Year Inducted: 1986 (BBWAA, 1st ballot, 346/425)
If this were a study based purely on talent and accomplishments, this article wouldn’t be written yet. If this weren’t a purely statistical ranking, meaning a player’s playing time and defense are key components of his evaluation, this article would come much further down the line. If emotion and testimony were taken into account, this post happens about 100 spots later. Unfortunately, numbers aren’t always the kindest. Time and injuries can take their toll on a body, and can seriously damage how a player is looked back upon (take the hint Pujols). Willie McCovey was without question one of the greatest sluggers of all-time. However, there are some things that limit how well he ranks in a study like this. But first, let’s look at McCovey’s positives.
Stretch was one of the most feared hitters of all-time. He slashed .270/.374/.515 in his great 22-year career for a wRC+ of 145. McCovey mashed 521 home runs, along with 353 doubles and 49 triples among his 2211 career hits. Spending a lot of time in the same lineup as Willie Mays, McCovey had a lot of RBI opportunities to take advantage of, which he did admirably. McCovey knocked in over 1500 runs, and scored over 1200 runs which is impressive considering he was a big and tall man (Stretch was well over 6 feet tall and over 200 pounds in his prime). While McCovey was not an obviously fast baserunner, he still grades out as a fairly neutral one according to Fangraphs (only being slightly negative after 22 seasons).
Defensively he was bad. There’s no sugar coating needed, McCovey was a typical slugger and not very good defensively. When he first came up, he had to transition to the outfield for a time and he did OK for the first few years there, and back at first base. Soon, his knees really began to take their toll on the big man.
McCovey’s career arc is an interesting one. From 1959-1962, he played in a total of 350 games and had roughly 1000 at bats (250 a season). Mostly, he was a young player going through some growing pains and finding it difficult to do so while used in a platoon situation. He finally became a full-time player in 1963, and until 1970 was just impossible to pitch to. He hit an astounding .288/.391/.561 in that time frame with 288 home runs. He quickly cemented himself as one of the top hitters in the league. And then, in Spring of 1971, he tore the cartilage in his knee (which had given him consistent fits with soreness), and that effectively ended the time he spent as a top hitter at only 8 seasons. For the final 10 seasons of his career, McCovey was mostly a part-time player, showing occasional flashes of his previous dominance but had trouble sustaining anything for a full season. While still effective, he only amassed a line of .249/.355/.451 in his last 10 seasons.
McCovey’s knees and other various ailments probably robbed him of 100 home runs. It’s one of the most unfortunate things in the history of the game. There are a lot of great hitters, especially from McCovey’s own era, and he can stand up to a lot of them statistically; he just can’t necessarily beat them.
Stay tuned for the next update.
On deck 9/5/16, what better way to celebrate Labor Day than talking baseball? What’s more baseball than the home run? Let’s look at a guy who got his nickname for his home run feats.