Sunday Notes: Was Ken Singleton Better Than Dale Murphy?


The most recent of my “Who Was Better” polls on Twitter featured Dale Murphy and Ken Singleton, and while it drew only a modicum of interest — only 95 people cast votes — the results were nonetheless telling. Murphy won in resounding fashion — 76.8% to Singleton’s 23.2% — and it’s unlikely that the percentages would have been markedly different with a more-robust sample size. Murphy is a two-time MVP who made seven All-Star teams and was once on a Hall of Fame trajectory. Singleton made three All-Star teams and received nary a vote in his one year on the ballot.

But was Murphy actually better than the less-ballyhooed Singleton, who broke into the big leagues with the New York Mets before excelling with the Montreal Expos and the Baltimore Orioles? Let’s look at a few of their numbers, keeping in mind that Murphy played in 2,180 games, Singleton in 2.082 games.

Murphy: .265/.346/.469, 2,111 hits, 398 HR, .357 wOBA, 119 wRC+, 44.3 WAR.
Singleton: .282/.388/.436, 2,029 hits, 246 HR,.371 wOBA, 134 wRC+, 44.4 WAR.

Peaks matter, so here is the best eight-year stretch for both:

Murphy: .284/.374/.517, .386 wOBA, 139 wRC+, 39.7 WAR.
Singleton: .297/.406/.464, .390 wOBA, 147 wRC+, 35.6 WAR.

And the best six-year stretch:

Murphy: .289/.382/.531, .394 wOBA, 144 wRC+, 32.4 WAR.
Singleton: .300/.405/.475, .394 wOBA, 151 wRC+, 28.1 WAR.

Murphy has the edge in peak WAR, but that’s driven primarily by defense and base running. The Atlanta Braves legend also hit for more power than the erstwhile Expo and Oriole, but in terms of overall offensive value, Singleton grades out as the better of the two. Murphy’s top wRC+ season was 151. Singleton eclipsed that mark four times, topping out at 166.

Better overall player? Again, the edge goes to Murphy if you’re going peak WAR. But if you’re going full career, and/or put the most weight on offensive rate stats, the answer is much murkier. Let’s put it this way: regardless of how you’d answer the poll, Singleton — a New York Yankees broadcaster for the last two-plus decades — is vastly underrated. He was a fantastic hitter.

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RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS

Jackie Robinson went 22 for 44 against Al Brazle.

Larry Doby went 21 for 30 against Bob Kuzava.

Roy Campanella went 20 for 40 against Vern Bickford.

Ernie Banks went 19 for 51 against Sal Maglie.

Willie Mays went 18 for 42 against Ray Washburn.

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Jon Lester’s announcing his retirement on Wednesday prompted me to look back at the first interview I did with him, which was in August 2004. I was early in my baseball-writing career at the time, while Lester was a 20-year-old Boston Red Sox prospect pitching in High-A. He very well could have been in another team’s system.

Lester told me that summer that he was a little surprised to have been drafted by the Red Sox, as he hadn’t even met Boston’s area scout prior to being selected 57th overall in 2002. He named the Seattle Mariners, Chicago White Sox, and Arizona Diamondbacks as teams that had expressed particular interest leading into draft day.

And then there was the near trade, which would have sent Lester and Manny Ramirez to the Texas Rangers in exchange for Alex Rodriguez in December 2003. Reportedly agreed upon, the deal never came to fruition due to salary implications that weren’t to the liking of the Player’s Union.

Lester said the following when I asked about the trade that didn’t happen:

“When it first came up, I was shocked. And the more I thought about it, the more unbelievable it seemed. Being part of a deal that included players of that caliber was an honor, I’ll tell you that. But hey, I’m glad it worked out the way it did. A lot of Red Sox fans probably aren’t glad, but I love playing for this organization. I’m happy to still be here.

Red Sox fans ended up being happy, as well. Jon Lester had a stellar nine seasons in Boston, as well as an outstanding career overall.

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Camden Yards is being reconfigured to make it less of a launching pad, particularly for right-handed hitters. The Orioles are moving the left field fence back by nearly 30 feet feet (losing approximately 1,000 seats in the process) and also raising its height. According to MLB.com’s Zachary Silver, the distance to “true left field” will henceforth be 384 feet — in the words of GM Mike Elias, “very similar to PNC Park, in Pittsburgh.” According to Elias and assistant GM Sig Mejdal, the objective is increased neutrality. It’s no secret that pitchers haven’t been particularly enamored with taking the mound in Baltimore.

The impending changes bring to mind the Detroit Tigers’ having made a similar decision, albeit in the opposite direction, prior to the start of the 2003 season. Looking to make Comerica Park play more neutrally, they shortened the distance of the left centerfield fence from a cavernous 395 feet to a more-hitter-friendly 370 feet.

In one respect, both moves make perfect sense. Each was originally an extreme in terms of how the ballpark played. But is that actually a bad thing? One of the reasons that Camden Yards has long been considered a gem is that it’s not cookie-cutter. Fenway Park and Yankee Stadium are likewise unique, as was the Polo Grounds. Conversely, many of the stadiums built in the 1970s and 1980s were ultimately deemed disappointments because they epitomized the term “cookie-cutter.”

Camden Yards isn’t in danger of falling victim to the label. It will remain a quality venue due to its other attributes. That said, the increased neutrality will make the Orioles’ home venue a little less interesting than it’s always been. Not that pitchers will complain, mind you.

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A quiz:

A total of 28 MLB players have hit 500 or more home runs. Of them, Babe Ruth boasts the highest slugging percentage (.690). Which of them has the lowest slugging percentage?

The answer can be found below.

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NEWS NOTES

The Kansas City Royals have promoted Paul Gibson to senior director of pitching. The 62-year-old southpaw transitioned into scouting and coaching roles after taking the mound for three teams from 1988-1996. Gibson made 214 of his 319 appearances with the Detroit Tigers.

The Colorado Rockies have hired Jordan Pacheco as their hitting coach at Triple-A Albuquerque. The 35-year-old University of New Mexico product played for three teams, most notably the Rockies, from 2011-2016.

Longtime broadcaster Dave Van Horne is reportedly retiring. Van Horne called games for the Montreal Expos from 1969-2000, and has been the radio voice of the Miami Marlins since 2001.

Eddie Basinski, an infielder for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1944-1945, and for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1947, died last week at age 99. A native of Buffalo, Basinki banged out 147 big-league hits, then moved on to the Pacific Coast League where he played 12 seasons, nine of them with the Portland Beavers.

Carl Linhart, whose big-league career comprised three games and two plate appearances with the Detroit Tigers in 1952, died earlier this month at age 91. Born in Zborov, Linhart is one of five natives of the Czech Republic in MLB history.

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The answer to the quiz is Eddie Murray, who finished his career with 512 home runs and a .476 slugging percentage. Reggie Jackson (563 home runs and a .490 SLG) is the only other player with at least 500 home runs and a slugging percentage below .500.

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This Friday’s episode of FanGraphs Audio featured Dan Dickerson, the radio voice of the Detroit Tigers, and Don Gonyea, who grew up in Michigan and is now a political correspondent for NPR. The duo are longtime friends, and along with a mutual love of baseball, they are both great storytellers. The podcast included the following lengthy anecdote from Gonyea, who recalled a late 1980s visit to Tiger Stadium:

“Dan’s doing news [at WWJ], and I’m doing news, and we’re both covering Detroit. We would go to the ballpark together and get $5 reserve seats at old Tiger Stadium; we’d sit there and watch the game and talk about life. Anyway, my wife, Laurie, joined us for one of those games. We meet Dan at the ballpark, and he comes walking up to us, and he’s lugging this big grade-school book bag — one of those leather ones that opens at the top and it’s got the handle. It’s full of baseball reference books. The Bill James books are in there. Everything is in there. It’s jam-packed.

“I’ve seen this before, because I’ve been to the ballpark with Dan. It’s what Dan does. And Laurie starts to kind of mock him for lugging all of his books from home to the ballpark. But lo and behold, about the second or third inning, Laurie has a question about something that happened on the field, or about some player. Dan, without skipping a beat, reaches into his book bag, and pulls out a book. It’s got the answer in it; he knew where to find it… And for me, that is who Dan Dickerson is, and it’s why I just love the guy. My wife has not mocked him since.”

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About a week ago, I shared on Twitter that Orval Overall and Jack Taylor each had 12 wins, three losses, 116 hits allowed, 30 earned runs allowed, and one home run allowed with the 1906 Chicago Cubs. What I was perusing when I happened across that nugget isn’t nearly as remarkable, but it is notable. The 1906 Cubs went 116-36-3, a .763 winning percentage that ranks as the best in the club’s modern-era franchise history.

The three best records in overall franchise history, all of which came prior to 1890, are notable for another reason. From 1876-1889, the team was known as the Chicago White Stockings. They became the Colts (1890-1897) and the Orphans (1898-1902) before becoming the Cubs in 1903.

One more note on the Frank Chance-led club that dominated the National League in 1906: They lost the third-ever World Series, falling to the American League champions in six games. The team that bested them was the Chicago White Sox.

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LINKS YOU’LL LIKE

Baseball is not just a business, and Joe Sheehan explained why — in no uncertain terms — in his newsletter.

Sports Illustrated’s Emma Baccellieri wrote about how Ryan Thibodaux’s Ballot Tracker has changed and improved the Cooperstown conversation.

Playing for multiple teams reduces a player’s chances of being elected to the Hall of Fame by 50% or more. The new research Bill James Online.

Shingo Takatsu 다카쓰 and Masahiro Yamamoto have been elected to the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame, while Randy Bass fell short. Jim Allen has the story at jballallen.com.

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RANDOM FACTS AND STATS

Rollie Fingers made 19 starts for the Oakland A’s in 1970. He had one complete game, and the longest of his 26 relief appearances was eight-and-two-thirds-innings against the Washington Senators.

Leon Cadore and Joe Oeschger threw complete games in a 26-inning 1-1 tie between the Boston Braves and Brooklyn Robins on May 1, 1920. Called due to darkness, the game was played in a time of three hours and fifty minutes. (In 1984, the Milwaukee Brewers and Chicago White Sox played a 25-inning game that lasted eight hours and six minutes.)

Sandy Koufax went 97-27 with a 172 ERA+ from 1963-1966.
Lefty Grove went 104-25 with a 175 ERA from 1929-1932.

Mike Piazza hit 40 home runs for the New York Mets in 1999. He didn’t have any multi-home-run games that season.

New York Mets outfielder Kevin McReynolds stole 21 bases without being caught in 1988. Washington Senators infielder Pete Runnels was caught in all 10 of his stolen base attempts in 1952.

Carlton Fisk had 128 career stolen bases. The Hall of Fame catcher had 17 steals in each of his age-34 and age-37 seasons.

The Minnesota Twins released Harmon Killebrew on today’s date in 1975. The Hall of Fame slugger signed with the Kansas City Royals a week later and went on to slash .199/.317/.375 with 14 home runs in the last of his 22 big-league seasons.

Players born on today’s date include Rod Miller, who at age 17 struck out in his only career plate appearance while playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1957. Miller’s manager, Walton Alston, struck out in his only career plate appearance while playing for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1936.

Also born on today’s date was Ferdie Schupp, a left-handed pitcher who had a pair of stupendous seasons with the New York Giants before incurring a shoulder injury. In 1916, Schupp went 9-3 with a 0.90 ERA over 140-and-a-third innings, a record-setting performance he followed up on by going 21-7 with a 1.95 ERA over 272 innings the following year. Schupp’s 0.90 ERA in 1916 is the lowest in MLB history for a pitcher who tossed as many innings.



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