The On Deck Circle

Baseball History, Commentary and Analysis

Underrated / Overrated: Baseball, and Other Stuff – Part VI

Frankie Frisch's fiery personality won him a l...

Image via Wikipedia

Image via Wikipedia

Welcome to Episode Six of Underrated / Overrated.  On tap today,we have HOF hopeful Jack Morris, The Who, Robbie Alomar, The Alamo, Saturday Night Live, and Sam Adams beer.  Enjoy!

Overrated:  Jack Morris – More than a few people believe that Jack Morris belongs in the Hall of Fame.

Dave Stieb pitching in Toronto, Canada in 1985...

Image via Wikipedia

They point to his outstanding ten-inning marathon performance in the 1991 World Series Game 7 vs. the Braves as Exhibit A for evidence of HOF worthiness.  His supporters also point out that Morris was the winningest pitcher of the ‘80’s.

Taking the last point first.  Decades, as such, are purely artificial constructs.  Why not, for example, choose the “decade” 1975-85, or 1985-95.  Or, for that matter, 1978-88?  You would almost certainly come up with a different“winningest” pitcher whose career would also significantly overlap with Morris’ career.

Also, wins, as a measure of pitching greatness, are no longer front-and-center these days.  And Morris has precious little else to offer in terms of statistical analysis that points to unappreciated excellence.  His career ERA+ is 105, meaning that he was actually just 5% better, overall, than a typical replacement level pitcher, taking his career as a whole.

Morris’ performance in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series is the stuff of legend.  But there is little in baseball history that suggests a fleeting moment of greatness on the Big Stage necessarily translates into a VIP Pass into Cooperstown.  Joe Carter, who had a very nice career, hit a walk-off home run to defeat the Phillies in the 1993 World Series.  Carter was unceremoniously dropped off the HOF ballot after just one year (2004), when he received just 3.8 percent of the vote.

Morris will, and should, do better than that.

But Jack Morris is no Hall of Famer.

Career WAR: 39.3

Underrated:  Dave Stieb –   Victimized by lack of run support his entire career, and often pitching for some very bad teams, Stieb still managed 176 wins in his career, as well as a .562 win-loss percentage.  Morris’s career win-loss percentage was .577, just slightly better than Stieb’s despite mostly pitching for better teams than Stieb ever enjoyed.

Stieb led the A.L. in ERA once, and in ERA+ twice.  Jack Morris never led the league in either category.

Moreover, Stieb’s career ERA was a respectable 3.44, and he kept his ERA at or below 3.25 in seven full seasons.  Only once in 18-years did Morris ever post an ERA below 3.25.  Morris’ career ERA was 3.90.

Stieb’s career ERA+ was 123, considerably better than Morris’, and the same as Hall of Famer Juan Marichal.

I’m not arguing that Dave Stieb should be in the Hall of Fame. But, compared to Jack Morris, he was a very underrated pitcher.

Career WAR:  53.0

Overrated:  The Who – “Tommy” – A “Rock Opera” album that definitely doesn’t “Rock,” and, like the worst of opera, has an incoherent storyline obfuscated by lots of unnecessary drama, cluttered spectacle, and bombastic music.  By 1969, a sizable cohort of that generation’s rock fans (who hoped they’d die before they got old), apparently decided that rock n’ roll wasn’t just for Saturday night keg parties anymore.  It needed to express meaning and gravitas equal to the ambitions of millions of middle class white kids who were out to change the world, one college credit at a time.  Precious little of what eventually evolved into what was called “Art Rock” left any significant legacy on rock n’ roll, let alone on society itself.

Underrated:  The Who – “Quadrophenia” – A true masterpiece by a great band at the top of their game.  Keith Moon’s drums never sounded better, and Roger Daltrey, liberated from the nonsensical off-Broadway melodies he was forced to endure on Tommy, actually sings like the street-tough that he was born to portray.  Quadrophenia actually started out as a “concept” album, God help us, and was eventually turned into a pretty decent feature film.  But it largely avoided unnecessarily pretentious operatic stylization, and most of the songs just plain rock.  Go back and listen to songs like “The Punk Meets the Godfather,” and “5:15” if you haven’t done so for a while, or especially if you never have.

Overrated:  Roberto Alomar’s Defense – I know, look, when I first heard that some baseball analysts were trying to make the case that Alomar’s defensive reputation was largely overblown, I would have none of that either. After all, I saw Alomar make enough (apparently) spectacular plays over the years that I dismissed that sort of criticism out of hand.

But once I settled down enough to take a closer, objective look at the numbers, I noticed a perplexing and disturbing trend.

Robby Alomar’s defense really was overrated.

Let’s begin with, for example, times leading his league in assists as a second baseman.

He led the league twice in this statistic.  Not great, but not bad, either.

How about times leading the league in putouts?  He led his league in this stat just once in seventeen seasons.  Hmmm.

Well, for cryin’ out loud.  How about that old standard, Fielding Percentage.  Robbie sure seemed sure-handed enough, right?  Turns out his career Fielding Percentage was .984, good for 42nd all-time, just a hair behind Jeff Frye.  Again, not bad, but nothing to write home about, either.

But his range seemed extraordinary; I saw him get to balls that no one else would ever have reached.  Yet Alomar NEVER led his league in Range Factor / 9 Innings.  In fact his career mark in that category (4.95) ranks just 91st in MLB history!  He falls between Mark Loretta and Wally Backman in that stat.

Roberto Alomar’s career Defensive WAR is a shockingly low -3.4. (Yes, that’s a negative sign before the 3.)

By way of comparison, consider the career Defensive WAR for the following players:  (all are positive numbers)

Orlando Hudson: 2.3

Ryne Sandberg: 5.3

Bobby Grich: 8.5

Bill Mazeroski: 11.9

Frankie Frisch: 13.7! (underrated)

All of which leads us to the sadly unyielding conclusion that, although Robbie Alomar certainly belongs in the Hall of Fame, it should not be for his defense.

Underrated:  Roberto Alomar – Base Stealer – Alomar stole 474 bases in his career against just 114 times caught stealing.  His 80% career success rate is about the same as Rickey Henderson’s, and is considerably better than Lou Brock’s 75%.  It is also just four percentage points behind Tim Raines all-time career best (minimum 300 steals) 84% success rate.

Alomar topped 50 steals twice, and reached at least 30 steals in five other seasons. Over a six-year period, from 1999 through 2003, he stole 134 bases in 156 attempts, an outstanding 86% success rate.

Overrated:  The Alamo –  1836 – Approximately 180-250 “Texans,” virtually none of whom were originally from Texas, were massacred by Mexican General Santa Anna’s superior numbers.  The Texans’ goal was to create a slave republic in territory annexed from Mexico, without Mexico’s permission.  Originally, the Texans had come as settlers, but soon made it clear that they had no intention of living under Mexican law and custom.  Thus, in effect, the “Texans” were breaking the law. Mexico responded with an ultimatum:  pack up and leave, or die.  So the Texans died, later to be avenged at the final battle at San Jacinto, where Santa Anna was captured, and the new Republic of Texas, a new slave territory, was born.

Underrated:  Battle of Verdun, First World War – Perhaps the biggest, bloodiest battle in human history.  Lasted from February-December 1916.  Perhaps as many as a million casualties in all, of whom about 550,000 were French. The Germans literally tried to bleed France to death, but France never capitulated.  For France, this was Marathon, Gettysburg and (yet-to-be-fought) Stalingrad combined.  Essentially ended as a stalemate, but can be viewed as a moral victory for France.

Overrated:  Sacrifice Bunts – Giving up one-third of all of your outs per half-inning to move a runner up one-base, instead of allowing your offense to try to do the same thing without intentionally surrendering an out, statistically just doesn’t make sense.  As a manager, I would happily allow the opposing team’s offense to move a runner up to second base if they were going to give up a free out.  So, when managing my offense, why would I reciprocate the favor?

Underrated: Getting Hit By a Pitch – Craig Biggio reached base due to getting hit by a pitch 285 times during his 20-year career (just two fewer than the all-time leader, Hughie Jennings.)  Biggio led the N.L. in getting hit by a pitch five times.  Imagine getting 285 extra hits in a career.  All those extra times on base certainly lead to a lot of run scoring opportunities.  In Biggio’s remarkable 1997 season, Biggio was hit by pitches 34 times, he didn’t waste a sacrifice hit one single time, and he did not hit into a single double-play all year.  He stole 47 bases, scored a league-leading 146 runs, drew 84 walks, and played in every single game.  His OPS+ was 143.  That, my friends, is pretty nearly a perfect season.

Overrated:  Saturday Night Live! – I recently watched the S.N.L. Christmas Special.  I think I laughed maybe three or four times.  Other than Tina Fey lampooning Sarah Palin, this show hasn’t been funny since around the late ‘80’s, and it hasn’t been REALLY funny since the ‘70’s.  This show is testament to the power of ego, in this case, the ego of producer Lorne Michaels, who just won’t let this Frankenstein’s monster die.

Underrated:  Fawlty Towers – (1975-79) This British comedy, starring former Monty Python alumnus John Cleese as hen-pecked innkeeper Basil Fawlty, features some of the funniest acting and writing in T.V. history.  Connie Booth, who eventually married, and later divorced Cleese, was his co-writer.  She played Polly, the maid.  The show actually lasted just two seasons, 1975 and 1979, with a three-year hiatus in between.  There were only twelve Fawlty Towers episodes ever made.

Overrated:  Scrappy, Hard-Nosed Players – David Eckstein is the poster-boy of these dirty-uniformed fan favorites who run out every grounder, dive after every ball, and generally make themselves annoying in countless ways.  They also often share another common trait:  Low career OPS+.  Eckstein’s for example, is 87, meaning that he has been just 87% as good as a typical replacement level ballplayer.

Underrated: “Lazy” Players Who Make it Look Too Easy –  Andruw Jones / Manny Ramirez, etc.  Personally, ladies and gentlemen, I’ll take Andruw Jones (in his prime) and his ten Gold Gloves, his 23.7 Defensive WAR (second only to Brooks Robinson all-time) and his 407 home runs.  And Manny Ramirez, with or without steroids, had one of the prettiest, most lethal swings of any right-handed hitter in history.

Overrated:  Sam Adams Brewery – This Boston-based brew company is extremely good at self-promotion.  If you live in the greater Boston area, it is expected that you have only nice things to say about the various Sam Adams brews.  As for me, I don’t like a beer that tries too hard to get my attention while I’m actually drinking it.  And, as a side note, Sam Adams was overrated as a patriotic “founding father” as well.

Underrated:  Warsteiner Brewery – DAS GUT BIER!!  A fine German brew.

Until next time, folks.  Stay tuned for an upcoming blog-post on this week’s BBWA Hall of Fame voting results.   Should be interesting.

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6 thoughts on “Underrated / Overrated: Baseball, and Other Stuff – Part VI

  1. My partner and I stumbled over here by a different page and thought I might check
    things out. I like what I see so now i’m following you. Look forward to checking out your web page for a second time.

  2. Without checking Wikipedia, was Verdun the battle where all the allied soldiers took cabs from Paris to the battlefield? Because that’s my all-time favorite path to assault, next to the time U.S. forces needed tourist maps in Grenada.

    • Hey Graham, I believe you are referring to the Battle of the Marne, Sept. 1914. Around 600 Paris taxicabs were used to transport French soldiers to the Western Front during a German offensive. Now THAT’s what I call improvising. I wonder if the soldiers tipped the drivers?
      Thanks for reading, Bill

  3. Great, great post!

    For some reason I always liked Dave Stieb even though by all accounts he was a miserable bastard who wasn’t above showing his teammates up. I guess since I liked that particular Bluejays team it carried over to Stieb.

    I hate everything about Robby Alomar.

    How can you dis the sac bunt?! And you call yourself an NL fan…

    SNL & Faulty Towers: Couldn’t agree more.

    Another lazy player who made it look easy: Straw. ’nuff said.

    • I’d certainly take Dave Stieb for the Mets pitching staff right about now. I liked Alomar, but I can understand why some people wouldn’t. I always got the feeling about him that there are some strange secrets in his closet that we’d be better off not knowing about.
      I am an N.L. fan, but I don’t see any evidence that the Sac. Bunt has ever increased run scoring for the teams that use it the most.
      Ironically, regarding “Hard Nosed Players” like David Eckstein, John Haymen (spelling?) of S.I. tweeted yesterday that he doesn’t care how low Eckstein’s career OPS+ is, because it doesn’t matter. He is all over Eckstein as a “winner.” Whatever.
      Thanks for checking in, and for leaving the comment, Bill

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