The Pinstriped Hall of Not Quite, Part III

Paul O'Neill may not have the numbers for Cooperstown, but he was a key to the Yankees' mid-Nineties resurgence (AP).

At last to the third installment of this series in which I've created an all-star team of sorts, focused on the best ex-Yankees who aren’t in the Hall of Fame using my JAWS tool .Part I (pitcher, catcher, first base) and Part II (second, short and third) await your perusal if you've missed them.

To re-state the boilerplate one last time... the Jaffe WARP System was created with the stated goal of defining and raising the standards of the Hall of Fame after decades of haphazard selections. JAWS is a tool to evaluate candidates by comparing them to the already-enshrined players at their positions on the basis of career and peak performance (defined as a player’s best seven seasons). Both career and peak are measured in Wins Above Replacement Player (WARP), which values each player’s hitting, pitching, and fielding contributions relative to those of a freely available reserve or minor league call-up in runs, and converts those runs into the currency of wins. JAWS averages the career and peak figures; effectively, a player’s best seasons are double-counted because they have a demonstrably nonlinear effect of improving his teams’ chances of winning championships. JAWS doesn’t take into account awards, postseason performance or other more subjective criteria, all of which can shade a player’s case one way or the other but can’t overcome major shortcomings in the meat-and-taters department of regular season performance. For more, please see here.

The position standards themselves, the average scores of the already-enshrined players at each position, with the lowest scores — almost invariably underqualified Veterans Committee selections — dropped:

Pos     Career  Peak   JAWS
SP 70.3 47.7 59.0
RP 53.7 35.2 44.5
C 60.6 41.0 50.8
1B 64.0 43.0 53.5
2B 76.8 50.1 63.5
3B 71.8 47.1 59.5
SS 70.0 47.9 59.0
LF 65.3 42.1 53.7
CF 68.3 44.0 56.1
RF 75.7 46.6 61.2
Hitters 69.4 45.4 57.4

At each position, I'm making either one or two selections, the first based upon players who spent any amount of time with the Yankees (particularly those who passed through at the start or end of their careers), and the other based upon those who spent at least three years with the team; if the latter is higher, we'll skip the former. Active and recently retired (not yet eligible for the Hall of Fame vote) players will not be part of this discussion.

Picking up with the outfield...

Left Field
Tim Raines (1996-1998 with Yankees, 65.3 Career / 42.1 Peak / 53.7 JAWS)
Charlie Keller (1939-1943, 1945-1949, 48/43.8/.45.9)

As noted before, Raines rates as one of the top eligible players not already in the Hall, a player who combined the virtues of a keen batting eye, dazzling speed and all-around athleticism with a cerebral approach that made him an electrifying performer and a dangerous offensive weapon. He was at his best during his early career with the Expos; over a five-year period from 1983 through 1987, only Cal Ripken was more valuable in terms of WARP. While Raines came down from that peak during his extended stint with the White Sox and shorter tours of duty with the Yankees and three other teams, the combination of his ability to get on base (.385 career OBP) with his skills and smarts as a baserunner (an MLB-best 84.7 percent success rate in stolen bases) made him a valuable and criminally underappreciated player throughout his career. He ranks fifth all-time among left fielders behind Barry Bonds, Stan Musial, Ted Williams and Rickey Henderson, and he absolutely should be in the Hall of Fame. He received exactly half of the necessary votes to get in this time around, a significant leap forward, and one which puts him ahead of the pace of the just-elected Bert Blyleven, who totaled just 23.5 percent in his fourth year on the ballot (the point when I came into the picture).

Raines came to the Yankees in December 1995 in a trade for the immortal Blaise Kozeniewski. He was limited to just 133 games in his first two seasons due to hamstring woes but he drew the plurality of left field starts in both years; his midsummer absence in 1996 spurred the signing of Darryl Strawberry from the independent Northern League. He shared time in left with Chad Curtis and Ricky Ledee in 1998 while also seeing substantial time at DH, playing in 109 games that year. Though he hit a combined .299/.395/.429, he totaled just 3.8 WARP across his three seasons in pinstripes. He did win two rings, though — the only two of his career.

Because Raines saw so relatively little time with the Yankees despite fulfilling my arbitrary three-season cutoff, we'll do a bonus bio for Charlie "King Kong" Keller, a Steven Goldman favorite. As part of an outfield with Joe DiMaggio and Tommy Heinrich, Keller put up outstanding numbers for the Yankees prior to World War II, hitting a combined .295/.416/.526, drawing over 100 walks in four straight years (twice leading the league), topping 30 homers twice, making three All-Star teams, and averaging 6.9 WARP per year — the start of a Hall of Fame-caliber career. In doing so, he helped the Yankees to four pennants and three world championships, most notably bopping three homers and hitting .438/.471/1.188 in the 1939 World Series. He had one more typically monster season (6.8 WARP) in 1946 after missing all of 1944 and part of 1945 due to the war, but a ruptured disc in his back sent him on the downslope, and he drew just 765 plate appearances over his final six seasons — many of them as a pinch-hitter — while bouncing from the Yankees to the Tigers and back, never topping 300 PA again.

Center Field
Jimmy Wynn (1977, 57.1/47.6/52.4)
Bobby Murcer (1965-1966, 1969-1974, 1980-1983, 25.1/23.1/24.1)

Nicknamed "The Toy Cannon," Wynn was a 5-foot-10 sparkplug with outstanding control of the strike zone and good defense, a player whom Bill James compared to early-career teammate Joe Morgan in the New Bill James Historical Abstract while ranking Wynn 10th all-time among center fielders. Wynn spent the first 11 years of his career playing in the Astrodome, a godforsaken hitting environment if there ever was one. Properly adjusted for context, he was a helluva hitter, reaching 20 homers eight times and 30 homers three times, and drawing more than 100 walks six times. He topped a .300 True Average six times during his first 11 seasons, with a high of .348 in 1969, a year he drew an astounding 148 walks while hitting 33 homers, good for 6.7 WARP. He had two more outstanding years with the Dodgers in 1974 and 1975 — again with the pitchers' parks? — the latter of which was worth 8.4 WARP, just a fraction off a career high set a full decade earlier. Shoulder woes got the better of him late in his career; he was an abysmal 11-for-77 during his brief stay in pinstripes in 1977, and upon being released had a similarly hapless stint as a Brewer before hanging up his spikes at age 35. He rates as the second-best center fielder outside of the Hall according to JAWS, but he didn't get a single vote when on the ballot in 1983, yet another example of a player whose high OBP and strong defense are overlooked by the voters.

Having produced three Hall of Fame center fielders (Earle Combs, Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle) and with Bernie Williams only becoming eligible with the upcoming ballot (we'll have plenty of time to talk about him) finding a "True Yankee" representative" means burrowing down a bit further into the rankings to reach Murcer. Heir apparent to Mantle as Yankee center fielder — and like Mantle a native of Oklahoma and a shortstop when he began his career — he never lived up to the insanely high expectations set for him during the dark age between the Yankees’ 1965 and 1976 World Series appearances. but he was a star for an extended period and enjoyed a very good career with the Yankees, Giants, Cubs and then the Yanks again. He had decent pop and good plate discipline (a lifetime line of .277/.357/.445 with 252 home runs), though he was considerably overrated as a fielder; he won a Gold Glove in 1972 but Baseball Prospectus’ numbers show him as -129 runs overall. He made the All-Star team every year from 1971 to 1975, the first four years as the American League starter. His best seasons were 1971 (.331/.427/.543 with 25 homers, 94 RBI and 6.6 WARP) and 1972 (.292/.361/.537 with a career-highs of 33 homers, 96 RBI and 6.5 WARP). He led the league in OBP in ‘71 and finished second in slugging, and led the league in total bases in 1972 while finishing third in slugging. He never got anywhere on the Hall of Fame ballot, but he had a nice career before joining the broadcasting booth, where he did strong work as well — he particularly grew on me. A brain tumor cut his life short, but not before providing our Steve with some inspiration and encouragement amid his own health struggle.

Right Field
Bobby Bonds (1975, 55.2/41.8/48.5)
Paul O'Neill (1993-2001, 55.0/38.9/47.0)

Barry's father was a pretty fair player in his day, best known for reaching the 30 homer/30 stolen base club five times, an all-time record shared by father and son. A natural center fielder who got stuck in right field by the Giants because he had the misfortune of arriving when Willie Mays was still a going concern, Bonds averaged 6.0 WARP per year from 1969 through 1974 as a Giant before being traded to the Yankees for the aforementioned Murcer. He didn't lose a beat, hitting .270/.375/.512 with 32 homers and 30 steals in his lone season in pinstripes, good for 5.8 WARP. The Yankees nonetheless traded him to the Angels in the ensuing offseason, and it's tough to fault them given that the two players they got, Ed Figueroa and Mickey Rivers, helped them win three straight pennants.

Bonds seemed to spend much of his career under a cloud of bad luck. He and Reggie Jackson were almost exactly the same age and debuted one year apart. Both had power, considerable speed and a ton of strikeouts, and the two players finished with similar career rate stats (.268/.353/.471/.296 True Average for Bonds to .262/.356/.490/.300 for Jackson). Yet one was a superduperstar who won an MVP award and five World Series rings, and stuck around into his forties. The other never finished higher than third in an MVP vote, played just three postseason games, left the majors at 35, his career foreshortened by problems with alcohol.

Heisted from the Reds in a trade for Roberto Kelly in December 1992, O'Neill morphed from a pull hitter with a platoon weakness to an everyday player who could use the whole field. He became a key figure in the Yankees' resurgence, averaging 5.5 WARP from 1993 through 1998, including 8.1 in the strike-shortened 1994, when he hit .359/.460/.603 and won the AL batting title. His water-cooler punishing ways and intense refusal to surrender a single at-bat may have been derided by opposing fans, but when it rubbed off on a team you got nothing less than the take-no-quarter 1998 Yankees. Though his stats took a definite downturn after 1998, leaving him with numbers far short of Hall of Fame caliber, he hit .303/.377/.492 and was an integral part of the team's four World Championships and five pennants in a six-year span, producing some of the signature moments of that run.

As this one is running long enough, I'll be back with the reliever and a designated hitter in a separate post...

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