This is the final post in a series of posts regarding players that either get too much credit, or not enough credit for what they accomplished on the diamond. In putting together this list, I mainly focused on guys whose names I’ve heard again and again and again. As with the overrated active players post, this is not an attempt to say that these players weren’t great players, or that they don’t deserve Hall of Fame status (where that applies), but simply that their game doesn’t live up to their hype. In no particular order, here are my top-10 most overrated players of all time:
1. Pete Rose – this isn’t to be a discussion regarding whether or not he should be in the HOF in spite of his crimes against the game. I simply want to point out that just because he has more hits than anyone else in history isn’t quite as impressive as you might be led to believe by Reds fans. Pete Rose also has more at-bats than anyone else in history – by a wide margin. Second on that list is Hank Aaron with almost 2,000 fewer at-bats – that’s about 3 seasons’ worth of at-bats. The man whose record Rose broke (Cobb) had over 3,600 fewer at-bats in his career – that’s around 6 seasons worth! Rose had a career .303 batting average – right about the same as all-time greats Mark Grace, Will Clark and Mike Greenwell . . . oh wait. His career OPS is .784 – 552nd all-time, right around guys like Johnny Damon and Chuck Knoblauch. You might think, “Well, he wasn’t exactly a home-run hitter, so maybe his on-base percentage was high.” Nope. .375 – 211th all-time. With all those hits, he only led the league in batting 3 times in 24 seasons. He only led the league in hits 6 times! “Well, surely a guy with the nickname Charlie Hustle is a guy that stole a lot of bases,” you say to yourself. Afraid not – 198 for his career (only stole more than 16 once), 343rd all-time, and was caught stealing 149 times. Ultimately, Rose was a slightly above-average hitter that managed to stay healthy a lot longer than anyone else, thus allowing him to break one of the more well-respected records in history.
2. Reggie Jackson – how many times have you heard someone say something like “Babe Ruth may have the home run record, but he also holds the strikeout record”? You know what? – Babe Ruth isn’t even in the top-100 in strikeouts. Reggie Jackson holds that record. In fact, he led the league in strikeouts as many times as he led the league in home runs and RBI’s combined. His career slash-line is underwhelming at .262/.356/.490. Even with 563 home runs, his slugging percentage ranks 134th all-time – lower than guys like Javy Lopez and Shawn Green. He never won a Gold Glove – and certainly never deserved one, committing double-digit errors in more than 1/3 of the seasons he played . . . in the outfield. Jackson was the definition of one-dimensional – swing from your heels, and either hit a home run or strikeout. Fortunately for him, he had the hand-eye-coordination and power to hit as many home runs as he did. Otherwise, he’d be Mr. Swing-and-Miss.
3. Yogi Berra – “but, the guy won 3 MVP’s!” you say. Yes he did. And, each year he won that MVP, his WAR was never higher than 5.0. Each year he won the MVP there were no less than 3 batters with better overall stats, and higher WAR scores. As the catcher and clubhouse leader of a team that won 10 World Series, he absolutely belongs in the HOF. But, let’s not confuse one of the top 5 catchers of all-time with being one of the elite greats of all-time. Berra never led the league in a single offensive category. His .830 career OPS is 245th all-time, right around Reggie Sanders. His career slash line is .285/.348/.482 – good for a catcher, but not overwhelming.
4. Tony Perez – okay, for Perez, I take back what I said at the beginning. I have to ask – why is Tony Perez in the Hall of Fame? 23 years in the league – never led the league in a single offensive category; a career .279 batter; 2,732 hits (about 120 per season); 379 home runs (averaged about 24 per season during his best years). Only finished higher than 7th in MVP voting once (3rd in 1970) – never won. Never won a Gold Glove. His career WAR is 245th all-time – lower than Robin Ventura and John Olerud (who are hardly HOF worthy). This clearly is a result of him playing for the right team at the right time. Otherwise, a player like Perez would have gone largely unnoticed.
5. Nolan Ryan – 7 no-hitters is amazing. 5,000 strikeouts will never be matched. But, let’s be real – other than throwing harder than anyone else in the game, what did Ryan accomplish? His average record for a season was 12-11. In an era that was much more pitcher-friendly than it is today, his career ERA was 3.19. He walked nearly 1,000 more batters than the 2nd highest guy on the list. His career WHIP was 1.25. In 27 seasons, only once did he help his team to the World Series – in ’69, when he started all of 10 games for the Mets. Never won a Cy Young. His career WAR is 77.4 – which comes to about 2.9 per season, which is respectable, but not great (by comparison Bob Gibson’s is 77.5 in 10 fewer seasons). Ryan was a strikeout machine. But, wasn’t really an elite pitcher (and, yes, there’s a difference).
6. Craig Biggio – the bottom line here for me is this – does 3,000 hits automatically mean you belong in the Hall of Fame? Because, other than that, what on earth would make all of his supporters go crazy at the suggestion he doesn’t belong in the Hall? The fact that it took him 20 seasons to just barely cross the 3,000 hit threshold tells me he wasn’t that dominant of a hitter. A career .281 batter. And, it wasn’t like he was getting on base all the time (in spite of all the leaning into pitches that led him to being hit by a pitch more than anyone else 5 times) – his .363 OBP is 382nd all-time. His .796 OPS is 459th all-time. His 62.6 career WAR is 126th all-time – right in the same neighborhood of Dwight Evans. In 20 seasons, he was in just 7 All-Star games (a starter only 4 times). And, it wasn’t like he was a dominant fielder – 4 Gold Gloves in 20 years? Hall of Fame entrance is for the elite players of the game who were dominant for a reasonably lengthy period of time. What pitchers feared Craig Biggio? What was he dominant at doing?
7. Tom Glavine – 305 wins. Yes, that’s quite the feat. But, is it really that impressive when he played 22 seasons, and was essentially the 3rd best pitcher on a team that won 14 consecutive division titles? Glavine is often revered as one of the elites of his era. But, what about a 3.54 career ERA says elite? A 1.31 career WHIP? 2,600 strikeouts spread out over 22 seasons is less than 120 per season. Elite member of his era? not really. More like above average pitcher who was the beneficiary of playing on some very good teams.
Okay, so after much searching and pondering, I have to list the last three guys on here without much in the way of statistical support. These will be simply based on personal bias, rather than anything I can really put a number to. I know that’s not my modus operandi, but I’m honestly having a very difficult time coming up with any more guys that were grossly overrated based on their stats. So, here we go . . .
8. Jim Edmonds – those who know me know how much I despised his play. He was cocky, arrogant, and had almost no game to back it up. I was not happy when my own favorite team picked him up. He was often spoken of highly for his fielding skills, and while he was certainly fast enough to cover a lot of ground in CF, I’ve never seen a guy flop for more balls than Jim Edmonds. The guy would half-dive for stuff that was clearly well within reach, and everyone acted like it was an amazing play. Terribly overrated.
9. Mark McGwire – there’s a sentiment out there that says, regarding the HOF, “either let them all in, or keep them all out” when talking about guys that are linked to steroid or PED use. I think this would be a terrible mistake in the case of guys like McGwire (& Sosa, & Palmeiro). Barry Bonds was absolutely a HOFer before steroids. McGwire absolutely was not. He was a guy who was very good for a few years, had injury trouble, and would likely have wound up with around 400 home runs were it not for PED’s. He was basically a .250 hitter who could hit around 30 home runs, when healthy, before he suddenly became a monstrous home-run hitter at the age of 32. If those suspected of steroids ever begin to make it into the HOF, McGwire should still not be considered worthy.
10. Bobby Cox – fourteen consecutive division titles. That sounds impressive. Until you talk about what else was accomplished. How many World Series titles? 1 – in a strike-shortened year. How many National League titles? 5. And, how many times did they lose in the first round of the playoffs? seven! I’ve repeatedly said that with the pitching staff they had in Atlanta all those years, a monkey could have managed that team to a division title. Cox was constantly outmaneuvered and outmanaged when it came to the games that mattered.