The 5 best third basemen in Yankee history

7 04 2016

This continues a series on the best Yankees at different positionsToday: third base.

1, Alex Rodriguez

When I ranked the Yankees’ best 50 starting pitchers, I decided that use of performance-enhancing drugs wouldn’t be a major factor. I would rank players based on their performance as Yankees, and if two players were even in that ranking, the player who wasn’t tainted by drug use would get the nod. But I wouldn’t totally discount a player based on PED use. So Roger Clemens ranked 16th among Yankee starters.

I’m taking the same approach with position players. I love Graig Nettles and I don’t like Alex Rodriguez. But I’m ranking them by performance as Yankees. Each has played 11 years for the Yankees (Nettles played more games at third base, but A-Rod has played over 1,000 games there). Rodriguez has better Yankee stats in virtually every offensive category. He won two MVP awards as a Yankee, both at third, and Nettles’ best showing in MVP voting was fifth place in 1977. A-Rod’s a seven-time All-Star as a Yankee, Nettles five.

As a Yankee, A-Rod led the league in homers twice, RBI once, runs scored twice, slugging three times and OPS once. Nettles led the league in homers once.

A-Rod’s post-season hitting has been awful most of the time, but Nettles wasn’t a great post-season hitter most of the time either. Nettles was a better fielder, but A-Rod has to rank first here.

2, Graig Nettles

Of course Nettles ranks second. I’ve noted before that he belongs in the Hall of Fame. He would have a few more than his two Gold Gloves if he hadn’t had the misfortune to start playing when Brooks Robinson won that award every single year. Nettles’ Game Three defensive performance in the 1978 World Series was as good a post-season game as any fielder ever had.

Despite overall weak hitting in the post-season, Nettles sizzled in the 1981 American League Championship Series, going 6-for-12 with 9 RBI in just three games and being named MVP. He was a defensive, offensive and leadership anchor for the Yankees’ 1976-81 run that included two world championships, two more A.L. championships and a fifth division title. He’s an easy choice for No. 2 here.

And, if I were going to discount A-Rod’s achievements because he’s a drug cheat, I’d need to discount Nettles for loading his bat with Super Balls.

3, Red Rolfe

Red Rolfe baseball card image from Wikimedia

Red Rolfe was an All-Star four of his 10 seasons (all with the Yankees), winning five World Series. He led the league with 213 hits, 139 runs and 46 doubles in 1939, his best season and the Yankees’ fourth straight as champions.

He topped .300 four seasons as a Yankee and hit a solid .284 in six World Series, emerging as champions in five of them.

The Yankees have done alright with Ivy League players. Lou Gehrig went to Columbia, Rolfe to Dartmouth. Rolfe also coached at Dartmouth and in the professional Basketball Association of America. He managed the Tigers for parts of three seasons (including a second-place finish behind the Yankees in 1950) and part of a fourth.

4, Wade Boggs

Wade Boggs played his best years in Boston, but was an All-Star and .300 hitter the first four of his five seasons as a Yankee. The last of those four All-Star seasons, 1996, Boggs won his only world championship, celebrating on horseback.

5, Scott Brosius

Scott Brosius gets the fifth spot on this list, based on four seasons that all ended in the World Series, three of them with victories and one with a Game-Seven, ninth-inning loss. He won an All-Star selection and a Gold Glove for the Yankees, and in the post-season he hit eight homers and drove in 30 runs. His two homers in Game Three of the 1998 World Series, including a three-run eighth-inning blast with the Yankees trailing 3-2, helped him win the World Series MVP.

The rest

Gil McGougald's autograph (along with Hank Bauer's, Ed Lopat and Eddie Madjeski.

Gil McGougald’s autograph (along with Hank Bauer’s, Ed Lopat and Eddie Madjeski.

As I mentioned in my post on second basemen, Gil McDougald would rank ahead of some of these players on a list of all-time best Yankees. But he kept switching positions. He was Rookie of the Year (in 1951) and an All-Star (in 1952) playing primarily at third. But he played more games at second (599) than at third (508). That’s almost as many games as Brosius played at third for the Yankees, but Brosius was better in the World Series, hitting .314 to just .237 for McDougald.

Joe Sewell is actually in the Hall of Fame, but that’s primarily for his decade at shortstop for the Indians, not for his final three years, playing third base for the Yankees, 1931-33. The same is true of Wade Boggs (except that he stayed at third base), but he played longer for the Yankees and was stronger at that stage of his career than Sewell.

Hall of Famer Frank “Home Run” Baker finished his career for the Yankees, after earning his Dead-Ball-Era nickname for the Philadelphia A’s, leading the league four straight years in homers, without ever hitting more than a dozen. He started only four years for the Yankees and, in an age of inflated batting stats, topped .300 only once for the Yankees. And he never led the league in any batting category for the Yankees.

Robin Ventura played only one full season, 2002, with the Yankees, but he was an All-Star, hitting 27 homers and driving in 93 runs.

I really liked Clete Boyer when I was young, and he’d have won some Gold Gloves except that he played third base in the American League in the era of Brooks Robinson (he did win one after being traded to the Braves). He played longer for the Yankees (eight years, seven as a starter) than Brosius or Boggs, but they were better hitters by far.

Joe Dugan hit better than Boyer in his seven years with the 1920s Yankees, but I still rank Boggs and Brosius higher.

It does seem odd not to have any Yankees from the 1920s, ’50s or ’60s on this list, but I think I have the right top 5.

Aaron Boone had a better special moment than any Yankee third baseman, but didn’t even play a full season for the Yankees. And even in the post-season, he hit just .170. But one of those hits will live forever in Yankee fans’ memories.

Which team has been best at third?

We don’t have a clear winner for the team with the best tradition at third base.

The Red Sox (Boggs and Jimmy Collins) and Orioles (Robinson and Cal Ripken Jr., who played 675 games at third) are the only teams that were the primary teams for two Hall of Fame third basemen. The Pirates have Hall of Famer Pie Traynor and Bill Madlock, a four-time batting champ. The Cubs had Hall of Famer Ron Santo and Madlock. The Braves had Hall of Famer Eddie Mathews, certain Hall of Famer Chipper Jones and MVPs Bob Elliott and Terry Pendleton.

Without researching the other third basemen on any of these teams, I’d guess the Braves probably have the strongest tradition. But the Yankees are a contender and probably no worse than third or fourth.

Ranking criteria

I explained my criteria in the post on first basemen, so if this seems familiar, it’s because I cut and pasted that explanation here, then adapted it for third basemen.

If a player is in the Hall of Fame (Boggs), belongs there (Nettles) or would be a Hall of Famer if not for scandal (A-Rod), that carries considerable weight with me.

Boggs, Sewell and Baker joined the Yankees late in their Hall of Fame careers, but only Boggs was still playing at a Hall of Fame level (if in a bit of decline). Sewell and Baker weren’t nearly as good in their Yankee years.

If two players were dead even at a position for the Yankees, I would have moved the one with the better overall career ahead. I think Boggs was a bit ahead of Brosius as a Yankee, but his total career made that decision easier.

I value both peak performance and longevity, but peak performance more. A-Rod’s MVP’s and league crowns helped secure the top spot on the list.

I rank players primarily on their time with the team, but Rolfe is the only career Yankee on this list. Except if I needed a tie-breaker, I don’t count Boggs’ years with the Red Sox, Nettles’ with the Indians and Padres or A-Rod’s with the Mariners and Rangers.

Post-season play and championship contributions matter a lot to me. All the contenders for the fifth spot contributed to multiple champions, but Brosius played the best in the World Series. A-Rod’s poor post-season play might have dropped him to second place if Nettles had been closer in regular-season offensive performance.

Special moments matter, too. Nettles’ stellar defensive plays in the ’78 World Series and Brosius’ memorable 1998 homer helped seal their rankings. If Boone had played a few good years for the Yankees, his special moment would have pushed him onto the list.

Who was the best?

Rankings of Yankees by position

Starting pitchers

Catchers

First base

Second base

Shortstop

Left field

Center field

Right field

Designated hitter

Relief pitcher

Manager

Other rankings of top Yankee third basemen

Uncle Mike’s Musings

Bleacher Report’s Harold Friend

ChristopherJ

Source note

Unless noted otherwise, statistics cited here come from Baseball-Reference.com.

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World Series champs nearly always feature Hall of Famers

30 11 2015

As I pondered the Hall of Fame prospects of young members of the Kansas City Royals 2015 World Series champions, I wondered how rare it would be for a world champion to have no Hall of Famers.

While any young star faces long odds of reaching the Baseball Hall of Fame, quick research showed that a World Series winner without anyone making it to Cooperstown is also exceedingly rare.

I just went back to 1947 in answering my question, because, as I noted in an October post, Hall of Fame standards were much lower before baseball integrated.

So I will note year by year the starters and other important contributors of world champions who eventually became Hall of Famers. While I won’t speculate on whether players appeared bound for Cooperstown at the time (the point of yesterday’s post), I will note their ages at the time they won. If a player is in the Hall of Fame, but primarily for his play with another team, I will note that.

Joe DiMaggio autograph

My Joe DiMaggio autograph

1947

Champion: New York Yankees. Hall of Famers: Yogi Berra, 22; Phil Rizzuto, 29; Joe DiMaggio, 32.

1948

Champion: Cleveland Indians. Hall of Famers: Larry Doby, 24; Bob Lemon, 27; Bob Feller, 29; Lou Boudreau, 30; Joe Gordon, 33.

1949-53

Champions: Yankees. Hall of Famers: Mickey Mantle, ’51-3, 19-21; Whitey Ford, ’50 and ’53, 21 and 24; Berra, all years, 24-28; Rizzuto, all years, 31-5; DiMaggio, ’49-’51, 34-6. Johnny Mize, a member of all five Yankee teams, was not a full-time starter most of these seasons. He joined the Yankees at age 36 and is in the Hall of Fame primarily for his slugging for the St. Louis Cardinals and New York Giants.

1954

Champion: New York Giants. Hall of Famers: Willie Mays, 23; Hoyt Wilhelm, 31; Monte Irvin, 35.

1955

Champion: Brooklyn Dodgers. Hall of Famers: Duke Snider, 28; Roy Campanella, 31; Jackie Robinson, 36; Pee Wee Reese, 36.

A ball autographed by "Larry Berra," before he started signing "Yogi."

A ball autographed by “Larry Berra,” before he started signing “Yogi.”

1956

Champion: Yankees. Hall of Famers: Mantle, 24; Ford, 27; Berra, 31. Rizzuto, 38, was a part-time player, as was Enos Slaughter, 40, elected to the Hall of Fame primarily as a St. Louis Cardinal.

1957

Champion: Milwaukee Braves. Hall of Famers: Hank Aaron, 23; Eddie Mathews, 25; Red Schoendienst, 34; Warren Spahn, 36.

Whitey signed this ball "Ed. Ford" before his better-known nickname stuck.

Whitey signed this ball “Ed. Ford” before his better-known nickname stuck.

1958

Champion: Yankees. Hall of Famers: Mantle, 26; Ford, 29; Berra, 33; Slaughter, 42.

1959

Champion: Los Angeles Dodgers. Hall of Famers: Don Drysdale, 22; Sandy Koufax, 23; Snider, 32.

1960

Champion: Pittsburgh Pirates. Hall of Famers: Bill Mazeroski, 23; Roberto Clemente, 25.

My Mantle autograph

My Mantle autograph

1961-2

Champions: Yankees. Hall of Famers: Mantle, 29-30; Ford, 32-3; Berra, 36-7.

1963

Champions: Dodgers. Hall of Famers: Drysdale, 26, and Koufax, 27.

1964

Champions: St. Louis Cardinals. Hall of Famers: Lou Brock, 25; Bob Gibson, 28.

1965

Champions: Dodgers. Hall of Famers: Drysdale, 28, and Koufax, 29.

1966

Champions: Baltimore Orioles. Hall of Famers: Jim Palmer, 20; Brooks Robinson, 29; Frank Robinson, 30, and Luis Aparicio, 32.

Bob Gibson's autograph, with some Cardinal teammates, on a ball belonging to my son Joe.

Bob Gibson’s autograph, with some Cardinal teammates, on a ball belonging to my son Joe.

1967

Champions: St. Louis Cardinals. Hall of Famers: Steve Carlton, 22; Brock, 28; Orlando Cepeda, 29; Gibson, 31.

1968

Champion: Detroit Tigers. Hall of Famers: Al Kaline, 32; and Mathews (a part-time player in his final year at age 36). Since yesterday’s post was about Hall of Fame projections, I should note here that 24-year-old Denny McLain, who won 31 games that year and won the Cy Young and MVP awards, looked like a lock for Cooperstown, but didn’t make it.

1969

Champion: New York Mets. Hall of Famers: Nolan Ryan, 22, and Tom Seaver, 24.

1970

Champion: Orioles. Hall of Famers: Palmer, 24, and the Robinsons, 33 and 34.

1971

Champion: Pirates. Hall of Famers: Willie Stargell, 31; Mazeroski (playing part-time at 34); Clemente, 36.

1972-4

Champions: Oakland A’s. Hall of Famers: Rollie Fingers, 25-7; Catfish Hunter, 26-8; Reggie Jackson, 26-8. I don’t count Cepeda, who had just three at-bats for the ’72 A’s and didn’t play in the post-season.

1975-6

Champions: Cincinnati Reds. Johnny Bench, 27-8; Joe Morgan, 31-2; Tony Pérez, 33-4. Pete Rose, 34-5, would be in the Hall of Fame, but he accepted a lifetime ban from baseball for betting on games.

1977-8

Champions: Yankees. Hall of Famers: Jackson and Hunter, both 31-2; and Goose Gossage, 26 (’78 only).

1979

Champions: Pirates. Hall of Famers: Bert Blyleven, 28, and Stargell, 39. Dave Parker of this team probably deserves mention with Denny McLain as a player who appeared on his way to the Hall of Fame. Cocaine use sidetracked Parker’s career.

My Steve Carlton autograph

My Steve Carlton autograph

1980

Champions: Philadelphia Phillies. Hall of Famers: Mike Schmidt, 30; Carlton, 35. Rose, 39, was also on this team.

1981

Champions: Dodgers. No Hall of Famers yet. Steve Garvey probably has the best shot of making it someday.

1982

Champions: Cardinals. Hall of Famers: Ozzie Smith, 27, and Bruce Sutter, 29.

1983

My Ripken autograph

My Ripken autograph

Champions: Orioles. Hall of Famers: Cal Ripken Jr., 22; Eddie Murray, 27; Palmer, pitching part-time at age 37.

1984

Champion: Tigers. No Hall of Famers yet. Jack Morris, 29, probably has the best shot.

1985

Champion: Kansas City Royals. Hall of Famer: George Brett, 32.

1986

Champion: Mets. Hall of Famer: Gary Carter, 32. As noted in yesterday’s post, Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry, 24, of this team appeared headed for the Hall of Fame before drug use stalled their careers.

1987

Champion: Minnesota Twins. Hall of Famer: Kirby Puckett, 27, and Blyleven, 36. Carlton, 42, pitched nine games for the Twins that year, but not in the post-season.

1988

Champion: Dodgers. Hall of Famer: Don Sutton, 43, was in his last year. He pitched only 16 games, none in the post-season. Of major contributors on this team, Orel Hershiser, 29, and Kirk Gibson, 31, may have the best shots at reaching Cooperstown someday.

1989

Champion: Oakland A’s. Hall of Famer: Rickey Henderson, 30, and Dennis Eckersley, 34. This is the first champion where performance-enhancing drugs are keeping a player out of the Hall of Fame (Mark McGwire, 25, for sure, possibly Jose Canseco, 24).

1990

Champion: Reds. Hall of Famer: Barry Larkin, 26.

1991

Champion: Twins. Hall of Famer: Puckett, 31.

1992-3

Champions: Toronto Blue Jays. Hall of Famers: Roberto Alomar, 24-5; Henderson, 34 (just on ’93 Jays); Paul Molitor, 36 (also just in ’93); Dave Winfield, 40 (only in ’92).

1995

Remember, baseball had no champion in ’94 because of a strike. Champions: Atlanta Braves. Hall of Famers: John Smoltz, 28; Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, both 29. Chipper Jones, 24, appears to be a certain Hall of Famer, but retired in 2012, so he won’t be eligible for Hall of Fame consideration until the 2018 election.

My Derek Jeter rookie card

My Derek Jeter rookie card

1996

Champions: Yankees. Hall of Famer: Wade Boggs, 38. Derek Jeter, 22, and Mariano Rivera, 26, appear certain to reach Cooperstown when they become eligible for election: 2019 for Rivera and 2020 for Jeter. Andy Pettitte and Jorge Posada are less likely to make the Hall of Fame, and will be on the ballot in 2019 (Pettitte) and next year (Posada).

1997

Champion: Florida Marlins. No Hall of Famers. Gary Sheffield is another player whose Hall of Fame chances are hurt by PED use.

1998-2000

Champions: Yankees. Again, Jeter, 24-6, and Rivera, 28-30, are certain Hall of Famers. Roger Clemens, 36-7, pitched for the ’99-2000 Yankees, but suspicion of PED use is keeping him out of Cooperstown. Tim Raines, 38, a ’98 Yankee, got 55 percent of the baseball writers’ vote last year and almost certainly will make the Hall of Fame someday, but mostly for his play for the Montreal Expos.

2001

Champion: Arizona Diamondbacks. Hall of Famer: Randy Johnson. Curt Schilling will certainly join him. He got 39 percent of the writers’ vote last year, his third year on the ballot.

2002

Champion: Anaheim Angels. No Hall of Famers and no likely prospects.

2003

Champion: Florida Marlins. Miguel Cabrera, 20, is a Triple-Crown winner and two-time MVP. He’s still playing and only 32 years old but certain to make the Hall of Fame if he stays free of scandal. Iván Rodríguez would be a certain Hall of Famer if not for allegations that he used PEDs.

2004

Champion: Boston Red Sox. Hall of Famer: Pedro Martínez, and Schilling will follow. David Ortiz, who’s still playing, would be an automatic selection if not for his failed drug test. Manny Ramírez won’t be on the Hall of Fame ballot until 2017, but drug issues are likely to keep him out of the Hall of Fame, too.

2005

Champion: Chicago White Sox. Hall of Famer: Frank Thomas, a part-time DH at 37.

2006

Champion: Cardinals. No Hall of Famers yet, but Albert Pujols, a three-time MVP, is a lock if he can avoid scandal.

2007

Champion: Red Sox. This seems a good place to stop this exercise. No star of the ’07 Red Sox, or any subsequent champion, is already in the Hall of Fame, and most aren’t even eligible yet. I’ve already addressed Schilling, Ortiz and Ramírez. While I projected the Hall of Fame chances of the 2015 Royals, I’m not interested in doing that for the young stars of other recent teams.

What does this mean?

Obviously, the numbers or Hall of Famers on some of these teams, especially the more recent ones, will grow, as Morris, Raines, Schilling and others eventually get elected.

But already the vast world-champion teams have multiple Hall of Famers. In a 60-year stretch, only five teams don’t have Hall of Famers yet. From 1947 to 1980, the 1960 Pirates and ’68 Tigers were the only World Series champions without at least two Hall of Famers elected by the Baseball Writers Association of America.

All of the champions with no Hall of Famers or even just one played since 1980, so many of their best players aren’t even eligible for Hall of Fame consideration yet (or are being kept out of Cooperstown because of drug suspicions). Few of the contenders who aren’t automatic Hall of Famers have had second chances yet through the Expansion Era Committee.

As I noted in yesterday’s post, I expect at least two players from the 2015 Royals to join the Hall of Fame. If I’m wrong, they will be one of few exceptions among World Series champions.

Source note: Players’ ages are taken from the Baseball-Reference.com team rosters for the championship years.





Is Salvador Pérez (or any other current Royal) bound for the Hall of Fame? Too early to say, but …

29 11 2015
My Derek Jeter rookie card

My Derek Jeter rookie card

I remember my amusement in 1998 when sports writers and broadcasters expressed wonder at the Yankees’ dominance without any certain Hall of Famers in their prime.

In retrospect, everyone sees what I thought was pretty clear then: Derek Jeter, 24, and Mariano Rivera, 29, were early in careers that would make each a Hall of Fame lock if they stayed healthy and kept playing well. Each was completing just his third full year, so it was early to proclaim either bound for Cooperstown. But they were moving swiftly along the Hall of Fame path.

I wasn’t blogging at the time, so I scoffed only privately at the suggestion that this was a great team bereft of Hall of Famers. I might have bored a few friends or family members with my seemingly premature predictions of Cooperstown enshrinement. Now, Jeter and Rivera are universally seen as certain first-ballot winners.

In ’98, both were already playing like Hall of Famers. Rivera completed the second of 11 seasons with an ERA under 2.00. Jeter had the first of eight seasons with 200 or more hits. Looking back, we can say absolutely that those Yankees had two of the best ever at their roles, playing in their primes.

So what can we project now about the Kansas City Royals of the past two years? Do they have any players on a path that’s likely to end in Cooperstown?

During the World Series, my friend Jim Brady, a Mets fan who later would be named ESPN’s new Public Editor, said no:

We were arguing at the time, after the Mets fell behind 2-0, over whether the 2015 Royals were better than the 1986 Red Sox, which also fell behind the Mets 2-0 in a World Series. Of course, the Royals quickly won that argument for me.

They can’t win this argument so quickly. I will be surprised if this Royals team doesn’t have at least one Hall of Famer eventually. I expect two. Three wouldn’t surprise me. Four would be only a minor surprise. But we’re decades from knowing (we were at least a decade in ’98 from knowing whether I was right about Jeter and Rivera).

And it’s not just Jim. Joe Posnanski, one of my favorite sports writers, wrote a similar piece to the stuff we were reading in 1998 about the Yankees, saying of this year’s Royals and Mets:

You would have to say there’s a good chance neither of these teams will have anybody elected to the Hall of Fame.

Before I address whether the current Royals can get any (or as many as three) Hall of Famers, I should note one thing Jim and I clarified in subsequent tweets. He was counting Roger Clemens as one of the ’86 Red Sox’ three Hall of Famers (along with Wade Boggs and Jim Rice). Clemens was a Hall of Fame talent having his best year in ’86. But he’s not in Cooperstown because of suspicions about use of performance-enhancing drugs a decade or so later. We agree that you have to count Clemens as a Hall of Famer in measuring the quality of these two teams, whether he gets eventual recognition or not. You would certainly include Pete Rose along with Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan and Tony Pérez in recognizing the all-time-great talent on the Big Red Machine of the 1970s, even though Rose is barred from Cooperstown consideration for betting on baseball when he was a manager in the 1980s.

The fun of the next decade or so will be seeing what becomes of today’s budding stars (from this KC team as well as other promising teams such as this year’s Mets, Cubs, Astros and Blue Jays and the recent Giants dynasty). We can’t know which budding stars will fizzle because the league figures them out or they don’t work hard enough; which will piss away their talent on drugs or other mistakes of life; which will, as Jim noted, surge later in their careers to the level of Hall of Fame consideration; which surged to brief stardom at the right time to be part of a great team but were not that great overall; which will turn a strong start into a Hall of Fame career.

I’ll start with my 2015 predictions (guesses really) for the current Royals, then examine the chances of various team members. First, I must agree that no one on the Royals is anywhere near Hall of Fame consideration. All of these projections are based on rising stars playing at or above their current level of play for another decade or more:

  • Catcher Salvador Pérez is a probable Hall of Famer.
  • I expect at least one, but not all three, of relief pitcher Wade Davis, starting pitcher Johnny Cueto and first baseman Eric Hosmer to reach the Hall of Fame.
  • Third baseman Mike Moustakas and starting pitcher Yordano Ventura are unlikely Hall of Famers, but they are young, their careers are off to strong starts, and neither is out of reach if he continues an upward career path.
  • Alex Gordon is a long shot, having a good career but well short of Hall of Fame standards. Shortstop Alcides Escobar is younger than Gordon but less accomplished. Both need the career surge that Brady said all the Royals would need.
  • No other Royals have any chance, based on what we’ve seen so far, to make the Hall of Fame.

Salvador Pérez

Brady was specifically dismissive of my claim that Pérez was substantially better by 2015 than ’86 Boston catcher Rich Gedman, a good catcher who made two All-Star teams in a 13-year career and didn’t receive any Hall of Fame votes.

I made the point in October that Pérez is far better than the ’86 Gedman, and won’t repeat the argument today, but will instead expand the comparison to the Mets’ ’86 catcher, Gary Carter, who is in the Hall of Fame.

At age 25 (this year for Pérez, 1985 for Gedman, 1979 for Carter), the three catchers were clearly peers with solid starts to their careers:

  • Each was already an All-Star.
  • Each was strong behind the plate.
  • Pérez had played five seasons, the other two six.
  • All had two to four seasons catching 100 games or more.
  • Each had topped 20 homers in a season (Carter reaching 31).
  • They had similar batting averages, ranging from .267 to .279.
  • Same with slugging percentages, ranging from .431 to .450.
  • Their career doubles totals were tightly bunched, ranging from 102 to 110.

If they all turned 25 in the same season, which one would you say was bound for the Hall of Fame? The one with the highest slugging percentage (Gedman)? The one with the most homers and RBI (Carter)? The one with the highest batting average (Pérez)?

We know what happened to Carter after age 25: He played 13 more seasons, 100 or more games in 10 of them. Nine of those seasons he was as an All-Star. At age 32, his eighth-inning sacrifice fly sent Game Six of the ’86 World Series into extra innings and his two-out, 10th-inning single, trailing 5-3, started the rally that and Mets fans remember so fondly (and Red Sox fans so bitterly). Carter wound up in Cooperstown in 2003, his sixth year on the ballot.

We know what happened to Gedman after age 25: He became a platoon player, then a backup, and played in more than 100 games only the season he was 26 (1986).

We don’t know what will happen to Pérez after age 25.

Carter probably had the best career of the three by age 25. He started at age 21 and had played more than 100 games more than either Gedman or Pérez. So all of Carter’s career totals were better. But when they played full seasons, all three catchers’ performances were comparable, but not yet dominant. None of them had a 100-RBI season (Carter, with 84, had the highest total). Carter also had the best season for homers, 31. Gedman and Carter both tied for the most runs in a season by 86. Pérez had the most hits in a season, 150, and the highest season batting average, .292.

Gedman made one All-Star team by age 25, Carter two and Pérez three. Carter didn’t win the first of his three Gold Gloves until he was 26. Pérez won his third this season. Gedman never won a Gold Glove.

You could argue, as Jim does, that Gedman was better than Pérez: His on-base and slugging percentages were higher, and his batting average just a point lower. But it’s a weak argument. Though Gedman had six seasons in the big leagues by age 25, to only five for Pérez, the Royal catcher became a full-time player faster and played more games, getting more hits, runs, RBI and homers.

I’d project Pérez to have a career more like Carter than Gedman. But you never know until the career unfolds.

Carter was a fun comparison because the Royals were playing the Mets in this year’s World Series and because of Jim’s and my banter about the ’86 Mets and Red Sox. But to truly understand Pérez’s chances, let’s compare him to all Hall of Fame catchers by age 25.

First, we can dismiss the six catchers elected to the Hall of Fame by Veterans Committees, because Pérez is far better at age 25 than any of them:

  • Roger Bresnahan didn’t play more than 116 games in any season by age 25. Pérez already has three seasons catching 137 or more games. In his full 17-year career, Bresnahan didn’t match Pérez’s career bests already for hits, homers and RBI in a season. And both have career batting averages of .279. Only once did Bresnahan catch 139 games in a season, a figure Pérez has already surpassed twice.
  • Ray Schalk played more than Bresnahan by age 25, but his most games caught in a season by then were 139. But again, he doesn’t even approach Pérez’s offensive performance. Here’s a fun fact: Pérez is really slow, with just two career steals (though he’s never been caught). Schalk stole 15 bases at age 22 in 1915, but he was thrown out 18 times. So Pérez probably hurt his team less on the bases.
  • Ernie Lombardi didn’t play more than 132 games in a season his whole career, and he didn’t reach that level until age 26. He played only three seasons by age 25, and none of his offensive totals approached Pérez’s, though his batting average was better.
  • Rick Ferrell also had played only three seasons by age 25. But take his whole career, and he never matched Pérez’s single-season bests for hits, homers and RBI. His most games caught in a season were 137 at age 27 in 1933.
  • Buck Ewing and Deacon White were 19th-century catchers whose achievements by age 25 don’t nearly match up with Pérez’s, but they are hardly comparable because of shorter seasons. Ewing caught no more than 80 games in a season by that age, White no more than 56.

Because Negro League seasons and stats were not comparable to major league, I also won’t compare Pérez to the early careers of Josh Gibson, Biz Mackey or Louis Santop. Roy Campanella, who had a Hall of Fame career in the majors, also doesn’t compare, because he started in the Negro Leagues and didn’t reach the “majors” until age 26.

For a more detailed comparison of Pérez to Hall of Fame catchers, I compared him to the seven catchers elected by the Baseball Writers Association of America who played in the majors by age 25: Carter, Johnny Bench, Yogi Berra, Mickey Cochrane, Bill Dickey, Carlton Fisk and Gabby Hartnett. And I threw in Mike Piazza, who got 70 percent of the writers’ vote last year and looks likely to make it in the next year or two.

I ranked those nine catchers, including Pérez, by career stats by age 25. The comparisons are pretty fair. Pérez, Berra, Dickey, Fisk and Hartnett all came up to the majors at age 21. Cochrane was 22 and Piazza 23 when they made the big leagues. Bench was 19 and Carter 20. Pérez ranks third among the nine in career hits and doubles by age 25, behind only Carter and Bench. He’s fourth in homers and fifth in RBI. He’s sixth in runs and batting average, last in on-base percentage and slugging percentage.

Most of the Hall of Fame catchers played before the Gold Gloves started in 1957, and some before the All-Star game started in 1933. But only Bench, with six All-Star games and six Gold Gloves by age 25, had more of either than Pérez, with three of each. In fact, Bench, with 10 Gold Gloves, is the only Hall of Fame catcher with more for his career than Pérez has already. Carter won three in his whole career and Fisk and Piazza never won one. (The other Hall of Fame catchers played all or most of their careers before Gold Gloves were awarded.)

Bench won two MVP awards by age 25 and Cochrane won one. Piazza and Fisk were Rookies of the Year. Pérez did not win either of those awards, but is the only one of the group to be a World Series MVP by age 25 (Bench won that award in 1976 at age 28).

Clearly Pérez belongs in that group and is well on the way to the Hall of Fame if he continues to play well and stay healthy for another decade. He needs no surge, just time.

Iván Rodríguez deserves mention here. Because of his steroid use, he may not make the Hall of Fame or may wait a long time before voters figure out whether or when to elect suspected users of performance-enhancing drugs. But he, like Bench, had six All-Star appearances, six Gold Gloves and superior offensive numbers to Pérez by age 25.

Among active catchers, Joe Mauer, Yadier Molina and Buster Posey are probably the other catchers with the best shots at Cooperstown. Mauer caught 139 games at age 25, the most he has caught in a season. But he won two batting titles and was a two-time All-Star by age 25. Molina won his first Gold Glove (of eight in a row) at age 25. His offensive numbers all lagged well behind Pérez. Posey was Rookie of the Year at age 23, but his numbers were still well below Pérez by age 24. But his MVP season at 25, with a batting championship and his first All-Star appearance pulled him even with, if not ahead of, Pérez by 25.

Other great catchers who have not made it to the Hall of Fame — Thurman Munson, Jorge Posada, Walker Cooper, Sherm Lollar, Lance Parrish and Bob Boone — were nowhere near as good as Pérez at age 25. Elston Howard, starting his career late because of military service and racial discrimination, didn’t play in the “major” leagues until age 26. Joe Torre, Ted Simmons and Bill Freehan started their careers similarly to Pérez, clearly somewhat better in Torre’s case.

However you compare Pérez to Hall of Famers or the best contemporary catchers or the best catchers by age 25, he holds his own, better than most, but not the best. It’s way too early to stamp his ticket to Cooperstown, but he’s absolutely one of the best 25-year-old catchers in baseball history and well on his way to a Hall of Fame career.

Wade Davis


It’s hard to find a Hall of Fame reliever who’s comparable to Davis. Five Hall of Famers were relievers all or nearly all of their careers: Hoyt Wilhelm, Bruce Sutter, Goose Gossage and Rollie Fingers. John Smoltz was probably a Hall of Famer just as a starter, but his three years as a dominant closer following Tommy John surgery made him a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

Dennis Eckersley is in the Hall of Fame as a reliever, but, like Davis, began his career as a starter. Eck had a better starting career than Davis, pitching a solid decade-plus as a starter and winning 20 games in 1978. Davis was a mediocre starter for three seasons, so that’s a clear advantage for Eck.

But in their late blooming as relievers, Davis has five significant advantages over Eck:

  1. Davis moved to the Royals’ bullpen at age 28, four years younger than Eck was when he became a reliever.
  2. Davis moved to the closer role at age 29, three years younger than Eck.
  3. Davis was immediately dominant as a reliever and as a closer. Eck had a decent first year in the bullpen in 1987 at age 32, but he didn’t become a dominant closer until he was 33.
  4. Davis’ first two seasons as a reliever were more dominant than all but one season of Eck’s career. Davis has not matched the brilliant 0.61 ERA that Eck posted in 1990, but his ERAs of 1.00 in 2014 and 0.94 in 2015 are better than any other Eck seasons. Eck also never matched the 13.4 strikeouts per nine innings that Davis got in 2014.
  5. Eck had a 3.00 ERA in 28 post-season appearances. His most famous post-season pitch was the homer that Kirk Gibson hit, barely able to hobble around the base path. Davis’ post-season ERA in 23 appearances is 0.84. And he hasn’t given up a run in seven World Series games. Eck was 0-2 with a 5.79 World Series ERA in six games.

A Rivera-Davis comparison also is noteworthy. Rivera didn’t become a big leaguer until age 25, a dominant reliever until 26 or a closer until age 27. He was ahead of Davis at age 29, but Rivera never had full-season ERAs as low as Davis’ for the past two years. If a starter-turned-reliever is ahead of Eckersley and not far behind Rivera, he certainly has a shot at the Hall of Fame.

I place Pérez ahead of Davis as a Hall of Fame prospect because he is further along the Hall of Fame path earlier in his career. But Davis is more dominant, and I could see him appearing the Royals’ strongest Cooperstown prospect after a full year or two as closer.

Also, relievers such as Willie Hernandez, Eric Gagne, Sparky Lyle, Royal Dan Quisenberry, Lee Smith, Bobby Thigpen and Dave Righetti appeared much closer to the Hall of Fame at age 29 than Davis does, and none of them has reached the Hall of Fame. Few catchers ever were as good as Pérez by age 25, and they’re almost all in Cooperstown, if eligible.

Eric Hosmer

Hosmer, who turned 26 during the post-season, doesn’t compare as well to all Hall of Fame first basemen at the same age as Pérez does to the greatest catchers.

But Hosmer compares well to some Hall of Fame first basemen. He ended the regular season at age 25 with substantially more runs, hits, homers and RBI by than Tony Pérez at the same age, and he already has three Gold Gloves, an honor Pérez never won. Willie McCovey didn’t start playing like a Hall of Famer until age 25, when he won the first of his three home run titles, with 44 in 1963. Willie Stargell also started hitting like a Hall of Famer at age 25, his first season with 100 RBI. Through age 24, Hosmer was definitely better than McCovey and Stargell.

On the other hand, first basemen Don Mattingly, Steve Garvey and Keith Hernandez were all MVPs by age 25 and Hosmer hasn’t come close.

Returning to Jim Brady’s comparison to the ’86 Red Sox, let’s compare Hosmer to Dwight Evans. They don’t play the same position, but both are Gold Glove defenders at positions where championship teams need offensive production. And Jim mentioned them both in tweets, Hosmer dismissively and Evans as a Hall of Fame contender:

We do agree that Dwight Evans was a Hall of Fame contender. But he wasn’t close in the writers’ voting, lasting just three years on the ballot and peaking at 10 percent of the vote.

Evans was one of the best defensive right fielders ever. Hall of Famers Roberto Clemente and Al Kaline and certain Hall of Famer Ichiro Suzuki are the only right fielders with more Gold Gloves than Evans’ eight.

Hosmer is a long way from eight Gold Gloves. But he already has three, two more than Evans did at 25.

But Evans isn’t one of those rare defensive specialists who make the Hall of Fame with weak offensive credentials. He wasn’t fully developed yet as a hitter at age 25 (probably like many of the Royals). Still, Evans ended his career with 2,446 hits, 385 homers and 1,384 RBI. If Veterans Committees eventually start adding older players of his era to the Hall of Fame, I think he’s got a reasonable case.

But at age 25, Hosmer is way closer to Cooperstown.

Do you remember the “barring career surge” in Jim’s dismissal of the Royals’ chances of landing anyone in the Hall of Fame, like such a surge is an outlandish possibility? Well, Evans gets discussed as a Hall of Fame contender only because of his career surge.

Evans came up to the majors at 20, Hosmer at 21. But Hosmer became a full-time player immediately, playing over 150 games three of his first five seasons, while Evans only once topped 140. Because Hosmer has played 728 games and Evans had played in only 617, comparisons of career totals aren’t fair (and Hosmer wins them all).

So let’s compare their best figures for any full season through age 25, to see who was blossoming more into a star:

  • Batting average: Hosmer .302, Evans .287
  • On-base: Tied at .363
  • Slugging: Hosmer .465, Evans .456
  • Homers: Hosmer 19, Evans 17
  • RBI: Hosmer 93, Evans 70
  • Hits: Hosmer 188, Evans 130
  • Runs: Hosmer 98, Evans 61
  • Doubles: Hosmer 35, Evans 34
  • Walks: Hosmer 61, Evans 57

No one would have forecast Evans as a Hall of Fame contender at age 25. Maybe Hosmer won’t become one. He’s a long way from Cooperstown. That he got a quicker start on the Cooperstown path than Evans, Tony Pérez, McCovey and Stargell, but lags behind Mattingly, Garvey and Hernandez tells you how impossible it is to project Hall of Famers, especially at first base or the outfield, this early in the career.

A catcher doesn’t have to hit career milestones such as 3,000 hits or 500 homers, or put up strings of batting or home run titles to make the Hall of Fame. Outfielders and first basemen need titles or milestones to make the Hall of Fame without a long wait, if ever.

Hosmer clearly has a shot, but he has further to go than Salvador Pérez and is not yet as dominant as Davis.

Johnny Cueto


Starting pitcher might be the toughest position for which to project Hall of Famers. As I noted when Randy Johnson was elected, no one would have projected him for Cooperstown at 29, Cueto‘s age this year. Cueto also is well ahead of Phil Niekro at the same age, but probably not likely to pitch to age 48, like Niekro did.

With a strikeout title last year and two years in the top four for the National League Cy Young, Cueto has a solid start to his career. But he needs to pitch better in his 30s than in his 20s, and that’s unlikely.

Mike Moustakas

I think Moose is a long shot for Cooperstown. Hall of Fame third basemen such as George Brett, Mike SchmidtBrooks Robinson and Eddie Mathews were all much more accomplished by age 26, Moose’s age this year.

But Moose, who broke in at age 22, was more accomplished by age 24 than Boggs, who was a rookie at that age and played only 104 games. Boggs, another of those ’86 Red Sox, won the first of his five batting titles at age 25 and had two 200-hit seasons by age 26, so I’d place him ahead of Moose on the path to Cooperstown at that age. But not that far ahead. Boggs had been an All-Star twice at age 26. Moose was an All-Star for the first time. They’re not comparable as hitters, because Moose hits for power and Boggs was so great at getting on base. But Moose is a far better fielder. And the point is that Boggs was a long way from Cooperstown at age 26. He had almost 2,500 hits still in his future, as well as four more batting championships and 10 All-Star seasons.

Paul Molitor, like Moose, had only one All-Star appearance by age 26, and also didn’t look like he was heading to the Hall of Fame. Moose had better power numbers, Molitor more hits and runs.

Moose has a solid start to his career. Each of those Hall of Fame third basemen made it to Cooperstown primarily for his accomplishments after age 26. Too early to say whether he can match their full careers.

Yordano Ventura

Ventura is only 24, has pitched just two full seasons and has lots of promise. It would be crazy to say he’s headed for Cooperstown, or that he has no shot. He’s a long shot because every player is a long shot this early in his career. He has no Hall of Fame credentials, but he has the talent to have a Hall of Fame career.

He’s not afraid to pitch inside. Like Clemens, he hit nine batters the season he was 24.

Alcides Escobar

I don’t think Escobar will make the Hall of Fame. He’s 28 and just made his first All-Star game and won his first Gold Glove this year. Ozzie Smith had four Gold Gloves and three All-Star appearances by age 28. But Escobar is far superior offensively at this point in his career. Barry Larkin also had four All-Star appearances by age 28 and was a better hitter (though he hadn’t won a Gold Glove yet). Luis Aparicio had five All-Star seasons and seven straight stolen-base titles by age 28. Ernie Banks, Robin Yount, Cal Ripken Jr. and Jeter all were much further down the Cooperstown path at age 28.

At three years older than Perez and Hosmer and two years older than Moose, Escobar does need a career surge to make the Hall of Fame. But he has time.

Alex Gordon

Gordon‘s 31, and I don’t think he’s making the Hall of Fame. Though he has three All-Star seasons and four Gold Gloves, he hasn’t had the kind of offensive performance that gets outfielders into Cooperstown. No seasons with 200 hits, 30 homers or 100 RBI. Only one season hitting over .300. He needs a better career after age 31, and to play for a long time, to have a shot.

Lorenzo Cain

Cain had his first All-Star season this year at age 29. I can think of no Hall of Fame outfielder who had the kind of late-career surge Cain would need to make it to Cooperstown. Hall of Fame outfielders all become stars younger than Cain did.

Most prospects don’t make the Hall of Fame

Any Royals fan knows that making the Hall of Fame is difficult and unlikely. The franchise has been playing baseball since 1969 and Brett is the only person who played primarily for the Royals to make the Hall of Fame. The Mets have played even longer, since 1962, with only Tom Seaver in the Hall of Fame primarily as a Met (Carter played 12 years for the Montreal Expos, only five for the Mets).

Bret Saberhagen won two Cy Young Awards by age 25 and lasted just one year on the baseball writers’ Hall of Fame ballot.

Frank White won eight Gold Gloves but lasted just one year on the writers’ ballot.

Willie Wilson stole 668 bases (12th all-time) and added a batting championship, five seasons leading the league in triples, a Gold Glove and 13 inside-the-park homers. And he lasted only a year on the writers’ ballot.

Steve Busby pitched two no-hitters and had 59 career wins by age 25, and finished his career with 70 wins.

Dan Quisenberry led the American League in saves five out of six seasons and hasn’t made the Hall of Fame. He’s come closest to joining Brett in the Hall of Fame, lasting just a year on the writers’ ballot but getting consideration on the 2013 Expansion Era ballot.

Those ’86 Mets that beat the Red Sox Jim and I were discussing had only one Hall of Famer, Carter.

But two members of that team looked like sure Hall of Famers in 1986: Dwight Gooden, a 21-year-old three-time All-Star, and Darryl Strawberry, a 24-year-old three-time All-Star. Their stories of drug addiction, wasted potential and prison time are well-known, so I won’t bother with them here.

Accurately predicting or dismissing enshrinement for great (or even promising) young players is impossible.

But here’s my call: By 2045, Perez and Davis will have joined Brett in the Hall of Fame. One other 2015 Royal will join them eventually, most likely Hosmer. But the third Hall of Fame Royal (fourth counting Brett), if ever, will be a selection of whatever veterans committees make Hall of Fame selections decades from now.

In a separate post tomorrow, I’ll show how rare Brett’s Royals were in having just one Hall of Famer, and how exceeding rare it is for a team to win a World Series with no Hall of Famers.

I don’t fault anyone who thinks I’m overly optimistic for these Royals, but I was right about Jeter and Rivera and I’m similarly confident now.

Source note: Unless noted otherwise, all statistics in this post come from Baseball-Reference.com.





Yankees among the best almost everywhere but starting pitcher

21 09 2015

Look around the baseball diamond, and at nearly every position, a Yankee was one of the best ever. But not at starting pitcher.

We say that pitching wins championships, and the Yankees through the decades have had excellent depth in good starting pitchers, and sometimes great starting pitchers. But none of the all-time greatest starting pitchers spent most of their careers with the Yankees.

The only Yankee pitcher you might see on a list of the 10 best starters ever is Roger Clemens, and his best years were with the Red Sox. Clemens won 20 games only once in his six Yankee years. His Yankee years wouldn’t rank him among the best Yankee starters ever, let alone among baseball’s best. (For purposes of this discussion, I’m dealing with actual performance, not trying to decide whose achievements to discount because of suspicions about use of performance-enhancing drugs.)

If you expand your best-ever list to 20 or 25, Whitey Ford usually gets a spot, but Yankees remain notably absent, or low, from any best-ever discussion of starting pitchers. And they’re prominent in such discussions at nearly every other position.

At six positions, at least one Yankee is either the best ever or one of two to five stars contending for the top spot:

Catcher

Yogi Berra often loses the best-catcher-ever debates to Johnny Bench, but he’s always in the discussion. With three MVP awards and more championships than anyone, plus still-impressive offensive numbers, Yogi figures prominently in discussing best catchers ever. And Yankee Bill Dickey would be on anyone’s top-10 list, maybe even top five. Read the rest of this entry »





Derek Jeter: secure among Yankee legends, strong case as best shortstop ever

9 07 2011

Derek Jeter’s place in Yankee history is secure. He has reached the upper echelon where you really don’t rank the players. They are just the Yankee immortals: Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mantle, Berra, Jeter, Rivera. Those seven are clearly the top tier: each holding amazing records, each winning multiple world championships, each a Yankee legend, each playing all or most of his career as a Yankee, each one of the best ever at his position.

All the other Yankee greats — Roger Maris, Whitey Ford, Reggie Jackson, Don Mattingly, Ron Guidry, Thurman Munson, Lefty Gomez and so on — start a rung below those seven.

And it’s pointless trying to rank those top seven: How do you rank DiMaggio’s hitting streak or Mantle’s World Series homers or Gehrig’s consecutive-game streak behind anyone? But Babe has to be first, doesn’t he? And you can’t compare Rivera’s late-inning dominance with all these hitters. And no one won more World Series than Berra, whose masterful handling of the pitching staff again defies comparison. No, it’s a seven-way tie for first place as the greatest Yankee ever. No one gets dethroned at the top of this list, they just make room for another legend.

If you want to figure where Jeter ranks all-time, consider his standing among all the great shortstops of baseball history. More specifically, is he the greatest shortshop ever? Now, that’s a debate worth having, especially the day that he topped 3,000 hits with an amazing 5-for-5 day. Read the rest of this entry »