For years, I’ve used the term “Lou Whitaker All-Stars” for players who had many good seasons, but no great ones. Now I’ve chosen two such teams, on the basis of Wins Above Replacement.

Since Whitaker’s best seasons rated 6.7 WAR, I set the main cutoff at “no 7-WAR seasons.” I started with the top 200 in career WAR among retired position players, then eliminated all those with any 7-WAR years, leaving 66 players. Since I’m dividing the teams by Hall of Fame status, I excluded the six who have not yet appeared on the ballot. Of the remaining 60 players, 27 are HOFers, 33 are not.

 

I chose 13 players per side: the eight fielding positions, plus a DH, a spare infielder and outfielder, a utility man, and a pinch-hitter. Selection criteria were a balance of career WAR and WAR per 1,000 games, with other factors used in hard cases. Each player is slotted at his primary position. I’ll note which of the chosen players meet the dual standard of 54 career WAR and 27 WAR per 1,000 games discussed in the latter half of this post. (And please note: These 13-man squads are not an endorsement of modern 12-man pitching staffs.)

 

Lou Whitaker All-Stars: Hall of Fame Squad

Pos Player Car. WAR Off. WAR Def. WAR WAR per 1,000 Gm Best Year OPS+
C Bill Dickey 55.9 53.8 7.5 31.2 6.2 127
1B Jake Beckley 61.4 59.0 -0.3 25.7 4.5 125
2B Billy Herman 54.5 49.2 12.4 28.4 6.9 112
3B Jimmy Collins 53.1 41.9 16.7 30.8 6.9 113
SS Pee Wee Reese 66.2 55.4 25.7 30.6 6.9 99
LF Fred Clarke 67.8 58.2 -2.7 30.2 6.5 133
CF Earl Averill 47.9 50.9 -5.3 28.7 6.8 133
RF Sam Crawford 75.1 79.8 -18.1 29.8 6.2 144
DH Paul Molitor 75.5 74.9 -8.1 28.1 6.2 122
IF Harmon Killebrew 60.4 71.2 -19.0 24.8 6.5 143
OF Paul Waner 72.8 71.5 -9.6 28.5 6.9 134
UT Buck Ewing 47.6 42.3 9.4 36.2 4.8 129
PH Elmer Flick 53.0 50.4 -5.5 35.7 6.6 149

 

Bill Dickey edged out four other catchers: Yogi Berra, Gabby Hartnett, Mickey Cochrane and 19th-century star Buck Ewing. (The wealth of options owes to the scarcity of 7-WAR years by catchers; just 10 have any such years, two of those being active.) Of the five candidates, Dickey is 2nd in career WAR (after Berra), 3rd in WAR per game (behind Ewing and Cochrane). I chose Dickey because the other three moderns all won the MVP Award, which doesn’t quite fit this theme.

  • One of six retired catchers who meet the 54/27 standard.

At 1B, I chose the little-known Jake Beckley over Harmon Killebrew and Orlando Cepeda. Beckley led the trio in both WAR categories, and has the further virtue (for this purpose) of a shockingly low best year of 4.5 WAR. Beckley played 100+ games in 17 seasons, in 15 of which he had between 2.5 and 4.5 WAR (with 2.1 and 1.8 the other years). In 17 qualified seasons, he tolled a 125 OPS+, but never led the league in anything but triples, once. That’s a Lou Whitaker All-Star.

Billy Herman got my keystone nod over Bid McPhee, Bobby Doerr and Johnny Evers, leading them in both WAR stats. Despite 10 straight All-Star selections, three times ranked 3rd or 4th in MVP voting and four World Series (plus two prime years lost to military service), Herman waited almost 30 years to get the Hall call. Before Herman’s 1975 induction, the HOF had just seven second basemen (Lajoie, Collins, Hornsby, Evers, Frisch, Gehringer, and Robinson); it now has 18.

  • One of 14 retired second basemen who meet the 54/27 standard.

Jimmy Collins starts at 3B by default, since the seven best HOF third-sackers all had at least three 7-WAR seasons: Schmidt, Mathews, Boggs, Brett, Robinson, Santo and Baker.

Pee Wee Reese beat out Luis Aparicio for the SS gig. A legitimate HOFer, Reese posted 11 straight years with between 4.0 and 6.9 WAR, not counting three years in the service. Only two players ever had more years in that WAR range, and we’ll hear from them shortly. Reese was an All-Star the first 10 of those 11 years, and got MVP votes in 12 straight seasons, though never above 5th. His three service years probably cost Reese 12 to 18 WAR, with which he would rank 4th all-time at the position.

  • One of 15 retired shortstops who meet the 54/27 standard.

In LF, Fred Clarke was an easy choice over Zack Wheat. Clarke’s peak of 6.5 WAR came in 1897, when he also debuted as manager — a job he held for 19 straight years, with four pennants. Clarke’s 14 seasons of 3.0 to 6.9 WAR are topped only by Whitaker himself.

  • One of 13 retired left fielders who meet the 54/27 standard.

Earl Averill was a tough choice for CF over Max Carey. With a late start and a short career by HOF standards (10 qualified seasons), Averill is often seen as having a high peak. But his offensive prime came in a very high-scoring context, in terms of his leagues and his home parks, where he hit vastly better (career .343/.292 BA split, with 61% of his HRs at home). Averill logged 3.2 to 6.8 WAR in each of his 10 qualified years (1929-38), but his total WAR ranks 8th in that span and 50th for age 27-36, and both his career WAR and his rate per game are well under the median of HOF CFs.

There were seven candidates for RF, the most of any position, but Wahoo Sam Crawford had the best balance of WAR stats. With a dozen years between 4.0 and 6.9 WAR, Crawford is tied with Paul Waner for the most in that range. (Whitaker is tied for the 2B lead with 10 such years.) Besides a long career with Detroit, Crawford had three more things in common with Whitaker: their WAR totals and rates per game are an eyelash apart; both retired just before an offensive explosion; and both were utterly snubbed in their first years of HOF eligibility. Crawford, who merely led everyone in RBI, total bases and extra-base hits over a 15-year span (1901-15), never got 5% of the HOF vote in 11 years of eligibility. He finally got the call in 1957, 40 years after his career and 21 years after the inaugural class.

  • One of 15 retired RFs who meet the 54/27 standard.

Paul Molitor had no competition at DH, but his spot is not tainted by that default status, as he tied for 2nd with 14 years of 3.0-6.9 WAR. Whitaker and Molitor were almost the same age, ran 1-2 in the 1978 AL ROY vote, and played head-to-head for 18 years, the first 16 of those in the same division.

  • Meets the 54/27 standard.

Harmon Killebrew is an unconventional choice for spare infielder, but since my starting corner men are good-glove deadballers with 152 HRs between them, I took a slugger to back them up. Killer doesn’t fit the Lou Whitaker mold in anything but WAR pattern; of the Hall’s fifteen 500-HR men, only Killebrew had no 7-WAR seasons.

My spare outfielder is Paul Waner, who logged 12 straight years of 4.0-6.9 WAR from the start of his career, then played seven more years without topping 2.3 WAR. Big Poison tallied 19 WAR in his first three seasons, ranking 5th all-time for that span, but he had already peaked; he was a steady 5-WAR man for the next nine years, but his career total ranks 22nd after five seasons, and 42nd after 10 years. Only five players have reached 70 career WAR with no 7-WAR seasons: Molitor, Crawford, Whitaker, Waner and Rafael Palmeiro.

  • One of 15 retired RFs who meet the 54/27 standard.

Buck Ewing gets the utility job. Mainly a catcher, he also had over 200 games at 1B and OF, 127 at 3B, and 85 at 2B/SS combined, plus occasional mound work. Ewing’s 47.7 career WAR are in the bottom quartile of HOF position players, but his rate of 36.2 WAR per 1,000 games is in the top quartile, and 1st among catchers. The disparity isn’t just from the shorter schedule played during most of his career; 20 men played more games than Ewing from 1881-96, but only four had more WAR. The nature of catching in that era kept their game totals far below other positions; the years 1881-96 saw 108 player-seasons of 5+ WAR, but none by catchers. Only nine men caught at least 600 games in that span, and just one of those played more total games than Ewing.

The last spot goes to Elmer Flick, as pinch-hitter. Debuting in 1898 with a 156 OPS+ (4th-best among all first-years with 500+ PAs), Flick reeled off 10 good years, posting 4.2-6.5 WAR each year but 1902, when his jump to the AL landed him in court. And that was about all he wrote, as Flick totaled 99 games in his last three years and retired at 34. He would live 60 more years, dying in his hometown of Bedford, OH at 94, eight years after his HOF induction. Flick’s 149 OPS+ ranks 28th among retired players with 6,000 PAs.

Of these 13 Hall of Famers, only Waner ever led his league in WAR for position players, that in his first year. Only Flick led in offensive WAR, once.

 

Lou Whitaker All-Stars: Non-Hall of Fame Squad

Pos Player Car. WAR Off. WAR Def. WAR WAR per 1,000 Gm Best Year OPS+
C Ted Simmons 50.3 53.3 4.8 20.5 5.5 118
1B Rafael Palmeiro 71.8 66.9 -11.6 25.4 6.9 132
2B Lou Whitaker 74.8 67.0 15.5 31.3 6.7 117
3B Buddy Bell 66.0 47.3 23.1 27.4 6.8 109
SS Bert Campaneris 53.2 47.7 20.8 22.9 6.7 89
LF Bob Johnson 57.2 55.5 -5.9 30.7 6.5 139
CF Chet Lemon 55.2 45.9 8.3 27.8 6.2 121
RF Reggie Smith 64.3 55.8 2.6 32.4 6.8 137
DH Brian Downing 51.3 53.1 -7.7 21.9 5.6 122
IF Willie Randolph 65.6 53.7 19.2 29.8 6.6 104
OF Dwight Evans 66.9 59.6 -4.4 25.7 6.7 127
UT Tony Phillips 50.8 46.9 5.6 23.5 5.6 109
PH Sherry Magee 59.1 56.8 -8.3 28.3 6.9 137

 

Ted Simmons is my choice to catch, over Joe Torre and Gene Tenace. While Torre led the WAR stats, and Tenace better fits the “underrated” profile, Simmons best matches Whitaker for a long span of good-not-great performance. Simmons didn’t end with impressive WAR totals or rates, mainly because his productive years stopped at age 33. But in his first 13 full seasons were 12 campaigns of 3.3 to 5.5 WAR, tying him for 4th-most years in the 3.0-5.9 range. Simmons was an 8-time All-Star, but only started twice, and (like Whitaker) fell off the HOF ballot after one year.

  • Among the 12 HOF catchers, Simmons’s WAR total and rate would rank 8th and 11th.

At 1B, I held my nose and tabbed Rafael Palmeiro over Fred McGriff and Joe Judge. Despite his late-career positive test for PEDs, I felt that Palmeiro’s consistency of good-not-great years was too remarkable to ignore here. There are 36 players with a 130 OPS+ or better in at least 10,000 PAs, and only Palmeiro and Waner did that without a qualified year over 160. Palmeiro had 13 years between 3.2 and 6.9 WAR (6th-most in the 3.0-6.9 range), and a 14-year streak between 2.9 and 6.9 WAR. He’s one of four players with 3,000 hits and 500 HRs, yet he made just four All-Star teams, starting once. He’s in the top 20 for both HRs and RBI, but never led his league in either stat, and he never came close to an MVP Award.

  • Among the 17 HOF 1Bs, Palmeiro’s WAR total and rate would rank 6th and 12th.

Lou Whitaker beats out Willie Randolph, Tony Phillips and Buddy Myer at 2B, because … yeah. Sweet Lou is the only player with 15 seasons in the range of 3.0-6.9 WAR. He ranks 4th in career games at second, and when he retired after 1995 he stood 7th in both times on base and total bases among all 2Bs, 5th in both HRs and extra-base hits. But he lasted just one year on the ballot.

  • One of 14 retired second basemen who meet the 54/27 standard. Among the 18 HOF 2Bs, Whitaker’s WAR total and rate would rank 6th and 8th (and easily in the top half of all HOF position players).

Buddy Bell was one of the greatest defensive third basemen, and the best of a crowded field for this job. Bell had a more concentrated peak than Whitaker: From age 27-32, he won six straight Gold Gloves and averaged 6.0 WAR with a .301 BA. That capped a 12-year run between 2.9 and 6.8 WAR. But he never made a dent in MVP voting, and lasted one year on the HOF ballot.

  • One of 13 retired third basemen who meet the 54/27 standard. Among the 12 HOF 3Bs, Bell’s WAR total and rate would rank 7th and 8th. At least seven other 3Bs would top the Hall’s 10th-best on both WAR measures: Robin Ventura, Ron Cey, Stan Hack, Bob Elliot, Larry Gardner, Lave Cross, and Matt Williams.

Bert Campaneris wins the SS job by default, as the other five retired, non-HOF shortstops with at least 46 WAR all had at least one 7-WAR season. Campy ran off ten straight years between 3.1 and 6.7 WAR, placing 12th in total WAR for 1968-77, and was a key man on a team that won three straight World Series and five straight division crowns. But you know the story: No MVP impact, and one year on the HOF ballot. (If I could bend the strict rule against 7-WAR years, I’d take Bill Dahlen, whose WAR total and rate are virtually the same as Whitaker’s, with a similar distribution, and a peak of 7.1 WAR.)

  • Among the 20 HOF shortstops, Campaneris’s WAR total and rate would rank 16th and 18th.

Bob Johnson takes LF by a nose over Sherry Magee, with solid showings by Jose Cruz, Bobby Veach and Roy White. Johnson didn’t crack the majors until age 27, then posted 13 straight years between 3.0 and 6.5 WAR, and was gone. Out of 141 players with at least 10 years of 3+ WAR, only Indian Bob never had a season under 3 WAR. Over his first 10 years (1933-42), Johnson ranked 3rd overall in HRs and RBI, 4th in Times on Base and Total Bases, 5th in Runs. He appeared twice on the Hall ballot, drawing less than 1% each time.

  • One of 13 retired left fielders who meet the 54/27 standard. Among the 18 HOF LFs, Bob Johnson’s WAR total and rate would rank 12th and 3rd.

Chet Lemon might be a surprise choice for CF, but the WAR measures give him a clear edge on Bernie Williams, Brett Butler, Devon White and Tommy Leach. Lemon was an excellent defender (his 509 putouts in 1977 is the 3rd-best documented total by a CF) whose strong on-base ability, mid-range power and consistency gave him a career 121 OPS+. In his 12-year prime, 1977-88, Chester logged from 2.5 to 6.2 WAR every year, but he never put all his best stats into one big year, hitting .300 three times and 20+ HRs three times, but never both together. His counting stats were hurt by batting 5th or lower in 76% of his PAs.

  • One of 14 retired CFs to meet the 54/27 standard. Among the 16 HOF CFs, Chet Lemon’s WAR total and rate would both rank 9th.

Reggie Smith would have been my CF, but he played a few more games in RF, so there he stands, beating out worthies like Dwight Evans and Jack Clark. An excellent all-around player who never had a bad year, Smith’s career 137 OPS+ ranks 18th of all those with 800+ games in RF and 4th among all switch-hitters with 5,000 PAs. Smith had six qualified years batting .300, but none over .309; averaged 26 HRs per 162 games, but never topped 32 in a season. Retired at 37 after posting a 134 OPS+ in 106 games.

  • One of 15 retired RFs who meet the 54/27 standard. Among the 20 HOF RFs, Reggie Smith’s WAR total and rate would rank 10th and 3rd.

Brian Downing is the DH, as no other candidate had that for his main position. Downing is 11th all-time in PAs as a DH; he also ranks 11th in OPS out of 30 with 2,000 PAs in that role (tied with Molitor), and 7th in OBP at .375 (one point up on Molly). He didn’t fit the conventional leadoff mold, but batted there more than any other spot, and was terrific: Out of 198 men with 2,000 leadoff PAs (searchable), Downing’s .859 OPS ranks 3rd, his .386 OBP 12th; per 650 PAs, his rate of 100 runs is 27th (tied with Craig Biggio and just behind Molitor, Tim Raines and Derek Jeter), and his 172 [Runs+RBI] is 6th. Downing was unusual in many respects: He’s one of 25 men in the DH era with at least 1,000 walks and more walks than strikeouts. Did most of his damage after age 30, when he shed the catching gear; out of 84 men with 5,000 PAs from age 31 onward, Downing’s 128 OPS+ ranks 26th, tied with Reggie Jackson. Still the only player with 500+ games at both catcher (675 G) and DH (823), and had another 735 games in LF.

Although he only played one game away from 2B, Willie Randolph is my spare infielder. Among the 15 candidates at 1B, 2B, 3B and SS, Randolph trails only Whitaker in WAR per game. Among all 2Bs, he ranks 8th in games played at second, 11th in WAR, and 11th in OBP among 71 retired 2Bs with 6,000 PAs. The main leadoff or #2 hitter for a team that won 4 pennants and 2 WS titles in 6 years and won far more games than any other team during his 13-year tenure, but got barely 1% of the vote on his lone HOF ballot. Ten seasons with 4.0-6.9 WAR (just eight men had more), and at least 2 WAR in all 16 seasons where he played more than 90 games.

  • Randolph is one of 14 retired second basemen who meet the 54/27 standard. Also one of several 1977-78 Yankees to fare poorly in HOF voting despite strong to at least fringey credentials. Graig Nettles is 2nd in career games at 3B, but lasted just four years on the ballot. Thurman Munson peaked at 15% of the ballot, but he bests four of the 12 HOF catchers in both career WAR and rate, and won MVP and ROY. Ron Guidry’s one of the better pitchers not to crack 10% of the vote, with an iconic CYA win plus a 2nd- and 3rd-place finish, three 20-win years, and several Gold Gloves. Roy White had a 10-year run with 3.2 to 6.8 WAR each year (11th in total WAR for 1968-77, with Nettles 10th, Munson 14th), but got no HOF votes. Dynasties often produce dubious HOFers — Tony Perez, Catfish Hunter, Lou Brock, Phil Rizzuto, Chick Hafey & Jim Bottomley, etc. — but that particular Yankee dynasty has had no halo effect so far.

My spare outfielder is Dwight Evans. Among all non-HOFer who finished before this century, only Pete Rose and Rusty Staub reached base safely more times than Dewey’s 3,890, and just Rose, Dave Parker and Vada Pinson had more total bases. Second only to Whitaker with 14 seasons between 3.0 and 6.9 WAR (tied with Molitor, Crawford and Clarke). Evans had more “black ink” than most of his teammates here, especially in 1981, when he led the AL in HRs, walks, total bases and OPS; he had two other walks crowns, and one each in runs, OBP and OPS. With 11 years of 20+ HRs, four with 100 RBI, four with 100 runs, and eight Gold Gloves, it’s puzzling that Evans lasted just three years on the Hall ballot; then you see his .272 batting average and it’s all clear.

  • Evans’s 127 OPS+ is the highest of any non-HOFer with 9,000 PAs in the 20th century.

Tony Phillips is the gold standard of utility men. His seven years between 4.3 and 5.6 WAR (six in a row from 1990-95) featured just two with 90+ games at one position. In those seven years, Phillips played 291 games at 2B, 289 at 3B, 264 in LF and 96 in RF. Out of 184 players to reach 50 WAR, just eight had a lower peak season than Phillips’s 5.6 WAR. For 1990-95 combined, he ranked 8th with 29.6 WAR, while the other 13 players with 26+ WAR in that span all had a higher peak year.

  • Phillips is the only player with at least 200 searchable games at 2B, 3B, SS, and an outfield spot.

The pinch-hitting job goes to dead-ball slugger Sherry Magee, by virtue of the best OPS+ of the remaining options (tied with Jack Clark, who trails in WAR stats). Over his 15 years as a regular (1904-18), Magee ranked 6th in total WAR; top-4 in RBI, Runs, total bases and extra-base hits; and 8th in OPS+ out of 47 men with 5,000 PAs. Traded from the Phillies to the Braves after 1914, thus just missing the only modern pre-WWII pennants for both franchises. His only World Series appearance came as a pinch-hitter in his final season, 1919; at least he was on the right side of history that time.

  • One of 13 retired left fielders who meet the 54/27 standard. Also, the only 4-time RBI champion who’s not in the Hall.

Of these 13, only Evans and Magee ever led his league in WAR (once each) or offensive WAR (Magee twice, Evans once).

 

Matching Up the Sides

So, how do these squads compare? Here are the unweighted averages of each 13-man roster:

Car. WAR Off. WAR Def. WAR WAR per 1,000 Gm Best Year OPS+ BA OBP SLG OPS
Hall of Famers 60.9 58.3 0.2 29.9 6.3 128 .303 .373 .451 .824
Non-HOFers 60.5 54.6 4.8 26.7 6.4 120 .278 .361 .433 .794

Since these were subjective choices, I wouldn’t draw any strong conclusions about what puts this type of player into or out of the Hall. But whatever evidence there is points towards what we already know about Hall selections, favoring:

  • offense over defense;
  • batting average over on-base percentage;
  • higher rates of WAR per game; and
  • pre-expansion players.

These leanings also show up in the averages for all candidates from which these teams were chosen:

Car. WAR Off. WAR Def. WAR WAR per 1,000 Gm Best Year OPS+ BA OBP SLG OPS
HOF, all 27 candidates 56.9 52.7 2.1 27.5 6.1 122 .298 .369 .441 .809
Non-HOF, all 33 candidates 54.1 50.2 2.6 25.4 6.3 119 .280 .362 .431 .793

Of the 27 HOFers in this pool, just five had careers centered in the expansion era, while 23 of the 33 non-HOF careers were centered in the expansion era.

Comparing the two chosen teams head-to-head by position, strictly on the two WAR stats (career and per game):

  • HOFers win four spots (C, SS, DH, spare OF);
  • Non-HOFers win two spots (2B and spare IF); and
  • Seven spots are split between the two WAR stats (1B, 3B, LF, CF, RF, UT and PH).

Each side has seven players who meet the 54/27 standard. Each pool had one such player who missed the cut, Yogi Berra and Robin Ventura.

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That’s about all I have for you this time around. I hope you enjoyed our little stroll, and please share your thoughts below.

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