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— Where BTF's Members Investigate the Grand Old Game
Friday, January 03, 2003
Mark W. Davis
The man, the myth, the legend.
The Keltner List is a set of 15 questions posed by Bill James in an effort to determine whether a player is deserving of enshrinement in the Hall of Fame. Here we’ll examine each of these questions as they pertain to one of the players on the 2003 ballot, LHP Mark Davis.
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 close.
2. Was he the best player on his team?
Davis probably was the Padres’ best pitcher in 1988 (he secured 19 win shares; Eric Show placed second among pitchers, with 14); only Tony Gwynn (23) and Roberto Alomar (22) earned more win shares that season. In 1989, the year Davis won the Cy Young Award, Jack Clark was the Padres’ best hitter (149 OPS+ in just under 600 PA), while Davis ranked with Bruce Hurst (130 ERA+ in 245 IP) and Ed Whitson (132 ERA+ in 227 IP) as the best pitchers. Beyond those two seasons, Davis wasn’t close to being the best player 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?
Even in 1989, when he won the Cy Young Award, Davis may not have been the best reliever in the National League. Houston’s Larry Andersen had a better ERA+ (221 to Davis’ 190) in four fewer innings. The Dodgers’ Jay Howell also had a better ERA+ (217), albeit in 13 fewer innings. Even the likes of Les Lancaster and Bill Landrum had comparable seasons. Davis probably was the best left-handed reliever that year.
4. Did he have an impact on a number of pennant races?
Davis spent parts of four seasons on eventual pennant winners (1980 Phillies, 1987 Giants, 1992 Braves, 1993 Phillies). He worked a total of 127 innings for those four clubs and never made a post-season appearance. The 1989 Padres finished second in the NL West. That was the only year Davis pitched an entire season for a team that finished higher than third. It’s safe to say he had minimal impact on any pennant races.
5. Was he good enough that he could play regularly after passing his prime?
No. After winning the Cy Young Award in 1989, Davis signed a huge contract with the Royals and basically flamed out by age 33 (although he did make 19 appearances for the Brewers in 1997 at age 36). The last time Davis had an ERA better than league average was 1989, at age 28.
6. Is he the very best baseball player in history who is not in the Hall of Fame?
No. Not close. The list of players better than Davis who aren’t in the Hall of Fame is too long to be meaningful.
7. Are most players who have comparable statistics in the Hall of Fame?
No. The 10 most similar pitchers to Mark Davis are Bruce Ruffin, Jim Gott, Norm Charlton, Matt Young, Andy Hassler, Terry Forster, Turk Lown, Mark Guthrie, Craig Lefferts, and Tom Hume.
8. Do the player’s numbers meet Hall of Fame standards?
9. Is there any evidence to suggest that the player was significantly better or worse than is suggested by his statistics?
At first I thought not. Although Davis’ best seasons came while he called Jack Murphy Stadium home, the park was pretty much neutral in 1988 and 1989. Davis spent most of his career pitching in environments that had minimal park factors. However, on closer inspection, here are his home/road splits while a member of the Padres (courtesy of Retrosheet):
Home Road IP ERA IP ERA 1987 31.2 0.85 30.2 5.58 1988 48.0 0.94 50.1 3.04 1989 46.0 1.17 46.2 2.51
Contrast this with his splits while a member of the Giants:
Home Road IP ERA IP ERA 1983 57.2 3.75 53.1 3.21 1984 92.1 4.97 82.1 5.79 1985 53.1 3.71 61.0 3.39 1986 39.2 2.50 44.2 3.43 1987 31.1 5.17 39.1 4.35
No real discernible pattern here.
So it’s not just that Davis pitched better at home, it’s that he pitched better in San Diego. Davis clearly benefitted from pitching at Jack Murphy Stadium well above and beyond what might reasonably be expected. Given his lack of similar advantage when he called Candlestick home, it’s reasonable to at least hypothesize that Davis never would have had his two big seasons were it not for Jack Murphy Stadium.
10. Is he the best player at his position who is eligible for the Hall of Fame?
No. Not close. The best LHP eligible for the HOF are Jim Kaat and Tommy John; both had much, much more distinguished careers. Among left-handers who spent the bulk of their careers as relievers, Davis is behind a long line of pitchers, including Sparky Lyle and Tug McGraw, among many 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?
One. Maybe. In 1989, Davis did finish sixth in the MVP 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?
Davis made two All-Star teams: in 1988 and 1989. The vast majority of players who have been in just two All-Star games are not in the Hall of Fame.
13. If this man were the best player on his team, would it be likely that the team could win the pennant?
No. Even in his best seasons, Davis pitched fewer than 100 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?
Davis demonstrated, as others have before and since, the folly of signing a journeyman pitcher to a long-term contract worth lots of money on the basis of two good seasons. Of course, teams still do this kind of thing on a fairly regular basis, so he didn’t really change 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?
I could find no examples of conduct by Davis that would keep him out of the Hall of Fame.
Mark Davis posted an ERA better than the league average in just 4 of his 15 big-league seasons. Only twice did he have an ERA+ greater than 120. Although those two seasons made Davis a wealthy individual, they account for a grand total of 191 innings. For his career, Davis’ ERA+ was 89. He won just 51 games against 84 losses (.378 WL%), and notched 96 saves. Bearing in mind that reaching the big leagues and pitching 624 games at that level is quite an accomplishment in itself, Davis is about as far from Hall of Fame worthy as someone on the ballot can be.
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