Sunday, December 8, 2013

The Keltner List: Ted Simmons

The Veterans Section of the Hall of Fame ballot has some interesting names. Joe Torre, Bobby Cox and Tony LaRussa are most likely to be elected, and all three are worthy. To me, the three most interesting from a Hall perspective are Tommy John, Ted Simmons and Billy Martin. These will be my posts for this week.

1. Was he ever considered the best player in baseball?

I don't think so. Simmons was always considered a very talented hitter and a mediocre fielder. One of these is completely wrong, and it isn't the hitting.

2. Was he the best player on his team?

Again, I am inclined to say no here but I might be wrong.. There were seasons where Simmons was the most valuable player for the Cardinals in the 1970s (1972-75 perhaps) and he was good enough behind the plate to force Joe Torre to third base. By 1971 Torre was playing both catcher and first base with Simmons platooning with him in 1970. Simmons was a switch hitter, which made the switch a little easier for the Cards.

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

No on both counts, as in the 1970s the best catcher in baseball was roughly 360 miles east down I-64. Johnny Bench was considered during the 1970s as one of the best catchers of all time. By the time Simmons got to the AL in 1981 he spent only two seasons as a full time catcher.

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

Simmons got to the playoffs only twice in his career (1981 and 1982) with the Brewers. He did not hit particularly well during the post season (.635 OPS over 19 games). In the '82 Series Simmons homered in the first two games then went 1-15 over the next five games with 1 RBI. A misplay in June of '82 nearly cost the Brewers the division title, as Simmons forgot how many outs there were and rolled the ball back to the mound after a strikeout. Both Oriole runners advanced and then scored to tie the game. The game was suspended and made up as a double header on the least weekend of the season. The Brewers got swept, but hung on to win the division by one game.

Simmons did hit .346 with 6 HR after the break in 1973 as the Mets came back from a 5 game deficit on August 6 to win the division by a game and a half. The Cards tanked in August, at one point going 5-14. Simmons hit just as well as he did the rest of he season during the streak. Simmons did hit .375 against the Mets down the stretch but drove in only 4 runs with no extra base hits.

In 1974 the Cards finished a close second to the Pirates, and Simba was a beast in September (.345/.395/.545). On Sept. 25th, Simmons doubled in two runs and scored another in the bottom of the 11th as the Cardinals came back to win 13-12 and take a 1/2 game lead over the Bucs.

5. Was he a good enough player to contribute past his prime?

In 1980, Simmons was shipped off to the Brewers. He was 30 years old and a man who caught 130 or more games 7 times in the previous 10 years. In other words, primed for a drop off. He dropped off in 1981 but made the All Star team anyway, but hit 23 HR in 1982 and was named to another All Star team in 1983. He finished up with three years as a pinch hitter for the Braves with a slash of .248/.323/.367 over 411 at bats. Simmons was still at least a part time catcher until 1983, but fell off pretty quickly. Catching a lot over a decade will do that to a player, but Simmons was still capable of some wicked line drives off the bench.

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


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

Simmons has six comps who are in the Hall of Fame, three of whom (Carlton Fisk, Gary Carter and Yogi Berra) are catchers. The others bespeak Simmons' offensive production and style: Miguel Tejada, Alan Trammell, Barry Larkin. Simmons was a line drive hitter good for 30-40 doubles and 15-25 HR a year. Simmons strongest comps for the period he was a full time catcher are Ivan Rodriguez, Gary Carter and Joe Torre, pretty damn good company.

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

Simmons has a 44 on he Standards list and a Hall Monitor score of 124. Simmons is 11th all time in total WAR for catchers; 9 of them are in the hall and one of the other two (Rodriguez) is not eligible yet. Compared to other hall of fame catchers, Simmons is certainly worthy of induction.

9.Is there evidence to suggest he was much better or worse than his statistics?

Simmons was intense and once got in a fight with John Denny during a game. The knock on Simmons was that he could not throw. In You're Missin' a Great Game, Whitey Herzog wrote that "Ted Simmons...had one major weakness as a ballplayer. Poor arm strength." (84)

More from Herzog: "He did all the things that make a guy today's standards, he's a star. But not everybody knows baseball." (86). For Herzog, catchers were about defense, and in Herzog's mind, Simmons and his "fluttery throws to second" were costing Cardinals games. Herzog wasted no time in shipping Simmons off to Milwaukee and replacing him with Darrell Porter, Herzog's catcher from Kansas City.

In any event, Simmons was at or above the league average for throwing out basestealers six times in the 1970s. Bill Deane, quoted in James' Politics of Glory (345-46) figured out that Simmons was run on more by his opponents, but Simmons, who was actually marginally better at throwing out runners than other catchers, turned this into a slight advantage for his team.

Perhaps much of the stigma against Simmons in this regard comes from the 1975 season. In 1974, Simmons threw out 33% of baserunners and in 1976 threw out 44%. In 1975, he was successful only 26% of the time. His pitchers that year were a mixed bag at holding runners. John Denny and Hal Hrabosky were quite good over their careers, while Bob Forsch and Rick Reed were not. The changes in 1976 were the retirement of Bob Gibson and the departure of Rick Reed for the Phillies. Between Gibson and Reed, runners were successful on 34 of 41 steal attempts, and Simmons caught 33 of the 38 games with these pitchers. Take their starts out and Simmons CS% goes from 26 to 28.8%. Not great, but that is an impact.

If there is a quibble on defense with Simmons, it should be that he was in the top 10 in errors as a catcher 9 times and led the NL in passed balls 3 times in six seasons.

10. Is he the best player eligible who has not been inducted?

11. How many MVP type seasons did he have? Did he ever win an MVP Award? If not, how often did he come close?

Simmons never won an MVP award and finished in the top 10 in the voting in 1975 and 1977, and in the top 20 five other times. 1977 may have been his best season (.318/.408/.500, 21 HR, 95 RBI). His 1980 season (21 HR, 98 RBI, 140 OPS+) earned him a silver slugger award.

12. How many all star type seasons did he have? How many All Star teams did he play for? Did most other players selected to that many All Star games get elected to the Hall of Fame?

Simmons was selected to 8 All Star teams and he started in 1978 and 1983. Out of the 18 catchers named to 8 or more ASG, eight are hall of famers, Ivan Rodriguez is not eligible, Mike Piazza should be in and Lance Parrish deserves heavy consideration.

13. If this man was the best player on his team, could his team win the pennant?

I'm inclined to say no. I'll let Herzog take this one: "In the Simmons Era, the Cards never finished first." (85). That may or may not be the fault of Simmons (it has more to do with the St. Louis management and some questionable trades) but he was not "a winner" until he got to Milwaukee and was surrounded by Yount, Molitor, Thomas and the rest of Harvey's Wallbangers.

14. What impact did the player have on baseball history?

Simmons was beloved in St. Louis, and was the GM for the Pirates in 1992-93. He wanted to trade Barry Bonds before he 1992 season in Pittsburgh (we could not afford to sign him following the season) but Leyland threatened to quit. Simmons was the chief of player development and scouting for the Padres from 2000-03, and his record there was mixed.

15. Did he uphold the standards of the Hall of Fame?

Simmons contributed to an article for Baseball Digest in 1973 called "Losing Drives Me Crazy." Even Herzog thought that Simmons wanted to win and had a great attitude during a game. Simmons openly feuded with Cardinal management in 1976 and 1980 but was seen as a strong teammate. Simmons is pretty close to what the ol' timers would have called a "good baseball man."

 Simmons was not a great defensive catcher, threw erratically and did not block pitches in the dirt very well. He threw out a lot of base runners because a lot of runners tried to take advantage of his arm.

But, he did catch three no hitters in his career. His triple slash with the Cardinals for 13 seasons averaged .298/.366/.459. Toss in 13 HR and 71 RBI and that is a very valuable commodity. Simmons hit 20 home runs in the 1970s as many times as Carlton Fisk did, and Simmons was not recognized in his league because he was a direct contemporary to one of the two best catchers in the history of the game. I have no problem with Simmons being in the Hall.

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