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January 16, 2012

Prospectus Hit and Run

The Keltner All-Stars, Part II

by Jay Jaffe

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On Friday, I unveiled the catcher and infielders on what I'm calling the Keltner All-Stars, the best eligible player at each position outside the Hall of Fame. The name comes from former Indians third baseman Ken Keltner, who inspired Bill James' Keltner Test, a set of 15 questions that can be used to frame a player’s Hall of Fame case. The basis of my choices isn't that test. Instead, I'm using JAWS.

No active or recently-retired players are included in this roundup, which is to say that all of the players included are eligible during the next BBWAA or Veterans Committee election cycle. Note that not every position has a player who is above the JAWS standard. If you’re new to all of this and need an introduction to JAWS, please read here.

Left Field
JAWS Standard (Career/Peak/JAWS): 65.1/42.0/53.5
Best eligible player: Barry Bonds (162.3/73.2/117.7)
Love him or hate him—I've certainly tended toward the latter—there's no denying that Bonds' numbers are off the chart. He's the all-time leader in home runs and walks, ranks second in extra-base hits and times on base, fourth in total bases, and sixth in on-base percentage (.444) and slugging percentage (.607). He has seven MVP awards; no other player has more than three. His advanced metrics are no less impressive. He's second in career WARP and JAWS to only Babe Ruth (173.8/92.9/133.4), and sixth in peak behind the Bambino, Ty Cobb (75.6), Willie Mays (73.8), Rogers Hornsby (73.8), and Ted Williams (73.6). His .350 True Average ranks first among post-1950 players, and he owns three of the top five seasons in that category: 2002 (.430, first), 2001 (.429, second), 2003 (.397, fifth). In terms of WARP, he owns four of the top 16 post-1950 seasons: 2001 (11.6, sixth), 2004 (11.2, 10th), 2002 (11.0, 11th), 1993 (10.6, 16th). The only thing holding him back from higher rankings there is the erosion of his defensive skills in his later years; he's a combined 25 runs below average in his top three seasons.

Of course, Bonds' entry into Cooperstown is in jeopardy due to his connection to performance-enhancing drugs dating back to a time before Major League Baseball's current testing regimen was in place. The federal government wasted well over $55 million via the BALCO investigation and Bonds' show trial for perjury and obstruction of justice charges, all the while committing wrongdoings far more grave than gaining any advantage in a sport. Evidence was illegally seized, grand jury information was illegally leaked, and the principles of due process and the right to privacy were violated. Eventually the circus will be set aside and Bonds will get his due, but the bet is that this won't be the last time his name appears in this best-outside-the-Hall context.

Runner-Up: Tim Raines (69.1/40.3/54.7)
I've said my piece about Raines no less than five times now. The short version is that his on-base skills made him arguably the second-best leadoff hitter of all time behind Rickey Henderson, and an even better basestealer given his 84.7 percent success rate. He was a more valuable player than 3,000-hit club and Hall of Fame member Tony Gwynn (60.3/35.9/48.1), who had the shiny .300 averages and the batting titles but less power and less mobility on the basepaths and in the field. Raines should have been a first-ballot Hall of Famer when he debuted on the ballot back in 2008, and while the latest iteration of JAWS has taken a bite out of his score, he's still 10th all-time among left fielders, and above the standard in left field. Fortunately, there are strong signs that he's eventually going to get his due; his support among BBWAA voters has more than doubled over the past three cycles, going from 22.6 percent in 2009 to 48.7 percent this time around. With the exception of Gil Hodges, everybody with at least 40.7 percent of the vote in year five has gotten into Cooperstown eventually.

Center Field
JAWS Standard: 72.8/46.8/58.3
Best eligible player:
Jimmy Wynn (68.9/52.9/60.9)
Nicknamed "The Toy Cannon," Wynn was a 5-foot-10 sparkplug with outstanding control of the strike zone and good defense, a player whom Bill James compared to early-career teammate Joe Morgan in The New Bill James Historical Abstract while ranking Wynn 10th all-time among center fielders. Wynn spent the first 11 years of his career playing in the Astrodome, a godforsaken hitting environment if there ever was one. Though his career line of .250/.366/.436 doesn't look tremendously impressive, when properly adjusted for context, it's clear that he was a helluva hitter; he reached 20 homers eight times and 30 homers three times, and drew more than 100 walks six times. He topped a .300 True Average eight times during his first 13 seasons (1963-1975), with a high of .368 in 1969, a year he drew an astounding 148 walks while hitting 33 homers, good for 9.1 WARP.

He had two more outstanding years with the Dodgers in 1974 and 1975—again with the pitcher’s parks—the former of which was worth 9.2 WARP. Shoulder woes got the better of him late in his career; he hit just .198/.352/.328 in 1976-1977, and was shut out entirely when he appeared on the BBWAA ballot in 1983, yet another example of a player whose high OBP and strong defense were overlooked by the voters. He's solidly above the high center-field standards, and until the 2013 BBWAA candidates entered the equation, ranked as the single best eligible player outside the Hall according to JAWS—even better than Ron Santo.

Runner-Up: Willie Davis (64.3/37.6/51.0)
Davis, Wynn's predecessor in Chavez Ravine, patrolled center field for the Dodgers from 1960-1973, a span during which they won three pennants and two World Series. Blessed with remarkable speed— "He was the only man I've ever seen who, when he hit a ball in the gap, the opposing team watched him run," said teammate Lou Johnson—he is the Los Angeles era franchise leader in hits (2,091), extra-base hits (585), and several other categories, and he finished his career with 2,561 hits after passing through Montreal, Texas, St. Louis, San Diego, and Anaheim, with a two-year stay in Japan thrown in there as well.

Davis didn't walk much, and had the misfortune of playing in the most parched run environment on earth, so his career line of .279/.311/.412 doesn't look like much, and his post-season numbers (.179/.190/.232 in 62 PA) are dreadful even without dredging up the memory of his three-error inning in the 1966 World Series, in what turned out to be Sandy Koufax's final game. Even so, his regular-season line comes out to a .274 True Average. When combined with outstanding defense (+99 FRAA), he had enough value to outrank 10 of the 18 center fielders in the Hall of Fame, including the recently-elected Andre Dawson (59.1/39.9/49.5) as well as Kirby Puckett (49.2/35.4/42.3), not to mention current candidate Bernie Williams (54.0/40.3/47.2). Which isn't to say that he's Cooperstown material, but there are worse center fielders with plaques.

Right Field
JAWS Standard: 66.2/40.9/53.6
Best eligible player:
Reggie Smith (71.0/43.2/57.1)
"The Other Reggie" during the time of Jackson, Smith was a switch-hitter with power (314 career homers), patience (11.0 percent walk rate), and a rifle arm (+96 FRAA), a seven-time All-Star who began his career as the Red Sox’ center fielder during the "Impossible Dream" season of 1967 (he actually debuted the prior season), and reached its height as a member of the late-‘70s Dodgers following a brief but productive stay in St. Louis. He placed in the league's top 10 in OBP four times, led the NL with a .427 mark in 1977, and ranked in the top 10 in slugging percentage eight times, including four years in which he was either second or third. He reached the 20-homer plateau eight times, and the 30-homer plateau twice, with the 1971 Red Sox and the 1977 Dodgers. For the latter, he was part of the first quartet of 30-homer hitters on a single team, joining Steve Garvey, Ron Cey, and Dusty Baker; his 32 were second to Garvey's 33. Batting third ahead of Cey, he walked 104 times that year, and slugged .576 to go with his stellar OBP, good for a career-best 7.9 WARP.

Smith had five other seasons worth at least 6.0 WARP, two others worth at least 5.0, and two others worth at least 4.0. Alas, injuries got the better of him late in his career; he had just 1,074 plate appearances from 1979-1982, his age 34-37 seasons, and then split for a disastrous stint in Japan where he battled with umps and brawled with fans, got hurt frequently, and earned the nicknames "Giant Human Fan" and "Million Dollar Bench-Warmer" despite productivity in limited doses. Had he stayed healthy and stuck around the States, he'd have ended with far more than 2,020 career hits and 8,050 plate appearances, numbers just above the thresholds where voters tend to disregard any post-1961 expansion player. As it was, he received just 0.7 percent of the vote on the 1988 ballot.

Runner-Up: Bobby Bonds (66.1/47.6/56.8)
Barry's father was a pretty fair player in his day, best known for reaching the 30-homer/30-stolen base club five times, an all-time record shared by father and son. A natural center fielder whom the Giants stuck in right field due to the continued presence of Willie Mays, Bonds averaged 7.0 WARP per year from 1969 through 1974 as a Giant before being traded to the Yankees for Bobby Murcer. He didn't lose a beat, hitting .270/.375/.512 with 32 homers and 30 steals in his lone season in pinstripes, good for 5.8 WARP. The Yankees nonetheless traded him to the Angels in the ensuing offseason, and the two players they received in return, Ed Figueroa and Mickey Rivers, helped them win three straight pennants.

As I've written before, Bonds seemed to spend much of his career under a cloud of bad luck. He and Reggie Jackson were almost exactly the same age and debuted one year apart. Both had power, considerable speed, and a ton of strikeouts, and finished with similar career rate stats (.268/.353/.471/.301 True Average for Bonds to .262/.356/.490/.310 for Jackson). Yet one was a superduperstar who won an MVP award and five World Series rings, and stuck around into his 40s. The other never finished higher than third in an MVP vote, made just three All-Star teams, played just three post-season games, and left the majors at 35, his career shortened by problems with alcohol. Unlike many of the other players in this series, he did linger on the BBWAA ballot for 11 years, though he never drew more than 10.6 percent of the vote.

Starting Pitcher
JAWS Standard: 51.1/36.0/43.5
Best eligible player: Roger Clemens (110.3/46.3/78.3)
According to WARP and JAWS, Clemens is the best pitcher since World War II. His career WARP ranks third behind Walter Johnson and Cy Young, his JAWS fourth behind those two and Grover Cleveland Alexander. He's third all-time in strikeouts (4,672), and third in wins post-WWII (354, behind Warren Spahn with 363 and Greg Maddux with 355). His seven Cy Young awards are a record, two more than Randy Johnson, and he also has an MVP award, two pitching Triple Crowns, and 11 All-Star appearances to his name. His post-season record isn't spotless (12-8, 3.75 ERA, 173 strikeouts in 199 innings), with its share of early disappearing acts—eight of his 34 starts lasted less than five innings, five of them less than four innings—but as a key starter on six pennant winners and two world champions, he's on solid ground.

Even so, Clemens is likely to face a waiting period before the voters let him into the Hall of Fame. He was named a PED user in the Mitchell Report, and took the unusual step of challenging the findings, and particularly the testimony of former trainer Brian McNamee, to the point of getting a Congressional hearing on the matter. That, in turn, led to a Department of Justice investigation that concluded with an indictment on six felony counts of perjury, making false statements, and obstruction of Congress. Last summer, just as the dog and pony show was underway, a mistrial was declared due to prosecutorial misconduct (can't anybody here play this game?). It remains to be seen whether the government will continue pouring money down this particular hole. That doesn't heal Clemens' reputation, and it’s likely the voters will use his woes as an excuse to deny him first-ballot entry if not make him sweat for a few years.

Runner-Up: Curt Schilling (68.5/41.0/54.8)
Though his lifetime won-loss record is "only" 216-146, the Big Schill has a strong case for the Hall of Fame. While he had just one 30-start season before the age of 30, and just seven in all, he's one of 16 pitchers to reach 3,000 strikeouts, with all of the eligible pitchers in that club already in Cooperstown, and the rest  (Clemens, Maddux, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz) almost surely headed there. He led his leagues in strikeout-to-walk ratio five times in six years (2001-2006), and has the best ratio (4.38) of any pitcher since 1900. He never won a Cy Young award, but he finished second three times in a four-year span (2001-2004). His post-season record (11-2, 2.23 ERA in 133 1/3

BBWAA voters have not been kind at all to starting pitchers with as many or fewer than Morris' 254 wins in recent years. Dennis Martinez (254 wins, 21.0 JAWS) failed to get the requisite five percent in 2004, as did Dave Stieb (176, 24.7), and Jimmy Key (186, 27.9). Since then, Mark Langston (179, 29.4), Orel Hershiser (204, 23.7), Dwight Gooden (194, 45.1), Bret Saberhagen (167, 36.9), Chuck Finley (200, 32.4), David Cone (194, 42.2), Kevin Appier (169, 36.9), Kevin Brown (211, 33.7), and Al Leiter (162, 31.1) have all been dismissed in short order, with Hershiser the only one to even make it to a second ballot. Schilling is more valuable than all of those pitchers, and not by a little. He'll be up for election on the 2013 ballot, and could benefit as one of the high-profile newcomers with no apparent connection to PEDs.

Runner-Up: Dwight Gooden (52.1/38.1/45.1)
One of the big surprises from that list above is that Gooden clears the starting pitcher standard, so I've chosen to break form and include a third starter here. Dr. K's first two seasons, in which he led the NL in strikeouts twice, went a combined 41-13, and took home a Rookie of the Year award and a Cy Young, were worth a combined 16.7 WARP. Despite his ups and downs following his first trip to rehab, he averaged 4.1 WARP per year from 1988-1993, enough to put together a Hall-worthy peak in terms of JAWS. Through his age-28 season, he had a 154-81 record, a 3.04 ERA, and 1,835 strikeouts. Alas he went just 40-31 with a 4.99 ERA in just 672 1/3 innings from his age-29 season onward, with just one season that was worth even 2.0 WARP. That flameout, combined with his drug problems, prevented him from getting any real consideration from the BBWAA voters, who gave him just 3.3 percent of the vote in his lone turn on the ballot in 2006.

Relief Pitcher
JAWS Standard: 29.1/17.5/23.3
Best eligible player:
Lindy McDaniel (29.4/16.2/22.8)
In the most recent JAWS cycle, I gave a thumbs-up to the borderline Lee Smith on the grounds that his career WARP was higher than any enshrined reliever besides Dennis Eckersley, and that his overall score bested all but Eck and Goose Gossage. While I don't think that was a bad call, a look at the relievers in this context shows plenty of starter/reliever hybrids who score better than him, albeit with less in the way of fanfare, mostly because their numbers are padded by their times as starters. Consider this top 15, which includes four of the five enshrined relievers as well as Smith and the man generally considered the greatest reliever in baseball history:

Pitcher

Years

Career

Peak

JAWS

G

GS

Dennis Eckersley

1975-1998

54.0

24.1

39.0

1071

361

Mariano Rivera

1995-2011

33.7

19.0

26.3

1042

10

Doc Crandall

1908-1918

26.9

25.4

26.2

302

134

Tom Gordon

1988-2009

32.5

19.6

26.0

890

203

Jeff Fassero

1991-2006

30.1

21.7

25.9

720

242

Don Mossi

1954-1965

26.4

22.5

24.5

460

165

Rich Gossage

1972-1994

27.9

20.4

24.1

1002

37

Billy O'Dell

1954-1967

24.3

23.6

24.0

479

199

Lindy McDaniel

1955-1975

29.4

16.2

22.8

987

74

Lee Smith

1980-1997

29.1

15.8

22.5

1022

6

Billy Hoeft

1952-1966

24.6

19.7

22.2

505

200

Bobby Shantz

1949-1964

27.2

16.4

21.8

537

171

John Hiller

1965-1980

22.7

20.6

21.7

545

43

Hoyt Wilhelm

1952-1972

28.7

14.5

21.6

1070

52

Rollie Fingers

1968-1985

25.0

17.9

21.5

944

37

Between Rivera and Smith, the only pitcher not already enshrined whom I can justify making a case for as a reliever is McDaniel, who had only two seasons where he made more than 10 starts during a 21-year career (1955-1975) for the Cardinals, Cubs, Giants, Yankees, and Royals. Despite the minimal number of starts, he had no less than 11 seasons in which he reached 100 innings, and another two when he was in the ‘90s. In 1973, at age 37, he threw 160 1/3 innings in 47 appearances, just three of them starts. He wasn't necessarily a closer in the current sense; he led his leagues in saves just three times, all of them in years before the save became an official statistic, had just one season of more than 10 saves after 1964, and finished with 172. His 110 ERA+ and 107 FRA+ don't exactly have dominance written all over them, and neither does his strikeout rate of 5.7 per nine. His most valuable season was worth all of 3.3 WARP, but it was a good one. In 65 appearances for the 1960 Cardinals, including two starts, he threw 116 1/3 innings with a 2.09 ERA, saved 26 games, made the All-Star team for the only time his career, and placed third in the Cy Young voting. In all, I'm pretty sure that's not enough for a Hall of Fame career.

Runner-Up: Lee Smith (29.1/15.8/22.5)
Despite the fact that he ranks behind McDaniel, I still feel better about his candidacy, possibly because it more easily fits into our conception of a modern-day closer. He was certainly more dominant in terms of ERA+ (132), FRA+ (127), and strikeout rate (8.7 per nine), and of course he ranks third in career saves, with 478. He made seven All-Star teams, had three top-five finishes in the Cy Young voting, and was generally a model closer for well over a decade. He didn’t throw nearly as many innings as McDaniel (1,289 1/3 to 2,139 1/3), but his career, peak, and JAWS are virtually the same. I’m comfortable with the fact that Smith is at best a borderline case, and think he belongs, but I’m also vexed by the low WARP and JAWS figures produced by our leverage-blind valuation system. Perhaps in another year, we’ll have a better answer of how to handle his candidacy.  

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

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