Disappointments and Surprises II

October 24, 2018
  

II.  The 25 Most Disappointing Rookies of All Time

 

I suppose that before I move into this area I should make the point that the method used to derive these lists is far from perfect, and a few points following from that.  On the list of the most disappointing rookies of all time (below) we will have (spoiler) some guy named Fred Brickell, who probably shouldn’t be on the list, which would mean that somebody else should. 

But what we’re trying to do here is not actually to create a perfect list of the 25 most disappointing rookies of all time.  That’s not actually it, guys.  What I am trying to do is to stretch the capacity of what we can learn from studying the records.  You could draw up another list of the 25 most disappointing rookies of all time, not including any of my 25, and your list would be as legitimate as mine.  That’s not really the point.  The essential question we are working on is not that, it is this:  How do we make these records we have, of 125+ years of baseball players, address questions of more depth and complexity than the level of questions which sabermetrics is now able to reach?   That’s what I am working on now; that’s what I have been working on for 40 years. It is a long and difficult process.  It involves looking at an issue, designing a study, getting results, reporting the results, then going back to the issue a year later, designing another study, getting more results, reporting those results, trying gradually to make a little progress. 

In response to this, some reader who imagines himself to be helpful will write and tell me how I should have done the study.  I think I will start systematically deleting those reader comments.   What I am trying to do here is somewhat beyond my current capacities—and also, it is somewhat beyond yours.  It is somewhat beyond Tom Tango’s or Mike Petriello’s or Jay Jaffe’s, while I have great respect for those researchers; it beyond the reach of the tools that we have available to us right now.  Predicting future performance based on past performance is a very, very complicated process involving thousands of factors and many unknowns.  The reason I don’t do the things that these kind, helpful readers tell me I should have done is that I don’t have the capacity to do them.   Getting (and reporting) a certain number of somewhat off-target answers is not a flaw in the study; it is simply part of the process.  It’s how you learn from doing this.  We are building better tools.  At some point I will take what I have done, think about what more I have the capacity to do now, and take another run at the same question or a similar question.  Until then, don’t tell how I should have done the study; it is not helpful.  It’s rude.  It’s annoying. 

This study is, of course, building off of the formula that I introduced yesterday.  What we mean by a disappointing rookie is, of course, his post-rookie career.  It is players who look great as rookies but turned out to be not as great as all that.

I had 2,640 rookies in my file.  The process divided them into five groups:

1)      Big Surprises.  264 rookies, the top 10%, had substantially better careers than we should have expected them to have, based on their rookie seasons.  I’ll write about them tomorrow.

2)      Modest over-achievers.   528 rookies, the next 20%, had somewhat better careers than we would have expected them to have.

3)      Met Expectations.  1,056 of the players, the middle 40%, essentially met the expectations that we should have had for them based on their rookie seasons.

4)      Fell somewhat short of projections.  528 rookies fell somewhat short of the careers we would have expected for them based on their rookie seasons.

5)      Disappointments.  264 rookies, or the bottom 10% versus projections, fell significantly short of the careers that we would have expected them to have, based on their rookie seasons. 

Since there is no extended discussion of players who neither over- nor under-achieved, I’ll put a little bit here.  Rocky Colavito in 1956 hit .276 with 21 homers, 65 RBI as a rookie.  He was 22 years old.  Based on this, we would predict or project a career total of 275 Win Shares.  He actually had 273, so he essentially met expectations.  Vince Coleman in 1985, although he stole 110 bases as a rookie, hit only .267 with a .655 OPS, far below the standard of a left fielder.  He was 23 years old.   Based on this, we would expect a career total of 146 Win Shares.  He actually had 144, so he met but did not exceed expectations.

Jim Gentile in 1960, trapped in the minors behind Gil Hodges for many years and not technically a rookie by the standards of the time, finally broke through in 1960, driving in 98 runs in just 384 at bats, but he was 26 years old by then.  He had an expectation of 126 career Win Shares, actually had 125.  (Gentile had a teammate, Ron Hansen, who won the Rookie of the Year Award, but just missed the "disappointments" list which will run tomorrow.  He would have been the 26th man.)  Ed Kranepool in 1963 was an 18-year-old rookie; he didn’t hit, but he played 86 games in the majors at the age of 18.  Based on that season, we would expect him to have 157 major league Win Shares.  He actually had 158. 

Hawk Harrelson with the 1963 Kansas City A’s,was 22 years old and hit just .230 in 79 games, but based on that season we would expect him to have 101 career Win Shares.  He actually had 103.   Jim Presley, with Seattle in 1984, had a very similar season to Harrelson’s, hitting .227 in 70 games at age 22.  We would expect him to get to 104 career Win Shares; he got to 106.  Two years later Seattle had a much better rookie, Danny Tartabull, who was a year older (23) but who hit .270 with 25 homers, 96 RBI.  Based on this he had an expectation of 204 career Win Shares, and actually had 206. 

Of course, the definition of "met expectations" is more tolerant than that.  Stan Musial based on his 1942 rookie season had an expectation of 569 career Win Shares and actually had 604, but that’s still within range of expectations.   Willie Randolph had 282 expected, 312 actual.  George Scott had 225 expected, 251 actual, and Richie Zisk had 174 expected, 200 actual.  Tim Salmon had 207 expected, 232 actual.  Tim Raines had 479 expected, 390 actual.  Tom Brunansky had 287 expected, 211 actual.  Joe Pepitone had 233 expected, 166 actual, and Daryl Strawberry had 318 expected, 252 actual.  These are the largest discrepancies which still fall within range of "met expectations." 

The category "Fell Somewhat Short of Projections", since it also didn’t get its own installment in this series, includes several Hall of Famers.  "Disappointing" doesn’t necessarily mean that the player didn’t perform; sometimes it means he was injured for part of his career, out of commission for some reason not within his control, or dead.  The Yankees were disappointed that Thurman Munson was unable to finish his career.  It doesn’t mean that he didn’t play well.  Ted Williams—the #1 rookie in our system based on his career projections—actually fell 160 Win Shares short of projections, 555 to 715, because, of course, he lost three full seasons and most of two more seasons to Military Service.  Willie McCovey actually met the standards of a regular, qualifying for the batting title, only seven times in his Hall of Fame career.  The rest of his career he was either fighting Orlando Cepeda for playing time or lost time due to foot, ankle, and knee problems.  McCovey fell 104 Win Shares short of projections, 408 to 512, still made the Hall of Fame on the first ballot.  Johnny Bench was 105 Win Shares short of projections, 356 to 461, still made the Hall of Fame on the first ballot with 96% of the vote.  "Fell somewhat short of projections" doesn’t mean that the guy was a bad player or a washout; it just means that he had some injuries or something. 

OK, now the big disappointments:

25.  Rocco Baldelli, Tampa Bay, 2003 

Rocco Baldelli was a center fielder, very fast, and he had a tremendous throwing arm.  As a 21-year-old rookie in 2003 he hit .289 in 156 games, had 184 hits, 32 doubles, 8 triples, 11 homers, 27 stolen bases and 14 outfield assists.  He began his career with a 13-game hitting streak.  He finished third in the AL Rookie of the Year voting; more on that in a moment.  2003 was my first full season with the Red Sox; he was in our division, and everybody in our office thought he was en route to a tremendous career.  He was a New England native, and I think he had been a Red Sox fan as a kid, and there was a lot of excitement about him in the Boston area in 2003 and 2004.  I think honestly we hoped to see him in a Red Sox uniform later on.  Newspaper writers compared him to Joe DiMaggio, in part based on the Italian heritage, but also he kind of looked like DiMaggio in center field, although he was never going to hit at DiMaggio’s level. 

Rocco had a strong second season, hitting .280 but increasing his power to 16 home runs, and it was a tough park for a hitter.   But playing in the yard of his home in Rhode Island after the season, October of 2004 he tore a ligament in his knee.  (Otherwise, October of 2004 was a perfect month.)  Baldelli was inactive for months, not ready to start the 2005 season.  Playing in the minor leagues in June, he tore a ligament in his elbow, requiring Tommie John Surgery.   He missed the entire 2005 season, and was not ready to go at the start of the 2006 campaign. Returning late, he hit .302 with 16 homers in 92 games, giving him an .871 OPS. 

He had a hamstring injury in spring training, 2007.  He tried to come back from that, fell into a 1-for-40 slump, crashed into a wall and went back on the DL.  The hamstring would not heal, and he missed the rest of the season. 

Baldelli began experiencing severe muscle fatigue and cramping, which prevented him from doing even light exercise.  He was diagnosed eventually with a mitochondrial disorder which effected his body’s ability to produce energy.  The Rays cut him loose after the 2008 season.  We had him with Boston in 2009; he played OK for us, hitting .263 with 7 homers in 63 games, but it was hard to keep him on the roster when he could only play a couple of games a week.  I met him several times that summer; he was a very nice man, and we all liked him a great deal.  He played in the minors in 2010, and retired after the 2010 season.  We would have projected him for 226 Career Win Shares, not a Hall of Fame number, but he actually had only 57. 

The 2003 American League Rookie of the Year was not Baldelli but Angel Berroa, so why isn’t Berroa on this list?  Berroa won the Rookie of the Year Award, hitting .287 with 17 homers, 78 RBI, 92 Runs Scored, playing shortstop for the Royals.   Berroa’s career was no better than Baldelli’s, actually a little worse, so why isn’t Berroa on this list?

He could be; it’s just a matter of interpretation.  Although the Rookie of the Year voters voted for Berroa, Baldelli had more Win Shares (18 to 16) and was two years younger, ages 23 to 21, making Baldelli’s projections far better, so Baldelli fell much further short of projections.  Later we learned that Berroa was playing under a baseball age.  He wasn’t 23, he was 25, so he was actually 3½ years older than Baldelli. 

 

24.  Mitchell Page, Oakland, 1977

As a rookie, Mitchell Page had about as well-rounded a season as you can have.  He hit .307, and hitting .300 in Oakland is kind of like hitting .320 in another park.  He hit 21 homers and also 8 triples, giving him a slugging percentage over .500.  He drew 78 walks, a very nice number, giving him an on base percentage over .400.  He stole 42 bases with only 5 caught stealing, a number than Willie Mays would have dreamed of.   He was 25 years old, so you couldn’t really project a lot of improvement for him, but he didn’t need to improve to be really good; he already was. 

He never had another season as good in any area.  He never hit .307 again, never hit 21 homers again or 8 triples, never drove in 75 runs again, never drew 78 walks again.  After going 42-for-47 as a base stealer as a rookie, over the next two seasons he went 40-for-75.  He was still a good player in 1978, not as good but still good, but the 1979 season was another step down, and the 1980 season was not a recovery.  By the early 1980s he was back in the minors trying to find himself.  Based on his tremendous rookie season we would have projected him for 240 Career Win Shares.  He actually wound up with only 70.

I realize that I am going to have to say something here about Joe Charboneau, or people will be asking me "Why isn’t Joe Charboneau on your list?"  Charboneau was a good enough player that one year, but the Joe Charboneau story is mixed with a lot of hype.  Charboneau was a colorful player, but he was a 25-year-old outfielder—like Mitchell Page.  Same league, same era, same age, same defensive position; Page is just obviously a lot better.  I’m not listing players here by how much hype was attached to them, but by the realistic expectations established by their performance, and then disappointed. 

Another related but off topic note.  Mitchell Page and Al Cowens had grown up together and had been high school teammates.  They were close friends.  In 1977 they both had tremendous seasons, Cowens hitting .312 with 112 RBI.  At a glance, Cowens’ season and Page’s look like they could be two seasons of the same player.  Cowens finished second in the MVP voting, behind Rod Carew.  But both Page’s season and Cowens’ are just wildly out of context.  Neither player ever came close to replicating what he had done in 1977. 

 

23.  Ken Hubbs, 1962

Only 20 years old, Ken Hubbs got to the plate 661 times in 1962, scoring 90 runs.   In the field he played 78 consecutive games and handled 418 consecutive chances without an error, establishing major league records in both areas.  For some reason the record run was very highly publicized.  Every sports fan in the country knew that he was close to the record and was aware of it when he broke the record; it was in the newspapers every day.  He won the National League Gold Glove, taking it away from Mazeroski; Maz won it every year from 1958 to 1967 except 1962, when the rookie Hubbs snatched it away.  Hubbs also won the Rookie of the Year Award, getting 19 of 20 first-place votes.

Hubbs was a religious man, a Mormon who went to church even when the team was on a road trip, he’d find a church and work out a time that he could go.  He did not smoke, drink or swear.  He persuaded Ron Santo to give up smoking.  He was afraid of flying, however, and he decided to confront the fear of flying directly by becoming a pilot.  He took flying lessons, and purchased a single-engine Cessna.  Leaving Provo, Utah on February 12, 1964, he flew into bad weather, turned the plane around and attempted to return to Provo.  Two minutes short of the airport his plane crashed, probably due to the weather conditions, and fell into a lake, killing Hubbs and the friend who was with him.  

Based on his rookie season we would have projected Hubbs for 201 career Win Shares.  He had only 28. 

 

22.  Carlos May, 1969

Carlos May had played 100 games through August 8, 1969, hitting .281 with 18 homers, 62 RBI, with 65 walks helping him to a very impressive .873 OPS.  He was 21 years old. His rookie season is actually very similar to Willie Mays’ rookie season of 1951, although May was one year older than Mays in ’51, and lacked Willie’s speed.  He was a big man, but much faster than his brother Lee, who was notoriously slow; later Carlos would steal as many as 23 bases in a season.  Both May and Mays’ careers were interrupted at that time by military service.  Carlos had signed up for Reserve duty, which many ballplayers did in that era; it was a way to avoid being actually drafted. Reserve duty was trading uncontrollable risk for a controllable cost.  In a military training exercise at Camp Pendleton a mortar round exploded on him, tearing off part of his thumb.   It interfered with his ability to grip the bat, and created fears that it would end his baseball career. 

It didn’t, but it didn’t help, either.  May played in the majors for eight years after that, but never played as well as he had as a rookie.  He hit fairly well through 1973, then seemed to slip backward a notch.  He was only 25, 26.  His speed disappeared; his defense was poor.  He was accused of not hustling, which may not be fair.  He was one of those guys—you have seen them sometimes—who ran pretty well but accelerated very slowly, which made it look as if the effort was not there although that may not have been the actual issue.  In any case he was playing in Japan by the late 1970s.

He finished with 1,192 major league games, a .274 average and 90 homers—not terrible numbers but not close to Lee May, let alone Willie Mays.  We would have projected him for 313 Career Win Shares, a marginal Hall of Fame number.  He wound up with 138.  He worked for 20 years as a mailman, and returned to the White Sox as a public relations representative.

 

21.  Red Barnes, 1928

Hopefully no relation to Fred Barnes, the obnoxious conservative commentator.  He’s not obnoxious because he is conservative; he’s obnoxious because he’s a know-it-all who pushes conventional wisdom as if it was deep insight. 

Anyway, Barnes, whose full name was Emile Deering Barnes, had a very good rookie season for the Washington Senators, hitting .305 with 15 triples.   He was tenth in the American League in OPS, although OPS wasn’t invented until fifty years later. 

I have written this before, but it is really all I know about Barnes, so it is the only thing I can tell you.  Barnes was like Lonnie Smith.  Lonnie’s problem was that, while he was a great athlete, he had very small hands and feet.  The reason he fell down all the time was that his tiny feet reduced his margin of error while planting his feet; if he was a little bit off-balance he went down—and his small hands made it difficult for him to grip the ball properly, so throws would slip out of his hands.  Lonnie was actually a really good player; you just had to get used to the fact that he was going to make 15 errors a year in the outfield and there was nothing that anybody could do about it. 

Barnes had the same problem; he had tiny hands and feet.  As a rookie he got a reputation for making "circus catches", which is what they called it when he caught the ball as he was falling down, but early in the 1928 season the Senators came up with another outstanding rookie center fielder, Sammy West, and Barnes lost his job.  Barnes went to the White Sox in early 1930, where he made 12 errors in 67 games in the outfield and ended his major league career.  He played in the minors until 1944, hitting over .300 every single year except 1942; his minor league batting averages included .387, .382, .371 and .390.   He might have gotten back to the majors during World War II, but never did.   He died young.   We would have projected him, based on his 1928 rookie season, for 203 major league Win Shares.  He had only 25. 

 

20.  Butch Wynegar, 1976

The name means "Vinegar" in German.   It makes sense when you think about it.

A switch-hitting catcher, Wynegar made the All-Star team as a 20-year-old, hitting .260 with 79 walks, 69 RBI.   After the season Baseball Digest published an article entitled "How the Tigers missed out on drafting Butch Wynegar."  The Tigers, thinking they were going to get Butch Wynegar, had somehow messed up and wound up drafting some guy named Lance Parrish. 

Anyway, Wynegar had an essentially identical season in 1961, made the All Star team again.  He had a great arm, threw out 53% of base stealers in 1979 and led the league three times in runners caught stealing, although that is partly because he was playing a ton of games as a young player.   I have no source for this next stuff except my memory; he has no SABR biography and his Wikipedia page does not choose to cover it, but Wynegar had some sort of mental health issue or anxiety issue after that.  He fell off to .229 with 4 homers in 1978, his third season.  After hitting 10 homers as a 20-year-old and a 21-year-old people figured he would hit 25, but he never reached double figures again.  He was singled out by his owner in a public meeting for his lack of mental toughness, somewhat overshadowed by the fact that the owner included racist remarks in what he thought were off-the-record comments.  Wynegar hung around for thirteen years in the major leagues, gradually losing playing time; he never made another All-Star game and never played a post-season game.   Based on his rookie season we would have projected him for 313 Win Shares, but he actually had only 138. 

 

19.  Vada Pinson, 1959

Not considered a rookie at the time, 20-year-old Vada Pinson in 1959 had 205 hits, 131 runs scored, 47 doubles, 20 home runs, and was perhaps the fastest man in baseball at the time.  Actually he should have been in the majors a year earlier.   He had an absolutely sensational season as an 18-year-old at Visalia, hitting .367 with 40 doubles, 20 triples and 20 homers among 209 hits, and he opened the 1958 season as the Reds’ right fielder.   He started the season well, hitting in his first five games and hitting a Grand Slam in his second major league game, providing all of the runs in a 4-1 victory.   He fell into a little slump then, was hitting .194 on May 11, and the Reds panicked and sent him out.  It was stupid; the Reds weren’t going anywhere anyway, and everybody goes through little slumps; it wasn’t really anything.   Pinson went to Seattle in the Pacific Coast League, hit .343 in 124 games there, came back to the majors in September and hit .412 in 34 at bats.  As a consequence of the 1958 at bats he was not considered a rookie in 1959, which enabled Willie McCovey to win the NL Rookie of the Year Award in just 52 games; for some reason Willie McCovey has become a theme of the series. 

Pinson had three more brilliant major league seasons—1961, when he hit .343 and was third in the National League MVP race, 1963, when he hit .313 with 37 doubles, 14 triples and 22 homers, and 1965, when he hit .305 with 34-10-22.  He had 200+ hits in all four of those years, 1959, 1961, 1963 and 1965. He was a lot like Mookie—batting and throwing left-handed, but a similar skill set, and, like Mookie, he played the game with a smile on his face. 

He had many other years that weren’t bad but weren’t great.  There was a perception, in his good years, that he might have another gear, that he might be not third in the MVP voting but top dog.  Instead of taking a step forward he started a long series of small steps backward.  He got 92% of the way to 3,000 career hits; that’s how good he was, he got 92% of the way to 3,000 hits and we call it a disappointment, if not actually a failure.  Based on the brilliance of his rookie campaign we would have expected him to get 504 career Win Shares, and he wound up with only 321, so he’s on our list. 

 

18.  Rich Coggins, 1973

The Baltimore Orioles in 1973 had two rookie outfielders, Rich Coggins and Al Bumbry, having very similar seasons.  Both left-handed hitters, they played 110 games each and had similar stats across the board—7 home runs each, more triples than homers in both cases, 17 stolen bases (Coggins) and 23 (Bumbry), .319 average for Coggins, .337 for Bumbry.  Since Bumbry was 26 and Coggins just 22, we would expect Coggins, based on the more common experience, to be the one more likely to thrive.

It didn’t work out that way.   Bumbry had a 14-year career including a couple of really fine seasons, while Coggins’ career sank like a stone.  I actually don’t know why, don’t know the story.  Bumbry had an expectation based on his rookie season of 111 career Win Shares, got to 158, while Coggins had and expectation of 211 but left the game with only 28.

 

17.  Renee Lachemann, 1965

1965 was near the end of the Bonus Baby Rule; I’ll assume you all understand that, although you may not.    My memory of Renee Lachemann is that he was a Bonus Baby, and thus had to spend a full season on the major league roster, although he was allowed to delay the season until the start of his first full season in pro ball.  His SABR biography, written by Norm King, does not mention any bonus, and attributes Lachemann’s place on a major league roster at the age of 20 and with no real experience above what we would now call A ball to the enthusiastic support of A’s catching coach Gabby Hartnett. 

In any case, the 19-year-old Lachemann was on the roster at the start of the 1965 season, with 129 games of minor league experience.   He wasn’t terrible.  We count him as 20 that year, turned 20 in the first half of the season; he hit just .227 but with 9 homers, 29 RBI in 216 at bats.  His defense wasn’t great despite Gabby Hartnett’s raving about his arm, and you have to remember:  the A’s had a completely new game plan every year.   Between spring training 1965 and spring training 1966 they had fired their manager twice. 

In any case, either because he had served his sentence as a Bonus Baby or because the A’s had changed directions, Lachemann was back in the minors in 1966.  His job had been given to Phil Roof, an almost-rookie who had had previous trials with Milwaukee, California and Cleveland; he couldn’t hit but was terrific behind the plate.   Lachemann had some decent minor league seasons, was a kind of Crash Davis type player, but never got back to the majors more than a few games here and there.  He was a backup plan in case of an injury to A’s catcher Dave Duncan, who was a similar player with a similar history, but a little bit better.  Lachemann had an expectation of 196 career Win Shares, but had only 8.  Of course he later became a moderately successful manager. 

Lachemann provides an occasion to study one of the consuming interests of my professional life.  The Kansas City A’s from 1961 to 1965 brought up rookie after rookie after rookie after rookie, many of whom played pretty well, but all of whom—it seemed to me—went on to disappointing careers.   I have long been fascinated by the question of why this happened, and have written about it many times.  At some point probably 30 years ago, I suggested that it was one of two things:  that the A’s rookies, many of them lifted from other organizations, were actually second-line talents, or (b) that the A’s simply had no idea how to help a young player develop, no culture of success and no support networks for them. 

This method allows us to at least outline the problem in mathematical terms.   The A’s from 1961 to 1966 had 15 rookies included in this study.  In raw terms they didn’t underperform expectations by as much as I would have guessed.  Five of the fifteen rookies exceeded expectations, and, as a group, they met 85% of expectations:

First

Last

YEAR

HR

RBI

Avg

AGE

OBA

SPct

OPS

Career

 

Predicted

Dick

Howser

1961

3

45

.280

25

.377

.362

.739

76

 

110

Deron

Johnson

1961

8

44

.209

22

.247

.344

.591

194

 

80

Leo

Posada

1961

7

53

.253

25

.321

.366

.687

11

 

59

George

Alusik

1962

11

35

.270

27

.323

.483

.807

26

 

57

Joe

Azcue

1962

2

25

.229

22

.287

.305

.592

81

 

77

Ed

Charles

1962

17

74

.288

29

.356

.454

.811

118

 

69

Manny

Jimenez

1962

11

69

.301

23

.354

.428

.782

34

 

154

Jose

Tartabull

1962

0

22

.277

23

.321

.329

.650

52

 

97

Ken

Harrelson

1963

6

23

.230

21

.299

.363

.662

103

 

101

Bert

Campaneris

1964

4

22

.257

22

.306

.375

.681

280

 

93

Dick

Green

1964

11

37

.264

23

.311

.395

.707

118

 

120

Rene

Lachemann

1965

9

29

.227

20

.264

.394

.658

8

 

196

Tommie

Reynolds

1965

1

22

.237

23

.327

.311

.638

30

 

80

Ossie

Chavarria

1966

2

10

.241

25

.306

.325

.631

7

 

47

Larry

Stahl

1966

5

34

.250

25

.289

.365

.655

50

 

65

                   

 

 

 

                   

1187

 

1404

 

 

The chart doesn’t exactly represent reality as I would interpret it.  Two players, Lachemann and Manny Jimenez, were tremendous under-achievers.  Chavarria, Reynolds, Tartabull and Leo Posada under-achieved but had modest expectations anyway, and the math argues that expectations for Howser were not as high as intuitively I would believe that they were. 

This is why the chart is misleading, though.  A couple of the players who best represent the A’s problem in those years, Nellie Mathews and Billy Bryan, are excluded because they went past their rookie limitations before getting a 200-plate-appearance season.  But more importantly, one of the two A’s players who dramatically exceeded expectations was Deron Johnson.   Johnson exceeded expectations—after he was sent back to the minors, kept in the minors for a year, and then sold outright to the Cincinnati Reds.   Another of the players who exceeded expectations was Ken Harrelson, who had two good seasons in the majors—after he was released by the Kansas City A’s in an owner’s fit of pique.  Actually that understates it; he was (a) traded to the Washington Senators for a pitcher with a career record of 7-25 and an ERA of 5.26 (b) purchased back from the Senators, and (c) released by the owner in a fit of pique.  Anyway.. ..we’d better move on.

 

16.  Dick Kokos, 1948

Starting in the Cleveland Indians’ minor league system in 1945, Kokos hit .321, .344 and .324 in three seasons, aged 17, 18 and 19.   These were all in the low minors.  The Indians had lots of prospects at that time, and they were for some reason slow-walking him up the ladder, not that unusual at that time.   The Indians traded him to the Browns as part of a package deal.   The Browns had much less talent in their system; they moved him up the ladder to Toledo, where he hit .315 with 13 homers in half a season.  Still only 20 years old, Kokos came to the majors just before the All-Star break and played extremely well, hitting .298 with an .800 OPS as the Browns’ everyday right fielder.   He followed that up with a very good season in 1949, aged, 21, hitting only .261 but with 23 homers and 66 walks pushing his OPS up to .810.  In 1950 he hit .261 again with only 18 homers, but with 88 walks pushing his OPS up again, to .822.  He was then almost exactly where Nomar Mazara is right now, just ready to bust through. 

Unfortunately he got drafted, spent the next two years in the Army.  When he returned to the Browns in 1953 he had a so-so season, not terrible but not much, and then the Browns moved to Baltimore.  After they moved the new organization was cleaning house; they had no interest in anybody with a Browns’ history.  They traded him to the Yankees; he got trapped in the Yankees’ minor league system and just disappeared.   Like Red Barnes, he didn’t live to see 60.   240 expected major league Win Shares, 50 Actual. 

 

15.  Bob Coluccio, 1973

A 17th-round draft pick of a first-year expansion team (the Seattle Pilots), Coluccio reached the majors after hitting .300 at Double-A in 1972.   The Brewers were very much an expansion team at that time, still trying to get to .500 for the first time.   Coluccio, only 21 years old, actually played pretty well in 1973.  He was a good outfielder, ran well, hit 15 homers and stole 13 bases and drew 54 walks in 438 at bats.  Unfortunately his one weakness was the one that everybody trusted at that time:  batting average.   He hit just .228; his secondary average was .338.   His OPS was basically league average for a right fielder, .722 vs. .729, and you’re talking about a 21-year-old player in a pitcher’s park.  I’d call that really good, but at the time the only thing that counted was the .224 average; that had to improve. 

In his second year he hit .223.  He opened his third season hitting just .194 through 22 games, and the Brewers came up with a hotshot right field prospect two years younger than Coluccio, Sixto Lezcano.  They gave up on Coluccio, traded him to an even worse team, and he disappeared.  223 expected career Win Shares, 30 actual. 

 

Not on the 25-person list, Johnny Pesky, 1942

After hitting .331 as a rookie shortstop, 205 hits, Johnny Pesky was drafted and spent three years in military service.   There are several World War II players who would qualify for this list based strictly on the statistics—more than from any other era—but I decided it is misleading to compare players who launched their careers 1942-1945 to those from other eras, so I didn’t put any of them on the list. 

 

14.  Fred Brickell, 1928

Named George Frederick Brickell; listed in some places as George, in others as Fred.   I consider him a "secret George", like me and Babe Ruth and Tom Seaver and Sparky Anderson and Bob Newhardt.   Anyway, GF Brickell hit .322 as a 21-year-old rookie outfielder for the Pirates in 1928, just 202 at bats. Hitting .322 is more the norm than the exception in 1928; there were lots of .320 hitters trying to find work then, but the analytical pathway for some reason likes him enough to project a good career for him, 227 Win Shares. 

The Pirates had two Hall of Famers in the outfield (the Waner brothers) plus they had SEVERAL good reserve outfielders, so playing time was hard to come by, and Brickell actually lost playing time in 1929 after hitting .322 in 1928.   The third job was won by Adam Comorosky, just one year older than Brickell and also a promising hitter.  Brickell hit over .300 again in 1929, just 118 at bats.  He got a chance to play in 1930, was traded to Philadelphia in mid-season, but didn’t hit well in Philly in 1930 or 1931, and lost his foothold in the majors.   Left the game with 34 major league Win Shares, 193 short of projections.

 

 

13.  Mike Caruso, 1998

Hit .306 as a 21-year-old regular shortstop for the White Sox.  A left-handed hitter and fast enough to steal 22 bases, he finished third in the voting for the American League Rookie of the Year Award.   He had a miserable second season, 1999, and the White Sox traded for a veteran shortstop after the season.   Caruso’s major league career essentially ended right then, although he got a few at bats years later. 

Caruso would only be 41 years old now.  I don’t really understand what happened to his major league career.  He may have been a victim of the steroid era.   He was a slightly built man, not a lot of pop in his bat, while the players around him were growing bigger and stronger almost by the hour.  He drew only 14 walks in 1998, as an everyday player, and by 1998 people were becoming aware of that, and I think there was a general feeling that he wasn’t a true shortstop and his good numbers in 1998 were a bit of an illusion.  He may have had a medical issue as well, but I don’t know the details.  In any case his career did not survive his off season as a 22-year-old.   216 expected Win Shares, 22 actual. 

 

12. Bernie Carbo, 1970

As a rookie in 1970 Bernie Carbo had what could be described as a Ted Williams-, Joey Votto-type season, hitting .310 with 21 homers in 365 at bats, but also drawing 94 walks to give him a .454 on base percentage and a 1.000-plus OPS.   He finished second in the NL Rookie of the Year voting. 

He completely tanked his second year, had better years later but never got back to the phenomenal level of his production as a rookie.  The Reds had a new ballpark in 1970 (Riverfront), young players, a lot of excitement.  They collectively had a miserable year the next season, some injuries, probably too much partying, the baseball Gods weren’t with them and the magic was gone.  They put it back together that winter by making a great trade with the Astros. 

Carbo was a likeable, fun-loving guy, but probably did not have the psychological makeup of a star athlete.  Also, there were a bunch of fluke seasons in the National League in 1970, a rash of them.   Billy Grabarkewitz and Bob Robertson, both rookies in 1970, just barely missed this list here, that you don’t want to be on; if the list was 35 rather than 25 they would be on it.  Cito Gaston, while not a rookie, had one of the biggest fluke seasons of all time for San Diego, having a Hall of Famer’s season in the middle of a nothing career.  Jim Hickman had a Hall of Famer’s season as well, ridiculously far above his normal standards.  Bob Bailey had a weird year; he had the same OPS as Carbo (1.004), and he wasn’t that kind of player, either.   Wes Parker hit .319 and drove in 111 runs; that’s only like 70 points better than he usually did.  Ollie Brown had a career year; Donn Clendenon drove in 97 runs in 396 at bats, which was not his norm.  Dick Dietz had a monster year, with a .300+ average, 100+ walks and 100+ RBI; that was out of context of his career.  Ken Henderson had a career year; Denis Menke hit .304 with 92 RBI, his careers bests.  It is the greatest concentration of fluke years in baseball history. 

No doubt a lot of this was caused by the 1969 expansion, and also there were several new parks in the National League that year.   There was an expansion team in a big hitter’s park, Montreal.   It was just a weird league. 

 

Buddy Kerr, 1944

Omitted from the list as a war-time aberration. 

 

Ed Stevens, 1945

Omitted from the list as a war-time aberration. 

 

11.  Earl Williams, 1971

1971 National League Rookie of the Year.  There are three players in major league history who form what we might call an unusually tight target group.  Those three players are Rudy York, Earl Williams and Gary Sanchez.  I stress that I am not in any sense trying to rag on Gary Sanchez; I’m doing the best I can to avoid any comment that would offend Sanchez or the Yankees.  But these three players have an unusually long series of things in common.  They’re right-handed hitters.  They’re catchers, or sort-of catchers.  They all three have exceptional power, truly unusual power, the kind of power that you just don’t see.  They all three had tremendous hot streaks, unusual hot streaks, near the beginning of their major league careers.   In all three cases, the eruption of power that started their careers was centered in August of their rookie seasons, for whatever that is worth.  They all three had physical attributes that would make you think that they could be top-quality defensive catchers.  All three of them had catcher’s throwing arms and good, quick feet.  (Williams hit .343 with 10 homers in August, 1971, 1.113 OPS.  Sanchez hit .389 with 11 homers in August, 2016, 1.290 OPS.  York hit .363 with 18 homers in August, 1937, 1.349 OPS.)

But in all three cases, there was just something about catching that presented an issue for them.  The Tigers tried for three years (1937-1939) to make York a catcher, decided that it just was never going to work, and gave up on it.   They moved him to first base, which wasn’t easy; they had Hank Greenberg on first base.  Greenberg moved to the outfield.  Greenberg was not at all equipped to play the outfield, but Hank drove in 150 runs, York drove in 134 and the Tigers won the pennant in 1940, so that worked out alright.   We’re going to have to see what kind of accommodation the Yankees come to with Sanchez.

But Earl Williams did not work out alright.  His teams wanted him to catch, but he did not like catching and did not want to do it.  He was open in expressing this dislike. This led to conflicts between Williams and his first major league team, the Braves.  The Orioles, knowing full well that Williams didn’t want to catch, traded for him and asked him to catch anyway; perhaps they thought that Earl W. should be able to get through to another Earl W.  It didn’t work, and Williams’ bat was getting less reliable every year.

Williams, as a young player, was trying to leverage his position as a highly valued talent to force his teams to use him the way he wanted to be used.  It didn’t work, and five years later he was placing an ad in The Sporting News:  Have Bat, Will Travel.  He was looking for a job, and, for those of you under 55, referencing an old TV show.  His career fell apart because he—and his teams—could not solve the catcher/not-a-catcher conundrum.  315 expected Win Shares, 111 delivered. 

 

10.  Derrell Griffith, 1964

Hit .290 in 78 games for the Dodgers as a 20-year-old, then got only 56 major league at bats the rest of his career.  I really do not know what the story is with this guy, but I’ll offer three notes:

1)      The Dodgers at that time had lots of prospects.  The Dodgers in the 1950s had so many minor league prospects that they sent their second-line prospects all over the league to play for other teams—like the Yankees did in the American League, but even more so.  By the early 1960s changes in the rules had limited how many young players a team could control, but a young player with the Dodgers didn’t have a long lifeline, because they always had somebody else they could go to.   

 

2)      Griffith hit .290 in 1964, but drew only 5 walks and did not play well at third base.  The Dodgers, because of their great pioneer statistician, Alan Roth, were closer than other teams were to understanding what that meant.   Alan Roth knew that on base percentage correlated with wins. 

 

3)      The Dodgers in that era used Junior Gilliam as their. . . I forget what they call that, when an organization has a guy who shows up wherever there is trouble to fix the problem.  Gilliam was their problem solver; I know that corporations have a non-obvious term for that guy.  Gilliam was a great percentage player, great walk rate, and he could play second, third base, left field. . ..whatever you needed.   Griffith may have been playing third base for the Dodgers in 1964 mostly because Gilliam was needed somewhere else. 

 

In any case our formulas estimate that Griffith would have 212 career Win Shares.  He actually had 8.

Dick Wakefield, 1943

Omitted from the list as a war-time aberration. 

 

9.  Clint Hurdle, 1978

Clint Hurdle is famous in Kansas City, and perhaps in other places, as the archetypical can’t-miss prospect who missed.  He actually got the can’t-miss target on his back before the 1978 season. A powerfully-built left-handed hitter, he hit .328 in triple-A ball as a 19-year-old, with an OPS almost 1.000.  Called to the majors late in the year, he had a .300 average in nine games including what was perhaps the longest home run ever in Royals Stadium.  (I was at that game, but missed the home run due to a concessions line.)   Sports Illustrated made him a cover boy in the spring of 1978. 

This evaluation of him as a potential star is not based on that, but on the season that followed that.  The 20-year-old Hurdle hit .264 with 7 homers, but a very good walk rate.  The season doesn’t say "Superstar", but you expect a 20-year-old who can handle major league pitching to grow into a good major league hitter.  Our system projects him for 266 career Win Shares.  He started having back trouble in 1979, and finished with 46.

 

8.  Bill DeLancey, 1934

DeLancey, a talented defensive catcher, hit .316 with real power the second half of the 1934 season, taking the catching job away from the veteran Spud Davis, then caught every inning of the World Series for the Cardinals.  Branch Rickey would say that the three best catchers he ever saw were Bill DeLancey, Mickey Cochrane and Roy Campanella.  Midway through the 1935 season he developed pleurisy, a very serious lung condition which required that his lungs be drained every 48 hours.  The illness ended his career. 

His SABR biography, written by Thomas Ayers, contains a couple of memorable stories which I will quote here:

 

DeLancey was a prickly and hard-nosed player who often complained at and swore at umpires.8 One sportswriter described him as a "spirited, fighting athlete who gives no ground at the plate and has more color than the average catcher."

An example of DeLancey’s feisty attitude came when (manager Frankie) Frisch told him to lay off the rising fastball during one game; DeLancey had been struggling to hit that pitch, always getting under the ball and popping it up. The next time he came to bat, DeLancey hit a high fastball onto the roof of Sportsman’s Park for a homer. When he got back to the dugout he snapped at Frisch, "That’s how much you know, you dumb Dutchman."

Although he was only 22, DeLancey assumed a leadership role on the field and in the clubhouse. Once he saw Dizzy Dean goofing around on the mound and went out to the pitcher and sternly said, "[I]f you ever make a joke of it again when I’m catching, I’ll knock your damned block off." Reportedly, this display of fortitude impressed Dean so much that he asked Frisch if DeLancey could catch him regularly.

 

We project him for 250 career Win Shares.  He got only 24.  He moved to Arizona for the clear desert air, but the illness would kill him on his 35th birthday. 

 

7.  Curt Blefary, 1965

Named "Curt" after the 1930s/1940s pitcher Curt Davis.  The 1965 American League Rookie of the Year, Blefary hit just .260 (as a rookie) but with 22 homers, 88 walks, and good defense.  His batting average went down to .255 in 1966 (although it remained a productive .255), .242 in 1967 (although it remained a productive .242), and .200 in 1968 (    ).  In 1968 his new manager (Earl Weaver) tried to convert him to a catcher.   Weaver had a thing about power-hitting catchers, not always accompanied by the best judgment on the issue. 

Blefary had a notorious temper, and he would fly off the handle and say things publicly about his managers.  He did not get along well with his first manager in Baltimore (Hank Bauer), nor his second (Earl Weaver).  In the spring of 1969 Weaver announced that Blefary had no job and would have to compete for playing time.  Blefary did not appreciate the information, and was traded to Houston days later.   He didn’t get along with his manager there, either (Harry Walker.)  In Houston Blefary roomed with a black player, Don Wilson; it was at that time very unusual for black players to room with white players, and this was apparently only the second such pairing. 

That was a pretty big news story and you have to give him credit for that, but his bat didn’t recover, and Blefary bounced from team to team, leaving a string of colorful quotes behind him, mostly explaining why he wasn’t hitting now or wasn’t playing well now or wasn’t being treated fairly.   Off of his rookie season we would have projected him for 357 Win Shares.  He got to 111. 

 

6.  Bob Horner, 1978

Bob Horner came straight out of college into a regular job in the majors, without a day in the minor leagues.  He hit well enough immediately to take the 1978 NL Rookie of the Year Award away from Ozzie Smith in a vote so bad that subconsciously I still refuse to believe that it happened.   Horner hit 23 homers in 89 games as a rookie; actually he hit .323 with 19 homers in his home park, but .205 with 4 homers on the road, posting an OPS at home (1.112) that was almost twice what it was on the road (.568).  He could hit, though; he had a very quick, short swing for a power hitter, got his bat to the ball in a hurry, and he hit a lot of homers for Atlanta, basically 27 to 35 every year. 

He was a free agent after the 1986 season, but due to the collusion by the owners did not receive a meaningful contract offer, and played the 1987 season in Japan.  In St. Louis in the early 1980s Whitey Herzog had been the Cardinal manager and, due to a close relationship with the team owner, in effect the general manager as well.  After the Cardinals had an off year in 1986 the front office attempted to take the power in the organization away from Herzog.  One of the things they did was to sign Horner, who Herzog did not like and did not have any use for as a player.   That was a disaster, and Horner’s career came to an end after an unproductive season in St. Louis.   

Horner hit 218 homers in his career, but 142 of those were in Atlanta, only 76 on the road; he hit .295 in his career in his home parks, .260 on the road.   Based on his rookie season we would have projected him for 400 Win Shares, a Hall of Fame number.   He wound up with 152, which is not a bad career.

 

5.  Jeff Francoeur, 2005

Recent enough that I am sure you know the story as well as I do.  Had a great arm and hit with power, was a very well-liked teammate and popular with fans, but never played the game under control.   He hit .300 as a rookie, with 14 bombs in 70 games, and based on that we would have projected him for 355 career Win Shares.  He wound up with 102. 

 

4.  Hal Trosky, 1934

As a 21-year-old rookie in 1934 Hal Trosky hit .330 and drove in 142 runs.   His first six years in the majors he drove in 100+ every year, and in 1936 he drove in 162. 

There were four superstar first basemen in the American League at that time—Gehrig, Foxx, Greenberg and Trosky.  Had the 1930s continued on without interruption, had World War II not come and had the hitting levels not changed and had Trosky not been overcome by debilitating headaches, there is no doubt that he would have hit 500 or 600 major league home runs, driven in probably 2,000 runs, and be represented on a plaque in upstate New York. 

One can be fooled by the fact that there were four of them into thinking that these levels of production were somehow common.  They weren’t.  Trosky replaced a regular first baseman who, the previous season, had hit .269 with 1 homer and 53 RBI.   In 1936 Greenberg got hurt and missed the season; Detroit replaced him with a regular first baseman who hit .283 with 4 homers and 63 RBI—and he had been in the league for years, producing numbers just like that every year.  In 1936, when Trosky drove in 162 runs, Gehrig drove in 152, Foxx drove in 143 and Greenberg was hurt, the regular first baseman for Philadelphia drove in 41 runs with 653 at bats.  Trosky was special—like Foxx, Gehrig and Greenberg.

Trosky was a left-handed hitter.   Late in the 1935 season, in a slump, he batted right-handed for a few games, and went 5-for-10 as a right-handed hitter, with a home run.  Never hit right-handed again. 

In 1939 or before Trosky began having terrible headaches, headaches so gripping that they interfered with his ability to live a normal life.   After SABR was founded and people began trying to understand player careers, a story developed that Trosky’s headaches began after he was hit in the head by a line drive during batting practice.  His SABR biography, by Bill Johnson, does not support that story and does not reference that story.  It is not relevant to the question of Trosky’s greatness as a player.  Absent the headaches, he would be, at least, the Frank Thomas of his era, the Big Hurt.

Based on his rookie season, we would have projected him for 453 career Win Shares.  He got to 195. 

 

3.  Chubby Dean, 1936

The Philadelphia first baseman who drove in 41 runs in 653 at bats in 1936 was Lou Finney, an outfielder/first baseman, a singles hitter and leadoff man, not a good one.  By the end of the season the A’s regular first baseman was a 20-year-old left-handed hitter and left-handed thrower named Alfred Dean, called Chubby.  Chubby drove in 48 runs in 342 at bats, and hit .287. 

Chubby Dean was not fat; it was a nickname he got as a kid.  I believe that, like Bob Horner, he had skipped the minors, coming to the A’s straight from Duke University.  (Not certain of that; he may have played briefly in the minors and I just didn’t find it.)  Connie Mack liked college players; he had had some great experiences with them.  Chubby did not have a good second season with the bat in 1937, however, and toward the end of the 1937 season Connie decided to move him to the mound.  Chubby had a great arm and had been a pitcher in college. 

We go through this all the time with the Red Sox.  Many times you draft a player who is a pitcher/position player in college, and you have to decide what to do with him.  "Pitcher" always wins the argument.  "Hitter" SHOULD always win the argument, almost always, because if a player fails as a hitter he can still convert to the mound, whereas if he fails as a pitcher, it is almost always too late for him to get back where he was as a position player.  Two classic examples of the decision being made wrong are Ken Brett and Micah Owings. 

Anyway, Dean converted to the mound, and pitched for seven years with a 5.08 ERA.   He also pinch hit and played the field occasionally.  In 1939 he appeared in 80 games, half of them as a pinch hitter, and hit .351.

Chubby, who was 5-11 and weighed 181 pounds according to modern sources, may not have had much power potential.  He could have been a good singles hitter.  In 1937, aged 21, when he had a poor year with the bat, he still had 42 walks and 10 strikeouts.  From 1938 through 1940, mostly pinch hitting, he hit .316 in 187 at bats. 

By the late 1930s Connie Mack, struggling through The Depression and no longer backed by the personal wealth of Ben Shibe, did not have the resources to compete with the top American League teams.  His "poor" decisions of that era—like the decision to bring Dean to the majors without a minor league apprenticeship and the decision to convert him to the mound after a disappointing season with the bat as a 21-year-old—were largely driven by economic realities which left him with many bad options and very few good ones. 

Mack in 1936 was about the same age that I am now.  He was as sharp as he had ever been, as I am.  But in certain respects he had gotten behind the curve, as I have; if I were younger and had gone to school more recently my skills would be more current.   In my view, Mack did not appreciate the gap between college baseball and the minor leagues which had developed over the previous 25 years (1910 to 1935.)  Mack liked intelligent players, and he liked gentlemen, people who knew how to behave themselves.  He understood that if you had a team with a core of educated gentlemen, you could reach for raw talent in the rest of your roster and the team would stay in line.  When he built his first great team early in the century he used that philosophy; when he built his second great team he still used that philosophy to an extent.  But he didn’t really appreciate the fact that, over the years, a gap had opened up between the quality of major league baseball and the quality of college baseball, such that you couldn’t jump from one to the other without additional training in 1936 the way you could in 1906.  Whether a young player is a pitcher or a hitter; that is something you work out in the minor leagues, not at the major league level. 

Also, the fact that Dean (and Finney) were playing first base for the Philadelphia A’s tells us something about baseball at that time.  Beginning in the early 1920s, the St. Louis Cardinals had built up their farm system to control hundreds of minor league prospects.  In 1934 Ripper Collins hit .333 with 35 homers, 128 RBI as the Cardinal first baseman.  In 1935 he drove in 122 runs as the Cardinal first baseman.  In 1936 he was on the bench behind the rookie Johnny Mize, who was better. 

But in the minors, the Cardinals had (among others) Walt Alston, who was more ready to play major league baseball than Chubby Dean was, but who got only one major league at bat because he was blocked by Johnny Mize and Ripper Collins.  The economic inequalities of the sport at that moment were forcing Connie Mack into bad choices. 

Still, Chubby Dean did hit .287 in 342 at bats as a 20-year-old major leaguer.  Based on that, we would expect him to have 400+ major league Win Shares.  He had 126. 

 

2.  Dick Allen, 1964

Dick Allen is the most divisive player in discussions of baseball history, and opportunities to re-visit and re-hash his story are presented to us frequently. He represents a fault line in discussions related to

a)       Race

b)      Player/Management conflicts

c)       The Hall of Fame, and

d)      The relationship between off-field behavior and on-field success. 

It is (d) that I would focus on here, but before we get to that, we need to try to describe the magnitude of Dick Allen’s on-field talent.

No one has ever had more.  No one.  Other players may have had as much—Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, Mike Trout, A-Rod, Josh Hamilton—but no one has ever had more.  If you compare DiMaggio and Dick Allen as rookies, they had almost the same number of everything—at bats, hits, runs, doubles, triples, homers, stolen bases, batting average and OPS.  DiMaggio had more RBI, but Allen drew 43 more walks, thus had an OPS 11 points higher.  But DiMaggio did that in a league that averaged 5.8 runs per team per game; Allen’s league averaged 4.0.   And DiMaggio had a sensational rookie season—but Allen’s was much better, in context.

Allen went on to have an MVP season, and really, two MVP seasons, since his 1966 season was at essentially the same level.  I don’t doubt that Allen on-field contributions were at a Hall of Fame level; I have never doubted that.   The issue with Allen is that I believe

a)        That off-field behavior clearly and obviously impacts the performance of the team on the field, and

b)      That there is no reasonable doubt that Allen’s actions off the field were a major impediment to the success of his teams. 

A baseball team, to win, has to have talent, obviously, but they also need to work very hard, pull together, and focus on the tasks at hand.  If they don’t do that, no matter how much talent they have, they are unlikely to win.  I think that Allen’s actions—not a single incident, but dozens and dozens of incidents over the course of his career—distracted and divided his teams, and incidentally interrupted his career and shortened his career.  

In any case, we project Allen, based on his historic rookie season, at 680 career Win Shares.  He wound up with 352, which is still a Hall of Fame number.            

 

1.        Tony Conigliaro, 1964

Probably don’t need to tell that story, do I?   As a 19-year-old, Tony Conigliaro hit .290 with 24 homers in 111 games.  As a 20-year-old he led the American League in home runs.  A near-fatal beaning in mid-season, 1967, de-railed his career. We would have projected him for 480 career Win Shares.  He wound up with 128. 

 

 

 
 

COMMENTS (38 Comments, most recent shown first)

MarisFan61
(oops, error -- nobody would know and nobody cares about it, but since no post of mine is official until I do a correction:
It wasn't 2 yrs in college, it was in high school.
I hope this doesn't take up too much of the site's bandwidth.)
12:31 AM Oct 28th
 
MarisFan61
Msk: Great job!
The reason I say great job on that is, I always assumed it means vinegar, and that it's German. And I was born in Germany, so, as the guy on the movie line in Annie Hall said before realizing Marshall McLuhan was there, "I think my views have a great deal of validity."
(They don't, because I don't know any more German than any of you who had 2 yrs of it in college, but maybe anyway it gives some cover about saying it's German for Wynegar if someone who was born in Germany says he assumed the same thing.)

So, what does it mean?

Most easy effort at looking for a meaning brings up people named Wynegar.
Slightly harder effort suggests it's a Welsh word (Welsh!!!) for "wink."
12:28 AM Oct 28th
 
mskarpelos
According to Google translate, the German ward for vinegar is "essig" not "Wynegar".
11:16 PM Oct 27th
 
sayhey
Thanks--missed that. Makes sense, pitchers being much more unpredictable.
12:39 PM Oct 27th
 
evanecurb
sayhey: There are no pitchers in this study. Position players only. Bill stated that qualifier in one of the introductory sections (an earlier article, either the introduction or Part I).
11:02 AM Oct 27th
 
evanecurb
Ray Fosse had a great first half of his rookie season in 1970 before the all-star game collision. He ended up having a very good career as a defensive catcher, but was never the same hitter after that. i realize he's not on this list, but his career arc fits a similar pattern to some of these guys.
11:01 AM Oct 27th
 
sayhey
Was was Juan Guzman close at all? He was impressive as a rookie (10-3, 2.99), even better as a sophomore (16-5, 2.64)--with good peripheral stats both years, although he did walk too many guys--but only had one great season after that and was out of the league at 33.
6:09 PM Oct 26th
 
wovenstrap
Zeth: "Kens Griffey" is grammatically correct.
4:44 PM Oct 25th
 
wovenstrap
Speak of the devil. Baldelli named Twins manager.
4:39 PM Oct 25th
 
mikeclaw
Jim Bouton on Curt Blefary, quoting from memory so not verbatim, but close: "He's the kind of guy you'd want to have next to you in a foxhole. He's the kind of guy who would grab a live grenade and throw it back."

3:50 PM Oct 25th
 
MarisFan61
I don't think you have to worry that anyone thought you meant that other kind of value...
12:28 AM Oct 25th
 
JohnPontoon
Ugh. I should've put the word "moral" before "value judgments" below. I regret my errors.
12:05 AM Oct 25th
 
JohnPontoon
Maris: Now I know why I just ended up with hurty fingertips. 8-D
11:56 PM Oct 24th
 
JohnPontoon
I don't fully agree with the me that existed 15 minutes ago. That JohnPontoon guy (not his real name, I bet) is too pedantic about the statistical aspects of this study, probably thinks he's being helpful by considering the nonzero chance a plane crash fatality during a MLB player's career.

I, on the other hand, think that it's irrelevant whether including Hubbs is "fair" or not simply because this list isn't intended to present any value judgments. Being on this list won't (or, at least, shouldn't) besmirch a player's reputation as a human being, nor affect his standing in Heaven or Hell or the Happy Hunting Grounds or the Buddha's Floating Picnic of Non-Expectation.
11:54 PM Oct 24th
 
MarisFan61
John: I knew better than to accept the bet, and so didn't! :-)
11:41 PM Oct 24th
 
JohnPontoon
MarisFan, do you owe me a dollar now? If so, press it against your screen and I'll try to grab it.

shthar: I'd think that one SHOULD include any odd plane crash victims in studies of this nature, whether it's fair or not, and here's why: An exclusion on that basis raises questions of whether or not it's "fair" to include victims of beanings, or injuries, or front-office ignorance, or alcohol abuse... but this wasn't a study of what was fair or just. This was a study of what happened, and of the relationship of what happened to what would come to be. Mr. James did opt to exclude a number of players who missed years to military service, but he did so (if my understanding is adequate) to remedy a situation that would otherwise have tainted the output, moving the info in the results away from the information sought by the study.
11:30 PM Oct 24th
 
MarisFan61
About Charboneau:

(I better say right away, to pre-empt a possible pre-emptive deletion :-) this isn't at all about some supposed different way that this should have been done, just a musing about Charboneau and why he doesn't make the list.
Also, I did an actual attempted calculation of his projected WS total and would be curious if my answer is correct, i.e. if I did it right.)

At first I was surprised when I got to the part about him not being on the list, because, despite my saying the age thing so loudly under the previous article, even though he was 25 as a rookie I figured he still grossly underperformed any reasonable average projection, and of course he did.
But, as I read the rest of the list, I saw that all the listed players had far higher "projected" Win Share totals than he did.
If we were looking at it more in terms of something like "percentage shortfall" he might make it.
(He had 15 Win Shares his 1st year, and, if I calculate right, 17 "PTA" Win Shares.
His actual career total of Win Shares was the same number: 17.)

I calculate his expected total as 82.
10:17 PM Oct 24th
 
shthar
Is it really fair to include the guy who died in a plane crash. Hubbs?

The WWII guys get a pass.
9:35 PM Oct 24th
 
Manushfan
One more thing-Earl Williams. You forget just how good he was when he came up. I forget he was a Brave. For some reason, just looking at his run-and the bio-Cliff Johnson comes to mind. At least with Heathcliffe, they didn't try to force him behind the plate for too long, he managed to stick around. Would have been a killer DH if they'd just used their noggins seems like, for both guys. I can remember Williams with the A's.
9:18 PM Oct 24th
 
astros34
Chubby Dean hit .287/.337/.374 for a .711 OPS but had a 78 OPS+ because the 1936 AL had a collective .289/.363/.421 line (.784 OPS). How on earth does the system project him for 400+ WS? He was terrible his rookie year! Is it partly because he was 20?

Other than that, an excellent article with the usual Bill James trademark historical perspective.
6:14 PM Oct 24th
 
FrankD
Great article. I follow(ed) the Twins and I remember everybody was gaga over Wynegar. Did not know the name meant Vinegar in German. They used to say "Butch Love That Kid Wynegar" - don't know if that saying originated from the old owner Calvin Griffith. But when Wynegar started playing poorly Griffith said it was because "he got married and is spending too much time chasing his wife around the bed" or something like that.
6:09 PM Oct 24th
 
Steven Goldleaf
How did you get that Blefary was "[n]amed 'Curt' after the 1930s/1940s pitcher Curt Davis" when his birth name was "Curtis"? Or were you saying that his PARENTS named him after Curt Davis? Have to start keeping a list of players named after other big league players, if that's the case....Willie Mays Aikens, Mickey Mantle....
5:47 PM Oct 24th
 
bearbyz
Excellent article. I love when you write details about player I barely know. However, I am kind of depressed after reading so many sad stories. Tomorrow's article should be more fun, I hope.
5:09 PM Oct 24th
 
wdr1946
Very interesting, as usual.
Joe Charboneau?
5:05 PM Oct 24th
 
hotstatrat
I always love your mini-bios, thank you.

There must be more to Tony C's disappointing career than his beaning. After breaking through as a star at age 19, he did not improve over the next three years - at a age when you would expect the most improvement.

When he came back after a year off, right, he was still a useful regular for a couple of years - and still young. Then before his 26th birthday, he was traded to the Angels and his career really sank.

The SABR bio by Bill Nowlin paints a popular local Massachusetts kid with a following as a singer who a) couldn't adjust to life in California AND b) couldn't see the ball as well since his 1967 beaning.
4:36 PM Oct 24th
 
Steven Goldleaf
As unfortunate as it was that Rene Lachemann had a first name frequently mistaken for a girl's, it was excessively cruel to spell it with the feminine double 'e' that IS the girl's form of the name. Just Walk Away, Renee! (His middle name is "George" btw. You're welcome.)
4:29 PM Oct 24th
 
gendlerj
These articles are why I subscribe. Because Bill and I are essentially the same age, and Minnesota got a team in 1961, the 60's are especially vivid to me. Looking back at Kansas City through the lens of Bill James, I see a really interesting story of complete mismanagement. The Red Sox of the 50's also seem to fall into that category, although probably with less talent. Just look at the Red sox list of 1st basemen in that decade--they could not pick one person to stick with and ended up with 38 and 39-year old Mickey Vernon in the end of the decade.

I get very tired of reader comments asking why a study was not done differently, or the early comments making suggestions before anything had been published. I would be happy to see 90% of those disappear into the black hole of cyberspace.
3:52 PM Oct 24th
 
steve161
"The name [Wynegar] means "Vinegar" in German." It doesn't, of course, as most of you will have guessed. I assume this was intended as a joke.

Isn't it possible, Bill, that, while you're working on a second or third iteration of a method like this one, a reader might come up with a suggestion that solves a problem for you or gets you over a hump? That isn't rude and it shouldn't be annoying.​
3:21 PM Oct 24th
 
Steven Goldleaf
It would be fun to project what a 680 WS career for Allen, or a 480 for Tony C., would look like....​
3:03 PM Oct 24th
 
bjames
I knew I was forgetting somebody. I'm the membership director of the Secret Georges society. . .
2:25 PM Oct 24th
 
Zeth
The Ken Griffeys are secret Georges, too. :)
2:22 PM Oct 24th
 
Steven Goldleaf
The comparison between Bill James at 70 (69?) and Connie Mack at 70 is only one of the qualities I admire about this unique analysis of a subject many of us have thought about many a time, just not nearly this systematically.. Mack's skewed vision in 1936 based on his understanding of 1906 puts so much into perspective for me. Bravo!
12:45 PM Oct 24th
 
evanecurb
It's really interesting that the top two in this study are from the famous 1964 rookie class that also included Jim Ray Hart, Tony Oliva, and Rico Carty. Allen is the only one of these five who didn't experience significant injury problems during his career.
12:14 PM Oct 24th
 
bjames
There were 39 rookies in the 1987 class who made it into this study. 22 of the 39 underachieved by at least a small amount, and 17 overachieved by at least a little. As a group, the 39 players EXCEEDED expectations by 700 Win Shares, or 16%. Mark McGwire, the most prominent rookie of 1987, almost exactly met expectations, with an expectation of 348 and an actual of 343. Leading underachievers in the group were Matt Nokes, Kenny Williams, Gerald Young and Mickey Brantley. Leading over-achievers were Rafael Palmeiro, Fred McGriff, Ken Caminiti, Matt Williams and Devon White.
11:38 AM Oct 24th
 
bjames
There was a rumor circulating that Vada had a baseball age, but I think that has been debunked. I think it circulated just because his peak was about age 23, so people became suspicious. But sometimes that just happens.

Coggins' career wouldn't have faded because the Orioles' had other outfielders. There were 25 other teams. If he had performed, he would have landed somewhere.

Hey guys, I may be on MLB-TV at 4:00 Eastern, if you want to watch.
11:22 AM Oct 24th
 
shthar
I expected a lot of rookies from 1987 to be on this list.


10:16 AM Oct 24th
 
Fireball Wenz
Some random thoughts: A few of the guys on this list were known (after the fact) to have drinking problems. I'm not sure when they developed them, but I would imagine it might have been a factor. I expected Joe Foy to be on this list; he falls in the same category. I thought I had read somewhere that Vada Pinson was a few years older than his baseball age, which could contribute...Surprised to read Curt Blefary had a good season defensively as a rookie - in my youth he was known as a notorious bad hands guy...I always assumed Rich Coggins just came along at the wrong time - he, Bumbry and Baylor all seemed to arrive at the same time, and the Orioles already had Blair, Rettenmund, Buford, Robinson.​
9:51 AM Oct 24th
 
Manushfan
This is the stuff of Bill's I like the best. Vada was a really good player, am glad he couches the 'disappointment' in it's proper context. Horner was hyped as a 500 homer guy, but you know what happened. I always wondered about Rich Coggins too--had a good set of skills there and Voomp! gone quick. Kinda Gene Richards.
9:01 AM Oct 24th
 
 
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