Monday, November 11, 2013

Expansion Era Ballot: Players

Today I continue my Expansion Era Ballot review by looking at the six players up for election:

Davey Concepcion (43rd in JAWS) NO
Played 19 years--all with the Cincinatti Reds--and was a key cog of the Big Red Machine teams in the 1970s. The prototypical shortstop of his day, Concepcion combined speed (321 steals) and defense (five Gold Gloves) but was nothing special at the plate (88 OPS+ and almost no power to speak of, but somehow won two Silver Sluggers). Though he made a bunch of All-Star teams (eight in a row from 1975-'82) and was probably the best shortstop of the 70s, he was just a nice complementary player on teams led by Johnny Bench, Tony Perez, Pete Rose, Joe Morgan and George Foster. Concepcion was never the best player on his own team, let alone the league, which is reflected in the fact that he never topped the Senior Circuit in any meaningful offensive statistic.

Steve Garvey (49th in JAWS) NO
For much of the 1970s and into the early 80s Captain America seemed like a surefire Hall of Famer, but upon closer review his numbers don't make the grade. His nice counting numbers and pretty batting averages are undone by middling power figures (.446 career SLG) and merely average on-base skills (.329 OBP). He won four Gold Gloves even though he couldn't throw and was actually a subpar defender (-12.3 dWAR). He received an MVP award in 1974 that he didn't really deserve. With a few more nice seasons, Garvey would've surpassed 3,000 hits and we wouldn't be having this discussion, but as it stands his 2,599 career knocks perfectly embody what he was; a very good, sometimes great player who compiled some truly impressive career statistics but ultimately falls short of Cooperstown-worthiness.

Tommy John (78th in JAWS) YES
John's case is an interesting one. He pitched forever (26 years), and that longevity allowed him to compile some truly impressive career totals such as 288 wins (the most of any non-Cooperstown pitcher) and more than 4,700 innings. While it would be easy to write him off as a "compiler," he had a pretty good peak in the late '70s highlighted by two seasons where he was voted Cy Young runner-up, another where he finished fourth and one where he finished eighth. He led the majors in shutouts three times, too, and his list of best comps includes Hall of Famers Robin Roberts, Early Wynn, Don Sutton, Bert Blyleven, and Burleigh Grimes (plus Tom Glavine, who's going to get in). Still, can't really get past the fact that he was never the best pitcher in the league, or that his career ERA+ was an unspectacular 111, or that he struck out fewer than one batter every two innings. I'm on the fence about him--I wouldn't be strongly opposed to his enshrinement, but my gut tells me he wasn't quite good enough.

He should get extra credit for his role in the historic surgery that now bears his name, one that saved the careers of God-knows-how-many hurlers (Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright, John Smoltz, Stephen Strasburg, and Tim Hudson, to name a few). Depending how much weight you give that, it may or may not be enough to put him over the top. For me, since I think John's right on the line, it is. That there are more than 100 big league pitchers in the game today who've had the surgery means you can't tell the story of baseball without Tommy John.

Dave Parker (36th in JAWS) NO
Cobra was arguably the best all-around player in baseball during the late 70s. Then injuries and drugs ruined what should have been the prime of his career. He enjoyed a resurgence in the mid-80s and was able to remain productive through his age-39 season, which allowed him to accumulate more than 2,700 hits and close to 1,500 RBI. There's a legitimate case to be made for Parker, especially in lieu of Jim Rice and Andre Dawson being inducted, but I think he needed to have a few more dominant seasons.

Dan Quisenberry (18th in JAWS) NO
From 1980 through 1985, Quiz was unquestionably the top closer in baseball despite having no strikeout ability to speak of. He led the league in saves five times, games finished four times and appearances three times. Writers thought highly of him at the time, voting him into the top-five of the Cy Young balloting five times (four in the top three) and ranking him as one of the most valuable players in baseball. In this sense he was like the reliever equivalent of Sandy Koufax--his burned bright but only for a short while (perhaps a better comparison is Dick Radatz?). His large inning totals caught up with him and he was never the same after 1985. It's good to see him get a second look on the ballot seeing as how he fell off after his first-year--his case deserves to be heard--and I think he's a worthy candidate who falls a little short.

Ted Simmons (9th in JAWS) YES
Simmons should be in the Hall of Fame already. JAWS ranks him as one of the ten best catchers of all-time, though I doubt many people feel the same way. His best years were overshadowed by Johnny Bench and Gary Carter, which helps explain why he's one of the most underrated players in baseball history. He also had the misfortune of coming along just as the Cardinals' 1960s dynasty was ending and toiled on a lot of mediocre ballclubs. His numbers never jumped off the page--he never won a batting title or hit 30 homers--and thus never finished higher than sixth in MVP voting. But he was consistent, durable, great every year from 1971-'80 and again in 1982 and '83. That he fell off the ballot after his first try in 1994 is one of the BBWAA's biggest travesties.

Other players who should have been on the ballot: Dwight Evans, Darrell Evans, Bobby Grich, Lou Whitaker, Kenny Lofton, Kevin Brown

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