Frank Fernandez – A Very Unusual Career

 

Not every career is long and illustrious, never mind legendary. Many, of course, are short and unremarkable. But, sometimes, players have short careers that are quite unusual and worthy of a closer look. This post is about one of those players.

I happened upon Frank Fernandez recently. That’s his 1969 Topps card.

Frank was a catcher and outfielder in the late 60s and early 70s, mostly for the Yankees and As. A reserve, his career totals over 6 seasons (4 seasons really – he had cups of coffee in his first and last years) amount to about a season and a half as a regular.

Here’s his career line. Notice anything unusual?

 

 

Player WAR/pos PA OPS+ From To Age G AB R H HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS Pos Tm
Frank Fernandez 5.9 908 114 1967 1972 24-29 285 727 92 145 39 116 164 231 .199 .350 .395 .744 *2/97 NYY-OAK-TOT-CHC
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 3/9/2012.

Among all players since 1901 (minimum 200 PAs), Fernandez is the only non-pitcher with a career having more walks than hits and, also, more strikeouts than hits. His career rate of walking in 18.1% of PAs ranks 8th best since 1901 (min. 800 PAs). Conversely, his rate of striking out in 31.8% of ABs is 12th worst.

Fernandez is also the only player with a career of any meaningful length with 100 OPS+ and a BA under .200. You have to go all the way down to a 28 PA career to find another player to do this. And, Fernandez’s 114 OPS+ was well above that 100 threshold.

That OPS+ was certainly no fluke, as his 5.9 WAR would suggest. Did any other position players have that high a WAR in so short a career? Let’s see.

Player PA WAR/pos From To Age G AB R H HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS Pos Tm
Frank Fernandez 908 5.9 1967 1972 24-29 285 727 92 145 39 116 164 231 .199 .350 .395 .744 *2/97 NYY-OAK-TOT-CHC
Bill Salkeld 1049 7.9 1945 1950 28-33 356 850 111 232 31 132 182 101 .273 .402 .433 .835 *2 PIT-BSN-CHW
Len Koenecke 1064 6.2 1932 1935 28-31 265 922 155 274 22 114 124 96 .297 .383 .441 .824 *8/79 NYG-BRO
Duke Kenworthy 1113 6.8 1912 1917 25-30 285 989 159 301 18 146 67 84 .304 .360 .473 .833 *4/798 WSH-KCP-SLB
Geronimo Pena 1170 5.9 1990 1996 23-29 378 1010 162 265 30 124 112 255 .262 .345 .427 .772 *4/75 STL-CLE
Lou Klein 1173 6.3 1943 1951 24-32 305 1037 162 269 16 101 105 119 .259 .330 .381 .711 *4/6579 STL-TOT
Tommy Glaviano 1249 6.5 1949 1953 25-29 389 1008 191 259 24 108 208 173 .257 .395 .395 .789 *5/48679 STL-PHI
Hack Miller 1291 5.9 1916 1925 22-31 349 1200 164 387 38 205 64 103 .323 .361 .490 .851 *7/89 BRO-BOS-CHC
Lance Blankenship 1292 6.3 1988 1993 24-29 461 1050 176 233 9 92 200 218 .222 .350 .299 .649 4/7985D36 OAK
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 3/9/2012.

Most of these guys made a lot more contact that Fernandez. Blankenship looks most similar in terms of walks, strikeouts and average, but almost 40% of his WAR was from defense and he compiled only 87 OPS+.

Fernandez also had the shortest career among all those to reach his HR and RBI totals.

Player G HR RBI PA From To Age AB R H BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS Pos Tm
Frank Fernandez 285 39 116 908 1967 1972 24-29 727 92 145 164 231 .199 .350 .395 .744 *2/97 NYY-OAK-TOT-CHC
Mark Quinn 293 45 167 1166 1999 2002 25-28 1089 153 307 56 186 .282 .324 .481 .805 7/D98 KCR
Bobby Estalella 310 48 147 1056 1996 2004 21-29 904 126 195 130 290 .216 .315 .440 .755 *2/D PHI-SFG-TOT-COL
Kendrys Morales 330 57 192 1240 2006 2010 23-27 1136 155 323 85 204 .284 .336 .502 .838 *3/D9 LAA
John Orsino 332 40 123 1135 1961 1967 23-29 1014 114 252 92 191 .249 .319 .420 .739 *2/3 SFG-BAL-WSA
Roy Foster 337 45 118 1153 1970 1972 24-26 1016 136 257 110 146 .253 .336 .438 .774 *79 CLE
Billy Conigliaro 347 40 128 1239 1969 1973 21-25 1130 142 289 86 244 .256 .311 .429 .740 87/94 BOS-MIL-OAK
Norm Zauchin 347 50 159 1197 1951 1959 21-29 1038 134 242 137 226 .233 .324 .408 .732 *3 BOS-WSH
Eric Munson 361 49 147 1186 2000 2009 22-31 1056 97 226 104 234 .214 .289 .394 .683 *5/23D7 DET-TBD-HOU-OAK
Hee-Seop Choi 363 40 120 1086 2002 2005 23-26 915 130 220 141 262 .240 .349 .437 .786 *3 CHC-TOT-LAD
Jon Nunnally 364 42 125 1049 1995 2000 23-28 885 162 218 146 239 .246 .354 .469 .823 *9/87D KCR-TOT-CIN-BOS-NYM
Walt Bond 365 41 179 1338 1960 1967 22-29 1199 149 307 106 175 .256 .323 .410 .733 39/78 CLE-HOU-MIN
Billy Bryan 374 41 125 1070 1961 1968 22-29 968 86 209 91 283 .216 .284 .395 .678 *2/3 KCA-TOT-NYY-WSA
Bill Schroeder 376 61 152 1356 1983 1990 24-31 1262 153 303 58 343 .240 .281 .426 .707 *2/3D MIL-CAL
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 3/9/2012.

Most similar guy looks to be Bobby Estalella  – a catcher, high walks and strikeouts, low average. But Estalella had just  92 OPS+, was an inferior defender (-1.4 dWAR, 27% CS rate) and compiled only half the career WAR of Fernandez.

What about his defense? Fernandez compiled positive 0.5 dWAR , threw out a very respectable 42% of base-stealers and, in his rookie season in 1968, placed 5th in Total Zone Runs for catchers despite catching less than 400 innings.

So, what sort of a player might Fernandez have become if he could have stuck around longer? Well, catchers since 1901 (min. 800 PAs) with career walks greater than 90% of hits are these guys (thanks to Lawrence Azrin and bstar for suggesting these comps).

Player PA WAR/pos OPS+ BB H From To Age G AB R HR RBI SO BA OBP SLG OPS Pos Tm
Frank Fernandez 908 5.9 114 164 145 1967 1972 24-29 285 727 92 39 116 231 .199 .350 .395 .744 *2/97 NYY-OAK-TOT-CHC
Wes Westrum 2849 12.3 94 489 503 1947 1957 24-34 920 2322 302 96 315 514 .217 .356 .373 .729 *2/5 NYG
Gene Tenace 5527 48.7 136 984 1060 1969 1983 22-36 1555 4390 653 201 674 998 .241 .388 .429 .817 *23/59D47 OAK-SDP-STL-PIT
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 3/9/2012.

For the two comps, not only are the walks really close to hits. so are the strikeouts. Triple the PAs and counting stats for Fernandez and you get (roughly) Westrum. Multiply by 6 and it’s (very roughly) Tenace.

Fernandez also has some similarities with a couple of current young catchers. Take a look.

Player WAR/pos PA OPS+ From To Age G AB R H HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS Pos Tm
Frank Fernandez 5.9 908 114 1967 1972 24-29 285 727 92 145 39 116 164 231 .199 .350 .395 .744 *2/97 NYY-OAK-TOT-CHC
Carlos Santana 6.1 850 128 2010 2011 24-25 201 702 107 171 33 101 134 162 .244 .362 .459 .821 *2/3D CLE
Alex Avila 6.3 956 120 2009 2011 22-24 274 819 100 221 31 127 119 220 .270 .362 .453 .815 *2/D5 DET
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 3/9/2012.

Santana and Avila both make more contact than Fernandez but, like Fernandez, have lots of walks, strikeouts and power. I’ll be interested to watch how Santana’s and Avila’s careers turn out.

So, that’s what I know about Frank Fernandez. Short and very unusual career. In his time, before OPS+ and WAR, I’m sure Fernandez was just seen as a guy who couldn’t hit .200 and struck out all the time, albeit with some power. But, with that power, those walks, and decent defensive skills, would have been interesting (and fun to watch) if he could have cut down on the Ks and stuck around longer.

You Yankees fans out there, tell us more about Frank.

 

34 thoughts on “Frank Fernandez – A Very Unusual Career

  1. 1
    Hub Kid says:

    I have never heard of him before, but I am not a Three True Outcomes buff.
    Looking at Fernandez’s career, of course, he is more of a “Two Out of Three” True Outcomes guy, since he ‘only’ walked and struck out a lot, but didn’t hit many home runs.

    That difference between BA and on base percentage is absolutely breathtaking. And the .199 and .350 have a nice symmetry about them, too. Very interesting find, Doug; i wonder if any of our historians here have any Frank Fernandez stories…

    • 7
      Doug says:

      I don’t know if I agree that Fernandez didn’t homer a lot.

      Only 105 players since 1901 (min. 750 PA) have a career homer rate per AB as high as Fernandez.

  2. 2
    Dr. Remulak says:

    Holy crap! I remember having that baseball card as a kid. He was back-up to Jake Gibbs, and then Thurman Munson during what we Yankee fans call “The Dark Age” aka the Horace Clarke years.

    • 10

      Horace Clarke! My favorite Yankee of those years.

      • 11
        Richard Chester says:

        In 1968 Clarke had 9 XBH in 579 AB, a rate of 1.55%. When I have a chance I am going to see if this is the lowest rate ever.

        • 13
          Richard Chester says:

          Here are the 6 lowest XBH rates I have found, minimum 400 AB. I hope I haven’t missed anyone.

          Player………Year….XBH….AB…Rate
          Goat Anderson..1907…..5….411…1.21%
          Pete Childs….1902…..5….403…1.24%
          Patsy Donovan..1904…..6….436…1.38%
          Bill Coughlin..1908…..6….405…1.48%
          Horace Clarke..1968…..9….579…1.55%
          Willie Keeler..1907…..7….423…1.65%

          • 19
            Doug says:

            Only guys with similar numbers since Clarke were both in 1973:

            Sandy Alomar, 8/470, 1.7%
            Derrel Thomas, 8/404, 1.98%

          • 24
            Lawrence Azrin says:

            It doesn’t quite make your list at an XBH % of 1.77, but I found this season by Keeler most fascinating:

            WILLIE KEELER… 1898- 10 XBH in 561 AB (7 2B, 2 3B, 1 HR)

            WHY?
            – a league-leading .385 BA, 216 hits, 206 singles, (140.3) AB per SO(!)
            – 4th in runs (126), 7th in OBA (.410), 8th in Times on Base (250)

            I don’t know quite how to define it, but this is one of the greatest “all batting average” seasons ever; i.e., a season with very high BA, but hardly any power or walks.

            However, there _is_ a limit as to how much value a hitter can have just on high batting average. He’s not in the Top-10 in OPS, OPS%, Offensive WAR, Total Bases, and only 10th in adjusted batting wins.

            Maury Wills had a similar XBH line in 1966 (14-2-1, 162 hits), but a BA over a 100 points lower (.273).

    • 12
      Steven says:

      I was certain that Roger Repoz would lead the Yankees out of the Darkness. Traded to the Kansas City A’s during the 1966 season, and the Yanks finished tenth in the A.L.

  3. 3
    Richard Chester says:

    Fernandez’ total of BB, SO and HBP = 401. That represents 44.4% of his PA. I wonder how many players have a higher ratio. I checked Adam Dunn, his ratio is 44.9%

  4. 4

    There’s an amazingly elaborate system for ranking players who batted under .200.
    Written by a fella named Pepper, it has Fernandez as #5 all-time

    Here is “Mendoza’s Heroes”

    http://alpepper.tripod.com/mendoza50.html

    • 5
      Doug says:

      Elaborate, indeed.

      Thanks for the link, Voomo.

    • 9
      birtelcom says:

      One simpler way we b-ref addicts have to do that is to look for the highest career WAR numbers for hitters with career BAs under .200. The highest career WAR totals for non-pitchers with a career BA under the Mendoza Line:
      1. Frank Fernandez 5.9 (1967-1972)
      2. Jim French 2.9 (1965-1971)
      3. Denny Mack 1.4 (1876-1883)
      T4. Bill Shipke 1.1 (1906-1909) and Tim Spehr 1.1 (1991-1999)

    • 21
      Hartvig says:

      What a great list Voomo. Not only does it have several of my all-time favorites like Bill Bergen & Ray Oyler plus the incomparable Bob Uecker but you also have Herman Franks, Charlie Manuel & Tony LaRussa bunched in a tight little group which must tell us something- maybe lousy hitters make good managers.

  5. 14
    MikeD says:

    Never heard of him as he was a bit before my time.

    One thing that struck about his career was timing, specifically unfortunate timing. His tenure with the Yankees ended after 1969. Thurman Munson was called up late in ’69. He then was traded to the A’s. His tenure with the A’s ended after 1970 once Gene Tenace showed he was more than capable of being Dave Duncan’s sidekick. So in essense he lost his job on two teams by being replaced by two borderline HOF catchers. He never played much after that. My guess is today he would have had a much longer career.

    I know his defensive stats say he was solid, but I have difficulty trusting any defensive stats for catchers, especially looking back a generation. Be curious if anyone here actually remember him playing and if they have an opinion on his defense.

    Also, regarding Dave Duncan. Is Dave Duncan to Gene Tenace what Joe Girardi was to Jorge Posada? Both Tenace and Posada came of age just as their two teams were about to make dynasty runs, yet both had to apprentice under inferior catchers for too long it seems. That lost time did not, and probably will not, serve either’s HOF chances.

    • 15
      Doug says:

      Good observations, Mike. When Fernandez was replaced in Oakland by Tenace, it was essentially by someone who was a similar type hitter, only better. Also, in that 1970 season, Tenace uncharacteristically hit for a high average (albeit in only 105 AB) with a .305 mark, his only season higher than the .274 he would hit the following year. After that, Tenace got above .250 only 4 times in 12 years.

    • 16
      bstar says:

      Real good point, Mike. Totally agree about Girardi staying in the lineup for an extra year or two really hurts Posada’s WAR total overall. He had the second-most WAR among catchers over 30; it’s really ironic that Girardi ended up his manager at the end of his career and had to bench Posada at one point.

      • 22
        Tmckelv says:

        I would say that you could really only make a case for Posada playing more in 1997. He was still a prospect in 1996 and the Yanks would not want him as the back-up (less than 100 ABs). They would rather he stay in the minors for the full season. Plus I think there was a non-statistical benefit to have Jorge sitting for most of 1997 watching Girardi.

  6. 17
    Richard Chester says:

    Doug: I am a Yankee fan out there but all I remember about Fernandez was that he was not a good hitter and that he served the Yankees well in that he was traded for Danny Cater who was subsequently traded for Sparky Lyle.

  7. 18
    Andy R says:

    When I think of Danny Cater, all I remember is Monte Moore, the A’s broadcaster, always referring to him as “Long Tater Cater”- so much for childhood memories…

  8. 20
    Rico Petrocelli says:

    Fernandez iz the pride of Curtis High in Staten Island, class of 1961. Also fromt here is Bobby Thompson, so Fernandez heard the shot when he was 8. Lois Lowry, Watergate conspirator Jeb Magruder, and the RZA also attended.

    He dropped out of Villanova to play baseball, giving up his first love, basketball. On May 25, 1972, Frank Fernandez pinch hit for Cubs starter Bill Hands, grounded out to third base in his final at-bat in the majors. The at-bat lowered his batting average from .1997 to .1994, cementing his career batting average below the Mendoza line. (see http://pitchersandpoets.com/2011/06/21/the-man-who-couldnt-hit/

    • 23
      Doug says:

      Nice little article there, Rico. Thanks.

      Love the story about the press grilling him about driving in the game-winning run with a bases-loaded walk. As portrayed in the article, the view was that taking a close pitch in that situation was pretty risky and Fernandez was just lucky it worked out. Says something about the lack of appreciation at that time for someone who could consistently take a lot of walks.

      • 29
        John Autin says:

        Speaking of bases-loaded chances … Fernandez had 23 PAs, 5 walks, 3 HRs and 25 RBI.

        One salami came off Mickey Lolich in a wild A’s-Tigers game. Dick McAuliffe hit a granny in the bottom of the 2nd; Fernandez connected in the next half-inning, the 2nd batter Lolich faced in his only relief outing that year. Rick Monday followed with another HR. Chuck Dobson went the distance in Oakland’s 12-7 win, allowing 7 runs on just 5 hits.

  9. 25
    Bill says:

    Thanks for this note. I hadn’t thought of FF in quite a while but I remember him well, particularly for Opening Day 1968 at the Stadium which I attended (age 10). Frank hit a second-inning HR for the only run as Mel Stottlemyre bested George Brunet 1-0. Time of game: 1 hour and 43 minutes. Attendance: 15,744. On Opening Day at the Stadium. Times have changed a bit.

    • 26
      MikeD says:

      Opening Day and under 16,000 in attendance. What was the seating capacity at the old Stadium back then? It was over 60,000 (or was it over 70,000?), which means Opening Day must have looked pretty empty.

      1968 was the year of the pitcher. 1-0 games turned out to be normal than expected, which is why games were so much shorter.

      I know you were only 10, but do you have any idea if FF was a decent defensive catcher? Some of the stats indicate he was, but defensive stats and catchers remain questionable.

      • 31
        Richard Chester says:

        I attended Opening Day on April 13, 1955 at the Stadium whence the Yankees defeated the Senators 19-1. It was in the low 40’s and drizzling. Attendance was 11,251. It was so chilly my friends and I had to run up and down the bleacher seats to keep warm.

  10. 28
    John Autin says:

    1966 International League (AAA) OPS leaders:
    1. Mike Epstein, .999 (.309/.433/.567)

    4. Frank Fernandez, .916 (.260/.405/.511)
    5. Reggie Smith, .899 (.320/.377/.522)

    The next year, Epstein and Smith were MLB regulars playing over 100 games. Fernandez never got that full-time chance. Looks like prejudice against low-BA hitters to me.

    In ’68, Fernandez hit .170 in 171 PAs, 135 ABs — but drove in 30 runs, thanks to a wild RISP performance of .353/1.375. (With no one on, he hit .130; with a man on 1st, he was 1 for 24. Random, I guess.)

    Fernandez pinch-hit 53 times, with 11 walks and 3 HRs. All the HRs came in 1970. Two were instant game-winners: A last-gasp 3-run shot off relief ace Wilbur Wood for a 4-3 win, and a solo shot off Tom Burgmeier.

    The HR off Wood helped extend an A’s September win streak that would reach 8 games. The average attendance at those 7 dates was about 8,300. This was in their 3rd year in Oakland, all winning seasons, the last two 2nd-place finishes — and they averaged under 800,000 per year. Why did people think an MLB team would prosper in Oakland, exactly?

    • 30
      Doug says:

      Good thing the As were winning. That 800,000 wasn’t bad compared to what they would draw when they started to lose.

      1970, 2nd, 778,355
      1971, 1st, 914,993 (+17.5%)
      1972, 1st, 921,323 (+0.7%)
      1973, 1st, 1,000,763 (+8.6%)
      1974, 1st, 845,693 (-15.5%)
      1975, 1st, 1,075,518 (+27.3%)
      1976, 2nd, 780,593 (-27.5%)
      1977, 7th, 495,599 (-36.5%)
      1978, 6th, 526,999 (+6.3%)
      1979, 7th, 306,763 (-41.8%)
      1980, 2nd, 842,259 (+174.6%)

      How exactly do you run a business with revenue volatility like that? Or, were TV revenues so amazing (even then) that the gate didn’t really matter? Don’t think so.

      Amazing they’re still in Oakland 30+ years later.

  11. 32
    Robert Slaney says:

    I saw (onTV!)Fernandez hit a Grand Slam off of Dick Ellsworth, in Fenway,May 16,1968. What was memorable about the game is that Dick Williams gave
    Yaz the last few innings off, to beat the traffic and dodge the press, as t6he Sox were losing inb the 8th,10-5. The Sox proceeded to score six runs in that 8th inning , and win it,11-10

  12. 33
    SI says:

    Play golf with Frank…good guy and very good golfer. Had a rifle for an arm. Ranked #5 in baseball history among players hitting under .200. Why? Most home runs, 2nd most home runs, tied for 3rd. for most home runs. Pretty good for a right handed hitter in Yankee Stadium. Off topic but Mickey Mantle who was not a pull hitter was estimated to lose about 12 homers a year by playing in Yankee Stadium. Both Berra and Maris (great all around players) were pull hitters. Maris in ’61 batted ahead of Mantle as Ruth batted ahead of Gehrig. Think that helps? Roger was not given an intentional walk that year!

  13. 34
    Jimbo7777777 says:

    Great discussion, wish I’d seen it when it was fresher. 🙂 I always liked Frank as a kid growing up, and his stratomatic cards were useful with the power and walks. I think he’d get more appreciation if he played now. Who cares if he hits .199, with a .350 obp and home run power. He could play on my team any day! 🙂

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