Question of the Day 6/20

Just to finish up yesterday’s thought, Brilliant Reader Gary would like to know if any World Series winner has ever led their league in stolen bases AND in runs. Those two things don’t often go together.

The answer is: Yes, it has happened three times since 1945.

-- The 1976 Reds led the National League in, basically, every offensive category: Runs and stolen bases, yes, but also doubles, triples, home runs, walks, average, on-base percentage, slugging and hits. Every starter except Pete Rose stole double digit bases, and, yes, that includes Johnny Bench, who stole a career high 13 and was caught just twice.

-- The 1975 Reds led the league in stolen bases and led the league in by more than 100 runs. Someone wrote a book about them.

-- The 1955 Dodgers led the league in stolen bases and runs scored, but the stolen base was not a weapon teams used much. The Dodgers only stole 79 bases as a team -- Jim Gilliam led the team (and was fifth in the league) with 15 stolen bases. Those Dodgers also led the league in homers, batting average, on-base percentage and slugging.

And that takes us back to World War II.

* * *

Brilliant Reader Bill has a theory that it is necessary to have a Hall of Fame player in order to win a World Series. He wonders if that checks out.

Well, it’s a big and complicated issue. The truth is, there are two kinds of Hall of Fame players. Well, there are many more than two kinds, but let’s focus on two kinds: (1) The Hall of Fame player having a Hall of Fame season and (2) The Hall of Fame player at the end of his career.

For instance, the 1987 Cleveland Indians lost 101 games with two Hall of Fame starting pitchers. Unfortunately, those two pitches were Steve Carlton and Phil Niekro after each was no longer even mildly effective.

I mentioned on Twitter that the Yankees lineup as currently constructed looks like a misprint it is so bad. Look:

  1. Brett Gardner, 8

  2. Jayson Nix, 6

  3. Robbie Cano, 4

  4. Vernon Wells, DH

  5. Thomas Neal, 9

  6. Ichiro Suzuki, 7

  7. David Adams, 5

  8. Lyle Overbay, 3

  9. Austin Robine, 2

That was the lineup that got shut out by Chris Capuano, Chris Winthroe and Brandon League in the second game of a doubleheader. It’s a lineup that, honestly, could get shut out anywhere and any time. The big problem for the Yankees is injuries, of course, but the point here is that lineup is preposterously bad.* Even so, it DOES have a sure Hall of Famer in Ichiro, and Cano is on pace for a Hall of Fame career and having a great season.

*On May 22 -- I marked the date - I sent an email to pal Michael Schur that, essentially said, “OK, the Vernon Wells magic will stop right now.” Michael had been peppering me with Wells updates -- at the time Wells was hitting .287 with 10 homers and slugging better than .500. I have nothing against Vernon Wells, I’ve heard players -- in particular Jose Bautista -- praise Wells’ as a teammate and leader. But … it was just SO ILLOGICAL. Wells was all but unplayable in Anaheim. Michael’s point was that this was Yankees magic at work. And maybe there is Yankees magic. But I just didn’t think Vernon Wells could keep that up, not even in Pinstripe Bizarro World.

Since May 22, Wells is hitting .105/.114/.116, with nine hits, one of them a double. I’m so rarely right but that one just seemed too obvious.

So, it seems to me the question is: Do you need a Hall of Famer playing at a Hall of Fame level in order to win a World Series?

I’m pretty sure the answer is no. No matter how much we -- and I’m as guilty as anybody -- like to talk about baseball individuals, the truth is that the game is just bigger than one or two players. I’m writing a piece now about the Dodgers, and when you look at that team’s individuals it simply DOES NOT SEEM POSSIBLE for them to be in last place. But they are.

There might be a comprehensive way to break down this concept, but for fun let’s just look at the last 10 World Series winners and whether or not they had any Hall of Famers playing like Hall of Famers:

2012 Giants: I don’t see an obvious Hall of Famer on the team. Buster Posey had a Hall of Fame season and certainly could go on to a Hall of Fame career, but it’s way early for that kind of talk. TIm Lincecum looked like a Hall of Famer for his first five full seasons, but now seems to be on the Bret Saberhagen, Dave Stieb track.

2011 Cardinals: Albert Pujols -- first ballot Hall of Fame having a Hall of Fame type season. Will Yadier Molina make a Hall of Fame case for himself before he’s done? Maybe. He’s become an offensive force to go along with his defensive genius.

2010 Giants: Again, the best bet for a Hall of Famer is Posey, who was just a rookie.

2009 Yankees: A whole bunch. Derek Jeter is first ballot Hall of Famer who had Hall of Fame type season. Alex Rodriguez has had first ballot Hall of Fame career (though perhaps he is not a first ballot Hall of Fame player) and he had a good season. Mariano Rivera -- first ballot Hall of Famer player having a Hall of Fame type season. CC Sabathia is on his way to a first-ballot Hall of Fame career, I think, and he had a Hall of Fame type season.This doesn’t even include Andy Pettitte or Robbie Cano … well, they are the Yankees.

2008 Phillies: I don’t think there was a Hall of Famer on this team. There might not be a player who will even get the 5% of the vote necessary to stay on the ballot. At the time, you might have pointed to Ryan Howard or Chase Utley or Jimmy Rollins -- I have heard some interesting Rollins Hall of Fame talk, though his 97 OPS+ hurts the cause and that probably will keep going down. Maybe Cole Hamels gets back in he conversation? Heck, Jamie Moyer might get more Hall of Fame support than anyone.

2007 Red Sox: Manny Ramirez had a first ballot Hall of Fame career, though we know the issues that will hold him back. He had a good year. Big Papi will get a lot of Hall of Fame support, I think, and he had a massive Hall of Fame type year. Dustin Pedroia is not yet 30 but I’m guessing he will make a compelling Hall of Fame case before he’s done Curt Schilling, I think, will end up in the Hall of Fame, but he only pitched 150 innings.

2006 Cardinals: Pujols being Pujols.

2005 White Sox: No Hall of Famers here. Mark Buerhle figures to win 200-plus games and might, with a Moyer-like effort, push it to 250 or higher. Paul Konerko is interesting because he is three good years away from 500 homers, but that no longer means what it once did. He’s a very good player, underrated, but not really a Hall of Famer.

2004 Red Sox: Pedro -- first ballot Hall of Famer had only an OK season by his standards. Schilling -- eventual Hall of Famer had a Hall of Fame kind of season. Manny -- Hall of Fame numbers and Hall of Fame season. Papi -- In the Hall of Fame discussion, had a Hall of Fame kind of season.

2003 Marlins: Pudge Rodriguez had a Hall of Fame career and a really good season. As a bonus, Miggy Cabrera was a rookie, just 20 years old and he only played in 87 games but someone gave him an MVP vote.

I don’t know if that answers the question but it might give an idea about the importance of singular stars … or the relative unimportance.