Monthly Archives: August 2012

Guest post: Another look at Ron Guidry’s Hall of Fame case

I recently read Harvey Araton’s 2012 book, Driving Mr. Yogi. While the book focuses primarily on the friendship between New York Yankee greats Yogi Berra and Ron Guidry, it stirred up a question for me on why Guidry is not in the Hall of Fame. In the book, Berra (who was enshrined in 1972) offers that perhaps Guidry did not play long enough to receive serious consideration, though he certainly played a very high level during his career. In my opinion, Guidry’s more than earned his place in Cooperstown.

Guidry’s Hall of Fame merits have been the subject of discussion at this website before. I’d like to take another, longer look and offer a number of reasons auguring for Guidry’s enshrinement.

Here are several things that make him worthy:

  • For nine seasons, 1977 through 1985, Guidry was the leading winner in all of baseball with 154 wins and registering a 0.694 winning percentage. Overall, his career win total of 170 generated a 0.654 winning percentage.
  •  These numbers are even more impressive because Guidry’s winning percentages exceeded those of his team by a factor of +0.115 during 1977-85 and +0.088 over his entire career. In other words, despite playing for baseball’s most victorious team, Guidry’s winning percentage was significantly greater which infers that he was truly adding value to his team. Many of Guidry’s peers from that same era, as well as others in the Hall of Fame, have peak-and-career winning percentages that are either in line or below their team average.
  • Guidry’s dominance was also reflected by leading the American League in major pitching categories on nine different occasions: wins (2), shutouts (1), earned run average (2), complete games (2) and winning percentage (2).
  • Guidry won 20 or more games three times, and this number might have been higher had he not played in the era where five and six-man rotations were the order of the day for Yankee teams. Not only did Guidry end up starting five-six fewer games per year due to the rotation, but he also gave up multiple starts because he did relief duty to help his team remain rested for the pennant stretch drives and/or postseason play. Given his very high winning percentage, one can infer that the cumulative effect of fewer starts may have prevented Guidry from not only exceeding the 20-win threshold more, but also may have kept his career wins below the vaunted 200-game level.
  • Guidry achieved a pitching milestone by twice recording seasons where his total bases allowed (hits + walks) were less than innings pitched.
  • Guidry’s peak and career earned run averages, respectively, were 3.19 and 3.29, and this was all during the era of the designated hitter. Bill James has noted that the designated hitter factor would account for about 0.50 earned run average points, which imply that Guidry’s numbers would be less than the 3.00 level typically regarded as the threshold between excellence and dominance.

Ultimately, Guidry’s career, like so many who have worn the Yankee pinstripes, was defined by winning the biggest games when they counted most.

  • His overall World Series win-loss record in three Fall Classics was 3-1 as he helped lead the Yankees to back-to-back WS Championships in 1977-78. Of note is that all those World Series were against the hated Dodgers, and Guidry’s average runs allowed in those four games was exactly 2.00.
  • In 1978, he won his 25th game of the season with a 5-4 victory over the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park despite starting on only two-days of rest; that was the 163rd game of the regular season as an extra game was necessitated by a 1st place tie between New York and Boston.
  • Earlier that year he struck out 18 Angels, a game that marked the beginning of a tradition where fans begin to clap once a pitcher gets a 2-strike count on the batter.
  • In addition to being a 2-time World Series Champion, Guidry was a Yankee team captain (1986-88), Cy Young Award Winner (1978), 5-time Gold Glove Winner, 4-time All Star, Roberto Clemente Award Winner (1984) and had his jersey number (#49) retired by the Yankees.

As a final note, Guidry possessed a sense of strength and quiet confidence associated with the best Yankees, regardless of era. When Guidry pitched, there was no doubt of who was in charge, even when the opposition had the seeming advantage. The prime example occurred in the aforementioned 163rd game of the 1978 season in which the Boston Red Sox would host the Yankees in the winner-take-all game for the American League East Division. Despite coming in on an eight-game winning streak and possessing home field advantage, the Red Sox wryly noted that the Yankees had Guidry. When asked if he thought it fair that an entire season come down to a single contest, Guidry reportedly said that it was because he could only pitch one game.

The ultimate compliment from a historic peer may have been during the 1981 World Series when retired Hall of Fame Dodger pitcher Sandy Koufax exchanged signed baseball caps with his fellow southpaw. Reportedly this was initiated by Koufax himself who had expressed admiration for Guidry’s pitching excellence.

Any player/Any era: Davey Lopes

What he did: If I were to make a list of the 25 or 50 most underrated players in baseball history, Davey Lopes might figure somewhere on there. I suppose it’s easy to forget a man who hit .263 lifetime, whose 557 stolen bases rank 26th on the all-time leader board behind such men as Juan Pierre, Otis Nixon and Willie Wilson. Lopes received two votes his only year on the writers ballot for the Hall of Fame in 1993, not a particularly strong Cooperstown ballot and I doubt many people cried foul.

Lopes’ lackluster defense (1.2 defensive WAR and one Gold Glove lifetime) and late start in the majors at 27 help limit his case for Cooperstown and there are dozens of players I’d enshrine before him. He’s not a Hall of Famer in my estimation. Thing is, upon deeper inspection, Lopes may belong in better company than his numbers would suggest. That’s how it goes for a lot of Hall of Very Good-esque players. And it’s especially true for guys from Lopes’ era of the 1970s and ’80s, no great time for hitters.

Lopes’ 107 OPS+ ties him with Kenny Lofton for 13th-best among modern players with at least 500 steals. Lopes is also one of just seven players with at least 150 home runs and 500 steals, joining Barry Bonds, Rickey Henderson, Joe Morgan, Cesar Cedeno, Paul Molitor and Tim Raines (Lou Brock fell one home run short.)

Era he might have thrived in: Lopes played from 1972 to 1987 and spent much of his career in Dodger Stadium, a ballpark for pitchers in an era that mostly favored them. In a better hitter’s park and offensive era, say Fenway Park or Wrigley Field in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Lopes might’ve hit .300 lifetime, upped his steals totals and had a better shot at Cooperstown.

Why: Park and era define so how much of how a player will do. For instance, I was looking the other day at numbers for Lefty O’Doul, whose .349 career batting average ranks fourth all-time. Thing is, O’Doul did his best work in perhaps the greatest offensive age in baseball history, the late 1920s and early ’30s and he did much of it in hitter’s parks to boot. O’Doul hit .428 lifetime in 960 at-bats between the Baker Bowl and Sportsman Park and .316 elsewhere. Put O’Doul in Lopes’ place and he might struggle to crack .300.

I’d run conversions for Lopes on O’Doul’s 1930 Phillies, but steals weren’t a huge part of the game in those days and I’d like an era where Lopes’ speed and power would each be fully appreciated. He’d get this big-time on the 1999 Red Sox. Running Lopes’ numbers through the stat converter on Baseball-Reference.com, his 1979 season for the Dodgers where he hit .265 with 28 home runs and 44 stolen bases would boost to a .297 clip with 33 homers and 52 steals. Give Lopes the chance to make the majors sooner than 27 and consistently post comparable power numbers and I suspect he’d get a lot more than two Hall of Fame votes and be something more than a relatively forgotten player today.

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Any player/Any era is a column here that looks at how a baseball player might have done in an era besides the one he played in.

Getting an autograph as an adult

I was eight or nine the first time I got an autograph. It happened at Candlestick Park in San Francisco and I know it was sometime during the 1992 season because I got it from Cory Snyder before a game one day. Snyder was in the midst of hitting .269 in his only year with the Giants and Baseball-Reference.com tells me he was worth just one win over a replacement player, someone who wouldn’t have been starting on a team better than San Francisco’s 72-90 club. Still, the faint autograph Snyder left on my Giants hat earned him my everlasting gratitude and to this day, I remain a fan of his.

Sometime around college, getting autographs lost its luster. I majored in journalism, studying more or less to be a sportswriter and one of the sayings in that world is, “No cheering in the press box.” Next to that maxim is an implicit understanding that gathering autographs on the job is strictly frowned upon. It just isn’t professional. I got autographs a handful of times, though by the time I graduated, I’d come to more enjoy the chance to make connections with athletes, to talk with them and get a glimpse of them as people. I value this over a signature and if there’s one part of my childhood gone forever, it’s that autographs hold little magic for me anymore.

It’s not to say that everyone I know shares my viewpoint or should. I have a few friends in the memorabilia world and autographs are big there. I also know that other people haven’t had the luxury I’ve had of getting to chat with a few dozen ex-MLB players, from Hall of Famers to journeymen. For some people, an autograph is the closest they’ll get to that world, and I admit that in a sense, we’re both living vicariously. Getting an interview with a famous baseball player is no more a sign of acceptance into their world than getting their signature. Ultimately, both are souvenirs, and if an autograph puts a smile on someone’s face, who am I to judge? I digress.

I got a new full-time job about a month ago, writing ad copy for an industrial supply company called CWC. I’ve been working hard to help the company launch a new website, and I guess the owner is happy, because a few days ago, he distributed some of his Oakland A’s season tickets that he wasn’t going to use. I got four tickets to Tuesday night’s A’s-Rays game. Better, it happened to be my birthday and my parents were already coming to town for dinner, so I got to surprise them. All things considered, it would prove to be an awesome way to spend a birthday, even if the A’s lost 8-0.

Generally when I go to a game, I sit far up in the stands. I don’t really mind, and it’s usually just cool to be at the ballpark. I don’t get there enough, and if the only way I can do it is through a $12 seat in the upper reserve, so be it. That being said, my boss has season tickets 16 rows from the field, just to the right of home  plate, so my folks and I were sitting in style on Tuesday evening. We were also just by the tunnel to the visitor’s dugout and when we sat down, I quickly realized I might be able to get an autograph for a friend who’s a Rays fan and has been going through a rough stretch. I borrowed a pen from my mom and walked over to the railing beside the tunnel.

I wasn’t sure which player would come my way and I would’ve settled for any of the Rays. I wound up catching one of their outfielders, Sam Fuld. One thing of note: Fuld attended Stanford and has arguably made more of a name for himself as a writer than as a ballplayer, contributing to sites like Grantland between hitting .251 over parts of five seasons. Fuld recently did a piece on Brett Butler for a project at Hall of Very Good (one that I was invited to take part in but couldn’t make) and I mentioned this after Fuld agreed to sign something for my friend. Fuld told me that Butler had actually reached out to him earlier Tuesday about his piece. It was a cool moment and much as my friend got a personalized autograph on the back of a ticket stub, I walked away with an anecdote and an excuse for this post.