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— Where BTF's Members Investigate the Grand Old Game
Wednesday, December 18, 2002
David reviews the career of one of the unsung heroes of the 1985 playoffs.
If there was ever a pitcher who could be statistically labeled an “average” pitcher, he would be Danny Jackson. Baseball-reference.com lists Jackson?s career ERA+ at a nice even 100, but that doesn?t tell the whole story. Let?s go to the Keltner List.
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?
2. Was he the best player on his team?
He was the best starting pitcher on the 1986 Royals, the 1988 Reds and the 1994 Phillies.
An examination of six years in the life of Danny Jackson as compared to some of his teammates, seen through by Bill James? Win Shares:
Five of these seasons are Jackson?s best, and 1993 was thrown in to make a point: Jackson was never the best player on his team in part because he was blessed with some great teammates. Jackson himself never produced a season greater than 22 WS, and that?s generally not going to lead any good team.
3. Was he the best player in baseball at his position? Was he the best player in the league at his position?
No. In his best year, Jackson finished second to Orel Hershisher in the 1988 Cy Young voting, and sixth in the 1994 voting. Baseball-reference.com shows Jackson with three seasons with an ERA+ in the top 10 in the league, his best showing a 5th in 1986.
4. Did he have an impact on a number of pennant races?
Jackson was a regular in the September races. Between 1984, his first full season, and his last full season in 1997, Danny Jackson?s teams finished either first or second in their division eight times, and Jackson himself pitched in five post-seasons.
Purely anecdotal, but I always remembered him as being considered a good guy to have down the stretch, so I did some checking into Jackson?s late season history, courtesy of Retrosheet:
An arbitrarily selected month is, of course, subject to all sorts of fallacies, so I won?t try to draw any conclusions from it, but that?s not exactly a record of distinction there. While he had some fine seasons and his teams did end up winning division titles, it could not be said that Jackson excelled in the heat of the pennant races.
5. Was he good enough that he could play regularly after passing his prime?
No. Jackson hit the wall hard, or perhaps, the wall hit him. Between age 25 and 26, Jackson tossed 485 innings, including 25 complete games, then spent the next three years fighting various arm and shoulder problems. He was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 1993, had surgery in the off-season, and reportedly had a difficult time recovering from the procedure, though he performed well in 1994. He suffered a badly sprained ankle late that season, tried pitched through it, and never quite recovered from that injury. He retired after the 1997 season, at age 35.
6. Is he the very best baseball player in history who is not in the Hall of Fame?
7. Are most players who have comparable statistics in the Hall of Fame?
Nope. Of the ten players listed as the most similar on baseball-reference.com, you have five who were once all-stars, but not one Cy Young between them.
8. Do the player’s numbers meet Hall of Fame standards?
No. According to the HOF Standards test, Jackson scores just 6 points (average HOFer ~50); according to the HOF Monitor, he scores 25.5 (likely HOFer > 100).
9. Is there any evidence to suggest that the player was significantly better or worse than is suggested by his statistics?
Not significantly. His ERA and inning totals look impressive, but in the context of the 1980?s, that just made him merely a good pitcher. His value was in his left-handedness, and in his ability to take the ball and chew up innings in the middle of the rotation. This may not sound like a compliment, but there is a lot of value in being an average pitcher, and for a significant part of his career, Danny Jackson was a bit better than that. What drags his career numbers down are the bad years between 1989 and 1991, when he was fighting injuries.
10. Is he the best player at his position who is eligible for the Hall of Fame?
No. Bert Blyleven, Tommy John, and Jim Kaat all had much better careers as starting pitchers, and all three are on the outside looking in. Beyond that, there are too many others ahead of Jackson for him to merit consideration.
11. How many MVP-type seasons did he have? Did he ever win an MVP award? If not, how many times was he close?
Nope. In his best season, Jackson mustered a 9th place finish in MVP voting ? the only time he finished in the top 10.
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?
Jackson was an All-Star in both 1988 and 1994. Two years of acknowledged excellence is generally not an indicator of immortality.
13. If this man were the best player on his team, would it be likely that the team could win the pennant?
Probably not. If he?s your best player, you might be the Devil Rays. (Of course, if you?re the Devil Rays, you?re probably looking into signing Danny Jackson right now.)
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?
Not that I know of.
15. Did the player uphold the standards of sportsmanship and character that the Hall of Fame, in its written guidelines, instructs us to consider?
If Jackson failed to meet the criteria for character, then it?s a secret well-kept from me.
In talking about Danny Jackson, it is important to stress how vital “average guys” are to successful organizations. A 100 ERA+ over a career meant that half the time he was an above-average pitcher, and over seven separate seasons, Jackson’s average ERA+ was 121. That’s pretty damn good. Teams who can identify and surround their stars with Danny Jacksons win divisions and pennants. Bad organizations will mistake Danny Jackson for that star, show him the money, then wonder why things went wrong.
Though one could never characterize him as great player, Danny Jackson was always a part of something successful. He had a four-year run as one of the top 10 lefties in baseball, and threw 2072 innings of solid baseball. That his teams were often successful is no coincidence; like I said before, winning teams need solid guys like Jackson to fill in the gaps between superstars.
That being said, the Hall of Fame was not built for “solid guys.” Danny Jackson ended up with a 14-year career, two World Series rings, and a truckload of cash. Who knows how good he could have been had his arm started burning out before age 27, but he still managed to carve out a solid major league career. It’s just not a Hall of Fame career.
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