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Gary Carter

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The Best 125 Catchers Ever

For some time, we’ve told you that we’d be sharing longer lists so you can see where all of your favorites land in the game’s history. So it’s time we welcome you to our top-125, the best players at each position by Eric’s CHEWS+ and my MAPES+. At the end of this series these lists will find a permanent home on our site so that you’ll be able to refer to them whenever you would like.

Before we get there, you may see some surprising inclusions or omissions. Let me explain. Eric places players at the position at which they had the most value. His reasoning can best be seen in a guy like Ernie Banks. Banks is a no-brainer Hall of Famer. That’s clearly based on his time as a shortstop where he had six seasons of 5+ WAR, including four of 7.9+. At first base, he never topped 3.5 WAR, averaging only 1.3 per season over a decade at the position. While Eric’s theory makes total sense, not every player is as easy to understand as Banks. Should we break down each season? What if the guy played 80 games at two positions in the same season? I just use games played with no preference for value. Just games played. It’s simpler. I don’t think either decision is incorrect, but I do want to point out the reason you may not see certain players. For example, you’ll see Deacon White, Jack Rowe, and Mike Napoli on Eric’s list below. For me, White is a third baseman, Rowe is a shortstop, and Napoli is a first baseman.

Here are our complete lists.

Catchers, 125

Stop by again on Friday when we’ll look our similarities and differences at first base.

Miller

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All-Time HoME Leaders, Catcher – 1-20

How in the world do you decide what pitch to throw? And who decides? It is the manager? The pitcher? The catcher? A bit of all three? We will answer none of those questions below.

We know that sometimes the catcher decides what pitch should be thrown. And if the pitcher has both command and control, maybe the right pitch goes to the right location, and the batter fails. That’s if the catcher/pitcher/manager chooses the right pitch and location. And if the batter also fails. There’s merit to the idea that the best catchers ever are the ones best at calling games, if they’re actually the ones responsible for calling the games. I don’t think we really know who had such responsibility. And there’s no way to really know if they got the most out of their pitchers. There are just so many variables that we can’t control for.

The best receiver in history would have to have all of the physical attributes, and he’d have to be an expert on game theory, someone in league with the world’s best poker players. We just can’t measure that.

I’d like to note two more things before we get started. First, neither one of our numbers puts Johnny Bench on the top of the catcher list. And second, it’s extremely hard to figure out what’s right at this position. We’re trying our best.

[MAPES+], [CHEWS+], [1B, 1-20], [1B, 21-40], [2B, 1-20], [2B, 21-40], [3B, 1-20], [3B, 21-40], [SS, 1-20], [SS, 21-40]

Catcher – 1-20

C, 1-20

Where do we project the active player(s) to finish in our rankings?

Joe Mauer

Mauer is a made man. Unless he turns in a few -2.0 WAR seasons in a row, he’s over the line for good. The question is whether he can gain ground on the rest of the field. Given recent history, his peak appears locked in, so it’s about chasing down the career value of guys above him on the totem pole. Bill Dickey feels like his top end to me. After my various adjustments, Dickey’s ahead by 9 career WAR, but their peak is exactly the same. Mauer certainly could catch up, though as a thirty-five year old with a history of concussion syndrome, the wear and tear of catching, and an overall long-term decline in performance, especially in power, I’m not sanguine about his odds to hit on that prop. He’ll pass Joe Torre this year, but Charlie Bennett is a pretty far in the distance, let alone Hartnett and Dickey.—Eric

There’s actually quite a bit going on here. After three years when it seemed Mauer was done as a plus hitter, he rebounded nicely last season. On the plus side, his K-rate fell to pre-concussion levels. He also made more hard contact than he had in four years. Maybe he’s back??? I know that’s not the way aging works though. On the other hand, there’s not a lot of data we have on people who have recovered from concussions. In the last four seasons, he’s averaged over 138 games, 18 more than his previous four. In terms of wear and tear on his body, perhaps he’s looking better than a few years ago? Then again, the last four years have seen him with a 106 OPS+, while the previous four were at 134. And his 116 from last year isn’t really too impressive. He’s 35 now, and it’s quite possible his surprise 3-win campaign of 2017 was the last year of that quality he’ll ever have. That’s what I’m guessing. If we plug in seasons of 2.2, 1.1 and -0.4 WAR, he gets by Joe Torre, and that’s it. I say he finishes at #12.–Miller

Buster Posey

This is one incredibly healthy catcher we’re looking at, a guy who’s played in at least 140 games every year since 2012. What’s more, he’s been worth over 4 wins each season. He’s 31 now. As he ages, the Giants can move him out from behind the plate more and more. If he can maintain last year’s level in 2018 and then decline slowly, he can get to #14. Maintaining a little more value and playing until age 38, he’ll battle Mauer for that #12 spot. I’ll take the more positive run out in this case.–Miller

Where do our rankings diverge the most from the conventional wisdom?

It has to be Gary Carter, right? Everyone calls Johnny Bench the best MLB catcher ever. Well, everyone except me and Eric. I have to admit to being unsure of how catcher handling should be interpreted, and I think my catcher ratings are less likely to be “correct” than those at any position. I use Max Marchi’s handling numbers, albeit at a reduced rate, which vaults Carter to the top. Somehow, it’s actually not very close.–Miller

We could make a baseball TV comedy show called That 70s Catcher. Bench, Fisk, Simmons, Munson, plus big hunks of Carter’s career. Oh, and Gene Tenace. Gino Fiore Tenace is one of those analytical darlings who walked a lot, hit for power, moved around the diamond a bit, and whose excellence was hidden by baseball’s traditionalist mindset until the last twenty or so years. There’s that and the fact that his career was very short, under 6,000 plate appearances, and that defensively he wasn’t an outstanding backstop. I’m pretty sure that given the opportunity to name the twenty best catchers ever, a supermajority of baseball watchers and sports journalists wouldn’t include him. Especially when Ernie Lombardi, Bill Freehan, Lance Parrish, Yadier Molina, and a few other more famous catchers rank below him.—Eric

Where do we disagree with one another the most?

I have Charlie Bennett 28% over the line, while Eric sees him only 13% over. The difference between 10th best and 12th best, however, really isn’t a big deal. Perhaps Johnny Bench is our biggest disagreement? We are in lockstep on #1 and #2 at every other position, so when my #2 is his #5, we might say that it’s a big difference.–Miller

Are there any players who MAPES+/CHEWS+ might overrate or underrate? 

Yes, just about anyone. We use the handling numbers we have, which we think makes sense. Unfortunately, those numbers don’t exist for the first 80 or so years of the game, nor the last six. We’re not guessing. We’re doing the best we can, and we think we’re reasonably close. It’s just that the error bar at catcher is greater than at any position. Far greater, I think.–Miller

You know, Buck Ewing bugs me. I know that some folks in his own time considered him the best player in the game, but the second-best catcher of all time? I’m not so sure. Could be an issue with how I’m extrapolating playing time. But I can’t shake the feeling that we’re overcommitted on Ewing. Miller is absolutely correct that among all nine positions on the diamond (ten if you want to consider the DH separately), catcher is the fudgiest. We have all the usual things to account for such as schedule length, league quality, in my case standard deviation, differing defensive systems. Then we also have to introduce a ton more uncertainty because no defensive system captures catchers well, and the developers of those systems will tell you so. No system has successfully figured out how to add framing because framing is dependent on the umpire and the pitcher as well as the catcher. No system has incorporated pitcher handling either. Is plate blocking included in any of them? Where does pitch calling fit into this? Plus we have to account for the negative impact catching has on playing time so that we can bring catchers as close to other positions as possible. It’s not a cluster, not a whack-a-mole, more like those Russian nesting dolls. You’re trying to get down to the smallest doll, but there’s just so many other dolls ahead of it that eventually your hands get crampy from all the twisting apart of the dolls. And they are all wearing masks!—Eric

***

Next week we’re back with the next 20 catchers. And unless you’ve studied this subject, a bunch of names will be at least a little surprising.

Mount Rushmore, Montreal/Washington Expos/Nationals

1975 Expos ScheduleEntering the National League as the expansion Montreal Expos in 1969, there was tremendous hope North of the Border. Or at least I suspect there was. However, in 36 seasons in Montreal, the Expos only reached the playoffs once. All Expo fans, and almost all fans of a certain age, remember what happened. With the series tied at two games apiece, Fernando Valenzuela and Ray Burris engaged in a pitcher’s duel to decide it. The score stood tied at one after eight innings. Expo great Steve Rogers, he of exactly one relief appearance until that point in his career, asked into the game. Woodie Fryman was closing games for Montreal late that year, and he had an outstanding campaign in 1981 with a 1.88 ERA. But he was pummeled by Los Angeles the day before. They also had a young Jeff Reardon, he of the 1.30 ERA after a May trade with the Mets. But he had been destroyed by the Dodgers in the first game. Perhaps it’s not surprising that manager Jim Fanning didn’t have a lot of faith in those two. And of course he trusted Steve Rogers.

As you probably know, Rogers allowed a game winning home run to Rick Monday. The Expos would never make the playoffs again, the 1994 work stoppage when they may have been baseball’s best team haunted them until their move south.

Guys It’s Not

Gary Carter (55.6) has the most WAR in franchise history, though he played the most important games of his career with the Mets. Tim Raines is second (48.9), and like Carter, he did a second tour in Canada before hanging ‘em up. It was collusion, pretty much, that took Andre Dawson (48.1) out of Montreal. It’s too bad he never got back. When I think of great Expos, I also think of Tim Wallach (36.8), but he went out west for a few seasons after 13 with Montreal.

Nationals/Expos Mount Rushmore

Steve Rogers, 1978Steve Rogers: The best pitcher in franchise history and fourth best overall with 45.1 WAR, Rogers was sort of a poor man’s Dave Stieb. Though he was a five-time All-Star and three times finished in the top-5 in Cy Young voting, he was an underrated hurler. He never won 20 games, and he actually led the NL in losses twice, once while accumulating 4.8 WAR on the mound. In his salad days of 1975-1983, he trailed only Phil Niekro and Steve Carlton in WAR among NL pitchers.

Ryan Zimmerman: For whatever reason, I don’t really associate Zimmerman with this franchise, though he’s sixth on the all-time list with 36.5 WAR. He started his career in 2005, the first year the team played in Washington, and he’s still at it, having a bit of a renaissance last year at age 32. He’s signed for this year and next, so I suppose there’s a shot he retires a National after 2019. What I think is more likely is bouncing around to two or three more teams in a couple of seasons of sporadic play.

Bryce Harper: Now I do think of Harper as a National. His 26.1 WAR rank him ninth in franchise history. The guy has been a bit of a disappointment thus far, though he’s only going to be 25 this year. Yeah, there’s time. Of course, there’s virtually no chance he’ll be on this list a year and a month from now. By this time next year he will have signed the richest contract in baseball history.

Stephen Strasberg: Also a bit of a disappointment, perhaps, Strasberg ranks right behind Harper with 24.9 career WAR. Did you know that he’s never won more than 15 games in a season? Did you know he’s only qualified for three ERA titles in his career? He’s going to be paid in excess of $38 million in 2019 and can opt out after that season with four years and $100 million left on his contract. Assuming health, I think he’ll take his opt out. A guy who’s just 31 can pretty easily top $100 million on the open market. Maybe he and the club will renegotiate.

My ExNat Rushmore

I want to say Larry Walker or Dennis Martinez or Pedro Martinez. Expo fans probably want me to say Vlad Guerrero or Rusty Staub. But I’m not going to do anything strange here. I feel pretty confident saying the proper Expo/Nat Rushmore is Gary Carter, Tim Raines, Andre Dawson, and Steve Rogers. Sometimes it’s fine just to take the top-4 on the all-time franchise list.

And this makes #30. We’ve finally finished with the Rushmore series, one that I know I’ve enjoyed writing even if readership hasn’t been as great as I might like. Sometimes that’s going to happen. If you’ve been reading right along or only here and there, thanks for your support!

Miller

Who is Fred Carroll?

Fred CarrollFriend 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.

  1. I ran into Carroll when I was researching Buster Posey’s bat, specifically his rbat totals at BBREF. Impressively, Posey is already 11th all-time among catchers. Then there’s this Carroll guy at 15th, right between Roger Bresnahan and Gary Carter.
  2. Frederick Herbert Carroll was born on July 2, 1864 in Sacramento, CA, just a day after President Lincoln signed the Pacific Railroad Acts to construct the transcontinental railroad. Carroll died a shade over 40 years later, November 7, 1904 and is buried the Odd Fellows Columbarium in San Francisco. If this is to be believed and is still accurate, it’s the only non-denominational burial place within San Francisco’s city limits that’s both open to the public and has space available. So hurry, I guess?
  3. His pro career began at age 15 for the 1880 San Francisco Athletics of the California League where he teamed with HoMEr Pud Galvin. Galvin was already in the majors, going 20-35 for Buffalo that year. I don’t know his numbers in San Francisco, nor do I know Carroll’s.
  4. Carroll took 1881 off. Maybe he went to high school or got a job crabbing or something. In 1882, he made a comeback, this time with the San Francisco Nationals of the California League. Incidentally, I think the California League should have been called the San Francisco League since all of its teams through 1885 were from San Francisco. One of Carroll’s 1882 teammates was Ed Morris, not the one who was murdered, but the one who might be the best pitcher in MLB history with that surname.
  5. He reached the majors in 1884 with the American Association’s Columbus Buckeyes, again teaming with Morris. Carroll put up 3.0 WAR in only 69 games, helping the Buckeyes to a second place finish to Dave Orr, Tim Keefe, and the New York Metropolitans.
  6. Again with Ed Morris, he moved to the AA’s Pittsburgh Alleghenys in 1885, this time finishing third, 22.5 games behind the champion St. Louis Browns. The Browns were a stacked bunch, boasting the likes of Charlie Comiskey, Arlie Latham, Tip O’Neill, Dave Foutz, Bob Caruthers, and others.
  7. In 1886 he had his second best season, posting 4.0 WAR, which was the third best total on the team, behind, you guessed it, Ed Morris and Pud Galvin. The Alleghneys finished second to the Browns, and Carroll was suspended for a few hours in August after fighting with teammate Otto Schomberg. I suppose he learned his lesson in a hurry.
  8. Switching to the National League in 1887, the Alleghenys finished sixth, I imagine because they faced better competition. At 3.3 WAR, Carroll was the team’s second best player. Of note, on May 2 he became the first Pittsburgh player to hit for the cycle. Of less note, or perhaps more depending on how you see things, a month or so earlier Carroll buried his pet monkey and unofficial team mascot. Presumably the monkey was already dead.
  9. I’m pretty sure 1888 happened next. Carroll posted a mediocre 1.9 WAR.
  10. Carroll’s best season, 4.7 WAR in 91 games, occurred in 1889 when he led the NL in OBP, OPS, and OPS+. That Alleghney team featured a bunch of players you might have heard of including Jake Beckley, Fred Dunlap, Jack Rowe, Ned Hanlon, Billy Sunday, Deacon White, and of course Pud Galvin and Ed Morris.
  11. With Beckley, Hanlon, and others, Morris jumped to the Pittsburgh Burghers of the Players League in 1890. The Burghers finished sixth in the only year of the League. As I suspect you know, because it seems to have been the law of the land, Galvin and Morris also went to the PL with Carroll that year.
  12. Returning to Pittsburgh’s NL entry in 1891, Carroll played his final season. Beckley, Hanlon, and Galvin returned with him. Morris retired, and Connie Mack, Pete Browning, Mark Baldwin, and Silver King were teammates. Carroll put up just 1.1 WAR.
  13. Carroll retired after the season, just a few month after turning 26 years of age. I do not know how he spent his retirement. What I do know is that he’s 67th in career WAR among catchers. Due to an excellent prime, he moves up to 59th in JAWS. I don’t rank him by my MAPES system.

Thanks for the inspiration, verdun2!

Miller

 

Fixing the Hall, Add Buddy Bell

Buddy Bell, 1973As we continue on our journey through the underappreciated hitters of the 1970s and 1980s, today we take a look at Buddy Bell. Bell, like the other hitters from this series, Ted Simmons, Keith Hernandez, and Bobby Grich represent an era that Hall voters have really mis-evaluated. There were more teams, so there should be more Hall of Famers. But there are fewer than from earlier eras. We can make the Hall better by substituting this group of guys for earlier hitters. That’s just what we do in this series.

Who He Is

Buddy Bell was a defensive star at third base. When he was just 20, he started his MLB career in the outfield for the 1972 Cleveland Indians. Recognizing they had a pair of third base studs on their hands, the Indians shipped Nettles to the Yankees for, basically, a bunch of crap, which was par for the course for Indian teams of that vintage. Cleveland’s lost was kind of Cleveland’s gain, as Bell took over at third base for what should have been a decade and a half. Of course, in the winter of 1978, Cleveland shipped their star to Texas for Toby Harrah. Harrah was good in Cleveland, but Bell was great in Texas. A 1985 trade to Cincinnati saw the beginning of the end of his career, though he was quite a solid player before hanging ‘em up in 1989 after his second tour with the Rangers.

Why He’s Not In

Bell is a lot like Ted Simmons in that his career overlapped with so many Hall of Famers. Mike Schmidt, George Brett, Wade Boggs, Paul Molitor, and Brooks Robinson confuse the issue for all other third basemen of their era. Bell is also a lot like Keith Hernandez in that much of his value comes with the glove. Plus, he has almost no Black Ink, and he never went to the playoffs. He never topped 20 home runs. Only once did he top 83 RBIs. He simply didn’t do the things voters like, well, aside from being great.

How He Fared

In 1999 Bell saw his only BBWAA ballot. Just eight people voted for him. That same year 259 voters supported Tony Perez, an inferior player who was a regular on one of the great teams of the 1970s, a guy who drove in 100 runs seven times, homered 20+ times on nine occasions, and was a bat first player without a strong glove. Hall voters liked him less than Don Baylor or George Forster too. Silly, just silly.

Some Comparisons

Bell’s greatness is clear if we look at WAR. We can probably agree that being among the best in baseball for a decade suggests a greatness that may be Hall-worthy. Well, Bell was the third best third baseman in the game from 1975-1984. Not impressed? Well, you shouldn’t be. However, when you hear that he’s the fourth best position player in the game over that decade, your disposition should change. Only Schmidt, Brett, and Gary Carter were better for those ten years. The next three guys behind him are all in the Hall of Fame. In fact, the top-12 for that decade are either in the Hall or on this list.

Pie Traynor, 1976Hall of Famers

Bell was so much better than Freddie Lindstrom, George Kell, and Pie Traynor. And he’s in league with Jimmy Collins, Deacon White, Brooks Robinson, and Paul Molitor. Of course, he’s also in league with others outside the HoME. What is it that Bell has in common with 3B HoMErs Graig Nettles, Darrell Evans, and Sal Bando? You guessed it, the era during which they played. Such an underrated time!

Who to Dump

Pie Traynor. For a decent amount of baseball history, many considered Traynor the best third baseman ever. One thing that may have made him look so is that he played in a great era for offense, as seen by his 109 AIR compared to Bell’s 95.

              Bell   Traynor
============================
PAs          10009    8297 
Hits          2514    2416
Runs          1151    1183
Home Runs      201      58
RBI           1106    1273
BA            .279    .320
OBP           .341    .362
SLG           .406    .435
OPS+           109     107
Remember that the AIR number says life was soooo much much harder for Bell.
That batting average is attractive, otherwise, their numbers are quite similar.
Just check out OPS+ for a better idea on offense. Bell was a shade better.
===============================================================================
Rfield        174      -32
DRA           188.6   94.5
The first is the defensive number at BBREF.
The second is defensive regression analysis. I trust the second more.
Bell is significantly better defensively, and still a shade better at bat.
===============================================================================
Actual WAR     66.1   36.2
My Conversion  69.7   47.5 (My conversion really promotes Traynor!)
MAPES 3B Rank    11     35  
MAPES is my personal ranking system. Though I lift Traynor a lot, it's not close.

Buddy Bell belongs in the Hall of Fame. It’s not really a close call. But we know that voters have done a terrible job with players from Bell’s era and those who played Bell’s position. The fact is that Bell is so much better than someone who was called the best 3B in history up until the time Bell was in the majors. Players of Traynor’s era are far over-represented in the Hall. Those of Bell’s era are far under-represented. I hope that won’t last for long, though I’m not holding my breath if I’m bell.

In our next installment a week from today, we’ll take a look at the case for Alan Trammell.

Miller

Fixing the Hall, Add Ted Simmons

Ted Simmons, 1971If you were a hitter who debuted in the 1970s, you’ve had a harder time getting into the Hall of Fame than you should have. From 1971-1992, an era that encompasses the careers of almost all of the players in this series, only once did scoring top 4.47 runs per game. And three times it was 3.99 or below. In contrast, the era from 1921-1941 saw scoring higher than 4.47 every single year. Yes, different eras have different levels of offense. And when we use counting stats to make Hall of Fame decisions for hitters, we fail to take into account those lower run environments. Since 1950, five of the eight seasons with the fewest home runs per team were in the 1970s, and half of the bottom-24 occurred from 1971-1984.

You can’t expect huge offensive numbers in that era, but Hall of Fame voters still seem to. It’s that failure, plus the misunderstanding of base on balls, the misunderstanding of defensive value, and the misunderstanding of greatness versus inner circle Hall of Fame talent that has helped keep Ted Simmons and others who debuted in the 1970s out of the Hall.

Who He Is

Ted Simmons is a catcher who played a bit on the corners and some designated hitter. He got started with a cup of coffee at just 19 for the 1968 Cardinals. By 1970, he was sharing time behind the plate with Joe Torre. In 1971, Simmons pushed Torre to third.He was shipped to the Brewers with the next two AL Cy Young winners, Rollie Fingers and Pete Vuckovich, in a 1980 deal that brought the Cards four players, including top prospect David Green. It was a terrible trade for the Cardinals. After five years in Milwaukee, he was sent to the Braves in a deal for Rick Cerone. Simmons was all but done at that point, and he ended his career in Atlanta in 1988.

Simmons had power, which is evidenced by his 11th place standing in home runs by someone who played more than 50% of his career at catcher. And he could hit for average too; he’s 14th on a similar list among backstops.

Why He’s Not In

The greatest problem Ted Simmons has is when he debuted. His first full season was 1970. Johnny Bench had his in first full year in 1968, Carlton Fisk in 1972, and Gary Carter in 1975. All three of those catchers were clearly better than Simmons. It’s not easy to get a lot of attention when there are three clearly better players who debuted right around the same time, not to mention the excellent Thurman Munson, Gene Tenace, Jim Sundberg, and Darrell Porter.

How He Fared

The only time Simmons appeared on the BBWAA ballot was 1994 when he received just 3.7% of the vote. Far inferior players like Steve Garvey, Rusty Staub, and Dave Concepcion fared better.

Some Comparisons

To get an idea of Simmons’ greatness, we need to compare him to all catchers, not just his contemporaries. There are only 39 catchers ever with at least 5000 plate appearances, 100 homers, and a .300 on base percentage. If we move those numbers up to 150 homers and a .325 on base clip, we’re down to 23 catchers. And if we move to 200 long balls and a .340 OBP, it’s just a dozen guys. Simmons absolutely did not play during a good offensive era, yet only Mike Piazza, Yogi Berra, and Jorge Posada can match him in both HR and OBP. He’s also one of three catchers ever with 200 HR and 400 2B. The other two, Carlton Fisk and Ivan Rodgiruez are in the Hall.

Hall of Famers

Simmons has 50.1 career WAR, which is better than six Hall of Famers. To me, he is so clearly superior to Hall mistakes Ray Schalk and Rick Ferrell. Schalk is 42nd in career WAR among catchers, while Ferrell is 36th. Simmons is 12th. And he’s debatably better than Hall of Famers Roger Bresnahan and Ernie Lombardi.

Ray Schalk, 1915Who to Dump

I’m making Ray Schalk the choice here because he and Simmons both played in eras with depressed offense. In fact, the AIR number at BBREF, which measures the offensive level of the leagues and parks the player played in relative to all-time, is the same 96 for both of them. Let’s look at some stats.

              Simmons     Schalk
================================
Hits           2472        1345
Runs           1074         579
Home Runs       248          11
RBI            1389         594
OPS+            118          83
Remember, they played in equally difficult offensive eras.
==========================================================
Rfield           -33          46
DRA            -20.5       -17.1
The first is the defensive number at BBREF.
The second is defensive regression analysis. I trust the second more.
=====================================================================
Actual WAR      50.1        28.5
My Conversion   54.7        35.5
MAPES C Rank      17          45
MAPES is my personal ranking system.

Have I convinced you that Ted Simmons belongs in the Hall of Fame? Maybe not. But I hope I’ve convinced you that if the Hall could have only one of Simmons and Schalk, it should absolutely be Ted Simmons.

Tune in next Monday for the second part of this series, Keith Hernandez.

Miller

The HoME 100: #50–41

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, #7061, and #60-51

#50-41

50. Wade Boggs (ESPN Rank: 73)

MILLER: When there’s a recent guy who ESPN ranks low, you know his career wasn’t understood by the mainstream. The best four hitters ever without a nine-WAR season according to my numbers are Boggs, Mel Ott, Eddie Mathews, and Al Kaline.

49. Gary Carter (ESPN Rank: NR)

MILLER: I feel badly for Carter. He’s historically underrated, largely because he played the same position at the same time as an inner circle guy. This is the same problem Tim Raines has with Rickey Henderson. It’s the problem Alan Trammell has with Cal Ripken. It’s part of the problem Jim Edmonds has with Ken Griffey. And it’s even part of the problem Eddie Collins has with Rogers Hornsby. At least Collins and Carter are in the Hall.

48. Bert Blyleven (ESPN Rank: NR)

ERIC: Man, ESPN really has something against those 1970s 270+ winners. Of course, Rik Albert didn’t win 300, but close enough. What do you have to do to get on a list at ESPN? Bly threw 60 shutouts, which is more than all but 8 men in MLB history. Three of those guys (Spahn, Ryan, and Seaver) threw only 2, 1, and 1 more goose eggs respectively. OK, well, maybe shutouts isn’t your thing. How about strikeouts? Blyleven is fifth all time. I thought Bill James was foolish about a decade ago to write that Blyleven probably didn’t deserve the Hall. I think ESPN was foolish to forget him on this list.

47. George Brett (ESPN Rank: 32)

ERIC: One of the least researched aspects of baseball right now is coaching. George Brett credits Charlie Lau with remaking his approach at the plate and turning him into a Hall of Fame batsman. Baseball players exist in a meritocratic, performance-centric industry. Your performance is on the back of your baseball card, and anyone can see how well you’re doing. Think about the kind of ego you have to have to succeed in the big leagues. You’ll fail more often than not. You’ll face the constant pressure of someone else waiting to take your job. You’re one injury away from oblivion. You got to have a strong ego, and it seems as though baseball mostly weeds out the weak-egoed before they reach MLB. So when a player, therefore, tells the world that he owes his career to a coach, that’s really saying something. He’s giving credit to someone else, when sports in our country is all about the rugged man succeeding in moments of great pressure. Particularly in a game like baseball where nearly every play involves discreet moments of individual execution. We have to pay attention to what George Brett says here. Coaching is a place where the field of sabrmetrics could be doing a lot more work.

46. Dan Brouthers (ESPN Rank: NR)

ERIC: Brouthers is to Roger Connor as Jimmie Foxx is to Lou Gehrig. Exact contemporaries at the same position who dominated the league for years. The comparison takes you only so far because the gap between Gehrig and Foxx is good bit wider than that between Brouthers and Connor. Well, and Cap Anson was around in the 1880s and 1890s too and doesn’t have an analog for Gehrig and Foxx (Greenberg came too late). But you get the idea.

45. Eddie Mathews (ESPN Rank: 56)

ERIC: It seems like Mathews has lost some star power of the years. He’s something of a forgotten great. Look back at his statistical record. It’s really, truly impressive. It also underscores how badly the Braves of the late 1950s and early 1960s undershot the mark. After appearing in the 1957 and 1958 World Series, they fumbled away the 1959 pennant and then settled in as mere contenders. This team, however, was absolutely loaded with core talent. GMs dream of a core of Aaron, Mathews, and Spahn to build around. Add in Lew Burdette, Johnny Logan, and Joe Adcock as contributors, and a couple years later Joe Torre comes along then Phil Niekro. Wow. But after GM John Quinn’s departure to Philadelphia following the 1958 season, the Braves’ leadership faltered and with it Milwaukee’s golden era of baseball. One wonders if we’d be talking about the Atlanta Brewers today had the Braves followed on with more pennants.

44. Phil Niekro (ESPN Rank: NR)

MILLER: The anti-knuckler bias is real. I’m guilty myself. I’ve allowed Red Sox All-Star Steven Wright to languish on my fantasy baseball bench, and ESPN refuses to put one of the fifteen best pitchers ever on their list.

ERIC: And if the knuckler were easy to throw, the big leagues would be filled with 40-year-olds on long-term deals.

43. Joe Morgan (ESPN Rank: 38)

ERIC: Oh, how I miss Fire Joe Morgan. But we’re here to praise Little Joe, not to bury him. As has been pointed out many times, despite his inability and unwillingness to understand sabrmetric principles, Morgan represents something of an archetype for them. He didn’t hit for a high average, instead he walked all the time and hit for surprising power. On the bases he rarely made mistakes and his SB% is one of the highest on record. Plus he represented an important sabrmetric idea: the defensive spectrum and the value of position. He wasn’t quite average afield, but he wasn’t a Jeteresque sinkhole with the glove either, so Morgan stuck at second. Compare to someone with a very similar game: Tim Raines. Both were remarkable percentage players. Raines, in fact, came up as a second baseman, and had he been able to remain there would likely have been Morgan-lite. Raines wasn’t quite as good a player as Morgan overall, he mostly lacked Joe’s power, but the biggest and most stubborn gap in their value is the positional adjustment. Raines loses 86 runs as a leftfielder, and Morgan picks up 73. That’s a 140 run gap, or 16 wins. Give Raines 16 more wins, and he ends up at 85 WAR against Morgan’s 100. All of which is to say that position really does mean a lot and the effect it has on our perceptions of players and the value they bring is very important.

42. Carl Yastrzemski (ESPN Rank: 53)

Yaz is one of only eleven hitters with a pair of 10 WAR seasons. The only two to reach that height since Yaz are Barry Bonds and Cal Ripken.

41. Pedro Martinez (ESPN Rank: 11)

Pedro only pitched 200 innings seven times. He only won 15 games six times. The wins don’t matter, but the innings explain why a pitcher who has a claim to the best peak in history only having seven years of 6+ WAR. But how about that 2000 season? He allowed more than three runs only twice, and he allowed one or zero seventeen times.

THE WORLDWIDE LEADER IN SPORTS’ 50–41

Nolan Ryan
Mariano Rivera
Lefty Grove
Cal Ripken
Ernie Banks
Bob Feller
Satchel Paige
Steve Carlton
Yogi Berra
Tris Speaker

MILLER: I think Ernie Banks is probably the most overrated player on ESPN’s list. While he averaged almost 8 WAR per year in the six years before he hurt his knee in 1961, he was a pretty ordinary thereafter, averaging less than 1.3 WAR per year for the last decade of his career. We remember him as an elite level shortstop, and indeed he was that. We don’t tend to think of him as an ordinary first baseman, but he was that too.

1998 HoME Election Results

Red Faber magazine

Welcome HoME Red. It’s been a long time!

Today is a great day for the HoME. Well, actually, it’s mainly just a great day for Miller. It has taken 30 elections and 29 votes from Miller, but Red Faber is finally a member of the Hall of Miller and That Other Guy Who Finally Voted for Red Faber (Eric). Seriously though, one of the strengths of the HoME is that it takes votes from both of us to get in. And one of the strengths of this partnership is that neither of us votes for a player until be truly believe he deserves the honor.

Clearly 1998 is a year of waiting at the HoME. We elected three first-timers in addition to Faber. All had to wait unnecessarily long for their Cooperstown tickets to be punched. Bert Blyleven had to wait fourteen years for his election. Gary Carter, pretty shockingly, needed six ballots to get in. And Willie Randolph is still waiting for his second ballot after being outpolled by Jack Clark and Pedro Guerrero in 1998, the only time the BBWAA reviewed his case.

We’re now up to 158 of the greatest players in the game’s history HoME. We still have 54 more to vote in through our 2014 election, which means nearly 32% of the remaining 169 players still up for discussion will eventually find spots in the HoME.

Let’s look at how we voted in 1998.

    Miller            Eric
1   Bert Blyleven     Gary Carter
2   Gary Carter       Bert Blyleven
3   Red Faber         Willie Randolph
4   Willie Randolph   Red Faber
5   Whitey Ford       Dave Bancroft
6   Don Sutton

The Class of 1998

Bert Blyleven: Blyleven’s case has been heard over and over and over again, 14 times by the BBWAA before they elected him in 2011. What’s astounding is that it took so long for the guy who’s #11 on the career WAR list for pitchers. We might not rank him quite so high, but he’s darned close, clearly one of the top-20 the game has seen. Only eight pitchers ever worked at an All-Star-level more than Bert’s eleven times. Only six had more than his fourteen 4-win seasons. And only the Big Train, Cy, the Rocket, and Mad Dog offered more than his sixteen 3-win seasons. It certainly won’t take the Hall of Miller and Eric 14 tries to put this all-time great who made only three All-Star teams and won 20 games just once into our esteemed institution. Welcome HoME, Bert.

Gary Carter: To say that Gary Carter wasn’t as good as Johnny Bench would surprise nobody. But to say the difference is quite small would come as a shock to a lot of people. The reason for the shock might come down to traditional awards and Black Ink. Bench was the Rookie of the Year, while Carter finished second. Bench won two MVP Awards; Carter only had a second and a third place finish. Bench won two HR titles and three RBI crowns; Carter has just an RBI title to his name. Thirteen All-Star Games for Bench and ten Gold Gloves compared to only eleven and three for Carter. But let’s look at eqWAR. In their best two seasons, which one would expect to be the MVP-type years, Bench bests Carter just 16.1 to 16.0. In their best ten years, Bench wins 61.0 to 59.6. Yes, Bench extends it over the next three years. He’s better than Carter. This isn’t an argument that Carter’s better, just that it’s close. The Kid is close to the best catcher ever, and he’s certainly one of the best five.

Willie Randolph: Few people think of Randolph when they think of all-time great Yankees. They should though. The Bid McPhee of his generation, he did everything well except hit for power. Randolph knew how to get on base, and the six-time All-Star was an overlooked outstanding defender. Of the 53 second basemen in our database, Randolph joins only McPhee, Frankie Frisch, Joe Gordon, Johnny Evers, and Bill Mazeroski with over 100 runs based on Rfield and DRA. And Randolph is the only 2B ever with 2000 hits, 1000 walks, and 100 defensive runs. The only one. He had only four All-Star-level seasons, but his greatness was in longevity. He’s one of seven 2B to post 15 2-win seasons. Randolph may not be a sexy choice, but he got it done at the plate, in the field, and on the bases. Among the best 15 or so 2B ever, Randolph clearly merits a place in the HoME.

Red Faber is a righty hurler who spent his entire 20-year career with the White Sox. He’s a borderline HoMer, but that doesn’t mean he’s not deserving. Someone has to be on the borderline. He’s long and low like Don Sutton and Tommy John, except he was absolutely great twice. From 1921-1922 he posted 19.4 WAR. With a less stellar 1920 season included, he was the best in baseball over three years, not by a small margin. While his peak only lasted two or three seasons, he kept producing useful numbers pretty much from 1914-1933. His 12.3 WAR after age 40 is pretty impressive. Also impressive is his adaptability. He was a budding star in the minors, throwing a perfect game in 1910, but he had arm troubles. As a result, he began to employ the spitball. The rest, as they say, is history – history that built a HoME-worthy career.

Solo Votes

When a player gets a vote from one of us but not the other, we discuss here.

Miller:
Whitey Ford: No longer Faber land, it seems my next long-term project is the Chairman of the Board. This is my fifteenth vote for Ford in his 23 years on our ballot. He looks a lot like Early Wynn if we eliminate Wynn’s strong 1956 and a few add-on years at the start and end of his career. Honestly, he also looks a decent amount like Don Sutton too if we include Ford’s World Series contribution. It’s a close call, I’ll admit. But Ford is over the line for me.

Don Sutton: I was the first to vote for Jim O’Rourke too. Long and low isn’t so bad at all. Don Sutton is #39 all-time in WAR among pitchers. And if we just include value on the mound, he’s #30, ahead of Palmer and Lyons and Hubbell and Drysdale and Vance. More pitching WAR than all of those guys is enough for me.

Eric:
Dave Bancroft: He remains the best shortstop left and the only one I’ll consider electing. He’s as fine a player as Joe Sewell by my evaluation, and with nothing but no-doubters left after him, Bancroft will quietly close the door on his position until 2020.

Thanks for checking out our 1998 election. Please visit our Honorees page to see the plaques of those elected and to see plenty more information about the HoME.

Institutional History

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