The November Twenty-Sixers

Saturday, November 26 2022 @ 04:36 PM EST

Contributed by: Mike Green

My favourite birthday team belongs to those born on November 26.  There were no slam-dunk Hall of Famers born today, just a large number of very good players.  I have commented on this team before, maybe 5-10 years ago, but there have been some recent significant additions to round out the club.  First, here's the pool of players to choose from.  You can sort them by WAR to get a general flavour of what we are talking about. 

Here are the players with a brief statistical review, a link to their SABR bio if there is one, and comments from me if the players were known to me during my fandom.  We begin with the lineup:

Leading-off and playing CF: Hugh Duffy (Hall of Fame, best 3 consecutive years 1893-1895, slashed .385/.448/.545 or 144 OPS+, 14.4 WAR, bio)

Batting 2nd and DHing:        Matt Carpenter (best 3 consecutive years, 2013-15, slashed  .288/.378/.454 or 129 OPS+, 14.5 WAR)

Carpenter is, of course, a professional hitter, who also played third base and first base competently, and second base and a corner outfield slot occasionally.  The team has three very good players at first and third base, so something has to give.  Carpenter starts the season at DH, but might be called on to play first or third base should injuries strike.

Batting 3rd and playing 3B:  Bob Elliott (best 3 consecutive years 1947-49, slashed .294/.410/.487 or 142 OPS+,  17.9 WAR, bio)
I did not know that Elliott played in Toronto during his minor league career and that Duffy had managed here.  There's a story there of all the great players that came through, with the last (I think) being Reggie Smith in 1966).  Bob Elliott first came to my attention from a study reported in one of Bill James' abstracts, which suggested that right-field to third base conversions rarely succeed.  Elliott was the one truly unqualified success.

Batting cleanup and playing LF: Bob Johnson (best 3 consecutive years 1937-39, slashed .319/.424/.554 or 148 OPS+, 16.3 WAR, bio)
Johnson was stuck behind Al Simmons and did not get a chance until he was 27 year old and Connie Mack was selling off players from the great A's team of the early 30s.  He still managed to put up some impressive career totals.

Batting fifth and playing 1B: Fred Tenney (best 3 consecutive years 1902-04, slashed .298/.390/.370 or 132 OPS+, 12.0 WAR, wikipedia bio)
Tenney apparently was the first player to play first base deep and also began the 3-6-3 double play.  Hmm.

Batting sixth and playing RF: Jorge Orta (best 3 consecutive years 1973-75, slashed  .297/.346/.432 or 122 OPS+,  9.0 WAR)
Jorge was a part-time DH for the Blue Jays in 1983, the year that they emerged as a team to be reckoned with .  What a fun team that was- Lloyd Moseby and Willie Upshaw emerged as excellent players, Jesse Barfield was progressing, Rance Mulliniks became a professional hitter- and so much else.  Orta hit 10 homers in part-time play that year, and wasn't a bad bench player, but not as good with the bat as Cliff Johnson and nowhere near the defensive player that he had a few years earlier with Cleveland or (mostly as a second baseman) in the early 70s in Chicago. 

Batting seventh and catching: Cal Raleigh (career 2021-22, slashed .202/.268/.440 or 101 OPS+, 3.3 WAR)
We won't say anything about his post-season performance.  As Gilbert Gottfried said in The Aristocrats, "too soon".

Batting eighth and playing SS: Eddie Miller (best 3 consecutive years 1940-42, slashed .253/.299/.361 or 91 OPS+, 10.2 WAR)
A fine fielding shortstop of the same general type as Marty Marion, but not quite as good with the glove.  Miller probably would have won the Gold Glove in 1940, Marion's rookie year.  They didn't give them out then, so it's just a guess.

Batting ninth and playing 2B: Harold Reynolds (best 3 consecutive years 1988-90, slashed .278/.345/.366 or 98 OPS+, 10.9 WAR)
Younger folk here know him as a broadcaster, and he's a generic former ballplayer in that role.  As a player, he was also a classic defence-first middle infielder.  He won Gold Gloves in each of the his three best years, and was indeed very good there.  I had forgotten how bad he was stealing bases and how often he tried.  In 1988 and 1989, years after Bill James became well known, managers permitted Reynolds to run into 35/29 and 26/18 base-stealing marks.  The Managers were Dick Williams (who always seemed to have some issue or the other with his second basemen), Jim Snyder and Jim Lefebvre.   Anyways, our manager (Jeff Torborg was born on November 26 if you're wondering) will have to rein him in.  And the defence up the middle of the diamond with Miller, Reynolds and Duffy will come in handy, as our pitchers do not strike out tons of batters.

The bench:

Richie Hebner 1B/3B/DH would start every day on most clubs and maybe should on this one (best 3 consecutive years 1971-73, slashed .280/.351/.490 or a 136 OPS+, 10.2 WAR).    He had over 100 post-season PAs and hit about as well there as during the regular season.  For what it's worth, Hebner had larger platoon splits than Carpenter, and you might use them accordingly. You'd probably want both in against RHPs and maybe Tenney sits some of the time.  You could play Carpenter in right-field and Orta at second base and gain quite a bit on offence while sacrificing some on defence.  You might do that depending on your starting pitcher.

Brian Schneider: C.  Nice to have some Expo content, and a fine, fine backup catcher.  He was a good defender who hit a lot better than your average backup.

John Kerr 2B/SS. Garden variety middle infield backup from late 20s early thirties

Jim Canavan OF- emergency centerfielder when Duffy is hurt; Matt Carpenter would be a better choice in RF if a corner OF got hurt

The rotation:

Lefty Gomez (Hall of Fame, best 3 consecutive years 1933-35, 54-30, 2.87 ERA or 140 ERA+, 5.4 K/9, 16.2 WAR bio)
So many Gomez stories.  Including the famous Greenberg/DiMaggio/Speaker story which I'll let someone else tell.  He was superb in the World Series, making 7 starts and going 6-0 with 4 complete games and a 2.86 ERA.

Chuck Finley (best 3 consecutive seasons 1989-91, 52-27, 2.93 or 134 ERA+, 6.8 K/9, 16.7 WAR, wikipedia bio)
It's been 20 years since Finley last pitched and probably there are people here who do not remember him.  The man got only 1 Hall of Fame vote when he was eligible.  But he was an excellent pitcher from age 26 to 37, and had 3 years in there (1990, 1993 and 1998) when he was one of the top three pitchers in the American League. Don't ask about the Cy Young voting.  And then there's the Tawny Kitaen saga you can read about in the linked wikipedia bio.  For what it's worth,he has the most career bWAR of any player here.

Matt Garza (best 3 consecutive years 2008-10, 34-31, 3.86 or 109 ERA+, 7.1 K/9, 8.6 WAR)
How can I not like Matt Garza?  He's one of the best MG's to ever take the mound.  And when the Rays acquired him and Jason Bartlett for Delmon Young, I knew that they were on their way and said so here and over at Primer.  Often wrong, but not that time.  I said at the time, that the X factor- motivation, discipline- would impede Young's development.  I was not wrong.  But little did I know how fast it would happen; the Rays did get lucky early in 2008 and their service time manipulation with Longoria didn't end up hurting them during the season. 

Larry Gura.(best 3 consecutive years 1980-82, 47-30, 3.27 or 120 ERA+, 3.5 K/9!, 11.7 WAR, bio)
See what I mean about needing that strong defensive middle infield!  Gura was a classic lefty pitcher of the Tommy John type- completely controlled the running game (96/80 career for base-stealers), kept the ball in the yard, didn't walk many, fielded his position and let his defence do the work.  He was ideally suited to playing in Kansas City and thrived there- with significant home/road splits.

Mike Moore (best 3 consecutive years 1987-89, 37-45, 3.68 or 114 ERA+, 6 K/9, 10.8 WAR)
Exhibit M in why won-loss records don't tell you much.  Moore went 18-34 with the Mariners in 1987-88 despite pretty good ERAs.  Silly things like letting Harold Reynolds steal bases ineffectively didn't help him.  He gets traded to the A's and goes 19-11 in 1989.  He does pitch better, it's true, but that only explains half of it.  Moore pitched well in the post-season until 1992.  Good first name and excellent timing- I like him too. 

The bullpen:

Closer Jay Howell (best 3 years 1988-90, 210 innings, 65 saves, 1.92 ERA or 182 ERA+, 7.5 WAR)
Howell made 4 appearances in the post-season in 1988, allowed 3 runs and lost twice, but the Dodgers won it all anyways.  Thanks, Kirk. 

Set-up Corey Knebel (best 3 consecutive years so far 2016-18, 57 saves, 2.96 ERA or 144 ERA+, 3.8 WAR)

Others: Bob Walk long man, Hector Velasquez, John Parrish (left-hander)

I think that this club is a World Series contender most years.  It doesn't have a single no-doubt Hall of Famer, but a bunch of players who are within spitting distance and fall on one side of the line or the other.  And then a number of other good solid players that you need to have to win a championship.