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August 8, 2010

You Can Blog It Up

The Surly, Hung-Over Billy Martin All-Stars

by Steven Goldman

Last time  I posted one of these rankings, I said that Chuck Tanner was the feel-good manager of the 1970s. Billy Martin was the feel-bad manager of the 1970s, but his teams won a lot more games. As always, the format here is inspired by Bill James’ Guide to Baseball Managers, a tome in which he created several of these “best-of” teams for historical managers. Martin was one that he skipped. The difficulty in ranking Martin’s players is that in eight of 16 managerial seasons, he either started the season but didn’t get to finish it or entered at mid-season to bail out someone else’s mess.

 

 

YR

AB

R

H

2B

3B

HR

RBI

BB

SO

SB

CS

AVG

OBP

SLG

TAv

C

Thurman Munson

1976

616

79

186

27

1

17

105

29

38

14

11

.302

.337

.432

.283

1B

Don Mattingly

1985

652

107

211

48

3

35

145

56

41

2

2

.324

.371

.567

.319

2B

Rod Carew

1969

458

79

153

30

4

8

56

37

72

19

8

.332

.386

.467

.300

3B

Harmon Killebrew

1969

555

106

153

20

2

49

140

145

84

8

2

.276

.427

.584

.341

SS

Leo Cardenas

1969

578

67

162

24

4

10

70

66

96

5

6

.280

.353

.388

.264

LF

Roy White

1976

626

104

179

29

3

14

65

83

52

31

13

.286

.365

.409

.295

CF

Rickey Henderson

1985

547

146

172

28

5

24

72

99

65

80

10

.314

.419

.516

.339

RF

Jeff Burroughs

1974

554

84

167

33

2

25

118

91

104

2

3

.301

.397

.504

.324

DH

Reggie Jackson

1977

525

93

150

39

2

32

110

74

129

17

3

.286

.375

.550

.314

 

 

 

YR

W-L

SV

IP

H

BB

SO

ERA

SNLVAR/WXRL

SP

Mike Norris

1980

22-9

0

284.1

215

83

180

2.53

9.2

SP

Mickey Lolich

1971

25-14

0

376.0

336

92

308

2.92

8.2

SP

Ferguson Jenkins

1974

25-12

0

328.1

286

45

225

2.82

7.8

SP

Matt Keough

1980

16-13

0

250.0

218

94

121

2.92

7.2

SP

Jim Perry

1969

20-6

0

261.2

244

66

153

2.82

6.9

RP

Sparky Lyle

1977

13-5

26

137.0

131

33

68

2.17

5.0

 

If there’s a ranking, you have to have notes:

  • The 1969 Twins are better represented than I would have expected.
  • I broke one my of the rules I established for this series by giving Martin credit for the ’85 Yankees. When a team had more than one manager in a season, I’ve considered the players to be off-limits, not belonging to either skipper. However, Martin managed all but 16 games of the 1985 season and it was very much his team. Depriving Martin of Mattingly and Henderson from that season would, in my opinion, lead to an inaccurate list.
  • The three main consequences of that decision were to bump Norm Cash’s 1971 (.283/.372/.531, .314 TAv) off of first base, Mickey Rivers’ 1976 (.312/.327/.432, .290 TAv), and the 1980 version of Henderson (.303/.420/.399, .308 TAv) out of left field. If I allowed a player to be listed twice, then Henderson would appear in both spots.
  • If one could count Martin’s partial seasons, the list would be very different. Martin’s best closer was not Lyle but John Hiller, whose awesome 1973 still stands as the best relief season ever as measured by WXRL (9.6). Billy was canned with about a month to go in the season, and that was more bending than my rules wanted to take. A little more clear-cut was the decision to exclude Ron Guidry’s 1978, which would have been the best season by a starting pitcher in Martin’s catalogue. Martin managed the majority of that season, but 94 games just wasn’t enough for me to waive the rule as I did for 1985. In any case, counting those seasons for Martin would be a misrepresentation of everything Martin stood for. His life was about self-aborted brushes with greatness.
  • Shortstop was the toughest call to make. As was typical of the era, Martin didn’t have any big hitting seasons from his shortstops. The best hitter to play there for Martin was Roy Smalley in 1983 (.275/.357/.452, .285 TAv). His glove, however, was a real problem for a Yankees team used to the smooth workings of Bucky Dent (something confirmed by the stats) and he only started 86 games at the position, also seeing starts at the infield corners. The best offensive performers after Smalley were Leo Cardenas ’69 and Toby Harrah ’74. Offensively, their seasons are too close to call, so Cardenas gets the call on superior defense—Harrah was always stretched at short.
  • Harmon Killebrew started 96 games at third in 1969, 66 at first base. He’s represented here by his MVP season, as is Munson, Mattingly and Burroughs. One wonders what Sean Burroughs is up to these days.
  • Did it ever occur to you that the opening lines of John Lennon’s “Come Together” could describe Rickey Henderson? “Here come old flattop, he come groovin’ up slowly…”
  • Slight cheat listing Mr. October at DH for 1977. There was no regular DH that year, with ten players, including Jackson, taking turns there. Jackson spent far more time in right field, Martin gritting his teeth the entire time. DH is where Martin wanted Reggie to play and where he spent 630 games of his career, so I’m okay with the listing.
  • Mike Norris finished a close second in the 1980 Cy Young voting. Both he and winner Steve Stone each received 13 first-place votes, but Stone got more overall points and won 100-91. From this vantage point, it’s hard to see what the voters were thinking other than that Stone had three more wins. Norris topped him in just about every other category. SNLVAR calls Norris the best pitcher in baseball, Stone the eight-best, 9.2 to 6.5, while Support-Neutral Winning percentage calls it for Norris .673 to .567.
  • Mickey Lolich had 29 complete games in 1971. As the innings pitched totals suggest, Martin didn’t believe in pulling a starter unless blood was leaking out of his ears. This is also the reason why Martin’s best relief seasons are not particularly impressive compared to those belonging to other managers. Only three full-season Martin pitchers had a WXRL of over 4.0. Lyle, above, Ron Perranoski in 1969, and set-up man/occasional closer Brian Fisher in 1985. …What’s quite amazing about Lolich’s season is that, as per blown quality starts, Martin left him in too long only five times.
  • Lyle won the Cy Young Award in 1977. In addition to Norris’s aforementioned second-place finish, Lolich and Jenkins also finished second (to Vida Blue and Catfish Hunter, respectively). Jim Perry finished a distant third in 1969, then won the award in 1970 with a season that wasn’t nearly as good as the one before. As with Stone’s win over Norris, the difference was that he led the league in wins in the latter season. Parenthetically, I believe Perry would have been a Hall of Famer like his brother Gaylord had the Twins not decided to have him spend five years in a middle-relief/swingman role. It was Martin who put an end to that.

Steven Goldman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Steven's other articles. You can contact Steven by clicking here

Related Content:  1985

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