In The Baseball Book 1992, Bill James condensed each team into a
box. Each box comprised a summary of the team’s 1991 season, a general
prognosis for 1992, a look at the teams’ best prospects and a bunch of
other nuggets, most of them for fun.
For each team, though, he designated one player as "Most Likely to
Still Be Here in 2000". To satisfy my curiosity, I’ll take a look at
the player designated by James as most likely, ruminate on whether it was a
good choice at the time, and then see what happened afterwards.
The purpose of this article is not to take James to task for the rightness
or wrongness of his predictions. In most cases, the player he picked was
the most logical choice, or at least a justifiable one. He probably spent a
total of ten minutes considering them for all 26 teams, and didn’t mean
them to be taken too seriously.
Last week’s piece
looked at the American League. This time, we examine James’s National League predictions.
BB92 SAID: Dave Justice
A GOOD CHOICE? I guess so, though I disagreed at the time. Justice had
suffered a back injury in 1991, and I thought he was an inferior talent to
The Braves were awash in young talent at the time: Justice, Gant, Mark
Lemke and Jeff Blauser were all 25 or 26. 23-year-old Brian Hunter had
slugged .450 in part-time play and Keith Mitchell was just reaching the
majors. On the mound…wow. Tom Glavine was 25, Steve Avery was 21, John
Smoltz 24, Kent Mercker 23, Mike Stanton 24 and Mark Wohlers 21. That’s 12
players for whom one could make a reasonable case for their continued
presence through 2000, which is impressive. Really, Bill James couldn’t
have made a wrong move with this bunch.
IS HE, IN FACT, STILL AROUND? No.
IS ANYONE ELSE STILL AROUND? Glavine and Smoltz, of course, the Spahn and
Burdette of the nineties. Brian Hunter, of all people, played the prodigal
Brave briefly this year. Technically, so did Avery. Bobby Cox and John
Schuerholz are still there, and any time a manager and/or GM lasts that long
these days, it’s worthy of mention.
BB92 SAID: "[Ryne] Sandberg. He’ll be 40."
A GOOD CHOICE? Yes, actually. Sandberg was one of the best second basemen
of all time, and there was no reason to believe that he wouldn’t stick
around that long, though probably not as a second baseman. As James pointed
out, the Cubs had no hitters on the team who were both good and young. Mark
Grace was 27, which isn’t young. Jerome Walton and Rick Wilkins, both
younger, were awful in 1991. Greg Maddux had just pitched 263 innings at
age 25, and a case could have been made for him, but you don’t bet against
one of the all-time greats.
IS HE, IN FACT, STILL AROUND? Nope. He’s retired.
IS ANYONE ELSE STILL AROUND? Mark Grace, of course. Joe Girardi made a
BB92 SAID: Reggie Sanders
A GOOD CHOICE? Yes. He was the consensus prediction for 1992 Rookie of the
Year, 23 years old and he ran well. He was injury-prone, but no one knew he
would make a habit of it.
IS HE, IN FACT, STILL AROUND? No, unless you think that the DL has been his
real team all along.
IS ANYONE ELSE STILL AROUND? I didn’t think he would have been as good a
choice as Sanders, but Barry Larkin made it through the whole decade in a
BB92 SAID: Jeff Bagwell
A GOOD CHOICE? Absolutely. You don’t bet against the Rookie of the Year,
especially when he’s a real young player (23) and not one of those older
RoY-types like Bob Hamelin.
IS HE, IN FACT, STILL AROUND? And how.
IS ANYONE ELSE STILL AROUND? Two players are, and it’s sort of silly. Craig
Biggio is one of them, of course. You remember how one of the reasons they
moved Biggio from catcher to second base was to help him avoid injury, so
he’d be able to play all decade? Well, the other member of the 1991 Astros
to spend the entire decade in the organization was…catcher Tony Eusebio.
(Ken Caminiti, of course, did a there-and-back routine.)
Los Angeles Dodgers
BB92 SAID: "No obvious candidate. I think we can rule out John
A GOOD ASSESSMENT? Only because of the bias against pitchers: 23-year-old
Ramon Martinez had been a 20-game winner in 1990 and looked like a rotation
anchor for years to come. Aside from that, there wasn’t any obviously
impressive young talent: the youngest regular or near-regular was
26-year-old Lenny Harris, and aside from Martinez all of the pitchers who
saw real playing time were 29 or older.
A few youngsters were peeking their heads up: Jose Offerman hit .195, Eric
Karros was 1-for-14, Tom Goodwin hit .143 and Mike Scioscia’s heir
apparent, Carlos Hernandez, hit .214. The pick of the youngsters was Dave
IS ANYONE STILL AROUND? Eric Karros made it. Plus, like the Rangers, the
2000 Bums had three returnees: Hansen, Goodwin and Orel Hershiser.
BB92 SAID: Matt Stairs
A GOOD CHOICE? I guess he broke his own rule (he probably wasn’t even aware
that he’d made the rule), but Matt Stairs was the only player James named
who did not actually play in the majors in 1991–Stairs was in Double-A for
the entire season. You wouldn’t think it to look at him now, but Stairs was
a second baseman at the time.
Anyway, if you allow for people who aren’t in the majors yet to be
considered, then the exercise becomes rather silly–just look at each
team’s top hitting pick from the 1990 or ’91 draft, and if they look like
they know what they’re doing with the bat, they’re in. But what fun is that?
The top choices who actually played for the Expos in 1991 were the young
trinity of Delino DeShields, Marquis Grissom and Larry Walker. I would have
picked DeShields without hesitation: his defense at second base looked
terrible enough that they’d move him to some other position before he could
get injured, and his walk rate was outstanding enough that he looked like
he could have a wonderful career as the next Rickey Henderson.
IS HE, IN FACT, STILL AROUND? Stairs? No.
IS ANYONE ELSE STILL AROUND? No.
New York Mets
BB92 SAID: Todd Hundley
A GOOD CHOICE? Pretty much. The obvious pick, Gregg Jefferies, had just
been traded after the ’91 season, and there were no other obviously good
young players around. Hundley had the hype and the minor-league record, so
he earned the honor by default.
IS HE, IN FACT, STILL AROUND? No.
IS ANYONE ELSE STILL AROUND? John Franco made it. Left-handed relievers
never die, though they generally they move around a lot. In New York,
Franco outlasted both Patrick Ewing and Cats. Wow.
BB92 SAID: Tommy Greene
A GOOD CHOICE? Pitchers are usually bad bets, so I probably would have
picked Wes Chamberlain. Greene, 24 at the time, did look like the real
IS HE, IN FACT, STILL AROUND? Only in the sense that the air exiting his
lungs contains more CO2 than the air which went in.
IS ANYONE ELSE STILL AROUND? No. Mickey Morandini and Andy Ashby made
BB92 SAID: Three Rivers Stadium
A GOOD CHOICE? Nyuk nyuk nyuk. As James saw it, the Pirates represented the
flip side of the Cleveland Indians’ circumstance,. The Indians, remember,
looked like a bad team which would never have the revenue stream to hang on
to their good players. The Pirates, straight off of two division
championships, looked like a very good team which would still never have
the revenue to hang onto their good players. Bobby Bonilla had just left as
a free agent. It was almost a fait accompli that Barry Bonds, Doug Drabek
and Jose Lind would be gone the following year, and the prospects for the
future were uncertain.
I probably would have made a push for naming John Wehner, who was 24 and
looked to be the solution for their third-base problems for a goodly while,
as the Player Most Likely To. Orlando Merced, 24 with an excellent walk
rate, would also have been a reasonable pick.
IS ANYONE STILL AROUND? Well, Wehner came back, but that doesn’t count.
Even Three Rivers Stadium barely made it through the decade as a baseball
St. Louis Cardinals
BB92 SAID: Todd Zeile
A GOOD CHOICE? Yes. Zeile was 25 and had been moved to third base from
catcher in order to protect his long-term future; organizations usually
don’t bother to do something like that unless they intend to keep someone
around. The Cards had two 24-year-old outfielders that year, Ray Lankford
and Bernard Gilkey, but Zeile looked more than a year better than either of
IS HE, IN FACT, STILL AROUND? Since 1995, Zeile has changed teams seven
times. Not even Bobo Newsom changed uniforms that many times over a
IS ANYONE ELSE STILL AROUND? Ray Lankford.
San Diego Padres
BB92 SAID: Andy Benes
A GOOD CHOICE? Well, he certainly had been hyped through the minors, but
it’s difficult to accept this as a good choice if we agree with James’
"no obvious candidate" assessment for the Dodgers. Ramon Martinez
was the same age and had been, to that date, a better pitcher. I would have
stumped for Fred McGriff; although he was 27, he was just too good–it
appeared that he would age well enough to still be a 36-year-old regular in
San Diego by decade’s end.
IS HE, IN FACT, STILL AROUND? No.
IS ANYONE ELSE STILL AROUND? Of the eight Padre regulars from 1991, the
only one still around is the oldest: Tony Gwynn.
San Francisco Giants
BB92 SAID: Will Clark
A GOOD CHOICE? Close call, in my opinion. Clark was 27 and two years
removed from his best season. Matt Williams was 25 and had led the team in
home runs. Darren Lewis was 23 and looked like a right-handed Brett Butler:
good speed, good defense, tremendous patience. With no obvious star-quality
pitchers on the roster that year, I probably would have picked Williams.
IS HE, IN FACT, STILL AROUND? No. Long gone.
IS ANYONE ELSE STILL AROUND? Nope. Gil Heredia is just across the bay, but
that doesn’t count. Rick Reuschel turned 51 in May.
Of the 26 teams, Bill James made a pick for 21 of them. For three teams, he
explicitly made no pick; for one team, he picked a minor leaguer. The last
team (Oakland) just got lost in the shuffle.
Of the 21 teams for which James made a pick, 14 of them still have a player
around, so that represents the highest number of possible correct answers.
In exactly four of those cases, James named the (or a) correct player:
Sandy Alomar Jr., Jeff Bagwell, Cal Ripken and Frank Thomas. That success
rate is 28%.
For the three teams on which he thought no one would last the decade, one
of them (the Dodgers) crossed him up by actually having someone stick
around. The one team for which he named a minor leaguer–the Expos–didn’t
have anyone stick around.
So there are a variety of ways you could compute the success rate–do you
call it 4-for-14, 4-for-21, 6-for-25, 6-for-24…? I prefer to define the
issue very narrowly, and give him the benefit of the doubt. (Remember, the
heading was "Most Likely To…", not just "Likely
To…") So I prefer to just look at the circumstances where it was
possible for him to have actually picked a player and where he did indeed
pick a player. That puts it at 4-for-14.
James Kushner is an occasional contributor to Baseball Prospectus. He can
be reached at email@example.com.
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