Wednesday, July 5, 2017

All-Name Teams: Part Four

By Brad Oremland

This is one of the stupider ways I have ever spent a lot of time: I exhaustively assembled MLB all-name teams, coming up with the best all-time baseball teams comprised of players with the same first name. This is the fourth in a series of posts revealing and explaining the most dominant such teams. The top eight teams are: the All-Ed Team, the All-George Team, the All-Jim Team, the All-Joe Team, the All-John Team, the All-Lou Team, the All-Robert Team, and the All-William Team.

Next week, we'll address a few all-name teams that missed the cut, such as Charles and Mike. We began this series with the All-Ed Team and the All-Lou Team. Following that, we evaluated the All-George Team and the All-Rob Team. Last week, we looked at the All-Will and All-John rosters. This post ups the ante from John and covers the strongest of the J's: the All-Jim Team and the All-Joe Team.

All-Jim Team

C — Jim Sundberg
1B — Jimmie Foxx
2B — Jim Gilliam
SS — Jim Fregosi
3B — Jimmy Collins
LF — Jimmy Sheckard
CF — Jim Edmonds
RF — Jimmy Wynn
DH — Jim Thome

Rotation — Jim Palmer, Jim Bunning, Jim McCormick, Jim Kaat, Jimmy Key

Bench — catcher Jim Hegan, pinch hitters Jim Rice and Jim Bottomley, infielder Jimmy Rollins, outfielders Jimmy Ryan and Jim O'Rourke

Bullpen — Jim Bagby, Jim Maloney, Jim Perry, James Shields, Jim Whitney

The Jims are a great team, maybe the best team in this project. In The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract, James made up an All-Jim Team and wrote, "I think they would beat any other first name team, except that the Georges would hold their own if they got to use the Bambino ..." I disagree with the disclaimer: you can give the All-George roster Babe Ruth, and the Jims are still the better team, without a doubt.

There's only one upper-level superstar, Jimmie Foxx, but you've also got perhaps the best defensive catcher of all time, a versatile infielder in Junior Gilliam, a Hall of Fame-caliber shortstop, the best third baseman before Home Run Baker, and a ridiculously deep outfield. Sheckard led the National League, at various times, in runs scored, triples, home runs, stolen bases, bases on balls, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and sacrifice hits. He had over 2,000 hits and stole 465 bases. Sheckard and Ty Cobb are the only players to lead their league in home runs and stolen bases in the same season.

Jim Edmonds was a terrific fielder who slugged .527 for his career. Wynn hit .250 / .366 / .436 in the worst hitter's park in the majors. He had 100 walks six times, including two years leading the majors. He was a poor center fielder, but he'll do well in right. Nineteenth-century outfielder Jimmy Ryan hit .308 with speed (over 400 SB) and power (led NL in HR and SLG, twice in total bases). Hall of Famer Jim O'Rourke hit .311 for his career and scored 1,729 runs (24th in history).

You couldn't ask for a finer designated hitter than Jim Thome, who retired with over 2,500 hits, 600 home runs, 1500 runs and RBI, and a .276 / .402 / .554 batting line. Thome pushes HOFers Bottomley and Rice to the bench, giving the Jims three backups in Cooperstown. Actually, this team has six bench players, which is a lot, and limits the size of the bullpen. But how do you cut Bottomley and Ryan?

The Jims are distinguished by combining an everyday lineup that has no real weaknesses with a strong pitching staff. The rotation includes three Hall of Famers (Palmer, McCormick, and Bunning), plus Kaat and Key. Kaat won 283 games and 16 Gold Gloves. Key played for three AL East teams in the '80s and '90s. In 1987 he led the majors in ERA and WHIP, and he went 17-4 in the strike-shortened 1994 season, leading the majors in wins. He finished 2nd in Cy Young voting twice, and 4th another year. He went 186-117 with a 3.51 ERA in a hitter's era.

One reason the Jims can afford to keep so many bench players is that their bullpen is stocked with players well-suited to long relief. Jim Bagby won 118 games between 1916-21, with an ERA under 2.90 all six years. He was a hero for Cleveland's 1920 World Series team, going 31-12. Maloney pitched for the Reds in the 1960s, just before they became dominant, but he went 134-84. In 1963, he went 23-7 and led the majors in K/9 (9.5). In '65 he went 20-9 with a 2.54 ERA, and in '66 he led the majors in shutouts. He received MVP votes all three seasons. Perry, overshadowed by his brother Gaylord, won 215 games. He led the AL in wins twice, once in shutouts, and won the 1970 AL Cy Young Award.

Grasshopper Jim Whitney was the greatest control pitcher of the 1880s. SI's Dan Gartland wrote an interesting short piece on Whitney last year. I assume you're familiar with James Shields, the only "James" on the All-Jim Team. If you don't want anyone too good to go by Jim, replace him with Jim Lonborg, O'Toole, or Clancy — or maybe a true reliever like Jim Brewer or Jim Johnson. The Jims have plenty of pitching. Jamie Moyer's name really is Jamie (not James), so I left him off the roster.

Like many of the teams in this project, the Jims would benefit from including players we know by their nicknames. That includes five Hall of Famers: two pitchers, Pud Galvin and Catfish Hunter; two catchers, Biz Mackey and Deacon White; plus the Negro Leagues' legendary Cool Papa Bell. Mackey was a sensational defensive catcher, almost as good as Sundberg, but miles ahead as a hitter. Both he and Bell switch-hit, which would benefit this lefty-heavy lineup.

Fellow Negro Leaguer Nip Winters would join the bullpen, probably displacing Shields or Bagby. The Jims are left with a fearsome batting order:

1. Cool Papa Bell, CF
2. Jimmie Foxx, 1B
3. Jim Wynn, RF
4. Jim Thome, DH
5. Jimmy Sheckard, LF
6. Jim Fregosi, SS
7. Jimmy Collins, 3B
8. Biz Mackey, C
9. Jim Gilliam, 2B

The Jims can also field an all-Cooperstown pitching rotation of Jim Palmer, Jim McCormick, Pud Galvin, Jim Bunning, and Catfish Hunter, though I might lean toward Jim Kaat and stow Catfish in the bullpen. This team has talent across the board and remarkable depth. Along with the Wills, it's probably the best of the all-name teams. The Eds might beat them if they got to include Teds.

If you prioritize speed at the top of the lineup, you might shuffle Sheckard ahead of Foxx instead of hiding him behind an ice wagon like Jim Thome. I was more concerned with varying left- and right-handed batters. The All-Jim roster features three major league players who stole 400 bases (Sheckard, plus reserves Jimmy Rollins and Jimmy Ryan), four more who stole at least 194, and one of the fastest players of all time, Cool Papa Bell.

All-Joe Team

includes Joe, Joey, Joseph, and Jose

C — Joe Torre
1B — Joey Votto
2B — Joe Morgan
SS — Joe Cronin
3B — Joe Sewell
LF — Joe Medwick
CF — Joe DiMaggio
RF — Joe Jackson
DH — Joe Kelley

Rotation — Smokey Joe Williams, Joe McGinnity, Jose Mendez, Jose Rijo, Joe Niekro

Bench — catcher Joe Mauer, infielders Joe Gordon and Joe Tinker, outfielder Jose Cruz

Bullpen — Joe Dobson, Joe Horlen, Joe Nathan, Joe Nuxhall, Jose Quintana, Jose Valverde, Smokey Joe Wood

The All-Joe Team features 6 regulars in the Hall of Fame. Of the three who are not, one (Jackson) is ineligible, and another (Votto) is still active and would be a candidate with one or two more good seasons. The other, Torre, technically is in the Hall of Fame, but as a manager. His playing career probably would have gotten him in eventually. Torre had over 2,000 hits and 250 home runs, and he was NL MVP in 1971.

Two regulars, Sewell and Jackson, play at different positions than we usually associate them with. Sewell played 1,216 games at shortstop and 643 at third base. With Cronin and Tinker on the team, the Joes don't need another shortstop, but they could use a good third baseman. Shoeless Joe Jackson, as most fans know, primarily played left field, but he also spent a fair amount of time in right. He was a fine outfielder — there's that famous line about his glove being "where triples go to die" — but what we really want is his bat, no matter what position he's playing.

The bench features two more Hall of Famers, Gordon and Tinker, plus Joe Mauer — who should see plenty of action as a defensive replacement for Torre — and the Astros' Jose Cruz. Playing in the worst hitter's park in baseball, Cruz retired with over 2,000 hits, over 3,000 total bases, and over 1,000 each of runs and RBI.

The rotation features three Hall of Famers. Smokey Joe Williams was voted the greatest pitcher in the history of the Negro Leagues. Fellow Negro Leaguer José Méndez won more than two-thirds of his games. Legendary New York Giants manager John McGraw said, "If Méndez was a white man, I would pay $50,000 for his release from Almendares," adding that Méndez was "sort of Walter Johnson and Grover Alexander rolled into one." McGraw's own pitcher, Iron Man Joe McGinnity, led the NL in wins five times. In 1904, he went 35-8 and led the league in shutouts (9), saves (5), ERA (1.61), and WHIP (0.96).

Joe Niekro won 20 games twice, retiring with 221 wins and 1,747 strikeouts, the most of any MLB pitcher named Joe. Rijo, the ace for the 1990 World Series champion Reds and the MVP of the Series, struck out 20.4% of batters faced over his career, a terrific mark for a starting pitcher. That's higher than contemporaries like Greg Maddux (16.5%) or Kevin Brown (17.7%), as well as HOF fireballers like Steve Carlton (19.1%) or Bob Gibson (19.4%). Forgive me if I walk through the last five seasons before Rijo's elbow injury.

From 1990-94, Rijo went 67-39 with a 2.64 ERA. That's the second-best ERA in the major leagues, barely behind Maddux (2.61), but ahead of Roger Clemens (2.78), Tom Glavine (3.29), and the rest of baseball. In 1990, Rijo went 14-8 with a 2.70 ERA and ranked 19th in NL MVP voting. He won World Series MVP, with a 2-0 record, 0.59 ERA, and 15 strikeouts in  15⅓ innings. In '91, he led the league in winning percentage (15-6, .714) and WHIP (1.08), with a 2.51 ERA; he placed 4th in Cy Young balloting. In '92 he went 15-10 with a 2.56 ERA. In '93 he led the NL in strikeouts and K/9, with a 2.48 ERA and another top-5 Cy Young finish. He went 9-6 in the strike-shortened '94 season, with 171 strikeouts (2nd in the NL) and an All-Star appearance. The elbow injury the next season essentially finished him, and he retired at 116-91 with a 3.24 ERA and 1,606 strikeouts.

Bullet Joe Bush, who played on six pennant winners (with four different teams!), was actually named Leslie Ambrose Bush, and Hall of Famer Bullet Rogan, sometimes called Bullet Joe, was actually named Charles Wilber Rogan. They're excellent pitchers, but they're not on the team.

Joseph Floyd "Arky" Vaughan could be. Team Joe, if you're keeping track, potentially has four Hall of Fame shortstops: Vaughan, Cronin, Sewell, and Tinker. Vaughan is the only major nicknamed addition to the roster, but the Joes don't need a lot of help.

1. Arky Vaughan, 3B
2. Joe Jackson, RF
3. Joe DiMaggio, CF
4. Joe Morgan, 2B
5. Joey Votto, 1B
6. Joe Medwick, LF
7. Joe Kelley, DH
8. Joe Torre, C
9. Joe Cronin, SS

The All-Joe Team features 11 Hall of Famers — maybe 12, if you keep Tinker despite adding Vaughan — not including Torre and Shoeless Joe. It has great hitting, good fielding, and good pitching. It might have some conflicts in the locker room; there are strong personalities on this team, and some guys who aren't easy to get along with. Joe Medwick was the most hated player of his generation, getting into fights with teammates as well as opponents. Joe Morgan was a team leader in Cincinnati, but he's also self-righteous, bull-headed, and confrontational. Joe DiMaggio was quiet and taciturn, Joe Jackson was complicit in the fixing of the World Series, and Arky Vaughan openly opposed his manager and left baseball because of the conflict.

If they can keep their heads on straight, the Joes can compete with any all-name team.

That's the last of the top eight all-name teams, but this series isn't over. Next week we'll quickly review some of the best all-name teams that missed the top eight, including Charles, Dave, Frank, Jack, Larry, Mike, and Tom.

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