Before I get started, I’d figure I’d do a quick update on the Holding Tank. As of right now it contains 9 players: Earl Averill, Darrell Evans, Jim Kaat, Kenny Lofton, Sherry Magee, Rick Reuschel, Eppa Rixey, Urban Shocker, and Joe Tinker. Going into this edition, I’m not much closer to a decision on any one of these guys, but there are a few guys coming up who are comparable to these guys. Since I’m doing eight at a time now, I think I’ll wait until I get sixteen guys in the Tank to reassess anyone, since it will be less work per player. Anyhow, on to some new guys.
Frank Baker — In the Hall of Fame: YES (Veterans Committee in 1955)
Frank ‘Home Run’ Baker was the Third Baseman in the famous $100,000 infield that lead the Philadelphia A’s to multiple pennants in the 1910s. Baker, as you would expect with his nickname, led the AL in home runs four times, although his career high of twelve does not exactly line up with one’s expectations. Really, his nickname comes from the two timely home runs he hit in the 1911 World Series. But even if you are disappointed by his relative lack of dingers, Baker more than makes up for it in the rest of his play.
Baker was an excellent defensive third baseman in a time where that was extremely important. He also could swipe a bag, stealing over 200 in his relatively short career. His best season was 1912, when he hit .347/.404/.541 with a league leading 10 home runs and 40 stolen bases. His 1913 season was just about as good. Overall Baker excelled at all parts of the game. He did have a rather short career however, only playing thirteen seasons. Despite this, Baker’s production at third base was unmatched until Eddie Mathews in the fifties. I’ve discussed the oddities of pre-war third basemen before when considering Stan Hack and I’ll repeat it again. I think that pre-war third basemen are grossly underrated by modern metrics. They make Baker look like a borderline candidate, but I feel he’s pretty clearly over the line.
Eddie Collins — In the Hall of Fame: YES (Elected by the BBWAA in 1939)
Eddie Collins was one of the greats of the early days of baseball. He is also perhaps the most forgotten of these greats, as his name is much less known than Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, or Walter Johnson. But Collins really was their equal. He was both a member of the $100,000 infield with Frank Baker as well as a clean player on the infamous 1919 Black Sox. Collins was highly educated and intelligent compared to his peers, but was considered rather standoffish.
Collins was a star second baseman, splitting his time between the Philadelphia A’s and the Chicago White Sox. He was a fantastic base stealer, nearly amassing 750 for his career and leading the league four times, including a career high of 81 in 1910. While Collins did put up many high batting averages, his real skill was his good batting eye. Only twice in his long career did Collins reach 50 plate appearances without at least a .400 OBP: His rookie year in 1908 and a down year in 1917, although he did manage a .389 OBP that season. His defense at second was also quite good.
There really isn’t much more to add. Collins was just a step below Tris Speaker, who himself was just a step below Ty Cobb and Honus Wagner. A Hall of Fame without Eddie Collins isn’t really a Hall of Fame at all.
Red Faber — In the Hall of Fame: YES (Veterans Committee in 1964)
Red Faber was a spitball throwing righty who played his entire career for the White Sox, pitching from 1914-1933. Faber, like Eddie Collins, was one of the clean players on the 1919 White Sox, although he did not pitch in the World Series that year. I swear I did not intend for all these players to connect so well, but that’s just the way it goes I guess.
Faber was a pretty solid pitcher for a few years when he first came up with the White Sox. He was a major part of their World Championship in 1917, but would miss almost all of 1918 due to service in World War I, and would miss a significant portion of 1919 due to complications from the flu which he received as a result of that service.
After the Black Sox scandal, the White Sox were largely gutted, but Faber found the best success of his career. He would lead the league in ERA in both 1921 and 1922, and was arguably the best pitcher in baseball for those two years, although Stan Coveleski and Urban Shocker both have cases as well. After that peak, Faber would fluctuate between above and below average until 1933, when he was 44 years old.
So far, I’ve discussed three other pitchers who I think are comparable to Faber: Stan Coveleski, Eppa Rixey, and Urban Shocker. I inducted Coveleski and held off for now on the other two. I’m still pretty sure that Coveleski was the best of the bunch. At his best, he was at least as good as Shocker and Faber, but he sustained that level for a longer. Coveleski was elite for about five years, while Faber and Shocker were only at that level for a couple. Compared to Shocker, Faber is almost identical, with the addition of a few mediocre seasons. I think that’s enough to say Faber is better than Shocker. As for Rixey, he was never as good at his peak as the other three, but he was an above average pitcher for much longer than any of them. Rixey versus Faber is sort of the classic peak versus career argument. I this case, I think that Faber’s peak wasn’t quite impressive enough to outweigh the entirety of Rixey’s super consistent career. If Rixey isn’t yet in my Hall, then I don’t see how Faber could be. At some point I’m going to have to make a decision on these twenties pitchers, but for now Faber gets to hang with Rixey and Shocker in the Holding Tank.
Verdict: Holding Tank
Jeff Kent — In the Hall of Fame: NO (Will be on third ballot in 2016)
Kent was a prickly power-hitting second baseman who put up his best numbers with the Giants in the nineties and aughts. For the first few years of Kent’s career, he was a solid player, providing good pop from second base. Going into the 1997 season, he was traded for the third time in his career, from the Indians to the Giants. At this point, something must have clicked with Kent’s bat. In 1998 he hit 31 dingers and a batting line of .297/.359/.555, good for a wRC+ of 139. In 2000 he would hit even better: .334/.424/.596, good enough to win an MVP award. Overall, in his six years with the Giants, Kent hit .297/.368/.535, which, even in the heavy offensive environment of 1997-2002 was good enough for a 134 wRC+. Kent would play for six more seasons with the Astros and Dodgers. For the most part, the bat was still there, although his glove began to seriously deteriorate. Overall, Kent had a unique career—he was an average player in his twenties and an elite player in his thirties.
Kent was clearly one of the best offensive second baseman since World War II, which was the point when the position switched from an offensive oriented one to focusing more on defense. On the merits of his bat, Kent looks like a slam dunk candidate. His 377 career home runs is the best ever for the position, and it’s not particularly close to Ryne Sandberg in second with 282. But Kent has one major issue: the quality of his defense. Well, I’ve seen some people take issue with Kent’s short career, but he had more plate appearances than Sandberg, so I don’t see the issue. No, Kent’s candidacy comes down to whether his defense was really bad, or merely average. By the time he was a Dodger, his glove was obviously terrible, which I think has soiled his reputation. By the numbers, his prime years with the Giants were perfectly adequate defensively, although nothing special.
I think Kent compares well to Sandberg actually. Kent’s bat was significantly better. In his best season, Kent achieved a 159 wRC+, while Sandberg only managed a 142 at his peak. Sandberg also had some rather mediocre seasons at the plate while Kent was pretty much always above average, and normally better than that. Now, I do think that Sandberg’s defense and baserunning make up the gap and then some, but Kent still compares quite well to someone I’ve already inducted. That said, I wasn’t super in love with Sandberg, and I’m not super in love with Kent either. Basically, he was an All-Star first baseman who could play second well enough. That’s pretty good, but I don’t feel completely convinced. I already have inducted a lot of second basemen, so I think I’ll hold off on another one for now.
Verdict: Holding Tank
Graig Nettles — In the Hall of Fame: NO (Spent four years on the ballot, peaking at 8.3% in 1994)
Graig Nettles was the long time third baseman for the Yankees, playing a major role in their championship teams of the late seventies. Nettles was mainly known for his fantastic glove and his good power. Nettles first came up with the Twins in 1967, but he didn’t get a chance to start until 1970, with the Indians. He quickly emerged as a great defender at third—he would win two Gold Gloves in his career, and probably would have won many more had his career not overlapped with both Brooks Robinson and Buddy Bell. As I said before, Nettles was also a good power hitter, hitting 390 for his career in an era that wasn’t overly power heavy. Of course, power was basically the limit of what Nettles did with the bat. He was pretty much a .250 hitter, and unlike Darrell Evans, he didn’t walk so much as to make up for it.
I think the comparison to Evans is an interesting one. Both were low batting average third basemen with good power, and while Evans was an OBP machine, Nettles was an all time defender. Nettles was an elite player for 1970-1978, but wasn’t particularly special outside that peak. Evans had a short, high peak, but he made up for it with a decade plus of above average seasons. Overall, I think Nettles was better. His defense, both by the stats and by his reputation was absolutely amazing. His reaction time was insane. Now, I don’t think that defense alone is enough to drive a Hall of Fame campaign unless you could field two positions at once or something, but Nettles was also an elite power hitter. Those two together push him over the line for me.
Al Simmons — In the Hall of Fame: YES (Elected by the BBWAA in 1953)
Aloysius Simmons was an outfield who played during the liveball era. Splitting time between left and center, Simmons was an integral part of the Athletic teams that dominated the late twenties and early thirties. Simmons brandished both power and contact skills during his peak. For three years, 1929-31, Simmons hit .378/.421/.664, leading the American League in batting twice and averaging 31 dingers a year. He was a fantastic player for about a decade, maintaining a 150 wRC+ for 1925-34. After that point, Simmons quickly deteriorated, and, although he would stick around for a while on a quest for 3000 hits (he finished with 2927), Simmons never was significantly above average after 1934.
Simmons looks like a pretty solid player to me. He looks like a better version of Sherry Magee. When adjusting for era, their numbers are pretty similar. I would say that Simmons was an elite player for longer, but Magee filled out his career with more averagish years. Simmons was also a better defender, capable enough to play a third of his innings in center. I think Simmons fits pretty well in the middle chunk of the Hall of Fame, and it’s a pleasure to induct him into mine.
Luis Tiant — In the Hall of Fame: NO (Lasted 15 years on the ballot, peaking at 30.9% in 1988, has been a candidate on the Golden Era Committee Ballot)
Luis Tiant basically had two completely different careers. When he first came up with the Indians in 1964, he was a young fireballer. While he wasn’t exactly consistent, he was solid in Cleveland both as a starter and a reliever. Then, in 1968, he broke out, utilizing a more deceptive deliver. He lead the American League with a 1.60 ERA and 2.04 FIP and finished third in strikeouts. He finished in a tie for fifth in MVP voting that year. That said, while his numbers look extremely impressive, they aren’t super special considering it was the famous “Year of the Pitcher.” Bob Gibson put up a 1.12 ERA that year. Denny McLain won 31 games en route to a Cy Young and MVP award. Of the 81 pitchers with at least 150 innings pitched, more finished with an ERA below two than an ERA above four. While Tiant was probably one of the best five pitchers that season, his eye-popping numbers don’t particularly stand out among the competition.
After his monster 1968, Tiant battled injuries for a few years before re-emerging with the Red Sox in 1972, where he pitched phenomenally out of the pen before moving into the rotation full time. At this point, Tiant began his second career now dominating hitters with a wide array of different pitches. He would spend the next couple of seasons as the ace of the Red Sox, including a fantastic performance in the 1975 World Series. Tiant would then begin to fade, settling in a more of an average pitcher, a sort of crafty lefty, except that he was in fact right handed.
Tiant was a hugely popular player during his time, due to his larger-than-life personality. I’m actually a bit surprised his results in Hall of Fame voting bucked as soon as they did, although it could be the result of a number of better pitchers coming on the ballot right after he did. That said, I’m not totally convinced with Tiant. He was an effective pitcher, but there were a lot of better pitchers during his career. Just of the guys I’ve already inducted, Tom Seaver and Bert Blyleven were certainly better, both in peak and longevity. When I look at Tiant, his best three seasons were 1968, 1972, and 1974. He was probably the second best pitcher in baseball in 1968, only beaten by Bob Gibson, but his numbers when adjusted for the low levels of offense that year aren’t special compared to the number two pitcher in other seasons. In 1972, Tiant was really effective, but a lot of that came as a reliever. He only pitched half the innings that Steve Carlton and Gaylord Perry did that year, and he wasn’t significantly better on a rate basis then them. I have no issues with 1974 as a great year, but as his second best year, it’s not super impressive, as he was about the fifth best pitcher in baseball. I think Tiant is around the same level of Jim Kaat. He might fit in at the bottom of my Hall of Fame, but I’m not willing to say that just yet.
Verdict: Holding Tank
Robin Yount — In the Hall of Fame: YES (Elected on the first ballot in 1999)
Robin Yount was the longtime shortstop, and then centerfielder, for the Brewers, playing from 1974-1993. Yount first came up at age 18, and he wasn’t particularly good. He had an OBP of .276 in 364 plate appearances. But the Brewers were bad, and shortstops around the league were bad, so the Brewers stuck with him as their starter. He wasn’t much better the next year, nor the year after that. By the time 1978 rolled around, Yount was a known quality, despite only being 22. But 1978 would change everything. Yount started to hit. While .293/.323/.428 doesn’t look very special, it was one of the best offensive seasons from a shortstop in a while. Add in Yount’s good defense and baserunning, and you have a 4.4 fWAR player. The Brewers improved as well, having their first winning season ever. After a lackluster, but still average 1979 campaign, Yount exploded with power in 1980, hitting 23 home runs, more than double his previous career high of nine. Only twice in the previous decade had a shortstop hit more home runs, which makes his number there even more impressive. Yount had blossomed into an all around player. His career would peak in his MVP campaign in 1982, when he achieved career highs in home runs (29) and batting average (.331). The Brewers would also hit their apex that season, coming within one win of a championship.
After his 1982 campaign, Yount would remain an effective player for a long time. Moving to centerfield in 1985 due to shoulder issues, Yount would continue to be effective in all areas of his game, although the defense would begin to fall off somewhat. He won a second MVP award in 1989 with another great season with the bat, although admittedly, he wasn’t the best choice that year. It would also be Yount’s last good year at the plate, although he was good enough to hang on until 1993. Yount seems like a pretty standard Hall of Famer. He had a couple of great seasons, his career was of decent length, and he has no major flaws. While you could make a small hall case against him that he wasn’t truly outstanding outside that ’82 season, he’s well above the bar for my Hall of Fame