Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Best Player to Never Make an All-Star Team

In a post talking about the players who hit the most home runs in their career without ever being selected to an All-Star team - well, that and how Eric Karros might want to stop whining about never going to the Midsummer Classic - Rob Neyer added this:
Let's not shed too many tears for Eric Karros. The best part of his game was his power, and for a player of his era he didn't have all that much power. You may, on the other hand, fell just a little bit sorry for Tim Salmon. Karros's career OPS+ was 107; Salmon's was 128, and he twice finished seventh in MVP balloting. I don't know if he's the best player who was never an All-Star, but he's gotta be close.
"I don't know if he's the best player who was never an All-Star, but he's gotta be close." It's almost a throwaway line, but it's a question just begging to be answered: who is the best player to never be an All-Star? I've seen the question before in relation the the MVP award (where Wade Boggs and Mike Piazza usually make the top of the list), but never with the All-Star Game. And, considering the large number of All-Stars every year, the list has to be much smaller (though a little less glamorous).

As I've done a few times before, I decided to use Win Shares, which is the best all-around stat that I have available, to find the answer. I had to restrict the list to players who retired after 1940. Since the All Star Game didn't begin until 1933, it seems unfair to count someone like Rogers Hornsby, who retired in 1937 and never really got a chance to play in an All-Star Game during his prime. I struggled a little trying to decide what the best cut-off date was, but, with 7 All-Star Games having been played by 1940, it seemed fair. Plus, the 1940 cut-off date doesn't skew the numbers much in anyway, so it should work well.
Top 15 Players Who Were Never an All-Star, by Win Shares

1. Tony Phillips, '82-'99 (268 WS)
2. Joe Kuhel, '30-'47 (243 WS)
3. Tim Salmon, '92-'06 (233 WS)
4. Babe Herman, '26-'45 (232 WS)
5. Charley Root, '23-'41 (223 WS)
6. Freddie Fitzsimmons, '25-'43 (222 WS)
7. Todd Zeile, '89-'04 (221 WS)
8. Richie Hebner, '68-'85 (219 WS)
9. Kirk Gibson, '79-'95 (218 WS)
10. Jose Cardenal, '63-'80 (212 WS)
11. Garry Maddox, '72-'86 (203 WS)
12. Kevin McReynolds, '83-'94 (202 WS)
13. Hal Trosky, '33-'46 (195 WS)
14. Bill Doran, '82-'93 (193 WS)
15. Bill Bruton, '53-'64 (190 WS)
Rob was pretty close to right when he said that Tim Salmon may be the best player to never have made an All-Star team, but he wasn't right on. Somehow, though, it's infielder extraordinaire Tony Phillips, from the late-'80s A's and early-'90s Tigers, to make it atop the list. From there, we find former Washington Senator and Chicago White Sox Joe Kuhel, who spent the bulk of his career in the All-Star era, but could never quite cut it. Salmon comes third, followed by a couple of 1930s-era players in Babe Herman and Charley Root.

I have to admit, I'm much more surprised at seeing Tony Phillips at the top of the list than I am at seeing Salmon at number three. Maybe it's because I was a little older when Salmon was playing than when Phillips was, I don't know. I actually had trouble remembering who Phillips was at first until I saw a couple of his baseball cards from 1988 and '89. He had a strong career though, with a 118 OPS+ or better five separate times and a career 109 OPS+ playing mostly at second base.

One last thing: when I initially looked at this list, I thought for sure that looking at the Black Ink and Gray Ink numbers for these non-All Stars would give us a good list of the best players never to make an All Star team, but it doesn't seem to work that way. Using the weighted Gray Ink Test I discussed here, we actually find two things: the best non-All Stars on the list are disproportionally from the 1930s and 1940s, when there were much fewer teams (a standard problem with Black and Gray Ink Tests), and the players listed above who didn't play in the 1940s actually score kind of poorly on the weighted Gray Ink Test. Which might make sense, if you think about it: if those players were routinely in the top 10 in major offensive categories, then they'd likely have been an All-Star at some point. Here are the top 10 non-All Star players, by weighted Gray Ink score, followed by the Gray Ink scores of the 15 players listed above.
Top 10 Players Who Were Never an All-Star, by Weighted Gray Ink Score

1. Charley Root, '23-'41 (100.9 pts, 223 WS)
2. Babe Herman, '26-'45 (66 pts, 232 WS)
3. Dennis Leonard, '74-'86 (62.5 pts, 133 WS)
4. Hal Trosky, '33-'46 (60.2 pts, 195 WS)
5. Freddie Fitzsimmons, '25-'43 (59.1 pts, 222 WS)
6. Bump Hadley, '26-'41 (57.6 pts, 175 WS)
7. Guy Bush, '23-'45 (56.8 pts, 167 WS)
8. Cesar Tovar, '65-'76 (48.1 pts, 178 WS)
9. Juan Pierre, 2000-?? (45.2 pts, 131 WS)
10. Ellis Kinder, '46-'57 (39.6 pts, 145 WS)
I might be tempted to say Charley Root or Babe Herman are the best non-All Stars ever, but I don't think I can bring myself to say that since a) they didn't have an All Star game for a good portion of their career and b) the Gray Ink tests are always skewed towards their era. It's hard to know exactly how to account for all of that. Among the others, Dennis Leonard was a workhorse for the Kansas City Royals during the '70s, but it's still pretty surprising to see someone like him so close to the top. Current Los Angeles Dodger Juan Pierre also finds himself pretty high on the list. Looking at his BR page, the black ink jumps out in the games played, at-bats, hits, and stolen base categories.
Weighted Grey Ink Scores of Top Non-All Stars (by Win Shares)

1. Tony Phillips - 268 WS, 29.2 pts
2. Joe Kuhel - 243 WS, 32.2 pts
3. Tim Salmon - 233 WS, 23.6 pts
4. Babe Herman - 232 WS, 66 pts
5. Charley Root - 223 WS, 100.9 pts
6. Freddie Fitzsimmons - 222 WS, 59.1 pts
7. Todd Zeile - 221 WS, 7.5 pts
8. Richie Hebner - 219 WS, 1.5 pts
9. Kirk Gibson - 218 WS, 15.3 pts
10. Jose Cardenal - 212 WS, 17.7 pts
11. Garry Maddox - 203 WS, 14.6 pts
12. Kevin McReynolds - 202 WS, 14.3 pts
13. Hal Trosky - 195 WS, 60.2 pts
14. Bill Doran - 193 WS, 9.5 pts
15. Bill Bruton - 190 WS, 28.5 pts


Anonymous said...

First-time/long-time :-)

Good post and an interesting topic but doing it only by career WS leaves the "accumulator" problem. Is the list dominated by guys who were OK to good for a very long time (like Tony Phillips) or great players who were just passed over for whatever reason (like Kirk Gibson or Tim Salmon)? Another way to look at it would be to find the top WS seasons by non-All-Stars or perhaps highest WS/year for non-All-Stars.

Just some thoughts - love the column & the blog. . . .

lar said...

Thanks, Anon. Glad you like the post/blog.

You're right about the limitations with using Win Shares for something like this. And that thought always crosses my mind when I do this type of post.

But you can only do so much, you know? Usually, a list like this does a good job of naming the top 10 or 15 people, even if some might argue if #8 really belongs in the #1 spot, and so on. In this list, for example, Phillips may not be the true, subjective #1, but it's hard to say that someone not on the list really deserves the title. Gibson or Salmon or Herman could be, sure, but Delino Deshields? Eric Karros? Danny Darwin?

Maybe I'm wrong, but, by looking at it that way, it seems to work for me.

Phil Birnbaum said...

Kirk Gibson surprises me ... I'd rate him below Tim Salmon, but he's a lot more famous than Tim Salmon and there's been a lot more hype about him.

Very cool.

Paul said...

Interesting post. You're right that this is a good way to come up with the top 15 or so best ever to not make the All Star game. I think that Anonymous is right about the "accumulator" problem though. Just because Phillips had more win shares doesn't mean he was a better player than Tim Salmon. I also think that strictly speaking, Babe Herman was the best on this list, but he probably would've been an All Star had the game come around earlier.