Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Baseball's Top 5 Non-All-Stars (Hitting Edition)

Some years, it doesn't take much to be an All-Star. Every team gets at least one rep, after all, even the crappy rebuilding franchises riddled with injuries, inexperience, and low expectations. Toronto's Alfredo Griffin took his 48 OPS+ onto the AL's 1984 squad. Pittsburgh closer Mike Williams was a NL rep in 2003 despite a dodgy 25-of-39 save rate. It happens.

1962 Topps #263, Richie Ashburn

But being a questionable choice doesn't mean the team had nowhere else to go. New York's pitiable expansion Mets still had the privilege of sending future HOF Richie Ashburn to 1962's pair of All-Star games. (More on Richie's performance at Paul's Random Baseball Stuff.) The Seattle Mariners of my youth sent a quality starter each season despite otherwise uninspired play. Mediocre All-Stars seem as likely to be situational picks; Griffin made the 1984 roster as an injury sub because he was already at the game with teammate Damaso Garcia.

What about the guys who post great numbers year-in and year-out, but circumstances otherwise conspire against them? They might play a crowded position (talent-wise), lose a close fan vote, or excel in a year the league coaches didn't like them. Here's my top 5 list of those guys, the men whose "good" was never quite "good enough" for a voting public or team manager (sorted by OPS+).

1. Travis Hafner (12 seasons, 134 OPS+)

2007 Topps Turkey Red #156, Travis Hafner

How does a guy with two 1.000+ OPS seasons (both top-10 MVP finishes) miss the All-Star Game? Oh, he played for 4th place Cleveland? Yeah. :-(

2. Bob Nieman (12 seasons, 132 OPS+)

1960 Topps #159, Bob Nieman

Nieman garnered his own top-10 MVP finish in 1956 and posted a handful of other quality seasons, but might've moved around too much to get consistent respect for his solid hitting (career stats).

Sept 14, 1951: Bob Nieman starts his career with two straight homers, baseball's first hitter to do so. He added a single and OF assist for good measure. The Browns lost anyway.

3. Hal Trosky (11 seasons, 130 OPS+)

1934 Goudey Big League Gum #76, Hal Trosky

Since 100 is "average," Trosky's 130 career OPS+ means he reached base or slugged 30% better than middle-of-the-pack hitters. Hal posted a pair of top-10 MVP finishes and 6 seasons with 25+ homers, so he wasn't invisible by any means, just not able to crack 1930s All-Star lineups in a decade replete with future Hall of Famers.

4. Tim Salmon (14 seasons, 128 OPS+)

2002 Fleer Tradition #323, Tim Salmon

Salmon's known in trivia circles as baseball's career home run leader (299) for guys who never played in the All-Star game, so it's no surprise to also see him here. Tim hit like crazy throughout the 1990s, but suffered by playing in an era crowded with excellent All-Star outfields. Still, a unanimous Rookie of the Year award and two more top-10 MVP finishes makes his exclusion stand out.

5. Oscar Gamble (17 seasons, 127 OPS+)

1977 "Topps" White Sox custom card, Oscar Gamble

It's easy to forget (I sure did) that Gamble was both well-traveled and produced everywhere he suited up. After some early-20s growing pains, Oscar consistently hit .260-.290 with power, despite changing addresses almost every off-season (career stats).

The official Topps sets managed to miss Gamble's monster year in Chicago by airbrushing him into a Yankees uni for 1977 and San Diego for 1978, but Oscar posted 31 homers and a .974 OPS for the White Sox anyway. Because to heck with those guys--All-Star voters included--who don't respect the afro.

It was nice to find some surprises in that list, as I'd never considered Nieman or Trosky as consistent career performers prior to building the post. Are there other All-Star Game exclusions that get your goat? And do you think players should only be judged by their first-half numbers or should performance from other seasons also play a role in voting?


Cards That Never Were said...

Kirk Gibson.
1988 NL MVP, 1984 ALCS MVP, 1988 Silver Slugger, And who can forget the walk off homer in game 1 of the 1988 World Series

Matthew Glidden said...

Good choice, Gibson's another guy with memorable success who was never an All-Star.