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Tuesday, January 06, 2004

Keltner Lists ‘04 - Part 1 of 5

Richard gets the ball rolling with a look at the two ballot closers, Randy Myers and Dennis Eckersley.

Dennis Eckersley

1. Was he ever regarded as the best player in baseball? Did anybody, while he was active, ever suggest that he was the best player in baseball?

While winning the MVP does not necessarily mean you are the best player in baseball, it does reflect that.  Or, at least, some believe so. In 1992, Eckersley ran away with the American League Most Valuable Player, capturing 306 total points, and 15 of 28 first-place votes. Eckersley was great in 1992 (1.91 ERA, park-adjusted 196 ERA+, 51 Saves, 7-1 in 80 IP) but his selection is regarded as among the poorer of the 1990s. Despite barely receiving two-thirds of Eckersley?s votes, Kirby Puckett put together an impressive season. He was the AL?s second leading hitter, lead the league in hits and total bases, hit 38 doubles, and was 7th in OPS+. For good measure, Puckett also stole 17 bases, drove in 110 runs and won a Gold Glove. Further compounding the irony of the award, 1992 was probably not Eckersley?s best year; in 1990 he posted a 0.61 ERA, good for 606 ERA+ in just 7 fewer innings.

2. Was he the best player on his team?

Unlike Eckersley?s MVP, which was a clear mistake, this question is somewhat more difficult. Despite the awe-inspiring ERA+, Eckersley was no better than the second best player on his team, having the misfortune of his best year coinciding with that of Rickey Henderson. I?ll spare you the complete rundown, suffice it to say Henderson ranked first or second in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, runs, stolen bases, OPS+ and Power/Speed number. That a lone sportswriter gave Eckersley a first-place vote over Rickey blows the mind. In his MVP year, Eckersley was close, but probably still less valuable than Mark McGwire who led the league in OPS+ and slugged 42 home-runs. In his (often overlooked) starting days, Eckersley was probably the best pitcher on the 1978 Red Sox (20-8, team leader in wins, K, ERA, ERA+, K/9). He nonetheless has an uphill battle against Jim Rice, who was the team leader in virtually every offense category save OBP (Fred Lynn, by ten points), doubles (Fisk), walks (Yaz) and stolen bases (Jerry Remy).

3. Was he the best player in baseball at his position? Was he the best player in the league at his position?

As a reliever, unquestionably yes, on both points. In 1990, he record nine fewer saves than Bobby Thigpen?s (still) record 57, but	did so with an ERA almost a run-and-a-quarter lower than Thigpen?s 1.83. Eckersley was also unquestionably the best reliever in 1989 and 1992.

4. Did he have an impact on a number of pennant races?

Without a doubt. Eckersley pitched on seven teams that made the post-season, and was a key contributor to the 1978 "Bucky F. Dent" Red Sox.  As for the pennant races themselves, Eckersley went 8-4, 2.34 for the Red Sox in August and September. In 1984, having been traded to the Cubs in mid-season, Eckersley again excelled down the stretch, going 5-2, 1.98. In 1988, Oakland won the division and Eckersley was MVP of the ALCS after recording saves in all four games, but he suffered his most famous blown save (and perhaps the most famous ever) against the Dodgers and Kirk Gibson in the World Series. In 1989, Oakland again took the division without much trouble and Eckersley excelled in August and September, going 3-0 with 15 saves and a 1.86 ERA. In 1990, it was more of the same both for Eckersley?s late-season performance and his near flawless season, 2-0, 15 saves, 0.32 ERA. The 1992 A?s had their closest second-place finisher during their run (Minnesota, within 6 games) and Eckersley was again excellent, 4-1, 18 saves, 2.71 ERA. His famed post-season let down aside, it would be safe to say that he was a valuable contributor to many a playoff team.

5. Was he good enough that he could play regularly after passing his prime?

Yes, and in some ways, yes twice. In 1986, Eckersley started 33 games for the Cubs, pitching just over 200 innings, with an 89 ERA+. His prime as a starter had evidently passed, the next year, he joined the Oakland Athletics and Tony LaRussa, for whom he would pitch 11 of his last 12 seasons. Eckersley started just two games, but finished 33, accumulating 16 saves in 115 innings. He would never start another game, but neither would he record fewer than 30 saves in a full season until 1998 when he took a set-up role in Boston. In that span, Eckersley averaged a 186 ERA+. After his prime as a closer (roughly 1988-92), Eckersley continued to serve as a closer, for among others, LaRussa?s 1996 NLCS-reaching Cardinals.

6. Is he the very best baseball player in history who is not in the Hall of Fame?

No, Ron Santo, Bert Blyleven and others are ahead.

7. Are most players who have comparable statistics in the Hall of Fame?

As a starter turned closer, Eckersley?s comparables (Lindy McDaniel, Rich Gossage, Hoyt Wilhelm, Ron Reed, Rollie Fingers, Ron Kline, Firpo Marberry, Gary Bell, Gerry Stanely, Stu Miller) don?t really tell us much about him, although two (Wilhelm and Fingers) are Hall of Famers. Nevertheless, any player with almost two-hundred wins (197) and almost four-hundred saves (390) would have to be considered a pretty solid bet.

8. Do the player’s numbers meet Hall of Fame standards?



Absolutely. With only his starter?s numbers, Eckersley rates a fair to middling 34 on the

HOF Standards test (average Hall of Famer ~50). Factoring in his numbers as a closer, Eckersley rates 172 on the HOF Monitor (likely Hall of Famer > 100). As a closer alone, Eckersley would be an interesting candidate, one who would do a lot resolve the debate over closer?s values. Once one factors in his time as a starter however, he becomes a near-lock. 

9. Is there any evidence to suggest that the player was significantly better or worse than is suggested by his statistics?

Not especially.  The years spent in favorable pitching conditions in Oakland are well off-set by the years spent starting in unfavorable Fenway Park.

10. Is he the best player at his position who is eligible for the Hall of Fame?

Not as a RHP, more debatably as a reliever, indisputably as a one-inning style closer. 

11. How many MVP-type seasons did he have? Did he ever win an MVP award? If not, how many times was he close?

In addition to the 1992 MVP discussed at length in question #1, Eckersley received MVP votes three addition times, 1988-1990, finishing 5th, 5th, and 6th. He probably should?ve rated higher in ?90 when he finished directly behind Bobby Thigpen and his 57 saves. He never really had an MVP-level season that didn?t receive recognition.

12. How many All-Star-type seasons did he have? How many All-Star games did he play in? Did most of the players who played in this many All-Star games go into the Hall of Fame?

Eckersley appeared in 6 All-Star games, four as a closer (1988, 1990-92) and two as a starter (1977, 1982). In 1982, he started the game and took the loss. He experienced more success as a closer, recording 3 saves in his first three appearances and the last outs of an American League blow-out in 1992. Six is a relatively low total for a Hall of Famer, but consideration must be given to Eckersley requiring a manager?s selection, rather than popular vote, to make the team.

13. If this man were the best player on his team, would it be likely that the team could win the pennant?

As a starter, if Eckersley could have a year like his 1978 (mentioned in question #2), the answer is probably yes. However, as Eric Gagne proved last year, no matter how good a closer is, a team needs its best player to be better than its closer to have a legitimate shot at the pennant. 

14. What impact did the player have on baseball history? Was he responsible for any rule changes? Did he introduce any new equipment? Did he change the game in any way?

For ten years, 1973 until 1982, John Hiller held the single season save record, 38. Hiller recorded his 38 saves in 125 innings, which gave him the 5th most innings pitched on the 1973 Tigers. From 1983 until 1989, the record was held by Dan Quisenberry solo, then Quisenberry and Bruce Sutter together and then Dave Righetti. In 1986, Righetti recorded 46 saves in 106 innings, which gave him the 6th most innings pitched on the 1986 Yankees. In 1990, Bobby Thigpen recorded 57 saves, and did so in just 88 innings pitched. By 1995, Jose Mesa could match Righetti?s save total and do so in 64 innings, or approximately 60% of the innings Righetti threw. Also in 1995, Randy Myers could match Hiller?s save total, this in 55 innings, this not even 45% as many innings as the Detroit lefty. Why this mini-essay on saves? Largely because of how Tony LaRussa started to use Dennis Eckersley. LaRussa, who is quoted in George Will?s Men at Work as saying he would build a pitching staff around a flame-throwing closer (ironic given Eckersley was better known for his control), made Eckersley into the first true, ninth-inning-only-in-a-save-situation closer. The rest of baseball quickly followed suit. While it?s hard to mark this as Eckersley?s accomplishment rather than LaRussa?s, it was "The Eck" pitching the innings, so we?ll give him the credit.

15. Did the player uphold the standards of sportsmanship and character that the Hall of Fame, in its written guidelines, instructs us to consider?

Eckersley was something of a character in his Boston days, telling Gil Flores?the last out of his 1977 no-hitter, who was stepping out of the batter?s box?"Get in there. They’re not here to take your picture. You’re the last out. Get in there." Eckersley earned the nickname "Disco Denny" during his time in Boston, and is said to have had a problem with alcohol during his time in Beantown, one that continued in Chicago. I do not think the problems are sufficient to seriously consider excluding him from the Hall of Fame.

 

Summary

Dennis Eckersley is a unique pitcher, one who?prior to John Smoltz?s transition to the bullpen?was almost without a comparable player. As a starter alone, Eckersley does not come close to meriting induction; on the Hall of Fame standards test he ranks below Frank Tanana, Mike Cuellar and a whole host of others. As a reliever alone, he earns 109 points on the Hall of Monitor, making him a borderline candidate. However, when one combines the two, a 20 game winner, no-hitter pitcher and winner of nearly 150 games as a starter with the 390 career saves and great ERA years as a reliever, he becomes a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

 

Randy Myers

1. Was he ever regarded as the best player in baseball? Did anybody, while he was active, ever suggest that he was the best player in baseball?

No, not by a long shot.

2. Was he the best player on his team?

No, Myers? small inning totals (career average 81 for a season, but never more than 60 after 1993) make his contributions, although occasionally excellent, too small to rate him best on his team.

3. Was he the best player in baseball at his position? Was he the best player in the league at his position?

	

This is somewhat subjective, based in large part on what "position" we put Myers in. Pitcher? Reliever? Closer? Myers was definitely never the best pitcher in baseball, although he has a decent claim to being the best reliever in 1990 when as the left-handed and primary capital-C closer portion of the Cincinnati Reds? "Nasty Boys" bullpen, he posted a 190 park-adjusted ERA+. He was definitely the best reliever in 1997 when he put up a 291 ERA+, more than 40 points above other closers, in an especially good year for AL relievers.

4. Did he have an impact on a number of pennant races?

Absolutely, Myers posted ERA+ of 180 or better for 3 playoff teams and saved 31 games for the 1996 Orioles.  He also pitched 10 largely insignificant innings for the 1986 Mets. On the flip side, Myers was a disastrous pick-up for the 1998 Padres who, hoping only to keep the lefty from going to Atlanta, ended up being stuck with him. Myers posted a better than six-and-a-quarter in limited action in 1998, and proceeded to collect more than thirteen million dollars the following two years while never throwing a pitch due to rotator cuff injury.

5. Was he good enough that he could play regularly after passing his prime?

Nope, after his great 1997 in Baltimore, he signed a three year contract with Toronto but was never the same pitcher again. After the move to San Diego, he suffered the aforementioned injury and pitched fewer major league innings than Wade Boggs from 1999 on.

6. Is he the very best baseball player in history who is not in the Hall of Fame?

Not unless one holds an oddly low opinion of Bruce Sutter, Bert Blyleven, and a whole host of others.

7. Are most players who have comparable statistics in the Hall of Fame?

Although the BBWAA hasn?t made a determination on closers yet, none of Myers? top 10 comparables (Jeff Montgomery, Roberto Hernandez, Robb Nen, John Wetteland, Trevor Hoffman, Rod Beck, Tom Henke, Jeff Reardon, Todd Worrell, Mitch Williams) leap out as obvious Hall of Fame closers, and some (Beck and Williams, notably) will never come close.

8. Do the player’s numbers meet Hall of Fame standards?



Not really. While Myers posts a respectable 94 on the

HOF Monitor (likely Hall of Famer > 100), more than half (50) of those points come from one statistic, his save totals. His other career statistics, a career 3.19 ERA and 122 ERA+ in slightly fewer than 900 IP are good but not great.

9. Is there any evidence to suggest that the player was significantly better or worse than is suggested by his statistics?

Myers? ERA might have benefited from a slight home-field advantage, his career Home/Road split is 2.88/3.26. In the two home parks where Myers pitched the most innings, Shea (a pitchers? park) and Riverfront/Cinergy (which played as a slight hitter?s park during Myers? time), he posted near identical ERAs: 2.61 at Shea, 2.63 at Riverfront, both below his career 3.19 ERA. It is also worthy of note that in twelve apparently ill-conceived starts in 1991, Myers posted a 3.45 ERA, almost a run-and-a-half higher than his relief ERA the year before.

10. Is he the best player at his position who is eligible for the Hall of Fame?

Hardly, as a LHP, Myers is behind Jim Kaat among others.  As a LH relief pitcher, he falls behind Sparky Lyle and others.

11. How many MVP-type seasons did he have? Did he ever win an MVP award? If not, how many times was he close?

He was never MVP and only close once.  In 1997 Myers finished 4th in AL voting. Myers had an unquestionably great season for a closer, but his place in the MVP balloting is something of a mystery. Myers also finished in fourth place in the Cy Young voting and 1997 was the only year sportswriters believed the fourth best pitcher to be the fourth best player.  For the sake of comparison, excluding Myers? 1997, the 4th place finisher in the Cy Young race received a grand total of 37 MVP points, all of them coming from Jimmy Key (29 in 1993) and Mike Mussina (8 in 1994). Myers in ?97 received 128 points and actually beat Cy Young winner Roger Clemens, who finished 10th in the voting.

12. How many All-Star-type seasons did he have? How many All-Star games did he play in? Did most of the players who played in this many All-Star games go into the Hall of Fame?

Myers was selected to four All-Star teams (1990, 1994-95, 1997).  He played in all four, earning the save for the National League in 1995. He might?ve had a legitimate claim in 1988 when he posted a 190 ERA+ but missed the team, although that is balanced by his selction as the lone Cub in 1994 despite a mere 110 ERA+. Generally speaking Hall of Famers have more than four All-Star appearances.

13. If this man were the best player on his team, would it be likely that the team could win the pennant?

Not likely, excluding the year in which he had twelve starts, Myers never pitched more than 90 innings.

14. What impact did the player have on baseball history? Was he responsible for any rule changes? Did he introduce any new equipment? Did he change the game in any way?

Some have claimed that the Padres debacle of ending up with Myers in 1998 has prevented teams from making wavier claims simply for the purpose of keeping a player from another team. Of course, Jose Canseco fell ass-backwards into a World Series ring in 2000 on account of the Yankees doing just that sort of thing. Even if real, it?s hard to say the "Myers Effect" has truly changed the game

15. Did the player uphold the standards of sportsmanship and character that the Hall of Fame, in its written guidelines, instructs us to consider?

Although he was part of the "Nasty Boys" bullpen, Myers seems to have been there more for his pitching than his personality.

 

Summary

Myers had a respectable career, with several seasons of above average relief pitching. He saved 30 or more games for five different teams and was a key member of a World Series bullpen. However, he mixed his years of great success with far more mediocre ones and does not have a defining characteristic that might push him ahead of other relievers (like his comparables) and into the Hall of Fame. Myers is not a Hall of Fame pitcher, and should probably drop off the ballot after this year.

 

Harold can be a fun sponge Posted: January 06, 2004 at 06:00 AM | 7 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
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   1. WillYoung Posted: January 06, 2004 at 04:03 AM (#614322)
How could Puckett have possibly been the league's second best hitter if his OPS+ was only 7th best? Sounds like the author thinks that BA is the definitive measure of hitting ability.

Let's look at the top 6 in OPS+ in 1992:
-Mark McGwire played just 139 games
-Frank Thomas had a great year while playing almost every game in the field
-Edgar Martinez played in just 135 games
-Danny Tartabull played in just 123 games
-Ken Griffey, Jr. played in 142 games
-Paul Molitor played in just 48 games in the field

Of those six, only Frank Thomas and Paul Molitor played in 150 games. So the other four can be waived out as not being "complete", and Kirby becomes the third best hitter. That's a lot closer than second-best than the 7th place position that is implied above.

Then factor in Kirby's Gold Glove defense and the MVP becomes a tossup between the Big Hurt and him.
   2. Danny Posted: January 06, 2004 at 04:03 AM (#614326)
Eck for his career: Chuck Finley plus 300 saves and 7 seasons. Why I should be more impressed with Eckersley than Finley completely escapes me.

You wouldn't be impressed if FInley had 300 saves to go along with his 200 wins? Closers such as Rivera, Percival, and Wagner don't have 300 saves.

Finley didn't pad his ERA + in a easy role.

Eckersley bested his career ERA+ just once in his final 6 seasons. If anything, hanging on for so long hurt his ERA+.
   3. Mikαεl Posted: January 06, 2004 at 04:03 AM (#614327)
It seems to me that much of the case for Eckersley presented here is based on his high HoF Monitor number.

That number was never meant as an evaluation of a player's quality (as the Standards number was, vaguely), but rather as a estimator of whether the voters would select someone. The Monitor really shouldn't be used as evidence that anyone deserves to be in the HoF.

Further, the monitor was developed at a time when no modern closers had been selected for the Hall. Thus, its weighting for saves is anachronistic:

* 7 points for 40 or more saves, 4 points for 30 or more, and 1 point for 20 or more.
* 20 points for 300 career saves and 10 points for 200 career saves.

As noted, the Monitor says Randy Myers would be a likely HoFer. It makes Roberto Hernandez look almost electable. The Monitor really doesn't speak to the candidacies of modern closers in any meaningful way.
   4. Walt Davis Posted: January 06, 2004 at 04:03 AM (#614335)
Aargh! Time for my complaints about the Keltner list, especially how it's applied to pitchers.

It is rather absurd to ask whether a pitcher was the best player in the game, best player on the team, or how often they had MVP-type seasons? Why isn't there a question about Cy Young type seasons?

In applying the Keltner list to pitchers, we should replace "player" with "pitcher" and "MVP" with "CYA". It's simply counter-productive to do otherwise, even if Keltner did it that way on purpose.

Beyond pitchers, why all this emphasis on "best"? If we only put in guys who were the best (remember, there's only one best), we'd have maybe 40 guys in the HOF. Even 40 seems high, except for the additional problem that the questions don't specify how long. Was he the best at his position for one year, for 5 non-consecutive years, for 5 consecutive years, over a 5-year period (i.e. not the best every single year)? How is anybody supposed to be able to accurately answer such nebulous questions.

"Are most players who have comparable statistics in the HOF?" Comparable in what terms? In league/era/park-adjusted terms or in counting terms? Same with "do the player's numbers meet HOF standards?" In fact, I'd like to know how the second question differs from the first. What are HOF standards other than "numbers which usually get you into the HOF"? I suppose you could use the first to apply sabermetric stats and the latter to apply traditional HOF stats.

"If this man was the best player on his team, is it likely the team would make the playoffs?" This is another odd question. For example, Eric Gagne and the Dodgers didn't prove anything last year other than a great closer can't make up for a pathetic offense. But give the Dodgers an average offense last year and they just might make it (they were only 6 games out of the wild card after all). So I think there's little doubt that a team with a Gagne or an Eckersley as its best player could make the playoffs. Heck, the best player on the 2002 Angels was probably Garrett Anderson.

Of course the question doesn't ask "could" but rather whether the team is "likely" to make the playoffs. But how are we supposed to answer that? The guy could be the best player on a team of very good players, and sure they'd be likely to make the playoffs (if it's fair to say that any team is likely to do so), but put him on a team with below average players and no they won't make the playoffs. Maybe the question is going for "if he was the best player on an otherwise average team, would they be likely to make the playoffs", but I'm not sure we can answer yes to that question for anyone this side of Barry Bonds and Babe Ruth.

All told, I'd say there are 6 questions in the Keltner list which, as worded, would be answered no for virtually every pitcher in history.

I'd say that all the "best" questions, except possibly best player on team, have a pointlessly high standard met by only a handful of HOFers. They also need to specify a period of time the player was the best. (note, #1 is fine as it includes "ever").

I'd say that questions 2, 3, and 13 are poorly worded to the point of not being able to be reliable if asked of multiple people.

Questions 7 and 8 are redundant.

Questions 14 and 15 are fine, but apply to almost noone.

A list of questions like this aren't very useful if they don't help us choose among the borderline players. If you're the "best", then there's little doubt you belong in the HOF. So questions 1, 3, 6, and 10 don't help us sort through borderline candidates. Questions 14 and 15 rarely apply and carry little weight if they do. #13 is impossible to answer (is team likely to win pennant if he is best player). And #7 and 8 are redundant.

So we're down to 7 questions. Two of those are really team-dependent (best player on team? impact on pennant races?).

So we're left with:

5) play past his prime? This biases towards career value over peak value....which is fine, but doesn't help us choose between high peak/fast decline (Dick Allen) and solid peak/slow decline (Dave Winfield).

7/8) HOF-worthy statistics?

9) better or worse than statistics? I think we can pretty much get rid of this by including era/league/park adjusted stats in 7/8.

11) # of MVPs and MVP-type seasons

12) # of AS games and AS-type seasons

So if we drop 9, aren't we really just left with "did this guy put up HOF numbers for a long enough period of time"? Isn't that the question everyone asks? Does the Keltner list really help us find a better way to answer that question?

OK, I'll grant that #11 and #12 add an element of "how was this player viewed at the time".
   5. RP Posted: January 06, 2004 at 04:03 AM (#614339)
Had someone converted Finley, though, there's no reason to think his performance would have been that much worse than Eckersley's. More likely than not, he would have 125-200 saves and 180 wins.

I don't think this argument speaks to Eckersley's HOF credentials at all. First, we have no way of knowing what Finley might have done if made a closer. Your comment that he likely would have pitched as well as Eckersley is just a guess. Second, what Finley or any other pitcher might have done if certain decisions had been made doesn't say anything about what value Eckersley contributed to his teams. DE was a very good pitcher for a long time and obviously helped his teams win. The fact that Finley might have been able to do the same is irrelevant.
   6. RP Posted: January 06, 2004 at 04:03 AM (#614343)
Does WARP give relievers any credit for leveraged innings? If not I don't think it fairly captures a reliever's value.
   7. Enrico Palazzo Posted: January 06, 2004 at 04:03 AM (#614345)
One of my favorite baseball-watching moments prominently featured Randy Myers. It came during a Giants-Cubs game back in 1993. This was his first year with the Cubs, and the team had a Randy Myers Poster Day promotion to honor him. The Cubs led 2-0 through eight, so they brought in Myers to work the ninth. He proceeded to give up the lead on an RBI by Tood Benzinger, and almost immediately, hundreds, even thousands of Randy Myers posters rained down from the disgusted and inebriated Wrigley fans. They had to delay the game to clean up the field, while Myers just stood there on the mound taking in the abuse. Most impressive display of fan disapproval I've ever seen, I think.

Myers eventually vultured a win in that game, after the Cubs came back and won in the bottom of the ninth.

Also, two years later, he beat down a bond trader who charged the mound to yell at him when he gave up a homer. I think Myers had a black belt in some martial art.

Myers is not a Hall of Famer by any means, but he inspired some fairly intense reactions over the years.

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