Sunday, December 03, 2006

The Seventh Ring of Baseball Hell?

Here are the stats of two players as they played from the ages of 29-35:

Player 1:
Batting average greater than 0.296 every year
Averaged 86 runs per year
Averaged 95 RBI per year
Averaged 37 doubles per year
Averaged 17 home runs per year
Had two seasons of slugging over 0.500
Had 61 SBs
Seven-time all-star

Player 2:
Batting average greater than 0.298 every year
Averaged 95 runs per year
Averaged 118 RBI per year
Averaged 38 doubles per year
Averaged 29 HRs per year
Every season a slugging over 0.500
Had 105 SBs
Four-time all-star
Hit for the cycle
Member of 30/30 club

Player one is a hall of famer - Kirby Puckett. Player two is eligible for the first time this year, and I doubt he gets the requisite 5% to stay on the ballot - Dante Bichette. Why? He has two major prejudices working against him - playing in Colorado, and not putting up large career numbers. I would argue that he receive serious consideration though, for like Puckett, both of these things were beyond his control.

The key part of the above numbers are toward the end for both players - number of all-star selections. Puckett was a popular player, with a winning smile and the love of the major media. Bichette was a player that was aided and abetted to his numbers like a common criminal in the rarefied air of Denver. Did Kirby get points taken away for playing in a hitter's park with no weather effects (like snow during April)? No - because people liked him. Dante just faded into the background like a 13-year-old at his first junior high dance.

If you want another example of the bias - look at the MVP voting. Only four times in those years did Bichette get votes for the MVP - he did finish 2nd once, but finished 14th, 20th and 21st the other times. Puckett got MVP votes five times, finishing 2nd once, 7th three times, and 21st once. Is there really that big of a difference in their numbers to warrant that big of a difference in perception of value? Yes, defense plays a part on Puckett's value - but is it really that big of a part? Puckett had 58.4 fielding win shares for his career. Bichette had 34.1 for a difference of 24 win shares or 8 wins over 12 full years for both - less than a win per year.

If I may put words in the voter's mouths - Bichette's numbers were not impressive because he was SUPPOSED to put up huge numbers in Colorado, therefore it didn't mean anything. Strike one against Bichette.

Strike two is circumstance. Puckett got points for ending his career prematurely - injuries beyond his control. Same with Sandy Koufax. Hank Greenberg (and others) got points for not being able to play during wars. Members of the Negro Leagues deservedly got points because of the social rules which prohibited black players in the Major Leagues until Jackie Robinson busted through like a comet. What happens when you don't get a chance to start regularly until you're 29? Is that a player's fault?

Who did Puckett replace in the Twins outfield in 1984? Darrell Brown. Who was in front of Dante his first three years with California? Devon White. Chili Davis. Tony Armas. Claudell Washington. Dave Winfield. All multi-year veterans (or hot prospects) that GMs and managers have always played before young, unheralded players. It's the way of baseball. Like an injury, is that the fault of a player?

Bichette proved that given the chance he could put up Baseball Hall of Fame numbers. Unfortunately for him, he did it in a place that doesn't get any respect (Colorado) and at an age when he didn't get a chance to continue earning respect (29-35). Unfortunately, that's strike three, and he won't get another at-bat for the Hall.


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