Friday, March 17, 2006

Halt the Puckett Parade
By John W. Schmeelk

Very good player? Yes.

Hall of Famer? Sure.

First ballot hall of famer? Nope.

All time great? Don’t make me laugh.

Let me start by saying this. I like Kirby Puckett. Good ball player – good guy while he was still playing. Played the game the right way. I rooted for him in the World Series against the Braves in 1991. He was one of the last old school baseball players. He had to retire early, at age 34 because of an eye injury. But he has been overrated because of all these things.

First ballot hall of famer? Depends on what you use as a benchmark. In the eighties players like Juan Marichal and Harmon Killebrew weren’t first ballot hall of famers. Neither was Don Drysdale or Catfish Hunter. Puckett achieved 82 percent of the vote in his first go around, the great Willie McCovey only 81%. Hence overrated. These days first ballot hall of famers are more prevalent. Granted guys like George Brett got 98% on the first ballot and Robin Yount 77% (who Puckett is better than) but looking further back into history Puckett got way too much consideration on the first ballot.

Look at his numbers, only one 30 hr season, five 20 hr seasons. Only three 100 RBI seasons (though one more at 99). Three 100 run seasons. Top five in the league in RBI’s only 3 times. Top five in runs 4 times. Homeruns once. Doubles twice. Batting average five times. These are not all time great numbers. They are very good across the board, but not all time great good. Not first ballot hall of famer good.

Also – uses two rating systems, Blank Ink and Grey Ink. (these were adapted from stat master Bill James) Black ink creates ratings based on how many times in a career a player leads the league in a category. Gray ink does the same except how much a player ranks in the top ten. Puckett’s black ink rating is 22. The AVERAGE hall of famer ranking is 27. Gray ink rating is 122, the AVERAGE Hall of Famer is 144. In other words Puckett is in the lower echelon of Hall of Famers.

Compare to Jim Rice, who is NOT in the Hall of Fame. His Black Ink rating is 33, and gray ink rating is 176, both MUCH higher than Puckett, and the average Hall of Famer. Yet he can’t get into the Hall of Fame and Puckett is an all time great.

Compare to another guy who really can’t come close to the Hall of Fame, Don Mattingly, the man Kirby Puckett lovingly labeled “Donny Baseball.” Mattingly’s black ink rating is 23, and his gray ink rating is 111, as compared to Puckett’s 22 and and 122. Yet in the same year Puckett garnered 82% of Hall of Fame votes, Mattingly received only 28%. Their career numbers overall are virtually identical. Both had their careers cut short by injuries, Mattingly his back, Puckett his eye. Fielding then? Mattingly had nine gold gloves, Puckett had six. Guess not. Awards? Mattingly won the MVP once, Puckett never did. The only difference between the two men is Puckett’s two World Series rings, and his 310 average, 5HR, and 15 RBI in postseason play. Mattingly appeared in only one postseason series, the last year of his career in 1995 when his back was all but gone and in that series the Mariners couldn’t get him out – he hit .420 with a HR and six RBI in five games. The Yankees lost because John Wetteland couldn’t close games. The story told is that after the series Mattingly could barely walk his back was so bad. His power decreased throughout his career because of his achy back so he cut down on his swing to protect it. In that series he let loose, and it almost crippled him. Yankee pitching was never good enough to win a World Series. He didn’t have Jack Morris. Could this be the reason for the 54% discrepancy in the vote totals? It’s the only possible one, besides a possibly anti-Yankees bias. If Mattingly wins a World Series in 1995 is he a Hall of Famer right now? If so, WAY too much emphasis is being put on postseason success. Great hitters are on bad teams all the time, and just because they don’t have the pitching to get their teams into the postseason the hitter should not be punished.

Bottom line is, Puckett is overrated. To add to it, Baseball Reference uses another Bill James stat system that uses stats to compare individual players. It takes in all major stat categories. In a ten player list showing players most similar to Puckett only two are Hall of Famers, Kiki Cuyler, and Joe Medwick. The other eight include the likes of Wally Joyner, John Olerud, Will Clark and Garret Anderson. There is one player however, that is most similar. That player is Don Mattingly. A ranking of 895 out of 1000. So what’s missing? I don’t know. Someone needs to ask the Hall of Fame voters why Puckett is a shoe-in but Mattingly isn’t even close. I’m not saying Mattingly is a shoe-in Hall of Famer. He is borderline at best. But he is, more or less, the same as Puckett. So why is Puckett a shoe-in? He isn’t. He’s vastly overrated. Someone, please enlighten me.

Tournament Tidbits:

- Winthrop blew so many chances in that game against Tennessee. What a tease. And I know you can’t call it, but how many steps were they going to let Chris Lofton take before he stopped, squared and shot. I counted 3 or four. Yikes.

- As suspected here, and on my bracket, Cuse used everything they had to win the Big East and had nothing left vs. Texas A&M. The Mcnamara injury killed them.

- How about the Big East. Seton Hall – out. Cuse – out. Marquette – out. They better not lose anymore teams today.

- Monmouth has the worst draw you can imagine. All they play is the 2-3 zone and they are playing a team in Villanova that plays five guys that can all shoot it from the outside. Good win vs. Hampton… but the Monmouth dream ends there.

- Love West Virginia - wish they weren’t playing Southern Illinois in the first round. Their defense has the potential to slow the WVU motion offense.

- I’m with Arnott, never bet against Tom Izzo. Except in my case, EVEN when they play a young inexperienced UNC team.

- Haven’t lost a Sweet Sixteen team yet in my bracket, a good start. My final four is a bit chalky, but I couldn’t convince myself to do it any other way. Memphis, Uconn, Nova, LSU. Cats over Memphis in the finals. Allen Ray will be the story of the year. From having his eye poked out of its socket and losing his sight, to championship game MVP.


Blogger Matt Brown said...

Thought I'd chime in on this while waiting for the NCAA night games to start...

I will give you that Puckett is a bit overrated (moreso than Gerry McNamara), but I don't quite buy the Mattingly comparison as proof. There are several reasons (some more legit than others) why Puckett is in the Hall over Mattingly:

--Puckett had a longer prime. His best three years were 1986-88, but he never showed any obvious decline through his last season in 1995.

--Mattingly had four fabulous years (1984-87), followed by two good years, followed by six years (1990-95) in which he still played good defense at first base, but batted in the .280 range with little power and got injured frequently. In other words, he was Darin Erstad with no speed. Six years is a long time to spend on the downside of a career, and in Mattingly's case his down years were as numerous as his up years.

--Injuries did shorten both careers, but in the eyes of Hall voters this winds up hurting Mattingly and helping Puckett. Mattingly, as stated above, spent the last large chunk of his career a shell of his former self. That's the Mattingly freshest in the minds of voters. On the other hand, the sudden glaucoma meant we never got to see a slow, inglorious decline by Puckett. Such a decline probably would have happened, but since it never did, people are left wondering what he could have done had he stuck around longer. Could Kirby have hit .300 each season until he turned 40? I highly doubt it, but he showed no evidence that he COULDN'T have.

--Then there's the whole matter of team success. Mattingly played for Yankee teams which were mediocre at best, while Kirby won two World Series, including one where he produced his most famous performance. On one hand I do think it's unfair to restrict the label of greatness to those who happened to have good teams around them, but on the other hand it's a fact of sports. It's why we don't see basketball shrines to Alex English. Michael Jordan put up perhaps the most gaudy numbers of his career in his early years, but wasn't fully recognized as MICHAEL JORDAN, GREATEST OF ALL TIME until the Celtics, Lakers and Pistons got old and he got a passable supporting cast around him.

Also, one more aside here on the Bill James comparison numbers. In his book on the Hall of Fame, James describes the comparison scores in great detail. According to James, only players with comparison scores of 900 or higher are considered TRULY comparable. A score of 895 (Puckett's comparibility to Mattingly), may be his closest comparison, but it's not close enough that you can consider them roughly the same player. Interestingly, James also says that the mere fact a player is not TRULY comparable to anyone else is often the hallmark of a Hall of Famer. For what it's worth, Mattingly's most comparable player according to the James system is Cecil Cooper (not in the Hall, nor will he ever be) with a score of 934.

6:11 PM  
Blogger Ben Valentine said...

Puckett also was a center fielder which makes his numbers far more valuable than Mattingly's at 1st base. Was Puckett overrated? Sure was. But Mattingly is extremely overrated by NY fans who like the fact he was a great guy.

As I said in my post about Darryl Strawberry, he was a better player in NY than Mattingly was. And he's never sniffing the hall of fame.

10:39 PM  
Blogger John W. Schmeelk said...

Good comments from both of you.

Matt - I think your point about the end of Mattingly's career is the best. People remember when he was no longer himself, while Puckett they only saw the guy that hit .300 every year.

But while Mattingly certainly had more mediocre years than Puckett - he also had more dominating years than Puckett. He had two or three seasons Puckett never touched, which I think balances it a little bit.

I think Stawberry and Mattingly are very comparable actually. STrawbery put together 8 good years, while Mattingly did six. Straw was one-dimensional, being power oriented, Mattingly more balanced in terms of hitting for average and he was a MUCH better RBI guy than Strawberry. For a guy that popped 30 homeruns a year - he had woefully low rbi numbers.

Again - I don't think Mattingly is a Hall of Famer - borderline at best, is what I wrote in the blog. BUt Puckett was, as both of you agree - very overrated. I think a large part of it was a sympathy vote for what happened to his eyes.

2:09 PM  
Blogger John W. Schmeelk said...

Oh yeah - and great call by me and Arnott on Tom Izzo.

That's why they pay us the big bucks....

2:14 PM  
Blogger gary1951 said...

As I wrote in my blog I feel Donnie Baseball belongs in the Hall of Fame. I do not comment on Kirby Puckett though have frequently made the comparison when discussing the issue.

First of all, Mattingly was clearly the best overall player during a six-year period, 1984-1989, winning an MVP and if the Yanks had won a pennant or two during this time, Mattingly could have won 2 or 3 MVPs.

I also pointed out that to be eligible for the HOF you only have to play 19 years so overall career numbers aren't vital.

I admit Donnie is a borderline HOFer and Kirby was overrated, but the argument that CF is more important defensively than 1B is valid. But Mattingly has the hightest fielding percentage of any player in history at any position. And he DID win 9 Gold Gloves.

Both were great players and I do believe that both believe in the Hall but am pessimistic that Don will be voted in any time soon.

10:31 PM  

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