A .250 batting average, 291 home runs, and 964 runs batted in. Not exactly numbers you would associate with a Hall of Fame outfielder.
The reality is, analysis that only covers the superficial level, such as this, is lazy and has cost many players their rightful spot in baseball history.
I wrote a piece covering this point with Scott Rolen in March due to this fear. Not many baseball players better personify this fear coming to fruition, however, than former Houston Astro great Jim Wynn.
Wynn was a great player, who happened to be slammed by details that have forever caused baseball historians to underrate his impact:
- While walks have never been "not valued," as shown by the careers of players like Max Bishop, they have almost always lost their place in history, mostly due to the remaining prevalence of batting average. Wynn only hit .250 in his career, but walked in 15.28 percent of his plate appearances.
- The sixties were a horrific run-producing environment. To boot, the Astrodome was a horrible hitter's park. Given all that, if the average hitter would hit .260/.335/.400 in an average run-producing environment, an average hitter playing for Houston in 1963-1969 would have hit .253/.314/.373. Wynn, in that time, hit .259/.361/.459.
This fact was not even lost on the players: Hank Aaron, after edging Wynn for the Home Run title, declared his belief that Wynn was the "real" Home Run champion due to playing half his games in the Astrodome, while Aaron played in the hitter-friendly Fulton County Stadium.
- Wynn was mired on average to bad teams for his entire Houston career, where the Astros never topped 85 wins. His first experience in playing for a contender was in 1974 for Los Angeles. Wynn responded with a .271/.387/.497 (in still a bad hitter's park, where the average hitter would have produced .258/.329/.372), and led all Dodgers by a landslide in WAR per baseball-reference , with 8.6.
- Wynn was an okay fielder, but nothing special. Unlike other marginal outfielders, like Andre Dawson, it is likely a stretch to say he was ever a spectacular fielder, where Dawson likely had five seasons of sensational glove work.
So here we are, a career .250 hitter with average defense who only played in the postseason for one season. See why is can be easy to dwell on the bad and not focus on the good?
I would continue to dwell on the bad, such as his batting average, but the BBWAA already did that for everyone in 1983. Let's, however, look at Wynn's numbers and relate them to what is important: winning.
According to Jim Wynn's page on baseball-reference.com, his offensive production "created" 1,149 runs for his teams (as shown here , Expected Runs and Runs Created formulas are credible ways to estimate a player's production), while using 5,312 outs, good for a 5.84 RC/27 outs.
Over his career, league average scoring was approximately 4.31 runs per game. This rough estimation says that Wynn was 35.5 percent better than the average hitter (which makes sense, given his career wRC+, a runs created measure meant to adjust for year and ballpark is 137, or 37 percent above average).
It is still hard for a person to think of players in different contexts than what they played in, however, so instead, let's bring Wynn forward into a more modern, 750-team run-context.
How would his numbers look? Fortunately, baseball-reference and Bill James also provide a handy tool to analyze this issue, and neutralize players to take away advantages gained in hitter eras.
Wynn's real production has already been listed, .250, 291 HR, 964 RBI. Modest, but not that of a legend.
What does his "neutralized" statistics look like? How about .280 (with an OBP of .402), 341 HR, 1,158 RBI.
So let's think of Wynn in this regard. According to fangraphs , only 115 players can be classified as "outfielders" that accumulated 8,000 or more PA. This can be further broken down by performing three filters:
1) Exclude hitters who batted under .270.
2) Exclude hitters with under 300 HR.
3) Exclude hitters with under 1,100 RBI.
This leaves us with a list of 26 players. We can go on to eliminate a few more players (Ken Griffey Jr, Barry Bonds, Manny Ramirez, Gary Sheffield, Vlad Guerrero, Larry Walker, Luis Gonzalez) due to not having achieved Hall of Fame eligibility yet.
This leaves us with 19 players: Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Frank Robinson, Mickey Mantle, Ted Williams, Mel Ott, Willie Stargell, Stan Musial, Dave Winfield, Carl Yastrzemski, Billy Williams, Duke Snider, Al Kaline, Harold Baines, Dave Parker, Jim Rice, Ellis Burks, and Al Simmons. Of these 19, 16 are already in the Hall of Fame, with only Ellis Burks having dropped off the Hall of Fame ballot.
So if Burks is simply not good enough, one can assume that Baines and Parker are the "minimum" standard to gain real consideration.
Parker was a sought-after star in the 1970s and '80s, and finished his career with a .290 average, with 339 HR and 1,493 RBI. Of course, Parker was a hacker, rarely walking, and despite his offensive skills, was only able to obtain a 121 wRC+. While Total Zone states that Parker was a great right fielder to start his career, his skills in the outfield eroded, and finished his career with 45.7 Wins Above Replacement.
Harold Baines was a good player for a long time. Started off similar to Parker as a hitter, constantly pushing the .300 barrier with good power, but not much in terms of walks and plate discipline. He developed this skill, however, and became a plus-walker in the second half of his career. Of course, Baines also spent well over half his career as a designated hitter, which has to be factored into his offensive production. Despite an excellent 123 wRC+ over an 11,092 PA career, Baines achieved 45.3 WAR.
Wynn's career WAR? 60.7, which is very close to the 62.3 mark that Andre Dawson is credited with. In fact, looking at a "by-age" career WAR chart of the two men shows a noticeable trend:
Dawson and Wynn are very different, but also very similar. When one was retiring, the other was just entering the league. While both had value as power hitters, one complimented this part of his game with a keen batting eye, while the other with more visually appealing tools.
The end of the day, however, signals that both men equally helped their baseball teams. One man, Andre Dawson, is about to enter the Hall of Fame in a little over one week's time, and I think he is a deserving candidate. But once again, to the Hall of Fame voters, if Andre Dawson, why not Jimmy Wynn?
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