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Wednesday, December 18, 2002

Danny Jackson

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?

Uh, no.

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:

1985 Kansas City Royals (91-71)

George Brett	37

Charlie Liebrandt	24

Bret Saberhagen	24

Dan Quisenberry	23

Danny Jackson	16

1986 Kansas City Royals (76-86)

Frank White	    20

George Brett	19

Willie Wilson	15

Mark Gubicza	14

Danny Jackson	14

1987 Kansas City Royals (83-79)

Danny Tartabull	24

Bret Saberhagen	23

Kevin Seitzer	23

Charlie Liebrandt	20

Danny Jackson	16

1988 Cincinnati Reds (87-74)

Barry Larkin	28

Eric Davis	    27

Kal Daniels	    26

Danny Jackson	22

John Franco	    20

1993 Philadelphia Phillies (97-65)

Lenny Dykstra	32

John Kruk	    29

Darren Daulton	25

Dave Hollins	20

Tommy Greene	16

Danny Jackson	11

1994 Philadelphia Phillies (54-61)

Lenny Dykstra	14

Danny Jackson	14

Darren Daulton	13

 

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:

YEAR		  W	L	ERA

1984	September	  1	1	3.68

1985	Sept/Oct	  2	4	4.19

1987	September	  2	2	4.54

1988	September	  4	2	3.38

1990	Sept/Oct	  1	4	4.38

1993	Sept/Oct	  1	2	6.97

1994	September	  2	2	4.68

1996	September	  1	1	4.83

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?

No.

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.

Summary

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.

Los Angeles El Hombre of Anaheim Posted: December 18, 2002 at 06:00 AM | 17 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
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   1. Brian Posted: December 19, 2002 at 02:11 AM (#607692)
David, good study and all, but maybe you should skip the obvious players who will not be inducted, and research someone with a chance.
   2. Mike Posted: December 19, 2002 at 02:11 AM (#607699)
To Brian (#1)-

Running through the Ketner List for guys who will obviously not make the Hall is a good exercise in determining the validity/effectiveness of the list.
   3. Brian Posted: December 19, 2002 at 02:11 AM (#607701)
Mike, your right, I realize that. Sides Danny did provide good memories for me, being a Phillies fan, especially in the '93 Playoffs when he ripped his jersey/shirt off on the mound after games. Never forget it.
   4. jimd Posted: December 19, 2002 at 02:11 AM (#607709)
It's worth doing the Keltner list for modern sub-borderline candidates. It aids in recognizing them when encountering similar campaigns from other eras.

It's a fairly widely held belief that Win Shares undervalues pitchers.

Bill James thought so too. Hence the change from .50 to .52.

However, Win Shares is a closed system. If it underrates pitchers, then it must overrate hitters or fielders or both. Or maybe it just underrates good pitchers and overrates mediocre pitchers. Thoughts anyone? (Warning: thread hijack in progress ;)

   5. Mike Emeigh Posted: December 19, 2002 at 02:12 AM (#607714)
It's a fairly widely held belief that Win Shares undervalues pitchers.

Win Shares likely *overvalues* pitchers, especially in the 19th and early 20th century when strikeouts and walks weren't common. James splits defense-assisted events 50-50 between pitchers and fielders, and the body of available evidence suggests that 50% of the responsibility for defense-assisted events is too high.

-- MWE
   6. Chris Cobb Posted: December 20, 2002 at 02:12 AM (#607727)
Colin,

I'd agree that comparing all players to zero rather than comparing players to replacement level players at their positions contributes to WS apparently undervaluing good pitchers.

Some questions that I can't answer, but that I'd like to see answered by people with more statistical expertise:

How many WS would a league-average starter accumulate these days? If a reliable number of this sort could be calculated, WS could be pretty easily adapted to provide a second way of looking at quality.

How much is WS off in valuing the great Delgado season over the great Pedro season? It's clear that Pedro, in terms of preventing runs while he is pitching, is on of the best ever, and that Delgado at his best is a very good power hitter, but hardly one of the best ever. But does that necessarily mean that a historically good individual pitcher contributes more wins to his team than a very good individual position player? A team can't win without pitching, but does any one pitcher do more to help the team win over the course of a season than a position player of the same ability relative to his position? WS says no, at least for pitchers who throw c. 200 innings or less, and I don't think any of the arguments presented here have refuted that claim. WS may be off somewhat if its distribution of responsibility between pitchers and fielders is off, but by how much? And is the offense/defense split in WS likewise open to question, or not?

These question is prompted in part by the thread on relief pitchers in the hall -- do you keep them out because they're just not as valuable as starting pitchers (or position players) or do you elect the best of them, because they are necessary to the game and, rightly used, the best help their teams a lot and deserve to be recognized as the best at what they do?
   7. Mike Emeigh Posted: December 20, 2002 at 02:12 AM (#607731)
James (arbitrarily) assigns 67.5% of the responsibility for preventing runs to the pitchers and 32.5% of the responsibility to the fielders on average. If you want to argue that pitchers are underrated, you need to make a case that pitchers should have a higher percentage of the defensive responsibility.

Back in September I wrote this article in which I discussed the extent to which events not assisted by the defense (BB, HBP, K, and HR) impact run scoring. Pitcher-specific events, in today's game, are worth about 45% of run scoring; pitchers have at least that much of a contribution to preventing runs. The extent to which that grows depends on the extent to which you divide the responsibility to fielder-assisted events between pitchers and fielders. It takes a 50-50 split of that responsibility on fielder-assisted events, in today's game, just to get the overall pitching/fielding split up to James's assignments; to give the pitchers any more credit you have to assign more than 50% of the responsibility for fielder-assisted events to the pitchers. Even if you don't entirely accept Voros McCracken's conclusions, I think you'll find it difficult to demonstrate that pitchers have as much as 50% of the responsibility for the outcome on a fielder-assisted event. Thus, it is my belief that the 67.5%/32.5% pitcher/fielder split that James uses is wider than that which can be supported by evidence, and thus my belief that pitchers are overrated in Win Shares.

-- MWE
   8. Los Angeles El Hombre of Anaheim Posted: December 20, 2002 at 02:12 AM (#607732)
wait a minute...2-2 in september of '94???? Did Danny cross the line???? We need to know this sort of thing, so's we can rescind his pension accordingly.

Oops. That was AUGUST 1994, not September. Let Danny keep his money!
   9. Mike Emeigh Posted: December 21, 2002 at 02:12 AM (#607744)
My opinion, and at this point that is all it is, is that WShares does indeed undervalue modern pitchers, and that pitching is more than 67.5% of the game, maybe even 80%.

This is a problem that I see with many analysis approaches - including WS to a large extent. Rather than asking questions like "What is the appropriate balance between pitching and fielding?", collecting the evidence and letting the evidence guide the decision, the analyst starts with an *opinion* - "pitching is X% of defense" - and tries to make the evidence fit that opinion, ignoring or downplaying contrary evidence on the grounds that it's *not very convincing*. We should be keeping open minds about the possibility that what we think we *know* about the balance between pitching and fielding is wrong, and we absolutely can't start the analysis be trying to prove that there's a specific answer to the question.

Take any inner circle HOF pitcher like Johnson or Seaver and figure out their career wins above average , preferably by using their ERA+. Their WinShares above avg/3 is consistently lower than this.

That's to be expected, actually. James makes the point in the WS book that the vast majority of a player's value is in being average - he suggests that up to 90% of a player's value is in the difference between the *zero point* he uses and the average. So the difference between a Johnson or Seaver and the difference between an average pitcher in WS is likely the difference between the 99th percentile and the 90th percentile on the James scale - where the difference in WAA would be the difference between the 99th percentile and the 50th.

It may very well be that pitchers as a whole deserve less win shares, but the best ones deserve more and the crappy ones less.

I think that's probably true, because there's a tendency for the lesser pitchers to pitch in low-leverage situations, where their true impact on the team's ability to win is far less than even their pitching numbers would suggest. If a team is using a Rule V guy mostly in mopup situations, for example, he might do very well most of the time in those situations and still have very little impact on the team's ability to win. (FWIW, one of the themes in Ball Four is that Jim Bouton wasn't getting into games for the Pilots at times where they had a chance to win, even though he was pitching fairly well.) Now maybe there's a secondary effect on *saving the bullpen* by doing that, but I'd suggest that the effect is minimal and that WS almost certainly overstates the value of the mopup guy who pitches well but doesn't handle a larger role. With the increasing specialization in the ullpen, you are seeing a teams with pitchers who come into games primarily when the team is behind (Mike Lincoln), and other pitchers on the same staff who come into games primarily when the team is ahead (Brian Boehringer), even when the difference in production between the two of them is fairly small.

-- MWE
   10. Charles Saeger Posted: December 21, 2002 at 02:12 AM (#607745)
I cannot see any proof James is overplaying the role of fielding in any era. Indeed, James knows he is underplaying it for pre-1890 pitchers, and has said so.
   11. Boileryard Posted: December 22, 2002 at 02:12 AM (#607747)
This is neither here nor there, really, but I want to toss this out as food for thought about pitcher valuation.

So, say we have two players, each worth about 100 runs over league-average. They each have the same salary.

There's a team out there that both scored and allowed 810 runs, and they followed their Pythagorean projection exactly, ending up at 81-81. They can be assured that every player on their team will perform exactly the same as last year, and the two aforementioned players will continue to cost and perform the same as last year. They can afford to sign of the two players, and conveniently enough, whichever they sign will replace a league-average player.

Luckily, this team is part of the new generation of objective evaluation, and decides to see which will be the better signing. The batter calculation is pretty straightforward... Simply calculate the Pythagorean record based on scoring 910 runs while allowing 810 runs. They expect to gain 9.39 wins by signing the batter.

The pitcher evaluations would seem just as straightforward -- simply calculate the Pythogorean record for 810 runs scored and 710 runs allowed. This gives an expected gain of 10.61 wins.

So, they go with the pitcher. At the end of the season, they find actually won 12 more games than last year, instead of the 10-11 predicted.

Why did this happen? The proper frame of reference wasn't used. Instead of using the whole season, the team should have based its calculations on 1/5 of the season -- the game in which the new pitcher actually starts.

What really happened is that the in the previous year, the team scored 162 runs and allowed 162 runs in the games started by pitcher who was replaced. After signing the pitcher, they still scored 162 runs in those games, but allowed 62... Which leads to an expected gain of 12.06 wins in just those games.

In other words, by averaging a pitcher's contribution over a season instead of looking at the concentrated effect, one systematically underestimates the value of a pitcher, particularly with respect to superstar-level pitching.

Does this make sense or help explain anything?
   12. Boileryard Posted: December 22, 2002 at 02:12 AM (#607748)
Oops, although hopefully the point became clear, I meant to start out by saying one player was a batter, one was a pitcher.

Also, I realize there is some inconsistency in saying that the replacement-level pitcher allowed "only" 162 runs. I could have just as easily chose league-average as a baseline. But then the 100-run above replacement probably wouldn't have been as believable. Oh well.

I think the basic point survives -- the relationship between runs and wins is different for batters and pitchers. For a batter, 11 runs added so equals one win; for a pitcher, 8 runs prevented does the same.

At least in a run-scoring environment of about 5/team/game...
   13. Charles Saeger Posted: December 23, 2002 at 02:12 AM (#607763)
Vinay -- the higher run threshhold for pitchers (which, after adjusting for fielding, is usually about 135.1% of league average) does take care of some of this. If nothing else, it cuts the worst pitchers out of the Win Shares and gives them to the best pitchers.
   14. Michael Posted: December 27, 2002 at 02:13 AM (#607817)
Regarding question 9 in the Keltner list, it might be noted that Jackson suffered an incredible streak of bad luck while pitching for the Royals, regularly having one of the worst levels of run support per 9 innings in the majors. Hence, even though his career won-loss record is below .500, he probably was better than that (obviously still not up to HOF standards).

Also, for question 10, if a voter has Blyleven, John, and Kaat marked "yes" on his HOF ballot, this is irrelevant. This question is relevant only if only 1 player at the candidate's position is being considered.

More generally, we don't know whether those guys are HOF caliber or not because the dividing line is determined by the Veterans Committee several decades after a player's retirement. When assessing a starting pitcher's qualifications, the question is more like is he as good as or better than Jim Bunning and Vic Willis, or as good as or worse than Mickey Lolich and Allie Reynolds. That's where the dividing line is.
   15. fracas' hope springs eternal Posted: December 27, 2002 at 02:13 AM (#607826)
Michael, if the BBWAA voters lower their standards to the level of the VC picks, where do you think the VC standards will go? If this happens, soon living "honorees" won't bother showing up for their own inductions, since it'll be a greater honor to be invited to join the Book Of The Month Club.
   16. Michael Posted: December 28, 2002 at 02:14 AM (#607835)
Fracas, that's a straw man argument of course. We've got a very long way to go before HOF induction is so little of an honor that inductees don't show up and/or it is as easy to be elected to the HOF as it is to join the Book Of The Month Club. I'm certainly not advocating lowering the standards to that degree. By the way, I've always found it harder to quit those darned book clubs than to join them. ;-)

If (as I prefer but don't expect to happen) the BBWAA voters set their standards to be consistent with what the de facto median standard has been for past HOF inductees regardless of the method of induction, then the Veterans Committee can either be disbanded and kept alive in a form that makes it very unlikely that they will elect anyone.

Look at the opposite position and you may agree with me that it's even more unappealing that what I'm advocating. Suppose a BBWAA voter correctly and consciously perceived that candidate X is clearly below the de facto BBWAA threshold for induction but clearly above the de facto veterans' committee threshold for induction. I say the BBWAA voter should vote for X. If you argue instead that the BBWAA voter should against X and let the VC put him in a 2-4 decades later, then you're advocating keeping X unnecessarily in suspense for a long period, postponing the induction until X and many of X's fans are no longer alive, and really not doing a darned thing to preserve the quality of players admitted to the HOF.
   17. fracas' hope springs eternal Posted: December 29, 2002 at 02:14 AM (#607840)
Fracas, that's a straw man argument of course. We've got a very long way to go before HOF induction is so little of an honor that inductees don't show up and/or it is as easy to be elected to the HOF as it is to join the Book Of The Month Club.
...
Suppose a BBWAA voter correctly and consciously perceived that candidate X is clearly below the de facto BBWAA threshold for induction but clearly above the de facto veterans' committee threshold for induction. I say the BBWAA voter should vote for X. If you argue instead that the BBWAA voter should against X and let the VC put him in a 2-4 decades later, then you're advocating keeping X unnecessarily in suspense for a long period, postponing the induction until X and many of X's fans are no longer alive, and really not doing a darned thing to preserve the quality of players admitted to the HOF.


Well, it was hyperbole used for (I hope) humorous effect, but it's not a straw man argument. If the BBWAA lowers its standards to that of the VC, the VC can either stick to non-players, or lower it's own standards to include guys they feel the BBWAA "missed." Which do you think is more likely to happen? Since opinions aren't uniform and mistakes happen, there will always be VC voters who feel justified in adding weak candidates because someone else is already in, and standards will spiral down if the BBWAA feels it must recalibrate their standard to match the VC's.

Let me be clear that I'm not advocating that a lower tier of players should wait because they're good enough for the VC but not for the BBWAA. I personally don't believe there are any candidates who are clearly below the BBWAA threshold and above the VC threshold. I'm saying anyone below the BBWAA threshold won't be missed except by their partisans. Since the period ended when the BBWAA wasn't electing anyone (meaning their standard was, briefly, impossible), I feel the VC has had no purpose adding regular major leaguers. Negro Leaguers, Umps, Managers, Pioneers, Executives, fine; but I could do without all their other selections.

I'll feel bad for the Whitakers and Griches, but they're borderline candidates and I'll do without them rather than dilute the Hall.

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