Personal Hall of Fame – Part Nine

Pumping out these at a good pace right now, let’s keep it going.

Kevin Appier — In the Hall of Fame: NO (Received exactly one vote in 2010)

In general, there is at least one Hall of Famer on every World Series championship team. In fact, of every team that has had every player become eligible so far, only the 1981 Dodgers and the 1984 Tigers lack a Hall of Fame player, although both had Hall of Fame managers. The ’84 Tigers did have Alan Trammell, who is in my Hall of Fame, as well as Lou Whitaker and Jack Morris, who have their cases, even if I’ve yet to go over them in detail. The ’81 Dodgers are a bit more difficult, although Steve Garvey, Ron Cey, and Fernando Valenzuela are sort of in contention. Furthermore, they were champions in that weird strike shortened season with weird playoff rules. After those two, the 1997 Marlins might go without one, although Kevin Brown and Gary Sheffield have decent cases. And then there were the 2002 Angels. Their best candidates are Tim Salmon, who’s not really close, and Kevin Appier.

Appier is more remembered as the ace of the early nineties Royals as opposed to the second starter of the 2002 Angels. And he was pretty good. Appier finished third in Cy Young voting in 1993, although he probably should have won. His 2.56 ERA lead the American League that year, but playing for the small-market, mediocre Royals likely nixed his chances. For a stretch from his rookie season in 1990 through until 1997, Appier was among the best pitchers in baseball, with only Greg Maddux and Roger Clemens accumulating more fWAR. That would come to a screeching halt after shoulder surgery in 1998. He would leave both acehood and the Royals behind and bounce around as a middle of the rotation starter before he left the majors for good in 2004, although he would make a couple of comeback attempts.

Appier was a good pitcher, and for a while a great one. But he failed to standout among a crowded field. I’ve already inducted his contemporaries Greg Maddux, Randy Johnson, and Curt Schilling, who were all significantly better. I haven’t yet got to Roger Clemens, Mike Mussina, or John Smoltz, who I also find to be better than Appier. Oh yeah, Tom Glavine too. And Kevin Brown and David Cone were at least as good, while both sticking around a bit longer. Appier might have been a really good candidate had he lasted longer as an elite pitcher or had he pitched in a different time period. But as is, he’s the maybe tenth best pitcher of the nineties. I don’t think that’s good enough.

Verdict: NOPE

Dennis Eckersley — In the Hall of Fame: YES (Elected in 2004 on the first ballot)

Dennis Eckersley has a particularly strange case. He had a career as a very good starter for about 11 seasons from 1975-1985, split between the Indians, Red Sox, and Cubs. He received down ballot Cy Young votes in 1978 and ’79, and was an All Star in ’77 and ’82. But by the end of that stretch he was an average starter and fading fairly quickly. And then, in 1987, he emerged as the ace reliever for the A’s. Eck had six seasons as good as any closer ever. He managed a 0.61 ERA in 1990 and he won both the Cy Young Award and the MVP in 1992. But after that last season, Eckersley faded again, becoming just an average closer for another half decade before retiring after his mediocre 1998 season.

The BBWAA fell in love with Eckersley and waved him in on the first ballot. I think this was in part due to the lack of Hall of Fame pitchers in the preceding years. The writers hadn’t yet ‘discovered’ Bert Blyleven, and it had been five years since they had last inducted a pitcher, Nolan Ryan. I don’t think that Eckersley is on par with the typical first ballot guys, but his case does have significant merit. His career as a closer was fantastic, and his starting career was pretty solid as well. That being said, I don’t think either one qualifies him for the Hall of Fame on their own merits. As a closer he wasn’t significantly better than Dan Quisenberry, whom I have already rejected. As a starter he was probably a smidgen worse than Kevin Appier, who was also just rejected. Do they add up together to make a Hall of Famer? For that I am going invoke the Wes Ferrell clause. Like Ferrell, Eckersley has a very unique case, and like Ferrell, he is not a clear Hall of Famer. But his uniqueness is what pushes him over the line. No one else has had the extended success both starting and relieving as Eck.

Verdict: IN

Darrell Evans — In the Hall of Fame: NO (Received 1.7% of the vote in 1995)

Darrell Evans is one of those super underappreciated players. He was an All-Star twice, ten years apart. He never finished higher than twelfth in MVP balloting and received hardly any support of the Hall of Fame. But here he is, nonetheless.

Evans played third base for the Braves and the Giants in the seventies and early eighties, before moving to first base/designated hitter with the Tigers to finish off his career. One of the reasons that Evans was so unappreciated was because those Braves and Giants teams he played for were really bad. Evans didn’t play regularly for a team that finished higher than third until he got to Detroit when he was 37. Another reason for his lack of notoriety was the way he accumulated value. His batting averages were always low, rarely pushing past .260, but he was still getting on base at a great pace. He twice led the league in walks and finished his career with an OBP of .361, compared to a .248 batting average. He did have good power, leading baseball with 40 home runs in 1985 and amassing 414 for his career. His best season was his fantastic 1973, where he hit a career high with 41 home runs, to go with a .281/.403/.556 batting line and a 9.7 fWAR. Only Joe Morgan and Tom Seaver put up comparable seasons, but Evans would finish 18th in MVP voting.

After another great season in 1974, Evans was mostly done as an MVP caliber player, but he would continue as an above average player for another decade and a half. Defensively, Evans is hard to gauge. The metrics are all over the place with him, although most like his younger years. He was moved off of third base to first quite a few times, but also subbed in at shortstop occasionally so it seems that his own managers didn’t quite know what to make of him. Admittedly, I’m not quite sure what to make of him either. His career is not exactly normal—he had about three fantastic seasons and then a long period as an average player. Furthermore, third base was a rather strong position in his career, led mostly by Mike Schmidt. Compared to the other third basemen I’ve inducted already, he is somewhere in the neighborhood of Stan Hack, but I’m not sure if he’s much better than Hack, if at all. I think there is a good chance I induct Darrell Evans someday, but I’m not comfortable with it being today.

Verdict: Holding Tank

Rick Ferrell — In the Hall of Fame: YES (Veteran’s Committee in 1984)

Rick Ferrell was the brother of the already mentioned and inducted Wes Ferrell, and, on more than one occasion, his battery mate. Ferrell caught for 18 seasons, splitting time between the Senators, Red Sox, and Browns. He was a decent hitter in his younger years, putting up impressive OBPs, even breaking .400 three different seasons. He also put up some high batting averages, but that wasn’t particularly out of the ordinary for the American League in the thirties. Ferrell made seven All-Star teams, so he was obviously highly regarded in his time. He had a nice career. It’s not Hall of Fame worthy.

Ferrell’s career lasted from 1929 through 1947, although he did not play in 1946. During that time, he ranks fifth in fWAR. Two of the players ahead of him, Mickey Cochrane and Gabby Hartnett have significantly less plate appearances. Compared to Ernie Lombardi, who did have about the same playing time in that span, Ferrell is severely outclassed, mostly because he lacked any power whatsoever. Ferrell trails Lombardi 27.2 fWAR to 41.9, and that’s with Ferrell getting twice as much credit for his defense. Now, I could see a league average hitter, which is what Ferrell was, being Hall of Fame caliber if he had otherworldly defense. Ferrell did not by any contemporary accounts reach those heights, even if he was good. As is, Ferrell is well below any reasonable standard, except, apparently, the ones in Cooperstown. But hey, he was probably better than High Pockets Kelly, assuming you don’t adjust for nickname.

Verdict: NOPE

Jim Fregosi— In the Hall of Fame: NO (Received 1% of the vote in1984)

Jim Fregosi is mostly ignored in Hall of Fame discussion, but he has some interesting aspects that give him a reasonable argument. He was pretty clearly the best shortstop of his era. Although the sixties were weak for shortstops, Fregosi laps the field. Also, by fWAR, Fregosi is the most valuable Angels’ position player of all time. Now, Mike Trout will most likely pass him by the end of next year, but that’s still something to hang your hat on. He also got traded for Nolan Ryan, who might have been the greatest pitcher in Angels’ history. He played on six all-star teams while with the Angels. The first half of his career was at a Hall of Fame level. If you just include his career prior to turning thirty, Fregosi was as good as Alan Trammell, Robin Yount, and Joe Cronin.

That said, he’s not a good candidate because his career as a useful player was over way too quickly. In 1970, it looked like he had turned a corner, hitting for a career high of 22 home runs. Fregosi did essentially nothing after that point though. After being traded to the Mets for Nolan Ryan, Fregosi was barely adequate with the bat and the once great glove was mostly average. After a few more years as a part time player, Fregosi retired after the 1978 season. Had Fregosi been even an average player for five or so years after his peak period, he would be a serious contender for the Hall of Fame. But as is, he was merely the best of a bad bunch of sixties shortstops. His peak just wasn’t high enough, and his career was just too short.

Verdict: NOPE

Harry Heilmann — In the Hall of Fame: YES (elected by BBWAA in 1952)

Harry Heilmann was the Tigers’ star right fielder throughout the twenties. He was initially brought up by the Tigers in 1914, seeking a replacement for the soon-to-retire Sam Crawford. For the next few years, Heilmann provided the Tigers with a solid bat, but they couldn’t figure out where to put him, moving him between the outfield and first base repeatedly. By 1921, the Tigers gave up their experimenting and plugged Heilmann in at right. He responded by hitting .394, good enough to lead the American League. And while his 19 home runs that season may not seem overly impressive, it was good for fifth in the AL, only five behind the runner-up, Ken Williams (Heilmann was forty dingers behind Babe Ruth). From that point on, Heilmann would establish a pattern. In odd numbered years, he would hit in the neighborhood of .400 and win the batting title. In even numbered years, he would hit around .350, which is still good, but considering the era, not amazing. Heilmann would lead the league in batting four times, including his 1923 season when he hit .403. Heilmann did have a penchant for hitting doubles, leading the league in 1924 as well as having a good eye at the plate, finishing second in OBP three times. His stretch from 1921-1927 is among the better offensive primes of all time.

Heilmann is not without his flaws. He wasn’t considered a particularly good defender in right field. Furthermore his offensive numbers spiked right after the introduction of the new live ball in 1921, hinting at a bit of statistical inflation. His numbers do stand up well compared to his peers—only Babe Ruth and Rogers Hornsby were clearly better players during his prime. I think Heilmann is a pretty good example of an average Hall of Famer, at least in my eyes. He wasn’t a legend, but he was still pretty good.

Verdict: IN

Frank Robinson — In the Hall of Fame: YES (Elected in 1982 on the first ballot)

            Frank Robinson was one of the greatest players ever. He’s known for having won an MVP award in both leagues as well as being the best bat on the great Orioles teams of the sixties. But if Robinson had one flaw, it was that he wasn’t quite as good as Hank Aaron.

Frank Robinson got his first major league opportunity in 1956 with the Cincinnati Redlegs, who were in the midst of a name change due to the ongoing Red Scare. He immediately burst onto the scene with 38 home runs, winning the Rookie of the Year Award. It was a pretty typical year for Frank Robinson. He was generally good for around 30 home runs and a batting line somewhere in the neighborhood of .300/.390/.550. Robinson was a good base stealer, acquiring 204 for his career. In his younger years he was solid in the field, although his glove would deteriorate with age. Meanwhile, in Milwaukee, and later Atlanta, Hank Aaron was doing things slightly better. Aaron normally would hit closer to 37-ish dingers, somewhere more around .315/.390/.575. He was a bit better on the basepaths than Robinson and somewhat better with his glove. Robinson had a fantastic season in 1961, hitting .323/.404/.611 with 37 dingers, winning his first MVP. It was a bit better than what Aaron did with the bat, but both fWAR and bWAR say that Aaron more than made it up with his glove.

Robinson’s second MVP season came in his first year with Baltimore in 1966, where he hit .316/.410/.637 with 49 dingers, winning the AL triple crown as well. His first two years with Baltimore were his best two at the plate. But after that, Robinson would begin a long slow decline. By that point his defense was less than adequate and both his power and contact skills were inconsistent. After his stint with the Orioles, Robinson would bounce around a bit before retiring the same year as Aaron in 1976. While he never did anything quite as well as Aaron (with the exception of walking, which he did at a slightly better pace), Robinson still had just completed one of the best careers of any player ever. He was swept into the Hall of Fame at the first opportunity, finishing second in the voting behind… well… you know.

Verdict: IN

Ed Walsh — In the Hall of Fame: YES (Elected in 1946 by the Old Timers Committee)

Big Ed Walsh had one of the most dazzling peaks of any pitcher ever. Starting his peak with the pennant winning White Sox in 1906, Walsh put up seven straight seasons of awe-inspiring pitching. In 1908 he pitched 464 innings with an ERA of 1.60. In 1910 he pitched 369 innings with a 1.27 ERA. He twice led the league in ERA and strikeouts, and four times lead the league in innings pitched. His career marks of 1.82 ERA and 2.02 FIP are both all time records. And then, after 1912, he was done. He apparently came to spring training a bit out of shape and overexerted his right arm. He would never again pitch over 100 innings in a season, let alone the 400 he had done earlier in his career.

Walsh is pretty clearly worthy of the Hall of Fame. His peak was so incredulously good by modern day standards. Even by the standards of his own time, when ERAs were lower and inning counts were higher, Walsh was clearly a step above other pitchers. Now, there is this little part of me that’s like ‘it was only seven seasons, you didn’t elect Al Rosen based on seven good seasons.’ Although Walsh only was good for seven seasons, he did manage nearly 3000 innings in his career, mostly because he was averaging 375 innings a season during his peak. That’s more career innings than Pedro Martinez, and Walsh’s peak was in that vicinity. That little part of me is apparently the dumb part.

Verdict: IN

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