Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Forecasting Flood's Future

Flood isn't in Cooperstown even though he had Hall of Fame talent (SportsCouchPotato)
Had Curt Flood not sacrificed the second half of his career to challenge baseball's reserve clause, what would his career numbers have looked like, and would he have made the Hall of Fame?

Throughout the 1960s, Flood played at a Hall of Fame level. From 1961 through 1969, when pitching reigned supreme, he batted .302 while averaging 177 hits and 4.3 bWAR per season in addition to playing a terrific center field. At the end of 1969, Flood's age 31 season, he had compiled 1,854 hits, 42.1 bWAR, and won seven straight Gold Gloves. With his skills and speed intact, he was still a solid hitter, plus defender and, above all, a good player worth between three and four wins above replacement.

At that point in Flood's career his most similar player was Willie Davis. Davis aged gracefully and remained a solid regular through age 36, so using his career as a guide it's reasonable to think Flood had around five more decent/good years left in him. After age 31 Davis added about 820 hits, 16 bWAR and two Gold Gloves to his ledger. Doing the same for Flood gives him nearly 2,700 hits, 58 bWAR and nine Gold Gloves, plus probably another All-Star appearance or two.

Would that have been enough for Cooperstown? I say probably, especially if he could have reached double digits in Gold Gloves, which at the time had only been done by Roberto Clemente, Willie Mays and Al Kaline among outfielders. That would have put him in some pretty impressive company. All those Gold Gloves, combined with his large hit total and role on the 1960s Cardinals dynasty teams, probably would have resulted in a Hall of Fame nod (though definitely not on the first ballot and perhaps not even the writer's ballot, but I suspect the Veteran's Committee would have opened the door for him).

Even if we forget White and assume a natural aging curve for Flood in which he declined by 0.5 bWAR per season, he would have posted 3.3 in 1970, 2.8 in 1971, and so on until flatlining at 0.3 in 1976, by which point he would have been 38 and likely too old to play center field. It's well known that Flood, like many players of the time (Mickey Mantle chief among them) lived hard and had a drinking problem, so I doubt he would have lasted to 40 anyways.

That gives him a career bWAR total of 54.6, still a few solid seasons short of the Hall. This is the likely outcome if he had begun to decline significantly around 33 or 34, as many players do, especially back then. In this scenario Flood is not a worthy Hall of Famer, but perhaps makes it in anyways.

A third, and admittedly more crude, way to look at it would be to expect that Flood would have produced roughly half the numbers he'd already compiled. Doing that gives him credit for approximately 425 more runs, 925 more hits, 135 doubles, 20 triples, 40 homers, 300 RBI, 45 steals, and 1200 total bases in about 875 extra games (around seven more years at 125 games per year), good for 21 more bWAR. Though a bit generous, I think that's fair.

So by that measurement, Flood would have ended up with around 1,300 runs, 2,800 hits, 400 doubles, 60 triples, 125 homers/steals, 1,000 RBI, and 3,700 total bases. At 63 bWAR he would have retired as one of the ten best center fielders ever and probably would have been inducted as a result.

I'm inclined to think that because of his hardware, World Series appearances and gaudy hit totals, Flood would have eventually made the Hall of Fame had his career not been curtailed by outside circumstance. Then again, maybe not. His career was obscured by the abundance of great National Leaguers that defined his era; Mays, Hank AaronWillie McCovey, Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, Frank Robinson, Vada Pinson, the list goes on. Flood was never viewed as the best player in the league and was often overshadowed on his own team by Bob Gibson, Ken Boyer, Lou Brock, Bill White, and Orlando Cepeda, which explains why he finished in the top-ten of MVP voting only once. His power numbers were weak for an outfielder, and he didn't provide the elite speed or on-base skills needed to compensate for that deficiency. It's quite possible that Flood would have been overlooked and underrated, much like Dwight Evans and the aforementioned Davis.

Obviously we'll never know if Flood had the finishing kick needed to beef up his Hall of Fame case, especially given his knack for late-night carousing. He wasn't dominant enough at his peak to get in with a short career, and thus needed longevity to compile big counting numbers. Had he remained a great player through the first half of the 70s, he would have approached 3,000 hits and would almost assuredly be in the Hall of Fame today. But if he'd tailed off in the early 70s and retired around 1974-75, then he would have fallen short.

At the very least we can appreciate Flood for what he did do, which was win seven consecutive Gold Gloves, make three All-Star teams, play for three pennant winners and two World Series champions, and compile more hits than all but five players in the 1960s (and more than Mays, Robinson, Banks, Brock, Kaline, Ron Santo, and Carl Yastrzemski). He was one of the best defensive center fielders of all-time and turned out to be a pretty decent hitter, batting better than .300 six times.

So while Flood's career isn't Hall of Fame worthy, it definitely could have been, and I think it would have been had he reported to the Phillies in the spring of 1970.

No comments:

Post a Comment