A week or two ago, one of the Cubs’ beat writers – I don’t remember who – noted on Twitter that Ian Happ had just hit the franchise’s 14,000th home run. Having never really considered statistics over the course of a franchise’s entire history, I promptly looked up the St. Louis Cardinals’ all-time slash line on FanGraphs Leaderboards, and upon noticing that Red Schoendienst had an individual season which was close to a near-match, I turned it into a quick, silly column at Cardinals blog Birds on the Black.
This had me thinking, with well over a hundred years of history for Major League Baseball in the books, which player most encompasses each franchise? And not just for a single season like with the Schoendienst example above, but for a player’s entire time wearing that particular uniform? To find out, I looked up all 30 franchise’s slash lines on FanGraphs, and then did some intensive searching on Baseball Reference’s Play Index for the best match. Not wanting to limit it to just hitters, I looked at pitchers as well. I don’t think pitching has a go-t0 “slash line” quite like hitting, so I used ERA/FIP/K% as a substitute.
The results of “Mr. [fill in team here]” are below.
But first, a few more notes about the methodology used here.
This only includes the years a player spent with one franchise. If Willie Mays‘s slash line during his final two seasons with the Mets had lined up perfectly with their all-time slash line, then he would be “Mr. Met,” even though we all know that such a designation is probably not what Mays should be known for. (Not to give any answers away, but Willie Mays is, in fact, not Mr. Met.)
Often, it was not easy to choose between several players. To break a tie, I took into account the number of plate appearances (or innings pitched) for a team. That is to say, 1,000 trumped ten. If that didn’t help, I looked at who played more recently. That might not be fair but the average reader can likely contextualize Marco Scutaro better than Toots Coyne.
And if neither time spent with a franchise nor a little recency bias helped break a tie, I looked at OPS+. Speaking of OPS+ or wRC+, I was not too worried about adjusting for era. We can all agree that a .260/.325/.380 slash line likely meant something different in 1909 versus 1999, but finding a player who matches the Padres’ all-time wRC+ (Alan Wiggins!) is neither hard nor much fun. Finding a player who has close to an identical slash line is.
Lastly, all team stats were current as of Sunday evening and in some cases were built on the scaffolding of over 100 years of statistics. Therefore, expect the numbers to remain pretty stable, even if you don’t read this column until next month.
If you are still with me, for Part 1 we are looking at the National League. The American League can be found in Part 2.
Batting: .257/.326/.417 (126,523 PA)
Pitching: 4.23 ERA/4.20 FIP/19.2 K% (29,455 IP)
- Robby Hammock, 2003-2008, 2011: .254/.312/.407 (527 PA)
- Chase Anderson, 2014-2015: 4.18/4.17/19.2% (267 IP)
Because the Diamondbacks are the youngest franchise in the NL, it was hard finding a match for their all-time hitting slash line as compared to the other 14 teams. Robby Hammock, a career bench guy and current coach of the Diamondbacks came the closest, though.
As for the pitching side, their 19.2 K% for pitchers is easily the highest in the NL, which makes sense given that the team has existed solely in a high-strikeout era. And Chase Anderson’s ERA is several ticks short but other than that he is without a doubt a pretty good Mr. Diamondback.
Batting: .261/.323/.375 (824,325 PA)
Pitching: 3.64 ERA/3.70 FIP/12.7 K% (192,200.2 IP)
There is not a whole lot to say about Mr. Possum Whitted other than his real name was George, and he died over 55 years go. He wasn’t a Brave for very long but he made it count. As for the nickname “Possum,” this is what SABR had to say.
You will not be shocked to learn that there are very few Google results for “Poffin Belly” and they all come back to Whitted.
Ray Crone only spent five seasons in MLB but a bulk of that time was spent in the Braves organization. He was traded to the New York Giants in 1957 for the aforementioned Red Schoendienst.
Batting: .263/.326/.384 (820,320 PA)
Pitching: 3.67 ERA/3.71 FIP/13.6 K% (191,420.2 IP)
I remember Mitch Webster pretty well from watching Cubs games way back when on WGN. Had you asked me to describe him before doing this exercise, I would have said he was the most average baseball player I can imagine so this works out pretty well. And so we are clear, that is the furthest thing from an insult when talking about a player who took almost 4,000 trips to the plate for a career.
Rich Nye’s FIP deviates slightly from the average but his ERA and strikeout rate are right on point. More important, he was the favorite player of the mother of Banished to the Pen’s own Brandon Lee. Per Brandon’s mom: “He was an average but very handsome pitcher for the Cubs during the Banks/Santo/Williams era.”
From Rich Nye’s Wikipedia page:
Story checks out.
Nye, of course, is now a veterinarian for exotic birds in Lisle, Illinois. (It is a very neat story if you have the time.)
Batting: .261/.325/.381 (795,217 PA)
Pitching: 3.74 ERA/3.79 FIP/12.9 K% (186,188.2 IP)
Both Billy Myers and Clay Kirby hold the distinction of playing for a World Series winning Reds squad (1940, 1975). Sadly, neither are still with us and Kirby died at the young age of 43 from a heart attack, but they are still the ultimate Reds.
Batting: .275/.340/.443 (156,521 PA)
Pitching: 4.98 ERA/4.64 FIP/16.4 K% (35,773 IP)
Although Nick is not related to the other Hundleys, it did seem impossible to get through this column without bumping into at least one. And to the surprise of no one, the Rockies have the best slash line in the history of the National League, as well as the worst ERA and FIP by far. Due to their relatively short history and the overall wackiness of Coors Field, it was not easy finding great matches but Hundley and John Thomson come the closest.
As for Thomson, the following is included on his Wikipedia page.
There is no corroborating evidence online that such a golf tournament actually exists.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Batting: .262/.327/.376 (788,907 PA)
Pitching: 3.54 ERA/3.60 FIP/14.7 K% (184,788 IP)
- Juan Samuel, 1990-1992: .258/.321/.377 (1,353 PA)
- Don Newcombe, 1949-1958: 3.51/3.62/13.3% (1,662.2 IP)
Juan Samuel is first and foremost identified as a Phillie. That is where he spent most of his time in MLB, that is where he briefly coached. But all this time he has actually been Mr. Dodger.
From a run prevention standpoint, the Dodgers are the class of the NL. This is a franchise that has been around a very long time and they have essentially sent Don Newcombe – a very, very good pitcher – to the mound for almost 185,000 innings. Newcombe was one of the best pitchers of his era (two years of which he missed out on due to military service), and he was also the first African-American to win 20 games and start a World Series game.
Batting: .258/.325/.399 (154,302 PA)
Pitching: 4.29 ERA/4.23 FIP/18.0 K% (35,954 IP)
- Wes Helms, 2006, 2008-2011: .257/.321/.390 (1,201 PA)
- John Burkett, 1995-1996: 4.31/4.12/16.1% (342.1 IP)
For all intents and purposes, Wes Helms was your ultimate utility guy – 13 seasons in the league playing all over the infield and only once did he eclipse 308 plate appearances. His career ended quietly in 2011 like a lot of careers do, being assigned to Triple-A and then released soon after. In his very solid 15-year career, John Burkett pitched for five different franchises, and of those five, he pitched the fewest innings for the Marlins. Two very different careers, one very similar distinction: They are both true Marlins Men.
Batting: .258/.325/.401 (300,209 PA)
Pitching: 4.19 ERA/4.24 FIP/15.0 K% (70,179 IP)
A sentence for both David Bell and Mike Buddie: Bell spent 12 seasons in MLB (1995-2006) and waited until the very last one to become a Mr. ____. Buddie helped Kevin Costner on his pitching mechanics to prepare for the movie For Love of the Game and also had a brief cameo in the film.
New York Mets
Batting: .250/.318/.377 (341,972 PA)
Pitching: 3.78 ERA/3.81 FIP/16.7 K%
- Charlie Neal, 1962-1963: .248/.321/.364 (861 PA)
- Anthony Young, 1991-1993: 3.82/3.73/12.5% (270.2 IP)
Charlie Neal was a member of the inaugural Mets squad that lost 120 games so he did not do a lot of winning while in the Big Apple, and though his slugging is not a great match, he is still the closest to the perfect Met that I could find.
The idea that Anthony Young had nearly the same run prevention numbers during his few years as a Met as the entire franchise makes me smile. Most are aware, but Young is most famous for losing 27 consecutive games for the Mets from 1992-1993 for games in which he was in line for the decision. This streak, which garnered a lot of publicity at the time, was never quite fair to Young. We all know that the win/loss stat is pretty stupid, and Young’s ERA in 1992 and 1993 was not much worse than the NL average. He just had rotten luck, a lot of it. Like the second worst deviation from ERA to FIP in 1992. Young finally got his win in 1993, and he pitched a few more seasons after that and was pretty decent at it, too. He died last June from an inoperable brain tumor. If there is any justice in this world, from this day on he will be better known as Mr. Met rather than the pitcher who lost a lot of games in a row.
Batting: .261/.326/.379 (791,842 PA)
Pitching: 3.98 ERA/3.82 FIP/13.0 K% (183,985.2 IP)
The rare case of both Mr. Phillies playing at the same time. Both won a World Series (1980), too. Also notable: Bob Boone (son of Ray, father of Bret, Aaron) matches up very well with the Phillies and that is over the span of more than 4,000 plate appearances. If keeping score, that is the largest sample of plate appearances so far.
Batting: .264/.326/.379 (795,493 PA)
Pitching: 3.72 ERA/3.69 FIP/12.5 K% (185,583.1 IP)
- Jack Phillips, 1949-1952: .264/.326/.387 (464 PA)
- Steve Blass, 1964-1974: 3.63/3.61/13.2% (1,597.1 IP)
There is not a lot to say about Jack Phillips, other than he was a few slugging points short from being a perfect match, so let’s skip straight to Steve Blass. Blass is most famous for all of a sudden being unable to throw a pitch near home plate, and this happened the season after he finished second in Cy Young voting so we are not talking about a bad pitcher here. He was the original Rick Ankiel and he was never right again. Without his lost 1973 and 1974 seasons, his stats likely don’t qualify for Mr. Pirate status so that is some solace, I guess.
San Diego Padres
Batting: .250/.317/.374 (298,754 PA)
Pitching: 3.96 ERA/4.01 FIP/16.2 K% (70,440 IP)
Poor Padres. Almost 300,000 plate appearances in MLB, all of which have occurred after they lowered the mound, and they have hit like, well, Geoff Blum. I couldn’t think of a whole lot to say about Eric Stults either, which means these guys really are the perfect Padres.
San Francisco Giants
Batting: .264/.329/.387 (792,689 PA)
Pitching: 3.57 ERA/3.71 FIP/13.2 K% (185,069.2 IP)
- Travis Ishikawa, 2006-2010, 2014-2015: .264/.327/.396 (752 PA)
- Dave LaPoint, 1985: 3.57/3.71/13.8% (206.2 IP)
Best known for embarrassing Mike Matheny at his place of work, Travis Ishikawa also had a career slash line in the Bay Area that summed up this ancient franchise better than anyone.
And while it’s not quite as impressive as their rival in SoCal, one glance at the Giants’ run prevention numbers over all those years and it’s little surprise that they have won so many pennants. Sure, Dave LaPoint only spent one season with the Giants, but he was a 2.4-win player per FanGraphs that year and his stats matched the franchise’s numbers almost perfectly.
St. Louis Cardinals
Batting: .266/.330/.382 (799,948 PA)
Pitching: .367 ERA/3.71 FIP/13.0 K% (186,277 IP)
- Coaker Triplett, 1941-1943: .266/.333/.382 (404 PA)
- Larry Jackson, 1955-1962: 3.67/3.55/12.7% (1,672.1 IP)
Coaker (real name Herman) Triplett was mostly a World War II-era player, who spent only a third of his short career in St. Louis. He was not an exceptional hitter: he often filled the role of pinch-hitter, after all, but he had pretty good plate discipline. In a way that is a shame because with a few less walks he could have duplicated the Cardinals’ all-time slash line.
Paul Dean, better known as “Daffy” and the brother of “Dizzy,” came close to being Mr. Cardinal for pitchers but the nod goes to Larry Jackson, an excellent pitcher for his era, who made three All-Star Games with the Cardinals and accumulated 53.9 fWAR during his 14 years in MLB. Most important, with nearly 1,700 innings pitched as a hurler for the Redbirds, his ERA is a spot-on match with the team. Sadly, for some inexplicable reason, he is wearing a Cubs hat in his Baseball Reference photo.
Washington Nationals (né Montreal Expos)
Batting: .254/.321/.388 (289,913 PA)
Pitching: 3.87 ERA/3.93 FIP/16.4 K%
- Michael Barrett, 1998-2003: .253/.310/.388 (1,979 PA)
- Randy St. Claire, 1984-1988: 3.92/3.93/13.6% (170 IP)
Although neither Mr. National actually played for the Nationals (they were Expos), they are the best we have. Also, Randy St. Claire was the Nationals pitching coach for a little bit too, so that counts for something. (For hitters, maybe take a look at Lastings Milledge if you have strong convictions that a Mr. National should have played in Washington.) Michael Barrett is likely best known for punching AJ Pierzynski in the face, but this honor is a tad less primitive.
That wraps up the National League. Go to Part 2 for the Mr _____’s of the American League. Maybe we will find a perfect match, something that did not happen with the NL. And if there are players who you feel better capture the statistics for a franchise, please feel free to share in the comment section below. Be sure to show your work.
This post would not be possible without such great resources like FanGraphs Leaderboards and the Play Index from Baseball Reference. Also, special thanks to Darius Austin, Dan Epstein, Brandon Lee, Ken Maeda, Andrew Patrick, and Nick Strangis for research assistance.
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