What he did: If ever there was a player hurt by his era, it’s Jimmy Wynn. The power-hitting center fielder played from 1963 to 1977, spending much of his prime in an age dominated by pitchers, in perhaps the least-friendly park for hitters since the Deadball Era, the expansive Houston Astrodome. Wynn finished with a .250 lifetime batting average and 291 home runs and did not receive any Hall of Fame votes the only year his name appeared on the ballot, 1983. In an era better suited for hitters, Wynn might have been a Hall of Famer.
Era he might have thrived in: Playing at pretty much any other point in baseball history since the Deadball Era, Wynn would have added another 30-50 batting average points and 50-100 home runs lifetime. Assuming we suspend disbelief about the color of Wynn’s skin keeping him from the majors prior to 1947, he could have done some of his best work in the American League in the 1930s.
Why: Baseball-Reference.com has a tool to convert a player’s lifetime numbers, so I took the 15 seasons of Wynn’s career and looked at how he might have done on a few different clubs. A reader suggested the Houston Astros in the late 1990s, when they had a hitters team and ballpark. I thought of the New York Giants in the 1920s and ’30s when I figured Wynn might have been the Giants’ answer to Joe DiMaggio (he wouldn’t, as I found.) I then realized Wynn may have soared higher on the Detroit Tigers in the 1930s, when hitters ruled baseball.
Here’s a chart with Wynn’s lifetime stats for each team, with numbers calculated on a one-one basis. For the Giants, I converted 1963 to 1923, 1964 to 1924 and so on. It took awhile, since I had to do it myself, but I think it offers a fairly accurate look.
Basically, on all three teams, Wynn saw a jump, and with the Tigers in the 1930s, he may have had enough for Cooperstown. I didn’t run conversions for the Indians, Red Sox, or A’s in the 1930s, all places Wynn may have put up even better numbers, though I like him in Detroit for two reasons. First, he would have had a bandbox of a park, Tigers Stadium. He also would have been a part of Detroit’s World Series-contending clubs led by Hank Greenberg. With Wynn’s ability to get on base 40-50 percent of his plate appearances and his superior WAR to Detroit center fielder, Jo-Jo White, the Tigers may benefited too.
Here’s a breakdown of how Wynn’s career would have converted, season for season:
As I’ve written before, there are some things I suspect the stat converter can’t account for, like the confidence one would get playing for a winner rather than a loser. Success begets more success, and I’m guessing Wynn wouldn’t experience the surreptitious drop in numbers in 1935, which would surely get him dropped from the Tigers on their march to the World Series title that year. It also wouldn’t surprise me if Wynn finished with 400 home runs and a .300 lifetime batting average.
Even at 362 home runs, though, Wynn would have been fifth in baseball history upon his retirement in 1941, trailing only Babe Ruth, Jimmie Foxx, Lou Gehrig, and Mel Ott. Those men are all baseball legends. In another era, Wynn might have been one too.
Any player/Any era is a Thursday feature here that looks at how a player might have done in an era besides his own.
Others in this series: Albert Pujols, Barry Bonds, Bob Caruthers, Dom DiMaggio, Fritz Maisel, George Case, Harmon Killebrew, Home Run Baker, Johnny Frederick, Josh Hamilton, Ken Griffey Jr., Nate Colbert, Pete Rose, Rickey Henderson, Roberto Clemente, Sam Thompson, Sandy Koufax, Shoeless Joe Jackson, The Meusel Brothers, Ty Cobb