Unlucky Players? Rangers Have Some, Too
Not long ago, Jason Huffman wrote here at SDI about how North Texas baseball fans are spoiled by the consistently fine brand of ball we’re now getting at The Temple. He told us to quit whining. Well, I have a different kind of whine – a throwback whine, lamenting an injustice that can never be put right.
First, some background on what sent me down this path. National baseball writers David Schoenfield and Joe Sheehan have declared that Felix Hernandez is the unluckiest pitcher of all time. I can’t share Sheehan’s column, it’s in a paid newsletter (well worth the price, btw), but here’s a link to Schoenfield’s article, which you may read after you finish mine.
Their point is that Hernandez has pitched well for a bad team. He has 45 career starts where he held the other team to one run or less and did not get a win. Sheehan takes the argument further, pointing out that despite his remarkable talent, King Felix has never pitched in the post-season because the M’s haven’t reached the post-season since 2001.
Sheehan checked Baseball Reference and found that there are 51 active players with at least 30 career bWAR – Felix is the only one of those who has never played in the post-season. In fact, he’s the top active player, by bWAR, with no post-season appearances. Then, Sheehan went back to 1969, beginning of the divisional era, to build this table:
Poor Felix, right? Well, what immediately jumped out at me were the three players on this list who were “unlucky” enough to play for the Texas Rangers in the 70’s and 80’s, some of the worst teams ever to wear MLB uniforms. From the first season in Texas – when they lost 100 games – through the end of the 80’s, the Rangers had a winning record only eight times. So let’s look at the Rangers on this list, from the bottom up.
Toby Harrah, an original Ranger, played eleven of his 17 MLB season in Texas, providing a mix of speed and power those awful teams didn’t deserve. He was the league’s only 20 HR/20 SB infielder in 1974 and 1975, went to four All-Star games, earned MVP votes two times in his career and earned 32.2 bWAR while in Texas. He never played in a post-season game.
Third on this list is Buddy Bell, the greatest third-baseman in Rangers history until El Capitan arrived. In 1979, his first in Texas, he achieved a personal-best with 200 hits, drove in 101 runs and won the first of his six Gold Glove awards. Bell’s eight Rangers seasons included six consecutive years of 4.7 bWAR or better, five All-Star games and a Silver Slugger award. He never played in a post-season game.
And atop that list is Ferguson Jenkins. The fact that Fergie was cursed with playing most of his career for two absolutely terrible teams – the early Rangers and the Cubs – is proof that the baseball gods don’t care what we think.
The 1974 arrival of Jenkins (at age 35) helped the Rangers achieve that rarest of feats for them, during that era, a winning record. Jenkins tied for the league lead with 25 wins. More remarkable, he pitched 328 innings over 41 starts and led the league in complete games, K/9, and K/BB ratio – with just 45 walks. He posted 7.8 bWAR, third-best total of his 19-year career. He never played in a post-season game.
I understand the case that Sheehan and Schoenfield are making about Felix – he is a generational talent and they believe he deserves a chance to play in the post-season. But when it comes to excellent players who never made the post-season, most Rangers fans don’t have a lot of pity for Hernandez – we have our own excellent guys we can feel sorry for.
P.S. – Sheehan, more than once, has written that the Mariners are “wasting” Felix’s career. My rebuttal: When Hernandez signed a second contract extension with the Mariners in 2013, he’d played eight seasons during which the team had a cumulative winning percentage of .450. They lost more than 100 games twice in that time. They were terrible. And yet, team officials said Hernandez told them, repeatedly, I’d really like to stay here.” So in my book, if Felix’s career has been wasted, he shares the responsibility.