Monday, May 21, 2012

All-Time Bluefield Team - Bobby Grich

The starting second baseman on the All-Time Bluefield-to-the-Bigs Team is Bobby Grich, one of the most underrated keystone corner men of all time. A six-time All-Star and four-time Gold Glove winner has a compelling case to be enshrined in Cooperstown. The former Oriole and Angel completes the great infield of former Bluefielders along with 1B Eddie Murray, SS Cal Ripken and 3B Doug DeCinces.

Grich was born January 15, 1949 in Muskegon, Michigan. He grew up in California, attending Woodrow Wilson Classical High School in Long Beach*. He was drafted by the Orioles in the first round of the 1967 draft with the 19th pick. He had the highest career bWAR of that round by far, impressive considering that Ted Simmons, Jon Matlack and John Mayberry were also first rounders that year.


* The school has an impressive record of producing baseball players. Grich is one of four first-round picks from the school, along with 1974 AL MVP Jeff Burroughs (the 1969 top overall pick), his son Sean and Twins AA OF Aaron Hicks. Another Wilson grad is Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Lemon.

Grich made his pro debut in 1967 for the Bluefield Orioles in their Appalachian League championship season. Coming up as a shortstop, he batted .254 on a club managed by Joe Altobelli and that had future Orioles and Angels teammate Don Baylor starring in the outfield

He didn't really hit his stride in the minors until 1969, when he played for Altobelli again with the Dallas-Fort Worth Spurs in the Texas League. As a 20-year-old at Double-A, Grich hit .310 and was named co-MVP of the league with teammate Larry Johnson. Grich was a minor league champion again as the Spurs won the Texas League title

The following year at Triple-A Rochester he hit .383 to earn a 30-game stint in Baltimore for his major league debut. Back in the minors in 1971 he once again played under Altobelli and once again won a league championship. This time, he had the MVP all to himself after hitting .336 with 32 home runs. Not only was he the International League's top player, The Sporting News voted him the Minor League Player of the Year.
Grich started getting regular playing time with the O's in 1972. He played in 133 games and had 528 plate appearances while seeing time at all four infield positions, mostly shortstop. He hit .278 with a .358 on base percentage and made his first All-Star team, starting for the AL at short.

Prior to the 1973 campaign, Baltimore traded Davey Johnson to the Braves to open up second base for Grich. Now a fixture in the O's lineup, Grich responded by playing all 162 games and led all American League position players with a bWAR of 8.0. He won the first of four straight Gold Gloves, which makes sense since most of his WAR was boosted by his stellar defense. He totaled 29 fielding runs in '73. Chase Utley (2008) is the only second baseman with more in a single season since World War II.

In all four of his Gold Glove seasons, his double-play partner Mark Belanger won it at shortstop as well. I used the following chart in my earlier post about Belanger. Here are the ten pairs of teammates to win the Gold Glove at 2B and SS in the same season:


Shortstop Second Baseman Wins Years
Luis Aparicio Nellie Fox 2 1959-60
Gene Alley Bill Mazeroski 2 1966-67
Jim Fregosi Bobby Knoop 1 1967
Mark Belanger Davey Johnson 2 1969, 1971
Mark Belanger Bobby Grich 4 1973-76
Dave Concepcion Joe Morgan 4 1974-77
Alan Trammell Lou Whitaker 2 1983-84
Omar Vizquel Roberto Alomar 3 1999-2001
Edgar Renteria Fernando Vina 1 2002
Derek Jeter Robinson Cano 1 2010

Grich got his first taste of the postseason in 1973 when his Orioles won the AL East and faced the defending champion Oakland A's. Facing elimination in Game Four, Grich homered off Rollie Fingers in the eighth inning to win the game. But Oakland won the next day to take the pennant en route to the second of three straight titles.

After the All-Star nod in '72 and the Gold Glove in '73, he earned both in 1974. His bWAR of an even 7.0 was just 0.2 behind Rod Carew for the AL lead among position players. The O's won the division again, but fell in the ALCS to Oakland. That season he had his only career three-homer game on June 18, driving in a career-high six runs.

He hit six walk-off home runs in his career, one of which ended this great pitching duel in 1975, when Jim Palmer and Frank Tanana traded zeroes. With the game still scoreless with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, Grich took Tanana deep to beat his future team.

Grich won Gold Gloves in 1975 and 1976, and started the All-Star Game at second base in '76. But his time in Baltimore was up when he became a free agent that offseason. He went back home and signed a five-year, $1.2 million contract with the California Angels, the team he grew up rooting for.

Before he played a game in Anaheim, he injured his back lifting an air conditioner, marring his first two seasons with the Angels.

Bobby bounced back in a big way in 1979. He hit .294 with 30 homers and 101 RBIs while posting an OPS+ of 145. The Halos surged to their first division crown and Grich finished eighth in the MVP vote, the highest finish of his career.

A big contest during that resurgent season was July 15 against the two-time reigning champion Yankees on the Sunday before the All-Star Game. After a thrilling comeback win the night before, California trailed 4-0 early against New York ace Ron Guidry. Grich got them back in the game with an RBI single in the third inning and a two-run double in the seventh. Still down 4-3 with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, he ripped a two-run homer off Guidry for the walk-off win. Grich drove in all five runs and he told Baseball Digest in 1986 that it was "the game I'll never forget."

The Angels were back in the playoffs and faced Grich's former team, the Orioles. Baltimore took the first two games at home and went to the West Coast looking for the sweep. They were two outs away from one with two outs to go and with Rod Carew at second base as the tying run, Grich lifted a fly ball to center field that Al Bumbry dropped, tying the game at three. The next batter was Larry Harlow and he doubled to win the game and give the Angels their first-ever postseason win. The excitement was short-lived though as Orioles won the next night to win the pennant.

Grich had an interesting '79 season in that he had that career-high of 30 homers, but he still laid down 12 sacrifices. Since 1930*, there have only been eight seasons in which a hitter had 30 HR and 10 SH, but none since Grich. Only five of those seasons occurred after 1939.

* I originally looked up all 30 HR/10 SH seasons and found 38 of them, most in the 1920s and 30s by such luminaries as Babe Ruth (4x), Hack Wilson (4x), Lou Gehrig (3x), Rogers Hornsby (3x), Jimmie Foxx (2x), Al Simmons (2x) and Mel Ott (2x). HOWEVER, I learned in this Baseball-Reference article that the scoring rules prior to 1931 credited sacrifice flies as sacrifices whereas those are now kept separately. That could explain a lot about the inflated totals. Here are the eight seasons since 1930 of 30 homers and ten sacrifices:



Rk Player Year SH HR Age Tm Lg BA OBP SLG OPS Pos
1 Bobby Grich 1979 12 30 30 CAL AL .294 .365 .537 .903 *4
2 Butch Hobson 1977 10 30 25 BOS AL .265 .300 .489 .789 *5
3 Rusty Staub 1970 11 30 26 MON NL .274 .394 .497 .891 *9
4 Joe Adcock 1956 11 38 28 MLN NL .291 .337 .597 .934 *3
5 Gil Hodges 1950 11 32 26 BRO NL .283 .367 .508 .875 *3
6 Hank Greenberg 1939 11 33 28 DET AL .312 .420 .622 1.042 *3
7 Ival Goodman 1938 12 30 29 CIN NL .292 .368 .533 .901 *9
8 Mel Ott 1936 10 33 27 NYG NL .328 .448 .588 1.036 *9
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 5/21/2012.

1981 was a strike-shortened season (110 games), but it might have been Grich's best year. He tied for the league lead with 22 homers* and topped the AL with a .543 slugging percentage and 164 OPS+. Since Hornsby, the only 2B with a 160 OPS+ or better are Bobby Doerr (1944), Joe Morgan (1975-76), Grich and Jeff Kent (2000). He also had a career-long 21-game hitting streak that year, during which he hit .440. After the season he was awarded the Silver Slugger for the first and only time in his career.

* There was a four-way tie atop the AL in homers in '81 as Grich, Eddie Murray, Tony Armas and Dave Kingman all hit 22. But it's worth noting that Grich hit his in fewer plate appearances (404) than Murray (422), Armas (462) or Evans (504).

Nap LaJoie (1901, 14), Hornsby (42 in 1922, 39 in 1925), Grich and Ryne Sandberg (40, 1990) are the only second basemen to lead their league in homers.

1982 was his last All-Star season, but he did put up a 118 OPS+ over his final four seasons after that.

Those last few seasons included two excruciating playoff defeats. The Angels led the 1982 ALCS 2-0 over the Brewers, but they dropped three straight to let the pennant slip away.

They were painfully close to their first American League pennant again in 1986 before collapsing. They led the ALCS 3-1 over the Boston Red Sox. Then came the famous Game Five. Grich hit a two-run homer off Dave Henderson's glove in the sixth that put California in front and it was a 5-2 game in the ninth. Don Baylor hit a two-run homer to bring Boston closer, and Henderson's home run off Donnie Moore that put the Sox in front 6-5.

The Angels actually tied the game in the ninth and had the bases loaded with one out. But DeCinces flew out and Grich lined out to send the game to extras. Henderson hit a sacrifice fly off of Moore in the 11th that won it 7-6 and extended the series. Boston then routed the Angels twice at Fenway to win the pennant.

The classic game was recently ranked eighth on MLB Network's list of the top 20 games of the last 50 years (some of the program commemorating the game is here, which includes commentary from Grich, Henderson and Hurst).

Boston's Game Seven rout was Bobby Grich's last game in the major leagues.

He was the inaugural member of the Angels Hall of Fame in 1988. Unfortunately, he didn't fare well in the vote to join that other Hall of Fame.

In one of the great injustices of the Hall of Fame voting, Grich received only 11 votes in his first year of eligibility (1992) and fell off the ballot for good because his 2.6 percent of the vote did not cross the five percent threshold for staying on the ballot. Grich may not be a slam-dunk Hall of Famer, but he has a pretty good case and I think he should be in. At the very least, he deserved more time to have it examined.

Here is where Grich ranks on the all-time bWAR list among position players and you can see he is in pretty good company.



Here's the all-time second baseman leaderboard in bWAR:



Rk Player WAR/pos From To Age G PA H HR RBI BB BA OBP SLG OPS Tm
1 Rogers Hornsby 124.6 1915 1937 19-41 2259 9481 2930 301 1584 1038 .358 .434 .577 1.010 STL-NYG-BSN-CHC-TOT-SLB
2 Eddie Collins 118.5 1906 1930 19-43 2825 12040 3315 47 1300 1499 .333 .424 .429 .853 PHA-CHW
3 Nap Lajoie 102.2 1896 1916 21-41 2480 10460 3242 82 1599 516 .338 .380 .466 .846 PHI-PHA-TOT-CLE
4 Joe Morgan 97.1 1963 1984 19-40 2649 11329 2517 268 1133 1865 .271 .392 .427 .819 HOU-CIN-SFG-PHI-OAK
5 Charlie Gehringer 76.6 1924 1942 21-39 2323 10244 2839 184 1427 1186 .320 .404 .480 .884 DET
6 Lou Whitaker 71.4 1977 1995 20-38 2390 9967 2369 244 1084 1197 .276 .363 .426 .789 DET
7 Frankie Frisch 68.0 1919 1937 20-38 2311 10099 2880 105 1244 728 .316 .369 .432 .801 NYG-STL
8 Bobby Grich 67.3 1970 1986 21-37 2008 8220 1833 224 864 1087 .266 .371 .424 .794 BAL-CAL
9 Ryne Sandberg 64.9 1981 1997 21-37 2164 9282 2386 282 1061 761 .285 .344 .452 .795 PHI-CHC
10 Roberto Alomar 63.1 1988 2004 20-36 2379 10400 2724 210 1134 1032 .300 .371 .443 .814 SDP-TOR-BAL-CLE-NYM-TOT
11 Willie Randolph 63.0 1975 1992 20-37 2202 9461 2210 54 687 1243 .276 .373 .351 .724 PIT-NYY-LAD-TOT-MIL-NYM
12 Craig Biggio 62.6 1988 2007 22-41 2850 12504 3060 291 1175 1160 .281 .363 .433 .796 HOU
13 Jackie Robinson 58.7 1947 1956 28-37 1382 5804 1518 137 734 740 .311 .409 .474 .883 BRO
14 Joe Gordon 54.0 1938 1950 23-35 1566 6538 1530 253 975 759 .268 .357 .466 .822 NYY-CLE
15 Jeff Kent 53.9 1992 2008 24-40 2298 9537 2461 377 1518 801 .290 .356 .500 .855 NYM-TOT-SFG-HOU-LAD
16 Billy Herman 52.5 1931 1947 21-37 1922 8639 2345 47 839 737 .304 .367 .407 .774 CHC-TOT-BRO-PIT
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 5/21/2012.
11 of the 16 are in Cooperstown, with only Whitaker, Grich, Randolph, Biggio and Kent out. Biggio is on the ballot for the first time this winter, it will be a pretty contentious vote with Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa, Mike Piazza and Curt Schilling all first-timers as well. Biggio doesn't have the PED cloud hanging over him (although his Astros teammate Jeff Bagwell unfairly has one) and should cruise in with 3,000 hits. Kent hits the ballot in 2014 with Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Mike Mussina and Frank Thomas.

Whitaker is a good comparison for Grich. Both were superb-fielding, high-on base second basemen who are major HOF snubs after falling off the ballot after one year with less than three percent of the vote.


Here is a list of middle infielders with an on base percentage of .370 or better and an OPS+ of 125 or better (min. 1000 games, plus
Hanley Ramirez, who should get there by the end of this season):


Rk Player Year OPS+ ▾ OBP From To Age G R H 2B HR BB BA SLG OPS Tm
1 Rogers Hornsby 1937 175 .434 1915 1937 19-41 2259 1579 2930 541 301 1038 .358 .577 1.010 STL-NYG-BSN-CHC-TOT-SLB
2 Honus Wagner 1917 151 .391 1897 1917 23-43 2794 1739 3420 643 101 963 .328 .467 .858 LOU-PIT
3 Nap Lajoie 1916 150 .380 1896 1916 21-41 2480 1504 3242 657 82 516 .338 .466 .846 PHI-PHA-TOT-CLE
4 Alex Rodriguez 2012 144 .386 1994 2012 18-36 2441 1846 2815 499 634 1186 .301 .564 .950 SEA-TEX-NYY
5 Eddie Collins 1930 142 .424 1906 1930 19-43 2825 1821 3315 438 47 1499 .333 .429 .853 PHA-CHW
6 Arky Vaughan 1948 136 .406 1932 1948 20-36 1817 1173 2103 356 96 937 .318 .453 .859 PIT-BRO
7 Joe Morgan 1984 132 .392 1963 1984 19-40 2649 1650 2517 449 268 1865 .271 .427 .819 HOU-CIN-SFG-PHI-OAK
8 Jackie Robinson 1956 132 .409 1947 1956 28-37 1382 947 1518 273 137 740 .311 .474 .883 BRO
9 Hanley Ramirez 2012 130 .376 2005 2012 21-28 893 638 1054 224 141 384 .303 .502 .878 BOS-FLA-MIA
10 Chase Utley 2011 127 .377 2003 2011 24-32 1109 731 1198 258 188 462 .290 .505 .882 PHI
11 Bobby Grich 1986 125 .371 1970 1986 21-37 2008 1033 1833 320 224 1087 .266 .424 .794 BAL-CAL
12 Charlie Gehringer 1942 124 .404 1924 1942 21-39 2323 1774 2839 574 184 1186 .320 .480 .884 DET
13 George Grantham 1934 122 .392 1922 1934 22-34 1445 912 1508 292 105 717 .302 .461 .854 CHC-PIT-CIN-NYG
14 Tony Lazzeri 1939 121 .380 1926 1939 22-35 1740 986 1840 334 178 869 .292 .467 .846 NYY-CHC-TOT
15 Lou Boudreau 1952 120 .380 1938 1952 20-34 1646 861 1779 385 68 796 .295 .415 .795 CLE-BOS
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 5/21/2012.

Grich is on the lower end compared to Hall of Famers like Hornsby and Wagner, but his excellent peak plus his under-appreciated on base ability plus his sparkling defense add up to a Hall of Famer in my book. 

Joe Gordon was put into the Hall by the Veterans Committee in 2009. He had a great career and I think he should be in, but if he is so should Grich (and Whitaker). This piece from 2011 from The Baseball Analysts breaks down the Gordon/Grich comparison. The recent induction of Bert Blyleven and this summer's enshrinement of Ron Santo are two examples of darlings of the sabermetric community finally getting in, maybe one day Grich will get his due.

Either way, he was a no-brainer for the All-Time Bluefield Team. I'll match up the Murray-Grich-Ripken-DeCinces infield with that of any other to come up through one minor league team.



All-Time Bluefield Roster
Pitchers
SP 1 Dean Chance
SP 2 Mike Boddicker
SP 3 Bill Monbouquette
SP 4 TBA
SP 5 TBA
RP TBA
RP Ken McBride
RP TBA
RP Sammy Stewart
Setup TBA
Setup Arthur Rhodes
Closer Sparky Lyle


Catchers
C Gregg Zaun
C TBA


Infield
1B Eddie Murray
2B Bobby Grich
SS Cal Ripken
3B Doug DeCinces
IF Mark Belanger
IF TBA


Outfield
LF Don Baylor
CF Luis Matos
RF Bob Bailor
OF David Dellucci
OF TBA

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