The On Deck Circle

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Archive for the tag “Jesse Burkett”

The Hall of Fame’s Most Under-Appreciated Players: Part 5

To this point, we have filled in each of the slots in our batting order.  Here is what my proposed batting order looks like:

1)  CF  Richie Ashburn

2)  LF  Jesse Burkett

3)  RF  Harry Heilmann

4)  3B  Eddie Mathews

5)  1B  Roger Connor

6)  SS  Arky Vaughan

7)   C  Gary Carter

8)  2B  Joe Gordon

9)  Pitcher Hits 9th  (at least in the leagues that matter.)

Not a bad lineup when nine-time All Star Joe Gordon bats eighth.

Now, let’s build a pitching staff.

Briefly, allow me to submit that, especially pre-1920, there are a great many worthy pitching candidates who could reasonably make this list.  But I will limit my pitching staff to just four pitchers (one of whom I’ll be writing about today.)  It won’t surprise me a bit if your four pitching candidates for the HOF’s under-appreciated team are each different from my own, nor will I be greatly offended.

Now, please allow me introduce to you my staff ace:

Kid Nichols (pictured) is tied with Charles Ra...

Kid Nichols (pictured) is tied with Charles Radbourn for the most earned runs allowed in a single season. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Starting Pitcher – Kid Nichols:  Only seven pitchers (Greg Maddux just missed being the eighth) finished their careers with a WAR of 100 or better.  Charles Augustus (Kid) Nichols, born in Madison, WI and raised in British Columbia, Canada, ranks fifth.

Nichols’ 111.6 WAR was surpassed only by Cy Young, Walter Johnson, Roger Clemens, and Grover Cleveland (Pete) Alexander.  His career WAR is about twice as high as fellow HOF pitcher Jim Bunning, and more than three times that accumulated by Catfish Hunter.  Or, to belabor the point, his WAR is about the same as HOF pitchers Lefty Gomez, Herb Pennock and Jesse Haines combined.

Nichols, a moderately small right-handed pitcher (5′ 10″), broke in with the N.L.’s Boston Beaneaters in 1890, age 20.  He was an immediate success, posting a record of 27-19, while leading the league in shutouts (7), and finishing as the first runner-up in ERA+ to the Reds’ Billy Rhines.

Nichols’ 2-1 strikeout to walk ratio was also the best in the league, one of four times Nichols would lead the N.L. in that category.

1890 was also the first of five consecutive seasons Nichols would toss over 400 innings, and the first of six consecutive years in which he’d complete at least 40 of his starts.  In fact, in his rookie year, he completed every one of his 47 starts, logging 424 innings while posting a 2.23 ERA.

Nichols then went on to win at least 30 games in seven of the next eight seasons, leading the league in wins three consecutive years, 1896-98.

Kid Nichols reached 300 career wins faster than any pitcher in baseball history.  Through his age 30 season, he had already accumulated 310 career wins, against just 167 losses.

English: The 1890 Boston Beaneaters team photo...

English: The 1890 Boston Beaneaters team photo. Top row: L-R: James “Chippy” McGarr (IF), Harry Staley (P), Patsy Donovan (CF), Charles Ganzel (utility), William Joyce (3B), William Daley (P), Tommy Tucker (1B). Middle row: L-R: Kid Nichols (P), Herman Long (SS), Charles Bennett (C), Frank Selee (Mgr.), John Clarkson (P), Jim Whitney (P), Steve Brodie (RF). Bottom Row: L-F: Bobby Lowe (SS/CF/3B), Paul Revere Radford (utility), Tom Brown (OF). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Eleven times in his career, Nichols won at least 21 games.  That’s more times than HOF pitchers Don Sutton, Gaylord Perry, Phil Niekro and Bert Blyleven won at least 20 games in a season combined.

Nichols can also claim the dubious achievement of allowing the most earned runs (215 in 1894) in a season.  His 4.75 ERA that year was by far the highest in his career.  So he had an off-year, right?  Well, not exactly.  His ERA+ was a highly respectable 124, meaning that he was nearly 25% better than a typical replacement level pitcher.

Moreover, he finished the season with a 32-13 record.  So how does one account for all those earned runs and that apparently high ERA?

In 1894, the cumulative batting average for the entire N.L., including the pitchers, was an astronomically high .309.  In this 12 team league, each franchise played around 130 games in ’94.  Yet the league averaged nearly a thousand runs scored per team, with Nichols’ own Boston Beaneaters leading the way with 1,220 runs scored.  That’s an average of over 9 runs scored per game.

Consider that Lesson #1 in why context is so important when attempting to evaluate raw statistics.

As for Nichols, after 1901, his 12th year in Boston, there just wasn’t much left in the gas tank.  In fact, he did not pitch in either 1902 or ’03, but returned in ’04 for one final excellent season, this time with the St. Louis Cardinals.  Nichols enjoyed his last 20-win season in ’04, while also posting an excellent 2.02 ERA at age 34.

Two years later, in 1906, Kid Nichols called it quits for good.  He had started 562 games in his career, of which he’d completed 532.  He recorded 361 wins against 208 losses, good for a .634 win-loss percentage.  His career ERA+ of 140 ranks 14th best all-time, a couple of percentage points better than Cy Young.

In four seasons, 1890, 1893, 1897 and 1898, Nichols was the best pitcher in the league.  Obviously, there was no Cy Young award yet in those days.  In fact, Cy Young was a contemporary of Nichols, and outlasted Nichols by just a few seasons.

Strange, then, that while Cy Young was voted into the Hall of Fame as part of the class of 1937, it took Nichols an extra dozen years (1949) to make it into The Hall.  In fact, before ’49, Nichols never topped 4% of the votes cast for HOF induction.  Such are the vagaries, then as now, of HOF voting.

Nichols still ranks 4th all-time in complete games, 7th in victories, and 11th in innings pitched,

Perhaps surprisingly, Nichols did live long enough to experience his own HOF induction.  He passed away at age 83 in 1953.

Next time, in Part 6 of this series, I’ll introduce my #2 all-time, under-appreciated Hall of Fame pitcher.  Thanks for reading.

The Hall of Fame’s Most Under-Appreciated Players: Part 3

This is the third installment of a six part series analyzing the most under-appreciated players in the baseball Hall of Fame.  For a more complete explanation of the purpose of this series, click on Part 1.   Click here is you missed Part 2.

To this point, I have identified 4/5ths of my infield.  From left to right, they are third baseman Eddie Mathews, shortstop Arky Vaughan, second baseman Joe Gordon and first baseman Roger Connor.

Now let’s find out who my catcher and my left-fielder are, shall we?

Catcher – Gary Carter:  If you ask most baseball fans, even the smart ones (I’m talking to you, oh faithful reader), to name the top ten catchers in baseball history, you may or may not find Gary Carter’s name on that list.  It’s just as likely, if not more so,  that Bob Boone, Ted Simmons, and Thurman Munson would be named instead of Gary Carter.

Now, I’m not here to argue the merits of whether or not any of those three catchers should be in the HOF, where Carter is already a member.  All three were very fine catchers in their day.  Yet why is it that Gary Carter, as far as his reputation is concerned, seems to exist on the periphery of these lists?

The fact is, Gary Carter was one of the top five (not merely the top ten) catchers of all time.

I wrote a post about Carter just after his death back in February on this topic, but allow me to list some of the highlights.

Gary Carter’s career dWAR, (a measure of his defensive value), was 25.4.  Johnny Bench, who many people regard as the greatest catcher ever, had a career dWAR of 19.3.

Carter had six seasons with a dWAR of 2.0 or better.  Bench had three seasons at that level.  Jim Sundberg, also held in high regard as a great defensive catcher, had a career dWAR of 25.0 and five seasons of at least 2.0 dWAR.

Stunningly, Carlton Fisk, Yogi Berra, Roy Campanella, Bill Dickey, and Mickey Cochrane combined for exactly one season of 2.0 dWAR.  So, even if you add Johnny Bench to that group, you still come up two seasons short of Gary Carter’s six seasons of 2.0 dWAR.

Therefore, it is pretty clear that Gary Carter was one of the top three defensive catchers of all time.

Carter won five Silver Sluggers and was an eleven time All Star.

Carter hit 324 home runs in his career, more than HOF catchers Bill Dickey and Mickey Cochrane combined.  Of those 324 homers, he hit 298 of them as a catcher, good for 6th on the all-time homer list for catchers.

Carter’s career WAR, including his offense, was 66.4.  Only one catcher in history, Johnny Bench, had a higher career WAR among catchers (72.3).  This includes relatively recent catchers like Pudge Rodriguez and Mike Piazza.

Keep in mind, however, that in 1999, when the All Century Team was being voted upon, the panel that compiled the list placed the names of eight catchers on the ballot.  Gary Carter’s name was not among them.

Keep in mind, too, that after Carter died about seven months ago, Reggie Jackson was quoted as saying that he didn’t consider Carter to be a “real” Hall of Famer.

It’s hard to believe that a player as highly productive as Carter was, who should have benefited from playing (and thriving) in New York City with the Mets during the mid-1980’s, could be so readily marginalized and forgotten.

Perhaps his stature will rise, as it should, in the future.

Jesse Burkett

Jesse Burkett (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Left-Field – Jesse Burkett:  

Jesse Burkett was born in Wheeling, WV a few years after the Civil War ended (to the extent that it ended at all in West Virginia) in 1868.  A relatively small man (5’8″, 155 pounds), Burkett broke into the Majors with Brooklyn in 1890 at age 21.  He played for 16 seasons, through 1905, retiring at age 36.

Burkett came within four points (.396 in 1899) of being one of only three men in baseball history to hit .400 three times.  The other two players are Ty Cobb and Rogers Hornsby.

Burkett won three batting titles, led his league in hits three times, twice in runs scored and twice in total bases.  He had six 200-hit seasons, (Tony Gwynn had five.)

Burkett scored over 100 runs nine times.  Lou Brock, in contrast, reached 100 runs scored seven times.  Burkett’s 1,720 runs scored ranks 25th all-time.

Jesse Burkett’s career batting average of .338 is tied with Tony Gwynn for 18th best all-time.

With 182 career triples, Burkett is 15th on that particular list.

Was Burkett just another 19th century Baltimore-Chop singles hitter?  Well, his career OPS+ was 140, the same as Duke Snider, Vlad Guerrerro and Gary Sheffield, and one point better than a somewhat more famous 19th century player, King Kelly.

Burkett was not only a very fine player, he was quite a character, although apparently devoid of a sense of humor.  He was once thrown out of both games of a double-header.

In the first game, he refused to leave the field, so the umpire declared the game a forfeit win for the opposing team (Louisville.)  After being thrown out of the second game, again for arguing, Burkett once again refused to leave the field.  This time, the umpire had six policemen remove Burkett from the diamond.

Burkett’s career WAR of 60.5 puts him in the same company, relatively speaking, with a couple of other HOF left-fielders, Ed Delahanty (66.5) and Billy Williams (59.5).  Both of those players were on my short list of left-fielders whom I considered for my under-appreciated list.  Ultimately, though, I decided that, to the extent that baseball fans are familiar with 19th century players, Delahanty is a bit more well-known than is Burkett.

And as for Billy Williams, it was a close call, but Williams’ Black Ink score in Baseball-Reference.com was 18, while Burkett’s was 31.

That suggests that, despite their very similar WAR scores, Burkett was more of an impact player in his day than was Williams.  While I don’t doubt that Williams was under-appreciated, Burkett is all but completely forgotten in most baseball communities.

Burkett was voted into the baseball HOF in 1946 by the Veteran’s Committee.  One of the few 19th- century stars to still be alive when voted into The Hall, Burkett died in Worcester, MA in 1953, age 84.

In my next installment, I will reveal my picks for center-field and right-field on my All-Time Under-Appreciated Hall of Fame All Star Team.

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