SweetSpot: Carl Hubbell

Hall of 100: These guys got snubbed!

December, 11, 2012
12/11/12
11:45
AM ET
The ESPN Hall of 100 will be unveiled all week on ESPN.com, starting with Tuesday’s list of Nos. 100 through 76, plus the top 25 honorable mentions. Here are five guys who didn't crack the top 125 -- but should have.

Carl Hubbell, No. 126
When I was a kid, Hubbell was still viewed as one of those mythical players from baseball’s past, down to the pictures of his left arm all gnarled and twisted from throwing his screwball to one of the great nicknames ever: The Meal Ticket.

[+] EnlargeHubbell
Getty ImagesThe Tigers gave up on Carl Hubbell as a minor leaguer -- in part because Ty Cobb didn't think Hubbell could win throwing a screwball.
During his 1932-37 peak with the New York Giants, Hubbell went 133-61 with a 2.52 ERA -- averaging 22 wins per season -- starting 201 games and completing 136 of them (he also saved another 22, back in the days when a team’s best starter often pitched out of the bullpen). He topped 300 innings in four consecutive seasons -- he had four of the 17 300-inning seasons of the 1930s. He and Hal Newhouser are the only two pitchers to win two BBWAA MVP Awards.

It was a peak level of high degree. Sandy Koufax, for example, went 129-47 with a 2.19 ERA during his six-year run of excellence, but he did so in an era where fewer runs were scored than the National League of the 1930s, and in a better park to pitch in. Bill James ranked Hubbell ahead of Steve Carlton, Robin Roberts, Jim Palmer, Gaylord Perry, Juan Marichal and Nolan Ryan, yet all ranked much higher than Hubbell in the Hall of 100.

What happened to Hubbell’s legacy? I think he was hurt by the run of 300-game winners -- first the Carlton/Perry/Ryan generation and then the Greg Maddux/Roger Clemens/Tom Glavine/Randy Johnson group. Hubbell won "only" 253 games, but his peak value was so extraordinary that he should be in the top 100 -- with ease.

Mike Mussina, No. 130
Mussina’s legacy is a little more difficult to define: He didn’t win 20 games until the final year of his career, never won an ERA title, never won a Cy Young Award, didn’t win 300 games. He joined the Yankees in 2001 and retired after 2008; they won World Series titles the year before he joined the team and the year after he left. That doesn’t help a guy’s reputation.

While he may never have been the best pitcher in his league, he was always one of the best, a pitcher with impeccable control and just enough hop on his fastball. He finished in the top 10 in ERA in his league in 11 seasons -- the only pitchers with as many top-10 finishes are the legendary names: Young, Clemens, Walter Johnson, Spahn, Grove, Alexander, Mathewson, Seaver, Ford, Tim Keefe, Maddux and Perry.

Mussina is different from Hubbell in that he was consistently excellent over many seasons, as opposed to dominant over a shorter period. Let’s go all sabermetric for a second here. Since the lively ball era began in 1920, the only pitchers to accumulate more 4+ Wins Above Replacement seasons than the 12 Mussina had were Roger Clemens, Bert Blyleven, Tom Seaver and Lefty Grove. Mussina’s 3.68 ERA may not seem impressive, but remember that he pitched through the heart of the steroids era.

His adjusted ERA is the same as Juan Marichal’s, better than Warren Spahn’s or Gaylord Perry’s or Steve Carlton’s. His career WAR of 78.2 places him 57th all time. As for 300 wins, Mussina could have hung around and won 30 games, but hanging around for a few extra seasons wouldn't have changed his ultimate value (even if it would have made his path to the Hall of Fame easier). He should have been in the top 100. (Oh, and he was a pretty good postseason pitcher as well: 7-8, but with a 3.42 ERA, 121 hits in 139.2 innings, with 145 strikeouts and 33 walks.)

Goose Goslin, No. 140
From Moose to Goose, an outfielder in the 1920s and ‘30s. Goslin’s legacy has faded with time, but he hit .316 in his career and drove in 100 runs in 12 seasons. True, he did play in a high-scoring era, but if Goslin had played in the 1990s and 2000s, he may have hit 500 home runs in his career instead of 248.

A couple notes on that. While players such as Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Jimmie Foxx were putting up big home run numbers, most players weren’t -- still content to aim for high batting averages instead of home runs. Goslin finished in the top 10 in his league in home runs in 10 seasons, with totals that don’t seem that impressive today: fourth in 1926 with 16, third in 1928 with 17, sixth in 1929 with 18 and so on. But as Bill James noted, "Goslin lost about as many home runs to playing in poor home run parks as any player in history." Goslin spent much of his career in mammoth Griffith Stadium with the Senators, and in his career hit 156 home runs on the road but only 92 at home.

Another Goslin note: He appeared in five World Series despite never playing for the Yankees or the Philadelphia A’s, the two dominant franchises during his years in the American League. He reached three with the Senators and two with the Tigers. I’m not sure if he’s quite a top-100 player, but he’s right there.

Bobby Grich, No. 157
[+] EnlargeBobby Grich
Getty ImagesBobby Grich came up with the Orioles before moving to the Angels, starting for five division winners.
OK, I’m actually surprised Grich rated as high as he did, as he’s probably the most criminally underrated player in baseball history by everyone but hard-core sabermetric types. Grich hit .266 in his career and most people stop there: When he first appeared on a Hall of Fame ballot he received less than 3 percent of the vote and was unceremoniously sent to the junk pile.

But Grich helped his teams win a lot of games by doing everything else: He drew walks, was a tremendous fielder, had excellent power for a second baseman, didn’t make errors. He did a lot of the things that weren’t glamorous. In understanding Grich’s value, it’s important to know the context of his numbers: Outside of Joe Morgan and Rod Carew (before he moved to first base), most of the second basemen of Grich’s era were little punch-and-judy hitters who were hitting .260 with four home runs and few walks. Grich may hit .260 to .270, but with 80 to 100 walks and double-digit home runs.

Fun fact: Grich had a higher career on-base percentage than George Brett -- even though Brett had a batting average 39 points higher.

As James wrote in 1983, "A lot of second basemen are close to him in one respect or another -- but as a complete player, nobody else is on the same planet."

Dazzy Vance, No. 180
Vance had one of the more remarkable careers in baseball history. He initially reached the majors in 1915 but didn’t win a game and spent almost all of the next six years in the minor leagues, battling a chronic sore arm and wildness. By the time he finally made it back to the majors with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1922 he was 31 years old. With his blazing fastball, he promptly led the league in strikeouts in seven consecutive seasons and still managed to win 197 games.

Vance may not deserve a top-100 ranking based on career WAR, but remember that WAR is a cumulative stat, so you can pile up a lot of a value by hanging around for a lot of years and just not being terrible. I think sometimes we underestimate the value of those high-peak seasons. Vance is like Koufax: A guy with a relatively short career but was the best in the game for a period of time. He rates as the best pitcher in his league in four seasons and his 1924 MVP season is one of the best of the lively ball era: 28-6, 2.16 ERA, 30 complete games in 34 starts.

In fact, compare Vance’s five great seasons with Koufax’s five great seasons, via WAR:

Vance: 10.3, 9.7, 7.6, 7.0, 5.9
Koufax: 10.3, 10.0, 7.6, 7.0, 5.3

(Vance even has a career WAR higher than Koufax.)

The big difference between the two: The Dodgers of Vance’s days were a mediocre team that usually hovered around .500; Koufax played on pennant winners and shined in the World Series. But otherwise, the two had similar careers.

What do you think? As we unveil the entire list, who do you think got snubbed?

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