Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Keltner List: Luis Gonzalez

Today I will put Luis Gonzalez through Bill James' Keltner List, named for the Indians third baseman Ken Keltner.

1. Was he ever regarded as the best player in baseball? Did anybody suggest, while he was active, that he was the best player in baseball?
Not to my knowledge. Does anybody know anything about this?

2. Was he the best player on his team?

Gonzalez got around. Houston (1990-1995, 1997), the Cubs (1995-96), Detroit (1998), Arizona (1999-2006) Dodgers (2007) and Florida (2008). He was not the best player on the Astros (Biggio and Bagwell were better), he was average with the Cubs

It was not until Gonzalez reached Arizona that he truly began to put up numbers. Between 1999 and 2003, Gonzalez posted 100 RBIs or more every year, adjusted OPS of over 130 and drew 100 walks for the only time in his career in 2001. As far as position players on those teams, I will give Steve Finley the edge in 1999 and 2000, who posted similar (if not better) offensive numbers while playing CF. Gonzalez was probably the best position player on his team in 2001.

3. Was he the best player in baseball at his position? Was he the best player in the league at his position?

The answer to both of those questions is no. Gonzalez is a direct contemporary of Barry Bonds. In 2001, Bonds hit 73 HR and won the MVP. In 1999, Gonzalez put together a great year and was likely the best LF in the NL that season, but one year does not make this answer a yes.

4. Was he a good enough player to play regularly past his prime?

His last all star season was in 2005 at age 37, and he cranked out 52 doubles at age 38. Gonzalez was aided a bit by Bank One, and was something of a late bloomer besides. His first 20 HR season was with the Tigers at age 30, but that was more a result of plate discipline than anything else. Gonzalez was productive enough, but I get the feeling that he 668 plate appearances in 2006 had more to do with Gonzalez's durability and lack of options on the part of the DBacks.

5. Did he have an impact on a number of pennant races?

Gonzalez did notch the base hit that won the 2001 World Series off of Mariano Rivera. In games 6-7 that year, he went 3-9 with 3 RBI. In 1997, Gonzalez struggled in August (.163/.272/.184) as the Astros held on to finish first in the NL Central. In 1999, Gonzalez was a one man wrecking crew against the NL West, hitting .370 with 8 HR and 35 RBI against divisional foes.

The '99 DBacks won 51 of their last 68 games; in that period Gonzalez hit 11 of his HR and put together hit streaks of 9, 16 and 12 games.

In 2001, Gonzalez smacked 14 HR in the last 47 games of the season after the Diamondbacks moved into first place. In 6 games against the 2nd place Giants during that span, Gonzalez was 8-20 with 2 HR, 6 RBI and 6 BB in 6 games. He was intentionally walked twice.

6. Is he the best player in history not in the hall of fame?

No; there are multiple position players, including some of Gonzalez's comps, that I would vote for before Gonzalez.

7. Are most players with comparable statistics in the Hall of Fame?

There are some very interesting comps for Gonzalez. At the top of the list are Dave Parker and Dwight Evans (both RF from the 1970s known for good defense and batting eyes), Billy Williams and Bobby Abreu are next, followed by Tony Perez (!), Chili Davis, Harold Baines, Rusty Staub, Carlos Beltran and Andre Dawson.

In my mind, Evans and Parker are not true comps; the stats look similar, but Parker was 3 inches taller and close to 40 pounds heavier than Gonzalez, had a much better arm. Parker also played in an era where his 32 2B, 8 3B and 22 HR per year look a lot better than Gonzalez in 1995-1999. Parker also won two batting titles in that span and an MVP award. Evans drew many more walks than Gonzalez and is considered by most (even outside of Boston) to have been a better player.

Williams is an interesting one, but again he was a demonstrably better player than Gonzalez. In 1999, Gonzalez hit .336 and burst out as a star for the Diamondbacks. The NL as a league hit .268 with a .427 SLG percentage that year. In 1964, the first year Williams cracked 30 HR, the NL hit .254 as a league and slugged .354. While Williams posted five different seasons with a Wins-Above-Replacement value of 5, Gonzalez did it three times in a hitting atmosphere much more favorable. While Williams, Perez and Dawson are hall of famers, and Parker and Evans deserve a lot of consideration, their careers took place in a much different time than the late 1990s and early 2000s.

8. Do the players numbers meet hall of fame standards?

Gonzalez scores a 48, just shy of the 50 of an average hall of famer. He has a black ink (league leader) score of 5, well short of the average of 27 of a hall of famer. His HoF Monitor score is 103, slightly above the 100 average. Gonzalez was a productive player to be sure, just not a great one.

9. Is there evidence to suggest that Gonzalez was significantly better or worse than is suggested by his statistics?

Here is an interesting theory: Gonzalez is a test case for what the BBWOA will do with the Steroid Era. Gonzalez was not implicated in any way in the Mitchell Report, but his 2001 season (57 HR, 142 RBI) raised eyebrows. In 2009 a site called "RotoInfo" printed the supposed list of the 103 players who tested positive and Gonzalez appeared; the veracity of this list is more than an open question. In 2006, Gonzalez himself denied using steroids, which I am inclined to believe. That may not amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world, but there it is.

I would argue that Gonzalez got better as expected during his career, and as such should serve as a baseline. Until he was 26, Gonzalez was a talented ball player, good for 25-30 doubles, 10-15 HR and good defense in left field each year. Starting in 1993, he began to draw walks and cut down on strikeouts and developed by 1998 into an excellent hitter. The power came as he got older, which is to be expected. Gonzalez went from a speedy player with doubles power in his early to mid twenties to a patient slugger in his early 30s

While his 2001 season is an incredible fluke, it has everything to do with a competent professional hitter taking advantage of a powerful lineup with a switch in approach. If Gonzalez is discounted by the voters and ascribed as a "one year wonder" they are ignoring the 8 seasons  when Gonzalez had an OPS over 100, three 20+ HR seasons and six 40+ 2B seasons before 2001 . Gonzalez was a good major league ballplayer, and took advantage of his surroundings to be a holy terror for a few years.

10. Is he the best player at his position who is eligible for the hall of fame but not inducted?

No. That would be Barry Bonds.

11. How many MVP type seasons did the player have? Did he ever win an MVP award? If not, how many times did he come close?

Gonzalez never won an MVP award (in 2001 he finished third to Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds, again raising an interesting steroid barroom argument). He finished in the top 25 in voting two other seasons. He never really came close.

12. How many All-Star type seasons did he have? how many all star games did he play in? Did most of the other players who played this many go to the hall of fame?

Gonzalez was a five time all star who made four starts. He probably deserved consideration in 2000 and perhaps in 1993. Most Hall of Famers played in more than five all star games.

13. If this man were the best on his team, would it be likely that the team could win the pennant?

I would argue no. I am not sure if it would contend for a pennant.

14. What impact did this player have on the game? Was he responsible for any rule changes?

Not to my knowledge.

15. Did the player uphold the standards of the hall of fame?

Gonzalez is active in the work of the Baseball Assistance Team, a charitable organization that provides financial assistance for former major and minor league players and umpires. He was by far the most popular player on the Diamondbacks squad and is active in Arizona politics. I would say that he certainly meets this standard.

Overall, Gonzalez was a good player, great for a few years. He also got to live every man's dream by getting the winning hit in Game 7 of the World Series of the best closer in the history of the universe. That is a great career, but I am not convinced that Gonzalez is a hall of famer. In any case, a player would be happy to have had 1/3 the career that Gonzalez did. Plus, he made my brother and nephew (Diamondbacks fans) very happy and provided us all with good baseball for a lot of years. For that,
Gonzo, I thank you


No comments:

Post a Comment