Tuesday, March 25, 2008

A Non-All-Star All-Star Team

I forget how I ended up there but I wound up looking at Tim Salmon's baseball-reference.com page recently and was intrigued by the sponsor comment:

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Tim Salmon, the greatest hitter the Angels system has ever produced, and the best player never to appear in an All-Star game. What Angel fan can forget his 2002 World Series Game 2 game-winner?

I wondered, first, how true that statement about being the best player never to appear in an all-star game was and then about the best such player at each position. Now, I'm sure this type of list has been done before by people with far better methods of determining overall player quality, but I thought I'd take a crack at it.

First, however, some ground rules must be set. The first All-Star game as we know it took place in 1933, so Hall of Famers like Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, and Tris Speaker never had an opportunity to play in one. Thus I'm going to limit my search to players after 1933. I also am only going to look at a player's offensive prowess - this is likely unfair to defensive positions like shortstop and second base, but given the unreliability of defensive statistics, it'll have to do. I'm going to compare players using OPS+, since it's a measure of how much above league average a player was during his career, and I'm only going to look at players who spent 50% or more of their careers at the listed positions while amassing 3000 or more career plate appearances (about five seasons). I also think a player needed to have been a starter for a few seasons to qualify; I don't have any concrete criteria for exactly how long, but a career utilityman starting only one or two seasons won't cut it. Finally, I won't exclude any active players from the list.

With all that in mind, here is the non-All-Star All-Star team:
  • Catcher: Chris Hoiles - career OPS+: 119

    Hoiles appeared in as many as 120 games only twice during his career, probably a big reason he was never an all-star pick. He did start the majority of games for the Orioles for eight seaons, so while he may not have been the most durable catcher, he deserves a spot on the team.
  • First Base: Hal Trosky - career OPS+: 130

    Trosky could flat-out hit. Unfortunately, the Indians star was in the shadow of guys named Lou Gehrig and Hank Greenberg when it came to all-star teams. Trosky also was forced to retire at age 28 due to severe migraines. Comebacks in 1944 and 1946 showed beyond doubt he wasn't the same player and he faded into baseball obscurity, done for good at age 33.
  • Second Base: Bill Doran - career OPS+: 106

    The Astros second baseman of the 80's didn't hit many home runs, but then it was always pretty hard to do so in the Astrodome. He did get on base at a .354 clip and had decent speed, stealing more than 20 bases four times. He also walked more than he struck out over his entire career.
  • Third Base: Richie Hebner - career OPS+: 119

    Hebner spent most of his career with the Pirates before heading to the Phillies, Mets, Tigers, and Cubs. He didn't strike out very much and was fairly adept at drawing walks. Only once did he hit more than 20 home runs in a season (25 in 1973), but he finished with 203 round-trippers in his career. He wasn't very fast and was finished as a full-time starter by age 32, but was a solid third base option throughout the 70's.
  • Shortstop: John Valentin - career OPS+: 109

    Only a starter for a few years and not to be confused with Jose Valentin, also a shortstop, John spent most of his career with the Boston Red Sox. He had decent power and above-average range in the field, but his career was curtailed by injuries that limited him to only 30 games in 2000 and 2001 combined. After a stint as a utility player on the Mets in 2002, he was finished.
  • Left Field: Rusty Greer - career OPS+: 119

    Left field was a tough position to pick. There were a couple players that I just didn't feel met the criteria for being a starter long enough, so Greer wins out. Not really a true home run hitter (20+ home runs only twice), Greer did have a penchant for doubles and drew a lot of walks en route to a career .387 on base percentage. He also fell victim to injuries, not appearing in a major league game after age 33 despite numerous comeback attempts.
  • Center Field: Dwayne Murphy - career OPS+: 115

    Murphy was kind of like Greer in that he started for a number of seasons before fading into a backup player. I know I'm using OPS+ as my criteria, but the fact Murphy won a number of Gold Gloves cinched his selection even with doubts about playing time. He had good power for a center fielder and stole a fair amount of bases early in his career.
  • Right Field: Tim Salmon - career OPS+: 128

    This was another close call, but Tim Salmon's durability gives him a clear advantage over the runner-up. Salmon had five seasons with 30+ homers and six with 90+ bases on balls. He spent his entire career with the California, then Anaheim, then Los Angeles of Anaheim Angels and wound up one short of 300 career home runs, but I won't hold that against him.
    • Runner-up: J.D. Drew (see what I mean about durability?) - career OPS+: 128

Some of my selections might be a little bit arbitrary, especially when it comes to determining if a player had enough seasons of enough games played to include him on the list, but that's okay. I'm of the opinion that lists like this are only good for fostering debate anyway: there's obviously no definitive, "right" answer.


Eric said...

I'm not sure what position to put him at, but Kirk Gibson had a 123 career *OPS+, an MVP award, and a couple of really famous home runs. He never played in an All-Star Game. He also never hit 30 HR or drove in 100 runs. But people remember him as being an All-Star type player.

TheJay said...

He bounced around the outfield so my 50% condition didn't catch him, but I'd agree he deserves to be on the list.

Anonymous said...

Intresting list. In the case of Richie Hebner, I think he was overshadowed by the number of All-Star teamates he had on the Pirates. Namely: Roberto Clemente, Willie Stargell and Manny Sanguillen.

Anonymous said...

Of course, you need to drop Drew off the team now, as he appeared in 2008 All Star Game. Let me suggest that you substitute SIXTO LEZCANO (125 lifetime OPS+), who had two really good seasons (1979 and 1982) where he should have been an All-Star, but wasn't.

Matthew said...

One name: Joe Kuhel. My career hits of ANY non all-star. 2,212 hits and 0 all-star nods.