Tim Wakefield All-Stars

I imagine if you tried hard enough, you could come up with an All-Star team based on the attributes and characteristics of every player out there. Lately, it seems like I’m trying to prove just that.

Last week here at THT, I wrote a column, “Gary Carter All-Stars,” that fielded a team of guys who played with the same zest and passion as the recently departed Hall of Fame catcher. The funny thing is, that wasn’t my original column idea last week.

No, originally I was going to write a column on the Tim Wakefield All-Stars. After all, Wakefield had just announced his retirement from baseball, and so it seemed like a good time to look back and create a team of guys like him. Then I realized that his departure from the game wasn’t as important as Carter’s departure for this planet, and so I came up with Carter’s crew.

But the Tim Wakefield All-Stars is still a nice idea, so let’s look at that today. We’re looking for a team-load of guys like Wakefield. Okay, so what kind of player was he?

Well, he was distinctive. Wakefield was never a great player, but he was a good player for a long time. He made only one All-Star team, in 2009 at age 42. That was a weird selection in a year he was rather middling. It was clearly some sort of lifetime achievement pick. He never led the league in any stat you want to lead the league in. (He led in losses once and HBP twice). Wakefield is a guy who had an ERA+ between 93 and 116 every season but one from 1996 to 2009. That’s what you call consistent.

Yet, despite never being the big arm, Wakefield lasted forever. He ended up with 200 wins and is the all-time Red Sox franchise leader in numerous categories.

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Long-lasting quality: Tim Wakefield

So what we’re looking for is a team full of guys who: 1) lasted a long time despite 2) never being that great, but 3) were a quality player for virtually the entire time. The Tim Wakefield All-Stars then are the Energizer Bunnies of B-quality players.

So, without further dilly-dallying, here is the team:

Catcher: Rick Dempsey

Dempsey has one claim to fame, the most career WAR by a catcher in the All-Star Game era who never actually earned a selection to an All-Star Game. He had 23.8 WAR in his career but never appeared in the midsummer exhibition game. WAR isn’t the end-all and be-all of stats, but that does justify his place on this team.

Dempsey was well regarded enough to play an ungodly long time—24 seasons—but you can’t ever really call him a star.

First base: Mickey Vernon

Vernon might be the most forgettable position player to appear in games in four decades (1939-60). He did win a pair of batting titles, but those seasons stick out as flukes. For instance, his .353 mark in 1946 was 85 points more than he’d hit the year before and 88 points over where he ended up in 1947. Then again, even Wakefield had a couple of really strong seasons.

Alternate possible selections at first base: Bill Buckner, Stuffy McInnis, Ron Fairly, and Joe Kuhel.

Second base: Tony Phillips

Tony Phillips is the answer to a neat trivia question: In the All-Star Game era (1933-onward), who has appeared in the most regular-season games without ever earning an All-Star Game nod? It’s Phillips and his 2,161 career games played. Man, even Ron Fairly had a pair of All-Star selections.

Phillips had a weird career arc. He was okay in his 20s but really developed as a hitter in his 30s. Thanks to a large number of walks and some adequate power, he was still a good hitter at age 40, his final season in big-league ball.

Shortstop: Omar Vizquel

What a strange career arc he’s had. He’s never been much of a hitter, but he was always well regarded on the field. Seriously, back in 1989, would anyone have guessed he’d be the last position player from that decade still around? That’s doubtful. Heck, there’s an old Simpsons episode where the punch line is someone trying to trade Bart an Omar Vizquel baseball card. (Haha, who’d want a baseball card of that guy?)

Yet, he’s still around. He’ll turn 45 years old in two months, and he doesn’t intend to quit yet. Not only is he one of the only men to play in four decades, but he’s one of the very few men to play in 100 or more games in a season in four different decades. He’s stolen a base in four different decades. He’s played in more games than any other non-American-born athlete.

That’s a nice little career he’s carved out for himself.

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The Ancient Wonder of the Infield.

Third base: Gary Gaetti

Bill James once said aging follows a fairly predictable pattern. The guys with the longest careers are the guys who were the best in their primes. You don’t see an average player stick around for 20 years plugging out 150 hits a season. That just doesn’t happen.

Gary Gaetti did his damnedest to prove James wrong. He played for 20 seasons—18 of them as a starter—but was never that great. Well, he had a nice 1988 campaign, belting 28 homers and posting his only .300 batting average. Mostly, though, he was just ungodly consistent.

Outfield: Al Oliver

On the one hand, Oliver doesn’t really belong on this team. Playing at a time when batting average was king, Oliver was a career .303 hitter. Though he didn’t have much power, he had enough to belt over 500 doubles and once lead the league in RBIs.

Yeah, but when filling out an outfield, you’re going to end up with guys who could hit some. It’s almost impossible for an outfielder to last that long unless he brings something to the plate.

Oliver had a nice average, but was fairly one-dimensional. He stole 84 bases versus 64 caught stealings. Despite having nearly 10,000 career plate appearances, he had fewer total walks than Bernie Carbo. He did lead the league in RBIs (and batting average) in 1982, but that was clearly a career year. Though he could hit for average, his teams kept trading him.

Oliver was a nice player for a very long time but never really a great player, hence his inclusion here.

Outfield: Rusty Staub

Rusty Staub is 12th on the all-time games played list. The 11 guys in front of him are 10 first-ballot Hall of Famers and Barry Bonds. He could hit and was durable, but there are a lot of guys you can say that about. Most didn’t end up with 2,951 games played.

Staub led the league in only three stats: 1) twice in games played, 2) once in doubles, and 3) twice in GIDP. A guy who plays forever with a doubles title as his outstanding achievement belongs on this team.

Outfield: Chili Davis

Davis is the sort of guy who did a lot of things well but nothing great. He belted 350 homers, but his single-season high was “only” 30 (which he achieved at age 37). He batted .274, which is nice but not great. He also had 1,194 walks and 242 doubles. It was all nice and resulted in a 19-year career with a 120 OPS+. But Davis was very easy to miss completely unless you were paying attention. He’s probably better remembered for having the odd name Chili than for his on-field career.

Designated hitter: Harold Baines

He’s the ultimate Captain Good Enough. Baines was a solid and dependable hitter year-in, year-out for two decades. In fact, he won an All-Star Game selection during his 20th season in the bigs.

But Baines was never that great. He had power but never belted 30 homers in a season. He could hit but never got 200 hits in a season. He had a little bit of speed when young, but not much, and then he messed up his knees and had none. He stole a total five bases in his last 15 years.

But he was always a quality hitter. He had 19 consecutive seasons as a regular starting with an OPS+ in triple digits. There aren’t many you can say that about, but you can say it about Baines.

Starting pitcher: Tim Wakefield

Well, duh. The team is named after him.

Starting pitcher: Jamie Moyer

Let’s not kid ourselves. It’s called the Tim Wakefield All-Stars, but by the standards of the squad Jaime Moyer is a better Tim Wakefield than Tim Wakefield. Moyer has lasted a bizarrely long time as a quality pitcher and can’t even use the knuckleball as an explanation like Wakefield can for the durability over the years.

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Moyer intends to keep pitching until there’s no one else left.

Starting pitcher: Jack Quinn

Quinn had an all-time odd career arc. He started with the Yankees, and after a good beginning, washed out. Quinn moved to the burgeoning Federal League, and when it folded ended up in the minors. Instead of disappearing, he returned in his mid-30s, and then proceeded to be a good pitcher for a bizarrely long time.

From his return at age 34 in 1918 until 1932, when he was 48 years old, Quinn posted a superior park-adjusted ERA every year without fail. He was never great, but he was always good. And he lasted long enough to post 247 wins.

Starting pitcher: Milt Pappas

As he’ll be the first to tell you, his final career win-loss record is a dead ringer for Don Drysdale. Whereas Drysdale was 209-166, Pappas finished at 209-164. Yeah, but Drysdale packed it all in 14 seasons, which includes eight All-Star selections, a pair of 20-win seasons, and three strikeout titles, among other things. Pappas never won more than 17 games in a season, and the only stat he ever led the league in was wild pitches.

Still, Pappas was a good pitcher, and a pretty damn good-hitting pitcher, but not really a great pitcher. Pappas was the first pitcher to post 200 career wins without ever having a 20-win campaign.

Starting pitcher: Jerry Reuss

There’s a bunch of guys you could pick for the last slot. There are many guys right around 200 wins without having a great season. Aside from Reuss, there’s Doyle Alexander, Joe Niekro, Claude Osteen, and Earl Whitehill.

Reuss has that nice combination of performance that’s good enough to make the list without being too good. He was better than Alexander but wasn’t as good in his best seasons as Osteen. Reuss had a pair of 20-win season en route to 220 career wins.

Reliever: Todd Jones

Does any other reliever’s career do more to de-legitimize the save stat than Todd Jones? He has 319 career saves, which is 15th most all-time, yet his ERA+ is 111. Sure, ERA+ is centered at 100, so Jones is above average, but he’s only barely above.

And it’s not like he had a fabulous peak (like Jose Mesa) weighed down by some dreadful stretch. Yeah, he had his good years and bad years, but he was fairly consistently a good reliever without necessarily being a mind-blowing one. There’s a reason why he only made one All-Star Game appearance. He was good enough to keep the closer’s job for a long time but hardly ever great.

Manager: Bucky Harris

Harris was a good manager for a very, very long time. He ended his career third all-time in managerial wins despite having a losing record. He remained third in wins until Sparky Anderson passed him about 20 years ago.

It isn’t really Harris’ fault his record was below .500. He just happened to manage a lot of under-talented Senators teams. But while he might be the best manager to have a losing record, that’s a heck of a qualifier there.

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Comments

  1. Bob Rittner said...

    Might you include Julio Franco as your utility player and perhaps someone like Mike Stanton as your set-up reliever? Both lasted a very long time, for quite a while in secondary roles, but generally performed well in the roles they were given.

  2. Mike said...

    Moyer and Vizquel are the last two players who debuted in the 1980s, though Jaime debuted 3 years earlier and is five years older than Omar. Who wants to start a pool on who lasts longer? I’m going with Moyer.

  3. Random Transaction Generator said...

    The only problem I have with Moyer on the list is that he had two seasons with 20+ wins.  That’s the sort of thing BBWAA guys would jump at to signify a “great” pitcher.

    I think Jimmy Key would be a good replacement for Jamie Moyer.  15 seasons, only one with a losing record (10 or more decisions).  12 seasons with 12-18 wins.

  4. Brian D said...

    I bet Omar Vizquel (and Kenny Lofton) would be considered stronger HoF candidates if the Tribe had won the World Series in 1995 and 1997.

    I also wonder why Jim Thome is considered squeaky clean when it comes to steroids.  He’s a HUGE dude who played alongside Manny and Albert Belle and Jason Grimsley- I’m guessing that the roids discussion probably came up a few times in the locker room/ weight room, etc… But I digress.

  5. Paul G. said...

    I’m not sure I would say that Gaetti was consistent as a career.  He was consistent for periods of his career, but if you picked a year at random the value ranges from the Gold Glove, All-Star Game starter to no hit, OK glove third baseman.  He does fit the team though.

    Also, do keep in mind that while an ERA+ 100 is league average for all pitchers, it probably is not league average for relief pitchers.  The average starting pitcher is probably in the mid to high 90s and the relief pitchers somewhere higher than 100.  111 is good for a starter but pretty ordinary for a reliever.  In the defense of Todd his job as a closer is peculiar given that if he holds the lead provided, even if he pitches terrible, he’s a success.  In theory, it is possible to be both the worst pitcher in the league and the best closer.  I’m not sure where Todd ranks in save conversions.  B-R.com has him at an 81% save rate, but I have no idea if that is good or bad.  (Mariano and Trevor were both 89% for their careers, so there’s that.)

  6. Chris J. said...

    “Wouldn’t Connie Mack be the best manager with a losing record?”

    D’OH!  You got that one right.  I just blanked on him.  Serves me right for writing without checking the facts.  Thanks for the correction.+

  7. Chris J. said...

    Paul – that’s a good point about starter/reliever ERA+. From memory, average starter ERA+ is 96 and reliever its 109.

  8. voxpoptart said...

    Tony Phillips references make me happy, but I think you seriously underrate him, putting him here. (Although most people do.)

    Let me make a suggestion. Suppose that Tony Phillips’s historically unique ability to play every non-catcher/non-pitcher position well – not just adequately, really well – has independent value, by allowing his team an easier time fielding good players around him, adjusting to injuries, fatigue, sudden positional vacancies from trade, etc. Seems likely, yes? Suppose, over the course of a season, it’s worth about a win – not outrageous, really, half the difference between a replacement-level player and an average one.

    Well, great. He played over 2100 games; about 15 full seasons. So he’d be worth 66.5 WAR (adjusted), and in his five seasons with the Tigers he’d be worth 5.7, 6.3, 6.2, 6.6, and a strike-season 5.3 that’s more like a 7.5-win pace.

    In other words, Tony Phillips has a strong argument for the Hall of Fame. It’s always fun to read about him. And it’s always fun to read about Tim Wakefield, one of my favorite players. I liked this article! But value-wise, Phillips is way ahead of Tim Wakefield.

  9. John said...

    Love the Tony Phillips selection.

    Seems like if the full 25-man roster was fleshed out you would see these guys:  Mike Morgan, Jesse Orosco, and Julio Franco.

    Nice work!

  10. Brandon said...

    There’s a reason the late Ernie Harwell nicknamed Todd Jones rollercoaster. Watching Jones close out a game was often like riding one. You wait 2.5 hours to get to it, climb a steep hill, go down same hill at insane speed, (give up a single),  climb another hill, (walk a guy) go around a corkscrew, (pop up) and finsish safely at the end (GIDP).

  11. David said...

    You can’t include Connie Mack.  He’s a Hall of Famer.  That should disqualify him.  Also, he had two of the great runs of all time – 1910 to 1914, and 1929 to 1931.

  12. George Tummolo said...

    Great article again, Chris! A couple of things: Rabbit Maranville may fit better than Vizquel in spite of being a HoFer, AND, Connie Mack really, REALLY was an OUTSTANDING manager and evaluator of talent when he had the financial means. Although I was a fan of Drysdale, he really was not great it seemed out of his home park and he really got a break in his scoreless inning streak. On the other hand, Pappas seemed much worse…….. AND, Oliver really could sting the ball. If he was around in the mid-to-late 90’s, he would have had some monster seasons.

  13. DougJonesBiggestFan said...

    Seeing Jerry Reuss reminded me that he basically replaced Tommy John as the Dodgers’ best left-handed starter.  Both of them had an unusual characteristic – they were both essentially one-pitch pitchers – Reuss with his fastball, and John with his sinker.  Neither of them threw much of anything else until their last gasps in the major leagues.  The only two other pitchers I can think of that (successfully) followed this pattern are both relievers – Mariano Rivera and Larry Anderson.  And, of course, knuckleballers.  Who else is on the list? Even Doug Jones and Jamie Moyer snuck/sneak in a “fastball” here and there.

  14. Señor Spielbergo said...

    “Heck, there’s an old Simpsons episode where the punch line is someone trying to trade Bart an Omar Vizquel baseball card. (Haha, who’d want a baseball card of that guy?)”

    Of course, a) the other card is a Carl Yastrzemski (who played 23 years himself), and b) the Vizquel card is torn.

    BTW, your memory got screwed up; that’s from the episode where Milhouse falls in love, giving Bart the free time to go through Milhouse’s baseball cards and make one-sided trades like that (the Vizquel card was Bart’s).

  15. Señor Spielbergo said...

    “He’s probably better remembered for having the odd name Chili than for his on-field career.”

    Personally, I remember him as a member of the 1988-1990 California Angels, the only team to field two Jamaican-born players at the same time (Devon White being the other).

  16. Chris J. said...

    Senor – you’re right that it was a torn card for a great – but of all the guys The Simpsons could choose from, they went with a guy who ended up playing in over 2,900 games.  What are the odds?

  17. Bookbook said...

    Benito Santiago for backup catcher! I know he had a bunch of ASG appearances, and even some MVP votes, but the dude played forever with a 93 OPS+ and no super 120+ seasons.

    I grew up rooting for the 70s and 80s Orioles teams, so these kind of long-career, consistently cromulent kind of guys are kind of what I expect, even after a decade of M’s fandom. (Rich Dauer, Al Bumbry, Mark Belanger, Dempsey, even lesser Doug Decinces). How did those Orioles teams manage to win so much anyway? ( I know pitching, defense, Murray- Ripken-Singleton)

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