The On Deck Circle

Baseball History, Commentary and Analysis

Archive for the tag “Dizzy Dean”

Cleaning Up the Hall of Fame: Herb Pennock vs. Ron Guidry

In this, the fourth installment of this series, I propose replacing one Yankee (of questionable merit) in the Hall of Fame with another, better choice.  If it seems to you that this series is a bit top-heavy with Yankees up to this point, it’s probably because there are so many of them in The Hall in the first place.

Ron Guidry

Image by Willie Zhang via Flickr

Perhaps more surprisingly, there are other Yankees who are not in The Hall, but who have a better case for being enshrined there than several players, Yankee and non-Yankee alike, who currently enjoy a spot in the Hall of Fame Plaque Room.

When most people think of the 1927 Yankees, they think of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Tony Lazzeri, and perhaps outfielders Earle Combs and Bob Meusel.  Pitcher Waite Hoyt might also come to mind among serious baseball fans.

Herb Pennock?  Well, perhaps there are a few hardcore fans around who could toss that name at you, too.

Pennock was a good pitcher on a very good team, perhaps the best team in history.  Actually, Pennock (The Knight of Kennett Square), a Pennsylvania boy, first came up with the Philadelphia A’s in 1912.  By 1915 he had joined the Red Sox and enjoyed some success there until 1923, when the Sox sent him to the Yankees.  (Pennock did not play a major role in either of the Red Sox World Championship teams in 1915-16.)

Pennock, just hitting his stride now at age 29, was immediately successful pitching for New York’s American League team.  In his first season, he won 19 games and led the A.L. in winning percentage at .760.  In his next five seasons, he won 21, 16, 23, 19 and 17 games for the mighty Yankees.

Over the course of those half-dozen years, the best years of his career, Pennock led the league in winning percentage once, shutouts once, innings pitched once, and WHIP twice.  He also walked the fewest batters per nine innings three times.

Only once during those years did Pennock reach 100 strikeouts in a season.  He also never actually led the league in wins, either.  He did, however, finish 3rd in A.L. MVP voting in 1926 and 4th in 1924, so his contributions to those great Yankee teams did not go unnoticed.

Pennock pitched until age 40 when he retired after a short, one-year stint back in Boston.  He had pitched for the Yankees for eleven years, winning a total of 162 games while losing just 90.  Overall in his career, Pennock posted a record of 241-162, meaning he lost as many games in his entire two-decade career as he’d won pitching about half as long with the Yanks.

Although Pennock’s career win-loss record is very good, and he was an important part of the Yankees rotation during those years, Pennock was a questionable choice for election into the Hall of Fame in 1948.  His career WAR of 36.9 is the same as no-one’s-idea-of-a-Hall of Famer, Burt Hooton.

Pennock’s career ERA of 3.60 is pretty decent for the high scoring era in which he pitched the majority of his career, but his career ERA+ of 106 gives us a pretty good indication that he was, in reality just a bit better, all things considered, than the average pitcher in his day.

There’s nothing wrong with being a good player on a great team.  That, and a lot of durability are one of the quickest and surest paths into the Hall of Fame.

But then there’s true greatness which, even if it burns brightly for just a short time, blinds us with its brilliance.

Such was the career of Ron (Louisiana Lightning) Guidry.  Like Pennock, Guidry enjoyed his glory days with the Yankees.  Also like Pennock, Guidry was a lefty.  Unlike Pennock, though, and to quote Bruce Springsteen, “He could throw that speed-ball by you, make you look like a fool, boy.”

Guidry got a bit of a late start in Major League baseball, not landing a regular gig until he was already 26-years old in 1977.  But he was an immediate success, posting a 16-7 record with a 2.82 ERA, and an ERA+ of 140.  In the World Series, Guidry defeated the Dodgers in Game 4, pitching a complete game, 4-2 victory.

In 1978, however, Ron Guidry produced one of the greatest seasons by any pitcher in baseball history.

Guidry started 35 games, won 25 of them, lost only three times, and posted a ridiculous ERA of 1.74.  His ERA+ was an off-the-charts 208.  He also led the league in WHIP 0.946 and in shut-outs with nine.  He threw 16 complete games and struck out 248 batters in 273 innings pitched.  Guidry won the A.L. Cy Young award and finished second in MVP voting.

In the World Series, Guidry again pitched a complete game victory, this time over Dodger ace Don Sutton, 5-1.

The following season, Guidry led the A.L. in ERA (2.78), topped 200 strikeouts again, and posted an 18-8 record while finishing third in the Cy Young award voting.

Guidry would continue to have several productive seasons with New York, finishing in the top ten in Cy Young voting in 1981, 1983, and 1985.  In his ten full seasons as a starting pitcher, Guidry would finish in at least the top seven in Cy Young voting six times.

Also recognized as one of the best fielding pitchers of his era, Guidry won five Gold Glove awards.  He also pitched in four All-Star games.

Guidry ended his career in 1988 at the age of 37.

Although many argue that his lack of durability has hurt his chances a great deal as far as earning entry into the Hall of Fame is concerned, it might be useful to consider that Guidry topped at least 190 innings in a season nine times, and over 200 seven times.  Hall of Famers Dizzy Dean and Sandy Koufax, by contrast, each topped 200 innings in a season just five times during their respective careers.

Koufax and Guidry each topped 2,300 innings pitched, while Dean hurled just over 1,900.  Guidry and Dean each led their league in wins twice, while Koufax led his league in wins three times.  Koufax’ career win-loss percentage was .655, Guidry’s was .651, Dean’s .644.

Dean and Koufax both top Guidry in career ERA+ at 131 each, while Guidry scores a still very nice 119.   Guidry accumulated 170 wins to Koufax’ 165 and Dean’s 150.  Koufax tops the three in career WAR (54.5) to Guidry (44.4) and Dean (39.6).

The point here isn’t that Guidry was as good as Koufax, because he wasn’t.  When compared to Dizzy Dean, Guidry holds up very well.  The primary point here, though, is that we are not comparing Guidry to Pennock, because Guidry is quite obviously better than Pennock.

All of which is another way of saying that, regarding Pennock and Guidry,  The Hall clearly has the wrong Yankee lefty enshrined at Cooperstown.

[Herb Pennock, Philadelphia AL (baseball)] (LOC)

Image by The Library of Congress via Flickr

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Baseball’s Doppelgangers

Ralph Kiner

Image via Wikipedia

One of my favorite features of Baseball-Reference.com can be found near the bottom of every player’s  profile.  It appears in a red box and is called “Similarity Scores.”  Directly below that heading, you will find the sub-heading, “Similar Batters” or “Similar Pitchers,” depending on the given player’s specific occupation.  Also listed are the players who are most similar by age to the player you are researching.

It is a fantastic tool, and often provides an excellent perspective to a particular player’s career.

How great, for example, was Kenny Lofton?  According to his Similarity Scores, three of the ten players he was most similar to are in the Hall of Fame:  Harry Hooper, Max Carey, and Fred Clarke.  A fourth player on this list, Tim Raines, should also probably be in The Hall.

Without this useful context, it is a bit more difficult to begin to construct the foundation of an argument that Kenny Lofton just possibly deserves to be in The Hall.

Just for fun, I constructed a list of dozens of currently active Major League ball players, and I researched each of their respective baseball doppelgangers, the players most similar to each of them.  I found the results to be interesting and useful, and I decided to share some of them with you.

I decided not, however, to research players who have been active fewer than five years in the Major Leagues because their career profiles are likely to change significantly as they accumulate more playing time.

In each pair of ball players listed below, the first player is still currently active, and the second name in the pair is his retired doppelganger.

A)  Paul Konerko:

365 HR, 1156 RBI, .280 BA, .854 OPS, 119 OPS+, 22.1 WAR

B)  Joe Adcock:

336 HR, 1122 RBI, .277 BA, .822 OPS, 123 OPS+, 34.2 WAR

A)  Adam Dunn:

354 HR, 880 RBI, .250 BA, .902 OPS, 133 OPS+. 27.1 WAR

B)  Ralph Kiner:

369 HR, 1015 RBI, .279 BA, .946 OPS, 149 OPS+, 45.9 WAR

Kiner is in the Hall of Fame.  He played ten seasons.  He hit 40+ homers in five consecutive seasons, followed by a 37 home run season.  He retired at age 32.

Dunn has played ten seasons.  He hit 40+ home runs in five consecutive seasons, followed by two 38 home run seasons.  He is 31 years old.

A)  Magglio Ordonez:

289 HR, 1204 RBI, .312 BA, .883 OPS, 128 OPS+, 36.9 WAR

B)  Chuck Klein:

300 HR, 1201 RBI, .320 BA, .922 OPS, 137 OPS+, 39.2 WAR

Hall of Famer Klein played 17 years and retired at age 39.  If Ordonez plays three more seasons, he will have played 17 years and will have retired at age 39.  They each won a batting title.  They each topped 20 stolen bases one time.  And they each hit at least 25 home runs in a season six times.

A)  Tim Hudson:

165 wins – 87 losses, 3.42 ERA, 1541 S.O., 1.247 WHIP, 128 ERA+, 46.3 WAR

B)  Jimmy Key:

186 wins – 117 losses, .3.51 ERA, 1538 S.O., 1.229 WHIP, 122 ERA+, 45.7 WAR

A)  Jorge Posada:

261 HR, 1021 RBI, .275 BA, .856 OPS, 123 OPS+, 46 WAR

B)  Gabby Hartnett:

236 HR, 1179 RBI, .297 BA, .858 OPS, 126 OPS+, 50.3 WAR

Hartnett retired at age 40.  Posada, nearing the end of the line, is 39 years old.  Hartnett played in six All-Star Games; Posada has played in five.  It required several years on the ballot before Hartnett was eventually elected to the Hall of Fame.  One can foresee a similar fate awaiting Posada.

A)  Mark Teixeira:

275 HR, 906 RBI, .286 BA, .913 OPS, 134 OPS+, 36.7 WAR

b)  Hal Trosky:

228 HR, 1012 RBI, .302 BA, .892 OPS, 130 OPS+, 26.2 WAR

Migraine headaches forced Trosky into retirement at age 28.  Twice he came out of retirement, but he was just a shadow of the player he had been over the first several years of his career.

A)  Roy Oswalt:

150 wins – 83 losses, 3.18 ERA, 1666 S.O., 1.184 WHIP, 135 ERA+, 44.6 WAR

b)  Dizzy Dean:

150 wins – 83 losses, 3.02 ERA, 1163 S.O., 1.206 WHIP, 131 ERA+, 39.6 WAR

At first, when I noticed that their career win-loss records were identical, I thought I must have made a mistake.  But those are the correct numbers, folks.  Now that’s what I call a baseball doppelganger.

Dean’s career lasted about a decade.  Oswalt has ten complete seasons under his belt.  Dean is in the Hall of Fame.  Can you tell me why Oswalt, then, shouldn’t be once he retires?

There are many more pairs I found interesting:  Mark Buehrle / Johnny Podres, Carlos Lee / Del Ennis, and Matt Holliday / Chick Hafey are but a few examples of these doppelganger pairs.

In general, it was more difficult to find reasonably similar pitchers across time than it was to find pairs of hitters who matched up well with one another.

Take from this research what you will.  As for me, I have come to recognize that there are several more players than I realized who have built strong Hall of Fame cases for themselves over the past decade.  Once they retire, these kinds of comparisons will go a long way to buttressing arguments regarding their respective Hall of Fame worthiness.

Friendly Reminder: I invite you to check back in to this blog on Friday of this week for the third of twelve planned installments of the series, “Baseball’s Best of the Worst,” that Graham Womack of Baseball Past and Present and I are collaborating on.

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