Along with Johnny Evers and Joe Tinker — they of Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance fame — Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker are the most-storied double-play combination in baseball history. As well they should be. The Detroit Tigers duo played more games together (1,918) than any middle-infield duo in history. Moreover, they combined for 11 All-Star appearances, seven Gold Gloves, seven Silver Sluggers, and they won a World Series together. Both are icons for a franchise that has played in the American League since 1901.
Tinker and Evans, who played together with the Chicago Cubs from 1902-1912, are both in the Hall of Fame. So is Trammell. Meanwhile — this for reasons best explained as inexplicable — Whitaker is not. His exclusion stands as one of Cooperstown’s most glaring omissions.
Whitaker has more WAR and a higher JAWS score than a number of Hall of Fame second basemen, but that can be a debate for another day. For now, let’s focus on how he compares to Evers.
Whitaker: 2,369 hits, 244 home runs, 118 wRC+, 68.1 WAR.
Evers: 1,659 hits, 12 home runs, 109 wRC+, 49.0 WAR.
While Evers’s numbers are anything but great, it should be noted that he won an MVP award and played for three World Series-winning teams (the Cubs twice and the Boston Braves once). That said, it’s highly unlikely that he would be in the Hall of Fame were he not part of a legendary double-play combination (he and Tinker were Old-Timers-Committee selections in the same year). How they became legendary is, of course, a big part of the story. The poem penned in 1910 by sportswriter Franklin Pierce Adams reads:
These are the saddest of possible words:
“Tinker to Evers to Chance.”
Trio of bear cubs, and fleeter than birds,
Tinker and Evers and Chance.
Ruthlessly pricking our gonfalon bubble.
Making a Giant hit into a double—
Words that are heavy with nothing but trouble:
”Tinker to Evers to Chance.”
Should that eight-line poem have anything to do with Lou Whitaker’s Hall-of-Fame-worthiness? No, at least not by any reasonable standard. That said, the Trammell-Whitaker double-play combination is every bit as famous as Tinker-Evers, and they were markedly-better players. Whitaker has even better numbers than Trammell.
“Sweet Lou” Whitaker isn’t in the Hall of Fame are themselves the saddest of words.
RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS
Brandon Woodruff is one of the game’s most underrated pitchers. Over the last four seasons, the 29-year-old Milwaukee Brewers right-hander has quietly put up a 3.02 ERA and a 3.04 FIP over 92 starts comprising 528 innings. Moreover, his 13.6 WAR ranks in front of higher-profile hurlers such as Max Fried, Yu Darvish, and Clayton Kershaw. Overshadowed by rotation-mate Corbin Burnes while pitching in small-market Milwaukee, Woodruff has been rock-solid stellar.
He could have been a Texas Ranger. Three years before the Brewers took him in the 11th round of the 2014 draft out of Mississippi State University, Woodruff was selected by Texas in the fifth round out of Mississippi’s Wheeler High School. Not coming to terms with the righty was one of several draft-related decisions the AL West club came to regret. None of the Rangers’ first five picks that year — Kevin Matthews, Zach Cone (a first-round supplemental), Will Lamb, Kyle Castro, and Desmond Henry — made it to the majors. And while their eighth-round pick did, that didn’t happen in a Rangers uniform. In 2012, Texas traded then-prospect Kyle Hendricks to the Chicago Cubs in exchange for 35-year-old Ryan Dempster.
Which player will accumulate more WAR from 2025-2029, Xander Bogaerts or Marcelo Mayer? I posed that question in a Twitter poll earlier this week, and after 220 votes, the balloting couldn’t have been closer. Literally. The Red-Sox-turned-Padres shortstop and Boston’s top-rated prospect were deadlocked at 110 votes apiece. Bogaerts, who at 30 years old is Mayer’s elder by a full decade, went on to win the poll, garnering 56.9% of the 427 votes ultimately cast.
Expectations for Mayer — a shortstop who was drafted fourth overall in 2021 — are high, and they certainly played a role in Boston’s decision not to pay what it would have taken to retain him. San Diego gave the 10-year veteran a contract worth $280M over 11 seasons.
Dollars aside, which of the two players amasses more WAR in the five-year stretch will be interesting to see. Ditto what they produce from this point forward.
Sticking with polls, I ran one yesterday afternoon asking which team will ultimately get the most value from the newly-reported trade between the Phillies and Tigers. Detroit is sending Gregory Soto and Kody Clemens to Philadelphia in exchange for Matt Vierling, Nick Maton, and Donny Sands. Of the 180 people who cast votes in the short time the poll was up, 68.3% went with the team whose front office is now led by Scott Harris.
Two things that Detroit’s President of Baseball Operations said about Vierling — a 26-year-old outfielder who was featured here at FanGraphs last summer — stood out to me.
“We think that he brings some athleticism, versatility and speed that can really enhance our overall offensive unit in 2023,” Harris told reporters, including yours truly. “We also think the speed component may be of greater importance in the new rules.”
The other stand-out comment is that he sees the most-notable of the club’s new acquisition playing “all over,” including “on the dirt.” Of Vierling’s 105 big-league starts, 92 have come in the outfield — 56 in center, 19 in right, and 17 in left — while his infield experience comprises just six at first base, five at third base, and two at second base.
As for the poll results, I’m inclined to agree with the majority. While I understand why the deal appealed to Dave Dombrowski’s Phillies, the Tigers got the best player in the trade (especially if Soto never figures out how to throw consistent strikes).
The top dozen single-season RBI records (modern era) all came in the 1920s and 1930s. Which player has the highest single-season RBI total since 1940?
The answer can be found below.
The Philadelphia Phillies have hired Dan Aucoin as their Assistant Director of Fundamental Research. The University of Massachusetts graduate has spent the last five-plus years at Driveline, most recently as Chief Research Officer.
The Chicago White Sox have hired Dan Budreika as an amateur scout. The former FanGraphs contributor was Cleveland’s Assistant Director, Pro Scouting from 2019-2021.
Mike Maroth has been hired as the new pitching coach at the University of South Florida. The former big-league left-hander has coached in the Detroit Tigers and Atlanta Braves organizations, most recently for the latter’s Triple-A affiliate.
Perfect Game has named George Lombard Jr. their 2022 Tournament Player of the Year. The Vanderbilt commit is the son of former big-league outfielder and current Detroit Tigers bench coach George Lombard.
SABR’s St. Louis chapter is hosting an open-to-all Zoom event tomorrow, Monday January 9, at 6pm CST, with New York Times baseball writer Tyler Kepner as the featured speaker. More information can be found here.
Nate Colbert, a slugging fist baseman who played six of his 10 big-league seasons with the San Diego Padres, died earlier this week at age 76. A three-time All-Star who holds San Diego’s franchise record for home runs (163), Colbert had his best season in 1972 when he went deep 38 times while logging a 139 wRC+.
Mike Trout has been baseball’s best player over the last eleven years. A virtual lock to one day have a plaque in Cooperstown, the Los Angeles Angels outfielder has 81.4 WAR and a 174 wRC+ since becoming a full-time player in 2012.
The best player in the National League over that span is also Hall-of-Fame-bound. Paul Goldschmidt, who likewise played his first full big-league season in 2012, is second to Trout in both categories. The Arizona-Diamondbacks-turned-St. Louis- Cardinals slugger has 53.4 WAR and a 145 wRC+ (a handful of players besides Trout have a higher wRC+, but in fewer than half the plate appearances).
Can a seven-time All-Star, four-time Gold Glove winner, and reigning MVP be underrated? From a national perspective, and with more-casual fans in mind, he arguably is. Paul Goldschmidt is a superstar, and has been for over a decade.
Derrick Goold considers Cardinals third baseman Nolan Arenado the best all-around player in the National League. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch baseball writer shared that opinion when he appeared as a guest on Friday’s episode of FanGraphs Audio. Another of the noteworthy subjects he weighed in on was the Cardinals’ first-round pick in last year’s draft, Cooper Hjerpe. Not only does Goold feel that the 21-year-old left-hander might be fast-tracked, he’s intrigued by his delivery.
“I’m hesitant to do comps, but there’s probably a little Chris Sale, a little Andrew Miller there,” Goold said on the pod. “More than a little, maybe. It’s how his mechanics unfold from the left side, and how uncomfortable that can be for hitters… This is the kind of guy that the Cardinals are looking for [in the draft]. He had a lot of the metrics that they were talking about…what they’re looking for in pitch type and pitch dynamics. To borrow a phrase from them, he checked all the boxes… There’s a chance he could move fast.”
Hjerpe went 11-2 with a 2.53 ERA and 161 strikeouts in 103-and-third innings last year at Oregon State. St. Louis selected him 22nd overall and opted to wait until this season for him to make his professional debut.
In terms of good fortune, the Twins were the winners in the first-ever draft lottery, which took place during December’s Winter Meetings and saw the Pittsburgh Pirates awarded the forthcoming top pick. Minnesota had MLB’s 13th-worst record in 2022, but thanks to the luck of the draw within the new system, they will have the fifth selection come July. Because they tendered a qualifying offer to Carlos Correa, the Twins will also get a competitive-balance pick at No. 34.
In descending order, the last 10 fifth-overall picks in the MLB draft have been Elijah Green, Colton Cowser, Austin Martin, Riley Greene, Jonathan India, Kyle Wright, Corey Ray, Kyle Tucker, Nick Gordon, and Jackson Frazier. Most notable among the 34th-overall picks are Jack Flaherty, Dakota Hudson, Sean Manaea, Daniel Lynch, and Drey Jameson.
Whom to select in the amateur draft is an inexact science. As history shows, it can also be a bit of a crapshoot.
Derrick Loop — a guest on episode 909 of FanGraphs Audio back in February 2021 — has a 3.18 ERA over 21 relief appearances for the Dominican Winter League’s Gigantes del Cibao. The 39-year-old left-hander is in his 17th professional season, including six in affiliated ball — he topped out in Triple-A —and nine on foreign soil. https://blogs.fangraphs.com/fangraphs-audio-john-sadak-joins-the-booth/
Brent Honeywell has a 0.96 ERA over 28 innings for the Dominican Winter League’s Leones del Escogido. The 27-year-old right-hander — formerly a top prospect in the Tampa Bay Rays system — reportedly signed with the San Diego Padres on Friday.
Sammy Siani is slashing .294/.366/.532 with six home runs in 123 plate appearances for the Australian Baseball League’s Sydney Blue Sox. Drafted 37th overall in 2019 by the Pittsburgh Pirates out of Philadelphia’s William Penn Charter School, the 22-year-old outfielder had a .625 OPS with High-A Greensboro in 2022.
The reported deaths of former big-league players normally go in the News Notes section of this column, but I want to give Bill Campbell’s passing more than just one paragraph. The right-hander, who pitched in 700 games from 1973-1987, passed away earlier this week at age 74.
Campbell was mentioned in Sunday Notes just over two months ago, with erstwhile lefty reliever Craig Lefferts telling how his former teammate taught both him and Willie Hernandez how to throw a screwball in 1983. The three were Chicago Cubs at the time, and it was a season in which Campbell made a career-high (and league-leading) 82 appearances.
A native of Highland Park, Michigan, Campbell had his best seasons back to back, a few years earlier. In 1976, he made 78 appearances comprising 167-and-two-thirds innings with the Minnesota Twins, and went 17-5 with 20 saves and a 3.01 ERA. He then signed as a free agent with the Boston Red Sox, with the deal paying him $1M over five years (my, how salaries have changed). In 1977, Campbell went 13-9 with 31 saves and a 2.96 ERA in 69 appearances and 140 innings.
If you’d like to learn more about Campbell’s life and career, his SABR BioProject biography is well worth your time.
LINKS YOU’LL LIKE
At Now Taking the Field, Tom Stone put together a Baseball RIP Roster of former players who passed away in 2022.
MLB.com’s Manny Randhawa presented us with nine players who will be looking for a fresh start following a tough year-one of their new deal.
Baseball Round Table’s David Karpinski talked to Target Field official scorer Sarah Johnson about her job.
First-time Hall-of-Fame voter Travis Sawchik explained his process at The Score.
RANDOM FACTS AND STATS
Bob O’Farrell was named National League MVP in 1926, a season in which he slashed .293/.371/.433 with a 115 wRC+ and 3.6 WAR. Sixth in that year’s balloting was his St. Louis Cardinals teammate, Les Bell, who slashed .325/.383/.518 with a 138 wRC+ and 4.8 WAR.
Clay Touchstone recorded his only career hit off of Jesse Petty, in 1929. A pitcher who appeared in 12 big-league games (half of them in 1945), Touchstone hailed from Moore Township, Pennsylvania. Petty, a southpaw from Orr, Oklahoma who was known as “The Silver Fox,” appeared in 207 games. He logged one of his 53 career hits against Touchstone.
Pretzels Getzien, who pitched for the National League’s Detroit Wolverines in the 1880s, and for the Boston Beaneaters in 1890-1891, has the most wins of any player born in Germany. Known for his curveball, Getzien logged 145 wins, the same number that Candy Cummings, who is credited with inventing the pitch, had in his own career.
The Chicago Cubs signed Jamie Moyer as a free agent on today’s date in 1992. The 29-year-old southpaw was released a few months later, then signed by the Detroit Tigers. Moyer never appeared in a game for either team… but he did go on to pitch until 2012, when he made his last appearance at age 49.
The New York Yankees signed both of the Niekro brothers on today’s date in 1986. Phil, who was 46 at the time, was subsequently released, picked up by Cleveland, and threw his final game with Atlanta at age 48. Joe, a comparably-young 40 years old, spent a year and a half with the Yankees, then pitched his final game with Minnesota at age 43.
Players born on today’s date include Matt Maysey, a native of Hamilton, Ontario who pitched in two games for the Montreal Expos in 1992, and in 23 games for the Milwaukee Brewers in 1993. Maysey is the stepfather of Boston Red Sox catcher Connor Wong.
Also born on today’s date was Reno Bertoia, an infielder who played in MLB from 1953-1962, primarily with the Detroit Tigers and the Washington Senators/Minnesota Twins. A native of San Vito al Tagliamento, Italy who spent his formative years in Windsor, Ontario, Bertoia played his final professional season with Japan’s Hanshin Tigers in 1964.