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Thursday, December 26, 2002

Tommy John and Jim Kaat

Sean weighs in on two prominent southpaws.

I was the one who proposed this rundown of the HOF ballot, so I’m
stepping to the plate with two pitchers who have been on the ballot
for quite awhile, Tommy John and Jim Kaat.  Two peas in a pod, these
two are each other’s most similar pitcher and probably will share the
same fate regarding induction.  Both are from the Midwest, John from
Terre Haute and Kaat from Zeeland, Michigan.  Both are lefties around
6’3”-6’4”.  Both pitched in multiple World Series (though Kaat is the
only one with a ring).  Both pitched well into their 40’s, Kaat until
age 44 and John until age 46.  Bill James ranks them 63rd and 65th in
the NHBA with Catfish Hunter between them.  Thus it makes sense to
deal with them together.

Jim Kaat (

HrEF="http://www.baseball-reference.com/k/kaatji01.shtml">

Baseball-Reference.com
Stats) debuted as a 20-year-old with the Washington Senators in
1959 and pitched in 898 games (625 starts) through his final season in
1983.  His 283-237 record came with five franchises, though he is
predominantly a Senator/Twin.  As for career marks, he is 28th in
wins, 15th in games, 24th in innings, 13th in games started, but on
the negative side of the ledger he is 16th in losses, 15th in earned
runs allowed and 15th in hits allowed after leading the league four
times in that mark.  His main trait is his considerable durability and
his fielding talents that lead to 36 Gold Glove Awards.  Rumor has it
he finished third in last year’s AL balloting based on reputation
alone.

Kaat first appeared on the Hall of Fame ballot in 1989 and has
remained on it ever since.  However, he has never cracked a third of
the ballots cast and has not been increasing or losing votes.  He
pretty much has one-third of the support necessary to make it into the
Hall of Fame.

Tommy John (

HREF="http://www.baseball-reference.com/j/johnto01.shtml">

Baseball-Reference.com
Stats) debuted as a 20-year-old for Cleveland in 1963 and pitched
in 760 games (700 starts) through his final season in 1989.  His
288-231 record came with six franchises.  I always think of him as a
Yankee being I grew up during the 70’s and 80’s, but his best seasons
were with the Dodgers and White Sox.  He would probably be inducted
with Frank Jobe’s picture on his hat.  His career totals make him 18th
in innings pitched 42nd in strikeouts, sixth in starts, tenth in hits
allowed, 19th in losses and 14th in earned runs allowed.

John first appeared on the ballot in 1995, and has done
incrementally better than Kaat, by seven and eighteen more votes the
last two years.  To compare these gentlemen to a recent inductee who
was in ballot purgatory for quite awhile, Tony Perez did much better
in his elections typically falling 50-100 votes short before finally
clearing the bar in 2000.  Kaat and John are not going to make it in
through the BBWAA.

I’m going to run through the Keltner test here and see if that adds any information to whether they should be in.

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?

John: Nope.  If we go by win shares, it isn’t even close.
John’s best season was a 276 inning, 138 ERA+, 21-9 effort in 1979
which was good for 23 win shares.  A quick scan shows a half dozen
seasons at least ten win shares better than that season.

 

Kaat: Nope.  ditto for Kaat.  His best year was a 304
inning, 131 ERA+, 25-13 season with the Minnesota Twins. 

2. Was he the best player on his team?

John: Definitely not as his best years were on a loaded
Dodgers team (Cey, Garvey, Lopes, Sutton, and Marshall) and a loaded
Yankees team (Munson, Randolph, Jackson, Guidry, Gossage).  He was a
good complementary player.

 

Kaat: He did lead the staff of an 89-73 Twins team in 1966,
but clearly Oliva and Killebrew were more valuable players for the
Twins throughout the 1960’s.  Kaat was the best pitcher on the 60’s
Twins with 139 WS for the decade, just a bit better than Camilio
Pascual and Jim Perry.

 

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

John: He wasn’t, but he did finish second in the Cy Young
voting twice (in 1977 and 1979), and he was 8th in 1978.  Over that
three-year period he had the fourth-most points in the Cy Young voting
behind Guidry, Mike Flanagan and Gaylord Perry, and ahead of Steve
Carlton and Bruce Sutter.  He was a top pitcher those three years.

 

Kaat: finished fourth in the Cy Young voting in 1975 with a
20-14 record, but he undoubtedly would have garnered more votes if not
for the voting system.  Until 1970, the voters named only a single
pitcher on their ballot.  And until 1966, the award was only given to
one pitcher across both leagues.  In 1966, Kaat led the league in wins
with 25 leading Denny McLain with 20 and was first in innings by 40
and was fourth in adjusted ERA.  He would have won the AL Cy Young had
it been awarded.


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

John: Yes, John threw six shutouts for the 1980 WS Yankee
team and was the number three starter for the 1978 Dodgers.  John was
6-3 in the postseason with three complete games and a 2.65 ERA,
including a three-run complete game win in game one of the 1982 ALCS at
age 39.

 

Kaat: From 1962 to 1970, the Twins finished first or second
five times, so yes.  He was 1-3 in four postseason series with a 4.02
ERA.  He won game two of the 1965 World Series with a one-run complete
game, but lost games five and seven.


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

John: He pitched until he was 46.

 

Kaat: He pitched until he was 44.

 

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

John & Kaat: Nope, they aren’t the best pitchers not in
either.  Bert Blyleven is their peer and clearly better.


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

John: Yes (* - signifies in the HOF)

  1. Jim Kaat (923)
  2. Robin Roberts (898) *
  3. Bert Blyleven (889)
  4. Fergie Jenkins (885) *
  5. Early Wynn (870) *
  6. Burleigh Grimes (865) *
  7. Tony Mullane (864)
  8. Don Sutton (861) *
  9. Eppa Rixey (857) *
  10. Red Ruffing (857) *

 

Kaat:

  1. Tommy John (923)
  2. Robin Roberts (917) *
  3. Fergie Jenkins (891) *
  4. Eppa Rixey (875) *
  5. Bert Blyleven (854)
  6. Early Wynn (849) *
  7. Burleigh Grimes (846) *
  8. Frank Tanana (845)
  9. Red Ruffing (839) *
  10. Ted Lyons (837) *


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

John: Not quite, John scores an 8 on black ink (40 is
average), 44 on HOF standards (50 is average) and 100 on the monitor
(100 is likely induction).

 

Kaat: Kaat does a little better with 19 in black ink, 44 on
standards and 120.5 on the monitor (thank you Gold Gloves).


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

John: John played for some pretty good teams.  The teams he
played on would have averaged 273-246 in his decisions without him,
compared to Blyleven who was on teams at or around .500.  This is a
crude estimate based team winning percentage alone.

 

Kaat: A summary of Kaat’s teams gives a 278-242 record.


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

John & Kaat: No, see above.

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

John: He finished 12th in 1977 (3rd among pitchers).

Kaat: No, though Kaat did finish 5th in 1966, which was
the best finish by a pitcher by a good margin.  He received a few odd
votes in 1967 and 1975.


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?

 

John: John was named to four All-Star rosters, including
three straight from 1978 to 1980.  He appeared in the 1968 game and
the 1980 game taking the loss.  340 players (89 of them pitchers) have
appeared in four or more All-Star games—170 since expansion in 1969.

 

Kaat: Kaat was an All-Star three times, including 1962 as a
rookie.  He appeared in the 1966 and 1975 games.  495 players have
appeared in three or more All-Star games.


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

John & Kaat: Nope.

 

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?

John: Well, if you consider a new elbow ligament a new piece
of equipment, then yes.

 

Kaat:Besides the ridiculous number of gold gloves, not
really.  He has stayed active as an announcer.

 

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

John: As far as I’m aware of.  Bill James call him “a hell
of a nice man.”

 

Kaat: As far as I’m aware of.


Conclusion

I think they are both Hall of Famers.  I’d pick John if forced to
pick one or the other.  I also think they make it without that much
finagling.  They were consistently good for a remarkably long
time.  They each were among the top pitchers in the league for a
couple of years, and with a couple of breaks they would have a couple
of Cy Youngs between them.  The Hall would be richer for having them.

 

Sean Forman Posted: December 26, 2002 at 06:00 AM | 16 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
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   1. fracas' hope springs eternal Posted: December 27, 2002 at 02:13 AM (#607805)
The fact that both pitchers' teams would have had almost the same record were other pitchers used in their starts weighs heavily against them, at least for me. As a guy who'd like to tighten HOF standards slightly (I'm amazed at how many posters would have full or nearly full ballots for the Veterans Committee election) I wouldn't miss either of these guys.
   2. MattB Posted: December 27, 2002 at 02:13 AM (#607810)
Notwithstanding Jonathan's overstatement above, there do seem to be about an even division of yesses and nos.

The nos (or mostly nos) in Questions 1, 2, 3, 6, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, and 13 are clear indicators on players with a lot more "career" than "peak". Both clearly have value, but I agree that there needs to be more analysis here.

Is the answer:

(A) Kaat and John just have too many no's to go in.
(B) They get in based on the few yesses.
(C) There is something wrong with the Keltner list because it leads to the wrong answer here.

Any could be correct, but I'd need to hear the arguments more loudly if the answer is not A.
   3. Marc Stone Posted: December 27, 2002 at 02:13 AM (#607811)
Not to be a slave to Bill James but I am struck by his rankings of John and Kaat as 63rd and 65th all time. If you accept that 40%-45% of the HOF should be pitchers (because they are 40%-45% of players) and that being one of the top 10-15 position players at one's position is a valid and fairly strict criteria for the HOF then the top 80-120 position players should be in the Hall along with the top 60-90 pitchers. By this measure these guys are at the bottom end but probably belong in Cooperstown.
   4. Marc Posted: December 27, 2002 at 02:13 AM (#607812)
I am really of two minds concerning Kaat and John, and Blyleven, too, for that matter. As a Twins fan, I would love to see Kaat and Blyleven get elected, and if the price of getting Kaat and Blyleven is was that John had to go in, too, then so be it.

That is not why I am of two minds, however. If you just look at the W-L in comparison to a bunch of pitchers who are in the HoF, you have to believe that it would be fair for them to join their comps and a lot worse on the inside.

On the other hand, the Keltner list does a very good job of highlighting the role of all the other considerations besides raw career totals in distinguishing the truly great from the near-great.

My compromise when I am of two minds in this way is very simple. They're NOT BBWAA caliber selections, but the VC could do a lot worse some day. Given the bias the new VC is likely to have toward contemporary players (we'll have to see if I am correct on this, of course), it is in fact highly likely that as soon as the players who get 5 percent of the BBWAA vote and manage to stay on the ballot for 15 years become eligible for the VC, they are very likely to move ahead.

From that perspective, I would guess that the VC would probably go to Tommy John first because he pitched in the big cities and has a surgical procedure named after him.
   5. Scott Posted: December 27, 2002 at 02:13 AM (#607813)
1. A weakness of similarity scores: all 10 "comps" can be better, or all 10 can be worse. When we see a list of ten, we instinctively assume the player "belongs in the group." That may be misleading for someone like KaatJohn, because most guys with 20+ year careers were better. Most guys who lasted that long were truly great at their peaks and then lasted as average contributors for a while. That's what the Keltner question means by "good enough to play past their prime." So I'd discount the fact that 8 of 10 KaatJohn comparables are in the Hall.

2. Not only Blyleven, but also, Luis Tiant, is more deserving. Bill James has compared Tiant to Hunter and concluded that Tiant was a better pitcher but is underrated because he (a) spent his good years in a hitter's park (Hunter was in a pitchers'park) and (b) wasn't a press favorite like "Catfish" the amiable southern dude. The point here is that Blyleven isn't the only more deserving pitcher. (I know that's not what you necessarily were implying, Sean; I just wanted to make the point explicitly.)

3. Even if you're a "longevity" fan, they're a stretch. Yes, Kaat-Hunter-John are #63,64,65. RON GUIDRY is #66. Which is to say that as "high longevity" guys, Kaat-John are comparable to a "high peak" guy of Guidry's caliber.

As a Yankee fan, I like John and Kaat (from his announcing). I'm not 100% against them as HOF'rs, but I'm hesitant to let in pure-longevity guys who never were "great" players, really.
   6. Scott Posted: December 27, 2002 at 02:13 AM (#607814)
Both played in pitchers' eras (which I know ERA+ takes into account), which I think made it easier to be a control pitcher. In pitchers' eras, the parks were bigger and the hitters were smaller than they are today. This is just a hypothesis, but I think that made it easier to be a control pitcher.

Anyone else notice (a) the glut of control pitchers who thrived in the 60s & 70s, in contrast to (b) the shortage of dominant "control" picthers now? Right now there are Maddux, Glavine, Moyer... I'm sure I'm missing someone, but you get the point. There are few really top-of-the-line control pitchers today, and the few who exist are in their late 30s -- holdovers from another era. The occupational hazard of being a control pitcher is that the 85 mph tosses that miss their target end up home runs. Since the late 90s, it's been very likely that mistakes become HRs. In the 70s and early 80s, it was much more likely they become fly outs (bigger parks, smaller hitters).

All I'm saying is that just as we may discount modern (or 1930s) HR hitters -- for example, Canseco's >400 HRs won't automatically get him in the Hall -- maybe we should discount 70s control pitchers a bit. They played at a time when it was easier to get away with their mistakes.
   7. Dan Turkenkopf Posted: December 27, 2002 at 02:13 AM (#607819)
This list is an awful lot of John Matlack, Burt Hooton, and Dennis Martinez, with five Hall of Famers sprinkled in, plus Kaat and Tiant.

Let's look at the same list for Maddux.

21. Kirtley Baker (981)
22. Mark Gubicza (979)
23. Storm Davis (978)
24. Dan Petry (975)
25. Mike Witt (972)
26. Dennis Eckersley (975)
27. Dennis Eckersley (969)
28. Denny McLain (971)
29. Dave McNally (945)
30. Dave McNally (944)
31. Tom Seaver (935) *
32. Juan Marichal (944) *
33. Juan Marichal (949) *
34. Juan Marichal (940) *
35. Juan Marichal (935) *
36. Tom Seaver (904) *

Some very good pitchers (especially after age 30) but only 2 current HOFers and one likely (Eck, but as a reliever). Yes, neither Seaver nor Marichal are great comps for Maddux, which indicates he's probably fairly unique as a pitcher. But I think this list shows that just looking at sim scores by year for a pitcher is not a very good way to determine HOF status.

On the question at hand, I'm not really sure how I stand about John and Kaat. I don't think there's anyway they should be in before Blyleven, and I'm not sure if I'd vote for them, but I wouldn't complain too strenuously if they were elected.
   8. Srul Itza Posted: December 27, 2002 at 02:13 AM (#607822)
Okay, Sal --

To those opposing the entry of Kitty Kaat and Tommy, I say:

Up the tall ladder and down the short rope
To Hell with King Billy and here's to the Pope
If that doesn't do, we'll tear 'em in two
and send them to hell with their red, white and blue.

   9. Bernal Diaz has an angel on his shoulder Posted: December 27, 2002 at 02:13 AM (#607824)
Can I nominate Dr Frank Jobe for the HOF?
   10. fracas' hope springs eternal Posted: December 27, 2002 at 02:13 AM (#607825)
As a pioneer, I don't see why not. Not sure if the living HOF hitters would vote for him though.
   11. fracas' hope springs eternal Posted: December 28, 2002 at 02:13 AM (#607831)
One could be very similar to Bret Saberhagen in an even-numbered year, and that would be a bad thing, or similar to Bret Saberhagen in an odd-numbered year, and that would be a good thing - or perhaps I misunderstand the manner in which similarity scores by age are tabulated?

I believe you are. I have always assumed similarity scores by age were based on career-to-date up through the appropriate age-season, not on having a single season at the same age which happens to be similar.

Also, this is the first I've heard of TJ saying, "Doc, try something - anything." If true, I would give TJ a boost. Do you have any documentation (preferably contemporaneous)?
   12. John (You Can Call Me Grandma) Murphy Posted: December 28, 2002 at 02:14 AM (#607834)
As Jonathan mentioned, the list, on the whole, would argue against the inductions of Kaat and John, yet their similarity scores indicate that they are, indeed, HoFs.

Robin Roberts is the most similar HoFer to both John and Kaat. Does anyone really believe this? Roberts was the dominant NL pitcher for most of the fifties, while Kaat and John were never in that category.

Similarity scores are fun, but they are certainly not a perfect tool.

With that said, I would decline to vote for either of these fine gentleman.

PS I agree with some here that if anybody deserves to be in the Hall for the "Tommy John" surgery, it's Frank Jobe. John should receive zip votes for the surgery on his arm (other than the fact that it prolonged his career greatly so that his HoF numbers were enhanced).
   13. Jay Jaffe Posted: December 29, 2002 at 02:14 AM (#607839)
Just to police a few of the facts Sean presented on Tommy John:

The Yanks, for whom TJ tossed six shutouts in 1980, did not go to the World Series that year (they lost in the LCS to the Royals); they went in 1981, losing to the Dodgers.

However, I think the answer to #4 (impact on pennant races) and also #13 (if we're considering "best pitcher on his team" instead of "best player on his team") should be expanded for TJ as follows:

In the 6-season span from 1977 to 1982 (which essentially coincides with his peak), Tommy John's teams won the division 5 times and went to the World Series 3 times. In four of those 5 seasons (all but 1982, when he was a late-season acquisition by the Angels), John was either the best or the second-best starter on the staff [I'm eyeballing this by W-L, ERA and IP, because I don't have any Win Shares data at my fingertips]. Though he was never on a World Series winner, he was excellent in the postseason (6-3, 2.65 ERA), and the outcome of the 1981 Series may have hinged on Bob Lemon's decision to pinch-hit for him in the 4th inning of a 1-1 tie in Game Six (relievers gave up 7 runs in the next two innings and they lost the game 9-2 and the Series 4-2). Tommy John had a positive impact on several pennant races and World Series and was arguably the best starter on some of those teams.

I'd love to see John go in. I'd absolutely advocate Blyleven ahead of him, but I think he's got a helluva case. Better than Kaat's because his peak was more defined and it elevated his teams into the postseason several times over. I'd vote for Kaat as well, but he's definitely a rung below John because of this stuff.

And the elbow surgery thing helps his case (I didn't even consider the fact that he was right in the mix for the #1 or #2 on the '74 Dodgers, another Series team; he was 13-3, 2.59 in 153 innings before going down); when he came back, he became a BETTER pitcher than before. Not only did he show that his surgery was a success, but that literally hundreds of pitchers who suffered similar injuries could recover and be successful as well. Having a career-saving surgical procedure named after you is a pretty big intangible to have in your corner.

Incidentally, the 1980 Yankees staff had some names: John, Kaat, Guidry, Tiant, Gossage, and Gaylord Perry.
   14. Charles Saeger Posted: December 30, 2002 at 02:14 AM (#607855)
Here's another way of looking at these men. Looking at only their Hall of Fame comps in their top 10 and excluding each other, what are the mean numbers for Jim Kaat's, Tommy John's and Bert Blyleven's comps?

Comp              W      L      Pct      G     GS     CG    ShO    Sv      IP       H      ER     HR      BB      SO     ERA
Kaat            277    233    0.543    651    555    308     41    17    4419    4405    1711    292    1245    1972    3.49
John            286    237    0.547    677    594    283     45    14    4579    4434    1742    328    1276    2329    3.42
Blyleven        308    245    0.557    730    667    259     52    12    4974    4542    1800    434    1429    3264    3.26



Blyleven is like more good pitchers (his list has Tom Seaver, Phil Niekro and Steve Carlton, while Kaat's and John's do not; John and Blyleven are both like Don Sutton while Kaat is not). Also, Kaat and John are each like one non-HoF pitcher not in the list above (Frank Tanana for Kaat, Tony Mullane for John). So, in spite of his lesser won-lost record (190 Fibonacci Win Points for Blyleven, 200 for Kaat, 217 for John), Blyleven was a better pitcher (though the others in his peer group are better than he is, and Kaat and John are a bit better than their peers). I use Tango's FIP, and I come up with 0.76 for Kaat, 0.68 for John and 0.43 for Blyleven, so all numbers show Blyleven is the best.

Let me put it this way. We induct Blyleven, then we can start talking about John and Kaat.
   15. Devin has a deep burning passion for fuzzy socks Posted: December 30, 2002 at 02:14 AM (#607870)
Charles, are you sure you figured the Fibonnaci scores correctly? "Blyleven" has more wins AND a higher winning %, so shouldn't he have a higher Win Score?
   16. Charles Saeger Posted: December 30, 2002 at 02:14 AM (#607873)
Devin: I was talking about for the real Bert Blyleven, Tommy John and Jim Kaat. His record is worse than theirs, but his other stats are better. They're not as good as the top guys on his comp list (Seaver and Carlton), but they're about as good as the other HoFers.

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