Welcome back Interwebs, this is Lucas Kinser with the second in a ten-part piece on players who should get a second look by the Baseball Hall of Fame.
One revision I’ve decided to make is that the players analyzed must have never reached 25% in the Baseball Writers’ voting, meaning they barely even had a chance. As I got some negative feedback from my Bobby Bonds column, I’d like to remind you that these men aren’t slam dunks by any means. I just feel they didn’t receive enough credit for their successful careers and should at least get a second look by the Veterans’ Committee.
Next up is a backstop that quietly spend more than 20 seasons racking up Hal-worthy numbers:
- Spent 21 seasons with three teams
- Played most of his career as a catcher
- Highest percentage received: 3.7% in 1994
Traditional Career Offensive Stats:
Despite playing more than 1,700 games at catcher, a position not often occupied by solid hitters, Simmons posted a career .285 average with 248 home runs and 1,389 RBI. His closest Hall-of-Fame contemporary, Carlton Fisk, was very comparable in his career, batting .269 with 376 HRs and 1,330 RBI.
A patient hitter as well, he drew 855 career walks while striking out just 694 times, helping lead to a .348 career on-base percentage. Among catchers with at least 200 home runs from 1968-88, he is the only one with more walks than strikeouts.
And he even matches up favorably to the rest of Cooperstown’s backstops throughout history, scoring more runs than Gary Carter, hitting more homers than Roy Campanella and smacking more doubles than any of the 13 catchers in the Hall (483).
Traditional Single-Season stats/honors:
During his prime with St. Louis, Simmons posted some seasons that were elite not just by catchers’ standards. From 1971-80, he ranked in the top five in baseball in hits (1,631), doubles (324) and RBI (903), pacing all catchers in the first two categories and trailing only Johnny Bench in RBI. But while Bench had “The Big Red Machine” to support him in the lineup, Simons was driving in guys like Bake McBride, Reggie Smith and Ted Sizemore (as well as Lou Brock for the sake of full disclosure).
While he never led the league in any major offensive category, he did consistently rank in the top ten in average (six times), doubles (eight), RBI (six) and intentional walks (seven). His success is evident in his eight All-Star selections and three times being among the league’s top ten vote-getters for the MVP award.
A key contributor for multiple teams, Simmons’ consistent success is shown through many Sabrmetric categories. For one, he posted 12 seasons with a Wins Above Replacement number of three or better, meaning he played well enough to be a starter on most any team in the sport.
Among all catchers to play the game, his career 50.3 WAR ranks 10th, ahead of Hall of Fame backstops Ernie Lombardi, Roger Bresnahan, Roy Campanella, Rick Ferrell and Ray Schalk, while sitting very close to Mickey Cochrane (52.0), Gabby Hartnett (53.4) and Bill Dickey (55.9).
Beyond WAR, he posted an even more impressive Win Probability Added (the number of wins or loses the player provided his team over his career), ranking second all-time among catchers behind Mike Piazza with 30.15. But this will be elaborated on in the Postseason section.
Never considered an elite fielder, Simmons’ numbers show he was fairly competent behind the plate. He possessed a fairly average arm, allowing 1,188 stolen bases in 1,771 career games behind the plate. But he covered a lot of ground, ranking among the top five in range factor in five different seasons while pacing the AL in fielding percentage in 1982. It also bears mention that despite playing in the 14th-most games at catcher, he ranks outside the top 100 in errors, averaging one every 13 or 14 games.
A product of joining St. Louis at the end of the 1960s dynasty, Simmons made just two appearances in the postseason, both with Milwaukee in 1981 and ’82. While he batted a dismal .174 in the 1982 World Series, he did launch a pair of homers in games 1 and 2 of the classic.
And while some could hold it against Simmons that could rarely lead his team to the postseason, it should be noted that the stellar 30.15 WPA shows he was a pivotal member of those clubs. He wasn’t the reason for the lack of success; it was the poor pitching (allowing 600 or more runs in every season of the 1970s).
There is a gap in the Hall of Fame that needs to be filled. Of the 13 catchers in the Hall of Fame, only three retired after 1980 (Bench, Fisk and Carter). More may well be coming in the future, but it feels like the voters went light on a position that is often overlooked. Simmons, however, transcends the stereotypes of offensively-anemic catchers, ranking favorably among his three contemporaries, as well as his entire era. The Veterans’ Committee should give this man a serious look when the Expansion Era candidates are voted on for the Class of 2014.
Thanks for reading my blog. Please follow me on twitter at @LucasKinser and keep an eye on my blog for parts 3-10. Until then, goodnight and have a great week!