Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Top 10 Teenage Seasons

The other day, we looked at some of the best seasons by players who weren't elected to the Hall of Fame.  We also discussed the MLB draft, examining some of the bigger flops from the first round.  It is in the spirit of both of those articles that we now rank the best seasons by teenagers in MLB history!
  • I've talked ad nauseam about Dwight Gooden's rookie year, so that one's not going to be on today's list.  But rest assured, it would be towards the top.
  • A player being a teenager means that this was their "age 19 [or younger] season."  That just means that they were 19 (or, in some cases, 18) on June 30th, indicating that they were a teenager for at least half of the season.  That's good enough for me.

1. Gary Nolan, SP, 1967 (CIN): 6.3 bWAR/147 ERA+/8.20 K/9
Gary Nolan turned 19-years-old on May 27, 1967.  He opened the season at the young age of eighteen, having been drafted out of high school by the Reds in the first round of the previous year's draft.  He threw 104 innings for the Reds' low-A affiliate in 1966, pitching to a 1.82 ERA, and was promptly summoned to the big leagues in April of 1967.  While our modern mindset might gasp in horror at such seemingly poor pitcher management, these moves somehow did not backfire for the Reds or Nolan in 1967.  Instead, Nolan turned in one of the best performances of any pitcher in 1967, even more impressive considering just how young he was.  His WAR was 2nd in the league; his K/9, 1st; his ERA, 4th; and his WHIP (1.125), 9th.  Plus, he famously struck out the side against the Astros in his season (and career) debut, later striking out none other than Willie Mays four times in one game.  (If you're wondering, that only happened three other times in Mays's career.)  Nolan actually had a pretty decent career, considering the Reds did everything in their power to ruin his arm from the second he set foot on a professional mound (he would later retire due to persistent arm troubles).  He got some play as a Cy Young Award contender in a number of other seasons, especially 1972 when his 1.99 ERA was second in the league to Steve Carlton, but no season was as impressive as his rookie 1967.

2. Mel Ott, RF, 1928 (NYG): 3.9 bWAR/139 OPS+/90 RC
Awesomely, this wasn't Ott's rookie year, or even his sophomore year; no, Ott was called up to the majors in 1926 as a 17-year-old!  Keeping that in mind, his 1928 season was pretty great by any standard.  Through 124 games Ott hit for a 139 OPS+ (good for 8th in the league) and 90 runs created (he didn't rank in the top 10 for this category, but that's all right).  His .397 OBP is by far the highest of any player on this list, almost 40 points higher than (spoiler alert!) Renteria's .358.  His .524 slugging percentage also continues to impress.

3. Bryce Harper, CF, 2012 (WAS): 5.2 bWAR/120 OPS+/89 RC
Harper's rookie season is fresh in the collective memory, but that doesn't mean it was any less remarkable.  Through a full season of being nineteen years of age, Harper performed well above average within the National League.  He hit for power (22 home runs), speed (18 stolen bases + 26 doubles + 9 triples), and was great at getting on base (.340 OBP).  His fielding was also really quite good (14 Rfield, second all-time among teenage seasons).  True, he struck out quite a lot (120 K's), but only grounded into 8 double plays, so there you go.  He didn't dominate leaderboards like Nolan, but his statistics were impressive enough on their own to merit some serious praise.

4. Wally Bunker, SP, 1964 (BAL): 3.5 bWAR/134 ERA+/1.042 WHIP
Players like Wally Bunker are what I like best about writing this blog.  Who on earth was Wally Bunker?  I suspect that most people who aren't fans of the mid-1960s Orioles have never heard of him, and indeed his career as a whole was perfectly acceptable but certainly not noteworthy.  Good thing he was only 19-years-old during his first full season, then, or I might never have discovered him!  Anyway, Bunker's season was pretty legitimate: aside from his excellent rate stats mentioned above, he managed 12 complete games (6th in the AL) and 19 wins (3rd).  True, he was aided by a pretty low BABIP (.216) but he still managed to do so over the course of a long, grueling season in which his numbers were better than almost anybody else's.

5. Bob Feller, SP, 1937 (CLE): 3.4 bWAR/133 ERA+/9.11 K/9
Feller is the only 18-year-old entrant on this list, which is both somewhat surprising and very impressive.  Although bWAR prefers his 19-year-old season, I am more a fan of this one for a number of reasons.  First of all, let's not forget that he was only 18!  That's incredible.  Secondly, though it was in 130 fewer innings, Feller put up much better rate stats in '37: a higher ERA+, lower WHIP, and higher K/9.  WAR gives '38 Feller the edge due to more innings, but there is no doubt that Feller pitched better (in a more compressed period of time) in his 18-year-old season.  The fact that he was so young at the time--as well as the fact that he continued to impress the next year, and obviously for the rest of his career--allows me to give the edge to 1937.

6. Tony Conigliaro, LF, 1964 (BOS): 1.6 bWAR/137 OPS+/72 RC
On the other side of the coin in 1964 was Tony Conigliaro, the Red Sox' hotshot new outfielder.  Before the infamous HBP that effectively ended his all-star-worthy career, Conigliaro was an exciting rookie at the age of 19.  Though penalized in bWAR for his defective defense (-10 Rfield), over the course of 111 games Tony C proved that he could hit for power and contact with some great regularity.  Though he would never develop a great eye (no pun or insult intended, I swear...) for walks, he got on base through hits enough to make up for it in his OBP, which was a pretty good .354.  He was a productive hitter, creating 72 runs, in part due to his prodigious power (.530 SLG, which would have ranked 6th in the AL but he just missed the at bats cutoff in order to qualify for the leaderboards).  It goes without saying that it was a damn shame that his career was cut short by such a horrific injury, but we can still look at his 1964 season with pleasure.

7. Smoky Joe Wood, SP, 1909 (BOS): 2.8 bWAR/116 ERA+/1.021 WHIP
In his time, Smoky Joe Wood was one of baseball's most feared pitchers.  In 1912 he went 34-5 with 35 complete games and 10 shutouts and a 1.91 ERA.  His 1911 (23-17, 2.02) was almost as good.  But it was 1909 when Smoky Joe Wood, then just 19-years-old, showed the league just how good he could be.  In his first full season he ranked among the top ten in the AL in K/9 (8th), WHIP (8th), and shutouts (9th), the last of which is especially impressive considering he only started 19 games (for comparison's sake, Walter Johnson started 36 games and threw the same number of shutouts as Wood).  Wood's career was derailed by injury, though he reinvented himself as a decently successful outfielder after hurting his arm.  While 1911 and 1912 speak to how great Wood really was, his 19-year-old season in 1909 shows that how much potential he always had.

8. Rube Bressler, SP, 1914 (PHA): 3.7 bWAR/148 ERA+/1.138 WHIP
It's always tough to compare dead ball-era pitchers to those from the modern era, but such is the magic of modern statistics.  (Fun fact: Bressler spent 1914 and 1915 as a pitcher, played outfield for the next two seasons, went back to pitching part-time for the three seasons following that, and played outfield, as well as some first base, full-time from 1921 until his retirement in 1932.  Baseball!)  In 1914, Bressler alternated between starter and reliever, though he still managed to log 147.2 innings.  His 1.77 ERA would have ranked fourth (in an era when Walter Johnson was throwing around 400 innings every year, Bressler's 147.2 was a bit pedestrian) and his WHIP tenth.  Bressler's a bit of a fringe choice, given that he wasn't really a full-time player, but he managed to overwhelm the American League even more than most pitchers did during this notoriously offense-light era, and that's worth something.

9. Edgar Renteria, SS, 1996 (FLA): 3.3 bWAR/103 OPS+/63 RC
Renteria's 1996 was pretty good: he proved himself to be a solid fielder (11 Rfield) and good at getting on base, though also prone to striking out (68 strikeouts, compared to only 33 walks).  While never a particularly fearsome offensive player, Renteria did create 63 runs in only 106 games, something that pro-rates to 96 in 162 games.  Renteria is more famous for being a World Series hero at 20 years of age, but his 19-year-old season was plenty successful too.

10. Ty Cobb, CF, 1906 (DET): 2.5 bWAR/132 OPS+/23 SB
During his relatively brief stint in the big leagues as a 19-year-old, Cobb showed some flashes of what was to come.  He would finish in the top ten in the American League for batting average, OBP, and OPS, while also putting up decent stolen base numbers.  His counting stats were also hampered by the fact that he only played 98 games, though it is fun to think about how much he could have dominated the league had he played fifty more games.

Runners-up: Chief Bender, SP, 1903 (PHA); Ken Griffey, CF, 1989 (SEA); Don Gullett, RP, 1970 (CIN); Sherry Magee, RF, 1904 (PHI)

Monday, June 10, 2013

A Trade That Will Save the Mets?

I haven't had time to write a full list (Subjective Baseball will return to its regularly scheduled programming on Wednesday), but I will offer a few brief thoughts on the state of the New York Mets.

Obviously things are dire.  Although my lists on this site are even-handed, I never admit to being anything other than a diehard Mets fan.  Increasingly, though, we see (and even hear, as with Sandy Alderson's interview on WFAN this afternoon) Mets fans of all stripes calling for trades or signings that will kickstart this team's future, just like the trades for Gary Carter and Keith Hernandez did in the 1980s.

Let's not forget just how good these players were before being traded to the Mets.  Carter's bWAR during his tenure in Montreal was 55.5.  Hernandez's, in St. Louis, was 34.3.  Both players were at the heights of their career (Carter was 30, a bit old for a catcher, while Hernandez was the nearly perfect 29) so the fact that the Mets were able to get both players for so cheap was a bit of a miracle.  For Carter, all that was required was Hubie Brooks (who was actually very good) and spare prospects; for Hernandez, the Mets merely gave up Neil Allen and Rick Ownbey.  That's not to say that the Mets don't have the chips to craft a similar trade; rather, the world of baseball has changed, and not in a way that benefits the Mets.  Among players who are currently 30-years-old or younger, Carter's bWAR would rank first, while Hernandez would come in 7th.  To put this comparison in present terms, asking Sandy Alderson to repeat such a scenario is akin to suggesting that he trade for Miguel Cabrera (51.1) and Ryan Braun (35.3) within the span of a year.  Obviously, this is ludicrous.  Advanced baseball metrics have improved our understanding of a player's true value, and even the Brewers selling Braun for pennies on the dollar--semi-similar to what happened when Whitey Herzog banished Hernandez from St. Louis--seems radically unlikely.

A recent rumor has the Mets linked to Andre Ethier.  Among active players who were born after 1982 (so, 31-years-old or younger), Ethier's bWAR (16.7) is 37th--and he's 31 on the nose, older than either Carter or Hernandez at the time of their trades.  Selling the farm √† la Carter/Hernandez for Ethier, a player who has spent eight years in the MLB yet has never gotten over 3.8 bWAR in a season, would be a folly of epic proportions.  If the Mets are going to rebuild by trading for good players under contract, they need to do so with players who are very, not just marginally, talented.

Here's the good news: the increase in statistical knowledge has also led to the general overvaluation of prospects as commodities.  Remember Francisco Martinez?  Lastings Milledge?  Generation K?  You don't need to read my most recent article to know that prospects, even top prospects, don't always work out.  Sandy Alderson has worked very hard to stockpile the Mets' farm system with pretty good prospects, from Brandon Nimmo to Noah Syndergaard.  This can lead to one of two things: a 2015 team that features an almost wholly homegrown--or, at least, traded-for-when-they-were-still-in-the-minors--roster; or a 2015 team that features star players who were obtained by shelling out a number of top prospects.  Thanks to Sandy Alderson's direction, the Mets are still able to head down either path.  Let's not ruin it by calling for Alderson's ouster or ridiculous trades for Andre Ethier, okay?

(As a side note, while writing this article I started thinking about a trade for Braun and realized just how surprisingly realistic this could be.  Think about it: the Brewers have a terrible farm system and Braun's contract is only going to get more expensive as he ages.  Throw in the never-ending drug suspicion [hmm...] and you get a player who could be obtained for much less than then 7-bWAR superstar he really is.  Potentially very interesting.)

Monday, June 3, 2013

Top 10 First Round Draft Busts

In honor of the MLB Draft being upon us (this Thursday!), it's time to take a look at some picks that didn't pan out.  Maybe the team and player were just unlucky, maybe it was just a bad pick.  No matter the circumstance, these players just didn't pan out.  Whatever the case, it's fun to look back and laugh... unless, of course, you are a fan of that team.  On Wednesday, we'll examine some of the better first-round draft picks--fun for everybody!

  • A note: picks that didn't sign don't count for the purpose of this list.  Who knows how Danny Goodwin would have turned out had he signed with the White Sox in 1971?  Maybe he would have had a better career than Frank Tanana, who was drafted at #13 that year.  (Probably not, though.)
  • Also, there are way too many draft picks, even in the first round, for me to assume that this list is anywhere close to conclusive.  For now, just think of this list as an exploration of ten draft picks that panned out poorer than most.  There may be others that are even worse.  That's what the comments section is for!


1. Matt Anderson, RHP, #1, DET, 1997
The 1997 draft may not have had the deepest collection of talent, but it was one of the most top-heavy: J.D. Drew (though he didn't sign), Troy Glaus, now-awesome Jason Grilli, Vernon Wells, Michael Cuddyer, and Jon Garland were all chosen within the first ten picks.  The Tigers, with the #1 overall pick, majorly whiffed with the Anderson pick.  First of all, Anderson was always projected to be a relief pitcher, a big problem no matter where you're picking in the first round.  Unfortunately, he wasn't very good at it.  After an admittedly very good 1998 (he dominated the minors, the Tigers rushed him from AA, and he threw 44 innings in Detroit with a 145 ERA+ and 1.568 WHIP) he looked lost from then on.  He spent 2001 as the Tigers' closer but still pitched to a -0.1 bWAR.  This was a bad pick at the time and it just got worse as the years rolled on.

2. Brien Taylor, LHP, #1, NYY, 1991
Taylor's story is a famous one.  First he was the best young pitcher of all-time (quoth his agent, Scott Boras).  Then, almost as quickly, he hurt his arm defending his brother in a fight and was basically done, struggling with his weight and his arm until finally retiring in 2000, never reaching the majors.  Most of this was bad luck on the part of the Yankees, but two notes must be made.  First, even before he hurt his arm Taylor struggled badly with his control, issuing 5.6 BB/9 with the Yankees' AA affiliate in 1993.  Second, even with the arm injury Taylor reported to Yankees' camp out of shape and with a severely reduced fastball; some of this can be blamed on the injury, but some of it can probably also be blamed on Taylor's demeanor and the Yankees' handling of him.  It was the sad end to a career that had once showed such promise.

3. Matt Bush, SS: #1, SD, 2004
The Padres' choice of Matt Bush in the 2004 draft was inexcusable at the time.  Incredibly, it is even moreso today.  To recap: the cheapskate Padres chose Bush, a local high school product, because they knew they could sign him on the cheap.  This is almost always a terrible strategy: #1 overall picks have a total WAR of 883.9, #2 have 579, #3 have 486, etc...; your #1 draft pick, if he's the best player in the draft, will usually pay for himself in the long run.  It turns out that Bush's character makeup wasn't the best and he's been in legal trouble ever since he was drafted.  This is all unfortunate, but the kicker?  The consensus #1 pick, whom was drafted next by the Tigers, was a pitcher named Justin Verlander.  Oops.

4. Kurt Brown, C: #5, CHW, 1985
Poor Kurt Brown.  It isn't his fault that he, a career minor leaguer, was chosen among many all-time great players in the deepest first round in MLB Draft history.  In the end, that's really only a problem for the White Sox, who have had to live with the fact that they passed up Barry Bonds and Rafael Palmeiro, as well as other great players chosen after Brown.

5. Jeff Clement, C: #3, SEA, 2005
Through 152 major league games, Clement has an OPS+ of 74 and a bWAR of -1.2.  The next four players in the 2005 draft have combined for a 106.2 bWAR, with three of them (Ryan Zimmerman, Ryan Braun, and Troy Tulowitzki) netting over 30 points of WAR for their careers.  Clement wasn't expected to be this bad--he had a consistent OBP in the high .300s throughout his minor league career.  He just wasn't ever able to translate that to success at the major league level, either for the Mariners or the Pirates.

6. Clint Everts, RHP: #5, MON, 2001; Bobby Brownlie, RHP: #21, CHC, 2002
The 2002 draft--the Moneyball draft!--was one of the best in recent history.  The Expos drafted Everts, who never made the bigs, ahead of such A+ talents as Zack Greinke and Prince Fielder.  Brownlie was only drafted at #21, and it's reasonable for somebody so low to never pan out, but he was still drafted ahead of Jeremy Guthrie and Matt Cain.  Chris Gruler (#3, CIN) gets an honorable mention in this spot, but his career flamed out due to constant shoulder surgeries, not a lack of big league talent.

7. Donavan Tate, CF: #3, SD, 2009
The Padres didn't skimp this time, giving Tate a $6.7 million bonus.  Unfortunately, Tate was beset by off-field injuries from the beginning of his career, not to mention his poor performance (.620 OPS between A and A+ last season, his age-21 year).  He's currently on leave from the Padres to deal with personal issues, so while there's no guarantee that he won't come back and tear up professional baseball, this prospect is looking increasingly unlikely.  And to think that they (as well as almost every other team) could have had Mike Trout...

8. Bryan Bullington, RHP: #1, PIT, 2002
The Bullington pick has a separate spot from Everts and Brownlie only because Bullington was chosen first overall, though in this case that's not as much of a black mark.  Like Bush, Bullington was seemingly chosen due to signability concerns with the better player, B.J. Upton.  Unlike Bush, however, Bullington was good enough to make it to the MLB, though with a -0.2 bWAR to his name over his career he hasn't exactly lived up to expectations.  This pick would look a lot worse had any of the other top picks panned out, but with the exception of Upton they've all been disappointing.

9. Tommy Boggs, RHP: #2, TEX, 1974
Boggs only had one semi-good season (1980, with the Braves, when he had a bWAR of 2.6), and spent his career as a journeyman starter unable to pitch well.  He opened his career, after a promising rookie year (104 ERA+), with three straight seasons of an ERA+ 70 or under.  He wasn't a complete washout as a player, but the 1974 draft was mighty good: Lonnie Smith, Dale Murphy, and Willie Wilson, among a few others, could have been had by the Rangers with this #2 pick.  The same could be said for the Padres with their #1 overall choice, Bill Almon, but Almon managed to string together a long career as a quality infielder, even placing in the MVP voting in one season.  Boggs never had such success.

10. Steve Chilcott, C: #1, NYM, 1966
Chilcott gets a bad rap from people wanting to mock my beloved Mets.  Yes, Reggie Jackson was the next player chosen.  And okay, Chilcott never actually made the major leagues (he's one of only a handful of #1 draftees to lay claim to that dubious honor).  But it was actually a reasonable pick at the time.  The Mets wanted a catcher and Chilcott was the best player to deliver that for them.  He was also incredibly young--only 17 in 1966--and might have amounted to something with modern baseball knowledge.  His OPS through 22 games in AAA during his age 21 season was a reasonable .826 but that never translated into major league success.  The Mets' gamble with Chilcott didn't pay off at all, and for that he deserves at least a spot on this list, but this pick wasn't as bad as it's often made out to be.

Runners-up: Geoff Goetz, LHP: #6, NYM, 1997; Greg Reynolds, RHP: #2, PIT, 2006; Augie Schmidt, SS: #2, TOR, 1982

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Top 10 Seasons by Players Not in the Hall of Fame

Sorry for the lengthy title, but I couldn't find any other way to describe this list.  A few qualifiers:
  • Players still eligible for the Hall of Fame aren't eligible for this list.  So no Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens.
  • Also, I won't count players who would get into the Hall but for their ethical indiscretions (sorry, Pete Rose and Shoeless Joe Jackson).
  • One season per person.
  • This is a little similar to another list I did a while back, but I figured that they were different enough that this one warrants its own article.  To remedy any potential issues I've also exempted everybody on that list from this one.

1. Dwight Gooden, SP, 1985 (NYM): 12.1 bWAR/229 ERA+/268 K
The complicated story of Dr. K is well-known among baseball (especially Mets) fans, something I already partially covered here.  Today, though, we'll just reflect on one of the greatest pitching seasons of all-time: Gooden's 1985.  Only twenty years old, Gooden mowed through the National League in a way basically unseen since (some seasons by Pedro Martinez and Roger Clemens notwithstanding).  His 1.53 ERA is larger than only Bob Gibson's 1968 in the seasons since the "Year of the Pitcher."  His 16 complete games were amazing for a pitcher in the 1980s.  His 268 strikeouts, while not great compared to, say, what Nolan Ryan was doing, is still an incredible figure.  Really, Gooden was crazily dominant in a way that made everybody think that he would be the best pitcher on earth for many years to come.  That didn't happen, but that doesn't detract at all from what he did in 1985.

2. Norm Cash, 1B, 1961 (DET): 9.2 bWAR/201 OPS+/178 RC
Perhaps most impressive about Cash's season isn't the 41 home runs (6th in the league), his .662 slugging percentage (2nd, to Mickey Mantle), or his .361 batting average (1st), but rather his .487 OBP (1st).  For that, Cash combined the second-most walks in the league with the most hits, a surefire way to have a very productive season.  Cash may have somewhat of an unfair reputation as a hacker, a power hitter who could rack up the strikeouts, and while Cash consistently struck out around 70 times person season in his career he always had pretty good plate discipline.  It all came together for Cash in 1961 and, but for Mantle and Maris, we might remember 1961 as the Year of Cash.  Perhaps we should do so anyway.

3. Al Rosen, 3B, 1953 (CLE): 10.1 bWAR/180 OPS+/151 RC
Unlike some of the other names on this list, Rosen was properly rewarded for his great season with the appropriate hardware; however, his name lives on perhaps worse than any non-dead ball era player on this list.  After winning the 1953 MVP with some truly gaudy offensive numbers--he was .001 in batting average away from winning the triple crown--Rosen quickly faded from baseball, though his 1954 was still pretty good.  No matter his historical record, Rosen's 1953 was one of the most dominant seasons by any player.  His WAR was 4.2 points higher than the next-best position player and he was in the top-two of seemingly every hitting category.  Too bad he didn't stick around for the longhaul; his bad back and legs denied us a perhaps future Hall of Famer.

4. Luis Tiant, SP, 1968 (CLE): 8.4 bWAR/186 ERA+/0.871 WHIP
Tiant is beloved in Boston for his antics during his playing and, more recently, announcing time for the Red Sox, but he really shined during his late-1960s time in Cleveland.  Though he had many good seasons from which to choose, Tiant's 1968 was probably his best.  He led the league in shutouts (9) and ERA+.  Very impressively, his WHIP was miniscule, tied for the 16th lowest per-season number for any starting pitcher since 1901.  Tiant gave the Indians great control and many innings, and was almost certainly the best pitcher in the league in 1968, Denny McLain's 30 wins be damned.

5. Ron Guidry, SP, 1978 (NYY): 9.6 bWAR/208 ERA+/.946 WHIP
Louisiana Lightning lit up the league in 1978, leading the league in many important categories, earning a well-deserved Cy Young Award in the process.  He struck out a ton of batters (248, with a 8.17 K/9) and kept basically everybody off base.  9 shutouts was a big deal even in 1978, as was his 1.74 ERA.  He probably would have accrued a higher WAR with more innings, but that's of little concern.  In almost every metric of importance Guidry was the best pitcher in 1978, one of the great modern pitching seasons.

6. Wilbur Wood, SP, 1971 (CHW): 11.7 bWAR/189 ERA+/22-13
Speaking of expansion era workhorses who gave it all to their teams, we have Wilbur Wood in Chicago!  In 1971, Wood pitched an ungodly 334 innings (which was actually his third highest total for the string of three seasons starting with 1971), though unlike in his other high-inning years Wood was able to dominate the rest of the league.  He struck out 210 batters and led the league in ERA+, while his 1.000 WHIP was and still is perfectly acceptable by ace standards.  Wood was one of the last throwback starters who could comfortable start over 40 games in a season; he just happened to be better at it than almost anybody else.

7. Russ Ford, SP, 1910 (NYY): 11.0 bWAR/160 ERA+/0.881 WHIP
It's tough to measure players from the Dead Ball era, but that's why we have modern rate stats, right?  Ford's 1910 was actually his rookie season.  (Why wasn't he in my article about rookie seasons?  I dunno, probably because he did pitch in 1909, though only once.)  Anyway, in 1910 Ford predictably doesn't stack up great on raw stats (the 10th place ERA was 1.91, for god's sake!) but some of his statistics are still pretty impressive: the ERA+ (4th place); WHIP (2nd); strikeouts (209, 4th); and shutouts (8, 2nd).  His numbers don't jump out as awesome, considering many other pitchers were doing some variation of what he was doing, but almost nobody else was doing it so well spread out.

8. Fred Lynn, CF, 1979 (BOS): 8.9 bWAR/176 OPS+/147 RC
Lynn earns plaudits for his unreal rookie season (1975), but it was his 1979 that was really his best year.  He led the league in AVG, OBP, SLG, OPS (duh), and OPS+, while he put up great numbers in many counting stats (including WAR, in which he led the American League).  I'm not really sure how he didn't win MVP that year, especially since the player who did win was the thoroughly undeserving Don Baylor (hmm, that's an idea for an article...), but Lynn's career is still remembered fondly, especially by Red Sox fans.

9. Jim Gentile, 1B, 1961 (BAL): 6.9 bWAR/187 OPS+/138 RC
Jim Gentile was a victim of Norm Cash's success.  How?  In 1961, when Gentile tore up the league with his gaudy stats, his WAR was doomed to be low because Cash was doing basically everything Gentile was doing, just a little better.  (Oddly enough, the MVP voters gave more votes to Gentile than to Cash, proving that they were just as fickle in 1961 as they sometimes are today.  Okay, fine, this is almost certainly due to Gentile hitting five more home runs than Cash.)  Anyway, Gentile was a great Three True Outcomes player in 1961, something that led him to be one of the most productive hitters in the 1961 that we all know was already stacked with Mantle, Maris, and Cash.  Fun fact: he led the American League with 141 runs batted in, tied with Maris.

10. Rico Petrocelli, SS, 1969 (BOS): 10.0 bWAR/168 OPS+/129 RC
Honestly, at this point it's kind of hard to distinguish among the many seasons had by non-Hall of Famers.  Some are probably more deserving than Petrocelli, but I'm tickled by his high WAR and the fact that I've never heard of him.  Even still, Petrocelli quietly had a great season in 1969, hanging with Reggie Jackson and Harmon Killebrew in many top stats.  I'm not sure he led the league in anything, but his impressive hitting performance, combined with a very strong fielding year (2.7 defensive WAR, 5th in the league) made him one of the better players in 1969.  He managed to get 7th place in the MVP voting that year, impressive considering many of the metrics used to declare him a good player weren't really yet invented or publicized that much.

Runners-up: Dick Allen, 1B, 1972 (CHW); Babe Herman, RF, 1930 (BRO); Bret Saberhagen, SP, 1989 (KC); Mike Scott, SP, 1986 (HOU).

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Top 10 Third Basemen of the 1980s

Here is a list of the top third basemen of the 1980s.  Why?  Because I can.  (Also, I'm going to try to return to a semi-regular posting schedule, with probably a new list every other weekday.  That might change.  We'll see!)

1. Wade Boggs, BOS: 59.8 bWAR/150 OPS+/993 RC
This is a close one, but Boggs just ekes out Schmidt for the honor of best third baseman of the 1980s.  This is in large part due to the fact that Boggs didn't actually make his major league debut until 1982, giving everybody else a two-year head start.  In spite of this disadvantage, Boggs managed to equal or surpass his compatriots in many stats, of both the counting and rate varieties.  He created just as many runs as Schmidt, beat him in WAR (probably due to superior defense), and made up for his home run deficit by being one of the best players of all-time when it came to getting on base.  His .443 OBP from 1982 to 1989 is stunning, nearly 60 points higher than Schmidt's OBP for the decade.  Even during his monster seasons--more on that in a second--Schmidt wasn't able to equal Boggs's ability to get on base.  Heck, Boggs led the American League in batting average five years out of six (from 1983 to 1988) and OBP six out of seven.  Boggs is a hall of famer, so it can't really be argued that he flew under the radar, but his semi-tumultuous tenure in Boston and his late-years slump have contributed to him becoming one of the easiest-to-forget superstars of the past few decades.  A reappraisal of the start of his career shows just how unwarranted this is.

2. Mike Schmidt, PHI: 56.3 bWAR/153 OPS+/999 RC
While Boggs was the 1980s king of getting on base (at least among third basemen), Schmidt was the undisputed best power hitter.  He led the National League in home runs five times in the 1980s--he hit the most home runs of any player in either league during the decade--winning the MVP in three of those years.  His performance tailed off in 1988 and 1989, his last two seasons in the MLB, but he hardly deserves to be punished for that.  Much like with Boggs, it's quite impressive that, in spite of two seasons of reduced (or, in Boggs's case, zero) productivity he was still able to put up such great numbers.  He even won six Gold Glove awards, and while those awards are pretty meaningless he did manage to play pretty good defense (41 fielding runs is good for sixth among third basemen in the 1980s).

3. George Brett, KC: 47.5 bWAR/150 OPS+/970 RC
Brett is the final member of the trio of truly great third basemen who peaked in the 1980s (an argument could be made to include Molitor among this group's ranks; more on that soon).  Although his numbers don't quite stack up to Boggs or Schmidt, Brett is well-remembered for a reason: the man could hit.  His OBP for the decade hovered just below .400 and, while he wasn't as prolific of a power hitter as Schmidt, Brett led the American League in slugging percentage (and OPS) three times in the decade.

4. Paul Molitor, MIL: 38.1 bWAR/124 OPS+/809 RC
Before he was a designated hitting superstar for the Brewers and Blue Jays, Molitor was a surprisingly (to me, at least) fast third baseman.  His hitting production was a step below numbers 1-3 on this list, but he was still head and shoulders above the rest of the field.  He didn't have any seasons that really jump out for their greatness, but he was very solid from the beginning to the end of the decade, with four seasons of a WAR above 5.  He may not have as eye-popping numbers as Boggs, Schmidt, or even Brett, but his inclusion in the Hall of Fame is just as warranted.

5. Buddy Bell, TEX/CIN: 34.9 bWAR/113 OPS+/81 Rfield
Bell manned the hot corner in the 1980s for Texas, Cincinnati, and Houston (albeit briefly) with a deft glove and a strong bat.  His slightly lower OPS+ is more than made up for by his fielding, for which he earned 81 fielding runs (the highest of any third baseman in the decade).  While Bell's production tapered off at the end of the decade, he accumulated 29 bWAR from 1980 to 1984 with peripheral numbers that, had he kept it up, would have made him a contender for #4 on this list.  Still, Bell was quietly one of the great players of the early 1980s, and is a clear #5 on this list.

6. Carney Lansford, OAK/BOS: 30.7 bWAR/116 OPS+/738 RC
Lansford couldn't field a lick, but his bat more than made up for that deficiency.  With numbers very similar to Bell's, Lansford loses out due to his seemingly leaden glove (-33 fielding runs), though he did benefit from keeping up his production for the whole of the decade.  He didn't hit for power but he excelled at getting on base (getting over a .350 OBP five times), something that allowed him to be quite the productive hitter.

7. Tim Wallach, MON: 32.0 bWAR/108 OPS+/80 Rfield
Similar to Bell, Wallach's slightly lower hitting numbers are balanced out by his superior fielding.  Unlike Bell, however, Wallach's hitting wasn't that strong.  A decade OBP of just .319 prevented Wallach from being much more than a good fielding third baseman, though he did show various signs of power--he hit 162 home runs for the decade and twice led the league in doubles.

8. Doug DeCinces, CAL/BAL: 25.3 bWAR/115 OPS+/548 RC
Now we're at the part of the list that's decidedly non-elite.  DeCinces was a fine player, but didn't do much in the decade, apart from a 1982 that saw him OPS .916, rack up 7.6 WAR, and earn third place in the AL MVP voting.  Aside from that season, he hit reasonably well and fielded his position competently as well.  And there's nothing wrong with that.

9. Howard Johnson, NYM/DET: 18.7 bWAR/126 OPS+/470 RC
Johnson entered the league in 1982, so his counting stats suffer from two years of inactivity (this is the main problem with lists constrained by a fixed period of time).  His rate stats, however, were pretty great, at least when it came to hitting.  He's actually pretty similar to Bob Horner, the third baseman for the Braves and the Cardinals in the decade, but I'm inclined to favor Johnson for having the decade begin his career, rather than end it.  Anyway, his 1987 and 1989 seasons (4.3 and 6.9 bWAR, respectively) were a big part of the Mets' late-decade runs, even if only 1986 ended in a World Series crown...

10. Gary Gaetti, MIN: 24.3 bWAR/103 OPS+/63 Rfield
Gaetti showed little pop with his bat, but he played a competent third base for the Twins for basically all of the 1980s.  He managed to hit 185 home runs, but his .311 OBP is subpar by almost any standard.  Most of his WAR was accumulated through his glove, but with a slightly more patient and competent bat he could have moved further up this list.  Still, though, Gaetti had a nice career with a good beginning in the 1980s.

Runners-up: Ron Cey, LAD/CHC; Toby Harrah, CLE/NYY/TEX; Bob Horner, ATL/STL.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Top 10 Last Seasons

For this one, the premise is simple: which players had the best last seasons of their careers?  There are, however, a few caveats: players who died during the season or in the offseason do not count, while players who ended their career due to injury do.  Also, I gave preference to full seasons (sorry, J.R. Richard) because I wanted to see the full breadth of a player's work right before they quit the game.  So, without further ado...

1. Sandy Koufax, SP, 1966 (LAD): 27-9/190 ERA+/317 K
This feels like cheating, but it's not.  Koufax was still unquestionably in his prime in 1966.  Due to arthritis, 1966 was also his last season.  From looking at the stats, however, you'd never know Koufax wasn't playing at full strength.  I try to stay consistent which which statistical categories I use for each position, but I have to break that rule for Koufax.  He was just so good, showing his WAR (an extremely impressive 10.8) doesn't do him justice.  Playing through pain, he threw 27 complete games, in which he racked up 317 strikeouts and 5 shutouts.  He won 27 games with an ERA+ of 190 and a WHIP.  Opposing batters only hit .205 off of him.  He had an 8.83 K/9 and a 4.12 K/BB.  Seriously, Koufax was amazing.  It's a shame he had to call it quits after 1966, though what a year with which to exit.

2. Ted Williams, LF, 1960 (BOS): 2.9 WAR/190 OPS+/95 RC
Williams made the list of top all-time rookie seasons, and here he is with a bookending great final season.  He had a relatively pedestrian WAR (not great, not bad), but that's due to his defense, which contributed -1.5 WAR.  His oWAR, 4.5, was tied for fourth in the American League, and he also cracked the top of the leaderboards for many of his other offensive statistics.  His 190 OPS+ is excellent by any measure, as are his 95 runs created.  In fact, he was second in the league in adjusted batting wins, close behind Mickey Mantle.  Ted was 42 and unable to competently play the field by the end of the 1960 season, so it's not surprising he chose to call it quits, but he was clearly still a great ballplayer.

3. John Tudor, SP, 1990 (STL): 3.1 WAR/159 ERA+/12-4
Tudor is best known for his dominant 1985, but 1990--his final season--was pretty good too.  He retired shortly after the season due to a nagging injury stemming from a previous broken leg, but you'd never know it from his stats that year.  His WHIP of 1.025 is very solid for a starting pitcher, as is his 159 ERA+.  Tudor started twenty-two games, winning twelve of them (his .750 winning % was third in the NL).  Tudor was an all-around very solid pitcher in 1990.  Considering how his career was hanging in the balance, and that he only started three games in 1989, that's pretty impressive.

4. Barry Bonds, LF, 2007 (SF): 3.3 WAR/169 OPS+/99 RC
Here's a nice measure of how good Barry Bonds was, even at the age of 42: in 2007 he led the majors in intentional (as well as non-intentional) walks.  He was still patient, and still very feared.  Those pitchers had good reason to be afraid: he was still one of the greatest hitters in the game.  No, he wasn't hitting 73 home runs (perhaps there's a reason for that...?) but 28 is still a very respectable total.  The rest of the league had caught up to him--or, rather, he had regressed back to the rest of the league--but still managed to be in the top ten for WPA, adjusting batting runs, and adjusted batting wins.  His 99 runs created and 169 OPS+ weren't good enough to make the top of the leaderboards--this was the tail end of the "steroid era," after all--but they're far and away among the best when looking at players' final seasons.  Bonds probably could have continue putting up numbers like these as a DH for years to come, but alas it appears he was just too toxic.

5. Will Clark, 1B, 2000 (BAL/STL): 4.1 WAR/144 OPS+/103 RC
Unlike the first four players on this list, Clark's big final season came well after his heyday.  Clark was always a consistently above-average player, but his 2000 WAR was his highest since 4.4 in 1992.  In 2000, Clark was traded at the trading deadline from Baltimore to St. Louis, whom he helped lead to the National League Championship Series in the wake of Mark McGwire's injury.  He did this while killing the ball over the last two months of the season, to say nothing of the whole season.  Over all of 2000 he hit .319 with 21 home runs and an OPS+ of 144.  His 103 runs created is the most ever by a player in his final season, and his .964 OPS was the highest figure of his career.  Clark simply had a very good season, and it's a shame he called it quits after the season, at the age of thirty-six.

6. Billy Wagner, CL, 2010 (ATL): 2.7 WAR/275 ERA+/37 SV
In 2010, his age 38 season, Billy Wagner managed to dominate the National League.  He set a career high in ERA (1.43) and had many other figures that rank among his single-season bests: .865 WHIP; 104 strikeouts; 13.5 K/9; 0.6 HR/9; and the three stats featured in the above subject line.  He also, despite just having recovered from a year-long injury, threw his most innings since 2006.  One year after everybody thought he was finished, Wanger proved that he was still one of the best relief pitchers in the league.  Despite all this, he retired after the season (though apparently he has yet to officially file his retirement papers), leaving us to only wonder whether or not he could have kept it up.

7. Mike Mussina, SP, 2008 (NYY): 4.4 WAR/132 ERA+/20-9
Everybody knows that in 2008 Mike Mussina, after eighteen seasons, finally won twenty games in a season and promptly retired.  However, while wins are a fairly flawed statistical metric, this was still a very good season by any measure.  His 3.37 ERA was sixth in the American League, and his K/BB was a very impressive fourth.  He started 34 games, tied for most in the AL, 21 of which were quality starts.  This all stacks up very well compared to almost every other final season by a starting pitcher (save, of course, for Koufax's and Tudor's).

8. Dave Nilsson, C, 1999 (MIL): 2.7 WAR/140 OPS+/78 RC
Nilsson, the longtime catcher for the Brewers, had a pretty unheralded (and relatively short, only eight seasons) career.  He battled knee trouble throughout his career, and retired from the MLB due to a desire to play baseball in his native Australia.  That, however, does not disqualify him from our list, strange though those circumstances may have been.  Let's examine Nilsson's 1999: in 115 games he hit .309 with an OPS of .954 and 21 home runs.  He also made the All-Star team, though only as a replacement for the Phillies' Mike Lieberthal.  Nilsson had a very solid season, and could have had a pretty good rest of his career were it not for his love of his homeland, coupled with his knee troubles.

9. Kirby Puckett, RF, 1995 (MIN): 2.5 WAR/130 OPS+/102 RC
Puckett is the third Hall of Famer (and fifth among those who probably deserve it) to appear on our list.  He is another player who had to retire early due to an injury that wasn't slowing down his play, but would cause him problems if he kept playing.  1995 was actually very similar to the previous four or so seasons that Puckett had had, with 1995 having the second lowest WAR among them.  That is a bit of a misnomer, however, due to the fact that Puckett lost a whole .9 WAR from his play in the field in 1995.  (In 1993, however, Puckett had an oWAR of 3.5 and a dWAR of -3.0.  Wow.)  Anyway, Puckett's 1995 is only one behind Clark's 2000 for the all-time most runs created in a final season, and his other offensive numbers are similarly competitive.  He was among the league leaders in hits (169), doubles (39), and intentional walks (18).  He was still one of the best outfielders in the majors and showed no sign of slowing down any time soon.  Pity.

10. Larry Jackson, SP, 1968 (PHI): 4.8 WAR/109 ERA+/13-17
The player on our list with the second-highest WAR winds up in tenth place.  Oh well.  Anyway, Jackson had a very respectable season to close out his unheralded career.  (Side-note: Jackson was actually a very good pitcher for the Cardinals in the late 50s/early 60s.)  Don't let his sub-.500 winning percentage fool you, though don't be tripped up by his 2.77 ERA either.  Jackson had a very good season, that is rendered slightly worse by the fact that 1968 was one of the greatest seasons for pitching in the modern era.  Hence a 109 ERA+ with that very low ERA.  Still, Jackson had to have done something right to merit a 4.8 WAR, and many of his statistics are perfectly solid, especially for a 39-year-old: 12 complete games, 1.186 WHIP, 0.3 HR/9 (tied for sixth lowest in the NL).  This tenth spot was a tough call, but Jackson is well deserving of it.

Runners-up: Britt Burns, SP, 1985 (CHW); Roy Cullenbine, 1B, 1947 (DET); Andy Pettitte, SP, 2010 (NYY); Curt Schilling, SP, 2007 (BOS); Jeff Zimmerman, CL, 2001 (TEX).

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Top 30 Logos: 1-10

Day 3/3 of our quest to find the best logo!  Unlike the other two days, I'll be counting in ascending order today.  If you haven't already, hop over to sportslogos.net and check out what they have to offer.  It's a great site, and this countdown wouldn't have happened without it.

1. Milwaukee Brewers, primary, 1978-1993
Was there really any other choice?  I mean, c'mon.  The brilliance and awesomeness of this logo is obvious.  In case you hadn't noticed--and I didn't until about a year ago--the glove spells out an M and a B, for Milwaukee Brewers.  I'll give that a minute to set in.  The ball in the middle of the glove, doubling as, well, a baseball and the hole in the lowercase "b," is pretty genius too.  This logo isn't just clever, it also has great colors.  I love the old Brewers color scheme.  I love whenever I'm watching MLB Network classic highlight shows and Paul Molitor or Robin Yount appears in the uniforms from that era.  They just looked so great, and this logo is a primary reason why.  A+'s all around.

2. New York Mets, primary, 1999-present
This says the Mets' current logo started being used in 1999, but it's really been around since the Mets' inception in 1962 (save for a few very subtle changes).  Anyway, maybe I'm just being a homer here, but I think this logo is really great.  The color scheme is classic, simple, and unchanged since 1962.  The way the circle is also a baseball is very smart.  The script is well done.  Perhaps best of all, the skyline and bridge are just wonderful representations of the "metropolitan" aspect of the Mets' real name.  It's not as good as the Brewers' logo, but it's damn fine nonetheless.

3. Baltimore Orioles, primary, 1966-1988
Before I loved the Mets I loved the Orioles.  (1997 was a weird year.)  One of the things I liked the most about this team and its history was the lovable cartoon bird that adorned the uniforms on the 1980s baseball cards I collected.  Let's start with the bird, who's obviously the centerpiece of the whole shebang: he's cute, fun, but he's also a baseball player.  It's hard to describe just how much the bird works here, so I won't even try.  Other things that are good: the colors.  It's very clear that simple = better, as none of the top three teams try to clash their colors or add non-team colors to their logo.  The text is also very large and easy to read, something that's not always a given with these circular, text-wrapped-around logos.  If the Orioles still had this logo during my one season of fandom, perhaps I'd still be rooting for them to this day....

4. Montreal Expos, primary, 1969-1991
Another clever logo, though this one's a bit more... French?  Yes, that's right--the red, white, and blue M spells out eMb, √©quipe de Montreal baseball (or "Montreal baseball team" for you non-Francophones).  This logo loses a few points for its dull color scheme and the odd integration of "expos" below the M, but those are minor quibbles.  This was a great logo, and it's a shame the Expos were forced to flee to the interesting logo-less Washington, DC.

5. Toronto Blue Jays, primary, 1977-1996
O Canada!  What is it with you and great logos?  This logo just looks... great.  My favorite part of it is the font, which is so distinctive in a good way that few other fonts are.  The eponymous blue jay is remarkably detailed, though not distracting.  Somehow, it just adds to the overall atmosphere of the logo.  The red baseball in the background adds a nice touch of color, though I honestly could have done without the maple leaf, as I feel it just gets in the way a little.  Still, though, I love this logo, and I can't get enough of the Joe Carter WS-winning clip in part because of the great uniform he's wearing.

6. San Diego Padres, primary, 1969-1984
This is another logo where I have to plead guilty to a childlike love of the mascot representation and the colors.  The Swinging Friar looks kind of like a cross between Homer Simpson and Fred Flinstone, but that's part of his charm.  I'm still amazed that anybody ever thought it'd be cool to put a monk on a major league sports team's logo.  The script "Padres" on the bat is a nice touch, as is the yellow ring--again, it's all about having your team's colors in a non-obtrusive and meshable way, and this logo does that perfectly.  This logo screams 1970s, but unlike many other uniform- and logo-related creations from that era I actually give this one a big thumbs up.

7. St. Louis Cardinals, primary, 1922-1948
This one really boils down to the bat doubling as a tree branch, which I for one think is pretty neat.  The "Cardinals" script (well, it's not really script, but you know what I mean) is a familiar but distinct typeface, which is always appreciated.  Even though the logo features a lot going on, it still only has three colors--red, yellow, and brown.  That's tough to pull off, and this one does it quite well.  Also, while the birds sort of look like raccoons, it's always nice to see teams put a well-done visual representation of their team name on their logo.  This one may not have that much to it, but I just love it.  Besides, who wouldn't want to be reminded of Stan Musial every time they look at a logo?

What is a giant, anyway?  (The very tall human thing, I guess.  But why?  Anyway...)  This logo sure isn't going to tell us!  No, this logo isn't here because of its visual skill--the team name in front of a baseball, ho hum--but rather because of its elegant color scheme.  The ball is that perfect orangey off-white that is the base of the Giants' home uniforms.  I love that color.  The stitching on the ball is orange, and the black "Giants" is outlined in orange.  This is just a very simple, elegant combination of the Giants' colors, resulting in perhaps the best "basic" logo.

9. Seattle Mariners, primary, 1980-1986
This loses points for not being descriptive in the least, but I still just love something about it.  Maybe it's how the M doubles as a trident?  Yes, that's it.  Also very good is how the M is outlined in the cheesy yellow, spicing up a logo that had great potential to be boring.  Making a star as the background seems unnecessary, but it's not distracting and prevents the logo from looking too barren.  Good job, team.

10. Colorado Rockies, primary, 1993-present
Somebody's taking "purple mountain's majesty" a bit seriously, eh?  This logo suffers from many traditional pitfalls--too many colors, too much going on, a broken up name--but it's in my top ten because of those aforementioned mountains.  I love the way the baseball looks like it's been hit over the mountains, and the light lavender of the letters compliments the purple of the mountains very well.  Also, I'm a big fan of purple, and I think the Rockies' use of it is pretty exceptional.