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Friday, November 30, 2012

HHS: Autin: The most consistently *good* player ever? (Part 1)

As opposed to being merely Goodenough. I guess.

There’s a player who’s not in the Hall of Fame, even though his career Wins Above Replacement (WAR) is: six more than the average HOF position player; more than 13 of the 18 HOF second basemen; and more than any other eligible HOF reject besides PED suspects.

The reason usually given for his exclusion is that he had no great years and few truly outstanding ones. I’m not here to dispute that point, and this article is not an argument for putting him in the Hall.

Instead, I’m exploring whether Lou Whitaker was the most consistently “good” position player in MLB history.

...Number of “good” seasons

Has anyone produced more “good-but-not-great” seasons than Whitaker? In his 19-year career, Whitaker had:

  Twelve seasons with 3.0 to 5.0 WAR — the most such years in MLB history. (Three others had 11, and two had 10.)
  Fifteen seasons with 3.0 to 7.0 WAR — again, the most such years in MLB history. (Two others had 14, and two had 13.)

Why those WAR ranges? The floor of 3.0 WAR is a generally accepted standard for a good season by a regular. (See chart.) In a given year, between one-quarter and one-third of those playing 100+ games will register at least 3.0 WAR; it was 29% last year, 28% since 2000, 27% during Whitaker’s career.

Repoz Posted: November 30, 2012 at 06:36 AM | 24 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: history, sabermetrics

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   1. Fernigal McGunnigle has become a merry hat Posted: November 30, 2012 at 10:31 AM (#4313203)
He's tweaking this to make Whitaker look better than he is -- Whitaker is mentioned alongside a lot of players who are a lot better than him. But he does get at something fundamental about Whitaker, which is that the Tigers got extremely consistent production from him for a long time, which isn't something that anyone should expect out of a second baseman. The Hall of Fame voters really embarrassed themselves with him.

2001 really was a bad HoF year for Tigers players from the 1980s. Whitaker, Kirk Gibson, and Lance Parrish were all one and done. Parrish isn't a Hall of Fame caliber player, but he probably should have gotten more consideration that he did. Just at a glance, I'd say he's roughly similar to Posada, and Posada is going to have a real shot at making the Hall. He probably won't, but if he's one and done it'll only be because of the upcoming candidate crunch. He'll get a lot more discussion that Parrish did.
   2. OCF Posted: November 30, 2012 at 11:17 AM (#4313245)
The Hall of Merit take: we elected Whitaker, fairly easily. And in a ranking ballot, we placed him 15th among the 21 second basemen that we had elected, slightly ahead of Joe Gordon and Bobby Doerr.
   3. Drew (Primakov, Gungho Iguanas) Posted: November 30, 2012 at 11:36 AM (#4313279)
He's tweaking this to make Whitaker look better than he is


True. Though as a HoF case, he's Robby Alomar offensively. Was Whitaker so much worse defensively that he shouldn't be in?

   4. SoSH U at work Posted: November 30, 2012 at 11:55 AM (#4313307)
True. Though as a HoF case, he's Robby Alomar offensively. Was Whitaker so much worse defensively that he shouldn't be in?


No, he was better than Robby defensively. He wasn't as good as Robby offensively at his peak, but he had no decline phase (well, whatever decline he had was masked by judicious deployment), compared to Robby's cliff dive. He's a deserving Hall of Famer, much like his equally shoddily treated second sack contemporary from a few years earlier, Bobby Grich.

   5. OCF Posted: November 30, 2012 at 12:54 PM (#4313382)
He's a deserving Hall of Famer, much like his equally shoddily treated second sack contemporary from a few years earlier, Bobby Grich.

The Hall of Merit ranks Grich higher. I said we had Whitaker 15th, just ahead of Gordon and Doerr. We had Grich 7th, just ahead of Carew and Sandberg.
   6. Suff Posted: November 30, 2012 at 01:03 PM (#4313392)
I don't see why people like Trammell better than Whitaker. I'd take Whitaker as a definite HOF player and Trammell as someone I think belongs but am not too worried about not being there. I guess the author gets at what I thought put Whitaker over Trammell, which is his consistency. Whitaker doesn't have anything like Trammell's 1987, but other than that, Trammell struggled to stay healthy and wasn't nearly as good a young player as Whitaker was.

Of course, the worst is that Jack Morris gets the most consideration of the group. I have them ranked roughly like this:

1. Whitaker
2. Trammell

-end of HOF-

3. Darrell Evans

- end of boderline HOF -

4. Lance Parrish

- another gap -

5. Jack Morris
6-7. Kirk Gibson and Chet Lemon

That last three is sort of a group of indistinguishable Hall of Very Good types.
   7. Yeaarrgghhhh Posted: November 30, 2012 at 01:19 PM (#4313407)
I thought that other Tigers 2b was the most consistently good player in MLB history.
   8. BDC Posted: November 30, 2012 at 01:25 PM (#4313415)
Whitaker doesn't have anything like Trammell's 1987, but other than that, Trammell struggled to stay healthy and wasn't nearly as good a young player as Whitaker was

That's fair enough. Trammell got a little higher off the ground, Whitaker was aloft longer. Wait, I hate that metaphor, but if you're a peak voter and you like demonstrated, non-flukey superiority, I can see preferring Trammell. Trammell almost won the one MVP award (and should have won it, in retrospect), and got votes in six other seasons; Whitaker got votes in just one year (finishing eighth). Not that the MVP voters, obviously, had it all figured out, but that gives a sense of how Trammell really did seem like more of a HOFer.
   9. Danny Posted: November 30, 2012 at 01:48 PM (#4313444)
Lou Whitaker was the most consistently “good” position player in MLB history.

I'd have to go with Joe Tinker. He had 13 seasons of 100+ PA, and he finished between 3.1 and 4.5 rWAR 11 times.
   10. Suff Posted: November 30, 2012 at 01:57 PM (#4313454)
If you look at top 10 WAR finishes, Whitaker has 3 and Trammell has 6, so Trammell definitely has the higher peak, I will concede. I should have said I don't see why people EASILY rank Trammell higher, and that I place Whitaker higher than Trammell.

To expand on my earlier assertions about Trammell, even during his peak, Trammell dropped off the map in '85 and '89. He was a weak hitter outside of one year (1980) from 1978-1983 and from 1991 to his retirement (1993 excepted), and he didn't get over 401 AB in any season after age 32. Whitaker played less in his last couple of years, too, but played more than Trammell and his OPS+ was 122 and up after 1990.

So Whitaker was better from 1978-1983, Trammell was better from 1984-1990, and Whitaker was better from 1991-1995 (Trammell also played poorly part-time in '96).

They both deserve to be in the HOF, but it's weird that Trammell remains on the ballot with a decent backing and Whitaker was one and done. I would have rather had Whitaker.
   11. SOLockwood Posted: November 30, 2012 at 02:31 PM (#4313489)
The difference is that Trammell was a SS, Whitaker was a 2B.

When people think of (modern) HoF SS, Trammell ranks behind Yount & Ripken, but compared to glove-first guys like Aparaicio & Ozzie, it can be argued that Trammell's bat makes up for the difference in defense.

WRT to 2B, Whitaker is obviously behind Morgan, Sandberg, & Carew & probably behind Alomar.
   12. RMc is a fine piece of cheese Posted: November 30, 2012 at 03:03 PM (#4313516)
The knocks against Whitaker: (1) black; (2) played for Detroit; (3) no real peak; (4) no MVPs, or even close; (5) reputation as an airhead; (6) played alongside a guy who was largely considered the better of the two. "Well, gee, Lou, we just never thought of you as a Hall of Famer. Sorry."
   13. something like a train wreck Posted: November 30, 2012 at 08:11 PM (#4313817)
7 HOVG. Except for Evans all have a shared peak. Tanana and Petry pretty good also. 1 WS. The team really did under-achieve
   14. The District Attorney Posted: November 30, 2012 at 08:23 PM (#4313821)
The knocks against Whitaker: (1) black; (2) played for Detroit; (3) no real peak; (4) no MVPs, or even close; (5) reputation as an airhead; (6) played alongside a guy who was largely considered the better of the two. "Well, gee, Lou, we just never thought of you as a Hall of Famer. Sorry."
Also, Whitaker late in his career was a strict platoon player. That obviously benefits him in rate-stat comparisons with full-timers. And even when a righty started, there's a strategic disadvantage to a player who is extremely vulnerable to a lefty reliever.
   15. Howie Menckel Posted: November 30, 2012 at 09:39 PM (#4313847)

Yes, might as well factor in 'opportunity cost' of needing a caddy for Lou in his later years.

not quite related, but the pitcher with the most ERA-qualifying (1 IP per game played) seasons of at least 100 ERA+ in baseball history is..... of course, you all guessed immediately that it was.....

Don Sutton.

   16. smileyy Posted: November 30, 2012 at 10:28 PM (#4313860)
Because I was curious...two careers, two perceptions. This really highlights Whitaker's consistent goodness, as compared to another players peaks but also late-career mediocrity

Age WAR  Age WAR
34  6.6  25  7.8
26  6.5  24  7.3
25  5.2  35  6.4
32  5    32  5.4
35  4.5  27  4.9
28  4.4  23  4.8
22  4.3  26  4.4
29  4.3  30  4.1
27  4.1  31  3.7
36  3.8  33  3.7
24  3.6  28  3.5
33  3.6  29  3.4
21  3.5  22  3
30  3.5  34  2.7
31  3.4  38  2.1
37  2.4  36  1.6
23  1.6  37  0.9
38  1.3 
   17. Walt Davis Posted: December 01, 2012 at 02:17 PM (#4314078)
6-7. Kirk Gibson and Chet Lemon

Methinks thou dost under-rateth Chet Lemon.

As did we all.
   18. BDC Posted: December 01, 2012 at 03:13 PM (#4314095)
The knocks against Whitaker: (1) black

Can race conceivably be an issue with HOF voters? If Dale Murphy were in the HOF and Andre Dawson not, or Fred Lynn in and Jim Rice not, I'd start to worry. But I don't see it.
   19. cardsfanboy Posted: December 01, 2012 at 03:25 PM (#4314098)
If you look at top 10 WAR finishes, Whitaker has 3 and Trammell has 6, so Trammell definitely has the higher peak, I will concede. I should have said I don't see why people EASILY rank Trammell higher, and that I place Whitaker higher than Trammell.


Higher peak for Trammel, then the talk about how Whitaker was platooned at the tail end of his career making his numbers look better than his actual ability. I would probably rate Trammell higher but not enough that it would put one in and one out. \
   20. cardsfanboy Posted: December 01, 2012 at 03:27 PM (#4314100)
The knocks against Whitaker: (1) black

Can race conceivably be an issue with HOF voters? If Dale Murphy were in the HOF and Andre Dawson not, or Fred Lynn in and Jim Rice not, I'd start to worry. But I don't see it.


In some respects yes, race is an issue. A young black talent who "only" has Whitaker's career while playing second base is often times perceived to have actually failed to live up to his potential. Make him white and call him Eckstein with the exact same level of performance and it's all about how he makes the most out of his lack of ability.

I don't know if that is factoring in the voting at all, but I can see how it can be an issue, if the common perception of when he was playing was "he's good but he should be better."
   21. BDC Posted: December 01, 2012 at 04:44 PM (#4314128)
Maybe, fanboy. I lived in Michigan when Trammell & Whitaker came up, and the "Sweet Lou" nickname went along with a sense that Whitaker was cool, didn't get his uniform dirty, made things look easy. (Conversely, however, there wasn't really a sense that I recall that Trammell was a dirty-uniformer either; he was obviously gifted and didn't Eckstein his way along.)

But overall WRT to the Hall of Fame, there are just too many black/white pairings of similar players who have gotten pretty much the same breaks for me to think that this issue resounds among writers. Trammell & Whitaker, Grich & Randolph, Dwight Evans & Reggie Smith, Rusty Staub & Harold Baines. If there is at all a bias, it should show up in the white guys getting elected.
   22. GregD Posted: December 01, 2012 at 05:17 PM (#4314144)
I try to be as open to racism as anyone but I can't reconcile a racist HOF voter pool with the Dawson/Rice scenarios. When was the last truly undeserving white guy put in the HOF by the writers? Goose Gossage? Before that it's Bruce Sutter so that looks like a relief pitcher problem, one that could well get its biracial component if Lee Smith keeps gaining. What was the last undeserving white guy position player put in the writers?
   23. Pasta-diving Jeter (jmac66) Posted: December 01, 2012 at 06:18 PM (#4314168)
What was the last undeserving white guy position player put in the writers?

Ralph Kiner? Rabbit Maranville?
   24. SoSH U at work Posted: December 01, 2012 at 06:49 PM (#4314175)

A young black talent who "only" has Whitaker's career while playing second base is often times perceived to have actually failed to live up to his potential. Make him white and call him Eckstein with the exact same level of performance and it's all about how he makes the most out of his lack of ability.


Or, make him white and a few years older and he's Bobby Grich, who got the exact same treatment from Hall of Fame voters as Lou did. I think it's a second base thing.

I'm with Bob and Greg. It's hard to see how race has played a role in Hall of Fame voting. The most questionable BBWAA inclusions of the last 25 years, non-reliever division, have been minorities - Rice, Dawson, Puckett, Perez. The most egregrious underperformers have been largely white (Santo, Grich, Simmons, Whitaker, the two Evans).

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