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Sunday, April 01, 2012

BPP: Any player/Any era: Al Kaline

Why: With his foot speed and mix of contact and power hitting, Kaline would have excelled on the artificial turf at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh and a number of other ballparks in these days. Kaline never had the all-out power that came to define baseball in the 1990s, but then, neither did George Brett, Robin Yount, or most other Hall of Famers from their less offensive era. It’s why Mike Schmidt used to lead the National League with less than 40 home runs, one reason why Tony Perez and Jim Rice made Cooperstown with under 400 career home runs and Dwight Evans, Dale Murphy, and Dave Parker could follow suit eventually.

No one would begrudge Kaline hitting .330 with 20 home runs and 100 RBI on a team like the 1979 Pirates. In fact, these numbers and his defense would probably make him one of the best players in the National League. His presence might also make Pittsburgh better longer. For all the joy and warmth the “We Are Family” Pirates evoked beating the Baltimore Orioles in the ’79 World Series, their 1980 club was among baseball’s most historically dysfunctional teams, beset with cocaine abuse. Players like Rod Scurry, Bernie Carbo, and mercurial then-superstar Parker would later figure prominently in the infamous Pittsburgh drug trials of the mid-’80s.

Perhaps a steady, non-assuming person with no hint of scandal during his career, someone like Kaline could have a calming effect on that clubhouse, even if a leader as graceful and respected as Willie Stargell seemingly lost its hold. Who knows, maybe Stargell needed help and someone to assume his mantle with his career winding down. I’ll concede, of course, that Kaline could easily get swept up in the times when players rode the white horse as much as a later generation dabbled in performance enhancers. But I’d like to give Kaline the benefit of the doubt.

Didn’t Bill Madlock help Stargell distribute…uhh, leadership?

Repoz Posted: April 01, 2012 at 07:07 AM | 10 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: history, sabermetrics

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   1. Yellow Tango Posted: April 01, 2012 at 11:32 AM (#4094143)
As one who was young enough at the time, is Al Kaline the worst/best name in major league history? I always wanted him to be the scrappy firestarter that he never was, but still...
   2. Downtown Bookie Posted: April 01, 2012 at 01:22 PM (#4094203)
As one who was young enough at the time, is Al Kaline the worst/best name in major league history?


Perhaps it would have been more appropriate for that name to be attached to either a pitcher or a catcher.

DB
   3. bobm Posted: April 01, 2012 at 02:25 PM (#4094231)
[2] Perhaps it would have been more appropriate for that name to be attached to either a pitcher or a catcher.

Or Manny Ramirez, unfortunately:

http://mlb.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20120330&content_id=27759710&vkey=news_mlb&c_id=mlb
   4. Walt Davis Posted: April 01, 2012 at 04:04 PM (#4094278)
Leaving aside the "Kaline as anti-disco" storyline, one suspects the astroturf would have torn up his knees. The young Kaline is probably no more talented than the young Dawson and the turf certainly took its toll there.

It's frankly hard to imagine Kaline doing better in any era than the one he was in. And he was recognized for it making the AS team 13 straight times and winning 10 GG. Maintaining a high BA and adding a ton of walks during the pitchers' era was perfect. In 1968, he posted a 392 OBP (less than 400 PA but still).

Kaline's career numbers are 297/376/480 with a 134 OPS+. Looking at careers from 1980 on (not debuted 1980 or later, just played enough in the 80s to qualify), some comps:

Brett, 1980-1993: 302/376/494, 138
Guerrero, 1980-1992: 300/371/481, 138

and that's really about it -- you can pick up WClark and Palmeiro starting in 1986 and Clark's a prety good comp. Anyway, my point is that another few points of OPS+ isn't much.

I can see the argument that his speed might have been more valuable in the later period -- more steals, defense maybe more valuable -- so I won't rule it out. But leaving aside that almost all these greats would be great in any era, Kaline seems an excellent fit for the one he was in.
   5. Morty Causa Posted: April 01, 2012 at 06:29 PM (#4094345)
The thing about Al Kaline is that people thought he was going to be Ted Williams--or Stan Musial at least. When you do what he did at 20, the thinking is the player will improve to super great. That pretty much was Al's apex, and an excellent one it was, but it wasn't Ted or Stan or Mickey or Willie--heck, he didn't even reach the heights Yaz did, who is overall a good comp for Al. I guess it was just one of those things.
   6. baudib Posted: April 01, 2012 at 08:14 PM (#4094397)
The thing about Al Kaline is that people thought he was going to be Ted Williams--or Stan Musial at least. When you do what he did at 20, the thinking is the player will improve to super great. That pretty much was Al's apex, and an excellent one it was, but it wasn't Ted or Stan or Mickey or Willie--heck, he didn't even reach the heights Yaz did, who is overall a good comp for Al. I guess it was just one of those things.


Bill James noted that the raising of the strike zone absolutely destroyed good average, medium-to-good power hitters. Kaline didn't seem to suffer as much as some other players, but he was the best of that type. His best 2-year stretch for OPS+ was 66-67, the height of the deadball era. In a normal setting, with a .320 average and .430ish OBP, he might have been thought of differently.

   7. Brian Posted: April 01, 2012 at 09:10 PM (#4094429)
beset with cocaine abuse. Players like Rod Scurry, Bernie Carbo, and mercurial then-superstar Parker would later figure prominently in the infamous Pittsburgh drug trials of the mid-’80s.


Carbo? Really? I was wrong in remembering him never playing for the Pirates but I wonder how big a role he could've played while appearing in 7 games in September 1980 and only being part of the organization for 38 days?
   8. bobm Posted: April 01, 2012 at 09:25 PM (#4094434)
[7] I do not know how big Carbo's role with the Pirates was, but I do remember his name coming up in the Curtis Strong trial.


Boston Globe
"Cleaned-up hitter / Carbo helped win Game 6 and also defeated addiction"
April 1, 2010 ...

In 1985, in a federal drug distribution trial, former Cardinal Keith Hernandez said Carbo was the man who introduced him to cocaine in 1980. Carbo said he subsequently lost his house and his salon because of the bad publicity.


Source: http://www.boston.com/sports/baseball/redsox/articles/2010/04/01/cleaned_up_hitter/?page=full
   9. bjhanke Posted: April 02, 2012 at 06:02 AM (#4094552)
You know, thinking about it, Kaline does make a very good candidate for "anywhere, any time". He had all five of the scouts' tools, plus the Moneyball tool (he could take walks). What's more, none of those tools was the dominant one. There is no set of conditions that would emphasize his weakest tools and make little use of his best ones. He didn't really have a best tool. He was a very very balanced player, both on offense and on defense.

Snark of the day: If Bernie Carbo was who introduced Keith Hernandez to cocaine in 1980, who were the guys who introduced him to cocaine in 79, 78 77, 76...? - Brock Hanke
   10. Blubaldo Jimenez (OMJ) Posted: April 02, 2012 at 01:50 PM (#4094751)
Snark of the day: If Bernie Carbo was who introduced Keith Hernandez to cocaine in 1980, who were the guys who introduced him to cocaine in 79, 78 77, 76...? - Brock Hanke


He'd never seen it before, but he'd know it if he smelled it.

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