The On Deck Circle

Baseball History, Commentary and Analysis

Archive for the tag “Toronto Blue Jays”

A Half-Dozen Underrated Baseball Players, 2015

Now that another baseball season has come and gone, (the regular season anyway), it’s time to take a look back.  But instead of forecasting who will win the annual award hardware, let’s instead review those players who had fine seasons that may have gone somewhat under-appreciated.  The players I’ve chosen might not make your list.  To refer to a player as “underrated” or “under-appreciated” is to make a subjective judgment call.  Still, I’m guessing that unless you are a total baseball junkie, at least a couple of these names may have gotten by you this year.

  1. 3B Nolan Arenado:  Colorado Rockies – Arenado, a right-handed batter, was drafted by the Rockies in the 2nd round of the 2009 amateur draft.  All Arenado did in this third season in the Majors in 2015 was lead the N.L. in home runs (42), RBI (130) and total bases (354.)  A triple slash line of .287 / .323 /.575 indicates that while Arenado could stand to be a bit more selective at the plate, he certainly does crush his pitch when he gets it.  Not just a slugger, however, Arenado is also a Gold Glove caliber third baseman who led all N.L. third basemen in putouts (105), assists (385), double-plays turned (42) and range factor.  This 24-year old played in his first All-Star Game in 2015, and should have many more in his future.
  2. SP Gerrit Cole:  Pittsburgh Pirates – Cole, a right-handed pitcher, was the very first pick of the 2011 amateur draft.  In his third season in the Majors, he nearly won 20 games (19-8 in 32 starts.)  In 208 innings, he struck out 202 batters while walking just 44.  He posted a tidy 2.60 ERA (2.66 FIP), with an ERA+ of 148 and a WHIP of 1.09.  Cole surrendered just eleven home runs all year.  Also a fine fielding pitcher, he did not make an error all season. Like Arenado, Cole made his first All-Star team in 2015.  In many seasons, Cole would be the odds-on favorite to win the N.L. Cy Young award.  But with the dynamic duo of Kershaw and Greinke out in L.A., and the remarkable season enjoyed by Cubs pitcher Jake Arrieta (who could also make this list, perhaps), Cole may find himself finishing no higher than 4th or 5th in the Cy Young voting.  Still just 25-years old, however, Cole should have many chances in the future to win that particular award.
  3. CF Kevin Kermaier:  Tampa Bay Rays – Kermaier was not drafted until the 31st round in 2010.  A left-handed batting center-fielder, let me make it clear at the outset that Kermaier did not make this list due to his bat.  As a hitter, he’s about league-average, sporting an OPS+ of 98, though he did finish second in the A.L. in triples with 12.  But a .263 batting average and an on-base average of just under .300, with little power, isn’t going to win him any MVP awards in the near future.  Kermaier is on this list, instead, for his remarkable fielding ability.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen an outfielder finish a season with a 5.0 dWAR before, but Kermaier reached that lofty summit in 2015.  His overall WAR of 7.4 makes Kermaier a very valuable player, even despite the average bat.  Kermaier led A.L. center-fielders in Total Zone Runs (24) while recording 410 putouts and 15 assists.  If his bat improves during the coming seasons, the 25-year old Kermaier could become an All-Star caliber player.
  4. RP Zach Britton:  Baltimore Orioles – Drafted by the Orioles in the third round of the 2008 amateur draft, this 27-year old lefty began his career as a starter, but converted to relief-pitching before the 2014 season.  Since then, he has been one of the best closers in the A.L.  This past season, Britton finished more games (58) than any other pitcher in the A.L., while recording 36 saves.  He recorded an ERA of 1.92, an ERA+ of 217 and a FIP of 2.01.  His WHIP was a fantastic 0.990, and he struck out 79 batters in 65 innings, while walking just 14.  He gave up just three homers all year.  Britton was a first-time All Star in 2015, and while not a household name outside of Baltimore, Britton seems poised to enjoy many very productive seasons to come.
  5. 3B Josh Donaldson:  Toronto Blue Jays – Though drafted by the Cubs in the first round of the 2007 draft, Donaldson made his MLB debut with the Oakland A’s in 2010, but didn’t play as many as 75 games in the Majors until he was already 26-years old in 2012.  Since then, this right-handed batting third baseman has been a one-man wrecking crew.  Similar (though older) than Colorado’s Nolan Arenado, Donaldson has a better batting eye, and is nearly as good a defensive third baseman as Arenado.  Also, like his third base counterpart in the Senior Circuit, Donaldson led his league in total bases in 2015 with 352, just two fewer than Arenado.  Of the two, however, Donaldson probably has the better shot at league MVP this year.  Donaldson led the A.L. in both runs scored (122) and RBI (123) while slamming 41 homers and 41 doubles.  Though Donaldson will turn 30-years old this December, his obvious talent should continue to shine on in Rogers Centre, Toronto for the foreseeable future.
  6. CF / 2B Mookie Betts:  Boston Red Sox – Drafted in the fifth round in 2011, this second baseman / center-fielder has brought life and energy to the Red Sox (despite their losing record.)  Mookie turns 23-years old this Wednesday, October 7th, so Happy Birthday in advance, Mookie.  Primarily an outfielder these days, Mookie batted .291 in 2015, with a perhaps surprising .479 slugging percentage.  He has plenty of pop in his bat, as evidenced by his 68 extra base hits this season, including 18 home runs.  Mookie scored 92 runs in 145 games and stole 21 bases while accumulating a 6.0 WAR in his first full year.  This athletic and deceptively powerful young man may already be the most valuable player on the Red Sox, and figures to man center-field for them for years to come.

Obviously, there are many more players who I could add to this list.  But let me put the question to you, oh wise readers.  Which players would you include on this list, based on their 2015 stats?

Advertisements

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?

Post Navigation