player we’d even consider (90). Part of this discrepancy is my use of consecutive seasons in my formula. Since Seymour’s peak seasons were consecutive, he propelled his teams to pennants at a level his organizations could count on, at least compared to other players of his ilk. Even if I dumped the consecutive measure, Seymour would only fall to #23 for me. And he’s still #34 for Eric.—Miller
He’s got a negative season due to bad pitching in his rookie year that complicates things. But mostly it’s that all of these guys fall awfully close together. I’ve got Seymour with a seven-year nonconsecutive peak of 39 WAR. I’ve got him at 47 career WAR. That’s not all that different than Larry Doby who is right above him (38/49) or Dale Murphy two slots above him (41/46). In fact it’s quite similar to Wally Berger (40/47). Berger gets some points from me for his high-dose rate of WAR per PA. He started his career late after a long time on the coast, and he pounded out a lot of excellent seasons. Seymour was a little more spread out. Hugh Duffy had a little more career, as did Chet Lemon and Johnny Damon who have similar peaks. Ditto Willie Wilson. It’s all little things, not one thing.
We may also disagree on Lenny Dykstra. In fact, I disagree with myself on him. I love Lenny Dykstra the player. I really don’t care for Dystra the person. So much fun to watch, but such a cad for reals.—Eric
Are there any players who MAPES+/CHEWS+ might overrate or underrate?
Most of these twenty guys seem to have pretty stable rankings. But I find Brett Butler particularly interesting, so I’m just going to use this space for a brief diversion about him. He belongs to a very small family of hitters whose basic attributes are
- played in the lively ball era
- a pretty good to very good batting average
- a really good eye
- virtually no power, as expressed by their SLG being very close to or below their OBP
- among the top 10 base stealers of his time.
Butler hit .290 for his career and walked 1129 times. He stole 558 bases, and his SLG was one point worse than his OBP. Adds up to a speed and OBP heavy 110 OPS+.
Here’s a table full of these guys
NAME PA AVG OBP SLG OPS+ SB SB%* Rbaser =========================================================== Brett Butler 9545 .290 .377 .376 110 558 68% 37 Luke Appling 10254 .310 .399 .398 113 179 62% 0 Rich Ashburn 9736 .308 .396 .382 111 284 66% 9 Luis Castillo 7471 .290 .368 .351 92 370 72% 33 Stan Hack 8508 .301 .394 .397 119 165 N/A - 9 Johnny Temple 6036 .284 .363 .351 92 140 74% 1 *or as much as is known
If Quilvio Veras had a better batting average or Willie Randolph had stolen more bases, they’d also be on this list.
Two Hall of Famers, one near Hall of Famer, plus Castillo and Temple. Two of these guys were known for spoiling two-strike pitches. Luke Appling hardly ever struck out and would just flick balls foul forever until he drew his walk or pinged one through the infield. Bill James related a story about Ashburn hitting a lady with a foul ball and hitting her again as she was carted away from the stands. These are pesky little fleas. They could really handle the bat, and they did everything they could do as offensive players to set the table and drive the other team bonkers.
Despite the use of their speed, however, many of them have strangely iffy baserunning numbers. Butler apparently advanced very well on batted balls, but a 68% stolen base rate in the modern game is terrible, especially for a guy with his speed. Same for Luis Castillo. In the 1980s–2010s, rates below break-even could be called why-bother. Rich Ashburn’s appalling low +9 Rbaser is shocking to me. The league stole around 55% to 60% during his times, so that’s still above par, but he must not have been great on advancement. Johnny Temple, what were you doing? Hack and Appling I’ll hold judgement on since BBREF hasn’t inputted all of Retrosheet’s prewar stats, but Appling’s 62% success rate was actually above average. And that’s the weird thing about these guys. For reasons beyond my understanding, they weren’t really great base stealers, and only two of them appear to have been good baserunners when they weren’t stealing…despite the fact that speed is one of their calling cards. It’s a strange little group that’s always puzzled me.—Eric
Next week, it’s Babe Ruth and everyone else as we get started on right field.