Today we begin our discussion of how players improved (or didn’t) their Hall of Miller and Eric candidacies with their 2017 performances. We start today with first base.
2017 BBREF WAR: -1.8
Rank at the position after 2017:
Ahead of Dan Brouthers, Jeff Bagwell, and Rod Carew.
Trailing Jimmie Foxx, Roger Connor, and Cap Anson.
Ahead of Jimmie Foxx, Roger Connor, and Dan Brouthers
Trailing Stan Musial, Lou Gehrig, and Cap Anson
Current career trajectory:
Oh, things are going downhill in a hurry. Back in April I said I thought he’d catch Roger Connor for fourth place on my all-time 1B list. I no longer think that. In fact, I don’t think he’ll repass Jimmie Foxx. And the Angels still owe him well over $100 million. Yikes!
Pujols guaranteed admission into the Hall as soon as he stepped onto the field for his tenth season. He was in the HoME before that. Clearly he’s not going to fall out of the HoME, though for kids who are 14 or so, they’re going to think Pujols was a stinky player. Unless what they think is important is driving in runs. Thanks to Mike Trout, he still had 101 of those this year.
2017 BBREF WAR: -0.8
Rank at the position after 2017:
Ahead of Jim Thome, Hank Greenberg, and Rafael Palmeiro.
Trailing Keith Hernandez, George Sisler, and Ernie Banks.
Ahead of Willie McCovey, Joey Votto, and Eddie Murray
Trailing Todd Helton, Bill Terry, and Rafael Palmeiro
Current career trajectory:
So Cabrera turns 35 in April, had injury issues (groin, oblique, hip, back) throughout the year, and has forgotten how to hit. This isn’t the same drop that he experienced three years ago when he merely fell from beast-level to excellent. This is a drop that makes him look more like the current Albert Pujols than the old one who he sort of resembled.
Miggy has been clearly above the HoME in/out line for a couple of years now. At this point we’re just talking legacy, and chances of getting into the inner circle. In April I was hopeful he’d rise as high at 8th at 1B before he hung ‘em up. Now I think not losing ground might be an accomplishment. Then again, he’s only going to be 35 next year, and it’s possible he’ll be injury-free in 2018. If he is, there’s still some reason to believe he can more closely resemble the 155 OPS+ player from 2016 than the 92 OPS+ player he was in 2017.
2017 BBREF WAR: 7.5
Rank at the position after 2017:
Ahead of Jake Beckley, Mark McGwire, and Will Clark.
Trailing Bill Terry, Eddie Murray, and Dick Allen.
Ahead of Eddie Murray, Mark McGwire, and Harry Stovey
Trailing Rafael Palmeiro, Miguel Cabrera, and Willie McCovey
Current career trajectory: With a deal that runs through age 40, Votto’s got some job security. On the other hand, he makes his living via old-player skills. Virtually all of his BBREF comps cratered in their 30s. On the other other hand, Votto seems like a very intelligent player who uses information in wise ways. He may age a little more gracefully if he adapts his game on the fly. Regardless, it’s not crazy at this juncture to imagine him finishing in the top ten among first basemen. Of course one’s mileage may vary depending on whether you consider Stan Musial, Rod Carew, and Ernie Banks first basemen.
HoME Outlook: Unless he starts churning out Pujols 2017 seasons for several years running, bronze awaits him.
2017 BBREF WAR: -1.2
Rank at the position after 2017:
Ahead of Harry Davis, Don Mattingly, and Mark Grace.
Trailing Dolph Camilli, Joe Start, and Jack Fournier.
Ahead of Paul Goldschmidt, Harry Davis, and Mark Grace
Trailing Orlando Cepeda, Joe Start, and Don Mattingly
Current career trajectory:
Next year he’ll be 36 with a bad back. His career trajectory is heading toward retirement.
HoME Outlook: He’s like Don Mattingly or Mark Grace or Carlos Delgado, a very nice player who we should never confuse with a Hall of Famer.
2017 BBREF WAR: 5.8
Rank at the position after 2017:
Ahead of Pedro Guerrero, Rudy York, and Bill White.
Trailing Mark Grace, Don Mattingly, and Harry Davis.
Ahead of Harry Davis, Mark Grace, and Dave Orr
Trailing Joe Start, Don Mattingly, and Adrian Gonzalez
Current career trajectory: Goldschmidt is in the midst of his peak years. There’s only one thing he on the field that’s below average at, and that’s avoiding double plays. He’s athletic and effectively turns those abilities into high-impact baseball. The player he reminds me most of is Jeff Bagwell who similarly could field, run, and hit like crazy.
HoME Outlook: Nine first basemen since the war have made the Hall of Miller and Eric. They averaged 35 BBREF WAR by age 28. Goldschmidt has earned that exact amount. Which guarantees nothing. Will Clark had earned 34 by that age and Orlando Cepeda 33. But none of the nine next highest 1Bs below the borderline topped Clark’s 34. In fact, they averaged 25. Goldschmidt is in the midst of assembling a fine peak and a very strong start, but unless your peak looks like Mike Trout’s, that’s only getting you so far. In fact, it gets you to the borderline but not much further. Just ask Clark or John Olerud. Goldschmidt needs to keep riding the crest of his peak then bank a lot of shoulder seasons to go with it. He seems likely to make it at this point, but we might have said the same for Don Mattingly and his 32 BBREF WAR at 28.
2017 BBREF WAR: 4.5
Rank at the position after 2017:
Ahead of Mo Vaughn, Hal Chase, and Charlie Comiskey.
Trailing Prince Fielder, Joe Kuhel, and Bill Skowron.
Ahead of Hal Chase and every other first baseman in history below Chase
Trailing Mo Vaughn, Bill Skowron, and Joe Kuhel
Current career trajectory: Freeman’s career isn’t dissimilar to Rafael Palmeiro’s at the same age. I wouldn’t bet on his duplicating Raffy’s stellar second decade in the game, but as a guy whose value bubbles just above but mostly just below All-Star level, that’s the map he’ll have to follow.
HoME Outlook: Hmmm. On one hand, his 27 BBREF WAR place between the average postwar HoME first baseman at age 27 and their nearest competitors just below the borderline. On the other hand, Freeman’s total is a couple marks below the HoME average, though well above the trailers’ average. Despite this he’s borderliners Clark and Cepeda. So far he appears to be on the long-and-low route. That’s a tough path that Jake Beckley, Gil Hodges, and Tony Perez fell short with. Importantly, we have yet to see evidence that Freeman can produce an MVP-level year. Let alone a couple or a few.
2017 BBREF WAR: 4.4
Rank at the position after 2017:
Ahead of Carlos Santana, Bill Skowron, and Joe Kuhel.
Trailing Bob Watson, Mike Napoli, and Kevin Youkilis.
Ahead of Vic Wertz, Prince Fielder, and Roy Sievers
Trailing Joe Adcock, Bob Watson, and Ron Fairly
Current career trajectory: His comps are filled with dudes who fizzed in their 30s. Kent Hrbek, guys like that. But deeper down are some guys who lasted longer too. But they are borderliners like Olerud and Clark.
HoME Outlook: Another 27 year old, Rizzo falls into exactly the same spot that Freeman does in terms of his career so far vis a vis HoMErs and runners up. But Rizzo has bunched up several All-Star type seasons where Freeman hasn’t. With strong defensive chops, Rizzo could do a little better than some of his scarier comps (Jason Thompson, John Mayberry in addition to Hrbek). He’s amazingly durable, too. But as a hitter, if he’s a finished product, he’s going the Eddie Murray/Rafael Palmeiro route, which means he needs to be not only durable but have impressive longevity. Turning out an MVP-level year would really help us see his case more clearly and open up more paths to glory for him.
2017 BBREF WAR: -0.4
Rank at the position after 2017:
Ahead of Bob Watson, Anthony Rizzo, and Carlos Santana.
Trailing Kevin Youkilis, Mickey Vernon, and Roy Sievers.
Ahead of Carlos Santana, Tino Martinez, and Joe Adcock
Trailing Phil Cavaretta, Kevin Youkilis, and Mickey Vernon
Current career trajectory:
Napoli will be 36 next season, and guys who are 36 don’t tend to fare too well. Does he have the 33 home runs in him that it will take to reach 300? Maybe.
I wouldn’t put my money on Mike Napoli getting into the Hall, but it’s not totally out of the question either, if he knows some of the guys on the selection committee, that is. Hall of Famers within five career WAR of Napoli through age-35 include Ross Youngs, Chick Hafey, Ray Schalk, Freddie Lindstrom, High Pockets, Kelly, Rick Ferrell, Lloyd Waner, and Deacon White. I suspect Napoli won’t get so lucky.
2017 BBREF WAR: 3.4
Rank at the position after 2017:
Ahead of Bill Skowron, Joe Kuhel, and Prince Fielder.
Trailing Anthony Rizzo, Bob Watson, and Mike Napoli.
Ahead of Tino Martinez, Joe Adcock, and Bob Watson
Trailing Kevin Youkilis, Mickey Vernon, and Mike Napoli
Current career trajectory:
He’s never been a great player. That won’t likely turn around next year at age 32.
Even if we decide to triple the HoME in size, he’s not going. At least that’s my prediction. There are a few all-time greats within five WAR of Santana at the same age. Of course, they’re special cases like Roy Campanella and Jackie Robinson. They’re middle infielders and catchers like Luke Appling and Ernie Lombardi. But maybe Santana could turn into Jim O’Rourke or Edgar Martinez if things work out a certain, almost impossible way. Like I said, he’s not going.
Second base is on its way Friday!
I’m fascinated by the career trajectory of Jason Heyward thus far. He was both a huge prospect and a real star once he got to the majors. He posted 6.4 WAR as a rookie and then somehow disappointed fans with “only” 24.7 WAR from ages 21-25. Seemingly impossibly, the guy was both a stud and a disappointment at the same time.
The last two years, however, he’s only been a disappointment. Heyward became a free agent after an impressive 2015 campaign in St. Louis during which he put up a career high 6.5 WAR. He was an excellent defender with a plus bat, and he put up outstanding numbers on the bases and avoiding the double play. In other words, he was the kind of all-around player who’s historically underappreciated. The Cubs, of course, appreciated him. They did so to the tune of eight years and $184 million. In two seasons in Chicago, however, it’s been just 3.9 WAR.
Just how rare is it that a player posts 25+ WAR through age-25 and then begins stinking it up like Heyward? It turns out, quite rare. Through the magic of BBREF’s Play Index (you should subscribe), we learn that there have been 56 players ever to total 25+ WAR through age 25. Here’s the breakdown.
As far as the active players, Pujols and Trout area already above the line, Longoria is getting there, and it’s too soon to know about Machado, Harper, and Stanton. I’ve already shared my thoughts about David Wright.
Today we’re going to look at the nine who aren’t in the HoME to see what happened.
WAR through 25: 29.4
Remaining WAR: 26.2
MAPES rank in LF: 23
What happened: Nothing really happened. After age 25, Medwick had four more seasons of 4+ WAR. Maybe you’d point to the beaning in June of 1940, but I think Medwick was just one of those guys who peaked early. He’s in the Hall of Fame, and he’s right on the HoME in/out line. If the Hall elects a dozen players next go-around, Medwick has a real shot to get into the HoME.
WAR through 25: 25.8
Remaining WAR: 24.5
MAPES rank at 1B: 42
What happened: To be fair, Cepeda wasn’t really a superstar in his first years in the majors. The thing that gets him on this list is reaching the majors as a regular when he was only 20. He was a very good player who was always healthy, which led to 4.3 WAR per season over his first six campaigns. He was the same guy at age 26, clocking in at 4.5 WAR. The next season, he was hurt. A right knee that needed off-season surgery meant -0.2 WAR in 1965. Perhaps still recovering the next season, he was swapped to St. Louis and produced just 2.7 WAR. Then in 1967 he had his best season ever, 6.8 WAR. After a down year in 1967 at age 30, he was healthy and beginning to show age in Atlanta, with seasons of 3.4 and 3.8 WAR. Then he hurt his left knee. He was no longer a good player. Cepeda is in the Hall of Fame. There are worse players there, including a couple at his position. The truth is, the Hall would need to be about 50% larger for him to really deserve enshrinement.
WAR through 25: 27.3
Remaining WAR: 23.3
MAPES rank in LF: 20
What happened: Kelley’s career in the majors began in 1891, two years before the mound moved to its current distance from the plate. He became a regular in 1893 at age 21, and he became a star a year later. After age 25, he remained a good player, though not a great one, reaching between 2.3 and 4.5 WAR seven more years. He peaked early. There’s nothing wrong with that. The reason he’s not in the HoME is that there are better corner outfielders from the same era, guys like Ed Delahanty, Elmer Flick, Willie Keeler, and Jesse Burkett.
WAR through 25: 28.6
Remaining WAR: 20.1
MAPES rank at SS: 28
What happened: Fregosi was a stud until age 25. Then he was very good, excellent, and elite the next three years. For the last eight seasons of his career, however, he totaled only 3.6 WAR. In 1971, he missed time in May and July. In 1972, he admitted being out of shape. And then he got old, playing fewer and fewer games each year until he was out of the game. It might be that there was something else behind his demise, perhaps lots and lots of nagging injuries. What’s certain is that the guy lost it. In his final eight seasons, he produced less than half of what he did in his last good one.
WAR through 25: 34.8
Remaining WAR: 19.3
MAPES rank in CF: 35
What happened: Pinson was one of the greatest young players ever to don a uniform. That’s because he could do everything well. Those skills started to diminish with a down year in 1964 when he was just 25, maybe because of leg problems. The next year he bounced back with the fifth and final All-Star type season of his career. Though he continued to be healthy enough to play, coming to the plate at least 500 times each of the next eight seasons, he no longer contributed much, averaging a smidge over 1.7 WAR per year. What’s funny is after the 1965 season when he shipped Frank Robinson to Baltimore, Bill DeWitt, the Cincinnati GM, called him “an old thirty”. I think he should have traded Pinson, then an old 26.
WAR through 25: 27.0
Remaining WAR: 18.6
MAPES rank in at 3B: 23
What happened: At age-26, McGraw had his best season, adding 8.0 WAR to the 1899 Baltimore Orioles. His wife died that year, taking the steam out of his September. He dropped to 5.3 WAR in 1900, clearly still an excellent player. However, in 1901 he dislocated his right kneecap in an on-field collision. Later in the season, he tore cartilage in the same knee. He would never be the same. After 1901, his age-29 season, he would only come to the plate 256 more times in his career. A once great player was done. We can’t feel too badly for McGraw, of course. His second career was better than his first. But we can wonder what might have been.
WAR through 25: 35.2
Remaining WAR: 17.5
MAPES rank in CF: 24
What happened: An absolute stud when he was 21 and 22, drawing comparisons to Willie Mays. Then life happened. There was an affair, a gun, and a death. Cedeno spent only 20 days in jail for what was called involuntary manslaughter. But he was never the same. Sure, he added nearly 21 WAR over the next four seasons, which made him a very good player, not an all-time great. Injuries then began to take their toll. There were bad knees, bad ankles, and hepatitis. If we had to point to one thing, it would probably be the ankle. At 26, he was still good. From 27 through the end of his career, he added only 12.8 more WAR.
WAR through 25: 27.7
Remaining WAR: 16.3
MAPES rank at SS: 37
What happened: After recovering from torn cartilage in his right knee in 1925, Jackson played like a star through his age-25 season and for two years thereafter. By 1932, after an appendectomy and the mumps, bone chips and surgery on both knees destroyed his career, as he never really recovered after age-27. It was just 6.0 WAR the rest of the way and an end to his career as a terrible player at age-32. He’s in the Hall of Fame, but he clearly doesn’t belong there.
WAR through 25: 25.7
Remaining WAR: 1.5
MAPES rank in CF: 77
What happened: Injuries suck. And for a lot of players, they’re healthy until they’re not. Sizemore actually once played in 382 consecutive games. By the time his age-26 season rolled around, however, injuries changed the trajectory of his career. There was a groin injury early in spring training. He also had an elbow problem all year, and he called it a campaign in September, prepping for off-season elbow and hernia surgery. Then there was microfracture surgery on his left knee, another injury to his right knee, and a second hernia surgery. Then back surgery. It didn’t get better from there. After his 2009 surgeries, the stud-in-the-making was never the same. He kept trying, but he was below replacement for the remainder of his career, -0.7 WAR, and he was generally hurt.
I don’t know what will become of Jason Heyward. He remains an excellent defender, albeit an aging one. But he’s been below average at the plate each of the last two years, as well as over the last four combined. Unlike many players on this list, however, Heyward has been healthy. There’s little reason to believe his hand injuries of 2017 will linger. After all, he’s been the same mediocre hitter since returning from time off as he had been in the year plus that preceded it.
I’m a stats guy, but I love the stories of baseball. Let’s remember one from just a year ago. It’s the seventh game of the World Series. The Cubs hadn’t won since sometime just prior to the French Revolution. It was tied after nine innings, and then the rains came. I don’t know what happened during the 17-minute rain delay. But it’s said that Heyward inspired his teammates during a players-only meeting that he called. Chicago went on to win in 10 innings, and Heyward will forever be a North Side legend.
At least I hope so. I’m rooting for him.
Last week we looked at the best seasons ever by position players. In doing so, we focused primarily on the regular season. That was in part so as not to include the likes of Bill Mazeroski and Joe Carter. It was also because four or seven or even 20 games in the playoffs can’t give us a complete picture of a hitter’s season, no matter how great those few games. Somewhat differently, pitchers can absolutely control a series. In the last 30 years we can think about Madison Bumgarner, Orel Hershiser, and others, a World Series completely dominated by one arm.
There’s also another issue when it comes to pitcher WAR that’s different than for hitter WAR. Of the 117 pitcher seasons with 10+ WAR, 68 of them occurred in seasons without a World Series. Pitching has changed. Hitting has changed. The entire game has changed and keeps changing. I’m sticking to my thoughts from the last post that you must have won the World Series to have a claim to the best season ever, even though the largest WAR seasons are from the 1800s.
So to come up with a list, I looked at every pitcher in the World Series era who’s had even 8 WAR in a season. Then I sorted for those who won the Series. That left me with 24 pitcher seasons by 23 different pitchers. The next step was to look only at the pitchers who performed well enough in the playoffs. Here they are, the best 15 seasons ever by pitchers.
This season doesn’t get the credit you might think when looking at Brown’s 2-0 World Series record. That’s because his first win came in just two innings of relief during which he allowed an unearned run. Yes, there was a three-hit shutout to put the Cubs up 3-1. But others have been better in both the regular and post-season.
Maddux and his Braves very famously kept winning the NL East but not winning the World Series. Except for 1995. And Maddux wasn’t generally not known as a great playoff pitcher, but in 1995 he certainly did his job. He started the first games of the NLDS, gave up three runs in seven innings, while his Braves eventually won 5-4 late. Maddux was so-so in the close out game against the Rockies, giving up four runs in seven innings in the 10-4 win. The NLCS brought a sweep of the Reds. Maddux took the third game and gave up just one run in eight innings. It was the Indians in the World Series. Maddux went the distance with a two-hitter to lead the Braves to a Series opening win. Disappointingly for his standing on this list, Maddux pitched Game 5 and gave up four runs in seven innings to lose.
Before the days of the Baseball Abstract, there was another Bill James. Actually, there were two. They were almost exact contemporaries, and I can’t really tell them apart. This one was awesome for the 1914 Miracle Braves. And that’s all he did. He pitched more innings that season than the rest of his career combined. His career batting WAR is higher than his pitching WAR outside of this campaign. He is absolutely the most shocking guy on this list or any like it. James didn’t get the call in the World Series opener. Dick Rudolph did. In the second he was glorious, outdueling Eddie Plank with a two-hit shutout in a 1-0 win. Up a pair of games, the A’s called on him in relief in Game 3. He pitched the 11th and 12th. His Braves scored, he got the win, and they completed the Series sweep a day later.
When someone mentions that Barry Bonds or Willie Mays is the best player ever, just ask them how their favorites fared on the mound. Let’s be clear – before Babe Ruth became one of the few best hitters ever, he was an outstanding pitcher. Nothing Bonds, Mays, or anyone else did could come close to Ruth’s early work with the Red Sox. With the Red Sox up a game, Ruth pitched and pitched and pitched. After allowing an inside-the-park home run in the first, Ruth got it back himself with a ribbie in the third. Then he won the game with his arm, pitching 14 innings. The Sox walked it off to go up 2-0, and Ruth cemented his status as a star. The Red Sox won in five games, so Ruth never pitched again, but it’s hard to ask for more than what he gave them.
I wish Lefty Gomez weren’t in the Hall of Fame. He was a fine pitcher whose best historical comp may be someone like Jose Rijo. And while he doesn’t belong in the Hall, he does belong on this list if you agree with my criteria. He won the pitching triple crown in 1937 while also leading the league in shutouts and ERA+. By themselves, those are some pretty amazing credentials. In the World Series, he got the call in the opener. His Yankees crushed Carl Hubbell, and he was very good in an 8-1 win. His next start was to close it in Game 5, which is exactly what he did. He drove in a run and scored one, as the Yankees won 4-2. Though he’s not a Hall of Famer, he did post one of the best pitcher seasons ever.
Before the Black Sox, Eddie Cicotte was one of the game’s best pitchers, and 1917 was his signature campaign, the one with the highest WAR on this list. When the World Series came, he was excellent. He opened things by allowing just one run to defeat Slim Sallee and the Giants, even adding a single himself. He started two games later, but the Sox couldn’t push across a run and lost 2-0. With the World Series tied at two games, the White Sox went with Reb Russell. He couldn’t record an out, to the Sox turned to Cicotte for an emergency relief performance. He pitched six innings, giving up just one earned, and Chicago won 8-5 to put them on the brink of a championship.
King Carl, the game’s best pitcher in 1933, led his Giants to the World Series against the Senators after leading the NL in most every pitching category during the season. He started the opener, gave up five hits, two unearned runs, and struck out ten, as New York won the game 4-2. Up 2-1 Hubbell again took to the mound in Game 4. His defense was again somewhat unhelpful, as he gave up an unearned run over 11 innings in a 2-1 win. The Giants also won the next day, so Hubbell didn’t get another start, but he had two hits and allowed zero earned runs over 20 innings in his two October outings.
Were it not for Guidry winning his 25th game of the season in a one-game playoff against Boston, he wouldn’t have had a chance to make this list. Born in another Yankee era, his numbers would have been enough to make the underrated pitcher into an overrated one because of undeserved induction into the Hall. In ’78, however, Guidry certainly seemed to be a Hall of Famer. After the win against the Red Sox, he needed a few days off. His only ALCS start was up 2-1 against the Royals. Guidry was great, allowing just one run in eight innings as New York closed things out with a 2-1 victory. When the World Series followed, Guidry again needed some time to rest. And when he came back, the Dodgers were up two games to zero. Again, Guidry was excellent, leading his squad to a 5-1 victory. New York won the next three, so Guidry didn’t get another start, perhaps somewhat diminishing his ranking here.
A great clutch pitcher may have done his best work in 2001. His playoff totals brought his innings and strikeouts over 300 and his win total to 26. He both opened and closed the NLDS against the Cardinals. The first game was a three-hit shutout. And he closed it out with a six-hit, one run complete game win. In the NLCS against the Braves, Randy Johnson did the work in the first and last games. All even in the series, Schilling got the Game 3 start. He scored as many runs as he allowed, and he struck out 12 while allowing only four hits and a run. In the World Series, Schilling won only one game, the first. He was great again – three hits and a run in seven innings. The Diamondbacks led 1-0. In the fourth game, he once again gave up three hits and a run in seven innings, leaving the game up 3-1, but the pen blew it. He got the call again in Game 7. This time it was seven and a third innings with two runs. Arizona was behind when he left, but they scored two runs in the bottom of the ninth to beat the Yankees and Mariano Rivera. Schilling was co-MVP. His partner in crime remains to come on this list.
We all know that Carlton’s 1972 was his best regular season, but few remember 1980 as an amazing campaign despite its obvious quality. After leading the NL in wins, whiffs, innings, and ERA+, Lefty took the mound against an impressive Houston squad in the NLCS. His seven innings of one-run ball led Philadelphia to a 3-1 win in the opener. Carlton was less than spectacular in the fourth game, allowing a pair of runs in only five and a third innings. The Phillies would lose that game in 10 innings before closing out the NLCS in the fourth extra inning game out of five the next night. Carlton was better in the World Series. He started the second game, pitched eight innings, gave up 3 earned, and helped Philadelphia to a 2-0 lead with their 6-4 win. Up 3-2, he was called upon to close things out, and that’s what he did. After seven innings and just one run, Tug McGraw ended a run of 97 years of not winning a title.
Though he’s one of the most overrated pitchers ever, he’s the only one who appears on this list twice, and he did have one of the best pitcher peaks we’ve ever seen. He deserves to be here twice. In 1965 Koufax led the league in everything. His 2.04 ERA was his worst from 1963 until his retirement after 1966, but the guy still won the pitching triple crown with 382 strikeouts. The ’65 Fall Classic was a great one, and Koufax got his first call down one game against Jim Kaat. He would have gotten the call earlier but chose not to pitch the opener because of the Yom Kippur holiday. An error in the sixth by Jim Gilliam preceded a bunt, double, and single. Koufax had given up two runs and was lifted for a pinch hitter next inning. Down 2-0, Los Angeles rebounded. When Koufax took the mound again, the Series was tied. A weak hitter, he had a hit and ribbie, and he gave up four hits and no runs. The Dodgers were just one win away. And since LA couldn’t close things out the next game, they got to hand the ball to Koufax once again. And he delivered again, a three-hit shutout in Game Seven to cap off an unbelievable season.
He and Schilling were the 1927-1928 Ruth and Gehrig of the 2001 D’backs. Playoffs included, the amazing Big Unit struck out 419 batters in 2001. Albert Pujols took him deep in his NLDS start, and Johnson took the loss. It got better from there. He pitched a three-hit shutout with 11 strikeouts to give Arizona a win in the NLCS opener against Greg Maddux and the Braves. He then closed things out, pitching seven innings while giving up only two runs in a 3-2 win. Already up a game in the World Series against the Yankees, Johnson threw a three-hit, 11 strikeout shutout. His next start came in Game 6, down 3-2 in the Series. Johnson was good, giving up six hits and two runs in seven innings. Arizona crushed 15-2. And they called on him again the next night. He retired all four batters he faced to become the pitcher of record in the improbable Diamondback comeback. It was his third win of the World Series and his fifth win of the playoffs.
By WAR, 1963 was Sandy’s best season. He posted his first of three career pitching triple crowns while winning 25 of 30 decisions. And even though the 1963 World Series wasn’t as exciting as that of 1965, it was another Koufax showcase. He started the opener and struck out 15 Yankees to win 5-2. Up 3-0, Koufax tried to close out the sweep, and he did. This time he struck out only eight but gave up just six hits in the 2-1 Game 4 win. The Dodgers were champs, and Koufax was their superstar.
During the 1920 regular season, Coveleski and Jim Bagby were a pretty awesome two-headed monster. Bagby won 31 games, but the World Series showed Coveleski to be a better pitcher. If Bagby were better, he’d be on this list too. It’s not exactly the performance we’ll see at #1 on this list, but it’s incredible nonetheless. Coveleski, the ace, started Game 1. He allowed five hits and a run to get Cleveland the early 1-0 lead in the Series. Down 2-1, Coveleski drew the Game 4 start. Once again he gave up five hits and a run. This time he had a hit and run scored himself. And Cleveland tied things at two games each. They also won the next two games and called on Covey to close out the best of nine. That’s exactly what he did. He gave up five more hits, but this time it was a shutout. He scored a run in this one too, so he scored the same number of runs he allowed in the World Series. A truly incredible performance all year.
A winner of the pitching triple crown with a 230 ERA+, Mathewson was even better in the World Series. Yes, he was better. To open things up, he threw a four-hit shutout and had a hit of his own to put the Giants up a game. After losing the second game, they brought Matty back. Again, he pitched a four-hit shutout while singling himself. New York also won Game 4, so they brought Big Six back to end it. And he did. This was just a five-hit shutout with a walk and a run scored. So he scored more runs than he allowed. Zero runs in 27 innings. Three World Series shutouts. Amazing! And the best pitching season ever.
A friend recently asked me what player had the best season ever. And I didn’t know. I remembered that Babe Ruth in 1927 and Carl Yastrzemski in 1967 had the same ridiculous WAR, and I chose Ruth’s 1927 season, forgetting how astoundingly good his 1923 was.
I got thinking more deeply about the question, and I started thinking about something we don’t often discuss at the HoME – the playoffs. While the HoME may be an individual honor, the idea of best all-time season should have a team component. If you don’t make the playoffs, or if you lose your season’s final game, you leave that campaign with a bit of a bitter taste in your mouth. Or at least you should. If your team doesn’t win it all, you haven’t had the greatest season of all time, no matter what you did personally.
So what I did was check out all 56 seasons of 10+ WAR by position players (I’ll have a post dealing with pitchers a bit later). Then I isolated just those of players who won the World Series. As it turns out, only 11 times did a 10-win player’s teammates help enough to get a World Series trophy. So what I did next was look at the 9-win seasons with excellent World Series performances. Doing so added four more seasons to our list.
And we’re counting ‘em down.
For me, Collins is the most underappreciated inner circle guy ever. His is the weakest regular season on the list, but it’s one of the stronger World Series. He hit .421/.450/.630 with three stolen bases in the five game thrashing of the Giants. To set the stage in Game 1, he went 3-3 with three runs scored. Two games later it was 3-5 with two runs and three driven in. Collins’ World Series performance was great, but there was nothing so incredibly dramatic. And again, his regular season performance is the weakest on our list.
Mantle’s 1961 season featured the home run chase with Roger Maris that made the season famous. It was actually Mantle’s third best year by WAR, but it’s his second on this list since the Yanks didn’t win the 1957 World Series. Mantle’s ’61 campaign ranks this low because of his .167/.167/.167 line in a five game hammering of the overmatched Reds.
The Big Red Machine was at its best in a 4-0 sweep of the Yankees in the ’76 Fall Classic. Morgan was great, going .333/.412/.733. He homered in the opener, had two hits next game, drove in a run in the third, and scored one and stole his fourth base in the finale.
After a tremendous regular season, Say Hey was quiet in October. But even if he had a line better than .286/.444/.357, it would be pretty hard to elevate him because the Giants swept the Indians. No real drama.
The Flying Dutchman’s season was merely pedestrian by the standards of this list, and it was only his fourth best campaign overall, at least by WAR. But at 35, it was his only World Series win, and he was excellent, hitting .333/.467/.500. Wagner had a hit and a run in the Game 1 win; three hits, a run, and two batted in during the Game 3 win; a hit and a run during the Game 5 win; and a hit, a run, and two batted in during the Game 7 close out.
It was the eighth game of the 1912 World Series. Christy Mathewson was on the mound for the Giants trying to knot the Series at four games each. But after an error and a walk, Tris Speaker stepped to the plate with one out. He singled in a run to tie the game… On one hand, it was the bottom of the inning. On the other, it only tied the game, Speaker didn’t score the winning run, and the Sox could have lost this game and still won the World Series. Speaker was very good in the Series with a .300/.382/.467, yet he stays at #9. More drama and better seasons are ahead.
The Iron Horse was an absolute monster in the 1928 World Series, even better than Ruth. He hit .545/.706/.1.727, and he homered four times in the four games, once in the second game and the finale, two more in Game 3.
Of all players on this list, Boudreau is the most surprising. That’s not because he’s not great, just because he’s not an inner circle guy. He had only season over 8 WAR and only five above 4.5 WAR. Backed by an unusually high .360 BABIP, Old Shufflefoot led the Indians to their last World Series title, but he wasn’t great when they got there, hitting a pedestrian .273/.333/.455. Still, the guy is the only player/manager on the list. That has to count for something. The combination of being the team’s best player and their manager, vaults him ahead of others with stronger WAR or postseason work.
Little Joe only posted a .259/.364/.296 line in the 1975 Fall Classic. What he did in two key games gets him to this level. In the bottom of the 10th in Game 3, he singled in Cesar Geronimo to win the game. Then with two outs in Game 7’s 9th inning, he singled in the tie-breaking run to give the Reds the World Series victory.
The Athletic star had a phenomenal season, and then he starred in the World Series to the tune of .429/.478/.619. He was great. It was hard to be much greater. But his team was so dominant, outscoring the overmatched Cubs by 20 runs in five games. Others were even greater, or they had a harder road to the title.
We’re looking at nearly the most impressive World Series performance of the bunch, even if it was second to Gehrig’s that year. Ruth homered three times, all in the Game 4 finale, en route to a .615/.647/.1.375 line. The Yankees outscored the Cards 27-10 in the sweep, and it was Babe’s sixth ring. Of course, the four remaining regular seasons were all better than the 1928 vintage of the Bambino, and it was hard to have had an easier ride in October.
This season was vintage Mantle, as good as it got, and just about as good as it ever got. In the World Series, he was merely good with a .250/.400/.667 line, and the Yankees needed him to be. His biggest hit was a solo homer to break a scoreless tie in the fourth inning of Game 5. The Yankees won 2-0 and took a 3-2 lead in the Series. If he were better in the World Series, this would be the second best season ever.
In the World Series, Gehrig drove in a pair of runs in the one-run Game 1 against the Pirates. That’s cool. And he hit .308/.438/.769. That’s cool too. A strong World Series and an incredible regular season get him here.
Like Gehrig, Ruth was a star in the ’27 World Series. He had three hits and scored two runs in a one-run opening game. He hit a three-run homer two games later. And to close things out, he homered again and drove in three. A .400/.471/.800 line seals the deal over Gehrig for the second best season ever.
Ultimately, the best regular season ever is the best season ever. Ruth homered three times in the six game World Series win, while the rest of the team homered just twice. In Game 2, he homered twice in a 4-2 Yankee win. And he got the scoring started in the deciding game with another homer in the top of the first. His overall line of .400/.471/.800 plus the most incredible regular season we can imagine makes Babe Ruth’s 1923 season the best one ever.
When we started the Hall of Miller and Eric in 2013, I had some favorite players. Since we created it and I studied and learned, other players jumped to the fore. One of those players, a guy who I suggested might be the most underrated player ever, is Rick Reuschel. He’s the second and final 1970s pitcher in our “Fixing the Hall” series. And he was even better than last week’s entry, Luis Tiant.
The tubby righty broke in with the 1972 Chicago Cubs. In his nine and a half years there, he was always good and occasionally great. From 1977-1981, he was baseball’s second best pitcher. And in the second half of ’81, the Cubs sent Reuschel to the Yankees for what turned into nothing. He soon suffered a torn rotator cuff and missed most of the next two seasons. When he came back, it was again with the Cubs, and he was no good, adding just 0.1 pitching WAR to his career total in two years. At that point Reuschel was 36 and seemingly done. But he signed with the Pirates in the off-season, and then turned in his second best career performance for Pittsburgh in 1985. He spent almost two more years there before a 1987 trade to the Giants. Big Daddy lasted four more years on the west coast before hanging ‘em up at age 42.
He made four All-Star teams, garnered Cy Young support four times, and won three Gold Gloves. He only 20 games once though, and you know what his career total of 214 means. It means Hall voters were going to ignore him. They did.
It’s the wins. It’s clearly the wins. His single season highs are 20, 19, 18, 17, 14. His career total is just 214. Such guys don’t get into the Hall unless they were great closers for three years.
Reuschel also had some difficulties like Tiant, in that his competition included Seaver, Carlton, Ryan, Palmer, and the like. Unlike Tiant, Reuschel was near the best pitcher in baseball for a spell. For the decade from his rookie year until his rotator cuff injury, only five pitchers were better. If we lop off the rookie campaign, it’s only three pitchers.
Reuschel was treated awfully by some very bad voters in 1997. Just two people voted for him. That’s 29 fewer than Ron Guidry, 32 fewer and Mickey Lolich, 95 fewer than Tommy John, 105 fewer than Jim Kaat, and 344 fewer than Don Sutton, all of whom were inferior pitchers.
By my numbers, Reuschel is a ton like Don Drysdale. Check out my converted year-by-year numbers. Drysdale is better by a shade every year from years 2-12, but Reuschel’s best was better, and he added 5.3 WAR after his best dozen years, while Drysdale added just 1.6.
Reuschel Drysdale =================== 9.6 8.4 6.4 7.1 5.9 6.3 5.6 6.0 5.4 5.9 5.4 5.7 5.4 5.6 4.2 4.9 3.9 4.7 3.6 4.4 3.5 3.7 3.1 3.4 3.0 1.9 2.8 -0.3
Maybe the Drysdale comparison isn’t for you. Let’s look at Jim Bunning. Reuschel again has the top season, while Bunning has a nice edge from 2-5. The next three years are pretty equal. After that, however, Bunning totals only 6.6 more for his career, and Reuschel puts up 22.5
Reuschel Bunning =================== 9.6 8.9 6.4 8.4 5.9 8.0 5.6 7.0 5.4 6.5 5.4 5.2 5.4 5.0 4.2 4.0 3.9 3.0 3.6 2.9 3.5 2.6 3.1 1.4 3.0 1.0 2.8 0.3 1.3 -1.0 0.8 -1.7 0.3 -2.0 0.3 -0.1
It’s a lot easier to list the Hall of Fame pitchers better than Reuschel. I believe there are only 28 of them. And there are 68 Hall of Fame pitchers. Bob Lemon and Dizzy Dean and Early Wynn and even Don Drysdale rank lower than he does on my list.
Throughout this series, I’ve dumped a Hall of Famer every time, and this time is no exception. Today, we dump 1927 Yankee star, Waite Hoyt. Let’s see how Hoyt stacks up to Reuschel.
Reuschel Hoyt ============================== Innings 3548.1 3762.1 Wins 214 237 Strikeouts 2015 1206 Shutouts 26 26 Everything here is equal except the strikeouts, and that's an era thing. ============================================================================== ERA 3.37 3.59 K/BB 2.16 1.20 ERA+ 114 112 FIP 3.22 3.76 Reuschel begins to pull away here. ============================================================================== RA9opp 4.13 4.83 So Hoyt's opponents scored way more runs than Reuschel's. ============================================================================== RA9def -0.18 0.06 On the other hand, Hoyt pitched in front of superior defenses. ============================================================================== Park Factor 104.9 98.5 Over 100 is harder than average; under easier. Hoyt had it far easier. ============================================================================== PtchW 19.4 18.8 This is adjusted pitching wins, the number of wins above average contributed. ============================================================================== WPA 14.8 0.5 This is Win Probability Added, which kind of speaks for itself. ============================================================================== RE24 159.7 -24.0 This is Base-Out Runs Saved. Given the bases occupied, this number shows the number of runs the pitcher saved on the resulting play. Average is 0.0. Hoyt is below average. ============================================================================== Actual WAR 70.0 51.8 My WAR 70.5 52.9 (Extra credit given for playoff pitching) My best 5 WAR 33.0 26.8 My best 7 WAR 43.9 34.8 My best 10 WAR 55.6 44.1 My best 15 WAR 69.4 51.7 MAPES P Rank 35 122 (My personal ranking system) Reuschel over Hoyt. It would make the Hall better.
So as we conclude this series and look back, we see nine players from the 1970s and 1980s who belong in the Hall but aren’t in. Turning back the clock, each of our nine players was active from 1977-1981. Amazingly, there are six additional HoMErs who played those exact seasons – Willie Randloph, Reggie Smith, Sal Bando, Graig Nettles, Bobby Bonds, and Darrell Evans – who have been ignored by the Hall but who should be in to give their era fair Cooperstown representation.
What does it take to be overrated? Maybe one incredibly important and memorable hit? Maybe a ridiculous over-perception of the importance of particular skill? Someone who’s read the title to this post must be thinking of Joe Carter now. A savvy reader might also be thinking of Bill Mazeroski, who hit the first ever walk off homer to win a World Series and whose double play pivot, it would seem, got a really stinky hitter into the Hall of Fame.
But I digress. This post isn’t about Maz, it’s about Carter. And at least Mazeroski’s perceived skill was real; Carter’s “skill” as an RBI guy is more of a hoax. I began thinking a lot about Carter after posting The Worst Regulars Ever a week ago. You may remember that by our criteria, the worst of the worst was Joe Carter.
I’m not saying Joe Carter was a bad player. He was a fine guy to put in your lineup, averaging over 2.4 annually from 1986-1993. His career WAR puts him in line with guys like Todd Zeile and Jeff Conine. They’re fine players too. But five years after Carter retired, there were 19 writers who actually believed Carter belonged in the Hall of Fame. So what made Carter so overrated?
Carter was involved in one of the biggest superstar trades of all time when he and Roberto Alomar were shipped to the Blue Jays in December of 1990 for Fred McGriff and Tony Fernandez. Let’s be fair here though. Alomar is a Hall of Famer, finishing his career with 66.8 WAR. Both McGriff and even Fernandez and fit into the Hall of Very Good with 52.4 WAR and 45.1 WAR respectively. Carter’s career total of 19.3 is less than half as good as the third worst player in the trade. This is a superstar trade in spite of him, not because of him.
I suppose you can make an argument that Joe Carter hit the biggest home run in baseball history if you consider the context and the television audience when he walked it off against Mitch Williams and the Phillies to come from behind in Game 6 and win the 1993 World Series. Let’s get this straight though. It was one home run. It was awesome, and I won’t even fight you if you want to call it the biggest home run ever. In this context, I’m simply arguing that it’s a contributing factor to why we overvalue Carter today.
I’ve been paging through Keith Law’s Smart Baseball recently, and if you like this blog but don’t always understand the things we’re saying, it’s a great read. He writes a whole chapter about the unreliability of the RBI to tell us what we think it’s telling us. In it he cites Branch Rickey in his criticism, saying the RBI is an individual stat that’s overdependent on people other than the individual. After all, unless you homer, you can’t drive in a run if nobody is on base. Carter was a big, big RBI guy, driving in 1281 over the 12 years from 1986-1997. Credit the guys on base.
Carter takes advantage of our love of the RBI more than virtually any player in the game’s history. In eight seasons he reached triple digits in RBI without reaching 3.0 WAR. Only two players have ever done that more than half as much, Adam Dunn and Dante Bichette, and they’re three years behind Carter. In fact, only 24 other guys have done it more than twice. Carter did it eight times.
Let’s make the comparison player a little worse. Let’s say the guy drove in 100+ with less than 2.5 WAR. Now there are only 12 guys in history to do it more than twice. Carter did it seven times. And we can keep going. Only 126 players ever have driven in 100 runs with less than 2.0 WAR. Just 30 have done it more than once. Only six have done it more than twice. Carter? Six times. Only seven guys have 100+ with less than 1.0 WAR. Carter leads the way with four times. And here’s the final one. Only 15 guys have driven in 100+ while putting up negative WAR. Only one guy did it more than once. And he did it three times. You guessed it, Joe Carter.
If you’ve ever read anything about the MVP voting, you’d understand what a questionable job the writers have done over the years. One such way they’ve done poorly is over-inflating RBI guys in the race. Carter received MVP consideration eight times. Let’s look at where he finished, how he fared in ribbies that year, and where he ranked in WAR among position players.
Year MVP Rank RBI Rank WAR Rank 1986 9 1 8t 1988 20 9 31t 1989 16 4 78t 1990 17 3 488t (only one player worse) 1991 5 6 19 1992 3 2 49t 1993 12 3 76t 1994 10 2 106t
So let’s get some perspective here. When Carter got MVP consideration, he was more likely not one of the 100 best position players than he was one of the ten best. And in no season was he closer to being the best player than he was closer to being the worst in 1990. What’s worse, when he got MVP votes, only twice was he even one of the best 30 position players in his league!
I like to talk about MVP wins and votes. I do so because it’s fun, not because it’s necessarily illustrative of much.
Too often throughout history, we’ve paid little attention to those skilled at drawing free passes. Conversely, we don’t pay attention to those who don’t. Only seven guys ever have had more than three seasons with 30+ homers and fewer than 50 walks. Carter has six such seasons. Nobody has more.
To be honest, I can’t say who really is the most overrated player ever. It’s hard to know how overrated someone is if you don’t know how they’re actually rated. And I don’t really know what people think of Carter, beyond the 19 goof balls who thought he was worthy of the Hall of Fame in 2004. But consider this list: Jesse Barfield, Carney Lansford, Tim Salmon, and Paul O’Neill. Those are all guys at least twice as valuable as Joe Carter. If you thought Carter was superior to any of them, you probably overrate him too.
In the comments section, share who you think might be the game’s most overrated player ever.
When I started this project to fix the Hall, I did so focusing only on hitters who starred in the 70s and 80s. After all, the writers have done a pretty good job getting the right pitchers from that era into the Hall. Seaver, Carlton, Ryan, Palmer, Perry, Jenkins, Niekro, Blyleven, Sutton, and Gossage are all where they belong. But the voters have also missed on a couple of guys, and a recent trip to Fenway Park where I had the pleasure of meeting Luis Tiant inspired me to continue with this series on overlooked 1970s and 1980s stars.
To be fair, some might not consider Tiant a pitcher of the 1970s. The Cuban righty got his career started in 1964, and he had his best year in 1968, both with the Indians, before moving to Minnesota in 1970. Still, I consider him a pitcher of the 1970s because he pitched for the Red Sox from 1971-1978. And I’m a Red Sox fan who met Tiant at Fenway Park, dammit. So that’s it, he’s a pitcher of the 1970s. For those counting, he finished things out with two campaigns in the Bronx and one in both Pittsburgh and California from 1979-1982.
He made three All-Star teams and received Cy consideration three times, though he never finished in the top-3. Part of his legend comes from post-season greatness in 1975. He got things started by shutting out the A’s in the ALCS. Then he opened the World Series with another shutout, this time against the Big Red Machine. Though he struggled some, he also won Game 4 before stinking up the joint in the Sox dramatic Game 6 win backed by Carlton Fisk’s 12th inning walk-off.
Tiant never had any claim as the best pitcher in baseball. In 1968, Denny McLain won 30 games, and Bob Gibson posted a 1.12 ERA. Even in his best three-year stretch, 1972-1974, five pitchers, including Wilbur Wood, were more valuable. He won 20 games four times, which voters seem to like. However, only two other times did he win more than 13. For his career, we’re looking at just 229 victories. And voters really love career wins. It’s kind of hard to blame them in some ways given that six pitchers from his era won 311 or more games. And Blyleven and Jenkins posted 287 and 284 respectively. If you’re not paying attention, he might seem like a lesser pitcher. And to be fair, he wasn’t the pitcher that any of the starters above were, except for Sutton. Being compared to pitchers of his era really hurts him, and undervaluing that era as a whole, hurts him more.
Another problem is that he often followed up a great season with a relatively mediocre one. His 8.4 pitching WAR in 1968 preceded 3.2 WAR in 1969. His 7.8 in 1974 was followed by 2.8, 6.3, 5.6, and 2.4. In some ways he was a little like Bret Saberhagen, except that he did his good work in even numbered years. Plus, he got hurt in 1969 and was worth less than a win over the next two years. His inconsistency hurt too.
But the real thing that hurt is that voters compared him to pitchers of his era rather than pitchers all time.
Back when players still had 15 chances on the ballot, Tiant remained for all 15 tries. After 1988, his first year of eligibility when he earned 30.9% of the vote, it looked like he was eventually going to get in. Guys who start over 30% almost always get in. In 1989, however, Perry and Jenkins hit the ballot with Johnny Bench and Carl Yastrzemski. It’s not surprising that Tiant took a step back. What does surprise is that he dropped to just 10.5% of the vote, tied with the inferior Mickey Lolich, a guy who he beat by 23 votes the year before.
Jim Palmer overshadowed him in 1990, Perry and Jenkins made it in 1991, Seaver entered in 1992, Niekro hit the ballot in 1993, Carlton got in and Sutton got on the ballot in 1995. By 1998, all of the 300 win guys finally made it. But there were big win guys Jim Kaat and Tommy John getting attention, and Bert Blyleven hit the ballot that year too. Tiant never rebounded to his 1988 heights. In fact, he never even got back to 20%.
The Golden Era Committee met in 2011, saw fit to put Tiant on the ballot, but the voters again did a poor job. Jim Kaat got ten votes, Tiant less than three. In 2014, it was the same result.
If we look at career WAR, Tiant is a pretty easy Hall choice. The three right in front of him include Don Drysdale, Roberto Alomar, and Dwight Evans, who we discussed last week. The three right behind him are Hall of Famers Duke Snider, Joe Cronin, and Pee Wee Reese. In fact, Tiant tops more than 50 Hall of Famers. And he’d be in the top half of pitchers in the Hall.
Oh, and if you like wins, Tiant had more than about 20 Hall starters.
I’ve kind of covered this section above, but it’s simply comical how many pitchers are indisputably behind Luis Tiant. But first, in terms of career value, Tiant looks a lot like Rube Waddell or Jim Bunning to me. He’s far better than all of the relievers, even Gossage. And he crushes the likes of Rube Marquard, Lefty Gomez, Jesse Haines, Jack Chesbro, and many others. One of them is my favorite Hall punching bag, Catfish Hunter.
Since Bill James wrote it first and best in his Politics of Glory, and since I think I spend far too much of my time trashing him (type his name into the search box if you’re interested), I’m going to let the Catfish Hunter comparison numbers speak for themselves.
Tiant Hunter ============================ Innings 3486.1 3449.1 Wins 229 224 Strikeouts 2416 2012 Shutouts 49 42 Though it's just by a little, Tiant wins in every single category. ============================================================================== ERA 3.30 3.26 K/BB 2.19 2.11 ERA+ 114 104 FIP 3.47 3.66 Hunter wins only ERA. For a better sense of real skill, see ERA+ and FIP. ============================================================================== RA9opp 4.08 3.99 This is the average scored by the pitcher's opposition. Catfish had it easier. ============================================================================== RA9def 0.07 0.25 This measures the pitcher's quality of defense. Catfish had it easier. ============================================================================== Park Factor 104.8 95.7 Over 100 is harder than average; under is easier. Catfish had it easier. ============================================================================== PtchW 22.3 9.0 This is adjusted pitching wins, the number of wins above average contributed. Hunter is clearly worse. ============================================================================== WPA 25.2 14.0 This is Win Probability Added, which kind of speaks for itself. Again, Hunter is worse. ============================================================================== Actual WAR 66.7 41.4 My Conversion 67.2 43.3 (Extra credit given for playoff pitching) MAPES P Rank 47 145 (My personal ranking system) This is the biggest no-brainer ever, right? Bill James is smart.
Next week, one of my all-time favorites, Rick Reuschel.
While researching another post on aging, I began running into some pretty disturbing numbers with Joe Carter’s name attached to them. Did you know that during the last nine years of Carter’s career that he put up just 5.6 WAR? Take away his 1991 season, and that’s 1.1 WAR in eight years. Hell, take away 1992, and Carter was below replacement level for the other seven combined. Anyway, that’s not the thing I was noticing. In his final year, Carter was below replacement level. In his second to last, he was below. And in his third to last, he also performed below the level of what is essentially freely available talent in AAA. Oh yeah, same in his fourth to last season – negative WAR. And Carter was a regular those seasons, never playing fewer than 126 games and averaging nearly 600 trips to the plate each year. This has to be unprecedented, right?
So with the magic of BBREF’s Play Index (subscribe!!!), I researched. I looked for regulars (those averaging 500+ plate appearances) with negative WAR over their final four seasons. And I found nine such players. That’s because guys this bad aren’t typically allowed to play so much. Let’s review the worst players, kind of, in baseball history who were allowed lots of playing time when retirement seemed like a better option.
Bernie Williams was a very talented hitter in his prime. Actually, he was HoME-quality at the plate for the bulk of his career. At the end, however, he posted just 3 Rbat over his final four seasons, which means he was just three runs better than average. Now for a center fielder, that’s fine if you’re a good defender. And Bernie was terrible at the end, 76 runs worse than the average defender. I don’t want to get into just how bad that is. Suffice to say it’s awful. Why did it take the Yankees so long to replace him? Maybe some Core Four nonsense? Had they just found a way to let him DH, perhaps he’d be in the HoME today.
Stop talking about Coors when it comes to greats like Larry Walker and Todd Helton. Absolutely continue talking about it when it comes to schlubs like Dante Bichette. Bichette was never a very good player. His best single-season WAR was 2.9. His second best was 1.2. But he did lead the NL in home runs in 1995, and he drove in what seems like an incredible 913 runs over eight years from 1993-2000. It’s not incredible. Let’s leave at that. In the case of overextending Bichette’s career, it’s not just the Rockies who were tricked by the inflated power numbers. The Reds and Red Sox let him play during his final four seasons too. Bichette drove in 1141 runs during his career. His 5.3 career WAR is lower than anyone in history with that many. It’s also lower than anyone in history with 1000, 900, or 803 RBI. Willie Montanez with 802 and Joe Quinn with 800 posted lower career WAR totals.
Garvey was a creation of the media, of our obsession with batting average, our ignorance of the value of taking a walk, and our infatuation with consecutive. In Garvey’s case, his consecutive games played streak. He won an MVP Award in 1974 when he was 17th in the NL in WAR among position players. Mike Schmidt more than doubled Garvey’s total, but the Dodger hit .312 to Schmidt’s .282. Other nonsense too, I’m sure. Anyway, during his last four (actually, five) years, Garvey was a Padre, not a Dodger. And he almost didn’t make this list because San Diego discovered John Kruk during Garvey’s final campaign. Still, Garvey missed almost no time the previous three years even though he was 9 runs below average at the plate and 18 below average in the field those seasons. What the Padres saw in him, I don’t know. Maybe it was the 1984 MVP consideration. Yep, Garvey received MVP votes in 1984 despite the fact that five pitchers produced more offensive WAR that year.
I somehow recollect Bell not being a great teammate. And those guys don’t tend to stick around extra long. Or maybe they do. Or maybe I’m wrong about Bell. Whatever the case, the Blue Jays, Cubs, and White Sox let him stink up the joint at the end. Not just those teams are to blame. He was picked by the managers, not the fans, to participate in the 1990 and 1991 All-Star contests. And in 1992 he garnered MVP consideration from the writers after putting up 25 homers and 112 runs batted in to go along with -0.2 WAR for the White Sox. He was a below average hitter that year, but he hit behind Tim Raines, Robin Ventura, and Frank Thomas, all of whom got on base at .375 or better. The RBIs will pretty much always appear under such circumstances.
Young is an outlier on this list in a number of ways. He’s the only middle infielder on the list. He retired half a century before anyone else. And I don’t think he was ever even perceived as good. His Wikipedia article says that he was a talented fielder. Of course BBREF has him 50 runs below average in his final four seasons and 67 below average for his career. I truly do not understand why he was playing. Of course, I don’t think I’m supposed to understand all of the mysteries of the baseball universe.
A big three true outcomes guy, Dunn pretty famously caused lots of breeze with his bat. Only eight guys ever can boast more than his six season of 40+ homers. None can come close to his 12 seasons of 150+ strikeouts. In fact, only Melvin Upton has even eight. Dunn was allowed to play simply because teams wanted his HR power. And in this final four years, he did average 27 bombs. Of course he did so with a .202 BA and only a 98 OPS+. Over Dunn’s final nine seasons, by the way, he was worth just 3.3 WAR.
He wasn’t much liked either, right? I mean, the guy’s nickname was “Penitentiary Face”. When Jeffrey Leonard was good, he wasn’t that good, but the Giants, Brewers, and Mariners let him drag their teams down from 1987-1990. In his two non-negative stints those years, he made All-Star teams, I suppose because teams wanted to lose. What else could there have been? In his second to last season, he set career highs with 24 homers and 93 batted in. A career 102 OPS+ guy with just 9.7 career WAR, I don’t know why they let this guy stick around.
This is another one I don’t understand. Moreland was never an All-Star, topped 16 homers just once, topped 88 RBIs once too, and managed to come to the plate almost 2300 times for the Cubs, Padres, Tigers, and Orioles in his final four stinky seasons. If you want me to venture a guess, I’d say that the 1987 juiced ball led to a ridiculous, for him, 27 homers. That gave him two more seasons where teams hoped and prayed.
This guy is the reason for the season. In 1995 he put up -0.2 WAR over 603 plate appearances for the Jays. The next year it was -0.5 WAR in 682 trips to the dish. So you know what they did to punish him? They took away 14 PAs in 1997 and saw him post -0.8 WAR. Carter wasn’t ever released. The Orioles stole him away as a free agentin what has to be one of the worst robberies ever. In just 303 trips, he managed -0.7 WAR. Then the Giants traded for him in July, I guess in an attempt to bolster their offense for a playoff drive. After -0.3 WAR in 115 times to the plate, it was mercifully over for Carter. And for us.
I find Joe Carter to be a fascinating player. All this awful, and so many of us still have a very positive view of the guy. I sense another post coming soon.
If you’re interested in Sabermetric numbers, you must be surprised that Dwight Evans isn’t in the Hall of Fame. Then again, he played in the 1970s and 1980s, so maybe you shouldn’t be surprised. And the truth is, he really wasn’t thought of as much of a player during his day. Just three All-Star berths and five times receiving MVP consideration in his 20 years tells you much of what you need to know. Today, we’ll right the wrong of Hall exclusion as we continue with the Fixing the Hall series, just as we have for Ted Simmons, Keith Hernandez, Bobby Grich, and Buddy Bell, Alan Trammell, and Jose Cruz before him.
Dwight Evans reached the majors with the Boston Red Sox in September of 1972 when he was still 20 years old. He was a good hitter and a great defender early in his career. As he aged with the Sox, he declined in the field while growing into something close to elite at the plate. He hit .300 with three homers in 50 World Series at-bats, shared the 1981 AL home run title, and led the league in OPS twice. Boston let him walk to Baltimore in his final season of 1991, instead signing Jack Clark. It might have been the right move, but it would have been nicer to see Dewey with one team his whole career.
Evans had a career that was misinterpreted by the writers, for sure, but he’s a bit to blame as well, having the audacity to have his best run from age 29-35. See, he spent the first third of his career not being a star. If you’re not a star for a bunch of years, it’s hard for some to begin thinking of you as a star later. Additionally, Evans wasn’t ever really elite, with his best four seasons of 5.1-6.7 WAR. His value was in being consistently very helpful, ten times with a WAR of 3.0-4.8. Also, Evans played great defense and drew a ton of walks. Those aren’t sexy qualities. He just never impressed enough in the way ill-informed writers want.
Our guy actually saw three Hall ballots. In 1997 he received 5.9% of the vote. Granted, that was less than the inferior Dave Parker and inferior teammate Jim Rice, but at least it was something. In 1998 he jumped to 10.4%. That was a fair leap. Maybe writers were catching on? Alas, Nolan Ryan, George Brett, Robin Yount, and Carlton Fisk joined the ballot in 1999, and there weren’t enough writers to keep Evans around. He fell off with just 3.6% of the vote.
There are 17 eligible players who can match Evans in R, RBI, and BB. Of those without a steroid taint, they’re all in the Hall.
Only six right fielders in history are better than or within 20% of Evans in both Rbat and Rfield. Hank Aaron, Al Kaline, and Roberto Clemente are three. Sammy Sosa would be in the Hall if it weren’t for PED taint. Larry Walker should be in. The other player is Rocky Colavito, a guy who Evans beats in Rbat, Rfield, G, PA, R, H, 2B, HR, RBI, BA, OBP, and WAR. It’s fair to say Colavito is clearly a lesser player.
Evans is one of seven right fielders ever with 300 homers and 1000 walks. Five are in the Hall, and the other is Jack Clark, a guy who Evans beats in HR, BB, PA, R, H, 2B, 3B, RBI, and WAR. Again, Clark is clearly a lesser player.
If we just look at WAR, every RF in history who’s ahead of Evans is in the Hall. And there are eleven Hall of Famers at his position who trail him.
Evans is tremendously better than joke choices Tommy McCarthy and Ross Youngs. Most reasonable people would rank him ahead of Kiki Cuyler and Chuck Klein too. I like him better than Sam Thompson, Sam Rice, and Enos Slaughter without WWII credit. I also rank him ahead of Dave Winfield, Harry Hooper, and Willie Keeler. Plus, I can see how someone could choose him over Andre Dawson, Tony Gwynn, or Elmer Flick too.
If you’ve been reading these posts, you know I like to look at BBREF’s AIR number to compare offensive eras. Evans had a slightly favorable offensive environment throughout his career as shown with his 101 AIR. Chuck Klein had an insanely favorable situation, an AIR of 110, yet his numbers are inferior to Evans’. We’re dumping Klein. Let’s look.
Evans Klein ============================ PAs 10569 7171 Hits 2446 2076 Runs 1470 1168 Home Runs 385 300 RBI 1384 1201 BB 1391 601 Evans wins in terms of counting stats. ============================================================== BA .272 .320 OBP .370 .379 SLG .470 .543 OPS+ 127 137 What we see here is the difference between an AIR of 101 and one of 110. Even if you're inclined to believe Klein was a better hitter, there's more to consider when electing a Hall of Famer. =============================================================== Rfield 65 -40 DRA 19.9 -102.8 The first is the defensive number at BBREF. The second is defensive regression analysis. I trust the second more. Evans was a very good defender; Klein was awful. ================================================================= Actual WAR 66.9 43.6 My Conversion 70.0 43.0 MAPES LF Rank 16 37 MAPES is my personal ranking system.
Evans was a better player. It’s not that close either. The good news for him is that the Veterans Committee will still take a look. And they elected Klein, so you never know.
Next week we move to the mound, and to a slightly earlier era, checking out the injustice done to Luis Tiant.
Friend of the HoME verdun2 writes an excellent blog with a recurring post, A Dozen Things You Should Know About, in which he introduces his readers to an interesting player, very often from the 19th century. I enjoy all of those posts. I enjoy those on players I’m unfamiliar with the most. So not long ago when I ran into Fred Carroll while researching Buster Posey, I thought about introducing him to HoME readers.
In tribute to verdun2, check out a baker’s dozen things you might like to know about Fred Carroll.
Thanks for the inspiration, verdun2!