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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Margalus: Early returns put Frank Thomas on the Hall of Fame fence

Big Hurt’s chances and some Gizmo love.

However, if history is any indication, Thomas is going to have to hold that line, even though it’s considerably above 75 percent. It’s probably some form of selection bias, but the Repoz tally tends to overestimate vote counts for many players—perhaps because the voters who make their ballots public are the ones who put the most thought into it.

(Plus, the Chicago Tribune makes all their ballots public, and I’d be really surprised if Thomas didn’t get 100 percent there.)

...But there’s plenty else that’s compelling about Thomas when you consider the official Hall of Fame voting criteria:

  5. Voting: Voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.

The record and playing ability are covered, and “integrity, sportsmanship and character” could be clutch this year for Thomas, thanks to his longtime advocacy for stronger drug-testing programs.

But it’s the last clause that gets my wheels turning, because while Thomas; contributions to the individual teams are vast, his contribution to the franchise is even greater. The start of his career coincided with a few other elements—the new stadium, the new uniforms, other successful first-round draft picks—that transformed the White Sox of the last 23 years into an entity completely unrecognizable for the first 90. It wouldn’t be a stretch to divide franchise history into Before Frank and After Frank, and that’s something that even lead-pipe lock, first-ballot Hall of Famers can’t claim.

Repoz Posted: December 18, 2013 at 10:01 AM | 50 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: hof, white sox

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   1. Moeball Posted: December 18, 2013 at 12:58 PM (#4620176)
the Repoz tally tends to overestimate vote counts for many players—perhaps because the voters who make their ballots public are the ones who put the most thought into it.


Actually, those who make their ballots public are always going to be subject to scrutiny so the writers who disclose their ballots almost always will be a little more defensible. I may not like that a writer does vote for Jack Morris or doesn't vote for Barry Bonds, but at least if he makes the vote public I know where he stands and why and can sort of respect that.

The truly "WTF" ballots are almost always the secret ones that we'll never know about and the writers who cast such votes absolutely consciously know they are being total A-holes. Such is life. It's just another version of the BS thread.
   2. Joyful Calculus Instructor Posted: December 18, 2013 at 01:00 PM (#4620177)
Plus, the Chicago Tribune makes all their ballots public, and I'd be really surprised if Thomas didn't get 100 percent there.


Yeah, but they haven't been made public yet and so are not included in the current total
   3. Steve N Posted: December 18, 2013 at 01:40 PM (#4620202)
I just looked up Thomas on Baseball Reference. 8 absolutely incredible years and only one more comparable. Many good ones. I noticed that one year he had 7 stolen bases with no caught stealings. Say what?
   4. McCoy Posted: December 18, 2013 at 01:46 PM (#4620208)
The voters who make their votes public tend to be younger and or still active in writing about sports while those who don't make their ballots public tend to be older and or no longer active in writing about sports. So it is natural to see a bias for younger and or saber fave players i Repoz's tally.
   5. Random Transaction Generator Posted: December 18, 2013 at 01:51 PM (#4620211)
I noticed that one year he had 7 stolen bases with no caught stealings. Say what?


None of them were the back end of a double steal.
Twice, the catcher had a throwing error and he went to third.
Three times he was the only White Sox player to steal a base that game.

However, none of the stolen bases ever led to a run scored for Thomas in that inning.
   6. John Northey Posted: December 18, 2013 at 02:00 PM (#4620220)
I wonder how weird it would be if the HOF released all ballots but skipped the name of who did the ballot. Just to see how bizarre some get. We'd see some this year with just Jack Morris on them I'm sure, a few blanks, but would there be any big time head scratches such as having a few bizarre names only, what would be the most common ballot, how often did someone put Clemens on but not Bonds and vice versa? Etc.
   7. Mickey Henry Mays Posted: December 18, 2013 at 02:08 PM (#4620222)
Thomas first 8 yrs. were so utterly dominant that (182 OPS+ in ~5000PA) it seems like it's being held against him that he couldn't keep it up. Whether he gets in or not, the mere fact that he's not considered a lead pipe cinch 1st balloter seems to suggest as much.
If he sprinkled his great years among his so-so years like a Willie Stargell or Willie McCovey, I think he'd be looked at more favorably.
Or if his name was Willie Thomas, maybe that would help.
   8. Jose Can Still Seabiscuit Posted: December 18, 2013 at 02:11 PM (#4620223)
I noticed that one year he had 7 stolen bases with no caught stealings. Say what?


My recollection is that his first few years Thomas moved pretty well. Not fast by any means but the speed of youth. The guy was a tight end at Auburn so it's not like he was a complete slug as a young player.

Of course a lot of base stealing is intelligence and it wouldn't surprise me that Thomas ranked high both in "regular" IQ and baseball IQ.
   9. BDC Posted: December 18, 2013 at 02:44 PM (#4620237)
one year he had 7 stolen bases with no caught stealings. Say what?

That happens once in a while. One of my favorites is Johnny Bench, 1975-76: 24-for-26 stealing; over a third of his career steals. Clearly picking his spots well, but what a little extra for an already great team.
   10. SuperGrover Posted: December 18, 2013 at 03:25 PM (#4620270)
My recollection is that his first few years Thomas moved pretty well. Not fast by any means but the speed of youth. The guy was a tight end at Auburn so it's not like he was a complete slug as a young player.


Frank could run as a young man, but got fat and had feet issues that sapped all his speed. Frank was faster than Ventura for instance, something you might not think just looking at body type.
   11. Shooty Survived the Shutdown of '14! Posted: December 18, 2013 at 03:30 PM (#4620279)
I thought Frank moved all right when he was with the A's. He certainly wasn't anywhere near a Luzinski or Molina plodder. BTW, thanks again for that year, Frank. It was a lot of fun having the last near Frank Thomas! season in Oakland. I like to think your time in the green and gold put you over the hump for the HOF.
   12. bobm Posted: December 18, 2013 at 03:49 PM (#4620312)
Bagwell and Utley and Pujols and Bonds and Griffey are the non HOFers above Thomas by WAR through 8 seasons. .

Spanning Multiple Seasons or entire Careers, From 1901 to 2013, From 1st season to 8th season, sorted by greatest WAR Position Players

                                                       
Rk             Player WAR/pos From   To   Age    G   PA
1        Ted Williams    72.7 1939 1949 20-30 1184 5345
2       Albert Pujols    63.8 2001 2008 21-28 1239 5382
3       Mickey Mantle    60.8 1951 1958 19-26 1102 4768
4         Barry Bonds    60.0 1986 1993 21-28 1169 4929
5          Wade Boggs    59.8 1982 1989 24-31 1183 5371
6         Willie Mays    58.6 1951 1959 20-28 1065 4632
7         Stan Musial    57.6 1941 1949 20-28 1072 4753
8      Rogers Hornsby    56.9 1915 1922 19-26 1012 4280
9             Ty Cobb    55.9 1905 1912 18-25 1021 4339
10         Hank Aaron    55.7 1954 1961 20-27 1194 5201
11    Jackie Robinson    54.4 1947 1954 28-35 1160 4983
12       Joe DiMaggio    53.9 1936 1946 21-31 1111 4986
13      Eddie Mathews    53.3 1952 1959 20-27 1177 5138
14       Arky Vaughan    53.2 1932 1939 20-27 1149 5055
15        Johnny Mize    51.3 1936 1946 23-33 1096 4632
16     Frank Robinson    50.9 1956 1963 20-27 1190 5072
17        Ernie Banks    50.3 1953 1960 22-29 1078 4632
18       Mike Schmidt    50.3 1972 1979 22-29 1084 4506
19   Rickey Henderson    50.1 1979 1986 20-27 1087 4843
20        Ken Griffey    49.9 1989 1996 19-26 1057 4558
21       Jeff Bagwell    49.3 1991 1998 23-30 1155 5071
22         Lou Gehrig    49.1 1923 1930 20-27  921 4026
23       Tris Speaker    48.4 1907 1914 19-26  915 3899
24      George Sisler    48.0 1915 1922 22-29 1047 4573
25        Chase Utley    47.9 2003 2010 24-31 1006 4324
Rk             Player WAR/pos From   To   Age    G   PA
26   Carl Yastrzemski    47.6 1961 1968 21-28 1221 5271
27       Frank Thomas    46.8 1990 1997 22-29 1076 4790
28         Al Simmons    46.7 1924 1931 22-29 1086 4755
29        Ralph Kiner    46.3 1946 1953 23-30 1212 5223
30      Ichiro Suzuki    46.3 2001 2008 27-34 1280 5929
31     Alex Rodriguez    46.3 1994 2001 18-25  952 4247

   13. Mickey Henry Mays Posted: December 18, 2013 at 04:10 PM (#4620343)
Thomas really gets dinged up for his defense. He's 8th and 3rd in oWAR and OPS+ respectively. Just saying.
   14. Mickey Henry Mays Posted: December 18, 2013 at 04:14 PM (#4620346)
Its pretty amazing that Bonds is 4th before he turned into Robo-cop.
   15. Moeball Posted: December 18, 2013 at 04:53 PM (#4620367)
A couple things that jumped out at me looking at the list:

1)Almost all the players on this list (and it's a "who's who" list of pretty impressive greats)started well before their age 24 season. I can understand Jackie and Ichiro being exceptions due to circumstances pretty much beyond their control - but why the heck were Wade Boggs and Chase Utley not playing regularly in the majors before they were 24? I somehow find it hard to believe they really bloomed that late - my gut feeling is that teams were stupid in not getting them into the lineup earlier. Am I off base here?

2)Arky Vaughan - how did the BBWAA not see how good he was? He's a rare case BITD where the VC actually was inducting someone the BBWAA should have (so was Goose Goslin), rather than the VC's usual role of lowering the HOF standards letting in all of Frisch and Terry's cronies. Vaughan even had a .318 lifetime BA, which is not where I would start as evidence of his hitting prowess but was exactly the sort of thing the BBWAA drooled over back then. Really a mystery how he didn't get in earlier. He comps well with contemporary Joe Cronin - in fact, a little better - were the writers comparing him to Wagner and finding him wanting?
   16. just plain joe Posted: December 18, 2013 at 05:03 PM (#4620371)
but why the heck were Wade Boggs and Chase Utley not playing regularly in the majors before they were 24? I somehow find it hard to believe they really bloomed that late - my gut feeling is that teams were stupid in not getting them into the lineup earlier. Am I off base here?


No, certainly not off base for Boggs; he spent two full seasons in AAA (hitting very well both years), after he had spent two full seasons in AA (also knocking the crap out of the ball). The only thing I can figure is that the Red Sox looked at Boggs and saw a corner fielder with limited power, and it was only after he abused minor league pitchers for five full years that they realized he could really hit. Utley would be a similar case; he had two plus years of good hitting in AAA and was showing good power as well. Your guess is as good as mine why the Phillies didn't call him up sooner.
   17. McCoy Posted: December 18, 2013 at 05:11 PM (#4620378)
Of course a lot of base stealing is intelligence and it wouldn't surprise me that Thomas ranked high both in "regular" IQ and baseball IQ.

If I remember correctly Frank Thomas was rather atrocious on coming home.
   18. zonk Posted: December 18, 2013 at 05:12 PM (#4620380)
The Red Sox also had Carney Lansford - who at the time, looked like an awful like what you'd have projected Boggs' ceiling to be anyway manning 3B. Yaz was hogging the DH ABs... I suppose they were also trotting out the corpse of Tony Perez at 1B, so should have had room for Boggs there... but I think it was simply a matter of Boston already having a young, looking-like a star 3B.

   19. BDC Posted: December 18, 2013 at 05:16 PM (#4620385)
Interesting questions, Moeball. Boggs I have not been able to figure out, but I have heard several arguments here that the Sox were quite sane in bringing him along so slowly. It seems a case of them wanting him to be somebody else: a slugger or a fantastic shortstop or something he wasn't. Boggs was putting up >.400 OBP at every stop in the minors, and they were very long stops.

Utley, I have no idea either, though it's notable that Utley took some time to prove himself in the majors, unlike Boggs who immediately started with the >.400 OBPs there too.

Several things conspired against Vaughan. A lot of guys hit .300 in the '30s. He didn't have great power. He didn't have a great fielding reputation. He didn't have any particular career milestone to point to. He got to one World Series, as a comeback utility player, and played sparingly in that WS. Feuding with Leo Durocher didn't hurt his image, but leaving the game young as the upshot of the feud did. He died young, and wasn't around to be interviewed or celebrated during the big boom in baseball history and nostalgia of the 1960s and '70s. And, less excusably, a lot of his value was in bases on balls; and his one greatest season was so great that I reckon people discounted it. "Shortstop hits .385? That couldn't have happened. He must have had a lead glove," that kind of thing. It's irrational, but I think you see it in some seat-of-the-pants player evaluation: assume the off-the-charts year was a fluke. And sometimes it is, or at least sort of, but not in Vaughan's case.
   20. McCoy Posted: December 18, 2013 at 05:25 PM (#4620395)
The Phillies drafted Chase in 2000. He played a full season of A ball in 2001. Nothing unusual there nor would it be unusual or unexpected that after his first full season in the minors they would have him come back to the minors at a higher level the next year. And that is what the Phillies did. Chase the next year started in AAA. In 2003 the Phillies had signed David Bell and Jim Thome so Polanco, who they got in the Rolen trade the year before, slid over to second to start the season. Utley started the season on the major league bench before getting sent back down. Then in August he is called back up because Bell is injured so they slide Polanco back to third.
   21. Mickey Henry Mays Posted: December 18, 2013 at 05:31 PM (#4620402)
1)Almost all the players on this list (and it's a "who's who" list of pretty impressive greats)started well before their age 24 season. I can understand Jackie and Ichiro being exceptions due to circumstances pretty much beyond their control - but why the heck were Wade Boggs and Chase Utley not playing regularly in the majors before they were 24? I somehow find it hard to believe they really bloomed that late - my gut feeling is that teams were stupid in not getting them into the lineup earlier. Am I off base here?


The Phillies did the same thing with Ryan Howard and to a lesser extent, Domonic Brown. In Browns case he may not have been ready, but neither was he atrocious in limited play before last years breakout. He really didn't have much more to prove in the minors.
   22. Jarrod HypnerotomachiaPoliphili(Teddy F. Ballgame) Posted: December 18, 2013 at 05:42 PM (#4620416)
30 Ichiro Suzuki 46.3 2001 2008 27-34 1280 5929
31 Alex Rodriguez 46.3 1994 2001 18-25 952 4247


Interesting to see these two guys next to each other. First of all, way to go, Ichiro. That's a hell of a run. Better than I would have expected. Second, Rodriguez gets dinged pretty heavily here. He played fewer than 70 games in those first two seasons combined. That's like a venti cup of coffee. If you take his first eight full seasons, he has 64.1 WAR.
   23. McCoy Posted: December 18, 2013 at 05:49 PM (#4620422)
The issue with Ryan Howard is that the Phillies went out and signed Jim Thome after Howard's first full year in the minors which basically blocked Howard from getting a full time shot for a couple of years. At the time of the Thome signing Howard was a legit prospect in Philadelphia and many people and writers wondered what become of Howard now that the Phillies had given all that money to Thome.
   24. Fred Lynn Nolan Ryan Sweeney Agonistes Posted: December 18, 2013 at 06:08 PM (#4620438)
I thought Frank moved all right when he was with the A's. He certainly wasn't anywhere near a Luzinski or Molina plodder. BTW, thanks again for that year, Frank. It was a lot of fun having the last near Frank Thomas! season in Oakland. I like to think your time in the green and gold put you over the hump for the HOF.

Agree 100%.
   25. Dag Nabbit: secretary of the World Banana Forum Posted: December 18, 2013 at 06:09 PM (#4620439)
My take on Thomas. Written shortly after his official retirement announcement.
   26. Hang down your head, Tom Foley Posted: December 18, 2013 at 06:30 PM (#4620457)
Thomas hit three triples before he hit his first home run. He only hit nine more triples after that. I was at this game. That triple was because Canseco tripped chasing a fly ball. It seemed like he was killing the ball from the beginning, but it just wasn't going over the fence. He did go into a little slump for about a week after his first HR.
   27. TDF, situational idiot Posted: December 18, 2013 at 06:36 PM (#4620459)
Interesting to see these two guys next to each other. First of all, way to go, Ichiro. That's a hell of a run. Better than I would have expected. Second, Rodriguez gets dinged pretty heavily here. He played fewer than 70 games in those first two seasons combined. That's like a venti cup of coffee. If you take his first eight full seasons, he has 64.1 WAR.
I think in a comparison like this Ichiro! and Jackie Robinson have a huge advantage - they were already at the top of their games by the time they reached MLB, while the others have their "growing years" in there (19 of the other 29 players on the list started at age 21 or younger).
   28. madvillain Posted: December 18, 2013 at 06:46 PM (#4620467)
Great article dag. Frank is one of the 20 best hitters ever and an argument could be made for top 10. I don't care how one dimensional he was or how many innings he played dh, he is a hover, a no doubter even.

I am glad Oakland fans and Toronto fans got to see the man hit, even in his decline.
   29. Mickey Henry Mays Posted: December 18, 2013 at 07:05 PM (#4620480)
The issue with Ryan Howard is that the Phillies went out and signed Jim Thome after Howard's first full year in the minors which basically blocked Howard from getting a full time shot for a couple of years. At the time of the Thome signing Howard was a legit prospect in Philadelphia and many people and writers wondered what become of Howard now that the Phillies had given all that money to Thome.


OK, that makes sense. It wasn't until Thome got hurt in 2005 that they found room for Howard and the rest, as they say, is history.
   30. Moeball Posted: December 18, 2013 at 07:18 PM (#4620483)
Thanks for the comments, everyone. My guess is that Boston was looking for power hitters - particularly at corner infield positions - and was turned off by Boggs' lack of power for a third baseman? Look at the guys Boston was giving playing time to in 1982 - outside of Dewey and Yaz (and, surprisingly, Jim Rice!) - there's not much in the way of OBP in that lineup. Even though Carney hit .301 that year his OBP was only .359 - I have to think Boggs would have been capable of at least that much in his age 23 season. Oh, well, at least Carney Lansford is one of the all-time coolest player names! On the other hand, Boston's production at first base was totally putrid - I cannot possibly believe Boggs wouldn't have been much better for the team than Dave Stapleton!

I guess Chase Utley's whole career will wind up as a "what if" - "what if" he was brought up earlier, "what if" he didn't get injured so much, etc. Such a shame. I think this was potentially a HOF career that just somehow won't end up getting there.

Several things conspired against Vaughan. A lot of guys hit .300 in the '30s. He didn't have great power.


Well, he didn't have great power if he was an outfielder, but he did have pretty good power for a shortstop. His career SLG was only .015 below Cronin's, remarkable in that Vaughan had about half of Cronin's HRs. I guess part of this was the difference in the parks, too. With Cronin as a righty in Fenway for many seasons it was clearly much easier to pick up HRs than it was for anyone in spacious Forbes Field. Gee, I guess the BBWAA back then didn't really pay too much attention to park effects, either, huh?

I must say, I hadn't really thought of it before, but - look at that list again - looking at top performers through the first 8 years of their careers - there's a whole lot of "inner circle" HOFers on that list and no flukes - everyone on that list is/was a damned fine player.
   31. bookbook Posted: December 18, 2013 at 07:29 PM (#4620488)
Take Frank Thomas through age 29, and Edgar Martinez from age 32-40 and you have one helluva designated hitter. For age 30 and 31, I'm not sure. Ortiz?
   32. Moeball Posted: December 18, 2013 at 07:37 PM (#4620491)
Oops! I just realized that Boggs was up during '82 - his age 23 season would have been the strike season of '81, in which Lansford won the batting title and had a .389 OBP. Doh!

I think Boggs still should have had a spot on that roster somewhere, though.
   33. Johnny Sycophant-Laden Fora Posted: December 18, 2013 at 07:46 PM (#4620493)
I guess Chase Utley's whole career will wind up as a "what if" - "what if" he was brought up earlier,


He would have stunk and dragged down his career rate stats, he hot .263 in AAA at age 23, .257 the year before in the FSL, he was a late bloomer, he wasn't held back, when he started mashing he was promoted to the bigs.

In 1973 a 22 year old named Mike Easler was 3rd in the Southern League (AA) in OPS, and year after year after year he was among the league leaders in AAA... until becoming an overnight sensation in the majors hitting .338/.396/.583 in his age 29 season. I recall very early in that year, watching a game where he came up a a .330 something batting average flashed on the screen, whoa I thought, but the announcers were dismissive, who is this guy, why are the Pirates (defending world champions)playing him? Is he for real? One guy said something like, "career minor leaguer four A" (first time I'd heard some referred to as a quadruple A player) "second time around you're not going see three-thirty up there" "but you gotta play the hot hand" "wait till he sees someone like Carlton under the lights, won't be pretty" "he he he." Then he struck out... Later in the game he homered, announcers said nothing, as if it didn't happen...

Easler fascinated me, why did he spend so much time in the minors? Because the belief was that he was a minor league slugger who would be exposed by MLB pitchers. Later Bill James had his Ken Phelps all stars, guys who James believed could play but weren't getting a shot because someone somewhere had decided that the numbers lied (or were meaningless), but aside from Petagine I don't think anyone has been screwed out of as much PT as Easler, since Easler...
   34. Hang down your head, Tom Foley Posted: December 18, 2013 at 08:05 PM (#4620500)
It was only 29 plate appearances, but Easler hit .037 in the first three seasons he played in the major leagues. Maybe that tainted him for a while. Maybe it would have been better if he hadn't gotten that one hit. You see .000 averages all the time, but .037 stands out.

It turned out the one hit he had was against a future Hall of Famer, Don Sutton.
   35. ajnrules Posted: December 18, 2013 at 10:20 PM (#4620576)
Take Frank Thomas through age 29, and Edgar Martinez from age 32-40 and you have one helluva designated hitter. For age 30 and 31, I'm not sure. Ortiz?


2638 games, 11630 PAs, 9389 at bats
1828 runs, 3035 hits, 666 doubles, 17 triples, 581 home runs, 2038 RBIs
47 SB, 32 CS, 270 double plays
97 HBP, 237 intentional walks
2018 walks, 1603 strikeouts
.323 / .443 / .583 / 1.026

Yeah, I'd say that's a heck of a player
   36. SoSHially Unacceptable Posted: December 18, 2013 at 10:30 PM (#4620587)
No, certainly not off base for Boggs; he spent two full seasons in AAA (hitting very well both years), after he had spent two full seasons in AA (also knocking the crap out of the ball). The only thing I can figure is that the Red Sox looked at Boggs and saw a corner fielder with limited power,


He didn't have limited power. Until his final season in the minors, he had Juan Pierre-type power. I suspect the Red Sox figured that without offering any kind of realistic XB threat, he wouldn't put up those gaudy OBPs at the big league level. Frankly, it's not an unreasonable position.


   37. Infinite Joost (Voxter) Posted: December 18, 2013 at 11:16 PM (#4620616)
Boggs hit 339/406/441 (!) as a rookie and finished a distant third in ROY voting. Seeing that, I assumed he must have got royally screwed, but in fact it was a reasonable choice, especially given that he played in just 104 games and Ripken put up a 5 win season. 1982 was a hell of a year for rookies in the AL -- Ripken, Boggs, Kent Hrbek, and Eddie Vande Berg, who had one great snake-eater season as a rookie that year out of the Seattle pen and was never so good again. In the NL, Steve Sax, Johnny Ray and Ryne Sandberg all had outstanding rookie campaigns as well, though Sandberg, confusingly, finished only sixth in RoY voting. Must have been a fun year to be a baseball fan -- I turned 2 just after opening day, so I don't really remember much of it, though one of my earliest memories is from the rough-and-tumble Brewers-Cards WS: my pop underhanding whiffleballs at me while I tried to learn to swing a little red bat that was known as my "fat bat" because it was almost as big around as it was long.
   38. bookbook Posted: December 18, 2013 at 11:25 PM (#4620617)
"Take Frank Thomas through age 29, and Edgar Martinez from age 32-40 and you have one helluva designated hitter. For age 30 and 31, I'm not sure. Ortiz?


2638 games, 11630 PAs, 9389 at bats
1828 runs, 3035 hits, 666 doubles, 17 triples, 581 home runs, 2038 RBIs
47 SB, 32 CS, 270 double plays
97 HBP, 237 intentional walks
2018 walks, 1603 strikeouts
.323 / .443 / .583 / 1.026

Yeah, I'd say that's a heck of a player"

Thanks for putting that together. I'm relieved the base running details aren't more obviously awful. They're both smart but very slow players.
   39. Walt Davis Posted: December 19, 2013 at 12:55 AM (#4620654)
I'm with McCoy on Utley. Maybe it looks a lot better after adjusting for park but there wasn't anything in Utley minor-league number to suggest star ... I'm not sure there was much there to suggest average. 257/324/422 as a 22-year-old in A+? 263/352/461 at AAA the next year? The power looks nice but a 263 BA at AAA usually translates to something like 235-240 in the majors. And, in fact, in his call-up the next year he hit 239/322/373 (87 OPS+). He was hitting pretty well at AAA at 24-25 but his ML performance was nothing special. No reason to expect that massive season at 26.

On Boggs ... I wasn't aware enough at the time to have any real opinions so I'll must make two stats-based points. First, minor-league walk rates often don't translate. Yeah, a 325/420 line is gonna translate to something pretty good in the OBP dept even if it's 290/350, but lots of OBP guys in the minors get eaten alive. But second and probably most important -- please look at those ISOs. The man had an ISO of 58 at 22 in AAA. 58! That's Luis Castillo territory -- Castillo added power as he aged and got his ML ISO all the way up to 61!

At 23 Boggs finally added a little doubles power and at 24 they gave him a job and he retained that doubles power ... and everything else too.
   40. ptodd Posted: December 19, 2013 at 01:21 AM (#4620663)
One of the rarest commodities in baseball is a good hitter with power. Defense and speed are relatively common. However, there seems to be a bias against great hitters who do not have much speed or play great defense in favor of lesser hitters who can run and play defense. Especially when the metrics used to judge defense are nothing more than rough estimates.

Frank Thomas had a 10 year stretch where he averaged 34 HR a year with a 439 OBP and 168 OPS+. Even the bias against one dimensional hitters won't keep him out.
   41. greenback likes millwall, they don't care Posted: December 19, 2013 at 01:37 AM (#4620665)
At the time of the Thome signing Howard was a legit prospect in Philadelphia and many people and writers wondered what become of Howard now that the Phillies had given all that money to Thome.

This doesn't sound right. Howard was a 5th round pick who had just put up a strikeout-heavy 280/367/460 line in the Sally League in 2002. That's not bad, but it's not noteworthy for a mediocre glove even by 1b standards. He didn't merit a mention in the 2003 Baseball Prospectus.
   42. Walt Davis Posted: December 19, 2013 at 03:06 AM (#4620682)
I've been down the Howard road before and was told by one of our legit minors experts that Lakewood actually is hell on earth for hitters (I think, unless it was his A- ballpark). And I think Howard was named player of the year in the league. League averages that year were 254/330/365 so that's a 137 OPS+ without park adjustment. I see R/g for Lakewood was 3.87 for their hitters and 3.88 for their pitchers vs. league average of 4.39. They might have had lousy hitters and good pitchers for all I know (Howard and Gavin Floyd are the only big names) but I'm guessing not. That would be a pretty big park factor which I think pushes him up to about a 155.

Definitely a legit prospect ... but still just 22 out of A ball. The strange thing was the full season of A+ after that despite 304/374/514 and the good season before. And then still just a promotion to AA to start the next year. They should have pushed him a bit faster than that.

One of my favorite factoids is that at the age of 21, Sosa had a 171 ISO in a full ML season while Howard had a 184 ISO at A- ball ... but obviously the only way Sosa could hit 60 HR was to cheat while Howard hitting 58 was equally obviously natural.

Now Easler -- I got no explanation. He's right on schedule, in AAA at 22 hitting reasonably well and hitting better at 23 (283/366/531). So naturally, doing the same thing at 24, Houston gives him away for nothing. The Cards keep him in the minors for his age 25 season where he hits ... wait for it ... 352/417/651. This is not good enough to earn a call-up from the Cards but they ship him to the Angels on Sept 3 for nothing. Gene Autry was clearly a man who knew his horses and realized that gift horses should never be trusted so gave him to the Pirates in April of the next year.

The Pirates don't use him either, hitting 302/403/508 in 1977. They keep him in AAA in 1978 where he hits 330/425/522 ... that doesn't even earn a Sept call-up.

They sell him to the Red Sox in Oct 78. They trade to get him back in Mar 79. He seems to have been kept in the majors all year (surely out of options) but used strictly as a PH -- 55 games, 62 PA, only 3 starts all year. He hits 278/371/444 which is roughly Babe Ruth for a PH. In his three starts he goes 5-9 with 2 BB, 3 R, 3 RBI and a double.

He starts 1980 in the same role -- 5 PH appearances in their first 8 games. Then finally time in LF -- did somebody get hurt?

He gets 10 starts in 12 games and hits 345/424/586.

Naturally he gets only 2 starts in the next 7 games and just 5 starts over 18 games. Was his middle name Choi?

He starts pretty regularly after that -- 95 starts, another 12 appearances ... and hits 345/396/586. His age 29 season.

It's a weird story -- you can't blame it on one organization having an irrational dislike of the guy or anything. He raked for Houston, he raked for the Cards, the Angels gave him a brief ML stint, he raked for the Pirates. And none of those teams kept him around or traded him for anything worthwhile. Fair enough, the 79 Sox really weren't gonna have a use for him -- Rice/Lynn/Evans/Yaz/Watson with Scott and Dwyer on the bench. And the 79 Pirates had a very effective Stargell/Robinson/Milner thing working.

Some of those Easler AAA numbers remind me of Roosevelt Brown. Brown surely wasn't anywhere near as good as Easler but in a half-season at AAA at 23 he hit 358/401/713. At 24 he did "slump" to 309/381/496 but followed that with 346/381/626. His age 24 cup of coffee resulted in 352/378/538. His age 25 cup was 265/326/506.

Those walk rates clue you into one of Brown's faults but clearly he had nothing to learn at AAA. They did give him a bit of a shot at 26 with a whole 7 starts in the first 10 games -- he was terrible and he got 8 starts over the next 41 games and that was pretty much all she wrote. He was on the roster the rest of the year but only 27 starts in 110 games, still didn't hit, never had a PA in the majors again. Played a couple of years in Japan -- 291/384/512 -- probably should have stayed but came back to play one year in the White Sox system (301/370/481).

I'm not much for the "psychology" explanations but I think young players might be where they do hold. I suspect that Brown never would have amounted to anything but you can't have a guy slug 600 in the minors, hit in his ML cup of coffee and not give him a full-time job or trade him to somebody who will. What more can a guy possibly do to earn a promotion? What message does it send to him when he doesn't? He's got to either question you as an employer or question himself, neither of which can be good for anybody. The Cubs naturally dangled a starting job in front of him, basically said it was his with 2 weeks to go in spring training, as a means to motivate Corey Patterson -- who killed it the last two weeks of spring, got given the starting job ... and stunk although Brown in CF would have been ... intriguing.
   43. stevegamer Posted: December 19, 2013 at 04:36 AM (#4620687)
I can confirm that Howard was thought of a prospect by the Phillies organization when they signed Thome. His level of power was definitely real, and eminently projectable - just look at him. Lakewood is a pretty bad hitters park.

The reason for signing Thome was clear. He was a well-respected guy, and the Phillies just couldn't get free agents to sign with them. He's the guy they signed to show other free agents it was a destination worth coming to - and I realize how specious that sounds. When you can sign a guy who has been top-5 in MVP voting for 3 straight years, is a true 4-5 WAR player, and to that point your last really notable free agent was maybe Pete Rose, you need to make a statement when opening a new ballpark shortly.

I remember talk of Howard trying to play LF in Spring Training, but he couldn't handle it.

   44. Steve Parris, Je t'aime Posted: December 19, 2013 at 10:30 AM (#4620751)
Yes, I can definitely recall the team wanting a marquee player as they were getting ready to open CBP. Thome's first year in Philadelphia was the Vet's final season, and I remember seeing a picture on the front page of the Daily News showing Thome in a hard hat or something the following winter.

I do recall the Phillies' prospect mavens asking "whither Howard" questions. I thought the team tried Howard out in left, but there's no record of him playing there as a minor leaguer. Like 43 says it was probalby just during spring training.
   45. Barry`s_Lazy_Boy Posted: December 19, 2013 at 12:12 PM (#4620859)
BA had Howard as the Phillies 8th best prospect going into 2003. Quite a list: Gavin Floyd #1, Utley #2, Marlon Byrd #3, Hamels #5, Madson #6. http://www.baseballamerica.com/online/leagues/mlb/phillies/03top10p2.html

Heading into 2003, Howard was coming off a good season of A ball as a 22 year old. It'd be kinda crazy to have such a prospect impact the decision whether or not to sign Thome.

   46. Ron J2 Posted: December 19, 2013 at 12:30 PM (#4620879)
#15 Boggs didn't show any power at all until he was 23. Yeah he was often playing in tough places to hit, but ... Until 1981 he'd hit a total of 4 HR, 5 triples and had topped out at 21 doubles in 139 games. And was pretty raw at third. His career high SLG before 1981 was .382

The Red Sox basically waited until he showed some doubles power and promoted him. And they did have Lansford playing quite well.
   47. Walt Davis Posted: December 19, 2013 at 07:16 PM (#4621311)
The reason for signing Thome was clear. He was a well-respected guy, and the Phillies just couldn't get free agents to sign with them. He's the guy they signed to show other free agents it was a destination worth coming to

Which, if my memory is right, brings us back to Utley. Supposedly to get Thome, the Phils had to convince him they were "serious" about contending ... which apparently signing David Bell was a sign of. Bell signed on Dec 2 and Thome on Dec 6. Bell pushed Polanco back to 2B which blocked Utley.

I know, why would Bell be evidence of "serious"? But that's the way major-leaguers often think: "serious" = sign some veteran you "know" can get the job done.

In fairness, Bell was coming off two 3-WAR years and (I'm surprised to learn) had a 4-WAR year for the Phils in 2004.
   48. Sunday silence Posted: December 19, 2013 at 07:48 PM (#4621328)
My feeling on Easler was that he really had no speed for the OF and he really couldnt field. I remember seeing him in a game in Boston, I guess it was early '78 because I wondering why the Pirates had given him away. I saw a flyball fall right out of his glove, so my assumption was that he really couldnt do even basic fielding.

It could also be that the Pirates had a log jam in the OF, they had Zisk at one pt. and he didt get much PT either; but he might have been gone before Easler got there. They also had a number of guys in the minors like Miguel Dilone and Tony Armas but they wound up trading these guys in '77; I think they were in the Doc Medich/CHuck Tanner deal.
   49. toratoratora Posted: December 19, 2013 at 08:12 PM (#4621341)
WAR and modern fielding stats think Boggs is a pretty good fielder, but as a younger player he was considered a passable to bad fielder by general consensus.
Like Brett, the MSM theme was that Boggs was a guy who worked real hard to get better than adequate on defense.
Toss in the fact that in the early 80's, a guy who hit like Boggs was supposed to be a speedy lead-off type,not slow as a rock, and both those factors worked against him too, I suspect.
But mostly the reason he sat in the minors was Landsford. IIRC, Carney was a popular player, seen as one of the gritty team types.
   50. McCoy Posted: December 20, 2013 at 12:55 AM (#4621460)
This doesn't sound right. Howard was a 5th round pick who had just put up a strikeout-heavy 280/367/460 line in the Sally League in 2002. That's not bad, but it's not noteworthy for a mediocre glove even by 1b standards. He didn't merit a mention in the 2003 Baseball Prospectus.

I left Philly before the end of the 2003 season and I recall hearing about Ryan Howard when the Phillies signed Thome. In the early 2000's the Phillies system was seen as stacked and a lot of their prospects got a ton of press locally.

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