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.





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.





Were the 1986 Red Sox better than the 2015 Royals?

30 10 2015

My good friend Jim Brady’s Mets are having a better season than my favorite team, the Yankees. But my second-favorite team, the Royals, are having a better season (so far; it’s long from over) than Jim’s Mets.

As the Royals were surging to Wednesday night’s victory (with my son Mike in the crowd), I remembered that both the 1985 Royals and 1986 Mets won after trailing those World Series 2-0 (and the 1981 Yankees lost in six games after taking a 2-0 lead). I was thinking I’d note those facts in a semi-gracious Twitter message to Jim after the game. But then I saw Jim had noted one of those historic facts himself:

Well, it ain’t over, we agree on that. I quoted Yogi Berra, former Yankee legend and Mets manager, on that topic in a post just Wednesday.

I’m hoping for a sweep (son Tom, who will be in New York for Game Four, shares that hope). But I love the ebb and flow of a World Series. I’ll love a seven-game Series, too, especially if the Royals win.

But, in the trash-talking spirit of good friends sharing sports fun and the fact-checking practice of this blog, I couldn’t let Jim get away with that “better team” BS:

Jim dropped some nice names and I responded:

Red Sox fan Matt DeRienzo (Red Sox fans are still paying attention to baseball?), a mutual friend, weighed in:

I probably should have declared victory when Jim tried to compare the Red Sox’ star right fielder to a Royals pinch-runner and fifth outfielder:

But a drug being used for my stem-cell harvest woke me up in the middle of the night Wednesday. And I really wondered which team was better, the 1986 Red Sox or the 2015 Royals. Jim, Matt and I all were reacting from emotion, memory, loyalty and hope, not research. So I thought I’d see who really was better. I ended up doing way more research than I originally anticipated. And way more writing. (On another blog, I posted in the middle of the night about writing under the influence of drugs this week.)

I won’t bother with comparing the 1986 and 2015 Mets, but I welcome Jim to do that in a guest post, if he’d like. I doubt the comparison would boost his confidence. I don’t expect Jim to do a guest post (he’s a busy man and not using my drugs), so I’ll entertain offers from other Mets fans, baseball-research geeks or insomniacs who would like to do a guest post comparing the two Met teams. Update: Jim did respond on Twitter to this post. I shared some of those tweets in a follow-up post on friendly baseball arguments.

But I know a team that swept the Cubs in four games can win this World Series in six. Or seven. This is a good Mets team (reminds me a lot of last year’s Royals), and I’m not over-confident.

And if the Mets win, I’ll blame this whole post on the drugs.

Comparison by position

Position-by-position breakdowns are never the best way to compare baseball teams, but sportswriters and fans do that, so I’ll start here:

Catcher

Boston’s Rich Gedman was an All-Star twice, including the 1986 season. He never won a Gold Glove. The Royals’ Salvador Pérez is 25, a year younger than Gedman was in ’86. But Pérez has already had a better career in five years (just three full-time) than Gedman had in 13 years (just three of them playing more than 100 games). Pérez has three All-Star appearances, including this year, and two Gold Gloves. And he hit better this year than Gedman in ’86 in every significant offensive category.

Big advantage for the Royals.

First base

Jim really dropped Buckner‘s name here? (OK, I can see why a Mets fan would drop Buckner’s name a lot; it’s not like you’d want to claim Mookie Wilson drove in the winning run.) Well, Eric Hosmer did have a key error at first base in Game One, but it was on a tough hop, not an easy ground ball between the legs. And Hosmer atoned that night with the winning RBI in the 14th inning.

Buckner might have had a better career than Hosmer will. Billy Buck was a former batting champion who would retire with 2,715 hits. But Buckner never won a Gold Glove in 22 major league seasons. Hosmer should win his third this year. Red Sox fans’ continuing complaint about Game Six in ’86 is that manager John McNamara should have sent Dave Stapleton in to play defense for Buckner in the 9th inning. No one ever goes in as a defensive replacement for Hosmer. Designated hitter Kendrys Morales played only nine games at first this year.

Offensively, Hosmer had a better year in ’15 than Buckner in ’86, measured by runs, hits and batting average. They both hit 18 homers. Buckner had an edge in RBI that season, 102 to 93. But, as I noted Wednesday, Hosmer has more post-season RBI than George Brett. Hosmer drove in as many runs in the first two games of this World Series as Buckner drove in during the whole 1986 14-game post-season, four.

Clear win for the Royals at first base.

I will concede this point to Matt and Jim: The Red Sox had stronger depth at first base. Stapleton closed out all three Red Sox wins in 1986.

If you like (or can’t yet forgive) Buckner, and don’t want to wade through this analysis, scroll to the end for a couple of fun anecdotes.

Second base

Marty Barrett sizzled in the 1986 post-season, winning the ALCS MVP and getting 13 World Series hits, tying a record he still shares. He would have been the World Series MVP if Buckner had fielded that grounder. So I’ll give the Red Sox an edge here.

But Ben Zobrist is a two-time All-Star whose career has already surpassed Barrett’s (10 years each, but Zobrist is still going strong). Zobrist in ’15 and Barrett in ’86 were comparable. This is close, but I value post-season play highly, so Barrett wins.

Shortstop

We’ll blame Twitter’s 140-character limit for Jim’s and Matt’s failure to mention Spike Owen, who started all seven games for the Red Sox in ’86. Alcides Escobar is an All-Star this year (Owen never was in 13 seasons). Escobar was the ALCS MVP and is well on his way to being the World Series MVP. (Obligatory acknowledgment here that the Series is far from over.)

Third base 

OK, Jim, I gotta give you Wade Boggs, a Hall of Famer who led the league in ’86 in batting, on-base percentage and walks, on top of getting 207 hits. (Since this is a blog that’s usually about the Yankees, I’ll add that he wasn’t a World Series champion until 1996.)

But this isn’t as big a win as Jim probably thinks. Mike Moustakas hit more homers and drove in more runs this year than Boggs in ’86 (admittedly, Boggs was a leadoff hitter). In the first two games of this Series, Moose is hitting .444 and slugging .944 with two RBI. Boggs hit .290 and slugged .371 in the ’86 Series with three RBI in seven games. Moose also is a better fielder.

I give Boggs the nod here for his career and the great season he had in ’86, and because I’d really have to be trolling Jim and Matt here to argue that Moose is better than a Hall of Famer in his prime. But I think I’d rather have Moose in my lineup in October. And I say that with fond memories of Boggs riding a horse in October.

Left field

The Red Sox have another Hall of Famer here, Jim Rice, an All-Star for the eighth and final time in ’86. He hit 20 homers, drove in 110 and hit .324. Those numbers are all better than Alex Gordon‘s numbers for this season (13, 48, .271, but he was injured and played only 110 games). Rice was 33 in 1986, at the end of his prime. Gordon is 31, just two years younger and still in the prime of a career that includes three All-Star appearances so far.

Argue for Rice if you want, Matt and Jim, but Gordon wins this. He’s a four-time Gold Glove winner. Rice never won one, and this Series is certainly showing how important defense is. As strong as Rice’s advantage in the regular season was, Gordon is better in October. Rice got a respectable nine hits in the ’86 Series, but no homers and no RBI, hitting just two slots behind Barrett, who was on base 18 times in the seven games. Gordo has three RBI already in this Series. And I’m pretty sure Jim (and all Mets fans) remember his homer:

Center field

Dave Henderson is remembered for his game-winning homer in the 1986 ALCS, and he continued his hot hitting with 10 World Series hits and two more homers. He was a good player, better in the post-season than the regular season, but he was never a great player. He made one All-Star team in his 14-year career.

Lorenzo Cain, born in 1986, made his first All-Star game this year and will probably win his first Gold Glove (Henderson never did). Cain has emerged the past couple years as a great player, especially in October. Like Henderson, he propelled his team to the World Series with a great play to win the ALCS.

Here’s an illustration of why Cain is better in ’15 than Henderson in ’86: Henderson was known for his power, not his speed. Cain is known for his speed, not his power. He stole 56 bases the past two years, more than the 50 Henderson stole in his career. But in the 1986 regular season, Henderson hit 15 homers. Cain had 16 this year.

Clear advantage for the Royals.

Right field 

I’ll give the Red Sox the advantage here, but it’s closer than Jim thinks.

Dwight Evans had a solid offensive year in ’86 (26 homers, 97 RBI), but he was nearing the end of his prime at age 34. Álex Ríos is past his prime, also 34, and his prime was not as good as Evans’ (but he’s made two All-Star games, as many as Evans had in ’86; Evans made his third two years later).

But Ríos is hitting .308 this post-season, with 13 hits and three RBI in 13 games. Evans got 14 hits and three RBI in 14 post-season games in 1986.

The right field comparison is not just Evans vs. Ríos. Evans played every inning in the 1986 Series. But rookie Paulo Orlando replaces Ríos in right field regularly in the late innings, playing in nine of the Royals’ 13 post-season games. He’s added three more hits and another RBI, along with excellent fielding and base running (he’s also used as a pinch runner). So the Royals have gotten more offensive production from their right fielders this post-season than the Red Sox did in 1986.

Evans was a seven-time Gold Glove winner, so I’m not going to suggest that any Royal ever was as strong defensively in right field. But the Royals have played well in right. And I bet Orlando covers more ground.

Evans gets a slight clear advantage here based on his full season and my respect for his career. But in October, the Red Sox didn’t outplay the Royals in right field.

Jarrod Dyson, the player Jim compared to Evans, had two at-bats as designated hitter after pinch-running Tuesday night. He has not played an inning in right field in this World Series. Update: I initially called this a “slight” advantage here, but “clear” later on when I summarized the match-ups. I changed that in this section. For more discussion of Jim’s and my debate about Evans and Ríos, see my follow-up post.

Designated hitter

Speaking of DH, Don Baylor was one of the best ever at that role. He should be on anyone’s top-10 list of best DH’s ever, and he’s certainly on mine. (I have fond memories of watching him play for the Yankees, including two grand slams, one against the Royals.) In his 19-year career, Baylor had well more than double the career figures of Royals DH Kendrys Morales in nine years by any important measure.

But we’re talking ’86 vs. ’15, not career vs. career. Both were excellent DH’s in those years, but Morales beat Baylor in batting average (.290 to .238), on-base percentage (.362 to .344), slugging (.485 to .439), RBI (106-94), hits (165-139), doubles (41-24) and even triples (2-1). Baylor beat Morales in homers (31-22), runs (93-81) and walks (62-58). Morales was clearly the better hitter in the two seasons, and that’s about all DH’s do.

Well, not quite. They also run the bases. Baylor stole 285 bases for his career and 52 in one season when he was young. In the ’86-’15 comparison, Baylor stole three bases and Morales stole none. But Baylor was caught stealing five times and Morales never attempted a steal. Dyson or Orlando will pinch-run for Morales if he gets on base in a situation where the Royals need speed to deliver a run. The ’86 Baylor was a bigger liability than Morales on the base paths.

As clutch as Baylor was, Morales’ hitting with two outs and men on base has been amazing this year:

Here’s where the ’15 Morales blows away the ’86 Baylor: in the post-season, and that’s what this whole post is about anyway. Morales has four homers and 10 RBI this October (none in the World Series yet, and he’s just 1-for-7). Baylor had 1 homer and three RBI in the ’86 post-season.

I respect and like Baylor too much to call this a huge advantage for the Royals, but it’s a clear advantage.

Starting pitchers

I’ll introduce the World Series rotations, then I’ll compare:

  • Roger Clemens, 23 that season, was younger than any of the Royal starters this year. And better. He was the MVP with the best season of his career and one of the best ever by any pitcher. The big numbers: 24-4, 2.48 (both leading the league), 238 strikeouts. The Royals have never had a pitching season that good, even Bret Saberhagen‘s Cy Young seasons. I don’t think any current Royal pitcher will ever match Clemens’ ’86 season. And, of course, he had one of the best pitching careers in history (not going to detour into the performance-enhancing drugs here). More on Clemens later.
  • Bruce Hurst, 28, was a good pitcher for the season (13-8, 2.99, 167) and for his career (145-113, 3.92, 1,689). He was an All-Star in 1987 and finished fifth in the 1988 Cy Young voting. And he was on a roll in the ’86 post-season, going 3-0 in five starts, including 2-0 in three starts against the Mets, Games One, Five and Seven. If he hadn’t blown a 3-0 lead in Game Seven, he could have beaten out Barrett as the Series MVP. (More on Game Seven later, too.)
  • Oil Can Boyd (given name Dennis) had perhaps his best season in ’86 (16-10, 3.78, 129). But he had a mediocre 10-year career (78-77, 4.04, 799). He started Game Three and gave up six of the runs in a 7-1 loss. In the tweet early in this post, Matt remembered Oil Can fondly, and I do, too. But Matt will not recall that tweet fondly after reading this post. (Don’t delete it, Matt; I already screen-grabbed.)
  • Al Nipper, 27, Boston’s Game Four starter in ’86, didn’t have either as good a nickname or as good a career as Oil Can. He was 10-12, posting a losing record for a team that finished 29 games over .500. I checked to see if some sort of injury forced the Red Sox to pitch him in the World Series, but he got 26 starts during the season, one more than Hurst. He was the No. 4 starter. He just sucked, with a 5.38 ERA. He had a seven-year career, with a 46-50 record and a 4.52 ERA.

OK, let’s look at the Royals’ starting rotation. Of course, career numbers are all works in progress.

  • Edinson Vólquez, 32, the Royals’ Game One starter, was 13-9 this year, with a 3.55 ERA and 155 strikeouts. In an 11-year career, he’s been an All-Star once and is 79-68, 4.29, 1,090. He left Game One after six strong innings, tied 3-3. I addressed the ethics of media reports announcing the death of Vólquez’s father in a post on my journalism blog, The Buttry Diary.
  • Johnny Cueto, born in 1986, was an All-Star and 20-game winner last year, finishing second to Clayton Kershaw in the Cy Young vote. He won 19 games and finished fourth in 2012 (losing to R.A. Dickey, who amazingly isn’t part of the Mets’ powerful rotation three years later). Cueto was 11-13 this year (4-7 after the Royals got him from the Reds in a trade). As in the regular season, Cueto has been inconsistent in October. In Game Two against the Astros, Cueto settled down after a rocky start and left the game tied 4-4 after six innings. A run in the seventh inning delivered the win for the Royals. Cueto retired his final 19 batters in eliminating the Astros from the Division Series, 7-2. Then he gave up eight runs without getting an out in the third inning against the Blue Jays in Game Four of the ALCS. Then he pitched a two-hitter Wednesday night, the first World Series complete game by an American Leaguer since Jack Morris in 1991.
  • Yordano Ventura, 24, scheduled to start Game Three tonight, has 27 wins in his first two seasons as a Royal, going 13-8, 4.08 and 156 this year. He gave up only three hits in seven shutout innings last year as a rookie in Game Six to tie the World Series. He hasn’t won yet this post-season. He lost Game One to the Astros in the Division Series and would have lost Game Four, but a late-inning comeback bailed him out. He gave up six runs in two starts against the Blue Jays, but got no decisions. The Royals won both games.
  • Chris Young, 36, who won Game One Tuesday after taking over in the 12th inning, is still scheduled to start Game Four Saturday in New York. He had one of his best seasons this year. Young has battled various injuries in 11 seasons for five teams, including the Mets (for whom he was only 5-9 in two seasons). He’s been good when he could pitch, 76-58 for his career. He was an All-Star for the Padres in 2007, but this year was only his fourth season with double-digit wins. He was 11-6, 3.08, with 83 strikeouts in 18 starts and 16 relief appearance this year, his first season as a Royal and his only year with much bullpen work. He pitched well against the Astros in relief and in a start against the Blue Jays, with no decisions or saves.

Barring developments such as extra innings and injuries, I’d expect Vólquez, Cueto and Ventura to pitch Games 5-7 if needed. (Vólquez is expected to be return from his father’s funeral in time for Game Five.)

So here’s how the pitching rotations compare:

  • No one on the Royals matches or even approaches Clemens, either for career or for the regular season leading up to the World Series.
  • No one on the Royals was as bad a pitcher for the season or career as Nipper. I’m usually dismissive of WAR as a valuable stat, but I’ll use it here: Nipper’s ’86 WAR was -0.9 in ’86. The Red Sox’ Game Four starter wasn’t even a replacement-level pitcher (that’s the R in replacement). Young’s WAR this year was 2.5.
  • No Red Sox pitcher other than Clemens had Cueto’s potential to dominate a game. You can’t count on that domination, but he’s already delivered magnificently once in this Series, plus a deciding game earlier in the post-season.
  • Hurst’s and Boyd’s ’86 seasons were pretty similar to Vólquez’s and Ventura’s ’15 performances.
  • It’s too early to say whether a Royal will match Hurst’s two-win performance. But Young and Cueto certainly could.
  • The Red Sox had no one comparable to Young, either in mixing starting and relief during the regular season or in starting after a relief appearance in the World Series. He’s a far better pitcher than Nipper, and I’d take him over Boyd.
  • Speaking of Boyd: The Mets torched him for four runs in Game Three of the ’86 World Series, starting their comeback. McNamara stuck with him and he pitched five scoreless innings before giving up two more runs. The Mets won 7-1 and dominated the Series from there. Boyd is the reason that Jim has confidence in this year’s Mets, but I can’t fathom why Matt would cite him positively in a comparison with this year’s Royals. Usually your Game Three starter pitches in Game Seven. But a rain delay between Games Six and Seven allowed McNamara to pitch Hurst, his hot starter, on three days’ rest in Game Seven. Matt, you don’t win an argument by citing a guy your manager didn’t trust to pitch Game Seven. Whatever happens to Ventura Friday, Yost will have confidence in him for Game Seven. Boyd was 26 in 1986. And he never pitched as well again. Few things are as unpredictable in sports as the futures of young pitchers. By the time “Bull Durham” was released just two years later, it was already laughable for Nuke LaLoosh to call Oil Can one of the “great ones.”
  • Matt’s proud memory of Hurst also overlooks or forgets Game Seven. As heart-breaking as Game Six was for Red Sox fans, Boston staked Hurst to a 3-0 lead in the second inning. They were back in control of the Series. Hurst had a lead and an opportunity to become the 13th pitcher to win three games in a single World Series. After five shutout innings, the Mets tied the game against Hurst. That’s not an embarrassment or a bad game. He left the game in the same circumstance as Vólquez did Tuesday. One guy’s teammates won the game after he left, the other guy’s teammates lost it.
  • Finally, while recognizing Clemens’ greatness (the flaws, we think came later), he wasn’t as special in October. He was 12-8 for his career in the post-season: a good record, but not dominant. He did leave Game Six in ’86 as the apparent winner, leading 3-2 after seven innings. Playing in the National League park, McNamara pinch-hit for Clemens in the top of the eighth inning.
  • Clemens wins almost any comparison to the current Royals, but not this one: Cueto pitched a complete-game two-hitter in the World Series, just a shade better than a couple of Clemens gems for the Yankees. But better.

Summing up the matchup of starting pitchers, Clemens is a clear winner at the top of the rotation and Young is the clear winner in the four slot. At the second and third spots, both Royals are at least as good as Hurst and better than Boyd. I think starting pitching is probably a push, but I’ll be generous and give the Red Sox a microscopic edge based on Clemens.

One interesting fact about the 1986 Red Sox pitching staff: I haven’t mentioned Boston’s only starter that year who’s in the Hall of Fame: the Mets’ all-time best pitcher, Tom Seaver. Like many great players, Seaver tried to wring every last drop from his career. He started the season 2-6 for the White Sox, then was traded June 29 to the Red Sox for Steve Lyons. (More on Lyons later.)

He finished the season and his career 5-7 for the Red Sox, but an injury kept him from pitching in the post-season.

Bullpen

I was at Carl Yastrzemski‘s Hall of Fame induction ceremony (will have to blog about that someday) in 1989, three years after the ’86 World Series. The lawn outside the museum in Cooperstown, N.Y., a short drive from New England, was packed with Red Sox fans. Yaz gave a gracious speech, thanking his many coaches, managers and teammates he had played with. When he mentioned Bob Stanley‘s name, boos rippled through the crowd. Stanley’s wild pitch allowed Kevin Mitchell to score the tying run in Game Six in ’86 and moved Ray Knight into scoring position for the Buckner error.

Stanley had a respectable 13-year career for Boston, saving 132 regular-season games and Game Two in ’86. He deserved better from the Cooperstown crowd.

Calvin Schiraldi (who was a Met the previous year) had a worse World Series out of the bullpen for the Red Sox in ’86, getting the losses in the final two games (Yaz, who retired in 1983, didn’t drop Schiraldi’s name at Cooperstown). He gave up the tying run in the eighth to squander Clemens’ lead. For some reason, McNamara left him in not only to start the 10th inning with a 5-3 lead, but didn’t bring in Stanley until Schiraldi had given up a run and put the tying and winning runs on base on consecutive one-out singles.

Wade Davis and Kelvin Herrera the past two years have been better than Schiraldi and Stanley ever were. And the Royals have better bullpen depth, too. This may be the best bullpen ever (and I’m literally writing those words wearing my Mariano Rivera jersey). Davis had a 1.00 ERA last year for the whole season, then improved it this year to 0.94. His career post-season ERA in 29 innings and 21 games is even better, 0.92. And his career World Series ERA in six innings over five games is 0.00. Herrera’s post-season ERA in 25 innings over 20 games is 1.44.

And the Royals have great bullpen depth, too, even after the injury to last year’s closer, Greg Holland, moved Davis from his eighth-inning role to closer.

The bullpen mismatch between the ’86 Red Sox and ’15 Royals was colossal, not just in the gap in quality, but in the importance to the Series (even though this Series is just two games old and one of them was a complete game).

Bench

I didn’t examine the game box scores in any detail, but on a quick glance at the ’86 Series summary, I don’t see any bench use by McNamara, except using Stapleton and pinch hitting for Owen and pitchers in the National League park (Mike Greenwell was 0-for-3 in four plate appearances, Stapleton and Tony Armas both 0-for-1).  Ed Romero, Owen’s backup, played in three games, going 0-for-1. So the only positive contribution from the Red Sox bench in ’86 was from Stapleton. And he was on the bench when it counted most. Armas was on the decline and Greenwell hadn’t played enough yet to qualify ’86 as his rookie season.

The Royals’ bench, on the other hand, is always in play. Orlando singled and moved to third in the 12th inning. Even though he was stranded, delaying the victory a couple of innings, Orlando had more offensive impact in that one game than the Red Sox’ bench in the whole ’86 series. Orlando scored two runs against Toronto and hit six triples and seven homers as a role player this season.

Dyson pinch-ran for Morales in Game One, but was stranded. He stayed in the game as DH and lined out to deep right-center in the 11th and flew out again in the 12th. He’s a dangerous pinch-runner: He averaged more than 30 steals the past four seasons without ever playing more than 120 games.

Orlando and Dyson surpass anyone the Red Sox had on their bench in ’86. I expect both to contribute to victories.

Manager

I think Royal Manager Ned Yost bunts too much and should have challenged the bad call at first base Wednesday night. (Replays showed Hosmer’s foot returning to first base before the runner arrived, and that play allowed the only Met run to score.) I’m not sure about Yost’s heavy use of defensive shifts. They clearly hurt Tuesday, but helped Wednesday.

But somehow Yost is a hell of a manager. He handles the pitching staff, the lineup and substitutions artfully. And his teams execute masterfully.

Yost is not remembered fondly in Milwaukee, where he had a losing record in six seasons. And he still doesn’t have a winning regular-season record for the Royals (468-469 in six seasons). But the last two seasons, especially in October, Yost has made the right moves. Or he makes the wrong moves work.

Just one example of Yost’s effective use of his pitching staff: Cueto is 5-1 at Kaufman Stadium, including the stellar post-season wins, since joining the Royals. So Yost pitched him in Game Two, meaning he won’t pitch on the road this Series. The first part of that worked spectacularly, and I like his chances at home in Game Six.

And Yost is just magical in his management of the bullpen.

My memories of details of McNamara’s managing in ’86 are less clear. McNamara was manager of the year, but I think Yost will probably win the award this year, so I don’t see an advantage there. Yost has led his team to two World Series in 12 years managing, and 1986 was the only time for McNamara. Like Yost, McNamara had a losing record as a manager (1,160-1,233).

The rain delay helped McNamara avoid using Oil Can a second time, but I don’t think he managed his pitching staff as well, especially the bullpen. And I’m pretty sure Royals fans won’t be cursing any Yost moves 29 years later, the way Red Sox fans respond if you ask why he didn’t send Stapleton in to close out Game Six at first base.

Position-by-position summary

Here’s the breakdown:

  • Absolute ass-kicking: Royals in the bullpen and shortstop
  • Clear advantage: Royals at catcher, first base, center field, DH, bench and manager; Red Sox at second base, third base, right field.
  • Slim advantage: Royals in left field; Red Sox at starting rotation

That’s nine advantages for the Royals, four for the Red Sox. And the Royals’ advantages are bigger.

Other measures

If you can remember a few hours ago when you started reading this, I admitted that position-by-position was not necessarily the best way to measure teams against each other. It’s not like basketball, with the shortstop pitching to the shortstop or anything like that. So here are some other ways to measure these teams (somewhat shorter, I promise):

Batting order

Both managers used set lineups, but the switching between league rules resulted in some changes so let’s compare AL lineups, then look at the pitchers:

  1. Boggs vs. Escobar. Esky led off the Series with an inside-the-park homer and has a triple, single three runs and three RBI in the first two games. He’s already matched Boggs’ run and RBI totals for the ’86 Series and, if the Series goes long enough, Escobar looks likely to beat Boggs’ nine hits (which included three doubles). Based on actual hitting in the Series, Escobar’s almost certain to win this on hitting and he’s much more dangerous once he gets on base. But Boggs, one of the most disciplined hitters in baseball history and certainly one of the top five leadoff hitters, did walk four times in the Series. Escobar walked 26 times all year, just once in the post-season. I think Escobar will end up with a better Series than Boggs. But for now, the Hall of Famer barely gets the edge here.
  2. The second basemen both batted second, so Barrett beats Zobrist again.
  3. Buckner hit .188 in the ’86 Series. Clear advantage for Cain.
  4. Hosmer has four RBI already, including a game-winner. Rice didn’t drive in a run in the ’86 Series. Clear advantage for the Royals. Actually a huge advantage in the Series, but I knocked it down a notch out of respect for the better regular season and Hall of Fame career.
  5. DH vs. DH. Morales already beat Baylor slightly.
  6. I love Moose, and he might end up having a better Series. But Evans hit .308 with two homers and nine RBI in the ’86 Series. And he had a better regular season. Clear advantage for Boston.
  7. Gordon matched Gedman’s ’86 World Series totals for runs, homers and run production (1) in the ninth inning of Game One. Royals in a landslide.
  8. Henderson had a good ’86 World Series, but Pérez had a better regular season and is off to a good World Series start. Slight advantage for the Royals.
  9. Spike Owen (and pinch-hitters) vs. Ríos. Clear advantage for the Royals.
  10. Pitchers and pinch-hitters. As noted, the Red Sox pinch hitters went hitless (including one New York at-bat by Baylor, whom I didn’t mention in the bench analysis). The Red Sox pitchers also were hitless. The Royals can’t do worse, and they have good pinch hitters. And you can count on seeing Morales more than once in three New York games. (That Baylor pinch-hit just once in four New York games adds to the Yost advantage over McNamara.) Clear advantage for the Royals.

The lineup breakdown:

  • Royals: Huge advantage at 7. Clear advantages at 3, 4, 9 and pitcher. Slight advantage at 8
  • Red Sox: Clear advantage at 2. Slight advantages at 1 and 5.

Again, the Royals had more and bigger advantages. They hold their own at the top of the order and dominate 6-9.

Season record

The Royals ran away with their division, winning by 12 games with a 95-67 record. The Red Sox must have had a rainout they didn’t make up. They were 95-66, 5 1/2 games ahead of the Yankees. Dead even here.

Base running

This Royals’ advantage is almost as big as the bullpen blowout. Cain’s dash home from first on a single won the ALCS clincher over Toronto. Escobar’s inside-the-park homer started off the Royals’ World Series.

Fun speed fact No. 1: Both teams were caught stealing 34 times in the regular seasons we’re examining. The Royals stole 104 bases and the Red Sox just 41. Was Boston the worst base-stealing team ever to make a World Series?

Fun speed fact No. 2: The Royals legged out 42 triples in the regular season, twice as many as the Red Sox.

Fun speed fact No. 3: The Red Sox didn’t attempt a stolen base in the entire 1986 World Series (McNamara gets a little credit there for not sending them). The Royals have stolen four bases this post-season and been caught twice.

Team batting and pitching stats

The Red Sox scored 794 runs, hit 144 homers, batted .271, slugged .415, with a .346 on-base percentage. Those numbers were all better than the Royals (724, 139, .269, .412 .322).

Both teams’ pitchers actually gave up more homers (169 for Boston, 155 for KC) than their hitters slugged. Boston pitchers gave up 696 runs. Their team ERA was 3.93 and they struck out 1,033 batters. The Royals were better across the board: 641 runs, 3.73 ERA, 1,160 K’s.

Clearly the home ballparks account for the differences in both sets of stats.

Defense

The Buckner play aside, I don’t recall the Red Sox being bad at defense. But they had no Gold Glove winners in 1986. Two players on their team did combine for 10 career Gold Gloves:

  • Evans won eight Gold Gloves, but he won his last one in ’85.
  • I had forgotten that Wade Boggs won two Gold Gloves late in his career with the Yankees. That surprised me. He was a good fielder, staying at third base his whole career. His 107 games at DH were scattered over 12 seasons. But he wasn’t a great fielder.

And that’s all the Gold Gloves that the members of the 1986 Red Sox will ever win. The Royals, of course, are still playing, most of them quite young. And they already have three Gold Glove winners and eight total fielding trophies. If only two of the six contenders win this year, they will already match the career Gold Glove total of the ’86 Red Sox.:

  • Gordon, 31, has four Gold Gloves. If he doesn’t win his fifth this year, it will because of his time on the disabled list, not because his defense is declining.
  • Pérez, 25, already has two Gold Gloves and is a lock to win his third this year.
  • Hosmer, 26, has two and appears sure to get his third, too.
  • Escobar, 28, is a Gold Glove contender.
  • Cain, 29, got the attention and reputation that help win Gold Gloves with his sensational defense in the 2015 post-season.
  • Moutakas, 27, has been outstanding defensively in the post-season and also a contender for his first Gold Glove.

At six positions, the Royals have Gold Glove winners or contenders who could break through this year and win for several years to come. I don’t think all six would win. But I expect four and wouldn’t be surprised by more.

Right field and second base are strong, too, even though those players won’t contend for Gold Gloves. I wonder where the Royals stack up among the best defensive teams ever. I won’t do the research on that, but defense is another blowout for the ’15 Royals.

Context of their times

The Red Sox made the World Series in 1986 for the first time in 11 years. And they wouldn’t play in another for 18 more years. The Red Sox finished fifth in a seven-team division the years before and after their World Series run. As teams on a roll go, the Red Sox were no better than the 10th-best championship team of the 1980s. They reached one World Series that decade and lost it. These teams of the ’80s played in more World Series than the Red Sox and won at least one (counting appearances in the late ’70s or early ’90s if a team made a World Series in the ’80s):

  1. The Twins won World Series in ’87 and ’91.
  2. The Dodgers won World Series in ’81 and ’88.
  3. The A’s won the ’89 World Series and lost in ’88 and ’90.
  4. The Cardinals won the ’82 World Series and lost in ’85 and ’87.
  5. The Royals won the ’85 World Series and lost in ’80.
  6. The Phillies won in ’82 and lost in ’83.
  7. The Orioles won in ’83 and lost in ’79.

Two teams won their only World Series appearances of the ’80s:

  1. The Mets, of course, in ’86.
  2. The Tigers in ’84.

As  you might expect of a Yankee fan, I value championships highly. But I could entertain an argument that a Red Sox team that lost in seven games was more formidable than a one-time World Series winner if the loser had several other division titles and near misses.

But the Red Sox don’t prevail over either of these teams on that basis either. They won their division in ’88, too, and, since I counted 1990 for the A’s and ’91 for the Twins, let’s give the Red Sox ’90, too. But they were swept both years.

The Mets returned to the playoffs in 1988 as well, losing a seven-game series to the Dodgers. The Mets won 11 post-season games in the ’80s (four over the Red Sox, of course).

The Red Sox also don’t stack up to the Tigers of the ’80s. The playoffs were only best-of-five in 1984, so the Tigers didn’t have a chance to win as many games in their division-title years as the Red Sox did in their three post-season appearances.

But the Tigers swept the Royals in three games in 1984, then blew out the Padres in five in the World Series. Detroit won only one game against the Twins in the 1987 ALCS. But their 1980s post-season record was 8-5. The Red Sox post-season record in the ’80s was 7-13.

The Red Sox did have a better decade, I think, than the other four teams that lost their only World Series appearances of the ’80s: ’81 Yankees, ’82 Brewers, ’84 Padres and ’89 Giants.

Of course, we can’t do a full-decade analysis of the Royals, and counting records of early rounds of playoffs would be fair against other teams of this decade, but not against the ’86 Red Sox.

The Royals are not (yet) the best team of this decade. They certainly have not passed the Giants (three-time winners and likely the team of the decade) and Cardinals, who won a World Series and lost one. But Kansas City is closing fast on St. Louis: The Cardinals have been in 58 post-season games this decade and won 30, but the Royals have a much higher winning percentage, with a 20-8 record.

If the Royals win this World Series, they clearly move ahead of the Red Sox, who won in 2013 but haven’t played in another Series this decade, and the Rangers, who lost two World Series.

With a World Series win, the Royals are the third-best team of this unfolding decade and gaining on the Cardinals. With a loss, they’d be no worse than fourth.

Here are ways the Royals of this decade have already blown past the Red Sox of the ’80s (leaving out the extra early rounds of playoffs), with four years of the decade remaining:

  1. They’ve made it to a second World Series.
  2. They have a 13-6 record in World Series and LCS play, both more wins than Boston in the ’80s and a far better winning percentage.
  3. They didn’t blow a World Series that they were in position to win. When they lost, they fought back to win Game Six and fell just 90 feet short of tying Game Seven.

In the context of their times, the Royals are already ahead, with plenty of time to pull away this week and beyond.

Organizational strength

Both franchises built their World Series teams similarly, developing a core of homegrown talent from their farm systems, adding key free agents and making shrewd trades in the off-season and during their championship runs (Henderson, Zobrist and Cueto all joined their teams mid-season in their World Series years).

Admission to my sons: I was wrong about Zobrist. I minimized this trade as not being that big a deal at the time, when General Manager Dayton Moore traded for Zobrist in July. He’s been valuable down the stretch and in the post-season. Moore’s personnel moves created the wonderfully balanced team I’ve described at such length here.

But here’s the biggest organizational difference: The only two Latino players who played for the Red Sox in the ’86 World Series, Romero and Armas, came up with other teams. I don’t know why the Red Sox weren’t developing major league talent from Latin America in the ’80s (if you do, please fill me in). Even the Latino superstars of recent Boston history, Pedro Martinez and David Ortiz, started with other teams.

Key players on this Royals team came through scouting, signing and developing players from the Caribbean and South America: Pérez from Venezuela, Ventura and Herrera from the Dominican Republic and Orlando from Brazil. I’d be surprised if the Royals’ diversity wasn’t also attractive to the Latino free agents they’ve signed: Vólquez from the Dominican Republic, Morales from Cuba, Ríos from Cuba, Omar Infante (who hit a big homer in last year’s World Series) and reliever Franklin Morales from Venezuela. Escobar, also from Venezuela, came to Kansas City from Milwaukee in a 2010 trade for Cy Young winner Zach Greinke.

That diversity from so many sources might be a factor as well (along with money) in whether the Royals can sign Cueto, a Domincan free agent.

Home-field advantage

Both the ’85 Royals and ’86 Mets fell behind 2-0 at home. They faced the tough task of going on the road and winning two games just to stay alive. But they also got to close out the Series at home. The ’15 Mets have  more remaining games at home than those teams, which is an advantage of sorts. But I’m not sure that it’s a bigger advantage than being up 2-0 and knowing that if you stumble on the road, you’re coming home with a chance to close.

Hall of Famers

Well, the Red Sox win this one. Boggs and Rice are already in Cooperstown. If voters ever forgive players suspected of using performance-enhancing drugs, Clemens will join them. Evans might be attractive to a Veterans Committee someday.

The Royals, of course, won’t have anyone eligible for the Hall of Fame for years, so we can only speculate. Gordon at 31 and Cueto at 29 have strong starts to their careers, nine and eight years in. I think Cueto has a better shot than Gordon, but both have to have more good years ahead of them than they’ve already played. Neither is halfway to Cooperstown, and I doubt either will make it.

Cain blossomed too late to have a shot at the Hall of Fame.

At first glance, you might think that Davis, 30, moved from promising starter to dominant reliever too late in his career to make it to Cooperstown. Dennis Eckersley was a better starter than Davis and for longer. But Eck’s in the Hall of Fame for his relief work. And Davis is two years younger than Eck was when he moved to the bullpen.

Pérez, Escobar, Hosmer, Moustakas and Herrera are all 28 or younger, with strong and promising starts to their careers. It’s too early to predict how their careers will unfold. I’d guess Pérez and Hosmer have the best shots at Cooperstown.

I’m confident one of these Royals will make it. I predict that two will, and more wouldn’t surprise me.

I remember in 1998, when the Yankees won 114 games and spurred best-ever talk, sport broadcasters and writers marveled that they were doing it without any certain Hall of Famers in their prime. Less than 20 years later, everyone knows what I was saying then: Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera were certain Hall of Famers beginning their primes. We could look back on some of these Royals the same way.

All we can say about Hall of Famers on these Royals is that they are two behind the ’86 Red Sox, with potential to close that gap.

What have I missed?

Every way I can think to measure this, except people already in the Hall of Fame, the 2015 Royals are equal or superior to the 1986 Red Sox. Tell me, Jim and Matt (or any other Mets or Red Sox fans), where am I wrong? Can you make a better case for the Red Sox than those late-night tweets?

Steve Fehr: How can you compare?

I told Steve Fehr, a Royal fan and former colleague who prompted my post about Don Denkinger’s bad call, that I was working on this post. He had seen my Twitter exchange with Jim and emailed me about how incomparable the ’15 Royals are:

The Royals are so different from any team we’ve seen recently that comparisons are silly in the first place. Who do you compare them to? I can’t think of a team quite like this, even the 1976-85 Royals who were similar in tailoring their game to their stadium.  If we win this, there will be a lot of articles to that effect: the most unusual (and lovable) champion of recent times (who on Mets is as lovable as Sal Perez, America’s Catcher?).

’86 Red Sox footnotes

If you’re a Red Sox fan (or even a Met fan) who has endured to the end of this post, I must reward you with a few fun nuggets, a couple on the man you remember most from the ’86 Series and one from a guy who left Boston during the ’86 season (in the Seaver trade, as you may recall from many words ago).

Bill Buckner 1

We are the socksMy brother Dan was a pastor in Boston in 1986. He planned his sermon and Scripture earlier in the week and settled in Saturday evening to watch Game Six. Dan vividly recalls the next morning:

The entire congregation was the most depressed congregation I’ve ever seen (and remember, Game Seven was to be played later that day, but everyone knew it was over) — everything was flat.

Dan sat and listened as the worship leader and congregation read responsively from Psalm 19. No one noticed this passage but Dan:

Who can understand his errors? cleanse thou me from secret faults.

Sometimes pastor has to lead a congregation in healing. Dan continues:

I got up immediately after and said with great intensity and passion, ‘The Word of God has spoken to my heart today: “O Lord, who can understand his errors!”‘  Everyone laughed a cathartic laugh, and after that we could have church!

I don’t think the healing started by that laughter was finished until 2004, but this is (usually) a Yankee blog, so enough about that.

And since Dan helped out on this post, I should include a plug for his latest book, We Are the Socks. I asked Dan if he had a misspelling in the title, but it relates to an anecdote about footwear.

Buckner 2

The bad knees that hindered Buckner in the field in ’86 didn’t force him into retirement because he could still hit. He played part-time for the Royals in 1989 and ’89, mostly at DH but also at first. After a double in 1988, Manager John Wathan sent Jamie Quirk, a backup catcher who stole one base in six attempts that year, in to pinch-run for Buckner. The fiercely competitive Buckner threw up his hands in disbelief when he saw who was running for him and later told reporters it was “the most embarrassing moment of my career.”

The item, of course, made the Boston newspapers. I thought the headline I remembered was the Herald-American, but the only online mention I could find of the story says it was the Globe; if you have it, I’d love to add a visual and clarify the newspaper. Bonus points if you know the copy editor’s name. Home run if you were the copy editor. But this was the headline:

We Can Think Of Another

Steve Lyons

Lyons is kind of a goofball who spent a few years doing those annoying in-game interviews from the stands for Fox Sports. In the only such interview that I can recall enjoying, he interviewed Bucky Dent during one of those Yankees-Red Sox games of the late ’90s or early 2000s and asked something like: “I’m sure a lot of Red Sox fans don’t know your actual middle name. What is it?”

Bucky deadpanned: “Earl.”

Source note: 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 »





Kevin Youkilis joins a long line of Red Sox heroes who’ve become Yankees

12 02 2013

Youk!

Yes, if pitchers and catchers have reported, it won’t be long before we’ll see Kevin Youkilis in pinstripes and Yankee fans will be cheering (again) this year for an old Red Sox fan favorite. Youk signed a one-year deal to play for the Yankees, probably playing third base while Alex Rodriguez rehabs from surgery (and longer, if the Yankees can unload A-Rod or get out of his contract).

It will be difficult for Red Sox fans to see Youkilis in pinstripes, and no doubt the cheers at Fenway will really be “Booo!” and not “Youk!” now. But Red Sox fans have become used to seeing old favorites playing for the Yankees (and vice versa).

In baseball’s most storied rivalry, lots of players, including some all-time greats, have gone over to the Dark Side, whichever side you consider to be dark. You probably could find similar connections between any pair of longtime teams, but the players who have played on both sides of this rivalry stand out somehow.

You could put together a pretty good team of players who’ve worked both sides of the rivalry, so I have. Read the rest of this entry »





Graig Nettles surpassed most Hall of Fame third basemen

10 11 2009

Compare Graig Nettles to the other third basemen in the Hall of Fame and you quickly see that he belongs with them.

Nettles led all third basemen but one in games played at third, assists and double plays. The one guy ahead of him? Brooks Robinson. Nettles couldn’t start winning Gold Gloves until Robinson retired (even though he passed him up defensively a few years earlier), so he only won two Gold Gloves. But if you’re on a short list at third base with Brooks Robinson, you certainly deserve consideration. Read the rest of this entry »








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