The On Deck Circle

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Archive for the tag “Sandy Koufax”

Baseball’s Statistical Oddities

Every once in a while, as I’m doing some research for this blog, I’ll come across a baseball statistic that catches me off guard.

I’m not suggesting that no one else has ever noticed any of these odd items before, but if they are new to me, they might just be new to you, too.

To begin with, which particular pitchers in baseball history do you think were the toughest to hit against (Hits / 9 Innings)?

Did you say Walter Johnson?  Well, O.K., he is 33rd on the all-time list having given up 7.47 hits per nine innings in his career.  Randy Johnson?  You’re getting warmer.  He is 22nd on the list.

Remember, we are not talking about WHIP here.  Just hits per nine.

Yes, of course, it was Nolan Ryan.  He was the Number #1 toughest pitcher to hit, having given up just 6.55 hits per nine.  Not a surprise.  But keep reading.

Sandy Koufax comes in at Number #2, posting a 6.79 hits per nine ratio.  Again, no surprise there.

Number #3 Toughest Pitcher to Hit, Ever?  Well, here’s the surprise:

Sid Fernandez.  Yes, that Sid Fernandez.  El Sid.  The Mets’ secret weapon in the bullpen against the Red Sox in the ’86 World Series.

Sid Fernandez posted an incredible 6.85 hits per nine innings in his career in 1866 innings.  He pitched in parts of 15 different seasons and made exactly 300 starts in his career.

So how many wins did El Sid record out of those 300 starts?  Just 114 wins, against 96 losses.  In other words, Fernandez ended up with a no-decision in 30% of his career starts, a rather high percentage.

So why didn’t he win more games?  Apparently, El Sid just couldn’t get much past the sixth inning.  In fact, he completed only 25 games in his entire career!  Thus, his bullpen mates ended up swooping down for the win, or they blew the game and took the loss.

Sid Fernandez’s idea of a workout routine was a 6,000 calorie breakfast, followed by long periods of rest and idleness.

Fernandez only reached double-figures in wins in five seasons; his best win totals were 16 (in 1986), 14 (twice) and 12 (twice).  That’s it.

Sid Fernandez was, then, one the greatest six- inning pitchers ever.  But even though one-inning specialists now routinely make it into Cooperstown, (they’re called “Closers”), El Sid will never get in without first paying for a ticket.

Now that’s a strange career.

Almost as strange was the career of a former teammate of Sid Fernandez:

David Cone.

At first glance you might not expect David Cone to have had a weird career, but let me throw some numbers at you.  I’ll do it in the form of a Table so you can more clearly see what I noticed.

The first number represents a season with exactly that number of wins; the second number directly to the right of it represents how many seasons Cone reached that number of wins.  So let’s take a look:

20  –  2  (Cone had 2 twenty win seasons)

19  –  0

18  –  0

17  –  0

16  –  1

15  –  0

14  –  3

13  –  1

12  –  2

11  –  1

10  –  0

Cone finished with nearly 200 wins in his career in over 400 starts.  His career win-lost percentage was a very nice .606.

But where did all those 194 career wins come from?  How does a pitcher have two 20 win seasons, but NO 15, 17, 18, or 19 win seasons, and still have an excellent career?

Cone is the antithesis of Bert Blyleven.  Blyleven won nearly 300 games (287) in his career, but his entire career was made up of exactly the kinds of seasons Cone NEVER even had once in his entire career (except for the one lonely 16 win season.)  For example, Blyleven produced five 17-win seasons.

There are two types of Hall-of-Famers, and two kinds of HOF voters.  One group prefers the bright shining stars that flame out fast, (but oh, what beauty when they shined.)

The other group prefers slow-and-steady-wins-the race.  Cone is not in The Hall; Blyleven is.  But they are on polar opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to the kinds of careers a pitcher who could be considered for The Hall might have.

Now, how about a hitter.

The worst thing a hitter can do is make lots and lots of outs, meaning a low on-base percentage, right?

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you Exhibit A, former infielder Alfredo Griffin.  Griffin played his first full season in the Majors in 1979, winning the A.L. Rookie of the Year award playing for the Blue Jays.  He retired in 1993.

Alfredo Griffin was, without doubt, one of the worst hitters in the history of baseball.

Now, I know, there have been lots of really bad offensive players throughout baseball history.  But this, as they say, you have to see.

Griffin’s highest single-season on-base percentage in his career was .333 in his rookie campaign of 1979 when he drew a career high 40 walks in 689 plate appearances.  He never walked as many as forty times in a season again.

But the season that truly boggles my mind was 1984 when in 441 plate appearances, Griffin drew exactly FOUR walks all year.

How is that even possible?

His batting average that season was .241; his on-base percentage was .248.  For his entire career, Griffin posted an OBP of .285 in over 7,000 plate appearances.

Folks, we are talking about a guy that played all 162 games in four different seasons, not some part-time late-inning defensive replacement.

He wasn’t even all that good defensively, although he managed to win a Gold Glove award.  But even fifteen Gold Gloves couldn’t justify those awful non-hitting skills of his.

You want to hear the best part?  In 1984, the year he drew just four walks, the year he posted an OBP south of .300, that was the only year he made an All-Star team in his career.

To at least partially make up for his terrible on-base skills, did he hit lots of homers?  No, just 24 in his entire career.

Did he score lots of runs?  Nope, he reached 80 runs scored only once, his rookie season.

Did he steal lots of bases?  Well, here’s the thing.  He did steal 192 bases in his career, but he was also caught stealing 134 times, a poor “success” rate of .588.  In fact, in a two year period, 1980-81, he successfully stole a paltry 26 bases in 61 attempts!

In November of 1988, the Dodgers, enamored by Griffin’s .199 batting average and .965 fielding percentage from the ’88 season, signed Griffin as a free-agent for one million dollars.

Am I missing something here?  Griffin retired after the ’93 season with a career WAR of -2.4.

The weirdest thing about Alfredo Griffin isn’t the numbers themselves, it’s that he was able to find steady work in the Majors for 18 seasons.

O.K.  Let’s follow Griffin up with a player who actually could hit.

Fisk in batting cage
Image via Wikipedia

Carlton Fisk was one of the best overall catchers in baseball history.  Although he suffered numerous injuries early in his career, he nevertheless ended up playing in 2,499 games, amassing 9,853 plate appearances.

Most of his career numbers are pretty standard (meaning very good) for a player of his caliber, especially for a catcher.

But one odd season late in his career when he played for the White Sox stands out.

In 1984, when Fisk was already 36 years old, he slugged a reasonable 21 home runs.  Now, normally when a player hits over 20 homers and plays more or less every day, their RBI total lands somewhere in the 65-85 range, give or take a few.

Yet somehow, despite hitting 21 homers, Fisk managed to drive in only 43 runs in nearly 400 plate appearances.  That means the vast majority of his RBI that year came directly as a result of those 21 homers.

I’m guessing that his RBI total that year has to be one of the lowest ever recorded, perhaps the lowest, for a player who hit at least 20 homers in one season.

I am not casting any aspersions on Fisk’s talent or on his career, but that is one fluky statistic.

Finally, there is the strange case of Storm Davis.

Davis was an extremely young man of 20 when he threw his first pitch for the Orioles in 1982.  By the age of 22, Davis had already pitched 525 innings in the Majors; there were no Joba Rules in those days.

By 1989, Davis was a member of a formidable Oakland A’s rotation.  In that year, his age-27 season, Davis enjoyed his career-year.  Despite tossing just 169 innings, Davis posted a record of 19-7.

It was the worst 19 win season in major league history.

Here are the ugly peripheral numbers behind that inflated win total:

ERA:  4.36, WHIP:  1.506,  Strike-Outs:  91,  Walks:  68,  K’s / 9 innings:  4.8,  Hits / 9 innings:  10.

In short, if Davis had pitched that year for virtually any other baseball team, he would have ended up with a sub-.500 win-lost record.

Of course, the Kansas City Royals, unable to see past Davis’ gaudy win total, signed Davis in the off-season to be the ace of their staff for over a million dollars (still big money in those days.)

The Royals were rewarded with a 7-10 season in 1990.

Davis’ career was strange because he was actually a pretty good pitcher who pitched terribly one season, still won 19 games, and was rewarded with a large contract as a free agent as a result.

Talk about pure, dumb luck.

There are, of course, many other players who experienced odd seasons, unaccountable success, or statistical anomalies in their careers.  Feel free to share others you can think of with me.

The Baseball Hall of Fame: A Qualitative Analysis, Part 4

If the decade of the 1970’s is known primarily as the decade of uninhibited excess, that also applies to Major League Baseball’s Hall of Fame during that decade.  An astonishing 36 former Major League ball players were inducted during the ’70’s, 22 of them by the Veteran’s Committee alone.

As we have seen here, here, and here, through 1969, approximately 30% or more of the players elected to the Hall of Fame were either borderline candidates, or were outright mistakes.  This percentage would become worse by 1980.

Now let’s take a look at what the ’70’s had to offer.

1970:  BBWAA – Lou Boudreau  V.C. Earle Combs, Jesse Haines

Primarily a member of the Cleveland Indians, Boudreau was arguably the best shortstop in the A.L. during the 1940’s.  He led the A.L. in fielding percentage every single season from 1940-49.  He also led the league in overall WAR by a position player in both 1943 (6.7) and 1948 (10.5), winning the A.L. MVP award in ’48.  A career OPS+ of 120 is very solid for a shortstop, and his career WAR of 56.0 is Hall-worthy.

Combs in a photograph taken while he was playi...

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Earle Combs was the starting center fielder for the ’27 Yankees.  He had a great year in ’27 posting a triple slash line of .356 / .414 / .511, with an OPS+ of 141.  He also led the league in hits (231) and triples (23) while scoring 137 runs.

But Combs got a late start in the Majors, not becoming a full-time starter until he was 26-years old.  He enjoyed nine productive seasons with the Yankees, but a career WAR of 44.7 (despite a career .325 batting average) is sub-par for a HOF candidate.

Combs was a very good player, but not quite Hall of Fame good.

At first glance, Jesse Haines appears to have been the Rick Reuschel of his era (the ’20’s and ’30’s.)  They each won a little over 200 games, tossed over 3,000 innings during 19 seasons,, and posted ERA+’s a little better than Replacement Level.

But Reuschel had a much higher WAR than Haines (66.3 to 33.8.)  If Reuschel doesn’t belong in The Hall (although a case can be made that he does), then Haines certainly does not, either.

1971:  V.C.  Dave Bancroft, Jake Beckley, Chick Hafey, Harry Hooper, Joe Kelley, Rube Marquard

Apparently, the Veteran’s Committee had fond memories of Dave, Jake, Chick, Harry, Joe and Rube.  But are all six of them really solid choices for the Hall of Fame?

Bancroft could field well, but as an overall player, he appears to have been a hybrid of Gary Templeton and Phil Rizzuto.  Led the league in times caught stealing (27) in his rookie year.  Career WAR:  46.4.  Not a positive addition to The Hall of Fame.

Beckley had a career WAR of 61.5.  He was never really a great player, but was consistent over a lot of years.  He led his league in triples once, and nothing else over a 20-year career.  He never finished higher than 5th place in WAR in any season.  Reasonably decent addition to The Hall, but not a true immortal.

Chick Hafeywas a rich man’s Mike Greenwell.  Hafey could hit pretty well, but didn’t remain productive for very long.  Won a batting title.  Average defensive outfielder.  Just 1,466 career hits.  Career WAR:  29.5.  Not a useful addition to The Hall.

Harry Hooper, Boston AL (baseball), cropped, h...

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Harry Hooper played alongside Tris Speaker and Duffy Lewis in the great Red Sox outfield of the early 1900’s.  Of the three, however, only Speaker deserves to be in The Hall.  Hooper’s career triple slash line stands at .281 / .368 / .387.

Career OPS+ 114.  Career WAR: 52.5.  An excellent defensive outfielder with a career Def. WAR of 8.4.  At best, however, a borderline HOF’er.

Joe Kelley is certainly one of the most anonymous players in the Hall of Fame.  Enjoyed a few fine seasons in the 1890’s playing for Brooklyn.  His 194 career triples are 9th best of all-time.  Career OPS+ is a very decent 133.  Career WAR:  55.5.  About as borderline HOF as they come.

In 1912, pitching for the Giants, Rube Marquard was a great pitcher.  He led the Giants, and the N.L., with 26 wins.  The previous year he had led the league with 237 strikeouts.  But by age 27, he was a shadow of his former self.  He hung around the majors to win 201 games, but his career WAR: 28.5, reveals how little he actually accomplished over the rest of his career.  Marquard does not belong in The Hall.

1972:  BBWAA – Yogi Berra, Sandy Koufax, Early Wynn  V.C.  Lefty Gomez, Ross Youngs

Yogi Berra won ten World Series rings.  Career WAR:  61.9 (fifth best among catchers.)  358 career home runs.  Three MVP awards.  Strangely, Berra never led the league in any offensive category even once in his career.  That seems pretty unlikely for such a good hitter who played nearly 20-years, if you think about it.

Few players in baseball history have attained the untarnished legendary status of Sandy Koufax.  During a six-year period, 1961-66, he was among the very best pitchers who ever lived, winning three Cy Young awards in his last four seasons.  He struck out over 300 batters three times, tossing four no-hitters in his career.  Koufax compiled an astounding 47.6 WAR during those half-dozen years, an average of 7.9 WAR per year.

He accomplished all of this with style, dignity and professionalism seldom equaled in baseball history.

In 23 years in the Majors, Early Wynn enjoyed about five very good seasons and several other decent ones.  He topped 20 wins five times, led the league in strikeouts twice, and  finished his career with an even 300 wins (against 244 losses.)  Career WAR: 52.0.  Career OPS+ 1o7.  Even with 300 wins, Wynn is a borderline HOF’er.

The Veteran’s Committee must have confused Lefty Gomez with Lefty Grove.  But Gomez, despite pitching for the great Yankee teams of the 1930’s, won just 189 games in his career.  He led the league in wins twice, ERA twice, and ERA+ twice.  Basically, he had two great years and a few other good ones. Career WAR:  43.0.  Does not actually belong in The Hall.

Ross Youngs:  One of the most random of all Hall of Fame choices.  Young played just ten seasons in the Majors, from 1917-26 for the Giants.  He was a legitimate hitter, posting a career batting average of .322 and a career OPS+ of 130.  But he compiled just 1,491 hits in his career, and scored only 812 runs. His career just wasn’t long enough nor impressive enough to merit Hall induction.  Poor choice.

1973:  BBWAA – Roberto Clemente, Warren Spahn  V.C.  George Kelly, Mickey Welch

Roberto Clemente:  Warrior on the field, apostle of peace off the field.  Lived and died a hero to millions.  Even the Hall isn’t big enough to encompass his legacy.

Warren Spahn:  Who is the greatest left-handed pitcher in baseball history?  Spahn has a legitimate case.  His 363 career victories are the most since the end of WWII, and the sixth most in history.  He reached 20-wins in a season a ridiculous 13 times, leading the league in wins eight times.  His career WAR: 93.4, is 11th best among pitchers in MLB history, and is second only to Lefty Grove among left-handers.  An obvious choice for The Hall.

George “High Pockets” Kelly is yet another early 20th century Irishmen in The Hall.  The V.C. was also going through a Giants fetish at this time, thus a player with 819 runs scored, an OPS+ of 109, and a career WAR of 24.3 is in The Hall.  But he did have a cool nickname.

Mickey Welch

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Mickey Welch:  My favorite stat for Welch is that he won 44 games in 1885, and did NOT lead the league in that category.  His 574 innings pitched in 1880 (age 20) also did not lead the league.  He won 307 games against 210 losses.  Career ERA+ 114.  Career WAR: 56.5.  Ah, hell. Put him in.  They don’t make ’em like that anymore.

1974:  BBWAA – Whitey Ford, Mickey Mantle  V.C.  Jim Bottomley, Sam Thompson

It’s beautiful symmetry when two long-time teammates go into The Hall together.  Mantle and Ford are not only two of the greatest Yankees of all-time, they are both among the greatest players who ever lived.  Mantle is in the top ten.  Ford is a top 40 pitcher.  Both are certainly qualified for The Hall.

Jim Bottomley was a slugger for the Cardinals in the 1920’s and early ’30’s.  He won the N.L. MVP award in 1928.  He drove in a lot of runs, pounded his fair share of extra base hits, and finished with a career OPS+ of 124.  A crummy defensive player, Bottomley finished with a career WAR of 32.4.  I don’t quite see a HOF caliber player here.

Sam Thompson was a 19th century player who led his league in one category or another 21 times.  An OPS+ of 146 is very impressive.  Not a high career WAR, but they played somewhat fewer games per season back then.  He’s a legit HOF’er.

1975:  BBWAA – Ralph Kiner  V.C.  Earl Averill, Billy Herman

I seem to remember Bill James casting aspersions on Kiner’s selection to The Hall.  Kiner played only ten seasons in The Majors with the Pirates in the 1940’s and ’50’s, but led the league in home runs in each of his first seven consecutive seasons.  He also drew a lot of walks, scored a lot of runs, and drove in a lot of runs through age 30.

But after that, his career went downhill fast.  Although his career OPS+ is a very impressive 149, his WAR is just 45.9.  Sort of a cross between Jim Rice and Rocky Colavito.  Sprinkle in just a touch of Dave Kingman.  Bake at 375 degrees on a hot Pittsburgh summer day, and voila, you have yet another borderline HOF’er.  Bon appetit!

For some reason, Earl Averill got a very late start in The Majors, not breaking in until he was already 27-years old.  Played centerfield reasonably well for the Indians in the ’30’s piling up some pretty nice offensive numbers for a decade.  But his late start and rapid descent after age 36 results in a relatively low career WAR of 45.  If Averill’s in, there is no excuse to fuss and fight over Jim Edmonds’ candidacy a few years from now.

A well-respected player, Billy Herman was a ten-time N.L. All-Star selection.  During his 15-year career with the Cubs and Dodgers, he had three 200-hit seasons, topped 2,300 hits, and led his league once each in hits, doubles and triples.  Not much power.  Good fielder.  Career OPS+ 112.  WAR: 55.6.

If we arbitrarily establish that every position player with a career WAR of 55.0 or higher automatically gets into The Hall, then we have 141 position players (Jack Clark representing the last man in.)  But we lose three great catchers:  Bill Dickey, Mickey Cochrane and Buck Ewing.  If we drop the standard down to 50.0, we gain those three, plus we add Ted Simmons and Gabby Hartnett (as well as Cesar Cedeno, Ron Cey and Fred McGriff.)  Not that the Hall of Fame should exactly mirror the Hall of WAR, but the question is, how exclusive do you want The Hall to be?

1976:  BBWAA – Bob Lemon, Robin Roberts  V.C.  Roger Connor, Freddie Lindstrom

Bob Lemon – The bastard child of Allie Reynolds and Hal Newhouser.  Three-time winner of the Sporting News Pitcher of the Year award.  Seven-time All Star.  Seven time 20-game winner.  Led league in complete games five times.  207-128 record.  3.28 ERA.  Career ERA+ 119 is the same as Ron Guidry and Warren Spahn.  WAR: 42.4.  Took about a dozen years for the BBWAA to finally decide this one.  If you prefer the more modern stats, he’s probably not your man.  But he’s not a poor choice, either.

Robin Roberts is a solid member of the Hall of Fame.  For six consecutive seasons, 1950-55, he won at least 20 games, adding 19 wins in 1956.  During that stretch, this Phillies ace led the N.L. in wins four times, complete games and innings pitched five times, and strikeouts twice.  Won 286 games against 245 losses.  He also led all N.L. pitchers in WAR four times.  Career WAR of 80.9 is outstanding.

Roger Connor was one of the finest corner infielders of the last two decades of the 19th century.  Career OPS+ 153 is outstanding.  WAR: 87.2.  Kudos to the V.C. for getting this one right.

Freddie Lindstrom:  Yet another Giant who played in the mid-to-late 1920’s and early ’30’s.  Led N.L. in hits once.  Had a pair of 231 hit seasons.  Reached 100 games played in just eight seasons.  Career WAR:  29.2.  There is really no objective reason why he should be in The Hall of Fame.

1977:  BBWAA – Ernie Banks  V.C.  Amos Rusie, Joe Sewell

Ernie “Let’s Play Two” Banks, except these days you have to spring for a day-night doubleheader.  Ah, nothing is sacred anymore.  “Mr. Cub” began his career with Chicago at age 22 in 1953, and retired with Chicago at age 40 in 1971.  Won back-to-back MVP awards in 1958-59.  Ranks 21st on the home run list with 512.  Easy choice for The Hall.

Amos Rusie pitched for just ten seasons between 1889 and 1901.  Won a lot of games.  Lost a lot of games.  Pitched a ton of complete games, as was the fashion back then.  Seems to have been one of the better pitchers of his era.  ERA+129.  WAR:  60.6.  And, of course, he played for the Giants.  The “ayes” have it.

English: Photo of Joe Sewell, Published by Bai...

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Joe Sewell was a pretty good shortstop who played primarily for Cleveland in the 1920’s.  Had one of the worst years in history attempting to steal bases.  In 1927, he attempted to steal a base 19 times, and was thrown out 16 times.  Ouch.  Career OPS+ 108.  A good player, but not really good enough for The Hall.

1978:  BBWAA – Eddie Mathews  V.C.  Addie Joss

Who was the greatest third baseman in history before Mike Schmidt came along?  It must have been Eddie Mathews.  A true immortal.

I’ve been intrigued by Addie Joss for a long time.  As far as I know, he is the only player in The Hall for whom they waived the Ten Year Rule, as Joss was struck down with a fatal disease (meningitis) after just nine years in the Majors.

His career numbers are unbelievable.  In five of his nine seasons, his ERA was under 2.00.  His career ERA of 1.89 is the second best in history, accumulated in over 2,327 innings pitched.  His career WHIP, .0968 is the best in Major League history.  His ERA+ of 142 is sixth best in history among starting pitchers who pitched at least 1,500 innings.  The Veteran’s Committee was right to waive the Ten Year Rule for Joss.

1979:  BBWAA – Willie Mays  V.C.  Hack Wilson

Willie Mays:  Among the top five, maybe the top three, players who ever put on a baseball uniform.  I always wondered why when Ted Williams was still alive, he, not Mays (nor Aaron for that matter) was always introduced as the Greatest Living Player.  Williams was the greatest natural hitter, but Mays was the better all around player.

Hack Wilson was a barrel-chested masher who still holds (and probably always will) the record for most RBI in a season (191 in 1930.)  Led N.L. in home runs four times.  Had six seasons with over 100 RBI.  But do you know what?  He still finished his career with fewer total RBI than Jeff Conine.  Also hit 56 home runs in 1930, but finished his career with only 244 homers, one less than Mickey Tettleton.   Played centerfield, but not very well.  Career WAR: 39.1.  Not a HOF’er.

Our overall tally, then, for this decade is 16 definite HOF’ers, 8 marginal choices and, unfortunately, 12 poor choices.  In effect, Hall voters may have missed the mark on up to 56% of their choices, an astoundingly high total.  The 1970’s, then, severely undermined the argument that only the best of the best are worthy of Hall induction.

If there ever was a Golden Age of Hall induction, clearly, we appear to be moving further away from it.

Perhaps the situation improved during the 1980’s.  We’ll check out that decade next time.

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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

Ken Singleton, or Roger Maris?

Ken Singleton being honored at the 25th Annive...

Image via Wikipedia

As I’m just now returning to my old digs here at WordPress, I thought I would make this post relatively short, just to get back in the swing of things.

This is the time of year when the Veteran’s Committee takes yet another look at long-retired baseball players to decide if they merit selection to the Hall of Fame.  This time around, the committee is comprised of 16 members, and 12 of them must vote in the affirmative for a candidate to become elected to The Hall.

Inevitably, one issue that always comes up is longevity versus short-term greatness.   Some voters, and baseball fans in general, seem to prefer players who have had long and durable careers, and who compile mountains of counting stats as a result of their longevity.

Still other fans and pundits are partial to the players who burned bright for a few short years, but burned out quickly, as their preferred choice of Hall of Fame resume.  Thus, Don Sutton vs. Sandy Koufax.  Both are in The Hall, each of them representing one pole on opposite ends of the HOF spectrum.

I’ve recently compiled a list of the top 50 players who are not in the Hall of Fame, which I will share at a later date.  While compiling my list, I found myself stuck on which player to choose as the 50th and final player, Ken Singleton or Roger Maris.

Ken Singleton was an under-appreciated player who toiled for 15 years in the 1970’s and early ’80’s, playing for the Mets, the Orioles and the Expos.  His career OPS+ of 132 really jumped out at me.  Over the course of his career,  adjusting for his home ballparks and the era in which he played, he was 37% better than a league-average replacement level player.  That struck me as pretty impressive.  In fact, his career OPS+ is the same as Hall of Famers Tony Gwynn, Joe Morgan and Al Simmons.  Also, Singleton’s career offensive WAR of 46.6 is exactly the same as Kirby Puckett’s.

As for Roger Maris, well, you know pretty much all you need to know about him.  He has become synonymous with the average working stiff who gets screwed in the end.  A two-time MVP, Maris enjoyed three very fine seasons before retiring from baseball after his age 32 season.  He was a four-time All-Star, he won a Gold Glove, and he still holds the American League record for most home runs in a season.  But other than two excellent and a couple of other very good seasons, there is not much else to recommend him as a legitimate candidate for The Hall.

I wouldn’t argue that either Singleton or Maris belongs in The Hall, but if you had to pick one, which one would you choose, and why?  Do you prefer measured consistency over a long period of time, or, well, do you choose Roger Maris?

Roger Maris Museum in Fargo, ND

Image via Wikipedia

I go back and forth myself about this argument.  I’d like to hear your opinion.

Thanks for reading, and welcome back to the On Deck Circle.  It’s good to be home.

Bill

Underrated / Overrated: Baseball and Other Stuff – Part IV

The Blues Brothers (film)

Image via Wikipedia

This is the fourth installment of an ad-hoc series called “Baseball, and Other Stuff.”  If you’ve been hanging around here for a while, you know how this works.  If you are just joining us,  settle in.  You’ll get the idea.

Massacre of Elphinstone’s Army
Part of the first Anglo-Afghan War, 1839–1842
Last-stand.jpg
The last stand of the survivors of Her Majesty’s 44th Foot at Gandamak

 

Overrated:  Ryan Howard – Sure, his home run and RBI totals over the past five years have been remarkable.  But, consider, his walk totals have declined steadily over the past five years (108, 107, 81, 75, 59.)  In only two of his seasons has his WAR exceeded 4.0.  By contrast, Albert Pujols‘ LOWEST single season WAR was 5.8.  And Howard has struck out in 27% of his plate appearances, a staggering total.  Finally, only once in the past three years has his on-base percentage touched .360.  At age 30, he has probably seen his best days.

Underrated:  Miguel Cabrera – Has been playing in the shadow of Albert Pujols his whole career.  Otherwise, Cabrera might be considered the greatest player in the game today.  Still only 27-years old, he has already produced seven excellent seasons.  He has driven in over a hundred runs in all but his first half-season, and has only once failed to score over a hundred runs in a year.  His career line is:  .313, .388, .552 with an OPS of .939.  His career OPS+ is 145, good for 45th place all-time, higher than Harmon Killebrew and Eddie Mathews.

Overrated:  Custer’s Last Stand – June, 1876.  Lt. Col. Custer’s entire command was wiped out (268 killed) at the Little Bighorn River, by a combined force of Sioux and Cheyenne warriors.  Within a year, most of the Indians had been forced back onto reservations, were killed, or had fled with Sitting Bull to Canada.

Underrated:  Massacre of Elphinstone’s Army – January, 1842.  Afghanistan (road from Kabul to Jalalabad.)  After an uprising in the city of Kabul, fomented by Akbar Khan, forced the British / Indian troops and camp followers (16,500 strong) out of Kabul, they attempted to reach safety 90 miles away at the British garrison at Jalalabad.  But soon after they set out, the slaughter began.  Near the end, fewer than 40 British regulars of the 44th regiment of foot were all that was left.  Surrounded by Pashtun tribesmen, their surrender was requested, to which a British sergeant reportedly declared, “Not bloody likely.”

Of the original 16,500 men, women and children that evacuated Kabul, only one British medical officer and a few Indian sepoys survived to tell the tale.

Overrated:  Jim “Catfish” Hunter – A colorful character and a tough competitor, but does he really belong in the Hall of Fame?  He did win 20 games or more for five straight seasons, but, excepting win totals, he had just three truly outstanding seasons in his entire career:  1972, ’74, ’75.  He never struck out 200 batters in a season.  He was extremely durable (200+ innings pitched) ten seasons in a row, and he kept his walks to a minimum.  But his career ERA+ was just 105, meaning that taking his career as a whole, he was just 5% better than your average replacement level pitcher.

Underrated:  Pedro Martinez – Will eventually make the Hall of Fame once he becomes eligible, but some writers, perhaps most, will not view Pedro as a first round HOF candidate (as if that matters) because he won just 219 games in his career.  I could be wrong, but I’m guessing that most baseball fans / writers, bloggers, etc., view Pedro as a top 25 all-time pitcher who, unfortunately, didn’t last long enough to make an even greater impression on the minds of the baseball masses.

But let’s take another look at Pedro Martinez’ career.  He was an eight time all-star who won five ERA titles, six WHIP titles, three Cy Young awards (while finishing 2nd twice and third once), whose career WAR of 75.9 is 23rd all-time.

Pedro also posted nine 200 strikeout seasons, including two 300-hundred K seasons.

But those are his LEAST impressive statistics.  Pedro also posted a career WHIP of 1.054 (fifth best ever) and struck out 10.04 batters per nine innings (3rd best ever.)  His strikeouts per walks ratio was 4.15 (3rd best ever.)

Pedro Martinez made 409 career starts, and was defeated just 100 times.  He never lost more than ten games in a season, and he was defeated 1o times in a season just twice in 18 years.  His .687 career win-loss percentage is 6th best all-time.  Pedro struck out 3,154 batters in just 2,827 innings pitched.

Most impressively, however, Pedro Martinez enjoyed his success  in a hitter’s era in mostly friendly hitter’s parks (especially Fenway Park.)  Very few pitchers in baseball history have managed to top an ERA+ (which takes into consideration a pitchers era and home ballpark) of 200.  For the sake of context, Lefty Grove, Bob Gibson and Pete Alexander each reached that plateau just once in their respective careers.  Sandy Koufax, Randy Johnson and Tom Seaver never posted an ERA+ of 200 in any single season.

Christy Mathewson reached that lofty number twice.  Roger Clemens touched that number three times, but two of those years are tainted by alleged PED usage.  Walter Johnson, widely regarded as the best pitcher who ever lived, topped an ERA+ of 200 an astonishing four times.

Pedro Martinez reached that pinnacle five times.

Pedro’s career ERA+ of 154 is pretty damn good.  How good?  Well, since you ask, it’s THE BEST EVER for a starting pitcher.

In other words, folks, from 1997-2003, not only wasn’t there a better pitcher in baseball, but there may never have been a better pitcher in the history of baseball.

Overrated:  The Everley Brothers – Here are some lyrics to their hit single “Cathy’s Clown“, released in 1962:

“When you see me shed a tear, and you know that it’s sincere, Doncha think its kinda sad, that you’re treatin’ me so bad?  Or don’t you care…?

Egad man, grow a spine!

Underrated:  The Blues Brothers:

Overrated:  Dave Winfield – Nice overall life-time numbers, 3,000+ hits, 1,800+ RBI’s, 465 home runs… no one’s saying that he sucked.  And he gets extra points for being tailed by a private investigator at the behest of Herr Steinbrenner in the ’80’s. But his career line of .283, .353, .475 is not spectacular.  Nor is his .827 career OPS, or his OPS+ of 130.  Each of these numbers are rather on the low side for a HOF outfielder.

Underrated:  Jimmy Wynn – Jimmy (Toy Cannon) Wynn broke into the big leagues in 1963 at the age of 21, and retired fifteen-years later at the age of 35.  For most of his career, he played in pitchers’ parks in a heavily dominant pitcher’s era.  Despite these handicaps, Wynn was an offensive force in the N.L.  In 1965, at age 23, Wynn stole 43 bases while being caught just four times.  He also drew 84 walks, scored 90 runs, hit 30 doubles and 22 homers, and logged an OPS+ of 144.

In 1967, despite leading the league in strikeouts, Wynn clubbed 37 homers, drove in 107, scored 102 and stole 16 bases.  In ’68, he led the league in offensive WAR at 7.7.

In 1969, Wynn led the league with a huge total of 148 walks, resulting in a .436 on-base percentage.  He also slammed 33 homers and scored 113 runs.  His .943 OPS was good for sixth in the league.  His OPS+ of 166 was a career high, and was fourth best in the senior circuit.

In 1974, Wynn was traded to the Dodgers, made the All-Star team and finished fifth in the N.L. MVP voting at age 32.  He drew 108 walks, drove in 108 runs, and scored 104 runs.  He slugged 32 homers, and finished with an OPS+ of 151.

In his career, Wynn drew over a hundred walks six times, scored 90 or more runs six times, hit at least 25 homers five times, and posted a career OPS+ of 128, the same as Hall of Famers Mickey Cochrane, Goose Goslin…and Jim Rice.

And, perhaps most ironically, considering Jimmy Wynn is not in the HOF, and Dave Winfield is…

Jimmy Wynn’s career WAR: 59.8.

Dave Winfield’s career WAR: 59.7.

That’s all for today, boys and girls.  As for me, I’m done here until after Christmas, so check back in sometime between Christmas and (overrated) New Year’s. Until then, enjoy the holidays.

Halladay the Great

 

Roy Halladay

Image via Wikipedia

 

Congratulations to Phillies pitcher, Roy Halladay, who tossed the first post-season no-hitter in the Majors since Don Larsen‘s perfect game in  1956.  Halladay also pitched a perfect game earlier this year on May 29th vs. the Marlins.

Now is the time for all baseball fan’s to finally recognize how truly great Halladay has been in his fantastic career.

This past season, Halladay led the National League in wins (21) complete games (9), shutouts (4), innings pitched (250.2) and batters faced (993).  The epitome of a true workhorse, Halladay has pitched at least 220 innings in each of the past five seasons.

Halladay set a new career high in strikeouts this year with 219, the fourth 200 K season in his career.

Halladay’s career record is now 169-86, good for a .663 win-loss percentage.

His career WAR stands at 54.3, about the same as Sandy Koufax.

He has already won one Cy Young award, and should be the favorite to win his second this year.  He has also finished in the top five in Cy Young voting in four other seasons.

Halladay walked just 30 batters this year, and has topped 40 walks in a season just twice in the past decade.

Halladay has now appeared in seven All-Star games.

For over a decade now, Halladay has been one of the finest pitchers in baseball.  What he accomplished yesterday was not merely a moment of greatness.  It was yet another moment of greatness in a storied career that will one day lead inevitably to induction into baseball’s Hall of Fame.

Halladay’s is the kind of career we will one day want to share with the younger generations who weren’t around to see him pitch.  We should count ourselves lucky for having witnessed his greatness.

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