Today we finish up the position players with our list of the top-125 right fielders ever. Remember, we’re quite confident through 75 or so players, pretty confident through 100, and admit we’re guessing a bit toward the bottom of the list.
Before we get into the list, there are two things I want to point out. First, perhaps you already know that we have not yet elected Vladimir Guerrero to the Hall of Miller and Eric. He’s in good position, above three HoME right fielders on my list and two on Eric’s. It’s just been a numbers game the last two years. Yes, Vlad is better than some guys in the HoME. However, we’re bound by the number of players in the Hall of Fame. We don’t and won’t add beyond the Hall. In 2017, the Hall elected three players. We decided we preferred Ivan Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez, and Sam Rice to Vlad. While Rice is a smidge below Vlad on our right field lists, we thought his era needed a bit more representation than Vlad’s. Last year there were six players elected to the Hall, including Vlad, however he still couldn’t make the HoME cut. Rather, we went with Chipper Jones, Jim Thome, Scott Rolen, Andruw Jones, Johan Santana, and Minnie Minoso. Based on Eric’s Negro League research, we decided Minoso was above the line. The others were easier calls. What about 2019? I’m not so hopeful. Mariano Rivera, Roy Halladay, and Todd Helton will all get in before Guerrero. Is Guerrero fourth? I’m not sure right now. And maybe it won’t matter. I’m not confident we’re going to get more than three players this year.
The second thing I want to mention about the lists is where we place Mookie Betts and Bryce Harper. I have the AL MVP #60, while he comes in at #68 on Eric’s list. As for Harper, he’s #86 for Eric and #90 for me. They were born only nine days apart, but Harper was a wunderkind who reached the majors two years before Mookie did. Thus, he’s a free agent now, looking to make $2.4 zillion, or something like that. What would the difference be if he and Mookie were on the market together? Since Mookie’s rookie year, Harper has played like and All-Star (5+ WAR) just once, and Mookie has done so four times. For those who have been around the HoME for a bit, you know where I’m going with this. Mookie is the better player. And I believe Mookie will be the better player moving forward. We’ll see how they move up the chart in the years to come.
A quick note about position differences: I put Joe Jackson, Brian Giles, and Richie Zisk in right; Eric puts them all in left. That’s it.
Take a look at our evaluation systems and our earlier lists in this series.
That’s it for the position players. After reviewing BBWAA ballots on Friday, we’ll be back on Monday with a long, long list of pitchers.
Mr. October. It’s one of baseball’s most recognizable nicknames. Thinking ahead to this post, I was considering Reggie Jackson as one of the players MAPES+ might underrate because it doesn’t take post-season performance into account. So then I looked at Reggie’s playoff statistics. He slashed .278/.358/.527 in October compared to .262/.356/.490 in the regular season. Better? Sure. Against stiffer competition? Almost certainly. But there’s not a marked difference, at least not one that’s suggested by the nickname. If you want to call someone Mr. October, someone like Lou Brock, Paul Molitor, Curt Schilling or Bob Gibson (to name four off the top of my head), go for it. But Reggie? I don’t know.
Yes, he won two World Series MVP Awards, and I think he deserved it in 1978 too. And not we’re on to something. In 116 trips to the plate over five World Series, he slashed .357/.457/.755. In my mind “October” is equal to the playoffs. However, if we view “October” as the World Series, which is justifiable, I suppose, Reggie earned that nickname. Now about MAPES+…
Actually, you can read about MAPES, CHEWS, and all posts in this series with the links below.
Part of the fun of Ichiro is that he’s kind of like a thought experiment made real: What if we took a star player from roughly 1901–1930 and plopped him into the majors? Now we know! It’s Ichiro! But that’s precisely what’s happened. His game is predicated on a few things:
In the deadball era, grounds keeping wasn’t quite as meticulous as today. Comiskey Park was famously built atop a landfill and old trash popped up through the grass sometimes. The amazing drainage technology that today’s fields have didn’t exist. Freddie Lindstrom became a World Series goat when a ball hit a pebble and bounced over his head. That combined with primitive glove technology increased the reward for simply putting the ball on the ground between the lines and dashing like mad to first base.
Ichiro is something like Harry Hooper combined with George Sisler. Which is basically what Sam Rice was. I wonder whether that kind of player would have been more or less effective in the 1970s and 1980s. Why? Astroturf. Infielders could play back to pick up grounders that might get through at normal depth, but even well-placed grounders would reach fielders faster, reducing Ichiro’s speed advantage. Turf did give speed merchants an advantage on the bases, but the players who took best advantage of turf did so by hitting balls into the gaps and running like crazy. Ichiro’s game is different than that of George Brett, Tim Raines, or Vince Coleman. Turf might also reduce the advantage accrued with Ichiro’s arm because the ball would get to him quicker on singles, reducing the likelihood of his being tested, and extra-base hits would get by him more quickly. Hard tellin’ not knowin’ as they say up here in Maine.—Eric
I projected Ichiro to retire after the 2014 season. Seriously. Over the seven years before this one, he was worth a total of 5.2 WAR. That’s not a guy who you want on your club unless you want to sell tickets or jerseys. Oh, wait, I’ve figured it out. I’m sure there’s more. I bet Ichiro is a good guy, and I suspect his English is better around teammates than reporters, which is just fine by me. As far as where he ends up, that depends on whether or not he decides to play again. He’s just done for the year, not retired. Given an infinite number of chances, he’d play his way out of the HoME. Since I think he’s seen his last game, we will only have to factor in the-0.5 WAR he accrued in 15 games this year. That drops him behind Bobby Bonds for me, and into a virtual tie with Gary Sheffield. We’ll have to see how BBREF rounding works out.—Miller
I think I have Winfield and Vlad lower than mainstream folks would. They’re not even on this list. The real divergence may be ranking Clemente third rather than fifth, not that the difference between him, Ott, and Robinson is meaningful at all. The reason for my ranking is pretty clear; it’s Clemente’s consecutive peak. If I removed that factor, Eric and I would have the same top-6. This seems as good a place as any to reiterate why I like the consecutive peak factor in my formula. First, it’s how JAWS began. Though Jaffe did come up with a better conclusion, I don’t think he was completely wrong to start. There is something, not nothing to be said for consecutive greatness. A team really knows what it has. Also, it’s only 11% of my formula, which is to say Clemente, Ott, and Robinson are very close anyway. Sure, I have Clemente third. If you have him fifth, I certainly won’t argue.—Miller
Larry Walker and Harry Hooper. We’ve got Walker among the top dozen right fielders, and he’s having trouble drumming up enough Hall support to make it before his eligibility expires. Lots of people think the Hall made a mistake by electing Harry Hooper. We strongly disagree.—Eric
Probably Willie Keeler. Throughout this process, Miller has had Keeler ranked ahead of me. I don’t exactly know why, but over the several iterations of each of our sifting tools, Wee Willie has always managed to look worse in my eyes.—Eric
Is it Clemente? No, I wouldn’t really make an argument that he’s exactly the third best right fielder ever. I’m nearly certain he’s between third and fifth, or maybe sixth. Not exactly third. It’s not like with Aaron. I’m almost certain Aaron is exactly the second best right fielder ever. There aren’t really any major discrepancies here. Even with Keeler. We both see him as 2% above the in/out line for the position.—Miller
So let’s answer that question from the top of the post. Might MAPES+ underrate Reggie? I don’t think so. I call him the eighth best ever at the position. If you want to take him over Waner, I won’t put up a stink.—Miller
Well, neither of our systems take into account the verifiable, proven fact that Paul Waner shares my birthday. That’s a thing, man! But let me now posit a weird idea. Is it possible that Babe Ruth, the player, can be seen as overrated? No statistical system can capture the immensity of Babe Ruth’s contribution to baseball, of course, and we don’t talk about off-the-field stuff here very often. Still, we both had him among our top-three most influential persons in baseball history. But the thing about Babe Ruth is that he was so much better than everyone else. If you run standard deviations on any kind of runs-creation stats in his time, especially the early 1920s, he pulls everything out of whack. You have to seriously consider removing him from the test because by himself he raises the bar so high. But that begets the interesting question of whether Ruth was that good or did the league fail to catch on to his innovation? Some of both, surely, but that latter idea always makes me wonder whether Ruth is actually overrated from a certain, very narrow, point of view. The innovation is the source of his value, so in the most literal sense, it’s a non-question. And yet, it digs at me a little because it’s not entirely a question of talent and performance. There’s this little bit of friction for me about the long window of time before which the rest of MLB got its power together, and the massive advantage Ruth accrued from it. But whatever, he’s the Babe after all!—Eric
We round out the offense next week with the second half of right field.
Not too long ago I read a tweet calling Jim Palmer an inner circle Hall of Famer. I immediately recoiled. Then I did what any stats guy or gal would do. I got out my spreadsheet.
What I found is Palmer’s name next to the number 31 among hurlers. When I last checked with Eric, he had Palmer 35th. And by JAWS, he’s 37th. I was satisfied; I felt my initial reaction was pretty much justified. But then I thought some more and realized that if I’m going to take pride in what I thought was a correct reaction, I’d better have an answer to who belongs in the inner circle.
So let’s think about the HoME. As of today, we’ve inducted 220 players. How many of those players do we think should be in the inner circle? Through the magic of BBREF, I know that there have been approximately 19,100 players in major league history. That means one out of 86 or 87 players ever is in the HoME. If we took the same percentage as the inner circle, we’d be looking at three guys, maybe Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, and Walter Johnson. Maybe. But three guys don’t form a good circle.
Let’s reconsider. If, for example, we consider only hitters who had extensive careers, perhaps we put the mark at 5,000 plate appearances. Then we may have something. There are just shy of 1,000 hitters at that level, and there are about 160 hitters in the HoME. So about 16% of all players with what I’m calling extensive careers are in the HoME. And if we take 16% of the players in the HoME, we have 35 players in the HoME’s inner circle. That would be 9-10 pitchers and 25-26 hitters. And that seems reasonable enough.
So by my fictional and unofficial standard, here’s the inner circle of the Hall of Miller and Eric, or at least a reasonable facsimile thereof.
C: Johnny Bench
1B: Stan Musial, Lou Gehrig, Cap Anson, Jimmie Foxx, Roger Connor
2B: Rogers Hornsby, Eddie Collins, Nap Lajoie, Joe Morgan
3B: Mike Schmidt, Eddie Mathews
SS: Honus Wagner
LF: Barry Bonds, Ted Williams, Rickey Henderson
CF: Willie Mays, Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker, Mickey Mantle
RF: Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, Mel Ott, Frank Robinson, Roberto Clemente
P: Walter Johnson, Cy Young, Roger Clemens, Pete Alexander, Kid Nichols, Tom Seaver, Christy Mathewson, Lefty Grove, Greg Maddux, Randy Johnson
Do you think my inner circle is too large? Too small? Missing someone? Please let me know in the comments.
Today we finish our post-season evaluation of active outfielders with right field. Let’s consider the chances these guys ultimately reach the Hall of Miller and Eric. And please take a look at our analysis of other positions in this series.
2017 BBREF WAR:
Rank at the position after 2017:
Ahead of Bobby Abreu, Vlad Guerrero, and Reggie Smith.
Trailing Sammy Sosa, Dave Winfield, and Harry Hooper.
Ahead of Gary Sheffield, Dave Winfield, and Harry Hooper
Trailing Bobby Bonds, Willie Keeler, and Sammy Sosa
Current career trajectory:
Will the Fish bring him back? Will anyone?
He’s a made man.
2017 BBREF WAR:
Rank at the position after 2017:
Ahead of Dixie Walker, Roger Maris, and Darryl Strawberry
Trailing Rusty Staub, Paul O’Neill, and Jose Canseco
Ahead of Jose Canseco, Paul O’Neill, and Dixie Walker
Trailing Rocky Colavito, Gavvy Cravath, and Ken Singleton
Current career trajectory:
A year ago, I thought Bautista had something left. I guess I was wrong. He turned 36, and his K rate went crazy. The Jays absolutely should decline his option this winter, though I’d give him another shot if I needed a DH and bench bat.
Bautista got a late start and put in a really good run. Trying to make an interesting case, he has as many 5-win seasons as Dave Winfield. On the other hand, Winfield is still above 3 WAR when Bautista is below replacement level. He’s not going to the Hall, but a guy who ranks ahead of Roger Maris, Kirk Gibson, and others certainly can be proud of his career.
2017 BBREF WAR:
Rank at the position after 2017:
Ahead of Reggie Sanders, Juan Gonzalez, and Nelson Cruz.
Trailing Giancarlo Stanton, Tommy Henrich, and Magglio Ordonez.
Ahead of Rossy Youngs, Tommy Henrich, and Nelson Cruz
Trailing Magglio Ordonez, David Justice, and Roger Maris
Current career trajectory:
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Choo got a late start to his career. He had some very nice years, but he wasn’t quite great enough or anywhere near healthy enough. Sure, Choo was healthy last year, but he’s no longer a plus bat. His power is diminishing little by little, and last year he increased his ground balls. Not a good sign. If he weren’t signed for three years and $62 million, I’d say he’d be in for a reduced role in 2018.
There’s not a shot unless he adopts the Jim O’Rourke or Deacon White path. Yeah, he needs another decade with reasonable production, which absolutely isn’t going to happen.
2017 BBREF WAR:
Rank at the position after 2017:
Ahead of Ross Youngs, Harold Baines, and Bob Allison.
Trailing Juan Gonzalez, Reggie Sanders, and Shin-Soo Choo.
Ahead of Bobby Allison, Juan Gonzalez, and Reggie Sanders
Trailing Shin-Shoo Choo, Ross Youngs, and Tommy Henrich
Current career trajectory:
There’s no figuring some guys. Cruz was a failed prospect until he wasn’t. He took the AL by storm at the end of 2008 and became a star in 2009 at the age of 28. By 2011, he seemed done, posting just 4.2 WAR over three seasons. Since then, he’s been excellent for four years, averaging over 4.5 WAR per. He’ll be 37 next year, but I’m not going to count him out. That’s because he increased his fly ball rate in 2017. At the same time he had his career-best full season walk rate, and his whiffs dipped.
Remember back in December of 2014 when the Mariners signed him to a foolish contract of four years and $57 million? Yeah, I thought you’d conveniently forgotten that. I know did. In any case, much like Bautista and Choo, Cruz got started too late. Unlike them, he can still rake. I could see him getting to the Jose Canseco, Paul O’Neill, Rusty Staub level, but not the HoME.
2017 BBREF WAR:
Rank at the position after 2017:
Ahead of Bobby Murcer, Brian Jordan, and John Titus.
Trailing Ken Griffey, Orator Shafer, and Bob Allison.
Ahead of Bobby Murcer, Riggs Stephenson, and Ken Griffey, Sr.
Trailing Bob Allison, Juan Gonzalez, and Reggie Sanders
Current career trajectory:
Don’t tell anyone, but Jason Heyward can’t hit. He has just 13 Rbat since amassing 32 as a rookie in 2010. He’s good to excellent at everything else, but unless he can find a swing that’s been missing all decade we’re looking at just another guy. On the plus side, he’s cutting those strikeouts. A minus is that he’s cutting the walks too. And he certainly isn’t part of the launch angle revolution. He’s just 28 next season though, so at least there’s time.
Hall of Famers with about Heywards WAR through age-27 include Joe Cronin, Mike Schmidt, Lou Boudreau, Roberto Alomar, and George Sisler. That’s some impressive company. On the other hand, those guys weren’t just so-so from 26 to 27. Still, if he plays until he’s 40 and totals just 2 WAR per year, he’ll retire in league with Dave Parker and Chuck Klein, which isn’t so bad. If he rediscovers All-Star form for three years and then slaps together a bunch of 2-win years, he’s right around Sam Thompson and Enos Slaughter. In other words, he’s just barely out. I want to give him a year or two to see if he can rediscover his bat.
2017 BBREF WAR:
Rank at the position after 2017:
Ahead of Shin-Soo Choo, Reggie Sanders, and Juan Gonzalez.
Trailing Tommy Henrich, Magglio Ordonez, and Roy Cullenbine.
Ahead of J.D. Drew, Orator Shafer, and Magglio Ordonez
Trailing Carl Furillo, Wally Moses, and Kirk Gibson
Current career trajectory:
He didn’t get to 60 home runs this season, so… More seriously, Stanton showed us what he can do if he’s completely healthy. He’s the same age as Heyward and looking like he’s getting better – walking more and striking out less. But beware the huge spike in grounders. Yep, more grounders. But when he hits it in the air, it goes a long way. There are two things that will direct his career going forward, his health and his home park. While WAR will adjust for park effects, it would be pretty fun to see what he would do in Baltimore or Boston.
He’s still awfully young to feel good about. On the other hand, he’s averaging about 1 WAR every 25 games for the last four years. If he can keep that up for the next four and play 150 games per year, he’ll be above the HoME line. In fact, I’d rank him ahead of four HoME right fielders. I could see a scenario where he finishes ahead of King Kelly as the ninth best RF ever. There’s a long way to go, but it’s totally possible.
2017 BBREF WAR:
Rank at the position after 2017:
Ahead of Jackie Jensen, Chicken Wolf, and Mookie Betts.
Trailing Vic Wertz, Jim Fogerty, and Hank Bauer.
Ahead of Jim Fogarty, Jackie Jensen, and Tommy McCarthy
Trailing Justin Upton, Hank Bauer, and John Titus
Current career trajectory:
Harper is among the more enigmatic players in the game. Light-tower power, hustle, pretty good glove, can-do attitude, lots of walks. On the other hand, he misses about 35 games a year, and those injuries seem to affect his hitting. The one year it all came together we witnessed a generational talent’s greatest moment. But outside of that, teasing frustration. Still, in all, dude’s got 26 career WAR at age 24. Unless his body completely falls apart, he’s going to have some healthy seasons. But even so, the Larry Walker path to career stardom has its rewards.
How many postwar HoME rightfielders popped out 26 BBREF WAR by age 24? Three: Al Kaline (33.3), Henry Aaron (29.9), and Frank Robinson (29.7). None of them had the inconsistency that Harper has shown on a year-to-year basis, and all of them were somewhat more valuable than Harper. It’s a pretty strong indication, however, of his special talent. His peak is still to come.
2017 BBREF WAR:
Rank at the position after 2017:
Ahead of Hank Bauer, Jim Fogerty, and Vic Wertz.
Trailing John Titus, Brian Jordan, and Bobby Murcer.
Ahead of Hank Bauer, John Titus, and Bryce Harper
Trailing Riggs Stephenson, Ken Griffey, Sr., and Brian Jordan
Current career trajectory:
Who is Justin Upton? The All-Star player with speed, power, and a glove? Or the slightly better than average guy whose early-career performance hasn’t turned into the annual MVP candidate we’d all hoped for? At twenty-nine years old, we can say with some certainty, that he’s a guy who tops out as an All-Star and bottoms out as an average right fielder. That’s a nice player to have on the roster, and it’s a guy who even has a sneak chance at 500 homers and 3000 hits thanks to his early start. His comps include some really solid HoMErs, but also Greg Luzinski and Ruben Sierra. He could have a long career with his broad skill set, but he’s more Tony Perez or Rusty Staub than Yaz or Frank Robinson.
Not nearly as good as you might think given his career totals at age 29.
2017 BBREF WAR:
Rank at the position after 2017:
Ahead of Tommy McCarthy, Frank Schulte, and unranked guys.
Trailing Chicken Wolf, Jackie Jensen, and Bryce Harper.
Ahead of the rest of right fielding history
Trailing Jim Fogarty, Jackie Jensen, and Tommy McCarthy
Current career trajectory:
Terrible BABIP luck hurt Betts’s batting average this year, and his home run power dipped a bit thanks to some hand and wrist issues. He nonetheless managed 46 doubles, boosted his walk rate by two-thirds, and still ran the bases like prime Willie Mays. Fly balls enter Fenway’s right-field event horizon when they fly over the spot where the infield dirt turns into outfield grass. Everything thereafter is inextricably drawn to the black hole in the pocket of Betts’ glove. Plus he’s got a pretty good arm. All of this means that the Sox have apparently discovered how to combine the DNA of Dwight Evans and Barry Larkin in a single player. Sox fans, treat him well and hope that he loves the town so much he signs a long-term deal.
After something of a dry spell, right field may have entered a glory time. Let’s run a list similar to the one that I mentioned in my commentary on Bryce Harper. This is every rightfielder since the war who earned 20 or more BBREF WAR through age 24:
That’s it. There’s not a retiree on this list you wouldn’t consider an automatic Hall of Anythinger. Plus three young guys who appear well on their way. Plus Jason Heyward whose inability to continue as a top flight player is as inexplicable as it is frustrating. So Betts’ outlook is pretty damned rosy at this point. For what it’s worth at age 24.
We finish up position players on Friday with the catchers.
Today we’re going to start the Rushmore series that we previewed last Friday by exploring Earl Weaver’s boys, the former St. Louis Browns (1902-1953) and Milwaukee Brewers (1901), and winners of the 1966, 1970, and 1983 World Series.
The Orioles are actually the worst original AL franchise, at least by all-time winning percentage. And they haven’t won a title in a third of a century, yet there are some who remember the days of Ripken and Palmer and Brooks and Frank. Some of us think of the O’s as better than they are. Let’s see why.
There are some truly great Orioles, the aforementioned quartet are just a few. Eddie Murray is fourth in their all-time WAR. Of course, he played for the Dodgers and three other teams. George Sisler, a Brave and a Senator, is next. Bobby Wallace played ten seasons for other franchises. Mike Mussina and Urban Shocker were Yankees. Mark Belanger, next on the list, played 57 games for the Dodgers. And you’d really have to misunderstand Frank Robinson’s career to put him on any Baltimore-only Rushmore. He actually had nearly double the WAR in Cincy as he had in Balto. Ken Williams, Paul Blair, Harlond Clift, Bobby Grich, etc. They were all great Orioles, and they all played for other franchises. So let’s look to see who’s on Baltimore’s façade.
Cal Ripken: If there’s one face of this franchise, it has to be Cal, the Iron Man. He played in the Al-Star Game every summer, won MVP Awards eight years apart, and totaled 95.5 WAR for the O’s.
Brooks Robinson: The 78.4 WAR anchor of what might have been the greatest defensive infield ever, Brooks played for the O’s as a teen through his early 40s and represented them on two of their three Series winners, including a 1970 WS MVP among his accomplishments.
Jim Palmer: Bursting onto the scene by throwing a World Series shutout when he was still a teen in 1966, Palmer is the only guy to represent the O’s on each of their championship clubs. He won 20+ eight times in nine years from 1970-1978. And with 68.1 career WAR, he’s clearly deserving. However, I wonder what Palmer’s numbers would have looked like had he pitched in front of an average defense. Whatever they’d be, he’d still make this list. How can I be so sure? Look who’s next.
Manny Machado: Those with short memories might forget that Brian Roberts and his 30.3 WAR played a year at the end with the Yankees. And Adam Jones came to the plate 147 times for the Mariners before their ill-fated swap before Erik Bedard. BBREF has a great feature where they show pictures of the top-24 players in franchise history by WAR. They make an exercise like this pretty easy to accomplish, except when there aren’t four guys in the top-24 who only played for that franchise. As we move through this project, you might also be surprised at just how frequently this happens. Of course, by the time you read this, Machado’s picture may be on the O’s list. As of this writing, he’s just 0.8 behind Dave McNally for that 24th spot. And he owns three of the best 67 seasons ever by an Oriole position player. Cal Ripken can match that level. So can Brooks, Sisler, and Bobby Grich. That’s it. Machado is in his last arbitration year and can be eligible for free agency after next season. Maybe he’ll lose his place on this list. If he does, welcome Chris Hoiles to the Oriole Mount Rushmore.
Earl Weaver: I thought about Eddie Murray, even Frank Robinson wrongly. In the end, I took Weaver because all he did was win. And likely because I’m biased. There were four AL titles and one World Series, and the most amazing part of his record is that from 1968-1982 he finished first six times and second another seven. Truly remarkable.
Up next Friday, the Arizona Diamondbacks.
So you have a pile of missing value for a bunch of 1930s and 1940s ballplayers. Now what?
Let’s have a look at some key guys from the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s whose new PBP data gives us a better glimpse at any hidden value they may have accrued. We looked specifically at players who were either:
We’ve broken them down by position below.
In general, doing this work suggests that BBREF’s regression scores for baserunning may, if our math is reasonable, suppress a good deal of baserunning value—or stinkiness. It appears that BBREF bases its formula for pre-PBP running on steals, steal attempts, and/or success rates. That’s how Ernie Lombardi, a strong candidate for the slowest man to ever don cleats, is listed with positive running value. The reality, as we’ll soon discover, is likely far worse for Lom. Generally, we found a lot of very positive baserunning value. This may stand to reason since we examined the best of the best from this timespan, and good players are often good athletes. Or we need to review our mathematics…. Oh, and here’s this other item. The thing that drives baserunning value isn’t what you probably think it is. Just ask Joe Sewell.
In the tables below, “NOW” refers to a player’s value as calculated by me with my adjustments but without the “missing” value. Which means that “EST” includes the value we’ve calculated for running, GIDP avoidance, and throwing.
NOW EST NOW EST NOW EST NAME WAR WAR CHEWS CHEWS RANK RANK =============================================== CATCHER Berra 77 77 62 62 7 7 Hartnett 73 69 56 53 8 10 Dickey 71 69 56 54 9 9 Cochrane 65 67 55 56 10 8 Lombardi 59 50 46 40 16 24 Lollar 41 41 35 35 34 34 Cooper 40 38 34 33 37 37 Ferrell 41 40 32 32 39 40
Two of these catchers are polar opposites. At least among backstops. On one hand, Mickey Cochrane appears to have positive baserunning value, unlike pretty much every other catcher here. He’s also got positive rDP value, which even fellow lefty swinger Bill Dickey doesn’t. Black Mike is the only catcher to gain value in this group.
Then there’s Ernie Lombardi. We’ve run through his story before, but believe it or not, I underestimated how bad a baserunner he was. Here’s how the sad story of Schnozz’s plummeting value goes. Lombardi appears to have surprisingly un-bad stolen base value. Something like -1 against the league in his number of steal attempts. He was only picked off four times in his career, while I figure a league average runner to have been picked off 10 times. That makes Lom about +2.5 runs. Lombardi was a very cautious baserunner, which, despite his incredible slowness meant he didn’t get thrown out very often. He was +6 runs against the league on that account. Despite his lack of foot speed, Lombardi did manage to take 44 bases in non-batted ball situations. That accounts for about 8 runs, where the league would have notched 9. So -1 runs here. On the whole, he’s sitting pretty close to level par with the league. That is, until we account for his taking extra bases on batted balls. Lom took the extra base ahead of the batter on singles and doubles about 32% of the time. The league took the extra base 47% of the time. In our figuring, that means that Lombardi’s legs “earned” -31 runs against the league. So on the whole, His Schnozziness nets out at -25 runs against average.
And then come the twinkillings. No one, not even Jim Ed Rice, banged into so many deuces as this guy on a per-plate appearance basis. He was the lifetime leader in the category for at least a couple decades, but the guy who passed him (someone named Aaron) had about twice the plate appearances. Which means that our estimate for Lombardi is a little more than -60 runs. Add it all up and he dumps about 9 wins of value and falls out of the running for the HoME.
NOW EST NOW EST NOW EST NAME WAR WAR CHEWS CHEWS RANK RANK ========================================= FIRST BASE Musial 135 137 98 100 1 1 Gehrig 113 113 88 88 3 3 Foxx 103 101 81 79 4 5 Mize 74 75 61 63 9 9 Greenberg 64 61 57 56 11 12 Terry 62 65 53 56 16 14 Camilli 44 48 43 46 27 25 Hodges 49 49 43 43 28 28 Bottomley 35 34 31 31 51 53
Bill Terry and Dolph Camilli are the stories here. Terry’s surge in value is primarily driven by excellence on the bases. For the seasons we know about, he was picked off only once, made about two-thirds the outs on base that an average player did, had more bases taken than average, and most important, he took the extra base on a hit 56% of the time, versus leagues around 50%.
Camilli, meantime, is an overlooked star. He appears to have been an above average baserunner, not just a meandering slugger, and he was excellent at avoiding the twinkilling (+16 runs career).
NOW EST NOW EST NOW EST NAME WAR WAR CHEWS CHEWS RANK RANK ========================================== SECOND BASE Gehringer 82 86 66 68 5 5 Frisch 83 83 65 64 6 6 J Robinson 65 66 59 60 8 8 Gordon 62 62 55 55 13 13 Herman 60 58 49 48 17 18 Doerr 56 57 47 47 19 19 Lazzeri 50 47 43 40 24 27 Frey 43 48 38 42 27 26 Stanky 40 42 38 39 28 28 Schoendienst 42 44 37 38 30 29 Bishop 42 42 36 37 33 32
There’s a few items of note here. Charlie Gehringer turns out to be an outstanding baserunner, not merely above average, pushing him upward. On the other hand, Tony Lazzeri turns out to be a poor baserunner and below average at DP-avoidance, driving him downward. Billy Herman’s pretty bad on the deuce too. But let’s pause for a moment and look at Lonny Frey.
Has anyone ever said to you, Hey, Lonny Frey was a damn good ballplayer? Well here’s the first time. Frey is little remembered these days, but as a shortstop and second baseman, he combined a fine glove, an above-average bat, strong baserunning skills, and a penchant for avoiding rally-snuffing double plays. Exactly the kind of player who play-by-play data reveals as a source of subtle value. We show him picking up about five WAR, which is 50 runs of value.
NOW EST NOW EST NOW EST NAME WAR WAR CHEWS CHEWS RANK RANK ========================================== THIRD BASE Elliott 52 53 42 43 19 20 Hack 51 56 41 45 23 19 Traynor 47 48 39 39 31 27 Clift 43 46 39 41 30 24 Kell 34 33 30 29 51 51 Lindstrom 27 28 27 27 65 64 Rolfe 25 29 24 28 73 61 P Martin 20 24 19 22 89 79
Because third base is a very clumpy position, small credits and debits can lead to significant movement on the totem pole. Harlond Clift, for example, surges up six slots with only three additional WAR in his pocket. He could run a little and was that rare bird, a righty hitter good at avoiding the double play.
Stan Hack parlayed an even bigger increase into a climb that leaves him this far from the HoME borderline. We reckoned him with 3 rBaser (versus -9 for BBREF) as well as 32 runs for DP avoidance. I suspect, however, that while the former of those could even inch up a little, the latter is not terribly accurate. That’s because Hack was a leadoff man for nearly all his career, and had a minimum of 1350 fewer opportunities than an average hitter would.
But most interesting of all are Red Rolfe and Pepper Martin. These guys were terrors on the bases. Rolfe, who had about half a career, was worth twenty-odd runs on the bases and another passel in DP avoidance. Red was merely above average in stealing, outs on base, and bases taken. But like Bill Terry, he took extra bases like candy: 57% extra-base-taken average versus a 48% league average, worth 15 runs. Then there’s Pepper Martin, who was hung with the famous sobriquet, “The Wild Horse of the Osage.” Like Rolfe, he had about a half a career, and like Rolfe, he ran wild. He was nearly +15 runs stealing bases, +10 on extra bases taken, and another +2.5 on bases taken for good measure. He took the extra base 63% of the time in a league with a 48% extra-base-taken rate.
NOW EST NOW EST NOW EST NAME WAR WAR CHEWS CHEWS RANK RANK ========================================== SHORTSTOP Vaughan 80 84 67 71 4 2 Appling 82 87 64 66 7 5 Cronin 73 72 60 59 11 11 Boudreaux 67 68 59 60 12 12 Reese 67 69 53 55 16 16 Sewell 58 62 48 52 21 19 Stephens 49 48 42 42 27 27 Maranville 45 44 40 39 30 33 Bartell 47 47 39 39 31 31 T Jackson 41 44 38 40 37 30 Rizzuto 41 41 37 38 38 37
Arky Vaughan slides into the #2 spot at shortstop. He was in a big bunch with Cal Ripken, well behind Honus Wagner. Vaughan isn’t as bad a baserunner as his poor stolen base rates suggest, nor as bad as his BBREF estimate. As a lefty with at least some speed, he turns out to be very good at avoiding double plays. Meanwhile, Joe Sewell, whom I elected with a lot of trepidation, improves his lot and gives me a little piece of mind. Sewell’s an interesting one. As a lefty he gets some double-play avoidance credit, but it’s really his baserunning that pushes him upward. You might be surprised by that since his SB% career-wise isn’t quite 51%, but the league back then ran at around a 55% clip, so it’s not nearly the eyesore it appears. Even so, it’s everything else he does on the bases that helps him. We have just four of Sewell’s seasons, but they account for more than 2,000 plate appearances, enough of a sample to get a good sense of his exploits. Sewell was never picked off in those four years. He’s a run better than the league in both outs on base and bases taken. Given his below average steals value, he’s just above par with the league before we get to extra bases taken. Joe took the extra base about 60% of the time, while the league managed just 50% of the time, good for about +6 runs. So he ends up with about 8 runs of running value for 1930–1933. BBREF gives him -2 runs. When we use the comps method to retrocast him, we end up with a little more than 30 runs total for his career.
I would sound this cautionary note about Rabbit Maranville. I feel very tentative about him. While we have several years of data on him, they come from his age 38–43 seasons. Rabbit missed one of those seasons entirely due to a broken leg, and came back for just 23 games after it. But a deeper look into his stolen base numbers shows a different story. As a young player, Maranville stole with some frequency, gaining double digits in steals every year through 1924 (except for a year lost to World War I). His success rates during those seasons for which we have his caught-stealing information (61%) are probably a little better than average for the time. Then Rabbit started to get old. He lost some time due to injury and ineffectiveness in the mid-1920s, appearing to lose a step in the process. So it’s difficult to say with certainty that the data we have is strongly representative. But for now, it works.
NOW EST NOW EST NOW EST NAME WAR WAR CHEWS CHEWS RANK RANK ========================================== LEFT FIELD T Williams 129 129 98 98 2 2 Goslin 70 73 57 59 10 9 A Simmons 71 75 57 61 11 8 B Johnson 62 61 50 49 20 20 Medwick 55 52 47 45 23 25 Kiner 49 48 46 45 25 26 Minoso 51 52 46 46 26 23 Keller 47 46 43 44 27 27 Galan 43 47 37 41 40 38 Manush 39 42 34 37 41 41 Hafey 28 32 27 30 57 53
I didn’t know that Al Simmons was an excellent base runner, but that’s what our PBP data suggests. He was good at every facet of running, whether avoiding outs or taking bases.
This exercise appears to have vindicated certain decisions we made late in our electoral process. We knew that Joe Medwick had issues with double plays, and so we placed him behind Jose Cruz and Roy White in our pecking order. We felt unsure about Ralph Kiner as a fairly extreme peak case. Finally, because we’ve elected solely on Major League play, we didn’t extend any special dispensation to Minnie Minoso. Well the jury is in. Medwick’s double-play addiction cost him about 18 runs versus his leagues. Also, his arm appears less effective than DRA suggests. It’s all enough to push his value low enough that he sinks below Joe Kelley and Minnie Minoso in the rankings and essentially out of sight. Minoso only cashes in outfield arm credit here because his career started after the advent of PBP-based rDP and rBaser. He’s not a good thrower, but he picks up a couple-three runs against DRA, which helps. The fact that he didn’t lose value really helps because if we ever choose to pursue the Negro League angle, he’s so close to the finish line now that even just a couple seasons of above-average play could put him over.
NOW EST NOW EST NOW EST NAME WAR WAR CHEWS CHEWS RANK RANK ========================================== CENTER FIELD Mays 162 161 114 113 2 2 J DiMaggio 81 84 66 69 6 5 Ashburn 74 74 60 60 8 8 Snider 59 59 51 51 12 12 Berger 47 49 43 45 26 23 Doby 49 49 43 44 29 26 Averill 45 46 40 41 36 33 Combs 43 47 38 41 41 31 D DiMaggio 40 42 37 38 46 41 B Chapman 40 38 34 32 52 56 H Wilson 35 33 33 32 53 58 L Waner 23 25 22 23 73 73
Tommy McCarthy is the worst player elected to the Hall of Fame. I’m far less sure now about the second worst. Is it Lloyd Waner or Highpockets Kelly? We can’t say yet with as much certainty as we’d like because we don’t have PBP info for enough of Kelly’s career to say. But right now, I’m leaning toward Little Poison. I would be a little skeptical that Combs’ is gaining that much ground. He’s definitely gaining because his baserunning is much better than BBREF estimates it, probably by 20 runs. But like Stan Hack, Combs is a lefty lead-off man, and so his estimated rDP of +13 is probably too high. It’s a shame that Averill didn’t reach the majors until his age-27 season and that Dom DiMaggio had the heart of his carved out by the war. Both are coulda-been HoMErs. Which brings us to Larry Doby. Like Minoso above, Doby has inched just a little closer toward the borderline, and he may have enough in reserve during his Negro League seasons to creep over the line, should we choose to go down that path.
NOW EST NOW EST NOW EST NAME WAR WAR CHEWS CHEWS RANK RANK ========================================== RIGHT FIELD Ruth 181 181 128 128 1 1 Ott 111 117 80 84 3 3 P Waner 80 82 63 64 7 7 Slaughter 60 62 48 50 26 26 Nicholson 49 51 44 46 27 27 Cuyler 50 51 43 44 30 28 Klein 43 45 41 42 35 32 Holmes 42 43 40 41 37 34 D Walker 44 46 37 40 43 37 Furillo 42 42 36 36 49 49
Mel Ott’s a pretty great player. I never really stopped to think about him much. But now I suspect he’s kind of the Frank Robinson of his time. Mantle, Mays, and Aaron dominated the 1950s and 1960s. Robinson was just a notch below. He sometimes outperformed them, but on the whole, the other guys were just better enough that over time a gap in value developed, as well as one of perception. Similarly, Ruth, Gehrig, and Foxx dominated the baseball scene of 1920s and 1930s. Mel Ott, like Robinson would later, did his thing year in and out and wasn’t quite as exciting or sometimes as valuable as his competition. Like Robinson, he also had a diverse set of skills with sneaky speed and great power plus durability and longevity. Certainly Ott was not overlooked, just as Robinson wasn’t, but he never quite equaled those other guys. Through this process, I discovered that Ott was probably a lot better baserunner than you’d think and that his attempts to pull balls down the rightfield line into the Polo Grounds short porch probably kept him out of the double play so much that he excels in that category of our analysis. Meantime, Slaughter is now neck and neck with Vlad Guerrero, and if the actual BBREF data comes through and looks better than these estimates, Country might pass the Impaler. They are both right on the line in right field, and Slaughter’s advantage may be his era. The post-war era is light on honorees. Finally, KiKi Cuyler. After Sam Rice, he’s a big reason why we needed to do this project. We noticed that he was one of his era’s speed merchants, and we knew that he was reputed to have a good arm. All of which turned out to be true, but unless his real numbers are a lot better than what we’ve seen, he’s not going to creep upward.
Overall, the differences we’ve noted are not earth-shattering. Mostly they don’t suggest that we’ve missed players or elected fellows we shouldn’t have. But it does give us a greater sense of the likely value still out there to discover. Of course, once BBREF calculates these figures and creates formal estimates, our numbers will be wiped away—as they should be. Those guys know more than we do, and we trust them. For now we have these estimates to guide further decision making.
Today, we keep chugging along, telling you why we’re right and ESPN is wrong. Check out the other posts in this series, as we examine ESPN’s recent top-100 list and our own. As the countdown rolls on, we move into the top fifty. Check out the rest of of our list here: #100–91, #90–81, #80–71, #70–61, #60-51, and #50-41.
ERIC: Gibson is what you get when the best hitter in the league is a catcher. Even if his defense is average, it’s a hugely valuable package for any team. Right now Seamheads has only about half to 60% of his career accurately documented. There’s much more we don’t have the goods on, such as his stint in the Mexican League, the winter leagues, or any of his Negro League stats from 1942 until his death. What’s there is pretty darned impressive. For example, on OPS+ of 199. Seamheads gives him 22.2 WAR in 1606 PA. Knock it down by 20% off the top, and that’s about 6 WAR/550 PA. From 1920–1950, count ‘em two catchers reach 6 Wins in a single season (Mickey Cochrane in 1933 and Bill dickey in 1937). And the thing about Gibson is that the stats we have include his age 18–20 seasons, well before his peak, and they only include full seasons up to age 28. This ranking is conservative and pending more information.
ERIC: What’s often forgotten about Gibson is what a great hitter he was. We all know about Don Drysdale’s big season in 1965 (.300, 7 HR, 2.2 batting WAR), but from 1955 to 1980, Bob Gibson owned the most batting WAR of any pitcher. These arbitrary end points help Gibson, by cutting off significant portions ot the careers of Don Newcombe, Arren Spahn, and a couple others, but Gibson, who was a superior athlete and a one-time member of the Harlem Globetrotters could really rake for a moundsman.
MILLER: When men were men and pitchers threw nine innings, Spahn may have been one of the game’s greatest workhorses ever. Only Pete Alexander and Steve Carlton, I believe, led the league in batters faced more than Spahn’s five times. And only Cy Young had a longer streak of facing 1000+ batters in a season than Spahn’s 17. One can pretty easily make the argument that the 13-time winner of 20+ games is the most consistently durable pitcher the game has ever seen.
ERIC: As we’ve written before, Clemente has the most amazing arm in history. He also has one of the weirdest career paths thanks to the Rule 5 Draft forcing him into the big leagues before he had enough seasoning. He didn’t round into form for another several years and a couple thousand PAs of playing time. Think about that the next time your team’s hot prospect slumps for 100 PAs out of the gate.
ERIC: We sort of discussed Ott in our comments about Joe DiMaggio. A trope about DiMaggio was that he was killed by his home park. And the splits bear that out. On the flip side, Mel Ott benefited from the short right-field foul lines at the Polo Grounds. But did they turn him from a good hitter into a monster? No, they did not. Mel Ott was a great hitter at home and a great hitter on the road. At home he hit .297/.422/.558 and away, in 148 more PAs, he hit .311/.408/.510. What the Polo Grounds did was mostly to transform his distribution of extra-base hits. At home: 182 doubles, 21 triples, 323 homers; 526 extra-base hits for 1719 bases. On the road: 306 doubles, 51 triples, 188 homers; 545 extra-base hits for 1517 bases. The Polo Grounds basically flipped the doubles and homers totals from the road, and killed his triples. The tradeoff was worth it, of course, in terms of the extra bases gained. Mel Ott on the road was one hell of a player. From 1920–1950, here are players with between 4500–6500 career PAs with batting lines similar to Ott’s road numbers (his road Rbat is estimated from the ratio of his road to home RC):
NAME PA 2B 3B HR AVG OBP SLG OPS+ Rbat ============================================================== Mel Ott (road) 5748 306 51 188 .311 .408 .510 151 364 Chick Hafey 5115 341 67 164 .317 .372 .526 133 205 Tommy Henrich 5410 269 73 183 .282 .382 .491 132 215 Babe Herman 6229 399 110 181 .324 .383 .532 141 320 Charlie Keller 4604 166 72 189 .286 .410 .518 152 286 Ken Williams 5624 285 77 196 .319 .393 .530 138 270
These are the closest matches from his own time. If you think about it, these are five guys each with half a Hall of Fame career. Mel Ott has both halves and was not at all a mere product of his home field. Unlike, say, Jim Rice whose OPS home/road split was a massive .920/.789. At home, he was a better version of Kevin Mitchell’s career. On the road he was basically Larry Hisle or Sixto Lezcano’s careers. You could look it up.
MILLER: Bench is, by acclimation, the best catcher ever to play in MLB. We’ve discussed in the past that Gary Carter is a lot closer than people think. Still, Bench is the best. Pretty much everyone agrees. And we can see that the folks at ESPN recognize that this modern player, whose popularity basically matched his skill, is ranked just about right. What a surprise.
MILLER: I don’t appreciate Steve Carlton quite enough because I have such vivid memories of him pitching with the Minnesota Twins putting up an 8.54 ERA in 1987 and 1988. I never saw him pitch in 1972 when he was other-worldly and barely in 1980 when he was nearly as good. For people of a certain age, Frank Robinson has similar problems. He’s just a guy who managed a bunch of poor teams and never made the playoffs. Luckily for me, I’m of the age where I read about Robinson, and what I read told the story much better than those who see him as a manager. By my numbers, he’s one of sixteen hitters ever with a decade and a half of 4-WAR seasons. I rank him at #21 among all hitters. I could quite easily hear an argument for as high as 19, maybe a shade higher. It’s kind of funny that something that hurts Robinson’s reputation a bit probably helped him in ESPN’s rankings. After all, casual fans are more familiar with him than they are with Jimmie Foxx.
MILLER: What’s up with ESPN as 19th century deniers? Pretty much none of us would be alive today without it.
MILLER: He’s #2 in A’s history and #9 in Red Sox history in homers. I rank only a dozen guys with four seasons of 9.5+ WAR. His peak was truly outstanding. Looking at his four best consecutive seasons, he’s #9 in history and looking at his best five, he’s #11. (Of course, Mike Trout is right on his heels and still has a month left).
ERIC: I typically think of Matty as the Greg Maddux of his time. Mathewson was a college man (Bucknell University) and very cerebral in his approach. He struck out more hitters in context than Maddux did, but like him had amazing command and outstanding annual K/BB rates. They were also both well known for both a wide repertoire and a single pitch. While each of them had mastery of many pitches and used them to stay out of the center of the plate and confound hitters, Mathewson was known for the “fadeaway,” which was probably something an offspeed pitch with plenty of late break, much like the circle change. Maddux had a nasty cutter than he could move in either direction with equal accuracy to saw off hitters and induce weak contact. Each relied more and more heavily on these pitches as their careers wore on and they lost a foot or two on their fastballs.
THE WORLDWIDE LEADER IN SPORTS’ 40–31
MILLER: By this point on the ESPN list, greatness and fame overlap quite a bit, which means I have fewer complaints. We don’t have Mike Trout on our list, and a few posts ago I took the ESPN folks to task for including Bryce Harper on their list. I won’t do so today. Mike Trout may well be the best player I’ve ever seen. I say that even though I’ve seen ten of the top thirty players in person. And I’m pretty certain Barry Bonds is one of the best five players ever. Still, Mike Trout might be better. Not today. Not yet. But it might happen. He’s scary good.
ERIC: As you note, we are in much closer concordance with the WWLinS by this point. We’ve already noted that Miggy and Rose are big overreaches at their respective ranks. Let’s focus on Cabrera for a sec. What would have to be true for ESPN’s ranking of him to be correct? He has 8900 or so PAs through age 33. He’d need have performed at a huge peak level so far to keep up the likes of Jimmie Foxx and Joe Morgan (in the 30s) or Jackie and Mike Schmidt (who rank in the 20s). Miggy has earned about 70 WAR in those 8900 PAs. His best seven season total 44.6, which makes his JAWS (as of the day we wrote this piece) 56.7. Foxx’s career was virtually over at this juncture of his career. After 1941, with 9058 PAs, he’d racked up 96 WAR (!) with a seven-year peak of 60 Wins. His JAWS stood at 77.8. Let’s run yet another table of hitters ranked within ten of Cabrera by ESPN through the same junctures PA-wise in their careers:
NAME Rank PAs Best7WAR cumWAR JAWS =========================================== Ripken 47 9009 56.1 80.7 68.4 Banks 46 8831 51.8 65.6 58.7 Berra 42 8359 37.0 59.5 48.2 Speaker 41 8735 60.8 104.2 82.5 Cabrera 39 8861 44.6 68.9 56.7 Morgan 38 8893 59.1 84.8 72.0 Rose 37 9242 43.0 64.2 53.6 Foxx 33 9058 59.5 96.0 77.8 Brett 32 9668 53.2 82.0 67.6 Pujols 31 8546 61.5 92.7 77.1 Robinson 30 5804 52.1 61.5 56.8 Bench 29 8674 47.1 75.0 61.0
Bill James once wrote that if you can show that a guy’s performance is right in the belly of a whole bunch of really good Hall of Famers, then that guy has a reasonable case. You can’t show that with Cabrera viz this list because his performance is only better than over-ranked players and catchers. The only player demonstrably worse than Cabrera is Rose, who we’ve already argued was ranked way too high. You could try to convince me that Berra is worse, but as a catcher, and one of the ten best catchers ever, you’ll have a hard time convincing me, particularly since Cabrera while among the top 20 at his position isn’t especially close to the top 10. Even so, we ranked Berra a good deal lower than ESPN did. Robinson’s career is truncated for reasons we know well, yet his peak performance is so strong that his career and Cabrera’s are currently equivalent as JAWS sees it. A guy with 3,000 fewer PAs is equivalent to the #39 ranked player on ESPN’s list. One or both of those rankings must be wrong, but it’s not possible that both are right. Banks is the next closest to Cabrera, and his peak creams Cabrera’s. We didn’t even rank Mr. Cub!
The only possible argument in his favor of Cabrera’s inclusion at this level is the timeline. But to get him from our spot in the 90s to a spot in the 30s, you’d have to assume that the timeline is amazingly steep. Putting aside the catchers, whose WAR are depressed by the physical rigors of the position, the average of the non-Cabreras in the list above who are not catchers is 68.3 JAWS. That figure is 20% higher than Cabrera’s JAWS. Now, do you think that Tris Speaker’s times were 20% easier than Cabrera’s? I could buy that. And Jackie’s? Maybe. How about Cal Ripken’s? That’s a tough sell right there. Same with George Brett. How many hits do you think George Brett would get in today’s game? If Brett’s times were 20% tougher than now, then you’d be looking at something around 2825 safeties, or 325 hits fewer than his actual total.*
The most damaging argument against Cabrera’s ranking? Albert Pujols’ rank. If Albert’s JAWS at the same juncture of his career was 40% higher than Cabrera’s, how can they be reasonably ranked within ten of one another? Look, the NL was a little weaker than the AL for a few years, but not 40% weaker!
So that’s the gist of the absurdity of Cabrera’s ranking. Your mileage may vary.
* I figured this by determining his runs created using Bill James’ technical method and then, keeping the ratio of components to hits constant, lowered the hits until I reached a runs created total that was 20% lower than his actual total.
Orioles fans, this is your time. This week, we’ll present three of the four GMs who brought you the awesome O’s of the 1960s, 1970s, and early 1980s. The ones who made the Orioles into a team rivaled by only the Dodgers for the best organization in baseball by creating “The Oriole Way.” We’re talking today about Lee MacPhail, Harry Dalton, and Frank Cashen. All three had long, successful careers after Charm City: MacPhail resurrected the Yankees then became AL President; Dalton brought Harvey’s Wallbangers to the only World Series in Brewers history; Cashen turned the laughing-stock Mets into the dominant team of the late 1980s. These are guys with long, impressive resumes.
Behind the scenes, we are working very hard to bring you more info about important GMs. There are probably 100 or so team builders eligible through 2016 with substantial careers. We’ve completed 20, and about 15 strong candidates. The number of strong candidates out there is probably about 30. In the coming weeks, we’ll be sharing information on well-known GMs including the great Ed Barrow as well as Sandy Alderson, the Tigers’ Jim Campbell, the Giants’ Chub Feeney, and the Indians’ John Hart. We’ve also got a couple of not so well thought of GMs in the offing, the White Sox’ Ed Short and Toronto’s Gord Ash. Meantime, in the background, we’ll be working on the following to round out our initial burst of great team builders:
If there’s anyone that you think we’re leaving out, please drop their names into the comments below!
Without further ado, let’s visit Birdsland.
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Dalton and MacPhail get a lot of credit for improving their squads. They were well above expectations. Cashen’s first job was maintaining those great early 1970s Orioles teams, and it’s hard to do better than 109 wins. Of course, a big stumbling block for MacPhail is the lack of October baseball on his resume. A mitigating factor in that, however, is that both the O’s and the Yankees went to the World Series soon after he left due to the talent he had assembled. Most of Dalton’s post-season resume, in fact, can be seen as an extension of MacPhail’s work. Even Frank Robinson. MacPhail set the trade up and left it in Dalton’s lap to say yay/nay to. Harry chose….wisely.
Now let’s look at how the GMs themselves did at constructing competitive clubs. BASE: Talent in WAR that a GM inherited
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MacPhail’s major shortcoming is his inability to get his turnaround teams into October quickly enough to get the credit. In both Baltimore and New York, his slow, patient progress failed to yield a winner for him in a timely manner, but in both cases his acquisitions fueled dynasties. The long times spent in the desert by his teams shows up primarily in how far from World Series contention his teams were on average. In fact, no team of his had enough WAR to be viewed as a team of typical World Series strength.
Dalton has unusually large gaps between the average and median percentages for meeting our contention and World Series goals. This is a direct result of those great Oriole teams mentioned above. He made great moves for those teams, and they already had about 40 WAR of value baked in from players acquired before his ascension to the GM chair. The result is a tremendous amount of surplus value from 1969 through 1971. That does skew things a bit when we look at averages. The median cuts out some of the noise to give us a little more reasonable look. That said, Dalton also made some good moves around the margins with Milwaukee, taking a young and highly talented team, and pushing them over the top.
Cashen’s record looks like Dalton’s in this record if we mentally adjust for the puffiness of those late-60s Orioles squads. Cashen had to deal with the decline of both the Robinsons, Dave McNally, and a few other key contributors. He had effectively addressed these issues by 1975 before he departed, leaving Hank Peters the goods to build a strong team from in the ultra-competitive AL East of the time. In New York, the rebuild took time. Cashen, as we’ll soon see, drafted better than few others and made strong trades at the right time so that by 1984, the Mets had returned from the depths of baseball horror to the legitimate contention. In other words, he took Lee MacPhail and Harry Dalton’s playbook and applied it in New York to excellent result.
OK, let’s see what these guys actually did to build their teams.
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Cashen was all about the draft and the trade. Dalton chose from a wider menu of options, especially free agency. MacPhail, with much of his career before the draft, made outstanding use of the amateur free agent market, as we’ll see below, but overall used most of the player-acquisition channels.
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Cashew’s drafting was really good. Here’s a quick list of the WAR each good GM got from the draft divided by how many drafts he participated in:
Cashen is the second best drafter among GMs with long draft histories. And he got there with the Mets, right? Wrong. Even though Cashen’s teams routinely picked among the last several teams each year thanks to their excellent records, he actually picked 91 WAR of value from Eddie Murray, Mike Flanagan, and Rich Dauer. Then with the Mets came Strawberry, Gooden, Dykstra, Magadan, McDowell, Jeffries, Aguilera, Hundley, and even one of the Bobby Joneses.
MacPhail on the other hand, split his career between the pre-draft era and the draft era. His amateur free agents were pretty darned good: Jim Palmer, Mark Belanger, Dave McNally, Davey Johnson, Merv Rettenmund, Andy Etchebarren, and Eddie Wyatt. For the Yanks he drafted Munson and Guidry, but maybe his best drafting moment was in the old first-year draft of the early 1960s. Like the Rule 5 Draft, it was designed to keep teams from hoarding good young players. He swiped Paul Blair in this draft.
Dalton, as we mentioned took a little from every pot. Sign Dave Nilsson as an amateur free agent. Buy Gorman Thomas and Teddy Higuera away from their teams (the latter from a Mexican league squad). Draft Bobby Grich, Al Bumbry, Bill Wegman, Dan Plesac, B.J. Surhoff, Darryl Hamilton, Doug Decencies, Cal Eldred, Jeff Cirillo, Greg Vaughn, Chris Bosio, or Carney Lansford here, sign a Bobby Grich (with another team), or trade for a Frank Robinson, Don Buford, Mike Cuellar, or, most famously, Nolan Ryan there.
Of course, what’s most fun is to look at their trade record because that’s where they compete against their fellow GMs. All three were shrewd traders. Because of how we assess trades (by calculating departing value as all WAR after a player left until he either returned to the team or was granted free agency), it’s very hard for GMs to come out even over the long haul in swaps. Well, both Harry Dalton 285/284 and Lee MacPhail 195/166 did better than even, and Frank Cashen wasn’t all that far away 270/304. They join Larry MacPhail and Swapper Phil Seghi (a bad GM) as the only traders we’ve seen who finished in the black. Let’s take a look at their best and worst deals, any that fall into the range of being +10/-10 WAR for them.
You’ll see below that Cashen was aggressive in putting together key pieces during 1983 and 1984 because he knew that his young talent was about to arrive in force. Then by the last couple years of the decade, his magic touch had worn off and a certain desperation appeared to set in. Three of his worst trades occurred from 1988 onward, and his stupidest deal by far was one of them. Let’s be honest, Cashen did a great job, but dealing away a really good prime-aged centerfielder for a second baseman that you then convert to a centerfielder is the very definition of stupid. The Viola trade, on the other hand, was an attempt to win now, and you have to applaud that Cashen knew his core was aging out and wanted to get into the playoffs one last time before the window shut.
Much of Dalton’s fame rests on two all-time famous heists: The Nolan Ryan trade and the Frank Robinson trade. The Ryan deal was truly lopsided. Even if Ryan hadn’t been in the trade at all, the swap would have gone mildly toward California because Leroy Stanton himself outproduced Fregosi. A note: I feel bad for Fregosi who as a really wonderful player and was about one or two more good years away from a HoME plaque. So history is absolutely right about that one.
But the Robinson trade turns out to be a tad more nuanced than the pundits tell us. Robinson famously captured the AL triple crown and the MVP as he pushed the O’s into the World Series. His addition surely did make the difference, propelling a young team into October a couple years ahead of schedule. The base of talent in Baltimore was considerable, though. Peak Brooks Robinson, mid-career Luis Aparicio, young Boog Powell, the Baby Birds rotation, and ace relievers Moe Drabowsky, Eddie Fisher, and Stu Miller all had good years. These backed by emerging young stars such as Paul Blair, Davey Johnson, and Curt Blefary, all of whom were under 24. The O’s slipped to sixth in 1967, rose to second in 1968, then finally all the talent arrived and aligned at once, and they went on one of history’s greatest runs from 1969 to 1974 with Robinson around through 1971. They won the AL East by 19, 15, and 12 games from 1969 through 1971. Robinson at that point was no longer putting them over anything. Even had he been replaced by an average right fielder, the team would have won the East. Then he was gone, but the team carried on. It finished in 3rd, five games back in 1972 then won the East in 1973 by 8 games and by 2 in 1974. Robinson obviously was awesome, averaging 6 WAR a year during his tenure in Baltimore, and Dalton absolutely won the trade. The thing that history forgets is that the trade ultimately wasn’t as imbalanced as it appeared. Dick Simpson and Jack Baldschun were nothing but Milt Pappas was a very good pitcher. He went on to chalk up 22 WAR through 1973. He was no Frank Robinson. Obviously. His value was more widely dispersed over time; he was not an impact player like Robinson. But to say the deal was decidedly lopsided misses the point that Pappas was a very good pitcher after the swap.
Instead I see this as a great win-now deal, probably one of the best moves of its kind (in the era before free agency). The O’s dealt the future from a deep stable of young studs, coughing up a good arm in his prime for a guy who’d just turned 30 but filled a specific need in the lineup. Branch Rickey, for one, would have balked at a deal like that given his predilection for being on the selling end in trades of the sort. But Dalton pulled the trigger, paid a fairly steep price, and was repaid with four pennants in short order. The World Series appearances are why the deal is retrospectively seen as lopsided. Even though 1966 is probably the only year where Robby’s presence was absolutely necessary to win the pennant. Flags fly forever, and we have to give Dalton and Robinson their due for 1966. But had the O’s not reached the World Series so often in the late 1960s, or had they not won immediately in 1966, would we remember the deal as a steal? Or merely as a good baseball trade.
MacPhail made numerous trades, but typically, he was adding at the margins. Fred Stanley for George Pena or Willie Kirkland for Fuzzy Smith or an aging Harvey Haddix for someone called Richard Yencha (I think Streisand was in that film). He made the seven big trades you see below and made out a little above par overall. There’s a couple others that are close to 10 win margins in his favor as well, including Pat Dobson for stuff, and Dick Hall and Dick Williams for other stuff. MacPhail did not seem to suffer from late-career trade issues like Frank Cashen, Clark Griffith, and some others. Then again, he left the Yankees well before he needed to so he could run the American League.
So that’s three more very interesting GM candidates. Keep watching for more. I know these ain’t sexy, but we think they may be adding something to the study of team builders, and we hope you agree.
As we continue with our player/manager project today, we review candidates 16-40. If you’ve missed them, check out the primer, where I narrow the list, and next post, where review candidates 41-80. In search of the best combination player and manager ever, we’re going to review 25 guys today. Some were good to great players. Others were good to great managers. However, none were excellent both on the field and in the dugout. So without further ado, here are the next 25 managers on our list.
#40 Lou Piniella (MAPES: 13; ZIMMER: 50; Player Manager Score: 20)
Piniella is the best manager we’ve seen so far on this list who had a playing career of at least 10 MAPES points. He was AL Rookie of the year in 1969, an AL All-Star in 1972, and the owner of two World Series rings. He managed the Yankees, Reds, Mariners, Devil Rays, and Cubs to 1835 wins, good for fourteenth in history. The highlight of his run had to be the 1990 World Series upset of the A’s by his Reds. He also made the playoffs four times in Seattle and twice more in Chicago. And he won three Manager of the Year Awards.
#39 Hank Bauer (MAPES: 25; ZIMMER: 18; Player Manager Score: 21)
Bauer shows more balance than most everyone who has come before him. He was a very solid player and a very solid manager, but great at neither. Bauer played almost his entire career with the Yankees, winning seven rings. That’s most of the reason we think he was better than he really was. He made three All-Star teams and has three seasons of at least 4 WAR, but he wasn’t much to talk about otherwise. His main managerial success came in 1966 when he led the Orioles to the World Series title. Frank Robinson’s triple crown that year didn’t hurt, and the O’s plummeted to 7th place in 1967. Overall, Bauer managed just four full seasons and won 594 games. Still, this overall placing is impressive.
#38 Jimmy Collins (MAPES: 51; ZIMMER: 13; Player Manager Score: 21)
Collins is one of the games great 3B. He was a solid hitter and a wonderful defender. Only Mike Schmidt, Stott Rolen, Adrian Beltre, and Robin Ventura best his numbers in both batting WAR and fielding WAR, and Collins played 300 fewer games than any of them. Managing was less glorious for Collins, as he led only one team, the Boston Americans from 1901-1906. He won the first World Series in 1903 and may have won again in 1904 had one been played. Overall though, just 455 wins means he can’t be placed any higher on this list.
#37 Yogi Berra (MAPES: 60; ZIMMER: 13; Player Manager Score: 21)
While Berra is a bit overrated to me as a player (it’s unlikely he’s among the three or four best catchers ever), he was nonetheless an outstanding player. He won three MVP Awards and finished in the top-4 four more times. On top of that, the guy has ten World Series rings. Ten! In the dugout, he took both the 1964 Yankees and the 1973 Mets to the World Series, losing both. With more than his 484 career wins, he’d be a lot higher on our list.
#36 Ozzie Guillen (MAPES: 19; ZIMMER: 25; Player Manager Score: 22)
Raise your hand if you’re surprised to see Ozzie Guillen here. That’s harmonic mean for you. Guillen is really close to equal in his playing and managing career, so he doesn’t take the huge harmonic mean hit that some unbalanced guys do. He was the 1985 AL Rookie of the Year, and he made three All-Star teams as a White Sox shortstop. As a manager, the fiery Guillen gained some value. In 2005 he led the White Sox to their first World Series championship since 1917. And he won 88 games four times in his seven full seasons in Chicago. Overall, his 747 wins (so far) bring him to 36th on our list.
#35 Bob Lemon (MAPES: 42; ZIMMER: 16; Player Manager Score: 23)
Because he won 20 games on seven occasions and was really popular as a player, Bob Lemon is in the Hall of Fame. He probably shouldn’t be. The seven-time All-Star is without a 6-WAR season and has only two above 4.8. But still, he was one heck of a player compared to most and was a real workhorse for the Indians from 1948-1956. As the result of being a Yankee during the Billy Martin days, he’s also a little overrated as a manager, perhaps. He was in the dugout for three teams over parts of eight years, but he only managed three full campaigns. He had four stints in New York, but none lasted a full season. He managed just 25 games in the 1981 regular season but won a pennant, and he managed just 68 games in the 1978 regular season but won a World Series.
The all-time leader in doubles and the four-time OBP champ might be the most under-appreciated inner circle Hall of Famer. With defense included, his value is quite similar to Ty Cobb’s. Managing was just his side gig, which is all it needed to be to get him here. He won the World Series in 1920, his first full season running the Indians. He had two more second place finishes and 617 total wins. A member of the Hall’s second class in 1937 is the 34th best combination player manager ever.
#33 Don Mattingly (MAPES: 37; ZIMMER: 18; Player Manager Score: 24)
This is a score I expect will go up. After 446 wins in five seasons with the Dodgers, Mattingly is no longer running the show out there, but there aren’t too many guys who don’t get another job after making the playoffs three years in a row. Mattingly is a relatively young man, just 54 right now, and it’s not like back problems will curtail this part of his career. On the field, Donnie Baseball was a heck of a hitter when healthy. The six-time All-Star has a batting title, a ribbie title, and three doubles titles to his credit. And he also won the 1985 AL MVP.
#32 Bucky Harris (MAPES: 17; ZIMMER: 41; Player Manager Score: 24)
This is another mistake we thing the Hall made when electing managers. Yes, he’s seventh in career wins and third when he retired, but he posted a losing record. He’s third in career losses. Yes, he led mediocre teams, mostly the Senators, but it’s not like he got a ton out of them more than a typical manager would. His ZIMMER score is so high because he was a plus manager overall, and for a lot of years. Maybe he’s the Rusty Staub of managing? He also gets a nice bonus from World Series wins in 1924, the first year of his career when he was leading the Senators, and 1947, when he was running the Yankees. As a player, he homered nine times in approaching 5000 at-bats. He got hit by a lot of pitches, drew some walks, and could lay down a bunt, but he’s not a guy you wanted up with a man on first and a couple of outs.
#31 Felipe Alou (MAPES: 33; ZIMMER: 19; Player Manager Score: 24)
I’m not sure if Alou gained more fame as a player or as a manager. He was a three-time All-Star who led the NL in hits a couple of times. And he played seventeen seasons for six teams, so he was at least a little wanted. And he’s the only guy in baseball history to play at least 400 games at first base and at every outfield spot. He found some level of success as a manager too, though he only made the playoffs once in fourteen tries with the Expos and Giants. To be fair, his Expos were leading the NL East when the game shut down in 1994. Still, we can’t count what never happened.
#30 Jimmy Dykes (MAPES: 29; ZIMMER: 21; Player Manager Score: 25)
The first guy to earn 20 points by each of our measures, Dykes was a 22-year infielder for the A’s and White Sox. He wasn’t much with the bat, yet he managed to stick around, probably because of a feel for the game that eventually made him a manager. In that capacity, he never once made the playoffs. He holds the record for most games managed without seeing October at 2962. Still six teams in 21 years thought highly enough of him to give him work. A nice, long career for Dyles makes him the #30 player/manager our list.
#29 Al Dark (MAPES: 35; ZIMMER: 22; Player Manager Score: 27)
“The Swamp Fox”, as he was known, had an interesting career, playing for five teams in fourteen years while making three All-Star teams. It wasn’t until he was 26 that he got a major league job, and he quickly became an impressive offensive shortstop. But shortstops in their 30s begin to regress pretty quickly, which is exactly what Dark did. In 1962 his Giants lost an epic World Series with the Yankees 1-0 in the seventh game when Willie McCovey’s liner was snagged by Bobby Richardson. Perhaps making up for some bad luck, he won the 1974 World Series with the A’s, the last of their dynasty years, after Dick Williams resigned. Overall he won 994 games in thirteen seasons. Not bad.
#28 Mike Hargrove (MAPES: 27; ZIMMER: 28; Player Manager Score: 27)
Hargrove won the AL Rookie of the Year Award in 1974, was an All-Star in 1975, and had a productive career as a singles hitter who could draw walks. His profile overall was really interesting. Only nine players ever posted more walks while compiling fewer hits. He’s Miller Huggins or Roy Thomas 70 years later, which isn’t a bad little player. Of course, we want more power from our DH types. As a manager, he was blessed with some incredible talent while in Cleveland. Once they rounded into form in 1995, they won five straight AL Central titles. And they got to the 1995 and 1997 World Series, losing to the Braves and Marlins respectively. The O’s and M’s took him on after that, but after six straight fourth place finishes for the two clubs, he was fired the next year and is likely done in the dugout.
#27 Pete Rose (MAPES: 60; ZIMMER: 17; Player Manager Score: 28)
Given how many he signs, it’s no wonder that Pete Rose has one of the prettiest autographs in baseball. Also, it’s kind of remarkable how many guys on this list have won the Rookie of the Year Award, as Pete did in the NL in 1963. Though I don’t think I’m likely to say anything new here about Pete Rose, with the help of BBREF’s Play Index, I’ll try. While Pete is 75th all-time in triples, only 14 of the 74 guys ahead of him also hit more than his 160 homers. And only three – Willie Davis, Willie Mays, and George Brett – top Rose in 3B, HR, and SB. I don’t know how much his gambling hurt the Reds in the standings, if it did at all. What I do know is that in each of the four years he both started and ended as Cincy’s manager, the Reds finished second. In the first full year he was gone, the Reds beat the A’s in the World Series.
As a manager, we’re talking about an inner-circle HoMER. Ten World Series and seven titles tell that story. Sure, he had oodles of talent. But winning isn’t just a matter of having talent. Ask Mike Hargrove and his four HoME-level hitters in 1999, for example. Stengel was also the first manager of the New York Mets and retired after 25 years in the dugout and 1905 wins, good for eleventh all-time. Stengel had a bit of value as a player too. He led the AL in OBP in 1914, and he won a ring in 1922. It’s clear, however, that Stengel reaches this height as a manager primarily.
#25 Ned Hanlon (MAPES: 23; ZIMMER: 35; Player Manager Score: 28)
Mainly for the Detroit Wolverines, outfielder Ned Hanlon held his own as a player. He drew more than his share of walks, and he ran the bases very effectively. But Hanlon’s greatness was as a manager. He won pennants with the NL’s Baltimore Orioles from 1894-1896. And he did the same with the Brooklyn Superbas of 1899-1900. Though it’s not part of this equation, the most impressive thing about Hanlon is his legacy. Many of the greatest managers ever played for him, including John McGraw, Miller Huggins, Connie Mack, Hughie Jennings, and Wilbert Robinson.
#24 Red Schoendienst (MAPES: 35; ZIMMER: 24; Player Manager Score: 28)
Some people say that when Red Schoendienst was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1989, it was as a combo candidate. And if you’re going to elect him, that’s the way to do it. A ten-time All-Star at second base, Schoendienst won a SB title, a 3B title, and a H title. His career, while a bit longer, is similar to what we’ve seen so far from Dustin Pedroia. Red was mostly a Cardinal as a player. He was exclusively a Cardinal as a manager. His best season was 1967 when St. Louis won the World Series. He made the playoffs one other time and thrice finished second. Overall I rank him below the Hall level, but Schoendienst’s career deserves celebration.
Schoendienst might have been a combo candidate, but as we move up one in our rankings, we see that none yet have been great as both aspects of their career. Cochrane certainly was a great player, winning the MVP for the A’s in 1928 and for the Tigers in 1934. Overall, he’s one of the ten best catchers ever. He only managed for two full seasons and parts of three others, so perhaps his ranking here is high. On the other hand, he led the Tigers to a pennant in 1934 and to a World Series win in 1935. Almost nobody ever had a peak in the dugout like “Black Mike”.
Not many had more admirable careers than Al Lopez. He’s “only” ninth in games caught right now, but let’s consider who’s ahead of him. His career ended in 1947. Everyone ahead of him played in 1989 or later. No, Lopez wasn’t a great player, though he did make two All-Star teams. What we can assume is that he had a great baseball mind. Otherwise, he wouldn’t likely have been given so much playing time. He displayed that acumen for the game when he was given the chance to manage the Cleveland Indians in 1951. In six years he finished second five times and first once, losing the 1954 World Series to the Giants. From Cleveland, he moved to Chicago where he had five more runner-up finishes. And he took the 1959 team to the Series where they lost to the Dodgers. He had the misfortune of managing teams in the AL when the Yankees were in the midst of their greatest dynasty. Yeah, his was an incredibly admirable career.
If Red Schoendienst can make it to the Hall as a combo candidate, perhaps Hodges can too. Hodges was a very, very good player. No, he’s not at HoME level, but he’s in the conversation. I like neat stats, thought I admit they’re not telling. Only 21 players can top Hodges in runs, ribbies, and Gold Gloves. They’re a who’s who among greats of the last 50 years. Of course, that list also includes Torii Hunter, Gary Gaetti, and Steve Garvey. You can put together a lot of weird lists to make your candidate look great. If we include homers in our calculation, we’re down to eleven guys. Anyway, while lists like this are nice, they’re not a reason someone should make the Hall. But what about managerial greatness too? Hodges led some rough teams in Washington. His best finish in five years was sixth place. Then he got another crappy job with the Mets. But a funny thing happened in 1969. You might call it a miracle. I’m not so sure there’s a spot in Cooperstown for Hodges, but I do know he’s a great combination player/manager.
#20 Fielder Jones (MAPES: 42; ZIMMER: 22; Player Manager Score: 29)
Jones was a turn-of-the-century outfielder who posted only one All-Star type of season. On the other hand, he’s the only ten-time 4-win player among center fielders outside the HoME. Actually, he and Jake Beckley are the only position players with that distinction. His managing career has been similarly forgotten today. But it was pretty good as well. He won 683 games in ten seasons, and he took home the World Series with the 1906 White Sox. Still though, we’re without a candidate who was an excellent player and an excellent manager.
#19 Billy Southworth (MAPES: 20; ZIMMER: 56; Player Manager Score: 30)
And it seems we’re going to have to look beyond candidate #19 to find one. Southworth was mainly an outfielder for five teams over thirteen seasons from 1913-1929. He was a decent player but certainly no star. He was absolutely a star manager though. His thirteen seasons and 1044 wins helped him get to the HoME. But it’s the four World Series appearances and titles with the 1942 and 1944 Cardinals that got him there. Still, I kind of thought this project would offer for us more guys who were stars both as players and as managers.
#18 Frank Robinson (MAPES: 76; ZIMMER: 19; Player Manager Score: 30)
While Al Lopez absolutely had an admiral career, I think I’d trade his for Frank Robinson’s. Robinson is one of the least appreciated superstars ever. As Fred McGriff supporters might say, “He hit 586 home runs when that was still a big deal.” He won the NL Rookie of the Year in 1956, MVP Awards in both leagues, and the 1966 AL triple crown. As you know, he’s also the first African American manager ever and one of the game’s statesmen. He was never once given a good team when he was managing, not with the Indians, Giants, Orioles, or Expos/Nationals. He took over the O’s in the midst of an 0-21 start in 1988. The next year they won 87 games and finished second in the AL East. The 2001 Expos won 68 games and finished fifth in the NL East. The next year Robinson came in, and they finished second. Maybe he was underrated as a manager too. He got jobs where the team needed stability, not when they were ready to win. It’s very possible that Robinson would be close to the top of this list were he just given some playoff-caliber rosters.
Speaking of superstars, it’s no surprise that the best pitcher ever ranks this high. I can’t tell you much that’s new about Johnson, I know that. But it’s remarkable that he averaged 26.5 wins per year in the 1910s. Managerially, he wasn’t a lot more than just another guy. But perhaps he could have had a longer career. He managed only five full seasons. Among those seasons, he finished third three times and second once. He won 90+ games three times. Clearly though, he’s not a star as a player and a manager.
#16 Buck Ewing (MAPES: 66; ZIMMER: 21; Player Manager Score: 32)
It’s hard to try to equate the game in 1890, say, to the game today, but that’s precisely what I try to do with MAPES. And MAPES tells me that Ewing is one of three to six best catchers ever. My adjustments put him at the MVP level four times and the All-Star level six more. As a manager he didn’t do quite as much, though he managed a .553 winning percentage and 489 wins over seven seasons.
I know who the best fifteen combination player/managers are, and I think this is a good place to stop this post since the next guy on our list looks to be the first star both on the field and in the dugout. We’ll talk about him and about the fourteen better combos a week from today.
As promised at the start of this project’s second phase, we’re going to elect one manager from our backlog on each of eleven Fridays. Last time we inducted Frank Selee. This time we’re adding the great Al Lopez to the mix. And for the second election in a row, Eric and I just agreed. See, we don’t have to rank these guys and determind that Lopez is, say, exactly the 15th best manager ever. We only have to make sure they’re in our top-22. Eric’s considering both peak and career value, much like he did for players. He’s considering Pythagenpat winning percentages, expected wins, titles, playoff appearances, and a host of other things. Miller is considering the same stuff with different weights. It’s not likely we’ll agree without debate for too many more elections, but for now, so far, so good.
In addition to electing Al Lopez, today we write obituaries for Frank Robinson, Red Schoendienst, and Bill Terry.
But first, there’s some business to conduct. We now have thirteen managers of the twenty-two we’ll ultimately elect in the Hall of Miller and Eric.
Walter Alston Joe McCarthy Sparky Anderson John McGraw Bobby Cox Frank Selee Miller Huggins Casey Stengel Tony LaRussa Joe Torre Al Lopez Earl Weaver Connie Mack
And there are now just twenty-one men we’ll consider for the remaining nine spots.
G> WS Flags Yrs From W L % .500 Won Won Teams =================================================================================== Cap Anson 21 1875-1898 1295 947 .578 348 0 5 3 Frank Chance 11 1905-1923 946 648 .593 298 2 4 3 Fred Clarke 19 1897-1915 1602 1181 .576 421 1 4 2 Charlie Comiskey 12 1883-1894 840 541 .608 299 1 4 3 Leo Durocher 24 1939-1973 2008 1709 .540 299 1 3 4 Clark Griffith 20 1901-1920 1491 1367 .522 124 0 1 4 Charlie Grimm 19 1932-1960 1287 1067 .547 220 0 3 2 Ned Hanlon 19 1889-1907 1313 1164 .530 149 0 5 5 Bucky Harris 29 1924-1956 2158 2219 .493 -61 2 3 5 Whitey Herzog 18 1973-1990 1281 1125 .532 156 1 3 4 Ralph Houk 20 1961-1984 1619 1531 .514 88 2 3 3 Hughie Jennings 16 1907-1925 1184 995 .543 189 0 3 2 Tommy Lasorda 21 1976-1996 1599 1439 .526 160 2 4 1 Billy Martin 16 1969-1988 1253 1013 .553 240 1 2 5 Bill McKechnie 25 1915-1946 1896 1723 .524 173 2 4 5 Danny Murtaugh 15 1957-1976 1115 950 .540 165 2 2 1 Steve O'Neill 14 1935-1954 1040 821 .559 219 1 1 4 Lou Piniella 23 1986-2010 1835 1713 .517 122 1 1 5 Billy Southworth 13 1929-1951 1044 704 .597 340 2 4 2 Dick Williams 21 1967-1988 1571 1451 .520 120 2 4 6 Harry Wright 23 1871-1893 1225 885 .581 340 0 6 4
Al Lopez did everything well as a manager, except the most important thing, which is winning the World Series. The reason he didn’t win was pretty simple. The second Yankee dynasty lasted almost the entirety of Lopez’ career. He managed the Indians from 1951-1956 and the White Sox from 1957-1965. In those fifteen seasons, the Yankees went to the World Series twelve times. Lopez went in 1954 with the Indians and 1959 with the White Sox. Not until Lopez’ final full campaign did someone other than his team of the Yankees get to the Fall Classic. Overall, he finished first twice and second another ten times in his fifteen seasons. He just kept winning year after year, something that’s common only among the game’s greatest managers. And he won at a greater rate than we’d expect given his talent. He was especially adept at getting the most he could out of starting pitchers. So with only two pennants but a .584 winning percentage and 1410 wins, we induct Lopez into the Hall of Miller and Eric.
The first African American manager ever when he was hired to run the perennial also-ran Indians in 1975, Frank Robinson was never really given a team with the chops to compete for a title. In 1976, he brought Cleveland its first winning club since 1968. He oversaw consecutive winning years in San Francisco in 1981 and 1982, the first time they did that since Willie Mays left. He turned the 0-21 Orioles into a second place club in 1989. And in Montreal, he turned a team that lost 94+ for four straight seasons into a team that won 83 for the next two. Overall, Robinson won 1065 games at a .475 clip. Though he was never really given the chance to be great, but he was still pretty impressive.
The second of our three Hall of Fame players to receive obituaries this election, Red Schoendienst won 1041 games at a .522 clip in 14 seasons over four decades, all with the Cardinals. He won the World Series in 1967 and got there again in 1968. Chris Jaffe points out that Red’s most significant contribution was helping to shrink bullpen outings. Maybe he’s the forerunner to Bruce Sutter, Dennis Eckersley, and the champion 2015 Royals. Trivially, Whitey Herzog, he, and Joe Torre managed the 1990 Cardinals, the only time in the game’s history that three 1000-win managers skippered the same team in the same year.
Bill Terry led the New York Giants from 1932-1941. In his first full season, 1933, New York won the World Series. They got there again in 1936 and 1937 under Terry. It didn’t hurt Terry the manager that he had a still productive Terry the player at the start of his run at the helm. He retired as a player in 1936. The Giants were still very good in 1937, but they lost it after that. Maybe he did too. Non-great managers are seldom very good over long stretches. And some player/manager types stop being good at the second when they stop doing what they’re really meant to do, play the game. Maybe they lose focus. Maybe they lose passion. Whatever the reason, Terry and his 823 wins and .555 rate won’t see another election.
The results of our third Phase II election will take place next week. We’ll see you then.