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February 21, 2013
In A Pickle
All-Stars Are Not All Stars
Last week, we looked at players who racked up large career WARP figures but for one reason or another (underappreciation, the league being incredibly stocked at their position, steady goodness rather than flashes of greatness) didn't make very many All-Star teams. This week, having sufficiently buried the lede, it's time to look at the players who inspired this investigation in the first place: the very worst players to make multiple All-Star Games. Caveats and notes:
Without additional ado, let's count it down from 10, with actual commentary on the top five worst:
10. Clem Labine, 2.5 WARP, two All-Star Games
Labine was a Dodgers reliever, for the most part. This is a bit unfair to him, though, because he's actually at 4.7 pitcher WARP and -2.1 (rounding) batter WARP. Mark Fidrych (2.6 PWARP, two All-Star Games), Bruce Sutter (8.4 PWARP, six All-Star games), and Mel Stottlemyre (-2.2 PWARP, five All-Star Games) all fare worse.
9. Damaso Garcia, 2.0 WARP, two All-Star Games
Blue Jays second baseman who survived brain cancer and ... well:
While recovering, he began working with children who had suffered from traumatic medical conditions in his native country, and has since organized a number of baseball camps for them, using the game to help them with social skills and reintegration, in addition to being provided with medicines and proper care. The camps also serve to increase the community's awareness of the needs - and capabilities - of handicapped children and help to break down some of the stigma still associated with handicaps. He has received support for his work from a number of fellow Dominican ballplayers, such as Tony Fernandez and Pedro Martinez.
So we can go to hell with our judgments.
8. Hal Smith, 1.8 WARP, two All-Star Games
Cardinals catcher. One of three Hal Smiths:
He physically resembled and is easily confused with another Hal Smith, who was also a catcher and an exact contemporary, both playing 10 years at the same time.
(Note: not actually exact, but close enough.)
7. Luis Arroyo, 1.7 WARP, two All-Star Games
Yankees reliever, mostly, though one of the two All-Star appearances came as a rookie Cardinals starter.
6. Chris Perez, 1.6 WARP, two All-Star Games
Current Indians closer. He's on my AL-only dynasty league team. (What?)
5. Cookie Rojas, 3.8 WARP, five All-Star Games
Rojas was a second baseman from 1962 to 1977, who split his career weirdly evenly between the Royals and Phillies (exactly 880 games for each team, though he did have five more in the postseason for Kansas City) and who somehow managed to make four straight All-Star teams from 1971 to '74 while posting an OPS+ of 95 and not winning any Gold Gloves. (He was about 18 runs below average for that period in FRAA.) Rojas didn't start any of those Games, as those were the Rod Carew years, but he was the only backup second sacker in '71 and '72, and shared the team with Dave Nelson and Bobby Grich, respectively, in the other two seasons.
In other words, Rojas was in the right place at the right time. The only player better than him over that period who also played second was Carew. (There's Davey Johnson, too, but he left the AL after '72, and Grich didn't fully debut until '72 and wasn't a second baseman until '73.)
Rojas, by the way, along with Dick Allen and Tim McCarver and others, was part of the Curt Flood trade.
4. Ken McBride, -0.3 WARP, three All-Star Games
McBride was a starting pitcher for the Angels, mostly, and only lasted four ... no, more like three ... no, really more like two full seasons in the game, yet he made three All-Star teams. You'll be surprised to learn that his career ended at 30 after arm troubles.
His first All-Star year, 1961, was legitimately solid. He was about seven percent above average in run suppression by FRA+ and he tossed 241 2/3 innings. He struck out 17.3 percent of batters in a league that only whiffed 13.7 percent of the time (though he also walked more than average, as he did each year of his career). From there, though, it was all downhill. In 1962, his nearly one-to-one strikeout-to-walk ratio is not looked on kindly by WARP, and he managed just 149 1/3 innings, though from the All-Star perspective, he arranged them the right way: 111 2/3 in the first half, 37 2/3 in the second.
Despite that mediocre showing, McBride came back to put up a 2.76 ERA in 153 1/3 innings in the first half the next year and earned not only an All-Star nod but the starting role. However, WARP does not bless the season: a below-average strikeout rate, above-average walk rate, league-leading hit-by-pitch total, what looks an awful lot like a fortunate/defense-aided .232 BABIP, and good help from his parks (a 93 personal park factor) added up to significantly below-average quality times a very large amount of quantity (15th in the league in innings, five slots behind Bill Monbouquette).
Had McBride hung up his cleats at that point, he'd have finished his career at about 2.0 WARP. And, actually, not changed his position on this last at all: his 0.6-repeating WARP/ASG would still have been worse than Cookie Rojas'. But his Happiness Rate would likely have been higher, because he got the snot beat out of him in 1964, giving up homers and walks and hit batsmen and all sorts of silliness.
Behind the scenes tidbit: I typed McBride's name as "McBridge" literally every single time. This sentence included.
3. Blue Moon Odom, -0.5 WARP, two All-Star Games
I'm terribly sad to have to include Odom on this list, because nobody with that glorious nickname (beyond nickname, really—;do you know his real name?) should be denigrated in any medium, but WARP can't countenance his omission. His 4.63 career FRA doesn't look that bad at first glance, but note first that his parks over his career suppressed scoring by about five percent and note second Odom's batting line from his hitting prime of 1967-70: .247/.289/.397. Yuck, right? That's an OPS+ of 100. Those leagues he pitched in simply could not hit. Odom's best season, 1969, came in a year when the league scored 4.09 runs per game. Even our current low-offense era has the AL at 4.45.
Of course, that's all now, and Odom was an All-Star then, and he was an All-Star while sharing a team with Sal Bando and Reggie Jackson and Bert Campaneris and Rick Monday, so he wasn't a pro forma All-Star. Odom did, for what it's worth, split his 1969 advantageously (14-3 with a 2.41 ERA in the first half, tossing three shutouts in 21 games), but 1968 is hard to explain. Sure, the nutty-low offense is difficult to wrap your mind around, but isn't it difficult to understand for all players? The American League was busy putting up a 2.99 ERA in the first half, so how impressive, really, was Odom's 2.38? His teammate Jim Nash had a 2.01 mark and did not make the All-Star team. (Nash finished his career well ahead of Odom in career WARP, too.)
2. Randy Jones, -4.1 WARP, two All-Star Games
Jones had an odd and unfortunate career, posting great 1975 and 1976 seasons by the usual lights of ERA and wins while not denting bread or breaking crackers or any other metaphor involving violence and destruction of breadstuffs with his fastball. He won a Cy Young while striking out fewer than one batter every three innings. (Specifically, 93 batters in 315 1/3 innings. Aroldis Chapman, also a well-known finesse lefty, whiffed 122 in 71 2/3 innings last year. I'd like to say something pithy about the game changing and/or getting more fierce, but I'll just be in this corner boggling instead.) Jones only pitched until he was 32, which is not what you'd expect to hear about a guy who never relied much on his stuff in the first place, but that's what arm injuries (25 complete games in 1976?) will get you.
Jones is also extremely intriguing on the question of pitcher WARP. Two things to note about Jones's career line are his unearned runs (140 on 875 runs total, about 43 more than you'd expect from the league rate over that same period) and his career BABIP, which is about 11 points below the league for the time Jones was in it. Note also that, like the pitchers above, Jones's parks suppressed offense and that even his 3.42 ERA came out to just a 101 ERA+.
1. Bobby Richardson, -4.4 WARP, seven All-Star Games
Richardson is overrated by All-Star appearances no matter how you slice it (14.3 fWAR, 6.5 rWAR, for instance), which should not be a surprise: The 1955 to 1966 Yankees went to nine World Series, and solid, decent players tend to get overrated on those teams. Richardson also didn't have much competition at his position in his prime All-Star period (1959-1966), just as Rojas didn't in the early '70s. Nellie Fox was around for the beginning of that span and Joe Morgan and Pete Rose showed up at the end, but Richardson mostly had the position to himself. To illustrate, he led all second basemen in games in that period by 33 (and the AL by 77) and plate appearances by 427. Contrast, just to pick a position at random, third base in the same era, where Ken Boyer in first to Harmon Killebrew in fourth is easily contained within that same 427 plate-appearance difference between Richardson and Jerry Lumpe. (Jerry Lumpe, by the way, is no Harmon Killebrew. Or Brooks Robinson. Or Eddie Mathews. He's barely even Jerry Lumpe.)
I do have to note that it's not clear which of FRAA's favoritest toys Richardson stole when the two were in kindergarten together, but somebody's got to be seventh-worst of all time, so why not Richardson?
Themes? We don't need no stinkin' themes.
OK, fine. WARP spits on your suspiciously low ERAs, your relief pitchers, and your second basemen. If you want your kid to grow up to make five or six or seven All-Star teams while being no better than just okay, you stick him at second and you either put him on one of the greatest dynasties ever or you take all the other second basemen and you lock them in your basement so that there isn't any competition.
You see up there the lowest career WARPs for players who made two, three, five, and seven All-Star teams, so:
4: Joaquin Andujar, 6.9 WARP
6: Sandy Alomar, Jr., 11.1 WARP (there he is! Man of the hour! As you'll recall from last week, this entire investigation stemmed from Sam Miller musing on the Effectively Wild podcast about how bad/mediocre Sandy Alomar, Jr. was despite making so many All-Star appearances)
8: Catfish Hunter, 23.4 WARP
9: Goose Gossage, 23.4 WARP (did you know that Catfish and Goose had the same career WARP?)
10: Steve Garvey, 29 WARP (as mentioned in last week's piece)
11: Bill Freehan, 40.9 WARP
12: Mariano Rivera, 31.2 WARP
13: Derek Jeter, 62.9 WARP (alright, fine, it's really hard to make 13 All-Star Games unless you're actually a damn good player, so I'm done)