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Archive for the tag “Bill Dickey”

Gary Carter: Better Than You Remember

Recently, from some of the comments I’ve been reading following the death of Gary Carter, it has become obvious to me that many people seriously underrate the actual baseball career of Gary Carter.

While virtually everyone praises his enthusiasm for the game, and for his calm, stoic demeanor in the face of life-threatening tragedy, also implicit in these generally positive comments has been a miss-perception of what Carter’s true value was as a baseball player.

So please allow me to indulge in a second consecutive post about Gary Carter.  Let me also add that Carter was not my favorite player on the Mets.  He ranked about third, behind Keith Hernandez and Dwight Gooden.

But let’s set the record straight.  Gary Carter was a great catcher who, without question, belongs in the Hall of Fame.  And it’s not just because he played for the Mets on a World Championship team.  That was simply the icing on the cake of a remarkable career.

It will be instructive to compare Carter’s career to the ten or so players generally considered to be among the finest catchers in baseball history.

Defensively, from all the stats I’ve seen, there are only about three catchers in history, (Bench, Pudge Rodriguez and Jim Sundberg) who rate better than Carter.  Carter’s career Def. WAR was 10.0.  Only Pudge Rodriguez (16.9) and Sundberg (10.4) actually rank higher in that regard.

Carter was a great defensive catcher (eight time leader in putouts, five time leader in assists) who could also hit.

As a hitter, only three catchers hit more homers, and one of them (Berra) played in a much better era for hitters.  Bench, whom many consider the greatest catcher of all-time, produced the following batting line: .267 / .342 / .476.  Carter, playing in a similar era but normally with worse teams than Bench, posted the following:  .262 / .335 / .439.  Not terribly different.

I like Hartnett, but playing in an extreme hitter’s era, when anyone’s grandma could hit .275, Hartnett (despite a 20-year career) never reached 2,000 hits or even 900 runs scored.  Defensively, he was a good catcher, but there have been several better.

Bill Dickey, like Hartnett, was a good hitter in a great hitter’s era.  Some power, good defense.  Interestingly, Dickey reached 130 games played just five times, and 120 games just seven times.   Carter played at least 130 games a total 12 times. Personally, I’ll take the more durable catcher, who also happens to hit with more power.

Mickey Cochrane, like Dickey and Hartnett, was a fine hitter in a great hitter’s era.  Cochrane won two MVP awards (1928, 1934) but with just two homers, 74 runs scored, 35 extra base hits, and 180 total bases, it’s hard to see how he deserved the second one.

Cochrane’s career OPS+ 128 is impressive for a catcher, but his career Def. WAR of -0.3 indicates he would never have beaten out Carter for a Gold Glove award.

Munson hit for a higher average than Carter, but had much less power (113 homers) and seldom drew any walks to help his on-base percentage.  At the time of his death, his career was already in decline, so I don’t think he would have piled up a lot more stats if he’d gotten to play another four or five years.

Campanella had three great years, but so has Joe Mauer.  Campanella is much beloved because he played for the second most written about franchise in sports history (other than the Yanks), and because of the tragedy of his career-ending injury.  (And I mean no disrespect to Campanella or his fans.)  Gary Carter, by contrast, had about six great years, and several other very good ones.

Ted Simmons was an excellent hitter who happened to do some catching.  After age 32, he was moved out from behind home-plate, and piled up some additional numbers as a DH / First Baseman.  Simmons and Carter played contemporaneously.  But no manager of their era would have chosen Simmons as his starting catcher over Carter.

Playing for the Mets didn’t help Carter’s rep as much as playing his first ten years (his best years) up in Montreal hurt his rep.  If he’d played his Entire career in New York, he’d be rated among the top half dozen who ever played.

The only catchers I’d probably rate ahead of Carter are Bench, Berra, Pudge Rodriguez, and Piazza (for his offense only; defensively he was closer to Ted Simmons than to Johnny Bench.)

Here are the total number of seasons that each of the following catchers reached at least 6.0 WAR (combined offense and defense) in their careers:

1)  Bench – 5
2)  Carter – 5
3)  Piazza – 4
4)  Fisk – 3
5)  Mauer – 3
6)  Rodriguez – 3
7)  Berra – 2
8)  Campanella – 2
9)  Freehan – 2
10)  Munson – 2
11) Simmons – 2
12) Cochrane – 1
13) Dickey – 1
14) Hartnett – 1
15) Howard – 1
16) Porter – 1
17) Posada – 1
18) Torre – 1

It would be sadly ironic, therefore, if the outpouring of grief, support and condolences for Carter and his family resulted in his true legacy as a baseball player being relegated to, as they say, the dustbin of history.

Clearly, Gary Carter wasn’t simply a competitive guy with a jovial personality who happened to be a pretty good Major League catcher.

Gary Carter was, without question, one of the finest catchers who ever played the game.

The Baseball Hall of Fame: A Qualitative Analysis, Part 2

In Part 1 of this series, we looked at the first 45 players inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.  The purpose of doing so was to determine if it is true, as so many claim, that The Hall was once the exclusive domain of the truly excellent, the best of the best.

After examining all the players inducted into The Hall through 1949, we have to conclude that even in its early years, the BBWAA and the various Old Timers Committees were already arriving at some questionable choices for player inductions into the Hall of Fame.

Fully 38% of the first 45 players chosen can be regarded as specious choices.

Although my analysis is not entirely a matter of sabermetrics, modern measurements like WAR, OPS+ and ERA+ do figure prominently in my evaluations.

Now let’s take a look at the subsequent players elected into The Hall for the years 1951-69.

1951 — BBWAA: Jimmie Foxx, Mel Ott

Nine-time All Star, three-time MVP Jimmie Foxx, who came within two homers of matching Ruth’s

Jimmie Foxx of the Boston Red Sox, cropped fro...

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single season record just five years after it was set, received just 9% of the vote in his first year on the ballot in 1936.  A word of caution to the Class of 2012, that’s what a crowded ballot can do.

Ott, like Foxx, topped 500 home runs, thus helping to create the myth that 500 home runs is the standard by which power hitters must be judged to gain entrance into The Hall.

1952 – BBWAA:  Harry Heilmann, Paul Waner

Heilmann, with a pocket full of batting titles and a career OPS+ of 148, received 1.7% of the vote from the BBWAA in 1942.  A decade later, without producing so much as a bunt single in the interim, the same BBWAA gave him 86.8% of the vote.

This Waner brother (Big Poison) actually does belong in The Hall.

1953 — BBWAA: Dizzy Dean, Al Simmons. VC: Chief Bender, Bobby Wallace

Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water, the dorsal fin of the Veteran’s Committee appears on the horizon.

The Veteran’s Committee absolutely loves light-hitting, slick fielding middle infielders.  Bobby Wallace’s defensive WAR (11.9) is the same as Bill Mazeroski’s, and is very close to Rabbit Maranville’s 11.8 as well as Phil Rizzuto’s 11.0.  Theoretically, this should bode well for Omar Vizquel (13.3) once he becomes eligible.  Undoubtedly, some will argue that a Vizquel induction would seriously erode the high standards of The Hall.  Clearly, as you can see, that would not be the case.

Dean had a great run, but flamed out fast.  He had five great seasons in a row, winning an MVP award along with two second place finishes, and one other good year.  Essentially, he paved the way for Sandy Koufax, and his equally brief run of greatness, to make it into The Hall.

Chief Bender, a Native-American of the Chippewa tribe, pitched for three A’s championship teams in

Chief (Charles Albert) Bender, pitcher and inf...

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the early years of the 20th century.  In his rookie season, 1903, he led the league by plunking 25 hitters in 270 inning pitched.  Don’t mess with the Chippewa.  But his career ERA+, 112, and his WAR, 38.5, are significantly lower than the vast majority of pitchers elected to The Hall up to this point.

1954 — BBWAA: Bill Dickey, Rabbit Maranville, Bill Terry.

Eleven-time All Star Bill Dickey is still among the ten best catchers who ever played the game, so at the time of his induction, few catchers in history had ever been as good as he was.

Rabbit Maranville:  See Bobby Wallace above.

Bill Terry was similar to George Sisler in that he was a slick-fielding first baseman who hit for high averages, but delivered little else of significance between the foul poles.  Won a batting title.  Career Offensive WAR 48.1.  Essentially, he was John Olerud.

1955 — BBWAA: Joe DiMaggio, Gabby Hartnett, Ted Lyons, Dazzy Vance. VC: Home Run Baker, Ray Schalk.

Hard to believe that by 1955, Joltin’ Joe was already eligible for the Hall of Fame.  In his short 13-year career, he finished in the top ten in MVP voting ten times, winning the award three times.  Certainly an obvious choice for The Hall.  Interestingly, his closest modern comparable player (according to Baseball-Reference) eligible for The Hall is Larry Walker.

For seven consecutive seasons, from age 31-37, Dazzy Vance led the N.L. in strikeouts.  I’m of the opinion that this kind of dominance merits Hall membership.

Of the pair of catchers elected, Gabby Hartnett was a solid choice, but Ray Schalk was a poor one.  In fact, Schalk’s election set the bar so low (at least for catchers) that it is possible to make a case that Butch Wynegar deserves to be inducted into The Hall.

Mark McGwire hit 583 home runs.  Home Run Baker hit 96.  They both led their league in home runs four times.  McGwire’s career WAR was 63.1.  Baker’s was 63.7.  This is as good an indication as any of how misleading traditional counting stats (home runs, batting average, RBI, etc.) can be.  Baker does belong in The Hall.

Ted Lyon’s election set the stage for later misfires like Eppa Rixey, Burleigh Grimes, Red Ruffing and Waite Hoyt.

1956 — BBWAA: Joe Cronin, Hank Greenberg.

Two solid choices for the Hall of Fame.

1957 — VC: Sam Crawford

MLB career leader in triples with 309.  Career OPS+ 144.  Career WAR 76.6.  Solid choice.

1959 — VC: Zack Wheat.

Wheat is a marginal HOF’er.  Won a single, empty batting title in 1918 (18 extra base hits.)  OPS+ 129 is the same as Freddy Lynn.  Career WAR 57.8 puts him in Willie Davis territory.

During the 1950’s, then, just 14 of 21 players inducted into the Hall of Fame were high quality choices.  Therefore, about one-third of all the players inducted during this decade were of questionable merit (or worse.)  Thus, out of the first 66 players inducted into The Hall between 1936-59, just 42 were what can be described as high quality choices.  That represents just about 64% of all players chosen up to this point.

This begs the question, so when does this Golden Age of the Hall of Fame actually begin?  Perhaps we’ll have better luck during the 1960’s, the next installment of this series.

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Best Forgotten Baseball Seasons: Part 15 – The St. Louis Cardinals

Only 13 catchers have ever been inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

They are:

1) Johnny Bench  2) Yogi Berra  3) Roy Campanella  4)  Carlton Fisk  5) Gary Carter  6) Micky Cochrane  7) Gabby Hartnett  8 ) Rick Ferrell  9) Buck Ewing  10) Bill Dickey  11) Ernie Lombardi  12) Roger Bresnahan  13) Ray Schalk

Certainly, as soon as Mike Piazza becomes eligible, he will join this group.  Ivan (Pudge) Rodriguez is  likely to become the 15th member, assuming he doesn’t get caught in the steroid scandal.

Current Twins catcher Joe Mauer, owner of three A.L. batting titles, is the best bet among the current crop to make it into Cooperstown someday.  Still, that means that fewer than 20 catchers will enjoy their place in the HOF for at least the next couple of decades.

On average, then, approximately one catcher per Major League decade is enshrined in The Hall.

Obviously, the catching position, along with third base, is one of the two most underrepresented positions in The Hall.

Yet there is a catcher with remarkable career statistics who has never even sniffed Hall membership, peaking at just 3.7 percent of the Hall of Fame vote in 1994.

His name is Ted Simmons.

Simmons made his Major League debut with the Cardinals in 1968, the year Bob Gibson and company defeated the Tigers in the World Series.  Simmons retired 20 years later as a member of the Atlanta Braves.

Simmons spent the first thirteen years of his career with the Cardinals.  During that time, he was named to six All-Star teams, and he finished in the top 10 in MVP voting three times.  As an example of how much he was respected as a hitter, he twice led the N.L. in Intentional Walks.

But it is when one compares Simmons career stats with the other 13 HOF catchers that the magnitude of his accomplishments becomes apparent.

Ted Simmons hit more career doubles (483) than any catcher in the HOF.  Only the still active Pudge Rodriguez has ever hit more among players whose primary position was catcher.

Simmons’ 1389 career RBI’s are surpassed only by Yogi Berra.

Simmons’ 1074 runs scored ranks  fifth when compared to HOF catchers.  His .285 career batting average would be tied for sixth with Yogi Berra.  Simmons’ career On-Base Percentage (.348) is higher than those compiled by Fisk, Carter, and Bench, just two percentage points behind (again) Yogi Berra.

Ted Simmons walked more times in his career (855) than he struck out (694).

Simmons career OPS+ (117) is exactly the same as Carlton Fisk.

Ted Simmons amassed 3,793 total bases, good for 100th all-time for ALL Major League hitters.

Perhaps most impressively, not one catcher in the Hall of Fame has more career hits than Ted Simmons (2,472.)  Even Mike Piazza has fewer career hits than Ted Simmons.

Defensively, Simmons was overshadowed by Johnny Bench, then later by Gary Carter.  There is no question that Bench and Carter were the two best N.L. catchers of their respective eras.  But Ted Simmons was a good defensive catcher as well.

Although Simmons never won a Gold Glove, he did lead the league in assists twice: 1972, 1978.  He ranks 19th among all catchers in total putouts in for his career.

Ted Simmons’ Best Forgotten Season was 1975, when, as a 25-year old, he hit .332, slashed 193 hits, and compiled 285 total bases, all career highs.   He also drove in exactly 100 runs (one of three times in his career that he would reach that mark), and he also drew 63 walks while fanning just 35 times in 581 at bats.  His adjusted OPS+ was 142, sixth best in the N.L.

Simmons was a solid run producer as well.  His 108 Runs Created in 1975 was fifth best in the league.  He finished sixth in N.L. MVP voting in ’75.

But Simmons was one of those players, like Eddie Murray, who had about five different seasons that could be argued was his finest, depending on which statistics you choose to emphasize.

In 1977, he recorded a career-high on-base percentage of .408 along with a career OPS of .908.  That same season, he also led the N.L. in Intentional Walks with 25.  His WAR score of 6.3 was also a career high.  He also finished ninth in MVP voting that season.

In 1978, Simmons reached career highs in doubles (40), Slugging Percentage (.512) and OPS+ (148).

In 1980, his final season in St. Louis before he was traded to Milwaukee, he was awarded his one and only Silver Slugger award.

Simmons’ strength — his overall consistency — may have been his greatest enemy, however.  Because he never had a huge season where he, like Johnny Bench, won an MVP award or led his team to a World Championship, he tended to be overlooked and taken for granted.

Simmons never led his league in Home Runs, RBI’s, Batting Average, Runs Scored, or any other hitting category other than Intentional Walks and Grounded Into Double Plays.  He also never won a Gold Glove award.

Clearly, though, Ted Simmons deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.

In fact, I would rate him first among all the players who deserve to be enshrined in Cooperstown but who have not yet received that honor.  I would also rate him ahead of at least two catchers who are already in the Hall of Fame:  Ray Schalk and Rick Ferrell.

Writer and statistician Bill James ranks Ted Simmons as the tenth best catcher of all time.  If you are in the top ten all time at any position on the baseball diamond, let alone the most difficult position of all, how can you not be considered good enough to be in the Hall of Fame?

Simmons had the bad luck to be born into the same generation that produced Johnny Bench, Carlton Fisk, and Thurman Munson.  Had he been born a decade earlier, or a decade later, he would have stood out as the best catcher of his generation, and his plaque would already be in Cooperstown.

In baseball, as in life, timing is everything.  But the time has come for Ted Simmons’ career accomplishments to be recognized and enshrined in the Hall of Fame.

Baseball 2010: An Old-Timer’s Game

It has often been said that baseball is a young man’s game.

And truth be told, major league baseball is in a transition period now, with many of the game’s stars of the ’90’s and the early part of this century giving way to a whole new crop of young and talented players.

Over the past couple of years or so, we have witnessed the retirements (or the virtual retirements) of Greg Maddux, Roger Clemens, Tom Glavine, Frank Thomas, Randy Johnson, NOMAR!, Jeff Kent, Gary Sheffield, and Pedro Martinez, to name a few.

Meanwhile, other former stars, such as Ken Griffey, Jr., David Ortiz, and Manny Ramirez are clearly close to the end of the line.

In their place we have seen an enormous influx of exciting new players who are still just 27-years old or younger.  This group represents the vanguard of a new, (hopefully) post-steroids generation.  This list includes several young players who will some day end up in the Hall of Fame.

Most of these names are already very familiar to you:  Joe Mauer, Hanley Ramirez, Ryan Braun, Justin Verlander, Tim Lincecum, Miguel Cabrera, Justin Upton, Matt Kemp, Clayton Kershaw, Zach Greinke, Prince Fielder, Dustin Pedroia, Evan Longoria, Felix Hernandez, Ryan Zimmerman, and David Wright.

Even younger players such as Stephen Strasburg, Jason Heyward, Brian Matusz, Matt Wieters, and Ike Davis are also on the way, or have arrived within the past year.

Yet there is a group of graying players for whom Father Time seems to have given a free pass, at least as of this writing.  These players, all at least 36-years old  (which is like 65, in baseball years), show no signs of slowing down.

Actually, in some cases, they did show signs of slowing down, but appear to have caught a second wind.  Several of them are either obvious future Hall of Famers, or should, at the very least, merit some consideration regarding their Hall worthiness.

So here they are:

1)  Jorge Posada: Through tonight’s game against Baltimore, Jorge has produced some impressive numbers.  He is hitting .316 with five homers and 12 RBI, while slugging over .600.  At age 38, he keeps himself in excellent shape, and the Yankees are committed to giving him extra rest throughout the season.  For these reasons, I believe Posada will continue to produce at a high level throughout this season.

Posada has played in parts of 15 seasons, and, aside from a few World Series rings, he has put up some nice numbers in his career.  He has hit 248 career homers, driven in 976 runs, hit 346 doubles, has a career batting average of just under .280, with a .380 on base average.

He is 7th all-time on the Yankees career doubles list, ahead of Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra and Bill Dickey.  He is also 8th on the Yankees career home run list, just three behind Graig Nettles for 7th place.

Posada also has five Silver Sluggers to his credit, has played in five All-Star games (with a sixth all but assured this year), and he has finished in the top ten in MVP voting twice.

A serious argument could be made that Posada just might belong in the Hall of Fame.

For now, he will have to remain content hitting the stitching off of baseballs.

2)  Mariano Rivera: “Mo” has not allowed an earned run so far this season.  He is a perfect 6 for 6 in save opportunities.  His WHIP is 0.57.  He is now 40 years old, pitching just like he did back when he was 30.  An obvious Hall-of-Famer, there really isn’t any reason to spend time rehashing his career numbers.  The only question is, will his greatness ever end?

3)  Andy Pettitte: (No, I didn’t intend this to be Yankee night, but here we are.)

Believe it or not, he is off to the best start of his 16-year career.  Through his first four starts, he is 3-0, with 22 strikeouts in 28 innings.  His ERA is 1.29, and his WHIP is 1.07.  Clearly, the soon-to-be 38 year old Pettitte isn’t just hanging around waiting for the playoffs to begin.

That’s when he really excels.

Pettitte now has a career record of 232-135, a .632 win-loss percentage.  He has finished in the top 10 in Cy Young award voting five times.  And he has 18 career post-season victories.  At this point, his resume probably isn’t quite that of a Hall-of-Famer.  But if he continues to pitch this well for another 2-3 years, we’ll have to take another look.

4)  Jim Edmonds: Now playing for the Brewers, Edmonds was actually out of major league baseball last season.  But he earned his way onto the team this spring, and I’m sure the Brewers are happy he did.

So far this season, Edmonds (now approaching 40 years old), has hit better than .300, including a .340 batting average against right-handed pitching.  He has slugged almost .500, and he has scored 10 runs.  As part of a platoon, he gets most of the playing time, and he has made the most of it.

Edmonds would get my vote for the Hall of Fame as well.  His defense in center field alone would merit some consideration (eight Gold Gloves and several circus catches.)  But he also has 383 career home runs, 421 doubles, over 1200 runs scored, and nearly 1200 RBI’s.  Only a few center-fielders in history have combined his defensive prowess with his offensive statistics.

5)  Ivan (Pudge) Rodriguez: Although recently side-lined with a back problem, when Pudge has played this season, he has been excellent.  In 56 at bats for the Washington Nationals, he is hitting a mere .410 with 23 hits, including 7 doubles and 10 runs scored.

Not bad for a 38-year old catcher who happens to be a life-time .300 hitter with over 300 home runs, 13 Gold Gloves, and 14 All-Star game appearances.  A first-ballot Hall-of-Famer, to be sure.

6)  Jamie Moyer: Pitching for the Phillies, the 47-year old (!) Moyer is off to a 2-1 start, with a respectable 1.278 WHIP.  He has fanned 11 in 18 innings.

Although Moyer now has 260 career wins, he is in the Tommy John-Jim Kaat class of pitchers.  That is to say, he has put together a fine career, but falls just short of belonging in The Hall.

7)  Ichiro Suzuki: Perhaps because of his physique and his unique style of play, it’s easy to forget that Ichiro, now at age 36, is not that young anymore.  But he is off to his usual start this season, hitting around .310 with six stolen bases and 13 runs scored.  Ichiro is in such great physical condition that, although he is slowing down a bit, he should remain a productive, above-average player for another couple of years.

Although I listed Ichiro as an overrated player in a prior blog-post, I still believe he will, and should be, elected to the Hall of Fame someday.

Each of these seven players not only continues to be highly productive, but they provide an invaluable link between the younger players, and all those who came before.  It’s how baseball’s greatness is continually perpetuated from one generation to the next.

If there are other worthy performers who you believe should be included on my list, please let me know.

And, as always, thanks for reading.

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