Candidate obituaries for the Zero Percenters
It’s likely that much of the discussion currently going on in the baseball world is of who got in the Hall of Fame, if they were deserving, and the travesty of those who didn’t make it but should have. I enjoy that discussion to an extent, but I also don’t see much value in debating people who have a fundamentally different view on things, especially when it comes to PEDs. I — and I’m assuming many of you — have heard all the arguments for or against allowing players suspected of or who have admitted using PEDs into Cooperstown. Other than time, I don’t really see what’s going to change the mind of anyone who has done the proper amount of research* on the subject.
*Apparently to some, doing actual research instead of just trusting our eyes and often-flawed memories is something to be mocked.
You don’t want to let Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens in because we pretty much know they used PEDs? Fine by me. You want to vote Lee Smith in because you really value his saves and multi-inning stints? Good on you. I might disagree with the process some use to come to their conclusions, but as long as those opinions are based on facts**, I’ve decided it’s not fun to get into drawn out debates that lead to each side just digging their heels in deeper.
**I recently saw a voter claim he didn’t have Mike Piazza on his ballot because Piazza never denied using steroids. However a simple Google search shows that not only did he deny PED use in his book, but also numerous times prior. You want to assume Piazza did steroids due to his body, bacne, and the era in which he played, I don’t love it, but that’s your right. Just don’t base your opinion on easily debunked falsehoods.
So instead of focusing on what the voters got wrong, I want to talk about the players who failed to get the requisite five percent to stay on for another year. This isn’t a debate as to where they rank amongst the greatest of all time, rather an appreciation of what they accomplished in their substantial careers. In previous years, there’s a good chance a couple of these players might have received that magic five percent, but with the stacked ballot resulting in justified craziness and difficult decisions, they unfortunately got bumped on Year One.
In my first column at Baseball Prospectus I celebrated average, and like I said then, it’s great to aim for being an all-time great, but having a very long, successful — but average — career, is something that deserves recognition as well. The below certainly did that … and often more.
Eddie Guardado (0.0 percent)
Before doing any real research on Guardado, I thought of his nickname, "Everyday Eddie." A quality moniker in an era where that’s getting rarer, but a look at the numbers reminded that he was a pretty damn good closer at his peak. From 1996 to 2006, relievers struck out 18 percent of batters; Guardado eclipsed that with a 23-percent mark. That’s the kind of number you wanted to see from a high-leverage reliever during that time and it seemed he hit his stride in 2000. At the turn of the century, the lefty really found his groove and eventually took hold of the closer’s role in 2002 when he saved 45 games, made the first of back-to-back All-Star appearances, finished 15th in MVP voting, and started a four-year stretch in which he posted a 157 ERA+ and converted 140 saves. Guardado did all this without the blazing fastball one thinks of when imagining the prototypical closer, sitting in the upper 80s with the pitch and relying on a strong breaking ball and change.
Tony Clark (0.0 percent)
It was certainly an interesting career arc for the current head of the MLBPA. Clark was primarily a first baseman during his career (though he did get some decent time at DH and two innings in left field while with the Mets) and an uninspiring one at that, so he was primarily known for his bat. In 1997 he logged his only MVP votes, finishing 18th, and in his age-29 season in 2001 he made his lone All-Star Game; during that five-year span he posted a respectable 126 OPS+. He displayed a patient approach during that time (and throughout his career, boasting a 10.3 percent walk rate), only falling below 10 percent once during those five seasons (9.4 percent in 1998) and peaking at 13.7 percent in 1997. However, Clark’s entry into his 30s didn’t treat him very well, playing only 90 games after signing with the Boston Red Sox (due to poor performance) and dropping from an .856 OPS the previous season to an abysmal .207/.265/.291 slash line. After two decidedly average seasons split between each New York team, Clark then posted his best offensive season as a 33-year-old with a 1.003 OPS with the Diamondbacks. It was the last we’d see of Clark being an impact bat as he suffered a shoulder injury in 2006 and finished his career averaging just 84 games in his final four up-and-down seasons.
Aaron Boone (0.4 percent – two votes)
Boone’s career numbers don’t standout; in fact it points to a slightly below-average 12 seasons in the big leagues, with a 94 OPS+ and UZR, Total Zone, and DRS all having him hovering at slightly below or above average defensively. Although FRAA loved him, I’m sure that’s what the two BBWAA members who voted for him were judging him on. Of course, Boone is most famous for his walk-off home run to end Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS, sending the Red Sox home and the Yankees to the World Series. That moment alone tattoos Boone in our memories, coming up with the biggest hit in one of the more memorable postseasons in recent memory. The 2003 LCS featured two snake-bitten franchises, the Cubs and Red Sox, losing in heartbreaking fashion, the most storied organization in baseball making another World Series appearance, and a shocking run by the Marlins, highlighted by multiple brilliant performances by their ace, Josh Beckett. However, after those playoffs, Boone’s career quickly went downhill. The next February, he tore his ACL playing pick-up basketball, then was unceremoniously dumped by the Yankees, who went on to acquire Alex Rodriguez. Boone missed the entire 2004 season, but came back to play 430 games over the next five seasons, posting an 84 OPS+ while registering a positive WAR(P) just twice during that span.
Troy Percival (0.7 percent – four votes)
In an era when 20-percent strikeout rates were still impressive, Percival passed the 30-percent mark his first four seasons in the big leagues. Unlike Guardado, Percival relied on his heat to generate his gaudy numbers during his peak, tossing his fastball the vast majority of the time while sitting in the mid 90s. From 1995-2002, Percival dropped below a 25-percent strikeout rate just once (22.2 percent in 2000) and notched over 30 saves eight times, twice getting to 40 or above. However, he also only dropped below an eight-percent walk rate once during that span, usually hovering around the 10-percent mark, reaching as high as 13.6 percent in 2000. But the gaudy strikeout numbers covered up the free passes. Percival still racked up 33 saves in both 2003 and 2004, but he was clearly on the downswing of his career and signed with the Detroit Tigers prior to the 2005 season, leaving the only organization he’d known during his pro career. Things nearly immediately went awry for Percival upon arriving in Motown, and he missed 97 games with an elbow strain that season and sat out the entirety of 2006 trying to recover from the injury. He bounced back in 2007 with the Cardinals in a setup role, striking out 24 percent of batters and posting a career-best 6.7 percent walk rate. That season earned him a closing opportunity with the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays, a team that shocked the baseball world with a run to the World Series. Percival notched 28 saves for the team, but generally struggled with a 4.53 ERA, sub-20 percent strikeout rate, and a career-worst 13.9 percent walk rate. Persistent back issues kept Percival from making a postseason appearance for the Rays and a shoulder problem limited him to just 11 1/3 innings and 6.35 ERA the following season, his final in the majors.
Rich Aurilia (0.0 percent)
Outside of one season, Aurilia was largely average with the bat for his career, most easily represented by his 99 OPS+. However, that one season, 2001, was a big one, when he posted a .941 OPS, led the NL with 206 hits, and placed in the league top 10 in WAR(P) according to FanGraphs, Baseball-Reference, and Baseball Prospectus. He made his lone All-Star Game that season, won a Silver Slugger and finished 12th in MVP voting. It was certainly a season to remember for Aurilia, even if he was overshadowed by his own teammate crushing 73 home runs. But after that, Aurilia struggled. There were some injuries shortly thereafter, surgery to remove bone chips from his elbow that cost him 13 games, an appendectomy that took him out for another dozen, but nothing that indicated that he’d be unable to physically repeat his remarkable 2001. Like so many before him and plenty to come, for whatever reason, Aurilia had just that lone superstar season, then came back to earth. He stuck around for parts of eight more seasons and posted an OPS+ above 100 just twice more, both of which occurred during his only two full seasons in Cincinnati, his age 33 and 34 seasons.
Cliff Floyd (0.0 percent)
Floyd is almost certainly a poster boy when one thinks of a Hall of Fame talent whose career was derailed by injuries. Floyd entered the 1993 season as the No. 3 prospect in baseball, according to Baseball America. That season he slashed .307/.396/.535 at two minor-league levels and headed into the doomed 1994 season as the top prospect in all of baseball. At 21, Floyd was the youngest regular on arguably the best team in baseball that summer, playing mostly first base while also accruing time in both corner outfield spots. It was a so-so debut for the highly touted rookie, as he posted an 89 OPS+ and finished fifth in Rookie of the Year voting. The next season, Floyd was expected to carry a heavy load on a now-depleted Expos roster, but just 19 games into the season, he shattered his right wrist in a collision at first base. It was the first of many injuries that plagued Floyd throughout his career. But he still managed put together a nice string of seasons from 1998 to 2005, averaging a 126 games a season with a 131 OPS+ and a 10.2 percent walk rate. He peaked with a huge 2001, slashing .317/.390/.578 and garnered some down-ballot MVP love. Of course, that .968 OPS looks big now, but it was good for 14th in the league that season, possibly the peak of the offensive boom. There’s no doubt it was a great season for Floyd, but unfortunately for him, it came in a season when 37 players posted an OPS of .900 or above. That was the case for much of Floyd’s career, if he wasn’t shelved due to various injuries, he was overshadowed by a few dozen players who were putting up equally (or oftentimes more) impressive offensive numbers.
A special thanks to Baseball-Reference and their amazing Play Index which allowed me to easily research and accumulate much of this information.
Sahadev Sharma is an author of Baseball Prospectus.