All Time Top Ten: First Basemen (updated 7/21/13)

Continuing my posts on the ten greatest of all time at each position –

1. Lou Gehrig  1923-1939   2164G, 493HR, 1995 RBI, .340 BA, 178OPS+

No surprise here, although Pujols may have the best chance since Jimmie Foxx to knock Gehrig out of this spot.

2.  Albert Pujols 2001-Present  1958G, 492HR, 1498RBI, .321 BA, 165OPS+

Even though he’s still active, I have no reservations about putting Pujols this high.  We are watching a legend in action.  (Update 7/21/13)  I now have some reservations..  Pujols had mediocre (for him) seasons in 2011 and 2012, and he’s had an even worse 2013..  the end result is he’s dropped ten points on his lifetime batting average and 7 points on his OPS..  a bad 2014 and he’ll slip behind Jimmie Foxx most likely into 3rd.

3. Jimmie Foxx 1925-1945  2317G, 534HR, 1922 RBI, .325BA, 163OPS+

Foxx was essentially done as a player at 32. I can’t imagine what he might have done had his career lasted longer.

4. Hank Greenberg 1930-1947 1394G, 331HR, 1276 RBI, .313BA, 158 OPS+

Greenberg was an absolute monster hitter.  He played in relatively few games due to a few factors.  He missed most of the 1936 season due to a wrist injury, and spent more service time in WWII than any other major leaguer.  he was actually discharged honorably due to age before the war even started, but reenlisted after the bombing of pearl harbor.  In 1945 at age 34 he returned to the majors hitting .311 with 13 home runs in 78 games.  In 1946 he led the American league in home runs and RBIs but hit a career low .277  He finished 8th in MVP voting although he was the second best hitter in the league to Ted Williams.  In 1947 he was traded to the Pirates and hit 25 home runs in just 402 At Bats and lead the National league in walks. His average was just .249 however and he retired at age 36.

5.  Jeff Bagwell 1991-2005  2150G, 449HR, 1529 RBI, .297 BA,  149OPS+

Maybe a surprising choice.  With first basemen, unless you’re a really bad fielder – it’s all about how good a hitter you are.. and Bagwell was among the best..I see no reason not to rate Bagwell 4th.

6.  Willie McCovey 1959-1980 2588G, 521HR, 1555RBI, .270BA, 147OPS+

The second best Willie in Giants history.

7.  Frank Thomas 1990-2008 2322G, 521 HR, 1704HR, .301 BA, 156 OPS+

Oh, what could have been.. for the first 8 years of his career Thomas was as good as any first baseman, or even hitter in history.. then the Big Hurt became, well, hurt.  injuries sapped him of his talent and relegated him to a full time DH.  He was never a good fielder anyway

8.  Harmon Killebrew 1954-1975 2435G, 573HR, 1584HR, .256BA, 143 OPS+

Where to put a guy like Harmon Killebrew? He only played 969 games at first, but that was almost 200 more than anywhere else.  He basically did two things:  Hit towering home runs and draw walks.  But he did both these things better than anyone else in the 60’s.

9.  Cap Anson 1871-1897 2524G, 97HR, 2075RBI, .334BA, 142 OPS+

The guy who this blog is named after.  He, more than anyone else epitomizes 19th century baseball. He played every year except two in that century.

10. Mark McGwire 1986-2001 1874G, 583HR, 1414RBI, .263BA, 162 OPS+

I debated leaving McGwire off altogether.  In the end I just decided to guesstimate where he’s be if steroids never existed.. I think around here.  statistically he’s the greatest power hitter of all time… but I think minus the juiced era he rates below both Foxx and Killebrew among power hitting first basemen.

Honorable Mention:

Fred McGriff 1986-2004  2460G, 493HR, 1550 RBI, .284 BA, 134 OPS+

I have a soft spot in my heart for Crime Dog.  He’s the guy who did everything right, kept his nose clean while those around him didn’t, and kept plugging away with productive season after productive season.  I think he should get in the Hall of Fame someday.

Will Clark 1986-2000 1976G, 284HR, 1205RBI, .303 BA, 137OPS+

I mention Clark, because if you care to drop McGwire off the list this is who I’d push up on it at number 10.  Clark hit .319 with 21 home runs at age 36 and then retired. I really don’t know why.  His stats look artificially mediocre but he was much better than people realize.  Like McGriff he really should be a hall of famer someday.

Eddie Murray would be about 13th if you’re wondering.. his peak value was just never high enough.

All Time Top Ten: Catchers (updated 7/21/13)

Top Ten players at Each Position

Part One: Catchers

My Rankings of the top ten baseball players of all time begins with the Catcher position.  I limit myself to only major league players, which leaves out Japanese Leaguers, Negro Leaguers, etc.  Mainly this is because I don’t have a good way to judge them.  I don’t think I’m biased… intuitively Josh Gibson seems like he would be in the top three catchers of all time at a minimum, but I can’t know enough to be sure, and that ultimately isn’t fair.  I won’t go into an in depth bio of these guys. Just quick notes about what I think of them where appropriate. Agree?  Disagree? Comment.

1.   Johnny Bench  1967-1983  2158G, 389HR, 1376RBI, .267BA, 126OPS+

Probably the top 5 catchers or so aren’t that far apart in value.  Bench is  one of the top ten fielding catchers ever, and certainly one of the ten best hitting as well.  I’m not sure any other catcher would make the top ten in both.

2.   Yogi Berra  1946-1963, 1965  2120G, 358HR, 1430 RBI, .285BA, 125OPS+

Berra has one of the best HR/SO ratios ever with only 414 strikeouts in his career.

3.   Carlton Fisk 1969-1993   2499G, 376HR, 1330RBI, .269BA, 117OPS+

An extremely long career for a catcher.

4.   Mickey Cochrane 1925-1937   1482G, 119HR, 832RBI, .320BA, 128OPS+

Short Career, but he packed a lot into it.  Two MVP awards (oddly enough in two of his worst seasons),  Five World Series Appearances with Three Championships and was the best of his generation of catchers.

5.   Mike Piazza  1993-2007    1912G,  427HR, 1335RBI, .308BA, 142OPS+

Easily the best hitting catcher of all time, except perhaps the aforementioned Gibson.  Piazza is also a good example of why catchers are as a rule not so great hitters with short careers, because if they were any better they’d be moved off of position to save on wear and tear.  Piazza stuck behind the plate until his last season however and as a result injuries forced him out of the league. Piazza wasn’t real good as a catcher, and couldn’t throw out runners to save his life.  That’s why he only ranks 5th.

6.   Ivan Rodriguez  1991-2011    2543G, 311HR, 1332RBI, .296BA, 106OPS+

Pudge Rodriguez is a modern day Carlton Fisk, he just keeps going and going. He has had Johnny Bench-level fielding abilities but isn’t as good a hitter as Bench was.  (Update: Rodriguez retired after the 2011 season so updated stats.. doesn’t really affect his ranking.)

7.   Gabby Hartnett 1922-1941   1990G, 236HR, 1179RBI, .297BA, 126OPS+

Hartnett was an all-star the first six years the game was held, won the NL MVP in 1935, and was second in 1937.  He appeared in four worlds series with the cubs.  They lost each time of course.

8.   Ted Simmons 1968-1988   2456G, 248HR, 1389RBI, .285BA, 117OPS+

Simmons was overlooked throughout his career because of Bench, Carter, Fisk, etc.  He was every bit in their class however.

9.   Roy Campanella  1948-1957    1215G, 242HR, 856RBI, .276BA, 124OPS+

I think Campanella tended to be a little overrated for many years.  He did win three MVP awards in 51, 53, and 55 with fantastic seasons.  I’m not sure he really was the best player in each of those years however, and in his other seven seasons was closer to average that one might expect.

10.   Gary Carter  1974-1992   2296G, 324HR, 1225RBI, .262BA, 115OPS+

Carter hurt himself trying to hang on just a little too long.  For a five or six year period in the late 70s/early 80s he was the best catcher in baseball.

Honorable Mention:  Jorge Posada, Bill Dickey, Bill Freehan, Elston Howard.

We’ll see where Joe Mauer is in ten years.

  

Ten players who should be kicked out of the Baseball Hall of Fame

A lot of people debate and argue about who should belong in the Baseball Hall of Fame,  but I’d like to shine a spotlight on some who chould be kicked out.  I’ll limit it to ten since it helps to focus.  Also for clarification I’ll ignore managers, contributors, negro leaguers, etc. from the discussions.  They are all in the Hall for subjective reasons and I can only make definite conclusions about those who are in primarily for their play in the major leagues.  Much as I’d love to exclude Bowie Kuhn or Effa Manley they can wait for another day.

Keep in mind there’s nobody in the Hall of Fame who was a “bad” player.  But most of these in the list were really average players who played long enough to compile impressive stats, or good players who had misleading numbers for various reasons. These aren’t neccesarily the absolute ten worst, but they’re probably pretty close.

1. Ray Schalk   C 1912-1929

Ray Schalk is a popular candidate for worst hall of fame player. He has the second worst OPS of any player elected primarily as a position player, with his .656 just beating out Luis Aparicio’s .653.  But there are good reasons to rate Aparicio a lot higher than Schalk.  Schalk had only 5306 at bats, and was generally a .250ish hitter with essentially no power, though he did draw a decent amount of walks.  In 1922 after the live ball was introduced he “exploded” for a .281 average and 4 home runs.  Despite playing half his career with the live ball he hit only 11 home runs in his career, less than Tom Seaver or Steve Carlton.  He was actually 3rd in the MVP voting that year (1922).  Other than that he didn’t make many headlines. He was a pretty good catcher, but not earth shatteringly good.  As far as I can tell he’s in the hall for catching  1721 games, which was a large amount at the time.

2.  Joe Tinker, Johnny Evers, Frank Chance.  SS, 2B, 1B  1902-1916, 1902-1929, 1898-1914

All right maybe it’s cheating to list three in one spot, but all are in the Hall of Fame for the same reason, and none of them deserve it.  They are the subject of a famous poem, and were important cogs in one of the greatest dynasties, the Cubs of 1906-1910.  That being said as individuals they are all lacking.  Joe Tinker played the most games: 1806,  and had a lifetime 96 OPS+.  He was a pretty good fielder, even if the trio’s exploits are overstated.  He never led the league in anything other than games played in 1908.  Johnny Evers hit a Schalk-like 12 home runs in his career, though he did draw a decent number of walks, which put his OPS+ at 106.  He also had some speed, stealing 346 bases.  His fielding was somewhat better than average, though not as good as Joe Tinker.  He won an MVP award in 1913, though he didn’t deserve it.  He had a  far superior year in 1911, though he didn’t deserve it then either.  Frank Chance was the best hitter of the three, with an impressive 135 OPS+ lifetime.  Problem is, he only played 1288 games with 4299 at bats.  He led the league in runs once, stolen bases twice, and onbase percentage once.  He was also player-manager during the Cubs run.  I just don’t think his playing or managerial career was long enough to merit a Hall selection.

3.  Phil Rizzuto SS 1941-1956

Phil Rizzuto is in the Hall of Fame because he’s a Yankee.  Period.  You know it, I know it.  Phil Rizzuto knew it.  After intense lobbying for years he was finally elected in 1994.  He had a short career of 1661 games.  That’s not completely his fault due to his WWII service but since his lifetime OPS+ was a below average 93 it would have just meant more mediocre stats had he played longer.  Rizzuto came to the league late as a 23 year old and was washed up by 36.  In between he appeared in five all star games,  and in 1950 did have a really good year, hitting .324 and winning the MVP.  He was a pretty good fielder but not especially spectacular.  It’s worth noting that below average hitters who AREN’T good fielding shortstops won’t even stay in the majors.  Vern Stephens and Marty Marion are among the shortstops of that time who were at least as good, if not better than Rizzuto and not in the Hall of Fame.

4.  Rube Marquard P  1908-1925

From 1911 to 1913 Rube Marquard was 73-28 was an ERA around 2.50.  In those days that was good enough for maybe 4th, 5th best pitcher in the National League.  The rest of his career was 128-149 with a 3.26 ERA, especially bad when you consider most of his career was in the dead ball era.

5.  Travis Jackson SS 1922-1936

Elected mainly because he was on a good team and his buddies were on the veterans comittee.  Hit .291 with 135 home runs… in the best offensive era in baseball history. His lifetime OPS was 102 and he was an average fielder as well.  In fact that pretty much sums up Jackson.  Perfectly average.

6.  George Kell  3B  1943-1957

Probably my favorite “bad” selection.  Kell was elected by the Veteran’s committee in 1983 (the year after Jackson).  I remember thinking “who the crap is George Kell?”  Well he was an above average fielder at an important position. That’s good, but the real reason he was elected was his lifetime .306 batting average in an era where few players had averages over .300 .   To illustrate the point if he had 51 less hits he would have hit .299.  He would still be essentially the same player but never would have been considered by the Hall of Fame.  Kell led the league once in batting average, and had another year where he hit .340.  He led the league in hits twice, doubles twice, had very little power, and didn’t steal that many bases (though nobody did then).  Basically he was Carney Lansford with a better glove.  He didn’t have a particularly long career, though he somehow managed to make 10 all star games.  That’s pretty impressive when you consider he played 140 games or more only four times.  He had two top 5 MVP finishes.  Another possible reason for his inclusion is the fact he was a third baseman, and there aren’t (or weren’t) that many in the Hall.  But why not Ron Santo or Ken Boyer?  Both are FAR more qualified in every statistic except batting average.  Well they weren’t eligible to be considered by the Veteran’s committee but hey.  Ron Cey is more deserving of the Hall than George Kell for pete’s sake.  (Update 7/21/2013 – Ron Santo was elected to the hall of fame in 2012).

7.  Red Ruffing P 1924-1947

Did you know Babe Ruth has the highest OPS of any player in the hall of fame?  You probably did.  Did you know Ruth also has the ninth-lowest ERA of any pitcher in the hall of fame?  This guy however was no Babe Ruth.  Ruffing in fact has the highest ERA of any player in the Hall of Fame at 3.80.   I could have picked another Yankee pitcher for this list like Pennock or Hoyt but I’ll stick with Ruffing.  Red Ruffing was one of those Boston to NY pipeline players and he was terrible in Boston.  From 1925 to 1930 in Boston he posted a record of 39-96.  While he may have been a little better than his record indicated his adjusted ERA was still well below average.  He led the American League in losses in 1928 and 1929.   He was then traded to the Yankees and the sun started to shine.  My grandmother could have posted a winning record for the Yankees of the 1930’s.  And that’s considering she was only 12.  I’m exaggerating but not by a lot.  Ruffing posted a record of 77-51 from 1930-1934 with the Yankees despite pitching pretty much the same as he did with Boston.  Starting in 1935 he actually pitched well above average for a few years and his won loss record showed this.  At the age of 35 in 1940 though he began to slow down and pitch like an average guy again.  His lifetime adjusted ERA is 109.  The rest of his stats are mediocre as well.  He is in the hall of fame for two reasons: 1.  He pitched for the Yankees.  and 2.  He pitched for a fairly long time and compiled a lot of optically impressive stats (for the time).

8.   Rick Ferrell C 1929-1947

His brother Wes might belong on a list of 10 best ballplayers excluded from the Hall of Fame.  Interestingly despite being a position player and playing over 1500 more games Rick hit ten less home runs than pitcher Wes. Of course Wes was 4 inches taller and 40 pounds of muscle heavier so that might have something to do with it. Rick Ferrell was a fairly average fielder (maybe a little better than average) and a terrible hitter.  His adjusted OPS is 95  (100 being average of course) and as mentioned he rarely hit home runs.  He did occasionally hit over .300 and caught a lot of games.  I think this is why he was elected by the Veterans Committe in 1984 (them again!).  This was despite not being on the BBWAA list in 24 years and only getting a couple of votes then.

9.    Bill Mazeroski  2B  1956-1972

I’ve thought about this one a lot.  It just depends on how valuable you think his defense is.  Mazeroski may have been the greatest fielder ever to play.  He was certainly one of the top 5.  Thing is, I just am not convinced that translates into a whole lot more runs than an average replacement fielder.  I  wouldn’t have any problem with Mazeroski if he were a completely average hitter with his fielding stats.  But he was atrocious.  He gives Ray Schalk a run for his money as the worst hitter in the Hall of Fame.  I would say the five worst hitters in the Hall’s history are Mazeroski, Schalk, Ozzie Smith, Rabbit Maranville and Luis Aparicio.  Smith, Maranville, and Aparicio all had very long careers though and other complimetary skills like great baserunning.  Mazeroski had a little power, but not much, couldn’t run, drew very few walks, and hit .260 lifetime.  He is the only player in the Hall of Fame with  an on base percentage lower than .300  (except pitchers, managers, etc.).  The point is, he probably cost his team somewhere in the neighborhood of 150-200 runs or so over his career offensively with his suck-tacular play. He would have to make up all those runs with his defensive play just to be average. I don’t think he does.

10.  Catfish Hunter P  1965-1979

I really didn’t want to put him on the list.  I really didn’t.  He’s from North Carolina.  He was a nice guy as far as I know.  Tragically died young.  But man looking at the stats he just does not measure up.  His lifetime ERA+ is only 105… slightly above average, worse than Ruffing.  He only had three years above 115 in his career.  He had an extremely short career only pitching two full years for the Yankees after he was traded in 1975 (only one of them good), and was out of the league after 1979 at the age of 33 with arm trouble.  His won loss record is .574, good but not great.  Really not that great at all when you consider he pitched on spectacular teams.  Don Drysdale had a similar sort of career but was a much better pitcher and even his selection was controversial. I think Jim Hunter is in the Hall of Fame because he had a cool nickname.  And he was a Yankee.

My Super Bowl Review

My quick super bowl recap –

1.  Colts started strong

2.  Peyton Manning was off the field too damn long

3.  Saints surprise everyone with their onside kick to start the 2nd half. 

4. The Colts defense petered out as the game went on, and New Orleans just didn’t make any mistakes. 

Other thoughts- 

1.  Steve Winwood should retire.

2.  The Who still rock, I wish they would sometimes play more than the same three songs when they do shows though.

3.  The commercials on the whole were disappointing.  Too many were geared towards men being idiots as usual.

4.  The infamous Tebow ad was much ado about nothing.  A cheesy attempt at comedy followed by a please visit the Focus on the Family website pitch.

Roberto Clemente vs. Al Kaline

Roberto Clemente vs. Al Kaline

 Clemente overrated?

Roberto Clemente has often been listed as one of the greatest baseball players of all time.  He was a great ballplayer but while he’s often been listed in the top 20 of all time, does he really deserve that kind of ranking? Or does he suffer from a halo effect due to his early death on a humanitarian mission?  We can easily compare him to a player who was almost his exact contemporary: Al Kaline.  I would submit that Al Kaline was just as valuable a player, if not more so than Clemente, yet receives only a fraction of the acclaim. 

First a little about each player:

Clemente came into the league in 1955 at 20.  He really wasn’t that good for his first five years, having little power, drawing virtually no walks, and not hitting for a particularly high average.  He was always considered a good fielder though, and this kept him in the league.  In 1960 things started to turn around for Clemente.  The Pirates won the World Series that year in part to Clemente’s improvement.  Clemente hit .314 with a career high 14 home runs.  His bat was no longer a liability. He finished eighth in the MVP voting.  From there he just got better,  hitting over .300 every year until his death except 1968, when he hit .291. He topped .350 three times in an era when batting averages weren’t high. He won four batting titles, peaked with 29 home runs in 1966, when he won the MVP award, and won every single gold glove from 1961 to 1972. His lifetime OPS+ is 130, a solid number. In the 1971 World Series he led the Pirates to another championship hitting .414.

Al Kaline was a wunderkind when he came into the league. A few months younger than Clemente he started even earlier in 1953 at the age of 18. He finished 3rd in the rookie of the year voting in 1954, although he really didn’t have that great of a year.  In 1955 however, Clemente’s rookie year, he had one of the best seasons a 20 year old has ever had in baseball. He led the American league in hits with 200, batting average with .340,  he was second in on base percentage, slugging average, OPS, and runs, he finished fourth in home runs with 27, and fifth in RBIs with 102. He finished a close second in the MVP voting to Yogi Berra, though honestly Mickey Mantle should have won the award. In a sense it was all downhill for Kaline after that, though he continued to be one of the premier players in the American league. He hit over .300 four of the next six years, leading the league in slugging in 1959 and doubles in 1961. After 1961 injuries started to take their toll on Kaline and he never really played a full healthy season again.  He still had bright spots though, In 1962 he hit 29 home runs with 94 home runs in just 100 games played.  He retired after the 1974 season after hitting .262 with 13 home runs in 147 games.  He led Detroit to a World Series win in 1968 where he played well, hitting .379 and like Clemente was a great fielder, winning 10 of the 11 gold gloves from 1957 to 1967. 

So one can see part of the problem already, Clemente started slowly, but then finished strong with big years and gaudy statistics.  Kaline started strong but then more or less slowly slid downhill with very good, but not optically impressive stats years after year.  Let’s look at the raw stats:

Clemente: 2433 games, 1416 runs, 1305 RBIs, .317/.359/.475

Kaline:  2834 games,  1622 runs, 1583 RBIs, .297/.376/.480

Kaline has an edge in runs and RBIs but this pretty much disappears if you take Kaline’s extra games into account.  Clemente hit for a higher average, but Kaline has a higher On Base percentage and slugging average.  This is why Kaline’s OPS is actually 134, while Clemente’s is 130.  Clemente hit a lot more triples than Kaline, but Kaline hit more home runs (He holds the record for most home runs without hitting 30 in a season).  Kaline drew a ton more walks, 656 more. Kaline even stole more bases than Clemente, although neither were known for their baserunning.  The point is that hitting-wise they are pretty much even for all intents and purposes, with perhaps a bit of an edge to Kaline.

But Clemente was one of the greatest fielders of all time people will say,  and that certainly makes him better doesn’t it? 

Well fortunately both were right fielders, so this makes comparing their fielding stats easy.  I was quite surprised at what I found:

Clemente:  2370 games(RF), 4696PO, 266Assists,140 Errors, 42 Double Plays, .973 FA

Kaline:  2488 games(RF), 5035PO, 170 Assists, 73 Errors, 29 Double Plays, .980 FA

The first thing one notices is that Clemente committed almost TWICE the number of errors Kaline did, leading to Kaline’s FA being seven points higher.  Clemente did have 96 more assists and 13 Double plays, but I’m not sure how much that really makes him a better fielder when you consider that’s an extra assist every 24 games or so and an extra double play every 180 games.  At any rate I would guess the slight advantage Clemente has due to that is about the same as Kaline’s slight advantage in hitting. 

The argument I then hear most often is that what doesn’t show up in the statistics is how many baserunners were prevented from advancing from Clemente’s fantastic cannon of an arm, and how many runs were saved due to the fear of being thrown out.  Well you tell me.  That’s the problem: We just don’t know or have any real way to calculate.  Kaline was no slouch himself in the field don’t forget, so was Clemente’s arm so great that it overrides everything else and makes him one of the all time greats while Kaline is relegated to the all time very goods?  I don’t think so, but I suppose in the end it’s a subjective opinion.  A couple other comparisons:

MVP awards:  Clemente 1, Kaline 0

Top ten MVP seasons:  Clemente 8, Kaline 9

All star seasons:  Clemente 12, Kaline 15

Gold Gloves, Clemente 12, Kaline 10

Kaline had more all stars and one more MVP type season, Clemente had the MVP and a couple more gold gloves.  Kaline however easily could have won the MVP in 1955, and probably would have in 1962 had he played a full season.  He also finished 2nd in 1963 and wouldn’t have been a bad selection over Elston Howard that year.  As for gold gloves Kaline played right field less and less due to injury after 1967 so didn’t really qualify in many years for the gold glove, though he could have perhaps won one in 1971 had the voters been so inclined.

The ten worst MVP selections of all time

You hear a lot about this or that player getting robbed in MVP voting.  I decided to take a look at every single MVP race in history and decide for myself.  Yes, I had way too much time on my hands.  Here’s my list of the ten worst MVP selections of all time. 

1.  1925 AL Roger Peckinpaugh

               Peckinpaugh was a typical good field, no hit shortstop who was winding down his career in 1925.  He hit .294 with little power. His on base average was ok – .367, but he also missed 25 games.  Now in those days the voting rules precluded prior winners from being eligible, so Babe Ruth, Walter Johnson and George Sisler weren’t eligible. That still left a large number of candidates however. Among those who received votes but didn’t win:

Al Simmons .387/.419/.599 .. In a full season no less.  Simmons probably should have won the award.

Harry Heilman  .393/.457/.569, also in a full season. 

Mickey Cochrane.. had an OPS almost 100 points higher, and played in 8 more games. Cochrane finished 10th.

Particularly mystifying is the case of Joe Sewell.  Sewell finished 3rd despite the fact he:

              1.  Was also a shortstop, and an even better fielder than Peckinpaugh.

              2.  played 29 more games than Peckinpaugh.

              3.  Had an OPS 81 points higher. 

I suppose you could explain Peckinpaugh’s selction in part to the Senators winning the pennant, and Walter Johnson not being eligible as a prior winner.  But if that’s the case, why not Stan Covaleski, who actually had a slightly better year than Johnson,  or why not Goose Goslin?, easily the best hitter on the team that year. Sam Rice also had a good year, why not him?  Why not 2nd baseman Bucky Harris, who also played an important defensive position well, had pretty much the same offensive statistics, but played in 18 more games?  He also happened to manage the team to the world series.   Bucky Harris didn’t receive a single vote.  By my estimation Peckinpaugh should have finished around 20th, IF I were being generous.  No matter how you slice it the 1925 AL MVP award was the worst selection of all time.

2.  1944 NL Marty Marion

             Except maybe for this one.  Like the 1925 AL selection this one has been universally derided.  There were a boatload of people who were more deserving than Marion, second place Bill Nicholson of the Cubs for instance. But the winner SHOULD have been Stan Musial who finished 4th, and a comparison between the two is striking. 

           1.  Both were on the pennant winning Cardinals, so no advantage to either there.

           2.  Marion was an outstanding defensive shortstop, no question.  I’ll go ahead and state this is the sole reason for his award. Musial was a pretty good first baseman. But well, it is first base. 

           3.  Offensively it isn’t even remotely close.   

Marion hit way down in the order because, well, he stunk.  As a result he came to the plate 565 times compared to Musial’s 667, despite the fact he only played in two less games.  Marion hit .267 with a whopping 34 extra base hits.  Musial hit .347 with 77 extra base hits (Musial wasn’t even much of a home run hitter in those days).  Marion drew only 43 walks, Musial had 90.  Marion had 113 runs plus RBIs, Musial had 206.  I could go on but you get the idea.  I think you could easily state the case Musial was responsible for the Cardinals producing 80-90 runs more than Marion was.  Marion’s fielding just isn’t enough to fill that find of gap.

3.  1962 NL Maury Wills

           A truly abyssmal selection.  Wills won the award for the singular reason of breaking the 20th century steals record with 104.  Now the interesting thing about that to me is that second place went to Willie Davis wth 32 steals, an incredible difference of 72.  Why was Maury Wills able to steal so many more bases than everyone else, was he THAT fast?  Well I don’t know.  What I do know is that it didn’t really translate into being a more valuable player.  Wills won the gold glove, but he was maybe only a slightly better than average fielder.  He did score 130 runs, but mainly because he had Tommy Davis, who had a bizarro career year with a .346 average and 153 RBis and Frank Howard with 31 home runs and 119 RBis hitting behind him.  Wills had an OPS of .720  Among those who didn’t win:  Willie Mays, .999.  Frank Robinson, 1.045, Hank Aaron, 1.008.  His Teammates Howard and Davis had over .900.  Aging Stan Musial topped .900.  A difference of over 200 OPS is quite a lot to make up.  Even teammate and Cy Young winner Don Drysdale would have been a better delection. 

4.  1959 AL Nellie Fox

           The problem with this selection is not so much that Nellie Fox was way worse than everyone else, it’s that there were so many other players who were at least somewhat better.  Fox was the gold glove second baseman on the pennant winning White Sox.  He was good, but he was only 2 or 3 errors better than average over the course of a season. He also had one of his better offensive seasons, hitting .306 with 71 walks.  But like I said he wasn’t THAT great of a fielder, and there were plenty of other selections that would have been better but played on teams that finished less than first.  I probably would have given it to Al Kaline. 

5.  1913 NL Johnny Evers

                 In these days it was called the Chalmers award, and Evers of course was best known as part of the Tinkers to Evers to Chance poem.  All in all it was a typical year for Evers.  he hit .279 with a single home run, and had an OPS of .728. He did draw a lot of walks but people didn’t care much about that back then. He had a much worse year than 1911 when he hit .341 against the same level of competition but finished 20th in the voting.  But again, he was a good fielder on a pennant winning team.  I might have given the award to pitcher Bill James. 

6. 2007 NL Jimmy Rollins

            The most recent MVP award clunker and proof even modern voters have their view skewed by misleading statistics.  Rollins won the award by a small margin over Colorado’s Matt Holliday, who almost certainly would have won the award had he posted his statistics anywhere but Colorado.  Rollins set a major league record with 716 at bats, led the league with 139 runs, and had a 30-30 season (31 home runs, 41 SBs).  Impressive until you realize most of those stats are mesleading.  716 at bats simply means he didn’t draw many walks. Despite being second in the league with 212 hits he only had a .344 OBP.  his OPS was a mediocre .875.  Rollins did win the gold glove at shortstop for a pennant winning team however.  Notice a running theme throughout history with these selections?  There were a buttload of better hitters in the league including his teammates Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Aaron Rowand.  Chipper Jones was probably the best hitter in the league that year, and he finished 7th.  Prince Fielder also had an OPS over 1.000.  Sure Rollins had a 30-30 season, but so did David Wright, who was a  better hitter and won the gold glove at third base. So did Brandon Phillips of Cincinnati who finished 22nd and didn’t win a gold glove at 2nd but probably could have. 

7.  1950 NL  Jim Konstanty

          Stan Musial gets screwed out of yet another MVP award.  I suppose you couldn’t give it to him every year.  Konstanty did have a pretty good year, going 16-7 with a 2.66 ERA and 22 saves for the pennant winning Phillies.  Now this brings up a good question as to how to handle relievers in MVP and CY Young award voting.  The other relievers to win the MVP award have been Dennis Eckersly in 1992, Willie Hernandez in 1984, and Rollie Fingers in 1981.  All in the American league.  In addition Cy Young winning relievers have included Eric Gagne, Mark Davis, Sparky Lyle, and so on.  Now I’m of the opinion the value of relievers is a bit overstated.  Regardless of how perfect a reliever pitches, he’s only doing it in a third of the innings a starter does.  It’s the batting equivalent of hitting .400 in only 200 at bats.  Great but so what?  Now obviously relievers come into the game at crucial juctures, but usually later when the hitters are more fatigued and they can give it 100 percent.  John Smoltz was a very good starter who towards the end of his career, after major injury, became easily the best reliever in the National league.  So one wonders, how hard is it really to be a great reliever?  Mariano Rivera has certainly been the best over the last 10 years, but has yet to win a single Cy Young or MVP.  In any case the other three MVP relievers won it more recently, when a reliever’s role was better defined and in each case they were far and away the best relievers in years where there was no single dominant hitter. 

That’s not the case with Konstanty.  First of all there was a viable pitching alternative on his own team: Robin Roberts.  Roberts might not have been the best pitcher in the National league that year but he was mighty close, and he pitched twice as many innings as Konstanty.  But like I said the real winner should have been Musial.  Musial in 1950 led the National league in batting average,  Slugging Average, was 2nd in OBP,  5th in runs and RBIs, 8th in home runs, 6th in walks, and did all this while A) having for him pretty much an off-year and B) playing for a terrible team with little pitching or hitting support. 

8.  2001 AL  Ichiro Suzuki

           One of my pet peeves is when a rookie of the year winner isn’t really a rookie.  Satchell Paige in 1948 won the rookie of the year award.  I’m sorry but he was no rookie.  Hideo Nomo in 1996 wasn’t a rookie, and Suzuki, who was an established star in Japan was no rookie.  In any case he burst onto the Major League scene in 2001 leading the league in hits, stolen bases, and batting average while winning the Gold Glove with exactly one error all season.  That’s dammed impressive.  But not as impressive as people thought at the time.  He edged out Jason Giambi who hit .342 with a .477 OBP and .660 SLG, both easily tops in the league.  Of course we now know about the Steroids, and perhaps you can discount Giambi, but how about Bret Boone who hit .331/37/141 in 3rd place?  or Alex Rodriguez who went .318/52/135 and finished only 6th? Of course Arod has since been linked to Steroids and maybe that’s the point:  even then we knew something was fishy and didn’t trust these eye popping statistics.  Suzui brought something new and exciting and nonartificial to the game.  As a side note of the top 20 MVP vote getters in the AL in 2001 eight have been directly linked to steroids and another 2 or 3 have been highly suspect.  A sad case indeed.

9.  2002 AL  Miguel Tejada

          Speaking of steroids.  Miguel Tejada won the 2002 award with a slightly better OPS than Ichiro the previous year.  Unlike Ichiro, Tejada was a mediocre fielder at best however, and 2nd place Rodriguez also played shortstop, won the gold glove,  hit 57 home runs, had an OPS over 150 points better, and by and large should have been the slam dunk selection.  Of course A) there was still backlash over the massive contract Rodriguez has signed with Texas and B) people were likely already suspicious about Arod and steroids (Tejada wasn’t suspected at the time). But from a purely objective standpoint it shouldn’t have been close. Jim Thome also would have been a far better choice.

10.  1996 AL  Juan Gonzalez

            Although I can’t argue too terribly much with the 1998 NL selection of Sammy Sosa over Mark McGwire, McGwire’s snub in 1996 is far more puzzling.  Juan Gonzalez always did well in MVP voting because he hit for a pretty decent average, hit lots of home runs, and lots and lots and lots of RBI’s.  All things MVP voters love.  Now both Gonzalez and McGwire were both roid users so that’s a wash, and really in 96 the public wasn’t thinking about the issue that much anyway.  In any case no less than 9 players had over 1.000 OPS in 1996.  Of those Gonzalez was the 8th highest.  He also had the lowest on base percentage of any of them and scored the fewest runs.  McGwire had an OPS over 100 points higher than any of these guys and finished 7th in the voting,  Frank Thomas was 2nd to McGwire in OPS and finished 8th in the voting.   Just looking at the top 20 names or so I just can’t for the life of me figure out what make Gonzalez the MVP.

dishonorable mentions.

1987 NL Andre Dawson over Jack Clark. 

1926 NL Bob O’Farrell over Hack Wilson

1960 NL Dick Groat over Willie Mays

1979 AL Don Baylor over Fred Lynn

1995 AL Mo Vaughn over Albert Belle

2006 AL Justin Morneau over Travis Hafner

The Curious Case of Dale Murphy

If I were to ask 100 people who the best player not in the hall of fame is, or rather who has come the closest to being in the hall of fame without being a member, I might not get 100 different answers, but I’d probably get 20-30 at least.  And many of those guys might be types stat heads drool over (Ron Santo, Bert Blyleven).  Some would be hometown heroes (Alan Trammell, Will Clark).  Some would simply be indignant that the Hall of Fame could overlook their “Obvious” choice…say Tim Raines.  Still others think we haven’t honored enough minorities and select Minnie Minoso or Elston Howard.  And a few would even defend the steroid casualties like Mark McGwire. 

But the actual answer to the question of the closest to the hallowed halls… so close he could smell the laquer drying on his plaque was Dale Murphy.. and I’ll illustrate why. 

Murphy started out as a catcher in 1976.  Had he stayed a catcher and posted the same stats there would not be a discussion; he would have gone in first ballot.  Nonetheless he moved to first base and played his first full season in 1978.

1978:  .228/.284/.394  OPS+ 80

Not real impressive to say the least.  He was a horrible first baseman. But the Braves were also terrible and while the Yankees or Dodgers might have axed him the Braves stuck with him and were rewarded the following year.

1979:  .276/.340/.469 OPS+ 113 

He was injured a third of the season but the Braves also had another promising young player in Bob Horner and hoped for a better future.

In 1980 He moved to center field and at the age of 24 his career really started. 

1980:  .281/.349/.510  OPS+ 135.

He hit 33 Home runs, knocked in 89, and scored 98 runs.  This is actually outstanding for those days. He was selected for his first All Star game.  He also ran into one of the first things I think has kept him out of the hall of fame. That issue is his unremarkable showing in MVP voting.  While it may seen strange to say that about a guy who won back to back awards, the truth is that in other years he did far worse than he should have.  In 1980 he finished 12th.  Some of the guys who finished ahead with worse years:

Bake McBride (10th): Hit .309 with little power.

Bob Horner (9th):  Horner was considered the more promising player at this point.. he hit two more home runs than murphy but otherwise his stats weren’t quite as good.

George Hendrick (8th):  Hendrick hit .302 with 25 home runs.. but the main reason is he hit 109 Rbis, which MVP voters always reward.

Andre Dawson (7th):  Dawson and Murphy would have many MVP “battles”

Steve Garvey (6th):  200 Hits, .304 Average, 106 RBIs.. nice big numbers but with an OPS of only .808

Dusty Baker (4th):  Hit 29 home runs with a .294 average.. slightly worse OPS

Jose Cruz (3rd):  Proof that MVP voting isn’t everything.  Cruz hit .302 with decent speed but no power.  Playing a full season as a leadoff hitter he scored 19 less runs than Murphy.  That’s sad.

Gary Carter (2nd):  Carter didn’t hit as well, but he at least is a catcher.

By my estimation in 1980 Murphy should have finished no worse than 5th or 6th behind Mike Schmidt (who won), Steve Carlton, Keith Hernandez (who also got hosed), and maybe Dawson or Baker. 

In the strike season Murphy didn’t have that great of a year, posting a completely average 101 OPS+.

In 1982/1983 of course Murphy rocketed to the stop of the baseball heap. The Braves also finished 1st and 2nd these years, the best in quite a while.  First the numbers:

1982      36/109/.281   23SB  142OPS+

1983      36/121/.302    30SB 149OPS+

He appeared in both All Star Games, won the Gold Glove both years, Back to Back MVP awards, and two silver sluggers. The stats don’t look fantastic  today but to give an example in 1983 Murphy finished: 6th in BA, 3rd in OBP, 1st in SLG, 2nd in Runs, 1st in RBIs, 4th in Walks, while having a rare (at that time) 30/30 season with a gold glove for defense.  In 1983 Andre Dawson finished 2nd to Murphy.

Now most people know those were his two MVP years but fail to realize the next two years were even better

1984     36/100/.290   19SB  149 OPS+

1985     37/111/.300   10SB   152 OPS+

Ok not a lot better but at least as good

He led the league in Home Runs both years, and in 85 also led in Runs and Walks.  But curiously enough he only finished 9th and 7th in MVP voting, despite also having two more Gold Gloves. 

In 1984 either he or Mike Schmidt was the best hitter in the league (It was always Schmidt and somebody else).  But he finished 9th mainly because voters often have a “what have you don’t for me lately” attitude.  Ryne Sandberg suddenly posted the best offensive season by a second baseman in 10 years to win it.  Maybe you could argue for Sandberg, but Jose Cruz (again!), Gary Mathews, Keith Henandez,  Rick Sutcliffe in half a season? 

In 1985  Pedro Guerrero finished 3rd in the MVP voting.  He should have been first. Him or Dwight Gooden. But there’s Dale in 7th place.  Nobody else in the league was more valuable than Murphy however except maybe Mike Schmidt again (who inexplicably got zero MVP votes that year).  He finished behind Tom Herr for pete’s sake. So who did Guerrero lose out to?  Willie Mcgee.. followed by 125 RBI Dave Parker.  To illustrate the absurdity of the vote McGee had basically the same offensive season as Ryne Sandberg.  even having about the same number of stolen bases.  But McGee was an ok center fielder while Sandberg was a perennial gold glove second baseman.  Yet in a real case of MVP-what -have-you-done-for-me-lately? Sandberg finished 13th in the voting. 

In 1986 Murphy appeared in his fifth straight all star game, won his 4th straight gold glove, and had a more than respectable OPS+ of 121.  His stats were down, but he was still one of the top ten hitters in the league that year.

In 1987 Murphy had his best year of all.  He set a career high with 44 home runs, stole 16 bases, hit .295, drew 115 walks, and posted an OPS of 157. Only Jack Clark had a higher OPS.  So the voters naturally awarded the MVP to… Andre Dawson of the last place Cubs. The National League in  1987 is one of the worst MVP voting travesties of all time.  Dawson went out of his mind and thumped a career (and decade high) 49 home runs.  The real reason he won the award though was an eye popping 137 RBIs.  And for MVP voters RBIs always trump everything else.  Murphy “only” had 105 RBIs despite outperforming Dawson in just about every other way.  The other thing that helps is being a shortstop who hits over .300 which second place Ozzie Smith did. Never mind Ozzie Smith hit zero that’s ZERO home runs and had an OPS+ over two hundred points lower than Murphy.  I know he was a great fielder, but that’s a LOT of offensive ground to make up.     Murphy interestingly failed to get the Gold Glove this year, although he essentially had the same fielding stats (just one or two errors more than normal). So where did Murphy finish in the MVP voting?  11th.  freaking 11th.  Jack Clark had a better offensive season, but he missed 30 games and was a mediocre fielding first baseman.  Eric Davis might have had a better season, but he also missed around 30 games.  Darryl Strawberry was almost as good.. I think a bit worse.  Nobody else was really close.  Howard Johnson and Tim Wallach finished higher?  Seriously?

So by this time Murphy was 31 years old, still in his baseball prime.  He had two MVP awards, and really 5 out of the last 6 seasons were MVP caliber, he led the league in Home Runs and RBIs twice and was always among the league leaders in most statistical categories.  He had also appeared in seven all star games and won 5 gold gloves.  And to boot he was handsome, well liked, admired by everyone as a nice guy.  If you had asked someone about his hall of fame chances after the 1987 season they would have said the only question is whether his plaque should be plated in gold or platinum.  In fact by this point he had already met the minimum number of seasons and likely would have been elected in due course had he been forced to retire after the 87 season.  So it seemed the sky was still the limit. 

Then a funny thing happened. 

He stopped being good. 

I don’t mean to say he started suffering through injuries; he played 150 plus games the next four years.  He didn’t have any personal tragedies, no issue with teammates or management.  No drug habits, financial trouble. 

He just stopped…being…good

In 1988 he hit .226, with 24 home runs and a 106 OPS.  Basically the same as his 1978 season except he walked more. 

people might have thought it was an abberation but in 1989 he was worse,  hitting .228 with only 20 home runs and an 89+ OPS.  Now keep in mind these are in FULL seasons.  It would be like Ted Williams overnight turning into a .290 hitter with 15-20 home run power for no discernable reason.  In 1990 the pain continued with a .248 average and 24 home runs.  Although it was obvious something was really wrong neither Murphy or the Braves could figure anything out.  He just stopped hitting.  Now it turns out his fielding totals were actually BETTER than usual in these years, but when a player is suffering a decline like Murphy was they weren’t going to reward him with gold gloves.  In 1991 the Braves were virtually forced to trade him after he started out hitting .232 in 97 games.  Traded to the Phillies, he did marginally better the rest of the year, but not much.  The Phillies in ’92, and Rockies in ’93 had Murphy mostly sit the bench due to lack of production.  He retired in the middle of the ’93 season at the age of 37.  I’m not aware of any other player of his talent to retire that young while still perfectly healthy. 

So Murphy due to early retirement and his late career slide “only”  posted career stats of 398 Home Runs, 1266 RBIs, a lifetime .265 average, and an OPS+ of 121.  Despite that he still might have squeeked into the Hall had an unfortunate coincidence not delivered a double-whammy.  In 1993 and 1994 as Murphy retired the league started an offensive explosion that continues to this day.  Suddenly 398 Home Runs is only six or seven seasons for Alex Rodriguez or Barry Bonds.  a .265 Average now gets you sent to the minors.  People lose the context of his accomplishments and he misses out.  To add insult to injury the year after Murphy left the Braves they suddenly turned into the greatest franchise juggernaut since the Yankees of the mid 50s, reeling off 1st place finishes in 14 of the next 15 years.  Murphy should have spent the beginning of this run as the Brave’s admired and respected elder statesman, teaching young players like Chipper Jones and Ryan Klesko as he prepared to enter the pantheon of baseball gods. But instead he wasn’t even good enough to ride the bench for an expansion team by that point.

As far as I know he doesn’t worry too much about his candidacy for the hall, never wringing his hands over the failure to get in, or lobbying incessantly for his own election unlike certain ex-pitchers born in the Netherlands. Nor does he have the support of people who think it a “crime” he’s not in or his election is “overdue” like the recently selected Andre Dawson.  He’s a nice guy, I don’t think he minds all that much. 

Plus his lifetime OPS+ is still 2 points higher than Dawson’s.   Take that Andre.