Even More Willies?

August 5, 2018

Bill recently threw David Ortiz into the stew-pot of Willies (McCovey and Stargell) that I had, once upon a time, written a few articles about. Those of you with long memories will vaguely recall that in 2016 I began a series on "Families of Batters" https://www.billjamesonline.​com/give_me_the_willies_part_two_of_all_fastball-happy_families_are_alike/?AuthorId=23&Year=2016 (that I’d like to continue someday) but got diverted by the weirdly close similarities, both statistical and narrative, between the two Willies. My first thought upon reading Bill’s nomination of Ortiz as the third Willie was, "Cool. Now I can expand those similarities."

It turns out, though, that my concept in the "Give Me the Willies" articles had to do mostly with how the two Willies did facing the same pitchers. Obviously, Ortiz faced almost none of the same pitchers. (Those few pitchers whose careers lasted from 1982, when Stargell retired from the NL, to 1997, when Ortiz took his first MLB swings in the AL  were hardly at comparable parts of their careers—for all intents and purposes, those "same" pitchers were very different sorts of pitchers.  I’m not even completely positive that there were any pitchers who faced both Ortiz and Stargell, even for one AB.) So the bulk of my comparison was out, making this article a very short one.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not THAT short, though. The weirdest thing about Stargell and McCovey was their almost spookily similar career numbers:

 

    H

    R

  RBI

  BA

 OBP

 SLG

 OPS

OPS+

McCovey

2211

1113

1555

.270

.374

.515

.889

147

 Stargell

2232

1194

1540

.282

.360

.529

.889

147

 

Now we can add a line for Ortiz, whose numbers turn out to be a little less spooky:

 

    H

    R

  RBI

   BA

 OBP

    SLG

    OPS

    OPS+

Ortiz

2472

1419

1768

.286

.380

  .552

  .931

141

 

The first thing you’ll notice about Ortiz’s numbers is that he had both a higher OBP AND a higher SLG than either Willie, giving him a much higher OPS than either one, yet he had a lower OPS+, meaning that strong offensive numbers were far more common in the 1990s and 2000s than they were in the 1960s and 1970s. It was much easier for Ortiz to put up good numbers than it was for either Willie, which can be illustrated by their career highs in HR (54 for Ortiz, 48 for Pops), RBI (148 for Ortiz, 126 for Stretch) BA (.332 for Ortiz, .320 for Stretch), etc., pretty much right on down the line. Ortiz put up better numbers in an era where better numbers were more common, making a direct statistical comparison much trickier than the one between McCovey and Stargell.

All three were fearsome lefthanded sluggers, to be sure, lefties all the way, so they were limited to playing first base and the outfield, and further limited by their leaden feet (56 collective SBs over 64 seasons) to playing corner positions in the outfield. (Ortiz never played an inning in the outfield; the three collectively got 5 starts in CF, all Stargell’s early in his career.) But Ortiz had one great advantage over both Willies, playing in the AL in the era of the DH: his 2009 starts at DH (that’s a career total, not a year) allowed him to play more games than his NL counterparts, despite a career two seasons shorter than the 22 years each Willie played in.

The Willies lost some playing time at the starts of their careers by being platooned, and they did over their long careers have sizable differences facing righty and lefty pitching,  McCovey losing .150 points (.926/.776)  and Stargell losing .168 (.934/.766).  Ortiz fits right in between them, losing .164 points against lefties (.981/.817). This fairly sizable platoon disadvantage falls well within normal range, in between the .100 point difference I have found is the least for great hitters  (Aaron) and the .300 point difference that Yaz had.

McC. and Starg (to invent two nicknames that were never used) also had very similar peaks in WAR, which should apply across eras: 8.1 and 7.9, respectively. The best Ortiz could do was 6.4, which seems significantly lower. Ortiz’s second highest WAR was 5.8, which McCovey exceeded six times and Stargell beat twice. Lifetime WAR totals were McCovey 64.5, Stargell 57.5, Ortiz 55.5, making McCovey the outlier there. This distinction also supports the case that Ortiz was perhaps a slightly lesser star than the other two, his killer raw OPS notwithstanding.

All three were famous as pull hitters, monsters in the clutch, huge guys, though "huge" is a relative term—McCovey and Stargell are both listed at under 200 pounds, which may have a bit of fiction to it. McCovey was the tallest of the three at 6’4" and I suspect he crept over the 200 mark towards the end of his career.  Ortiz is listed at 230 pounds, and that may be low as well.

The arcs of their careers were also very similar: both Willies got off to slow starts, McCovey because of the roadblock Orlando Cepeda put in his playing time, Stargell because of Donn Clendenon, and both because their only other plausible defensive position besides 1B was filled with talented Giants and Pirates outfielders. Ortiz was even more challenged in this respect, not because his team, the Minnesota Twins, were overloaded with talent (Ron Coomer and Butch Huskey presented very low bars to overcome) but because the Twins seriously misunderestimated Ortiz’s skills. The Giants and the Pirates regarded the young Willies more from a perspective of "How can we best use this guy?" rather than asking the "Do we need this guy?" question that the Twins asked themselves about Ortiz.

Of course, that’s revisionist history, based on the Giants and Pirates never trading their young sluggers, and the Twins notoriously opting to trade theirs. (Released him, actually, which is the "notorious" part.) For all I know, both the Pirates and the Giants were besieged with trade offers which they managed to resist. Every time a team has a young player that they can’t quite find a slot to fit him in, other teams will offer to take the problem off their hands, so it’s more likely than not that the two NL teams just showed more faith in their Willies than the Twins (and earlier the Mariners) showed in young David Ortiz.

Like the Twins and Mariners, I find that David Ortiz doesn’t quite fit into the slot Bill has suggested for him, but it’s a close call—I doubt if there’s anyone else in baseball history who can fit into that slot any better than Ortiz does.

 
 

COMMENTS (7 Comments, most recent shown first)

doncoffin
Steven--Ortiz is, of course, hit with a major negative WAR charge for his defense. (Which was basically non-existent.) So it might make more sense to compare them only on oWAR. Even then, Ortiz maxed out at 6.4; Stretch's max was 8.4 & Pops, 7.4
10:30 AM Aug 14th
 
garywmaloney
Bill once wrote that, if McCovey had played in the run-heavy 90s and 2000s, "he would have hit 800 homeruns." McCovey's career was so odd -- he lost three years to part-time play in what would have been his early peak. As it was, that peak was covered in its entirety by the extreme Pitchers' Era (and its aftermath). He had several out-of-character years in the 70s, before a late-career resurgence. And with all that, he STILL achieved 521 HR. And he was durable and skilled enough to be a four-decade player.
8:32 PM Aug 6th
 
DHM
You brought up the different run environments so I checked their neutralized stats (courtesy of baseball reference) and Ortiz is much more similar to the Willies.
7:46 PM Aug 6th
 
Steven Goldleaf
Thanks, Gary, and thanks, sayhey, for that detective work.






Do you suppose that folks just stopped reading after "....making this article a very short one"?​
4:44 AM Aug 6th
 
garywmaloney
Exceptional piece, Steven, in its clarity of argument
3:41 PM Aug 5th
 
sayhey
Found one: Jesse Orosco

Stargell vs. young Orosco: 1 for 3, HR, 1 K, 0 BB, 2 RBI.
Ortiz: vs. old Orosco: 1 for 1, triple (!!!), 2 RBI.

Combined slugging percentage: 1.750.​
3:13 PM Aug 5th
 
sayhey
Thought I had a common pitcher in Dennis Martinez, but no. Martinez gave up a HR to Stargell in his one WS start in '79. He was still pitching for Seattle in '97, but when he started against the Twins in April, Ortiz (a September call-up) wasn't yet around.

There must be someone--15 years doesn't seem like that huge a divide.
3:07 PM Aug 5th
 
 
©2018 Be Jolly, Inc. All Rights Reserved.|Web site design and development by Americaneagle.com|Terms & Conditions|Privacy Policy