Saturday, December 27, 2014

Is Alan Trammell the Most Underrated Player in MLB History?

There is little doubt that the recently retired icon - New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter ('95 - '14) - will be a first ballot Hall of Famer; and rightfully so.  Playing his entire career in New York, Jeter was an integral part of five world championship teams; seemingly doing everything right when the national spotlight was shining the brightest.  The media loved him and so did the vast majority of fans - not just in New York - but everywhere.

On the other hand, there is little doubt that former Detroit Tigers shortstop Alan Trammell ('77 - '96) - who is actually ranked one notch higher (#11 all-time) than Derek Jeter on - will not even come close for induction, for the 14th straight year.  Most people probably don't even know he's still on the ballot.  Then again, most people have no clue about Trammell's Hall of Fame-caliber career; worse yet, most Hall of Fame voters from the BBWAA have no clue.

Last year, Trammell only got 20.8% of the vote; proving that nearly 80% of those voting never really bothered to research the career accomplishments of this unassuming former elite player.  A quick look on would do the trick.

Here's what we would discover:

*There are 21 shortstops currently in the Hall of Fame

*Only 8 of those Hall of Fame shortstops had better Cooperstown credentials than Trammell

*The average career WAR (Wins Above Replacement) for Hall of Fame shortstops is 66.7

*Trammell's career WAR is 70.4

*The average 7-year peak WAR for Hall of Fame shortstops is 42.8

*Trammell's 7-year peak WAR is 44.6

*The average JAWS (average of career & 7-year peak WAR) for Hall of Fame shortstops is 54.7

*Trammell's JAWS is 57.5

*Trammell's career slash line: .285 BA/.352 OBP/.415 SLG - (110 OPS+) - This compares favorably with Hall of Fame shortstops (typically a position geared towards defense - not offense)

*Trammell won 4 Gold Glove Awards - deserved 7 - Career dWAR is + 22.0 (that's good)

*Derek Jeter won 5 Gold Glove Awards - deserved 0 - Career dWAR is - 9.7 (that's not good)

*Trammell's postseason career was far more limited than Jeter's (13 total games compared to 158); however, Trammell's performance was outstanding (.333/.404/.588 - 3 HR - 7 R - 9 RBI).  In fact, when Tigers won '84 World Series, Trammell was MVP (.450/.500/.800 - 2 HR - 5 R - 6 RBI).

Playing in New York during the Yankees' reign of terror (to the rest of MLB), Jeter had moments of greatness that will forever be etched into our national consciousness:  The backhand flip to retire a lumbering Jason Giambi at home plate in the 2001 ALCS; and most prominently, his dramatic November 1, 2001 World Series opposite-field walk-off home run to beat the D-backs in Game 5.  "He is Mr November!"  That's some heavy marketing and America was buying the product - a sure-fire Hall of Famer.

Prior to the advent of defensive metrics, Jeter was widely regarded as an excellent defensive shortstop (erroneously); hence the five Gold Gloves.  What helped perpetuate that myth was his flashy method of fielding ground balls in the hole; and with his momentum carrying him towards the left field line, he would jump and complete the pass to the first baseman for the out.  Very stylish.  Even more dramatic was a famous catch he made in foul territory; running full speed, when he grabbed the ball, then catapulted into the stands with total disregard for life and limb.  That play alone guaranteed him a Gold Glove for three more years.

Trammell, on the other hand, fielded his position so smoothly, he made difficult plays look routine; but he had terrific range and hardly ever made a mistake.  He was so consistent, it was boring; and his splendid defensive prowess was never fully appreciated.  That's the problem.  The typical fan (or Hall of Fame voter) scrutinizes a player's batting average, home runs, runs scored and RBI's.  Unless they're making sensational diving plays and barehanded grabs, they pay no attention to their defense.  However, we should know that there are two ways to enhance a team's run differential over their competition:  (1) Run production and (2) run prevention.  Of course, run production gets the most attention.  We love those big home runs; alas, we rarely notice the runs saved from great glove work.

However, advanced metrics enables us to specifically measure the "cause and effect" of a player's defensive prowess - or lack thereof.  A good defensive player like Trammell essentially creates runs for his team by shutting down the opposition on a regular basis - by flashing the leather; and over the course of his career, Trammell's defense was worth 81 runs.

Unfortunately for Jeter and the Yankees, that five-time Gold Glove winning shortstop cost his team 182 runs over the course of his career.  For some reason, I don't think very many people know that; or if presented with that information, would acknowledge it.  "Just hogwash; fancy-schmancy saber-metric garbage", they would say.  I would have to do some research, but I'm fairly certain no five-time Gold Glove winning shortstop has ever been so bad defensively to essentially cause 182 runs to disappear - evaporate - over their career.  Poof!  It's a good thing he could hit.

In five years, when Jeter's name first appears on a Hall of Fame ballot, it's a safe bet he'll be voted into Cooperstown; and rightfully so.  Meanwhile, Alan Trammell will no doubt be passed over until his name is removed from the ballot, altogether.

Then, he'll have to wait for the opportunity to appear on a Veteran's Committee ballot ten, fifteen or twenty years down the road.  Maybe by then, more enlightened members of that future committee will judge the player on his true merits; maybe not.

Maybe he'll continue to be major league baseball's most underrated player.  That would be a shame.

1 comment:

  1. Appropriately dispassionate and entirely reasonable.