Everything is overrated

Everything in baseball is rated. Players are rated according to their abilities, but also by their contract value. Managers are rated by their tactical nous, and also by their handsomeness. Ballparks are rated by their beauty, but also by the level of traffic encountered when leaving them.

Of course, no one agrees on these ratings. Thus almost everything is ripe for being under-, over-, or massively overrated. Fans, players, coaches, writers; everyone has an opinion, and we have over a century’s worth of evidence documenting that fact.

Here, then, is an examination of the many things that have been overrated in the world of baseball. I looked through the pages of The Sporting News from 1920 to 2000, and found approximately 150 instances of something or someone being overrated. Let’s get to the highlights: long preambles are overrated.

NB: Overrated items will appear in bold, with the date of The Sporting News in which they were found in parentheses.

The Players

Babe Ruth, who surely transcends overratedness, wasn’t afraid to cast judgment himself. In columns penned in his name, the ace ace turned ace slugger turned Colossus of Criticism pegged Jim Bagby (Aug 5, 1920) as the overrated sort. And I was wrong about Ruth’s unimpeachable talent, because apparently Babe Ruth (Sep 11, 1924) is overrated according to “one manager in a rival league”.

Joe DiMaggio (Dec 31, 1936) had his detractors, even after accumulating more Total Bases than any first year player ever. Mickey Mantle (Apr 21, 1954) is “the most overrated man in baseball” according to Calvin Griffith and not even “as good as Jim Busby”. Reader, had you heard of Jim Busby? I had not.

Someone else who is overrated is, oh look, Mickey Mantle again (Apr 1, 1959) per a letter writer. Was that an April Fool’s joke? Two years later a different letter writer, who declared Mickey Mantle to be “the most overrated player in the game” (Mar 29, 1961), was either deadly serious or two days early with his prank.

The problem with superstars is that they’re not perfect. Hence Joe DiMaggio’s fielding (Aug 3, 1939), Joe Cronin‘s defense (Mar 28, 1946), Jimmie Foxx‘s first base defense (Feb 21, 1935), and Ty Cobb‘s throwing arm (Jun 11, 1952) were all given the overrated treatment. Connie Mack cited Foxx’s deficiencies as part of his reasoning for moving him to catcher.

Criticism can come from unusual sources. There are few broadcasters who would dare call Kent Hrbek (Oct 7, 1991) “overpaid, overrated and overweight”, though Ken “Hawk” Harrelson did just that. More unexpected is a team owner castigating one of his own, but Ray Krok didn’t hold anything back when he rounded on his catcher / first baseman Gene Tenace (Jul 1, 1978).

“Tenace needs to go to an eye doctor. He can’t tell a strike from a ball. He hasn’t given this club one thing since we got him. He kept saying if he played every day he’d improve. Well, he’s been in there every day and he hasn’t done a damn thing. All he wants to do is walk. Well, we can’t win games waiting for walks. I’m telling you, Tenace is the most overrated player on this ballclub. He’s a disgrace. He’s being paid to hit and he can’t hit. Nobody in either league wants him and we’re paying him a premium price.”

Naturally, Tenace led the Padres in WAR that year.

The Managers

Think of a legendary manager, a Hall of Fame type. Got one? OK, good. He’s overrated.

John McGraw? Overrated. (Oct 17, 1940). Joe McCarthy or Connie Mack? Overrated. (May 18, 1949). Casey Stengel (Dec 10, 1952; Mar 11, 1959) and Jim Leyland (Sep 27, 1999)? Overrated. Sparky Anderson (Sep 20, 1982) is considered overrated by one Billy Martin.

Outfielder Warren Cromartie is probably correct, then, in opining that all managers (Nov 10, 1979) are overrated. “A manager gets credit if we win and heck if we lose. That’s not right.” Managers and managing are also given short shrift by Manager of the Year Eddie Stanky (Jan 21, 1953), manager Bucky Harris (Dec 12, 1956), and pitcher Ed Walsh (Jan 16, 1957). Coaches (Apr 13, 1939) are of no use per coach Jimmie Wilson, and pitching coaches (Nov 24, 1973) are basically useless per one columnist.

The Things Overrated Managers Do

It’s not just that managers are overrated, it’s most of what they do too. Earl Weaver (Oct 27, 1979) and Jim Leyland (Apr 1, 1996) concur that strategy is overrated. Joe Morgan thinks pitchouts (Mar 30, 1974) have been given too much importance. Hank Aaron is dismissive of platooning (Jul 1, 1976). Don’t get Tom Runnells started on the batting order (Mar 30, 1992).

What does Earl Weaver (Jan 17, 1983) think about advancing the runner? “Good Lord, I never asked Lee May to hit behind no runner. Advancing the runner is overrated. It’s a lot like the sacrifice bunt. Why give up the out? Let your hitters hit.”

If not winning through strategy, are managers at least demonstrating strong leadership qualities? Back to Eddie Stanky: “One of the most exaggerated statements in baseball is that a manager must be a good handler of men,” (Jun 24, 1967). Ah. Writer Jerome Holtzman also has little use for the buddy buddy stuff (Apr 17, 1971) between managers and players.

One might think that managers could gain an edge through illicit measures, but Al Dark would counter that the Astros were wasting their time by stealing signs (Apr 1, 1959): “When Sal Maglie was at his best I could call the pitch nine out of ten times. But Sal got the batters out just the same.”

Batting

One thing I’ve learned through this research is that hitting home runs is just about the worst thing you can do as a batter, especially if you listen to manager Al López (Jan 6, 1960; Dec 6, 1961; May 22, 1965). Others noted how hitting dingers comes at heavy cost to batting average (Sep 11, 1968), and that they’re overrated unless you hit 40 of them (Jul 8, 1972). Peter Gammons also thinks four-baggers are overrated (Jul 25, 1981), and I’ll note here that, per multiple letter writers, one overrated scribe is Peter Gammons (Jul 12, 1980).

Mike Piazza is also dismissive of homers (Apr 29, 1996), while Ozzie Smith takes aim at the broader category of hitting the ball hard (May 23, 1994). Speaking of convenient opinions to have, Graig Nettles, Jack Clark, Greg Vaughn all claim that batting average (Jun 23, 1973; Oct 3, 1981; Jun 28, 1999) is overrated, although that doesn’t mean that they’re wrong.

Gorman Thomas doesn’t pay much mind to the strikeout column (Jul 14, 1978), noting that “the only thing that means anything is RBIs.” Well, this is awkward, because John W. Hanley of Stockton, California already declared that “RBIs have virtually no connection with a hitter’s true worth” (Jan 7, 1959).

Ideally we would consult a true master of the bat to properly rate the various aspects of hitting; unfortunately, Ted Williams‘ advice (Aug 5, 1959) also belongs in the overrated category.

Perhaps it’s simply the entire concept of hitting (Jul 16, 1966) that is overvalued. Per the indisputable logic of one fan,

“even a lineup of nine .300 hitters will fail seven out of ten times… A team concentrating on pitching and defense is at peak efficiency all of the time it is in the field, or 50% of the time, whereas a hitting-based team is only at 30 per cent efficiency.”

Airtight reasoning.

Pitching

As for pitchers, they probably shouldn’t be throwing anything but fastballs. Contenders for the most overrated pitch include the slider by luminaries such as Casey Stengel and Frankie Frisch (Mar 7, 1956; May 3, 1961; Aug 4, 1962), the spitter by Dodgers pitching coach Joe Becker (Jul 14, 1962), curveballs per Jim Konstanty (May 15, 1965) and beanballs by Robin Roberts (Jun 18, 1958): “you seldom see it in a World Series.”

Jim Palmer cares not for pitching inside (Jun 17, 1991), Mike Mussina is dismissive of movement (Jul 11, 1994) and Kent Bottenfield thinks too much is made of velocity (Jul 26, 1999).

As for the stats, the winning pitcher (Aug 23, 1980) often “happens to be the guy who is around at the right time,” per no less an authority than Don Sutton. And 20 game winners (Jan 11, 1956) aren’t that impressive, as they often avoid the harder teams.

Dennis Eckersley thinks complete games “take something out of your arm” (Feb 23, 1980), and Tommy John would rather throw an 85-pitch CG than one with 140 pitches and ten strikeouts (Apr 11, 1983).

Of course, relievers are basically worthless (Oct 11, 1982): “the best in either league couldn’t maintain a 5.00 ERA if he were a starter.”

Miscellaneous

Andy Messersmith reckons that what is really overrated is statistics (Mar 30, 1974): “Championships are won in the clubhouse”. But if you ask Ozzie Smith, it’s chemistry (Aug 3, 1987): “Better chemistry usually comes with a better winning percentage.”

Graig Nettles thinks the value of Spring Training (May 6, 1985) is overstated, and we briefly return to the theme of conveniently held truths as Cecil Fielder sees little benefit in coming into training camp at a target weight (Sep 28, 1987).

Rick Reuschel is phlegmatic when it comes to money (Sep 24, 1977): “You reach a point when it doesn’t matter how much more you make. All you do is spend it.” If Reuschel was thinking about giving any of his cash to Ron LeFlore as a birthday present, he can forget about it. LeFlore, who’s real age was the topic of much speculation, thinks that “birthdays are overrated” (Jul 8, 1978).

And 6-foot-8 pitcher Gene Conley is less than impressed with the largest state of the contiguous USA (Apr 16, 1958): “I thought everything in Texas was [supposed to be] so big,” he complained. “I’ve been bumping my head on the top of doors like always, couldn’t get into the tub, and had to stoop over in the cab. A very much overrated state.”

Really, anything you can think of has been branded with the o-word: Pete Rose‘s clubhouse leadership (Apr 23, 1984), strength up the middle (Oct 6, 1997), arms in the outfield (Apr 14,1973), radar guns (Jul 14, 1986), corked bats (Apr 4, 1983), playing every day (Apr 29,1996), postseason experience (Oct 21, 1985), long minor league experience (Jun 28, 1961), brains (Jul 21, 1924), running (Nov 30, 1963; Jul 2 1984).

The indisputable conclusion is that everything is overrated. Or maybe what’s really overrated is overratedness (Feb 9, 2021 – Aidan Jackson-Evans).

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Dr. Doom
Editor
8 months ago

Haha, Aidan! Welcome back, and thanks for the entertaining column. Quite a few in there that I found myself nodding along to, quite a few that struck me as bizarre. Thanks for the research. It must’ve been very time-consuming!

Doug
Doug
8 months ago

Ray Krok evidently knew more about hamburgers than baseball. He signed Tenace as a catcher known for low BA/high OBP and he got a catcher who delivered low BA/high OBP. Tenace’s HR power dropped a bit in San Diego, but so did everyone else’s in that ballpark (something Krok could have fixed by moving the fences in). Overall, Tenace was remarkably consistent in his four seasons as a Padre with OPS+ scores of 134, 134, 139 and 137, and 136 overall, the same as his 136 OPS+ for the A’s.

Paul E
Paul E
8 months ago
Reply to  Doug

Doug, I think a lot of professionals (scouts, GM’s, managers) were pretty ignorant when it came to the value of the BB back then. Krok, to his credit, knew milkshakes and hamburgers better than anyone (Gino’s/Roy Rogers, Red Barn, etc…). Bill James, was speaking Greek to these guys when he hailed OBA over BA. I don’t believe I ever saw “OBA’ or “OB PCT” on the back of a baseball card or in the annual spring handbooks growing up? But, yeah, Tenace could hit. I once heard that Tenace, Larry Hisle, and Al Oliver may have all played for the… Read more »

Doug
Doug
8 months ago

And 20 game winners (Jan 11, 1956) aren’t that impressive, as they often avoid the harder teams.

In 382 seasons of 20+ wins since 1946, the pitcher recorded half or more or his IP against sub-.500 teams half of the time (192 of the 382 seasons, or 50.3%). In terms of starts, it was 195 times (51%) facing sub-.500 teams half of the time. But, unsurprisingly, it is a different story with Wins, with pitchers recording half or more of their wins against sub-.500 teams 265 times (69.4%).

Doug
Doug
8 months ago

 Mickey Mantle (Apr 21, 1954) is “the most overrated man in baseball” according to Calvin Griffith and not even “as good as Jim Busby”.  Busby was Griffith’s center-fielder in Washington. For the 1953-54 seasons, here is how he and Mantle stacked up. Busby: .305 BA, 370 H, 13 HR, 77 XBH, 162 RBI, 101 SO, .350 OBP, .401 SLG, .751 OPS Mantle: .298 BA, 299 H, 48 HR, 104 XBH, 194 RBI, 197 SO, .404 OBP, .512 SLG, .916 OPS Busby was also, apparently, a decent fielder with 2.0 dWAR to Mantle’s 0.2. So, while Griffith was obviously wrong in his assessment… Read more »

Last edited 8 months ago by Doug
Paul E
Paul E
8 months ago
Reply to  Doug

Doug,
I wonder if Busby used Griffith’s statement in salary negotiations?

Doug
Editor
8 months ago
Reply to  Paul E

Maybe he did, and that’s why he was traded the next season.

Busby, incidentally, played 1000+ CF games, including 150+ for four franchises, Who is the only player with 1000 CF games, including 150 for five franchises (and almost a sixth)?

Last edited 8 months ago by Doug
Richard Chester
Richard Chester
8 months ago
Reply to  Doug

For the quiz I’ll go with Marquis Grissom.

Doug
Doug
8 months ago

Grissom is the one.

Paul E
Paul E
8 months ago
Reply to  Doug

FWIW, Mantle was 21-22 years of age; Busby 26-27. Mantle accumulated 12.3 WAR; Busby 8.8. Mantle created 217 runs at a 8.1/27 outs clip; Busby 174 at a rate of 5.3/27.
Apparently, Busby must have been a helluva fly-chaser

Doug
Doug
8 months ago

Looking at those ’53 and ’54 seasons, the edge in RBI opportunities goes to Busby. Here are their results with RISP.

Busby: 342 PA, .353 BA, .465 SLG, 135 RBI
Mantle: 317 PA, .317 BA, .514 SLG, 129 RBI

Richard Chester
Richard Chester
8 months ago
Reply to  Doug

For those 2 years I calculated their % of runners driven in (RDI) after subtracting out their numbers of runners on base (ROB) in which they received a BB or HBP except for the bases loaded situations. Mantle had 664 ROB and 146 RDI for a % of 22.0%. Busby had 838 ROB and 149 RDI for a % of 17.8%. The ROB totals are for all PA, not just with RISP.

Doug
Doug
8 months ago

Mantle would definitely have a significant edge in driving in a runner from first base, so those RDI numbers do make sense.

CursedClevelander
CursedClevelander
8 months ago

In the long term, the Babe may have been right about Bagby – he had a tremendous start to his career before falling off the planet just a few seasons after 1920. His timing was pretty awful, though – Bagby went 6-3 in 10 September starts with a 1.98 ERA to help the Indians win the pennant by a razor thin margin, which gave him a league leading 31 wins on the year.

CursedClevelander
CursedClevelander
8 months ago

And of course, Ruth couldn’t have known that the Indians had a secret weapon who hadn’t pitched in the majors since 1916. Duster Mails went 7-0 with a 1.85 ERA in September, and then threw a shutout in the World Series.

Doug
Doug
8 months ago

In Mails’s first game for the Tribe (and first start of his career), he pitched one inning and gave up 4 runs. But, he left the game with the lead and was credited with the win, rather than Guy Morton, who pitched 8 innings of one run relief. But, Mails’ other six wins were all CG, two of them shutouts, including a 2-0 win over the White Sox on Sep 24 to move the Indians a game-and-a-half up on Chicago.

Last edited 8 months ago by Doug
Richard Chester
Richard Chester
8 months ago
Reply to  Doug

Christy Mathewson also had a GS game with 1 IP and a credit for the win. On 5/13/1911 he pitched a scoreless top of the first. The Giants scored 13 runs in the bottom of the inning and manager McGraw thought it would be a waste to leave him in the game.

Richard Chester
Richard Chester
8 months ago

Other starting pitchers with 1 inning pitched and got credit for the win.
Joe Benz 5/8/1912
Al Schact 5/18/1920
Stan Coveleski 9/15/1917
Otto Hess 5/22/1907
Frank Smith 4/27/1907

Doug
Doug
8 months ago

Stathead identifies 273 starting pitchers credited with wins of less than 5 IP, most of which wouldn’t be wins today (there were 350 such wins in 9-inning games, and 38 in games of less than 9 innings). Herb Pennock has the most such wins with 6, and Mathewson and Walter Johnson are in the group with 4. Lefty Grove (2) and Early Wynn (1) would have both finished under 300 wins, if evaluated under today’s rules. It’s still possible for the starter to get the win with less than 5 IP in a rain-shortened game; the last to do so… Read more »

Last edited 8 months ago by Doug
Richard Chester
Richard Chester
8 months ago
Reply to  Doug

The current rule of at least 5 IP in a 9-inning game went into effect in 1950.

Doug
Doug
8 months ago

Bagby’s 31 wins are the most in the modern era by a pitcher with SO/9 under 2.0, and also the most for a season with Bagby’s 133 ERA+ or less (Christy Mathewson had 33 wins and 134 ERA+ in 1904). But, the prize for the most lopsided Wins to ERA+ has to go to Jack Coombs in 1911, with 28 wins and 89 ERA+ for the world champion A’s (but Coombs pitched 20 innings in two starts in that WS, and posted a sparkling 1.35 ERA). Coombs followed that up with 21 wins and 93 ERA+ the next year to… Read more »

Last edited 8 months ago by Doug