The On Deck Circle

Baseball History, Commentary and Analysis

Archive for the tag “Orlando Cepeda”

Greatest Pitchers vs. the Greatest Hitters

What happens when you put a pair of superstars on opposite teams on the same field?  One superstar happens to be a pitcher, and the other one is a batter.  How well do some superstars perform against others?

I decided to take a look at some of the best pitchers of all-time, and see how well they performed against high level competition.  Specifically, I have listed the stats of a fine hitter a pitcher performed well against, and a HOF-caliber batter who hit them hard.  Although there may be individual batters who hit certain pitchers even better than the ones I’ve listed, generally speaking, those hitters weren’t normally considered superstar level performers.

Here are the results:  (Minimum of 50 at bats.)

1)  Sandy Koufax vs. Hank Aaron:

116 at bats, 42 hits, 6 doubles, 3 triples, 7 homers, 16 RBI, 14 walks, 12 strikeouts.  .362/.431/.647  OPS:  1.077

2)  Sandy Koufax vs. Lou Brock:

65 at bats, 12 hits, 4 doubles, 0 triples, 0 homers, 1 RBI, 3 walks, 28 strikeouts.  .185/.232/.246  OPS:  .478

3)  Bob Gibson vs. Eddie Mathews:

95 at bats, 31 hits, 5 doubles, 1 triple, 4 homers, 13 RBI, 21 walks, 14 strikeouts.  .326/.448/.526  OPS:  .975

4)  Bob Gibson vs. Roberto Clemente:

125 at bats, 26 hits, 1 double, 2 triples, 4 homers, 16 RBI, 2 walks, 32 strikeouts.  .208/.219/.344  OPS:  .563

5)  Tom Seaver vs. Joe Morgan:

109 at bats, 32 hits, 8 doubles, 0 triples, 5 homers, 11 RBI, 23 walks, 17 strikeouts.  .294/.415/.505  OPS:  .919

6)  Tom Seaver vs. Johnny Bench:

84 at bats, 15 hits, 7 doubles, 0 triples, 2 homers, 8 RBI, 11 walks, 27 strikeouts.  .179/.271/.333  OPS:  .604

7)  Warren Spahn vs. Stan Musial:

291 at bats, 95 hits, 21 doubles, 6 triples, 14 homers, 45 RBI, 43 walks, 28 strikeouts.  .326/.417/.584  OPS:  1.001

8)  Warren Spahn vs. Duke Snider:

80 at bats, 19 hits, 3 doubles, 0 triples, 4 homers, 12 RBI, 8 walks, 18 strikeouts.  .238/.315/.425  OPS:  .740

9)  Robin Roberts vs. Ernie Banks:

121 at bats, 41 hits, 4 doubles, 3 triples, 15 homers, 31 RBI, 7 walks, 22 strikeouts.  .339/.377/.793  OPS:  1.170

10)  Robin Roberts vs. Orlando Cepeda:

63 at bats, 16 hits, 3 doubles, 0 triples, 2 homers, 11 RBI, 1 walk, 12 strikeouts.  .254/.262/.397  OPS:  .658

11)  Steve Carlton vs. Gary Carter:

116 at bats, 36 hits, 9 doubles, 0 triples, 11 homers, 24 RBI, 18 walks, 7 strikeouts.  .310/.400/.672  OPS:  1.072

12)  Steve Carlton vs. Tony Perez:

108 at bats, 21 hits, 5 doubles, 0 triples, 3 homers, 10 RBI, 16 walks, 26 strikeouts.  .194/.294/.324  OPS:  .618

13)  Nolan Ryan vs. Carl Yastrzemski:

50 at bats, 17 hits, 1 double, 0 triples, 4 homers, 14 RBI, 12 walks, 7 strikeouts.  .340/.469/.600  OPS:  1.069

14)  Nolan Ryan vs. Robin Yount:

69 at bats, 16 hits, 4 doubles, 1 triple, 2 homers, 10 RBI, 8 walks, 16 strikeouts.  .232/.329/.406  OPS:  .735

15)  Greg Maddux vs. Tony Gwynn:

94 at bats, 39 hits, 8 doubles, 1 triple, 0 homers, 9 RBI, 11 walks, 0 strikeouts.  .415/.476..521  OPS:  .997

16)  Greg Maddux vs. Mike Piazza:

80 at bats, 19 hits, 1 double, 0 triples, 4 homers, 10 RBI, 1 walk, 12 strikeouts.  .238/.247/.400  OPS:  .647

 

Is This a Hall of Fame Pitcher?

How many outstanding seasons must a pitcher accumulate to become a legitimate Hall of Fame candidate?  This question is more important than ever because, now that the 300-game winner is likely to become all but extinct, it will become  increasingly necessary over the next several years to develop a set of objective criteria which might enable a  broad consensus to form regarding what exactly constitutes a Hall of Fame pitching career.

When we look back over the history of baseball regarding what it has meant to be a Hall of Fame-worthy pitcher, the 300-win threshold was not always considered a prerequisite to HOF induction.  Certainly, plenty of exceptions to this relatively modern de facto standard have been  made over the years to recognize the excellence of pitchers such as Dizzy Dean (150 wins), Jack Chesbro (198 wins), Rube Waddell (193 wins), Ed Walsh (195 wins), Addie Joss (160 wins), Dazzy Vance (197 wins), and, of course, Sandy Koufax (165 wins.)

In none of their respective cases did winning fewer than 200 games, let alone 300,  prevent their eventual enshrinement.  Fans and sportswriters alike were apparently of the opinion that greatness did not necessarily equal longevity, or that “only” a few outstanding seasons simply weren’t enough to merit Hall induction.

Yet by the 1970’s — certainly by the 1980’s — it had become de rigour for fans and pundits alike to trumpet the 300-win standard (or something damned close to it) for a pitcher to obtain even a passing glance at Hall immortality.  The irony is that at precisely about the time Hall voters had appeared to come to expect this arbitrary standard of would-be HOF pitchers, the game itself was evolving in ways (increased reliance on team’s bullpens, for example) that would make it less likely that modern pitchers would ever likely become 300-game winners.

There is always a lag time between what is true and what we believe to be true.  That is called learning from experience.  The history of America is the history of what we once believed to be true (slavery was justifiable, women could not compete in the workplace with men, etc.) versus where we are (however imperfectly realized) today.  HOF voters and fans are no different, and represent, perhaps, an even more conservative subculture of the general population.  Once an idea takes root, it is nearly impossible to shake.  Thus the continual, disproportionate attention paid to statistics such as batting average (for hitters) and wins (for pitchers.)

So, keeping in mind actual Hall of Fame history, please allow me to provide you with a series of statistics, and you tell me, (keeping in mind that only about one-third of Hall of Fame pitchers have actually won over 300 games) did this particular pitcher enjoy a HOF-worthy career or not?

Let’s begin with this pitcher’s three best consecutive peak seasons:

58 wins, 19 losses, completed 35 of 99 starts, 13 shutouts, 745 innings, 744 strikeouts, 1.04 WHIP, .187 batting average against, 2.28 ERA, 22.0 WAR, won a Cy Young award, and finished 2nd and 7th in the voting the other two years.  Incidentally, this is not a 19th-century, or early 20th-century dead-ball era pitcher.

At this point, would you agree or disagree that those are Hall of Fame-caliber numbers?

Lest you might think that those three seasons represent the entirety of this pitcher’s productive career, here are his statistics for his seven best consecutive years (he missed about half of one of these seasons):

119 wins, 46 losses, a .721 win-loss percentage, 209 starts, 55 complete games, 20 shutouts, 1,522 innings, 1,391 strikeouts, 1.14 WHIP (the same as Greg Maddux’s career WHIP), .207 batting average against, a 2.83 ERA, and 36 WAR (which includes his very respectable contributions with the bat.)

There was another 4th place as well as a 5th place finish in Cy Young voting during those additional four seasons.  In four of those seven years, he struck out over 200 batters, and he never lost more than nine games in any one of those campaigns.  That 36 WAR, by the way, is about the same as or higher than a few starting pitchers in the Hall of Fame, and we’re not quite done with this pitcher yet.

So, how about now?  Does this seven-year run of success merit HOF attention?  Does he at least belong in the conversation?  Are his numbers, at least at this point, not on a par with the other pitchers I mentioned in an earlier paragraph who won fewer than 200 games, but are in the Hall anyway?

To be eligible to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, a ballplayer needs to have accumulated at least ten seasons of service time at the Major League level.  So let’s look at this pitcher’s best ten-year period, and we’ll evaluate his HOF-worthiness:

154 wins-81 losses, .655 win-loss percentage, 296 starts, 67 complete games, 23 shutouts, 2,128 innings, 1,852 hits, 1,835 strikeouts, 3.03 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, .212 batting average against (he batted .200 over those ten seasons), and 47.0 WAR.

Admittedly, those are just about the only productive seasons he enjoyed during his career, but they certainly were a productive ten years.  The 154 wins are not that different from the number Koufax, Vance, Dean, and the others won during their entire careers.  And this pitcher’s final career WAR, 53.2, is higher than Hall of Famers Elmer Flick, Burleigh Grimes, Sam Rice, Mickey Cochrane, Bobby Doerr, Kirby Puckett, Orlando Cepeda, Tony Lazzeri, Chief Bender, Bob Lemon, Nellie Fox…and Sandy Koufax.

Mind you, no one’s arguing that this pitcher was necessarily better than any of those players.  But if his career WAR is at least on a  par with those Hall of Famers, would it be ridiculous to ask if he should at least be in the conversation regarding the Hall of Fame?

His final career totals:

194-112, .634 win-loss percentage, 2,800 innings, 2,564 hits, 2,293 strikeouts, a .226 career batting average against, 1.25 WHIP, 3.51 ERA (though just 3.11 over his 12 years in the N.L.) a no-hitter, the aforementioned Cy Young award, a Rookie of the Year award, four trips to the All Star game, a Silver Slugger, and a World Championship ring.

So what’s your final decision as far as the Hall of Fame is concerned?  Thumbs up or thumbs down?

Either way, you’ve just taken a long, hard look at the career of Dwight Gooden.

Gooden spent just one year on the HOF ballot, drew just 3% of the vote, and that was the end of that.

It may very well be that every single member of the BBWAA took the time to seriously consider Gooden’s record before they cast their ballot, but I doubt it.  Players are preceded, smothered and sometimes buried by the narrative that has attached itself to their names, like barnacles under an old ship.  Gooden’s narrative is complex and tragic.

Now, I realize Gooden is far from the only potentially deserving HOF candidate to have been virtually ignored by HOF voters.  But I chose him precisely because so few fans and writers have ever appeared to take his overall career as seriously as his accomplishments suggest that they should.

Not every pitcher who finds success in the Majors is going to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame.  I get that.  But the current process does beg the question, short of 300 victories, just what exactly is it that voters want?

Author’s note:  I had written this post in its entirety before learning of the retirement of the great Roy Halladay late yesterday afternoon.  I could just as easily have made my key point about Halladay as about Gooden.  Will Halladay, with just 203 career wins, end up one and done on the Hall ballot like Gooden, or will the BBWAA recall all the great years Halladay enjoyed in his career, and reward him accordingly?  Most importantly, by what objective criteria will they decide?

Players With At Least 50 Doubles Through Their Age-21 Seasons

Angels outfielder Mike Trout recently reached the 50 career doubles plateau.  As of this writing, he has 53 doubles.  He is, of course, now about half-way through his age 21 season.  That got me to wondering how many other players in baseball history managed to accumulate at least 50 doubles through age 21.  While I can’t say for sure that I’ve managed to list every single player in history who reached that number, I doubt I missed very many.  As you’ll notice, it is quite an impressive list.  A bit more than half the players on this list (57%) are already in the Baseball Hall of Fame.  At least a couple of others are likely to make it in as well.

In general, it is rare for a player on this list, who has been retired for more than ten years, to NOT be in the HOF.  In fact, I count only four names on this list who fit that description.  That would seem to bode well for Mike Trout’s future as a potential Hall of Famer.

Here is the list, beginning with the most doubles accumulated through a player’s age-21 season:

1)  Mel Ott – 106

2)  Cesar Cedeno – 100

3)  Alex Rodriguez – 100

4)  Robin Yount – 95

5)  Ken Griffey, Jr. – 93

6)  Vada Pinson – 91

7)  Ted Williams – 87

8)  Ty Cobb – 85

9)  George Davis – 84

10) Sherry Magee – 75

11) Al Kaline – 74

12) Orlando Cepeda – 73

13) Mickey Mantle – 72

14) Adrian Beltre – 66

15) Hank Aaron – 64

16) Jimmie Foxx – 61

17) Ivan Rodriguez – 60

18) Andruw Jones – 58

19) Jimmy Sheckard – 57

19) Justin Upton – 57

21) Frank Robinson – 56

21) Ron Santo – 56

23) Eddie Mathews – 54

24) Roberto Clemente – 53

24) Mike Trout – 53

26) Miguel Cabrera – 52

26) Joe Medwick – 52

28) Roberto Alomar – 51

If you want to exclude George Davis, who played half his career in the 19th century, and Jimmy Sheckard, whose age 21 season occurred in 1900, you are down to 26 players.

Sherry Magee’s appearance on this list is no fluke.  He was a very fine player for the first two decades of the 20th century for whom a legitimate Hall of Fame case can be made.

Ken Griffey, Jr. is a lock to be elected into The Hall, and Ivan Rodriguez should be as well.  Adrian Beltre’s glove, as well as his bat, already place him among the top ten third basemen in baseball history.

Alex Rodriguez might spend the rest of his natural days in a kind of baseball limbo.  Does he even really care?

Every team that passed on Justin Upton this off-season (I’m talking to you, New York Mets) should be kicking themselves that they didn’t sign him to a long-term contract when they had the chance.  It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Braves are in first place in their division.

By the end of the 2014 season, Manny Machado and Bryce Harper will also have completed their age-21 seasons.  Machado leads the A.L. with an amazing 27 doubles already this year, and has 35 for his career.  For Bryce Harper, whatever he doesn’t hit over the wall he’ll probably just hit through the wall.  At any rate, he has 33 career doubles and is also likely to surpass 50 career doubles by the end of next season, if not sooner.

Although they are extremely young, and at a very early stage in their respective careers, it may not be unreasonable to assess the likelihood of Trout, Harper and Machado someday making it into The Hall at somewhere around 50-60 percent each.

Cleaning Up The Hall of Fame: Rizzuto vs. Trammell

Phil Rizzuto, N.Y. Yankees bunting wonder, ill...

Image by State Library and Archives of Florida via Flickr

In this new series, we are going to clean up The Hall,  the Hall of Fame, that is.  According to the Hall of Fame’s official website, about 1% of all players who have ever worn a Major League Baseball uniform have been inducted into the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.

That number seems about right to me.

But it raises a question.  How big and crowded should The Hall be allowed to become?  Currently, there are 295 plaques (which includes managers, umpires, etc.) in the Hall of Fame Plaque Gallery.  Over time, of course, this number will continue to grow, and although it is not growing quickly, it is possible to foresee a day when the Plaque Gallery is as crowded as the checkout line at Target on Black Friday.

I have no particular number in mind as to what constitutes “enough” plaques in the Plaque Gallery.  But could The Hall physically hold, for example, 400 plaques?  How about 500?  Assuming baseball continues to hold any interest for the general public one century hence, will anyone in the year 2112 make the pilgrimage to Cooperstown to stand in front of Orlando Cepeda’s plaque and have any idea who he was?  Should that matter?

First of all, we have to stop pretending that every player who was considered a superstar in his time cannot be reevaluated in light of all that has happened in the several decades since he last put on a pair of spikes.  The passage of time offers a perspective not available to that particular player’s contemporaries.

Certain players who appeared to be superstars in the first half of the twentieth century now appear, given modern standards of objective analysis, to have been merely very good ball players who left a strong emotional imprint on the judgments of peers (and voters) of decades past.

What I’m proposing, then, is to gradually improve the quality of the players in the Hall of Fame, one player at a time.  One player out; another (arguably better) player in.

All of which brings us to Phil Rizzuto.

Phil Rizzuto was an important part of several New York Yankees championship teams in the 1940’s and early ’50’s.  His defensive skills made the Yankees pitchers better.  But was his defense good enough to merit Hall of Fame selection?

In a word, no.  Rizzuto’s dWAR for his career, (interrupted for three years by W.W.II) was 11.0, the same as Frank White, and slightly higher than Willie Randolph.  For a relatively weak-hitting infielder, his defense needs to be world-class — Ozzi Smith-good —  to justify selection to The Hall of Fame.  Rizzuto doesn’t meet that test.

Rizzuto’s career offensive numbers are unimpressive.  He posted a career triple slash line of .273 / .351 / .355.  Rizzuto’s career OPS+ of 93 is about the same as Edgar Renteria’s career mark of 94.

Rizzuto hit just 38 home runs in his career, scored only 877 runs, stole 149 bases and amassed just 339 extra base hits in his entire career.  He did, however, lead his league in sacrifice bunts four times.

Rizzuto enjoyed one fantastic year when he won the A.L. MVP award at age 32 in 1950.  His WAR of 7.1 led the league. He reached a career high 271 total bases, scored 125 runs and batted .324.  Rizzuto also produced 200 hits, drew a career high 92 walks, and slammed 36 doubles.

Although he was a five-time All Star, much of his Hall of Fame resume revolves around this one season.  But lots of players have had one great season.  It is not often the case, however, that they go on to gain enshrinement in the Hall of Fame.

Rizzuto was the David Eckstein of his era, but on a much bigger stage, and with a more formidable P.R. machine behind him.

 Clearly, Phil Rizzuto does not belong in The Hall.

The player whom I would replace him with is former Detroit Tigers shortstop Alan Trammell.  Whereas Rizzuto posted a career WAR of 41.8, Trammell easily outclasses him with a mark of 66.9.  By comparison, HOF’ers Eddie Murray, PeeWee Reese, Gary Carter and Roberto Alomar all produced lower career WAR than Trammell.

Trammell also posted a better career OPS+ of 110 to Rizzuto’s 93.

A much better power hitter, Trammell slugged 185 home runs in his career.  He also produced 652 extra base hits, nearly twice as many as Rizzuto’s 339.  Trammell’s triple slash line of .285 / .352 / .415 is also better than Rizzuto’s, as is his .767 OPS.

Trammell compiled 2,365 hits, 1,231 runs scored, and 1,003 RBI.  Each of these numbers are significantly higher than what Rizzuto produced.  And even accounting for the three years that Rizzuto missed while in the service, it is still unlikely that the would have matched Trammell’s totals in any of those categories.

Defensively, Trammell was no slouch, either.  He won four Gold Gloves, and finished his career with a dWAR of 7.5, not as good as Rizzuto’s, but not significantly worse, either.

Trammell finished second in A.L. MVP voting in 1987.  He won three Silver Sluggers as the best hitter at his position.  He also made six All Star Teams.

Clearly, Trammell was the better shortstop.  Removing Rizzuto from The Hall and replacing him with Alan Trammell would make The Hall incrementally better, but you have to start somewhere.

1984 World Series Hero, Alan Trammell 1991 Tig...

Image via Wikipedia

Best Forgotten Seasons: Part 24 – The Toronto Blue Jays

"Laverne & Shirley Sing"-1976 LP cover

Image via Wikipedia

The Toronto Blue Jays, a franchise that played its inaugural season back in 1977, were born in the era of disco, Jimmy Carter, and Laverne and Shirley, not exactly the high water mark of Western Civilization.

Tweeners like myself (neither a true Baby-Boomer nor a Gen-X‘er), remember this period as our awkward transition through puberty and on into high school.

Blue Jays fans remember the late ’70’s as the Doug Ault / Jesse Jefferson era.  Back then, Toronto was to baseball what the Donner Party was to holiday travel.

After six miserable seasons, however, the Blue Jays became a respectable ball-club —  and stayed that way —  for the next eleven consecutive seasons.  They reached the pinnacle of success by winning back-to-back World Championships over first the Braves, then the Phillies, in 1992-93.

Alas, Joe Carter‘s walk-off home run off of Mitch Williams in ’93 would be, up to this point, the last great moment in Jays history.  Not that they’ve been a bad team, mind you.  They finished in third place in their division eight times in ten years from 1998-2007, with a second place finish thrown in as well.

But the glory days, when they regularly drew over 4 million fans per year to the Skydome, have passed them by.  The Blue Jays drew just 1.49 million fans this past season, their lowest attendance total since 1982.

Nevertheless, in good times and bad, the Blue Jays have produced their fair share of talented baseball players.  Not a single Blue Jay has yet made it into the Hall of Fame, however, although HOF’ers Rickey Henderson, Phil Niekro, Dave Winfield and Paul Molitor have worn the Blue Jay uniform.

One other player who wore a Blue Jay uniform and who has a solid case in his favor regarding Hall of Fame worthiness is retired first baseman Fred McGriff.

Fred (Crime Dog) McGriff, who made his major league  debut with the Blue Jays in 1986 at the age of 22, was one of the first excellent players the Jays produced.  By age 24, McGriff was already one of the most lethal players in his league, smashing 34 homers, scoring 100 runs, and producing an OPS of .928.

But Fred McGriff’s Best Forgotten Season with the Blue Jays was 1989.

In 1989, McGriff smashed an A.L. leading 36 home runs.  He also led the league in OPS (.924) and OPS+ (166).  He scored 98 runs, drove in 92, collected 289 total bases, and drew a career high 119 walks (second most in the league.)  His .524 slugging percentage was also second-best in the league.

McGriff won a Silver Slugger award ’89, and he finished sixth in the MVP voting in only his third big league season.

In December, 1990, McGriff, along with teammate Tony Fernandez, was traded to San Diego for Roberto Alomar and Joe Carter.  As great a player as McGriff was, this was a trade the Blue Jays certainly cannot regret having made.

McGriff went on to enjoy an excellent career until his retirement at the age of 40 in 2004, having helped lead the Atlanta Braves to a World Championship in 1995.

His final career numbers include 493 homers (tied with Lou Gehrig for 26th all-time), 1,550 RBI’s, 1,349 runs scored, 2,490 hits, 441 doubles, and 4,458 total bases (top 50 all-time.)

Only eight first basemen in history have ever out-homered McGriff (only six if you subtract steroids-tainted Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmiero.)

McGriff’s career OPS+ (134) is better than approximately 85 current Hall of Famers.

Now, if you’re still with me,  let’s take a look at five other first basemen currently in the Hall of Fame:  Eddie Murray, Tony Perez, Orlando Cepeda, George Sisler and Bill Terry, and compare them with Fred McGriff.  We’ll begin with OPS (on-base + slugging percentage.)  Here’s how they stack up:

1)  Bill Terry – .899

2)  Fred McGriff – .886

3)  Orlando Cepeda –  .849

4)  George Sisler – .847

5)  Eddie Murray – .836

6)  Tony Perez – .804

Now how about OPS+ (which takes into consideration the era and the home ballpark of the particular player):

1)  Bill Terry – 134

2) Fred McGriff – 134

3) Orlando Cepeda – 133

4) Eddie Murray – 129

5) George Sisler – 124

6) Tony Perez – 122

Want still more?  How about career WAR? (a cumulative stat):

1)  Eddie Murray – 60.2

2)  Fred McGriff – 53.2

3)  George Sisler – 50.4

4)  Tony Perez – 49.6

5)  Bill Terry – 48.1

6) Orlando Cepeda – 46.8

Just for the hell of it, how about runs created (the hitter’s basic purpose):

1)  Eddie Murray – 1,942

2)  Fred McGriff – 1,704

3)  Tony Perez – 1,524

4)  George Sisler – 1,468

5)  Orlando Cepeda – 1,337

6)  Bill Terry – 1,280

Notice a trend?  When compared to five other HOF first basemen, Fred McGriff comes in second place on each list.

There are those of you who hate these kinds of arguments (A is as good as B, and B is as good as C, so A is as good as C.)  You might argue that perhaps none of these players (with the exception of Eddie Murray) belongs in The Hall.  Perhaps, you might reason, The Hall should be reserved for only the VERY BEST of the VERY BEST.  Guys like Gehrig, Ruth, Williams, DiMaggio, etc.

Well, my friends, we crossed that Rubicon a long, lonely time ago.

Democracy has its merits, but perhaps its one great flaw is the idea that there really isn’t that much difference between the truly great and the merely very good.  We live in a democracy, and lots of very good people (and some true mediocrities) have assumed positions of great power,wealth and prestige.

Why should we expect Baseball’s Hall of Fame to be any different?

This is no slight against the career of Fred McGriff, nor against any of the other players on the above lists, for that matter.

Just don’t tell me you know a HOF’er when you see one.  Or that a true HOF’er is always obvious.

Numbers are the mother’s milk of this pastime, and the numbers indicate that it is virtually impossible to make an objective, reasonable argument as to why Fred McGriff does not belong in the Hall of Fame.

Now, anyone for a Nick at Night Mork and Mindy Marathon?

Best Forgotten Baseball Seasons: Part 18 – The San Francisco Giants

Will Clark preparing to bat during seventh inn...

Image via Wikipedia

I thought he was destined for the Hall of Fame.

For a five-year period, from 1987-91, Will “The Thrill” Clark of the San Francisco Giants was one of Major League Baseball’s  most dominant players.  His eye-black and competitive nature provoked fear in many opposing pitchers.  His glove around the first base bag was plenty good, but it was his bat they feared and respected most of all.

During that five-year period, Clark averaged 27 home runs, 104 RBI’s, 94 runs scored, a .304 batting average, an OPS of .900, and an outstanding OPS+ of 153.  He accomplished all of this while playing in one of the better PITCHER’S Parks in the N.L.

By way of comparison, Hall of Fame first baseman Tony Perez topped an OPS+ of 150 only twice in his 23-year career.  Giant’s Hall of Fame first baseman Orlando Cepeda topped 150 three times.  Yet another Giant’s Hall of Fame first baseman, Bill Terry, touched an OPS+ of 150 in just two seasons.

Will Clark topped an OPS+ in five separate seasons, as many as Cepeda and Terry combined.

Obviously, then, Will Clark had several outstanding seasons before he turned thirty years old, and many other good seasons during the rest of his career.

Will Clark’s Best Forgotten Season was in 1989.

As with some of the other players I’ve profiled in this series, a case could be made for one or two other seasons as well.  But ’89 was arguably Clark’s best season for several reasons.

In 1989, the 25-year old Clark batted .333, second best in the league.  He accumulated 321 Total Bases, again, good for second best in the league.

His WAR was a league-leading 9.4.

He led the N.L. in runs scored with 104.

He posted a career high 196 hits, and his OPS (.953) and OPS+ (175) were also each second best in the league.

He won his first Silver Slugger award, and he played in the All-Star Game.

Clark’s 136 Runs Created led the N.L.

He led the N.L. in times on base with 275.

He hit 23 home runs, drove in 111 runs, knocked 38 doubles and added nine triples.

Defensively, his Range Factor / Game of 9.85 was also the best in the N.L.

Just for good measure, he was voted the N.L.C.S. MVP by single-handedly smashing the Cubs pitching to the tune of a .650 batting average, a .683 on-base percentage, and a ridiculous slugging percentage of 1.200.

Will Clark finished second in the N.L. MVP voting in 1989 to teammate Kevin Mitchell who slugged 47 home runs and drove in 125 runs.

Clark finished in the top five in MVP voting four times in his career.  He played in six All-Star Games.  He won one Gold Glove, but was good enough to have earned more.

Astonishingly, Will Clark’s career OPS+ of 137 is better than 90 hitters currently in the Hall of Fame.

It is also better than two of his more celebrated contemporaries at the first base position, Don Mattingly, (127), and Keith Hernandez, (128).

The primary reason’s why Clark is not a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame have to do with his career power numbers.  Hall voters like to see lots of home runs and RBI’s from a first baseman.  Clark’s career totals in these two areas — 284 home runs and 1,205 RBI’s —  look modest compared to some of the other first basemen in The Hall.

Clark also never won an MVP award, and he never played on a World Championship team.

Clark ended his fifteen-year baseball career after the 2000 season when he was just 36-years old.  But he showed even in his final days as a player that his bat was still just about as dangerous as ever.

As a member of the St. Louis Cardinals in the last 51 games of his final season, Clark batted .345, had a .426 on-base percentage, slugged .655, and compiled an OPS of 1.081.  He smoked 28 extra-base hits in just 171 at bats.

Although Clark’s best overall season had occurred almost a dozen years earlier, clearly he had saved the best for last.

Post Navigation