Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Most Underrated Players of (Offset) Decades, Part Two

This is part two of the most underrated players by offset (as in, starting in years than end in a 5) decades. It took me a while to come back to it, but I finally did. For part one, see here.

1955-1964: Ken Boyer
For the third consecutive decade, I’m naming a third baseman, following Ron Santo and Buddy Bell’s wins. Boyer appeared on Hall ballots for the full fifteen years, only once getting more than a quarter of the vote. He remains outside of Cooperstown, although at least some circles are starting to recognize him (he ranks 75th on the Baseball-Reference EloRater). For this decade, both Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs rate him eighth among hitters in WAR, but his 56.2 bWAR and 49.8 fWAR totals would look a lot better in decades that didn’t also feature Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Hank Aaron, Eddie Mathews, Frank Robinson, Al Kaline, and Ernie Banks. For his career, Boyer managed 62.8 bWAR and 54.8 fWAR.

Honorable Mentions: Bob Friend, Larry Jackson
Boyer’s status as a Hall snub was the tie breaker, but Friend and Jackson were both very good pitchers who have probably become even more forgotten. Both rankings have Jackson fourth (39.5 bWAR, 44.1 fWAR), while Friend is second (41.5) and first (54.0) in those time spans. Friend ended his career with a losing record (197-230) despite being above average (107 ERA+, 47 bWAR, 65.2 fWAR) thanks to playing on some pretty bad teams. Jackson, meanwhile, was above-average for almost a decade and a half (113 ERA+, 52.5 bWAR, 59.4 fWAR) and was still going strong when he walked away from the game after his age 37 season. He did go on to become a Congressman for Idaho after that, though.

1945-1954: Duke Snider
This is a rough period to pick an underrated player from. All of the best players were pretty well-remembered and eventually made the Hall of Fame.  Duke Snider ends up winning mostly because he sat around on the ballot for eleven years, in spite of 66.5 bWAR and 63.5 fWAR for his career, both among the tops for center fielders. Fangraphs has him eighth in this decade for position players, while Baseball-Reference has him seventh.

Honorable Mention: Jackie Robinson
Again, not many from this decade are too underrated, as this is part of the “Golden Era” that many older writers like to reminisce about. So I went with Jackie Robinson here, even though he was a first ballot Hall of Famer. I feel like people forget just how good he was (which, given his broader overall impact, is understandable).  He only played ten seasons, yet was worth 57.2 fWAR/61.5 bWAR. This was despite not joining MLB until his age 28 season (a year older than Ichiro Suzuki was in his debut, which is already one of the bigger what-ifs of modern day baseball), and while walking away after a solid season at the age of 37 because he didn’t want to play for the Giants. 132 OPS+ second basemen are pretty rare. Both WAR put him behind only Stan Musial and Ted Williams for this decade.

1935-1944: Arky Vaughan
Vaughan is a pick in the vein of Ron Santo in my last piece, a player who’s famous for being underrated (as paradoxical as that sounds). It took until 1985 for him to reach the Hall (via the Veterans Committee) after first appearing on the ballot in 1953. Despite that, he’s today considered one of the best shortstops in history (both versions of WAR have him eighth in position history, with 72.9 bWAR and 72.6 fWAR). He ranks second for this decade in both metrics as well. Underratedness is what you get for deciding to specialize in something like OBP.

Honorable Mention: Bob Johnson
Bob Johnson was the Brian Giles of his day, a player just shy of the Hall borderline in part due to a late start from being trapped in the minor leagues behind a full MLB outfield. Once he got his start at the age of 27, he went on to have a 139 OPS+ across thirteen seasons, earning 57.2 bWAR and 57.0 fWAR. That’s a high enough peak in a short enough time that the Hall of Stats actually gives him a 106 Hall Rating. He’s appeared on two Hall of Fame ballots, failing to garner even 1% of the vote either time. Fangraphs had him fifth in WAR for the decade, while Baseball-Reference had him sixth.

1925-1934: Rogers Hornsby
It’s hard for me to call anyone from this decade “underrated”. Pretty much anyone worth anything from this era is in the Hall thanks to the Frankie Frisch Veterans Committees, and I’m not sure there are too many strong opinions on most of these players that aren’t tied to them being good or in the Hall of Fame. So I’m going with Hornsby, who’s a legend of the era on par with Ruth but just doesn’t seem to have the same myth about his name. He’s twelfth all-time in bWAR with 127.0 and eleventh in fWAR with 130.3, yet he ranks 22nd just among hitters in the EloRater. Both WARs rate him the fifth best hitter of the decade, but these were his ages 29 through 38 seasons. I’m not going to even try to pick an honorable mention here, due to lack of options.

1915-1924: Stan Coveleski
I made it my goal to go all the way back to 1905, but I’m really starting to hit some slim pickings here. Again, I’ll only be picking one example, and here, it’s pitcher Stan Coveleski. Both formats of WAR rate him as the third best pitcher of the decade behind only Walter Johnson and Pete Alexander, two of the best pitchers of all-time, so it makes sense that he’d be overshadowed some. Did you know that Coveleski is a Hall of Famer? And he’s not an entirely undeserving choice either, unlike some of his contemporaries. Baseball-Reference gives him a 127 ERA+ and 65.2 WAR, while Fangraphs has him at 55.3 WAR. But I feel like he’s been largely forgotten.

1905-1914: Eddie Plank
I have a strong suspicion that Eddie Plank wouldn’t come up in a conversation on best pitchers of all-time, but he was actually really good. He failed to get into the Hall of Fame right away, starting out in the 10-25% range of the vote in the Hall’s early days before finally getting in via the Old Timers Committee in 1946. A lot of early players struggled in the first Hall votes, but there’s a little more at the fringes for Plank. He’s 30th on the EloRater for pitchers, despite ranking 46th out of all players in bWAR. Fangraphs has him 27th too. On top of that, I just don’t see him discussed very much as one of the early greats. It’s not a huge underrating, but it’s still there. Fangraphs credits him with 72.7 WAR, while B-R has him at 89.8.

Honorable Mention: Sherry Magee

Not only are we back to having Honorable Mentions, we can finally close it out with an actual Hall of Fame snub. Sherry Magee has remained on the outside of Cooperstown looking in, despite a 137 OPS+, 59.0 bWAR, 63.4 fWAR, and a 110 Hall Rating. B-R rates him seventh among hitters for this decade, while Fangraphs rates him fifth.

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