The On Deck Circle

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Archive for the tag “Dave Stieb”

Top Ten Pitchers Who Never Won 20 Games

Whether it’s fair or not, a 20-win season has long been regarded as a mark of excellence for a pitcher.  Up until perhaps the past decade or so, an ace pitcher was expected to win at least 20 games in a season.  Anything less than that was considered a bit of a disappointment, regardless of how strong that pitcher’s other stats may have been.  This led me to wonder which of the best pitchers in MLB history (using WAR as a career measure of success) never enjoyed a 20-win campaign.

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

Dave Stieb pitching in Toronto, Canada in 1985. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I decided to exclude currently active pitchers as well as, for obvious reasons, pitchers who worked primarily in relief during their careers.  Here’s what I came up with:

1)  Chuck Finley (L):  200-173, WAR:  58.5

2)  Frank Tanana (L):  240-236, WAR:  57.5

3)  Dave Stieb (R):  176-137, WAR:  57.0

4)  Kevin Appier (R):  169-137, WAR:  55.0

5)  Kenny Rogers (L):  219-156, WAR:  51.1

6)  Mark Langston (L):  179-158, WAR:  50.3

7)  Dennis Martinez (R):  245-193, WAR:  49.5

8)  Jimmy Key (L):  186-117, WAR:  49.4

9)  Milt Pappas (R):  209-164, WAR:  46.8

10)  Steve Rogers (R):  158-152, WAR:  45.3

As you can see, if you came of age as a baseball fan around the 1980’s, you’ll be quite familiar with many of these names.  Only a couple of the pitchers on this list go back much further than that, with Milt Pappas apparently being the “old-timer” on this list.

Exactly half the pitchers on this list were southpaws, and two guys named Rogers are represented as well.  Each of the first eight guys on the list pitched either primarily or exclusively in the American League.  Milt Pappas split his career almost evenly between the two leagues, and Steve Rogers is the only pitcher on this list to have pitched exclusively in the National League.

Half of these pitchers won at least 200 games, and all finished with records above .500.  Only three of the pitchers on this list reached 19 wins in a season:  Langston (twice), Tanana, and Steve Rogers.

In their prime, each of these pitchers was very tough, and if any of them had pitched on consistently better teams, or were a bit luckier, they might not have appeared on this list at all.

Five Best Pitchers Not in the Hall of Fame – The Pai Mei Edition

This post is basically a sequel to my prior post, “Best Position Players Not in the Hall of Fame.”  This time, we’ll be taking a look at five pitchers I’ve chosen as the best pitchers not in the Hall of Fame.

Let me say up front that this list was considerably more difficult to put together than the last one I wrote regarding position players.  Having to choose just one player for each position was actually a bit easier than narrowing down a list that could have included about 15-20 pitchers, and culling it to just five.  I freely admit up front that I fully expect my choices will cause some raised eyebrows,  awkwardly resulting in several of you uncomfortably resembling Pai Mei in the movie, “Kill Bill, Vol. 2.

As for the criteria I used to make this list, please go back and read the first paragraph of my previous post; they are unchanged for this post.  There is, however, one caveat.  I generally tend to prefer pitchers who have two or three great seasons and a few adequate ones over pitchers who are solid soldiers over long periods of time.

Here, then, is my five-man rotation.  They are not necessarily in the order I would choose them in terms of quality.  I simply chose to list them in alphabetical order.

1)  Kevin Brown:  The Kevin Brown fan-club just doesn’t seem to be one of the more effective lobbying groups in America these days.  Their candidate, Kevin Brown, is rated by Baseball-Reference.com (forward and henceforth, B-R), as the 45th best starting pitcher of all-time.  Virtually all the pitchers rated ahead of him are either already in The Hall, or soon will be.  Yet Kevin Brown, in his first, and last, year on the ballot last year received just 2.1% of the vote for the HOF from the BBWAA (the people who get to decide such things.)

Yet Kevin Brown was truly an outstanding pitcher.  His career record of 211-144, and an ERA of 3.28 are not unlike several other pitchers in The Hall, such as Catfish Hunter and Dazzy Vance.  Moreover, his career WAR of 64.5 is similar to the average WAR, 67.9, of the 58 starting pitchers already in The Hall.

At various times in his 19-year career, Brown led his league in WAR twice, wins once, ERA twice, WHIP twice, games started three times, innings pitched once, shutouts once, and ERA+ once.  He struck out at least 200 batters for four consecutive years, from 1997-2000.  His 2,397 career strikeouts are in the top 40 of all-time.

Over the course of his career, Brown never lost more than 12 games in a season, and he never lost more than nine games in any of his final six full years.

Perhaps most impressively, Brown’s ERA+ of 215, while pitching for the Marlins in 1996, is the 22nd best single season score in baseball history.  To provide some context, Justin Verlander’s score in 2011, his Triple Crown-winning Cy Young season, was 172, just the 142nd highest score ever recorded.

But Kevin Brown wasn’t well-liked by the press, he was too well-traveled (six different teams), and he never won a Cy Young award (though he deserved a couple of them.)  Therefore, Kevin Brown is one of my five choices for best pitchers not in The Hall, and probably will remain as such indefinitely.

2)  David Cone:  B-R ranks Cone 61st all-time, ahead of Hall of Fame pitchers Don Sutton, Early Wynn, and Dizzy Dean, among others.  As with Kevin Brown, Cone’s Hall chances were at least in part undermined by pitching for five different teams in 17 seasons.  The BBWAA is like your mother, suspicious of the girl who’s had several boyfriends before she met you.  There’s a word for girls like that, mister.  They are sometimes referred to derogatorily as “free agents.”  Well, that’s two words.

Cone, unlike Kevin Brown, actually did win a Cy Young award.  But as luck would have it, he won it during the decapitated 1994 season, and he won it out in K.C. where hardly anyone noticed anyway.  Cone also pitched well enough to have won the award in 1988, when he posted a 20-3 record with a 2.22 ERA for the Mets (he finished 3rd in the voting behind Orel Hershiser and — “gulp” — Danny Jackson.)

Cone did not often receive a lot of run support from his teammates, either.  For example, from 1989-92, he pitched well enough with the Mets to have won 17-19 games per year.  Yet, he never won more than 14 games for them in any one of those years.  Then, in 1993 with the Royals, despite posting an excellent ERA+ of 138 through 34 starts, his record for the year was just 11-14.

David Cone was a fantastic strikeout pitcher, recording at least 190 K’s in a season nine times, including over 200 six times.  He led the N.L. in strikeouts twice, and his 2,668 career K’s ranks an impressive 22nd on the all-time list.

In 1998, a full decade after he’d first won 20 games while pitching for the Mets, Cone posted a 20-7 record for the Yankees at age 35.  Lest you mistakenly believe that Cone was coasting on run support that year pitching for a great Yankee team, consider that he struck out 209 batters in 207 innings pitched, while posting an impressive 1.18 WHIP in the tough A.L. East.

On July 18th, 1999, Cone capped off his impressive career by tossing a perfect game against the Montreal Expos for the Yankees.  At the time, it was just the 16th perfect game in baseball history.

He finished his career with a record of 194-126, and an ERA of 3.46 (3.13 in the N.L.)

David Cone was an easy pick for this list.

English: 1933 Goudey baseball card of Wesley &...

English: 1933 Goudey baseball card of Wesley “Wes” Ferrell of the Cleveland Indians #218. PD-not-renewed. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

3)  Wes Ferrell:  Ranked 41st by B-R, Wes Ferrell is actually the highest rated pitcher on this list. Ferrell was perhaps the best hitting pitcher in baseball history.  More on that later.

Ferrell’s career ERA of 4.04 may strike you as surprisingly high for someone on a list like this, but Ferrell suffered the misfortune of pitching almost entirely in the A.L. during the 1920’s and ’30’s.  His career ERA+ (116), which attempts to adjust for time and place, was actually very decent. It is the same, by the way, as modern-day aces Chris Carpenter and Dan Haren.

Ferrell, like the two previously mentioned pitchers on this list, tended to move around a lot, pitching for six teams in 15 years.  He spent his best years pitching for first Cleveland, then the Red Sox.  Wes Ferrell won at least 20 games in a season six times, leading the league in wins with 25 (for the Red Sox) in 1935.  Yet because his career went downhill fast at around age 29, he finished his career with a record of 193-128 (extremely similar to David Cone, as you might have noticed.)

Ferrell led the A.L. in WAR in 1935, but finished second in the MVP voting to Hank Greenberg.  He finished second in WAR for pitchers four times in his career, and finished third in another season.

He led his league in games started twice, in complete games four times, and in innings pitched three times.

Now a word regarding his hitting.  Not many pitchers can boast that they were regularly used as a pinch-hitter throughout their career.  Ferrell can.  In 1,345 plate appearances, Ferrell batted .280 while sporting a .351 on-base percentage.  He slugged 38 homers and drove in 208 runs.  In 1935, he led the Red Sox with a .347 batting average, accumulating 52 hits in 150 at bats.  He also hit seven home runs that year; only three of his teammates hit more.

Taking both his fine pitching and his extraordinary hitting into consideration, Wes Ferrell deserves his place on this list.

4)  Bret Saberhagen:  I’m sure this choice will raise some eyebrows, a la Pai Mei.  The argument against Saberhagen usually revolves around the specious observation that, other than his two Cy Young award seasons, he didn’t have much else to show for his career.  I beg to differ.  Here’s why.

While it is true that his two Cy Young award seasons were fantastic, he had three other seasons that were very nearly as good.  But let’s start with his Cy Young years.

In 1985, Saberhagen was a 21-year old pitching in his second season.  Aside from compiling a record of 20-6, he posted a 2.87 ERA in 235 innings pitched.  He was second in the league in wins, and third in ERA.  His ERA+ was an excellent 143.

He led A.L. pitchers in WHIP (1.o58) and WAR (6.9).  Demonstrating the pinpoint control that would mark his career, he also walked just 38 batters, highly unusual for such a young pitcher.

In 1989, he was a 25-year old veteran of six MLB seasons.  It was his finest year.  He led the league in wins, accumulating a record of 23-6.  He led the league in ERA (2.16), in ERA+ (a remarkable 180), in WHIP (0.961), in WAR (9.2) in complete games (12), and in innings pitched (262.1).

He also struck out a career high 193 batters while walking just 43.  His 4.49 strikeout to walk ratio that season was one of three times that he led his league in that category during his career.

So what about his other, nearly equally fine seasons?

In 1987, though his record was “only” 18-10, his ERA+ of 136 was actually fourth best in the league. His WAR was 7.7, good for 3rd best in the league, and actually better than his first Cy Young award season.  His 1.16 WHIP was also 3rd best in the A.L.  Remarkably, despite being arguably the 3rd best pitcher in the A.L. that year, he received NO votes of any kind whatsoever for the Cy Young award.  Nine pitchers received votes, including Jeff Reardon, Doyle Alexander and Teddy Higuera.  But Sabes was, inexplicably, completely shut out.

Even in 1988, perhaps his worst full season while pitching for the Royals, Saberhagen allowed three runs or fewer in 22 of his 35 starts, meaning, of course, that he pitched well enough to win 22 ball games.  In six other starts, he allowed exactly four earned runs each.  That means that in only seven starts he pitched poorly, just about one start per month.  Clearly, he was not at this best that year, but he certainly pitched better than his final 14-16 record would indicate.

In 1991, his final year in K.C., despite missing about a half-dozen starts due to injury, Sabes posted a 3.07 ERA and an ERA+ of 135 (each in the top 10 in the A.L.) through 196 innings.  His 4.9 WAR was 7th best in the A.L.  Yet, due to his truncated 13-8 record, this is considered by many to have been another “off-year” for him.

Sidelined for the most part by injuries in 1992-93, his first two seasons with the Mets, really undercut Saberhagen’s chances for eventual enshrinement in Cooperstown.  But in 1994, he did all he could to try to turn his legacy around.  To me, in some ways, 1994 was his most remarkable year.

That year, Saberhagen opened the season as the Mets #5 starting pitcher.  His health was still in question from the previous two years.  In his second start that year, he walked two batters.  That would be his wildest start of the season.   In only one other start that year did he walk as many batters in a game.  In his final 19 starts of that season, he walked fewer than two batters per game.

In 22 of his 28 starts in ’94, he walked either one batter, or no batters at all.  The most jaw-dropping stat of the season?  Sabes faced 696 batters that year, and only six of them reached a count of 3-0 against Saberhagen!  And of those lucky six batters sitting pretty at 3-0 against Sabes, just one of them ended up with a base-hit.  Another one drew a very rare walk.  So, in the best hitter’s count there is, four of the six hitters made outs.

Finally, only three pitchers in history have ever enjoyed a season in which they averaged 10.0 strikeouts per walk:  Jim Whitney in 1884, Cliff Lee in 2010, and Bret Saberhagen in 1994.  And of the three, Bret Saberhagen claims the best single-season strikeout to walk ratio in history, 11.0.  In 177 inning pitched (until the season ended prematurely in August), he struck out 143 batters, and walked just 13.  In fact, the thirteen home runs he surrendered that year match his total of walks for the season.

Saberhagen was defeated just four times in 24 starts that year, while winning 14 games.  If the season had been allowed to continue, he might have had a chance to win 20 games.  He finished 3rd in the N.L. Cy Young voting that year, behind Greg Maddux (who deserved the award) and Ken Hill (whose WAR was about half as good as Sabes.)

Though Saberhagen never enjoyed another season quite that stunning ever again, he did post a cumulative record of 25-14 in 1998-99 while pitching for the Red Sox in the always tough A.L. East. Those were his age 34 and 35 seasons.

For his career, Saberhagen compiled a record of 167-117, not vastly different from Koufax’s record of 165-87, and Koufax generally pitched for better teams.  While we’re on the subject, Koufax’s career ERA+ was 131; Sabes was 126.

Through 2,324 innings pitched, Koufax accumulated a WAR of 50.3.  In 2,562 innings, (a difference of about one season’s worth of innings between the two), Sabes accumulated a WAR of 56.0.  Each experienced a career marred by injury.

Koufax won three Cy Young awards, and finished third once.  Saberhagen won two Cy Young awards and finished third once.  Koufax had five excellent seasons, one of which was shortened by injury.  Saberhagen had five excellent seasons, one of which was shortened by injury, another by a work-stoppage.

I’m not saying that Saberhagen was Koufax’s equal, but to be able to make a reasonable comparison between the two without embarrassing Saberhagen indicates that Saberhagen belongs on the list of five best pitchers not in the Hall of Fame.

5)  Dave Stieb:  Jack Morris was not the best pitcher of the 1980’s, but Dave Stieb might have been.  Unfortunately for Stieb, he pitched the first few years of his career for some very bad Blue Jays’ teams.  From when he began his career in 1979 through 1983, the Jays never finished higher than 4th place in their division, and usually finished much lower.  As the Jays gradually improved, Stieb remained their ace through 1990.

In the decade of the 1980’s, Stieb posted a record of 158-115, with ERA’s generally below 3.35 in all but three seasons.  Stieb led the A.L. in ERA with a 2.48 mark in 1985, and he led the league in ERA+ in both 1984-85.  His WAR for the years 1980-90, inclusive, was 51.7.  For those same years, Jack Morris accumulated just 28.1 WAR.  In fact, if you throw in Morris’ two best years outside of that decade, 1979 and 1991, his WAR still rises to just 37.8 over 13 seasons.

Though neither pitcher ever won a Cy Young award, Stieb posted the best pitching WAR in his league three times.  Jack Morris’ best showing in WAR for any season was just fifth best.  In other words, Stieb pitched well enough to have deserved three Cy Young awards.  Morris never pitched well enough to win even one.

B-R ranks Stieb as the 64th best starting pitcher ever.  Considering that MLB is now in its 15th decade of existence, that’s a pretty strong showing.  Stieb’s career Win Probability Added Score of +22.26 wins ranks 50th best all-time among pitchers.  That score indicates, given an average team, the probable number of wins a given player is “worth,”  or can be said to have influenced (either positively or negatively.)

Due to the nine seasons during which Stieb pitched well over 200 innings, he was essentially out of gas by his age 33 season.  A seven-time All Star, his career record of 176-137 certainly does not reflect his true excellence as a pitcher for a solid decade.  Still, there are more than enough impressive statistics on his resume to easily consider him to be one of the top five pitchers not in the Hall of Fame.

Honorable Mention –  Here are some other pitchers I seriously considered for this list:

Rick Reuschel, Luis Tiant, Orel Hershiser, Tommy John, Jim Kaat, and Ron Guidry, among others.  Who would you have added or subtracted?  Let me know what you think.

Pitching WAR Analysis: The First Seven Years

Using my previous post about Roy Oswalt as a jumping off point, I decided to analyze forty semi-random pitchers’ cumulative WAR (Wins Above Replacement) for their first seven consecutive years in the Majors.  Working under the assumption that Roy Oswalt would rate higher than the average Dick Ruthven, Roger Pavlik or John Burkett, I didn’t hesitate to compare Oswalt’s WAR for Seasons 1-7 against many of the best pitchers in history.

In some cases, I decided to skip a particular season for a starting pitcher who made just a handful of starts in an injury abbreviated year, and move on to his next full season.  For a handful of these pitchers, seven consecutive full seasons of pitching was about all they could muster.

As with all lists, it begins with the caveat that we are looking at a snapshot of a player’s career, as measured by just one of many available statistics.  So don’t (and I don’t really think there was a chance that you might have) wave this around as either evidence of my ignorance (which it may very well be) or as proof that could win you a bet in a pub argument (and why wasn’t I invited?)

In order then, from highest WAR to lowest, first seven seasons as a starting pitcher, since 1900, (leaving out about a million relevant pitchers):

English: Portrait of baseball player Christy M...

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1)  Walter Johnson (you were expecting maybe Buzz Capra?) – 57.0

2)  Grover Cleveland Alexander – 54.2

3)  Tom Seaver – 52.0

4)  Lefty Grove – 51.2

5)  Bob Feller – 49.5

6)  Roger Clemens – 46.9

7)  Robin Roberts – 46.3

8)  Ferguson Jenkins – 45.8

9)  Warren Spahn – 44.2

10) Pedro Martinez – 43.4

10) Christy Mathewson – 43.4

12) Rube Waddell – 41.9

13)  Johan Santana – 39.8

14)  Don Drysdale – 38.2

15)  Roy Halladay – 38.1

16) Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown – 37.6

17) Dave Stieb – (Yes, he really was this good) – 36.3

18) Steve Carlton – 36.0

19) Brett Saberhagen – 35.9

20) Dizzy Dean – 35.7

21) Phil Niekro – 35.4

22) Bob Gibson – 35.3

23) Nolan Ryan – 34.7

24) Randy Johnson – 34.6

25) Dwight Gooden – 34.4

26) Ron Guidry – 34.0

26) Sandy Koufax – 34.0

28) Mike Mussina – 32.9

29) Roy Oswalt – 32.7

30) Greg Maddux – 31.6

31) Curt Schilling – 29.2

32) Cliff Lee – 28.7

33) Jim Bunning – 28.4

34) Whitey Ford – 26.6

35) Don Sutton – 25.2

36) Jack Morris – 22.7

37) John Smoltz – 21.0

38) Kevin Brown – 20.8

38) Tom Glavine – 20.8

40) Catfish Hunter – 15.2

Keeping in mind that these numbers do not represent the final WAR totals of each of these pitchers’ respective careers, what does this data tell us?

For one thing, Oswalt’s first seven years measure up pretty well with pitchers like Greg Maddux and Mike Mussina, and are close on the heals of power pitchers like Gooden, Guidry and Koufax.*

*Incidentally, I love the synchronicity of those particular three pitchers, each of whom had a few great years, then burned out rather quickly.

It is also clear that if a pitcher is able to accumulate 40 WAR or better in his first seven years, he is very likely on his way to a Hall of Fame career.  On the other hand, if a pitcher accumulates 30-40 WAR in his first seven years, it is nearly impossible to predict if the rest of his career will buttress, or undermine, his HOF chances.

This list, which, let me remind you, is not meant to be comprehensive, also reminds us that our perceptions of baseball players are largely formed early in their careers, and that’s how we tend to remember them regardless of what they do for the rest of their careers.

Thus, some players like Kevin Brown never seem to get their due as excellent pitchers because the initial years of their careers were not terribly impressive.  Meanwhile, many, perhaps most baseball fans, are aware of the early greatness of Gooden, Guidry, Dizzy Dean, and others who didn’t last terribly long.

Finally, let this list be a cautionary tale that it is awfully difficult to accurately and objectively evaluate a pitcher’s career while it is still in progress.  It is not until he has tossed his final pitch and walked off the mound for the last time that we can begin to appreciate his contribution to baseball, and his place among the immortals.

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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