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Friday, January 11, 2013

NY Times: “Quirks of the Game: The Case for Fred McGriff”

McGriff seemed like he was quietly amassing Hall of Fame numbers. And in 1993, after he was acquired by Atlanta on July 20 with the Braves 9½ games behind San Francisco, he led the team to the National Leage West crown. That year, however, there were already a few suspicious names creeping in front of him, pushing his numbers down: Lenny Dykstra was one of three players to best him in the 1993 most valuable player voting; Matt Williams, later named in the Mitchell Report, and Dante Bichette, who was found to have androstendione in his locker, were among those ahead of him in key categories in 1994.

Then suddenly and almost completely, McGriff dropped off the Top 10 lists. But this is not the tale of a player like Dale Murphy, whose career suddenly faltered. McGriff continued to flourish, it’s just that there was a bulkhead of bulked-up heads clogging the top spots. In 1995, McGriff hit .333 with four homers in 14 post-season games to help Atlanta win the World Series. It was typical McGriff, who batted .323 over nine post-season series with the Braves. In 1996, McGriff hit 28 homers, drove in 107 runs and had a .365 OBP.

But the leaders list now included new names like most valuable player Ken Caminiti, along with plenty of players who have been suspected of using. (Unlike the steroids users, McGriff also rarely missed any games-on average fewer than seven per year from 1988-98.)

While many players in the steroids era suddenly developed power - think Caminiti or Brady Anderson—McGriff was the same player at the end of his career as he was at the beginning. From 1999 through 2002 McGriff averaged 30 homers and 104 R.B.I., with little variation from year to year, yet it was players like Bonds, Giambi and Rodriguez that topped every list and drew all the attention. Compared to them, McGriff looked merely average. Yet he was remarkable, his consistent excellence a true marvel.

bobm Posted: January 11, 2013 at 05:26 PM | 19 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: crime dog, fred mcgriff, hall of fame

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   1. The Id of SugarBear Blanks Posted: January 11, 2013 at 06:23 PM (#4345296)
Hall of Famer.
   2. SM Posted: January 11, 2013 at 06:48 PM (#4345324)
It was really foolish of Brady Anderson to stop taking steroids after that one year.
   3. OCF Posted: January 11, 2013 at 07:07 PM (#4345337)
McGriff peaked quite early in his career, when he was in his mid-20's, and then had a long and very slow decline through a long career. His defense declined faster than his offense did. His offensive peak happened to coincide nearly exactly with a downward blip in offensive levels between 1988 and 1992. He was too young to take advantage of the 1987 power-fest, and then when offensive and power levels shot up in 1993/4, he had already entered his slow decline. The fact that offensive levels did shoot up means that we must look to his relative statistics (such as OPS+) to see the decline at all. It's not really true that he was the same player at the end of his career as at the beginning. The quote does recognize that the context changed, but tries to make McGriff the constant element.

There's nothing unusual about McGriff's career pattern, and you could find many others with the same approximate shape. Now, is that evidence that he was "clean"? It doesn't convince me. Was he "clean"? Impossible to prove, and there is literally no one that I am 100% sure did not take PED's. I also refuse to see the story of the offensive context rising around him as being the evidence of steroids. To believe that, you'd have to believe that 'roids were quite rare in 1988-1990 and then suddenly widely prevalent by 1994. Half the writers out there act like that's the unquestioned truth; I don't think it's been demonstrated at all.

Now, can you reasonably argue a Hall of Fame case for McGriff? Sure. It's not a crazy argument. It's just that there's currently a rather long line.

   4. Tom Nawrocki Posted: January 11, 2013 at 07:33 PM (#4345349)
His defense declined faster than his offense did.


Too bad there wasn't a series of instructional videos for him to watch.
   5. Cowboy Popup Posted: January 11, 2013 at 11:48 PM (#4345422)
BBref has his 2000 as -.1 WAR. He hit .373/.452 that year! Granted, 2000 was like the height of the silly ball years but it's not like he was in Coors. That's got to be close to, if not the, highest full season OBP for a sub-replacement level season, even including Coors.

Looking at the Hall of Merit results, it looks like he doesn't have a shot there.
   6. Ray (RDP) Posted: January 12, 2013 at 12:08 AM (#4345427)
To me he's a Hall of Famer. Though it's funny that the anti-steroid crusaders assume he's clean. Why? His career spanned the steroids era.
   7. base ball chick Posted: January 12, 2013 at 12:29 AM (#4345431)
because he didn't hit too many home runs and he didn't have big muscles or lift weights
   8. Mike A Posted: January 12, 2013 at 12:38 AM (#4345436)
If you look back at the Braves newsgroup in 1997, a lot of us thought Fred was fading fast, including myself. His bat speed seemed to have slowed considerably and he was entering his mid-30s. Then his first half-season in Tampa in 1998, he posted a .740 OPS. Yep, ol' Fred was toasty.

But he had a resurgence during that 2nd half in 1998 (.907 OPS) and then posted a 144, 110, and 142 OPS+ from ages 35-37. I remember being surprised at that, and I dug into a little deeper and saw he credited his turnaround to rededicating himself to the game and a new...fitness routine.

When Javy Lopez lost weight and hit HRs, everyone screamed steroids. But there was no suspicion in the least towards McGriff. Now granted, Fred's numbers weren't crazy out-of-line or anything, just stronger than expected in his late 30s.

Now I'm not saying McGriff took steroids - my belief is he did not - but it's weird how some players arouse no suspicion, while others undoubtedly used. As for the Hall, I think you can make a kinda sorta maybe case for McGriff, along the lines of a Tony Perez (granted, Perez isn't exactly a top-line selection). But there's obviously a whole lot of players that need to go in first.

As a side, AJC writer Jeff Schultz was incensed that Biggio got more votes that McGriff on this year's ballot. He's got a vote, folks.
   9. OCF Posted: January 12, 2013 at 12:39 AM (#4345437)
because he didn't hit too many home runs

He hit 28 fewer career home runs than Willie McCovey. Keeping track of exactly what constitutes "too many" is hard work.
   10. Jack Carter, calling Beleaguered Castle Posted: January 12, 2013 at 12:42 AM (#4345438)
It was really foolish of Brady Anderson to stop taking steroids after that one year.


Given that he got most of his career earnings late in baseball life, once he'd had his 50 homer season, it probably would have made a lot of sense for Anderson to quit roiding (if indeed he was) the day he signed his first (or last) big deal, depending on his goals.
   11. Jack Carter, calling Beleaguered Castle Posted: January 12, 2013 at 12:50 AM (#4345440)
McGriff peaked quite early in his career, when he was in his mid-20's, and then had a long and very slow decline through a long career.


??

He had his best seasons at the plate at ages 28, 29, and 30, the last of which was his best season by a useful margin; those were 1992-1994.

That said, you could just as well construct a narrative in which McGriff slumps at 27, PEDs up for three seasons, doesn't like what it's doing to certain body parts, quits, then hangs around at a reduced level for the next decade.

McGriff also had seasons at age 35 and 37 just as good as his average ages 23-30 seasons. Was he roiding up again?
   12. Walt Davis Posted: January 12, 2013 at 02:27 AM (#4345468)
My mythical ballot has never listed him but I would be pretty comfy with McGriff as an HoF. I don't think folks remember just how dead offense was in the early years of his career. His stats remind me of Billy Williams and he's not that far off Reggie (Reggie wins, especially when you note he played CF). In Edgar discussions I raise my suspicion that Edgar forced to play the field declines faster physically and plays less and ends up looking like Norm Cash ... well, Cash and McGriff are pretty close. (Note, I give Edgar enough credit for what happened over my belief and put him ahead of McGriff, I'm just saying there's an alternate universe where Fred got moved to DH early and continued to rake through his 30s).
   13. Booey Posted: January 12, 2013 at 02:47 AM (#4345474)
I've always thought McGriff was a deserving HOFer. But like #3 and #8 said, even for a firm supporter like myself, there's a lot of guys on the ballot now that should go in first. I'd have voted for 14 players this year, and he was probably last amongst them. I'd vote for 19 next year, and Crime Dawg would probably be number 18 or 19 (toss up between him and Kent).
   14. Chip Posted: January 12, 2013 at 03:05 AM (#4345478)
(Unlike the steroids users, McGriff also rarely missed any games-on average fewer than seven per year from 1988-98.)


Wait, I thought steroids prolonged careers. Now he's telling me they shortened seasons? Truly magic beans these were.
   15. Walt Davis Posted: January 12, 2013 at 04:15 AM (#4345495)
Wait, I thought steroids prolonged careers. Now he's telling me they shortened seasons? Truly magic beans these were.

Oh you silly boy ...

If you stayed very healthy and produced, especially if you hit milestones or challenged records, this is proof you juiced.

If you were very healthy and productive early then were constantly injured, this is proof you juiced because you were so strong you kept hurting yourself.

If you were constantly injured then healthy and productive, this is proof you juiced to get healthy and productive, especially if you ever hit 50+ HR in a year.

If you were healthy but not overly productive early then healthy and very productive later, this is proof you juiced.

If you were healthy and productive early and then reasonably healthy but not very productive later, you're clearly not worthy of the HoF.

The only path to Cooperstown now is via Lake Wobegon -- just above average for a longer than average, but not freakishly long, time. See Jack Morris.

Let me now introduce you to 2017's lone HoF inductee -- Edgar Renteria.

5 AS games -- respectable, not ridiculous
2 GG
2 WS rings
MVP votes in 2 consecutive seasons!
2nd in the RoY voting -- 2nd place is proof he wasn't juicing.

And, the irresistible piece, an 11th inning, game 7-winning single in 1997.
   16. AJMcCringleberry Posted: January 12, 2013 at 10:20 AM (#4345540)
From 1999 through 2002 McGriff averaged 30 homers and 104 R.B.I.

He was 35-38 in those years. Sounds steroidy to me.
   17. RB in NYC (Now Semi-Retired from BBTF) Posted: January 12, 2013 at 12:17 PM (#4345575)
He hit 28 fewer career home runs than Willie McCovey. Keeping track of exactly what constitutes "too many" is hard work.
This is true, but it's all about the context. McCovey hit a HR every 15.7 ABs, when the league average was 43.4, whereas McGriff hit one every 17.8, but the league average had dropped to 34.9, hence, not too many.

Not that most of the writers would ever actually look something like that up.
   18. KingKaufman Posted: January 12, 2013 at 08:59 PM (#4345806)
New York paper. Why not make the case for Keith Hernandez? More deserving player who gets fewer votes than McGriff.
   19. thetailor Posted: January 13, 2013 at 05:14 PM (#4346306)
Tough call on McGriff. He's legitimately one of those guys I wouldn't mind going either way.

The author mentions Carlos Delgado as a comp for McGriff. Now, Delgado is a guy who always FELT like a Hall of Famer to me (.290/.402/.576, 150 OPS+ per year from 1998 to 2004, four top-10 finishes in the MVP) but he's got 400 less hits than McGriff. Even the 473 HR for Delgado probably won't suffice to get him in, especially with only 40 WAR.

I guess that's where "feel" lets you down ... but damn, he was one of those guys who just always felt like he could put one out on any pitch.

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