Filling the Mickey Vernon Gaps (Part 2)

In our previous volume, we introduced the phenomenon of good players who endured bad years, and speculated as to how each guy’s career might have looked if, to use Bill James’ words, “he had just put in an ordinary progression between his high spots.”

Now it’s time to explore another dozen interesting cases. All adjusted stat lines are presented in blue font. For our methodology, please see the References and Resources section below.

The Pre-Mickey Mickey

Joe Kuhel

The similarities between this guy and Mickey Vernon are just eerie:

- Lefty-batting, lefty-throwing first basemen
- Renowned as excellent fielders
- Started their careers with Washington, were traded away, and came back
- Very good line-drive hitters, showed decent home run power after leaving cavernous Griffith Stadium
- Star players in their best seasons, but plagued with inconsistency

Kuhel appears to have been injury-prone, and he struggled with the bat when he was dinged-up. Our enhanced version here is no Hall of Famer, but he emerges as a very fine player, a Chris Chambliss or Mark Grace kind of talent.

  Year  Age    G   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS OPS+
  1930   24   18   63    9   18    3    3    0   17    5    6 .286 .348 .429 .777   96
  1931   25  139  524   70  141   34    8    8   85   47   45 .269 .335 .410 .745   94
  1932   26  136  518   77  163   30    8    9   89   50   38 .315 .376 .455 .831  115
  1933   27  153  602   89  194   34   10   11  107   59   48 .322 .385 .467 .852  125
  1934   28  123  490   76  155   27    8    8   80   49   37 .316 .379 .453 .832  118
  1935   29  150  603  104  181   36    8   11  103   69   35 .300 .372 .445 .817  113
  1936   30  149  588  107  189   42    8   16  118   64   30 .321 .392 .502 .894  125
  1937   31  145  574   96  178   36    9   13   99   64   33 .309 .378 .470 .848  116
  1938   32  132  502   94  146   25    7   13   54   67   46 .291 .374 .446 .821  103
  1939   33  139  546  107  164   24    9   15   56   64   51 .300 .376 .460 .836  110
  1940   34  155  603  111  169   28    8   27   94   87   59 .280 .374 .488 .862  120
  1941   35  154  602  107  163   32    7   22   84   81   58 .270 .357 .456 .813  115
  1942   36  135  506   86  137   22    6   12   65   71   40 .271 .361 .409 .770  118
  1943   37  148  549   75  137   29    6    6   61   74   43 .249 .339 .360 .699  105
  1944   38  139  518   90  144   26    7    4   51   68   40 .278 .362 .378 .740  116
  1945   39  142  533   73  152   29   13    2   75   79   31 .285 .378 .400 .778  134
  1946   40   78  258   26   68    9    3    4   22   26   26 .264 .333 .368 .701   99
  1947   41    3    3    0    0    0    0    0    0    0    3 .000 .000 .000 .000  100
 Career     2237 8582 1397 2499  466  129  181 1260 1024  668 .291 .367 .439 .806  114

“Most Unpredictable Career”

Walt Dropo

In his original Historical Baseball Abstract, Bill James named the player with the most unpredictable career for various decades. This guy won it for the 1950s.

There’s no way we can make that monster 1950 season to be anything other than the fluke it was—Dropo never even had a minor league season nearly as good—but we can fill in the deep potholes he encountered on his road following 1950. “Moose” was pretty much your prototypical huge, slow, poor-fielding, one-dimensional longballing first baseman, one of several such right-handed-hitting behemoths the Red Sox deployed through the ’40s, ’50s, and ’60s in a stubborn effort to leverage the Green Monster: Rudy York, Jake Jones, Dick Gernert, Norm Zauchin, and Dick Stuart were the others. George Scott was different only in that he was a slick fielder.

  Year  Age    G   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS OPS+
  1949   26   11   41    3    6    2    0    0    1    3    7 .146 .205 .195 .400    3
  1950   27  136  559  101  180   28    8   34  144   45   75 .322 .378 .583 .961  134
  1951   28  129  503   69  143   22    4   25   99   40   71 .284 .337 .491 .828  113
  1952   29  152  591   69  163   24    4   29   97   37   85 .276 .323 .477 .800  118
  1953   30  147  585   77  164   27    5   25  112   37   76 .281 .324 .474 .798  114
  1954   31  133  455   50  127   18    3   17   73   34   66 .279 .329 .444 .773  113
  1955   32  141  453   55  127   15    2   19   79   42   71 .280 .343 .448 .791  109
  1956   33  120  346   40   93   10    1   13   60   32   54 .270 .331 .420 .752   97
  1957   34   93  223   24   57    2    0   13   49   16   40 .256 .300 .439 .740   99
  1958   35   91  214   21   57    8    2    9   39   17   42 .266 .319 .449 .768  100
  1959   36   88  190   21   46   10    0    7   23   16   27 .242 .303 .405 .708   93
  1960   37   79  179   16   48    8    0    4   21   20   19 .268 .343 .380 .723   97
  1961   38   14   27    1    7    0    0    1    2    4    3 .259 .355 .370 .725   96
 Career     1334 4366  548 1218  174   29  197  800  343  636 .279 .332 .467 .799  110

Tommy Harper

And here was James’ pick for the 1960s. Harper was a superior all-around player, with blazing speed, defensive versatility, and good strike zone judgment. But his hitting was as wackily inconsistent as can be; some seasons he was a genuine star and in others he was barely worthy of regular play.

  Year  Age    G   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS OPS+
  1962   21    6   23    1    4    0    0    0    1    2    6 .174 .240 .174 .414   12
  1963   22  129  408   67  106   12    3   10   37   44   72 .260 .335 .377 .712  103
  1964   23  130  457   78  116   15    3   11   41   54   85 .255 .333 .369 .702   95
  1965   24  159  646  126  166   28    3   18   64   78  127 .257 .340 .393 .733  100
  1966   25  156  615  112  162   26    4   14   53   71  113 .263 .340 .384 .724   94
  1967   26  137  516   86  125   18    3   11   42   72   89 .242 .334 .353 .688   89
  1968   27  139  372   53   97   20    3   11   38   42   72 .261 .337 .419 .755  129
  1969   28  152  582   95  162   27    3   24   68   83  101 .278 .368 .457 .825  132
  1970   29  154  604  104  179   35    4   31   82   77  107 .296 .377 .522 .899  145
  1971   30  153  598   96  170   32    4   25   72   73  102 .284 .362 .477 .839  138
  1972   31  146  563   92  153   25    3   16   64   63   97 .272 .345 .411 .757  120
  1973   32  147  566   92  159   23    3   17   71   61   93 .281 .351 .422 .773  112
  1974   33  137  525   83  141   20    3   13   55   56   84 .269 .339 .393 .733  105
  1975   34  123  354   51   90   14    1    5   38   43   60 .254 .337 .342 .679   98
  1976   35   46   77    8   18    5    0    1    7   10   16 .234 .318 .338 .656   98
 Career     1914 6906 1146 1848  301   39  207  734  829 1224 .268 .346 .412 .758  112

Big Klu

Ted Kluszewski

Dropo was an excellent choice for “Most Unpredictable Career” of the 1950s, but this fellow might well have been the runner-up. Kluszewski was an odd player in a couple of regards: He was huge and strong (famed for baring his intimidating biceps by going sleeveless in the hot Cincinnati summer months), yet he was an extreme contact hitter, very rarely striking out and generally maintaining a high batting average. And his power production was all over the map.

There’s an explanation behind Kluszewski’s home run spike from 1952 (16) to 1953 (40), namely that the Reds moved the right field fence inward at Crosley Field. Still, no one could have anticipated the home run barrage that Kluszewski would unleash over the next few seasons. There’s also an explanation behind his sudden home run drought of 1958-59: back trouble. Still, few power evaporations have been that severe.

Our version of “Klu” traces a far more typical arc of power production. He doesn’t emerge as a Hall of Famer, but he goes from 279 career homers to 343.

  Year  Age    G   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG   OPS OPS+
  1947   22    9   10    1    1    0    0    0    2    1    2 .100 .182 .100  .282  -23
  1948   23  113  379   49  104   23    4   12   57   18   32 .274 .307 .451  .758  106
  1949   24  135  535   70  165   32    1   17   90   26   26 .308 .340 .463  .803  113
  1950   25  134  538   76  165   37    0   25  111   33   28 .307 .348 .515  .863  124
  1951   26  141  547   71  160   32    4   18   91   38   30 .293 .339 .466  .805  113
  1952   27  142  534   80  170   25    6   28   97   51   31 .318 .377 .542  .919  152
  1953   28  149  570   97  180   25    0   40  108   55   34 .316 .380 .570  .950  142
  1954   29  149  573  104  187   28    3   49  141   78   35 .326 .407 .642 1.049  166
  1955   30  153  612  116  192   25    0   47  113   66   40 .314 .382 .585  .967  147
  1956   31  138  517   91  156   14    1   35  102   49   31 .302 .362 .536  .898  132
  1957   32  104  322   52   95   11    1   21   62   27   18 .295 .350 .522  .871  124
  1958   33  119  409   60  122   14    3   20   70   38   24 .298 .357 .487  .844  124
  1959   34   99  243   27   63   12    1   10   33   19   24 .259 .313 .434  .747  101
  1960   35   89  206   24   56   10    0    8   39   23   14 .274 .346 .439  .784  112
  1961   36  107  263   32   64   12    0   15   39   24   23 .243 .303 .460  .764   93
 Career     1780 6257  948 1880  298   23  343 1154  545  391 .300 .357 .520  .876  129

George and Paul (Not John and Ringo)

I bet you never linked the following two guys together; I know I never had until undertaking this exercise. But once you think about it, they share some interesting commonalities:

- Both are Hall of Famers, but not “inner circle” types. (Sisler might even be considered a rather marginal Hall of Famer.)
- Both are high-average specialists with moderate home run power.
- Both suffered illness/injury problems which significantly dampened their career totals.

George Sisler

If Sisler is a marginal Hall of Famer, that’s entirely on the basis of the shortness of his peak and his less-than-imposing career totals. Even his strongest detractor must acknowledge that through 1922, Sisler was a brilliant player. However, in the 1922-23 off-season he developed a severe case of sinusitis, which infected Sisler’s optic nerves and caused double vision. He missed the entire 1923 season, and though he eventually recovered and resumed his career, Sisler’s eyesight was permanently hindered. For the second half of his career he was so-so, playing regularly more on the basis of reputation than performance.

Here we remove that agony, and what we see is a Hall of Fame career of the first order: four batting crowns, a .359 lifetime average (second only to Ty Cobb’s), and more than 3,000 hits. And this is probably conservative, given that I’ve wound him down to his pedestrian 1929-30 career’s end. A fully healthy Sisler might well have been doing better than that, and lasted past age 37.

 Year  Age    G   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS OPS+
 1915   22   81  274   28   78   10    2    3   29    7   27 .285 .307 .369  .676  106
 1916   23  151  580   83  177   21   11    4   76   40   37 .305 .355 .400  .755  132
 1917   24  135  539   60  190   30    9    2   52   30   19 .353 .390 .453  .843  161
 1918   25  114  452   69  154   21    9    2   41   40   17 .341 .400 .440  .840  157
 1919   26  132  511   96  180   31   15   10   83   27   20 .352 .390 .530  .920  154
 1920   27  154  631  137  257   49   18   19  122   46   19 .407 .449 .632 1.081  181
 1921   28  138  582  125  216   38   18   12  104   34   27 .371 .411 .560  .971  140
 1922   29  142  586  134  246   42   18    8  105   49   14 .420 .467 .594 1.061  170
 1923   30  142  591  132  239   42   18   11  107   44   18 .404 .446 .590 1.035  165
 1924   31  144  596  126  236   39   16    8   99   45   17 .395 .438 .557  .995  149
 1925   32  153  636  126  247   41   17   17  117   40   21 .388 .425 .585 1.010  149
 1926   33  137  542   91  179   28   14    9   79   28   23 .331 .364 .485  .849  116
 1927   34  141  592  114  212   36   15   10  102   31   23 .358 .389 .520  .909  132
 1928   35  144  595   86  202   24   10    8   88   29   21 .339 .370 .452  .821  118
 1929   36  154  629   67  205   40    8    2   79   33   17 .326 .363 .424  .787   98
 1930   37  116  431   54  133   15    7    3   67   23   15 .309 .346 .397  .743   81
Career     2179 8766 1527 3150  507  205  128 1349  547  335 .359 .397 .508  .905  137

Paul Molitor

Molitor’s career shape is rather the reverse of Sisler’s, as he struggled in his 20s and peaked in his 30s. When most players are at their most durable, Molitor was constantly getting hurt (and apparently dealing with a cocaine problem, which likely didn’t help his conditioning). But past the age of 30 Molitor was remarkably durable (converting to near full-time DH beginning at age 34 no doubt helped), and seemed to go on and on, laying out line drives into his 40s.

Our healthy-through-his-20s Molitor puts up some monster career numbers. That total of 3,712 hits would be fourth on the all-time list.

 Year  Age    G   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG   OPS OPS+
 1978   21  125  521   73  142   26    4    6   45   19   54 .273 .301 .372  .673   89
 1979   22  140  584   88  188   27   16    9   62   48   48 .322 .372 .469  .841  126
 1980   23  142  594  116  190   31    9   14   62   67   57 .320 .389 .476  .865  140
 1981   24  112  456   87  135   22    3   10   42   47   57 .296 .362 .425  .788  132
 1982   25  160  666  136  201   26    8   19   71   69   93 .302 .366 .450  .816  129
 1983   26  156  646  120  199   31   11   16   66   71   66 .308 .376 .464  .840  139
 1984   27  102  410   64  115   19    3    8   34   38   54 .280 .342 .402  .744  109
 1985   28  152  598   90  187   33    6   11   75   67   71 .313 .382 .444  .826  126
 1986   29  142  570  102  182   33    5   18   93   65   74 .319 .389 .488  .877  135
 1987   30  118  465  114  164   41    5   16   75   69   67 .353 .438 .566 1.004  161
 1988   31  154  609  115  190   34    6   13   60   71   54 .312 .384 .452  .836  133
 1989   32  155  615   84  194   35    4   11   56   64   67 .315 .379 .439  .818  132
 1990   33  139  566   94  176   31    8   13   59   59   60 .312 .377 .465  .842  136
 1991   34  158  665  133  216   32   13   17   75   77   62 .325 .399 .489  .888  147
 1992   35  158  609   89  195   36    7   12   89   73   66 .320 .389 .461  .850  140
 1993   36  160  636  121  211   37    5   22  111   77   71 .332 .402 .509  .911  142
 1994   37  115  454   86  155   30    4   14   75   55   48 .341 .410 .518  .928  138
 1995   38  130  525   63  142   31    2   15   60   61   57 .270 .350 .423  .773  101
 1996   39  161  660   99  225   41    8    9  113   56   72 .341 .390 .468  .858  115
 1997   40  135  538   63  164   32    4   10   89   45   73 .305 .351 .435  .786  104
 1998   41  126  502   75  141   29    5    4   69   45   41 .281 .335 .382  .717   87
Career    2939 11889 2012 3712  657  136  268 1481 1244 1312 .312 .377 .458  .835  127

The Zig-Zag Man

Roy Campanella

The position of catcher is brutally difficult, of course, and over the decades has made it difficult for many to sustain a consistent batting performance. But “Campy” took it to a whole ‘nother level.

Our Campanella manages to remain something resembling his top-drawer performance in those post-MVP seasons. An easy lay-up Hall of Famer becomes a slam-dunk Hall of Famer.

 Year  Age    G   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG   OPS OPS+
 1948   26   83  279   32   72   11    3    9   45   36   45 .258 .345 .416  .761  103
 1949   27  130  436   65  125   22    2   22   82   67   36 .287 .385 .498  .883  131
 1950   28  126  437   70  123   19    3   31   89   55   51 .281 .364 .551  .915  135
 1951   29  143  505   90  164   33    1   33  108   53   51 .325 .393 .590  .983  159
 1952   30  136  487   82  145   26    1   28  103   55   55 .298 .369 .524  .893  144
 1953   31  144  519  103  162   26    3   41  142   67   58 .312 .395 .611 1.006  155
 1954   32  128  458   73  122   20    3   30   97   55   54 .266 .344 .520  .864  120
 1955   33  123  446   81  142   20    1   32  107   56   41 .318 .395 .583  .978  153
 1956   34  124  417   60  114   13    1   26   90   61   51 .272 .365 .495  .860  122
 1957   35  103  330   31   80    9    0   13   62   34   50 .242 .316 .388  .704   81
Career     1239 4314  687 1249  199   18  265  924  539  492 .289 .368 .528  .896  133

A Powerful Pair

Roy Sievers

This fellow’s career had a great deal in common with that of someone we examined in our previous volume: Frank Howard. Each broke in with a Rookie of the Year performance, and each enjoyed an early-30s peak as an elite slugger, but for both the period in between was far less successful. Sievers’ struggles were even greater than Howard’s.

Following his excellent rookie season, Sievers had a bad sophomore slump in 1950. Before he could rebound from that, severe shoulder and arm injuries wiped out Sievers for two years, and he would never throw well again. (He’d been primarily a center fielder before he got hurt, but would be just a left fielder/first baseman from then on. He gradually worked his way back as a hitter, but it wouldn’t be until 1955, at the age of 28, that Sievers really picked up where he’d left off as a 22-year-old.

In our scenario, “Squirrel” avoids the worst of that unpleasantness, and turns in a 400-homer career.

 Year  Age    G   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS OPS+
 1949   22  140  471   84  144   28    1   16   91   70   75 .306 .398 .471 .869  126
 1950   23  133  452   68  117   25    4   17   83   61   65 .259 .348 .441 .788   98
 1951   24  142  490   79  141   24    5   21   99   72   71 .288 .378 .481 .859  128
 1952   25  148  530   83  139   24    5   27  101   87   77 .262 .365 .478 .843  130
 1953   26  148  541   87  155   22    7   34  110   75   61 .287 .373 .537 .910  141
 1954   27  147  532   80  141   22    4   32  105   67   70 .264 .346 .496 .842  134
 1955   28  144  509   74  138   20    8   25  106   73   66 .271 .364 .489 .853  133
 1956   29  152  550   92  139   27    2   29   95  100   88 .253 .370 .467 .837  121
 1957   30  152  572   99  172   23    5   42  114   76   55 .301 .388 .579 .967  163
 1958   31  148  550   85  162   18    1   39  108   53   63 .295 .357 .544 .901  147
 1959   32  115  385   55   93   19    0   21   49   53   62 .242 .333 .455 .788  115
 1960   33  127  444   87  131   22    0   28   93   74   69 .295 .396 .534 .930  151
 1961   34  141  492   76  145   26    6   27   92   61   62 .295 .377 .537 .914  144
 1962   35  144  477   61  125   19    5   21   80   56   80 .262 .346 .455 .801  117
 1963   36  138  450   46  108   19    2   19   82   43   72 .240 .308 .418 .726  108
 1964   37   82  178   12   32    4    1    8   27   22   34 .180 .271 .348 .619   73
 1965   38   12   21    3    4    1    0    0    0    4    3 .190 .320 .238 .558   63
Career     2212 7643 1171 2085  342   54  404 1434 1045 1072 .273 .360 .490 .851  130

Deron Johnson

He was never a great player by any means, but at his best Johnson was darn good: He had a glove that was adequate at third base and pretty good at first, and a productive power bat. But he was all too often not at his best; a series of setbacks rendered Johnson’s career a sequence of fits and starts, leaving his peak years of 1965 and 1971 looking quite lonely.

The A’s acquired him from the Yankees as a ballyhooed prospect in mid-1961 (in a notorious trade we discussed here), and struggled enormously. Johnson then spent most of 1962 in the military, and landed back in the minors for all of 1963.

But the Reds picked him up, and in 1964 Johnson hit his way into a regular job, and then broke through as a star in ’65, leading the majors in RBIs. For the next few years he would struggle with various nagging hurts, before gradually getting it back together with the Phillies and re-establishing himself as a superior hitter. Then a serious leg injury ruined his 1972 season, following which he played out the string riding a hot streak/ghastly slump roller coaster.

In our version, with some durability and consistency invoked, we see a solidly impressive career.

 Year  Age    G   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG   OPS OPS+
 1960   21    6    4    0    2    1    0    0    0    0    0 .500 .500 .750 1.250  243
 1961   22  107  346   40   80   14    3   11   53   21   61 .231 .275 .388  .663   76
 1962   23  134  413   52  106   20    3   16   64   32   86 .256 .309 .439  .748   97
 1963   24  141  491   69  130   25    4   23   80   38   93 .265 .318 .466  .784  120
 1964   25  140  477   63  130   24    4   21   79   37   98 .273 .326 .472  .798  119
 1965   26  159  616   92  177   30    7   32  130   52   97 .287 .340 .515  .855  131
 1966   27  151  561   84  154   28    5   28  106   46   92 .274 .328 .491  .819  117
 1967   28  134  489   66  129   24    4   23   92   37  101 .264 .316 .468  .784  113
 1968   29  140  445   51  109   18    2   18   65   46   96 .245 .315 .416  .731  119
 1969   30  148  529   63  138   24    2   26   88   66  129 .260 .342 .458  .800  126
 1970   31  159  578   70  151   29    2   31   94   72  139 .260 .342 .473  .815  120
 1971   32  158  582   74  154   29    0   34   95   72  146 .265 .347 .490  .837  135
 1972   33  132  437   52  108   16    1   21   71   54  114 .246 .329 .432  .761  113
 1973   34  143  500   64  120   16    2   20   86   64  126 .240 .326 .400  .726  108
 1974   35  135  472   54  105   15    2   17   68   49  109 .222 .295 .371  .667   94
 1975   36  151  565   68  135   25    1   19   75   50  117 .239 .300 .388  .688   93
 1976   37   15   38    3    5    1    1    0    0    5   11 .132 .233 .211  .444   25
Career     2151 7542  963 1930  338   42  339 1244  740 1614 .256 .322 .447  .769  113

A Couple of Giant Prodigies

Orlando Cepeda

Through 1964, the “Baby Bull” was a remarkably consistent hitter; following his 1965 knee surgery, he was all over the place. Here we imagine his early knee trouble not being nearly as severe, and thus even with his mid-30s breakdown it’s quite a career.

Cepeda’s batting stroke was an odd combination of awkwardness and grace: he had the smoothest hitch you’ll ever see. It would take him a moment to get all the parts moving, but then, look out. As a result he could be jammed, and even when hitting the ball well he wasn’t much of a pull hitter. Still, Cepeda delivered screeching liners up the middle, and his capacity for soaring power to right-center and even straightaway right field was extraordinary for a right-handed hitter.

 Year  Age    G   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS OPS+
 1958   20  148  603   88  188   38    4   25   96   29   84 .312 .342 .512 .854  125
 1959   21  151  605   92  192   35    4   27  105   33  100 .317 .355 .522 .877  133
 1960   22  151  569   81  169   36    3   24   96   34   91 .297 .343 .497 .840  133
 1961   23  152  585  105  182   28    4   46  142   39   91 .311 .362 .609 .971  157
 1962   24  162  625  105  191   26    1   35  114   37   97 .306 .347 .518 .865  132
 1963   25  156  579  100  183   33    4   34   97   37   70 .316 .366 .563 .929  165
 1964   26  142  529   75  161   27    2   31   97   43   83 .304 .361 .539 .900  148
 1965   27  149  556   88  174   31    2   31  100   44   76 .313 .364 .546 .910  150
 1966   28  145  531   79  165   30    1   25   94   48   79 .311 .368 .513 .880  141
 1967   29  151  563   91  183   37    0   25  111   62   75 .325 .399 .524 .923  164
 1968   30  152  577   83  168   32    1   25   98   51   82 .292 .349 .480 .829  149
 1969   31  151  568   84  168   33    1   27  103   55   75 .295 .357 .498 .855  138
 1970   32  148  567   87  173   33    0   34  111   47   75 .305 .365 .543 .908  135
 1971   33   71  250   31   69   10    1   14   44   22   29 .276 .330 .492 .822  125
 1972   34   31   87    6   25    3    0    4    9    7   17 .287 .340 .460 .800  119
 1973   35  142  550   51  159   25    0   20   86   50   81 .289 .350 .444 .794  118
 1974   36   33  107    3   23    5    0    1   18    9   16 .215 .282 .290 .572   61
Career     2235 8450 1249 2573  462   27  428 1521  646 1222 .305 .354 .518 .872  139

Willie McCovey

While Cepeda resides among the lower tier of Hall of Famers, McCovey’s Cooperstown status is of the comfortable, no-question-about-it sort. This is remarkable, given how many things went wrong for “Stretch.”

As we examined here, McCovey was, as Bill James described it, “probably the only truly great player to have been platooned for several years at the start of his career.” The Giants exhibited staggering inability to recognize just what kind of talent they had in their hands, and it wasn’t until 1963, McCovey’s fifth big league season, that he finally became a full-season regular.

The year after that, at 26, McCovey suddenly encountered a dreadful season-long slump. Its primary cause was finally determined to be chronically sore feet exacerbated by ill-fitting spiked shoes; the painfully shy McCovey had suffered in silence for months, and by the time he spoke up and was provided with new shoes, his season was irretrievably ruined.

The following year he re-emerged as a first-tier star, but in 1967 McCovey encountered his first bout with knee trouble. The deterioration was staved off for a couple of years, but in 1971 he had mid-season knee surgery and was rendered shockingly immobile. For the rest of his career he was undoubtedly one of the slowest baserunners in major league history. As if this weren’t enough, in early 1972 McCovey suffered a badly broken arm, which ruined that season for him.

Yet he persevered, coming back with highly productive seasons in 1973, ’74, and ’75, despite hobbling in chronic arthritic-knee pain. Then in 1976, at the age of 38, McCovey simply didn’t hit all year long, and it was obvious that he’d reached the end of the line. Obvious, that is, to everyone except McCovey himself, who talked the Giants into giving him a spring training chance in 1977. Willie Mac proceeded to win the Comeback Player of the Year Award, and eventually surpass 500 homers.

Our version of McCovey, with just an ordinary progression between his high spots, reaches 618 home runs, despite just seven seasons of as many as 500 at-bats. This strong, quiet, decent, extremely hard-working fellow could really, really hit.

  Year  Age    G   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG   OPS OPS+
  1959   21   54  192   35   68    9    5   13   38   22   35 .354 .421 .656 1.077  185
  1960   22  148  506   80  138   25    7   28   94   73   98 .273 .365 .517  .882  145
  1961   23  149  547   94  147   21    5   33   97   70   99 .270 .352 .507  .859  129
  1962   24  153  557  100  157   18    4   42  109   62  100 .283 .355 .553  .908  142
  1963   25  152  564  103  158   19    5   44  102   50  119 .280 .339 .566  .904  157
  1964   26  147  489   84  129   17    3   34   83   66  103 .264 .352 .518  .869  140
  1965   27  160  540   96  149   17    4   39   92   88  118 .276 .377 .539  .916  152
  1966   28  150  502   96  148   26    6   36   95   76  100 .295 .388 .586  .973  163
  1967   29  135  456   79  126   17    4   31   91   71  110 .276 .374 .535  .909  159
  1968   30  153  502   81  147   16    4   36  105   72   71 .293 .382 .556  .937  180
  1969   31  149  491  101  157   26    2   45  126  121   66 .320 .454 .656 1.110  211
  1970   32  152  495   98  143   39    2   39  126  137   75 .289 .443 .612 1.055  182
  1971   33  129  412   72  117   26    1   29   98  101   66 .284 .424 .559  .984  180
  1972   34  105  325   42   83   12    1   20   60   69   60 .255 .386 .485  .871  146
  1973   35  130  383   52  102   14    3   29   83  105   78 .266 .424 .546  .970  163
  1974   36  128  344   53   87   19    1   22   63   96   76 .253 .416 .506  .922  162
  1975   37  122  413   43  104   17    0   23   68   57   80 .252 .343 .460  .803  128
  1976   38  115  372   39   95   16    0   19   63   49   76 .254 .342 .452  .794  133
  1977   39  141  478   54  134   21    0   28   86   67  106 .280 .369 .500  .869  131
  1978   40  108  351   32   80   19    2   12   64   36   57 .228 .300 .396  .696   97
  1979   41  117  353   34   88    9    0   15   57   36   70 .249 .319 .402  .721  102
  1980   42   48  113    8   23    8    0    1   16   13   23 .204 .286 .301  .587   66
Career      2846 9385 1476 2581  410   59  618 1816 1537 1786 .275 .377 .529  .906  152

The Flying Fickle Finger of Freddy’s Fate

Fred Lynn

A fan “once happened to be sitting next to an octegenarian at Fenway Park, and in the course of a few innings learned that the gentleman had been sitting there watching the Red Sox since the time of Joe Wood. He asked the man who was the greatest player he ever saw, and the man said without hesitation, ‘Fred Lynn.’ Fred Lynn? Not Ruth? Not Speaker? Not Teddy? ‘Fred Lynn. Don’t think much of him now, but for a few years there he was the best.’”

He was rather fragile from the get-go, so there’s no way our version here can be Mr. Durable. As a result the adjusted career stats don’t really look Hall of Fame-worthy, although when considered in combination with Lynn’s early-career center field defense, he sure would deserve serious consideration. What an amazing talent.

  Year  Age    G   AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG   OPS OPS+
  1974   22   15   43    5   18    2    2    2   10    6    6 .419 .490 .698 1.188  230
  1975   23  145  528  103  175   47    7   21  105   62   90 .331 .401 .566  .967  162
  1976   24  141  521   94  170   42    7   17   92   57   82 .326 .393 .535  .927  158
  1977   25  140  519  100  160   39    4   26  101   65   77 .309 .386 .552  .938  141
  1978   26  148  534  102  172   39    2   33  109   80   69 .321 .409 .588  .998  166
  1979   27  147  531  116  177   42    1   39  122   82   79 .333 .423 .637 1.060  176
  1980   28  135  493  100  160   39    2   30  102   74   66 .324 .413 .593 1.006  167
  1981   29   93  327   53   92   22    1   11   51   44   44 .282 .367 .458  .825  137
  1982   30  138  472   89  141   38    1   21   86   58   72 .299 .374 .517  .891  143
  1983   31  133  475   86  144   33    2   27   93   64   77 .303 .387 .551  .937  157
  1984   32  134  482   89  144   28    2   28   89   71   78 .298 .388 .540  .929  156
  1985   33  125  439   72  124   21    1   22   74   55   77 .283 .363 .488  .851  134
  1986   34  112  397   67  114   13    1   23   67   53   59 .287 .371 .499  .870  136
  1987   35  111  396   49  100   24    0   23   60   39   72 .253 .320 .487  .807  113
  1988   36  114  391   46   96   14    1   25   56   33   82 .246 .302 .478  .780  118
  1989   37  117  353   44   85   11    1   11   46   47   71 .241 .328 .371  .699   99
  1990   38   90  196   18   47    3    1    6   23   22   44 .240 .315 .357  .672   85
 Career     2036 7096 1233 2119  457   36  366 1285  912 1146 .299 .378 .528  .907  146

References & Resources

Methodology

Everyone’s actual career includes a certain degree of year-to-year variation, and I wanted even these smoothed-out versions to reflect some of that. So instead of strict formality, I allowed myself a bit of artistic license. However, I did require myself to stick to some basic rules:

- I couldn’t just make stuff up; all adjusted stats had to start with the particular player’s actual stat lines.
- In most cases, the stats from the season being adjusted were included (even if in a minor weighting) in the adjusted line, to give the adjusted line some of the flavor of that actual season’s performance.
- No player’s career could start earlier than it did, or end later than it did.
- No adjusted season could surpass the player’s actual peak season(s); the adjusted seasons act as a bridge to and from peaks, not a new peak.

I’ve endeavored to create a new version of each player’s career that is idealized, but in a plausible manner. The intended effect is to enhance the actual career while not overwhelming it, to create an easily recognizable version of the actual career that is, to a reasonable degree, the best it might have been.

Feel free to email me with any questions about the precise formulae used for any particular player.

The quote regarding Fred Lynn is from The Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract, New York: Villard Books, 1985, page 390.

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