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A Baseball Blog - Scientific and Speculative Thoughts from Third Base

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Retired Numbers Series: Los Angeles Dodgers

The Dodgers, as one of the more storied teams in baseball history, have one of the more extensive lists of honorees I’ll cover in the Retired Number Series. They also choose to recognize franchise cornerstones from before their move, unlike many other teams, which helps demonstrate that rich history.

Like the Red Sox and the Mariners, the Dodgers have a rule limiting who can have their number retired with the team. But, like the Red Sox, the Dodgers have made an exception to that rule, meaning any player is fair game in terms of speculation.

On to the numbers.


Notes on the Numbers

Some quick notes on the stats: the two most prominent stats I used are similarly named. Both are called WAR, or Wins Above Replacement. They both try to account for every part of a player’s game, including, but not limited to: offense, defense, position, and playing time. So, it is a counting stat, like hits or home runs (with the small difference that bad seasons can actually decrease your WAR, if you are worse than a replacement player). WAR credits a player with how many wins they have provided to their team. They aren’t perfect, but for my purposes (a single number showing roughly how good a player has been), they work perfectly.

There are two major sites that provide WAR, Baseball-Reference (henceforth called bWAR) and Fangraphs (fWAR). The two are mostly the same, with the biggest difference coming from the different fielding stats the two use. Fangraphs has a fairly good summary of what makes up WAR and how it is calculated (for those wanting a more general summary, the introduction works just fine). Pitching is slightly different: Fangraphs’ WAR for pitchers only goes back to 1974, so for my purposes, I stuck to just bWAR for them.



The Already Retired Numbers

The Dodgers, to date, have retired ten numbers, an impressive amount. While they have retired numbers of players who were exclusively Brooklyn Dodgers, they didn’t actually begin retiring numbers until they reached LA (an interesting side note).

The team started with a triple ceremony on June 4, 1972, retiring numbers 32, 39, and 42 for Sandy Koufax, Roy Campanella, and Jackie Robinson, respectively. Koufax spent his whole career with the franchise, from 1955 to 1966. In that time, he totaled 55 bWAR (no small feat in a career that only went for 12 seasons).

Campanella was another Dodger lifer with a shortened career, playing from 1948 to 1957 before retiring due to a car accident that left him paralyzed. In his ten years, he accumulated 36 bWAR and 43 fWAR.

Robinson is, again, a career Dodger who retired early, although, in his case, he retired to prevent being traded to the Giants. From 1947 to 1956, both Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs unanimously credit him 
with 63 WAR. 

Jim Gilliam would be the next player to have his number retired, after the 1978 season. He is the exception to the Hall of Fame rule. During his career (which was, again, spent exclusively with the Dodgers), number 19 posted 39 bWAR and 42 fWAR. Gilliam also spent some years as a coach for the team, although, again, I’m focusing on playing days.

Duke Snider’s number 4 was retired during the 1980 season, marking the first time the team honored a player who spent any time with another team (although Snider was unquestionably a Dodger). Snider started with the Dodgers in 1947, and stayed with the team until 1962. He would stay in the league until 1964, although the extra years would not result in any major value; 67 of his 68 career bWAR and 71 of his 72 career fWAR came with the Dodgers.

The team would have a dual ceremony on July 1, 1984, honoring Pee-Wee Reese (number 1) and Don Drysdale (number 53). Both spent their entire careers with either the Brooklyn or Los Angeles Dodgers. Reese played from 1940 to 1958 (missing 1943-1945 for World War II). The leader of the Bums racked up 67 bWAR and 70 fWAR for his career. Don Drysdale pitched for the team from 1956 to 1969, and amassed 66 bWAR.

Don Sutton, number 20, was the last player to be honored by the team (1998). This also marked the second time the team honored a player who spent any time with other teams, although in Sutton’s case, it was much more substantial than the time Duke Snider spent outside of the organization. Sutton pitched from 1966 to 1980 with the Dodgers before leaving. He would return to the team in 1988 for his final season. In total, 54 of Sutton’s 71 career bWAR came as a Dodger.

Managers Tommy Lasorda (number 2) and Walter Alston (number 24) also have their numbers honored, although my study didn’t really look at managers as in-depth as players.


Compared to the League

There are three major distinctions I can make when comparing teams: I can look at bWAR or fWAR; the median or averages of the WAR in question; or the WAR in a career or only with the team.

Like the Red Sox, the Dodgers’ policy hasn’t led to them having higher standards than the league, unlike what you’d expect. Los Angeles rates all over the place. Median bWAR with the franchise is the only method where the Dodgers rank in the top quartile of the league. They place in the second quartile in average bWAR with the team, median career bWAR, and median fWAR with the team. In average fWAR with the team, they rank in the exact middle of the league. Average career fWAR is the only stat where they rank lower than the third quartile, though. Really, all that this means is that the Dodgers aren’t much more strict with their honor than other teams in the league, even with their policy.

The Dodgers’ ten retired numbers ranks fourth all-time, behind only the Yankees, Cardinals, and Giants.

So Who’s Next?

As I said, I’m going to consider all candidates, regardless of whether they meet the current standards. The standards may change, but their numbers (for the retired players, at least) won’t.

Two numbers are or have been out of circulation, which is just a step below full retirement. In both cases, it’s because the corresponding player in question has not made the Hall of Fame. Steve Garvey’s number 6 was out of circulation from 1983 (his first year off the team, after fourteen seasons) to 2003. It has since seen some use, most notably by Joe Torre. Garvey posted respectable WARs with the team (31.7 bWAR, 41 fWAR), and was popular in his day. He may see his number retired, but only with the removal or ignoring of the Hall policy.

The other number out of circulation is 34, in honor of Fernando Valenzuela. Valenzuela had a strong eleven-year run with the team, accumulating 34.7 bWAR for them (seventh among Dodger pitchers). However, like Garvey, his only hope is that his popularity overcomes the Hall of Fame rule.

After that, we can move down the franchise fWAR and bWAR leaders to search for more good candidates. Both sources have the same top nine position players, albeit in a slightly different order. Of those nine players, Reese, Snider, Robinson, Gilliam, and Campanella all have retired numbers. So who are the other four?

Hall of Fame left fielder Zack Wheat is unanimously listed as the best of the aforementioned four. Wheat played eighteen of his nineteen seasons with the Brooklyn Dodgers (from 1909 to 1926, leaving in 1927 for the Philadelphia A’s). Baseball-Reference credits him with 57.6 bWAR with the team, while Fangraphs credits him with 69 fWAR. Hindering his case is the fact that he never wore a uniform number; in addition, he isn’t exactly a giant of the game, like some of the pre-numbers players that have been honored.
Center fielder Willie Davis is also unanimous as the next ranking. Davis played fourteen seasons in L.A., from 1960 to 1973, and totaled 50.9 bWAR and 57 fWAR in his time there. While he did wear a number, unlike Wheat, Davis stands no chance of making the Hall, and in general, probably isn’t well-remembered enough to gain an exception. Garvey, Valenzuela, and others have played more recently and done a better job of remaining in the public conscious. On top of this, it appears Davis wasn’t hugely popular in his own time, making just two All-Star Games in his career. Davis, overall, is very unlikely to be honored.

Continuing down the lists, the two sites agree further, as Ron Cey is ranked sixth immediately after Davis on both. The third baseman was much much more regarded, playing as parted of the vaunted Dodgers infield of the 1970s with Garvey, Davey Lopes, and Bill Russell. In addition, he played in six All-Star Games, which shows that he was more popular than Davis. His ten full seasons (1973-1982, plus thirteen games between 1971 and 1972) saw him produce 46.2 bWAR and 53 fWAR. Cooperstown remains a nearly unreachable goal for Cey, but a Hall exemption is a possibility in his case.

The final unanimous top ten player in Dodgers’ history is Gil Hodges, the famed first baseman for the Boys of Summer. While he has remained famous, he is still a ways off from the Hall of Fame; he recently received 9 votes in the Veteran’s Committee process, falling three short of enshrinement. So, again, he’s going to have to hope for an exception. His sixteen years in Dodger Blue (1943, 1947-1961) saw him put up 44.1 bWAR and 50 fWAR. His numbers are fairly solid, and he’s better remembered than the other three in the top tens, so he may stand a chance. One negative in his case might be that most of his career took place in Brooklyn, meaning the team may feel less of a tie to him compared to players like Garvey, who spent their careers in Los Angeles. I’m not sure how much that hurts his case, though; I would still put him as a favorite, at least among the team’s unhonored top ten batters.

What about their top ten pitchers? Well, as stated, Valenzuela is seventh among Dodgers’ pitchers. Eighth through tenth consists of Bob Welch (32.8 bWAR), Claude Osteen (30.0), and Jeff Pfeffer (29.8). No offense to them and their careers, but I think it’s safe to draw the line for number retirement somewhere between Fernando and those three. I’ve already covered Valenzuela, so who are the other six pitchers that match this qualification?

Three of those six (Drysdale, Koufax, and Sutton) are already honored. Dazzy Vance places second in bWAR with the franchise, between Drysdale and Koufax. Vance pitched from 1922 to 1932 and again in 1935 with the team, racking up 55.9 bWAR. Vance is also in the Hall of Fame, so that removes another complication. However, uniform numbers weren’t introduced until late in his career; Vance only wore a number for the final four seasons of his sixteen year career, only two of which were spent on the Dodgers (and he wore five different numbers in that time, to boot). To put this another way, he only played two of his twelve seasons for the “Dodgers”. The other ten seasons Vance was playing for the franchise, they were known as the Robins. The relative obscurity he’s fallen into, lack of number association, length of time since his career ended, and association with a different city than the one the team is currently in all severely hurt his chances of getting his number retired.

Next on Baseball-Reference’s list is Nap Rucker, fifth with 41.7 bWAR. Rucker’s case is like a more extreme version of Vance’s. Rucker only played ten seasons (1907-1916, although all with the Brooklyn Superbas/Dodgers/Robins), didn’t make the Hall of Fame, never had a uniform number, and generally faded from memory. Out of all the players I’ve covered in this article, he has to be the biggest long shot.

That leaves just Orel Hershiser for consideration. Hershiser has several obvious advantages over the two aforementioned pitchers, in that he has played in the lifetime of living Dodgers fans, and has actually worn a number. However, his Hall chances look extraordinarily thin right now, so he, too, will have to wait for an exemption from the team. He was pretty incredible for the team, though, putting up 40.0 bWAR for the team in thirteen seasons (really, closer to ten, as three of those seasons saw him pitch fewer than 26 innings). He just lacks the longevity. I would put his chances at getting his number retired as the third greatest, not too far behind Valenzuela and Garvey.

The next place to look would probably be other past stars. Maury Wills, for example, was particularly famous for his time. However, he stands no chance at Hall induction, and his twelve seasons in Los Angeles (1959-1966, 1969-1972) only saw him produce 27.3 bWAR and 35 fWAR. Unless the team decides to suddenly give extra credit to his stolen base feats (which is unlikely, seeing as they’ve had forty years to do so), it isn’t happening.

Davey Lopes and Bill Russell were the other half of the famous 1970s infield, but they were unquestionably the weaker half of it. If Garvey and Cey aren’t honored, it’s difficult to see these two getting it first. Lopes spent a decade with the Dodgers (1972-1981), while accumulating 29.1 bWAR and 36 fWAR in his time there. The one advantage Russell might have is his longevity (all eighteen seasons in L.A., 1969-1986), but he was the weakest link in the quartet (33 fWAR, 14.9 bWAR). I don’t see either player getting their numbers retired unless the Dodgers decide to do all four together.

Pedro Guerrero had a strong peak, but again, will need the Hall exemption. As it is, I would think six or seven other players on this list would have to be so honored first before the team gets to Guerrero. At the very least, the first baseman/outfielder is memorable, though. In case you are curious, he played eleven years with the team (1978 to 1988) and put up 33.3 bWAR and 33 fWAR while there.

Moving on to more current players, Mike Piazza actually stands a good chance at being inducted into the Hall in 2013, when he becomes eligible. He played with the Dodgers from 1992 to 1998 (and really, only five of those were full seasons with the team) and put up 33.6 bWAR and 35 fWAR there. On the other hand, he actually spent more time (about 250 more games) as a Met, which may hinder his case. For what it’s worth, though, both sights say he got a majority of his career WAR as a Dodger, despite playing longer in Queens. In any case, simply making the Hall would put him ahead of probably every other player mentioned so far.

Adrian Beltre is worth mentioning. The third baseman reached hit number 2000 and home runs number 300 this past year at the age of 32, so he has a very good chance at making a milestone and locking up a spot in Cooperstown. The question would then become how much do the Dodgers associate with him. Beltre did come up as a Dodger, and his seven seasons with them are the most he’s played with any team so far. When he played with the team (1998-2004), he was worth 22.6 bWAR and 27 fWAR, also the most value he’s provided for any team so far. If he makes the Hall and he isn’t clearly associated with any other team, it is possible the Dodgers may decide to retire his number.

The current roster only has two real, solid chances: Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw. Kemp is 26-going-on-27, already has six seasons with the team, and is signed on through 2019. He already has 21.7 bWAR and 19 fWAR to his name; if he can build off of his strong 2011, his number 27 would pass even Piazza’s 31 for likeliness. Kershaw is even younger than Kemp, but isn’t signed for as long as of right now. Next season will mark both his fifth season in the majors and his age-24 season. He’s only signed for three more seasons as of right now, but I would imagine the team is at least making an effort to extend him as we speak (or, rather, as I type). In any case, he’s almost guaranteed seven years as a Dodger at minimum, which is more than enough time to build up a legacy. The reigning Cy Young winner has 16.9 bWAR to date.

There really isn’t anyone else on the roster worth seriously discussing. Andre Ethier is going to be both 30 and in his last season with the team before free agency in 2012, and his case isn’t very compelling. Through six seasons, he has 11.8 bWAR and just short of 16 fWAR (which doesn’t even get him into the top 50 position players in team history). Chad Billingsley is going to be 27 and in his seventh season next year, but he’s been getting worse the last few years rather than better. He is signed through 2014, and he does have 13.8 bWAR so far, but I have a difficult time betting on him.

So, In Closing...
As of right now, the players that I think are most likely to get their numbers retired by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the future are, in order:

Mike Piazza-31
Matt Kemp-27
Clayton Kershaw-22
Steve Garvey-6
Fernando Valenzuela-34
Adrian Beltre-29
Orel Hershiser-55
Ron Cey-10
Gil Hodges-14
Maury Wills-30
Willie Davis-3
Bill Russell-18
Davey Lopes-15
Pedro Guerrero-28
Dazzy Vance-15/21
Zack Wheat
Chad Billingsley-58
Andre Ethier-16
Nap Rucker

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