Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Kill Your Idols - The Joe Carter Takedown

If there's one thing we tell people about what this blog has meant to us since we started it so many years ago, it's that writing this much about the Jays and baseball in general has fundamentally changed the way we look at the game. We'd like to think for the better. Sometimes, we're sure you'd disagree.

This isn't to say that the changes in our outlook have been a steady march up the hills to get a greater perspective on the valley below (though it would be nice to think of it in that manner.) Instead, we've meandered through the woods somewhat, discarding certain points of reference (batting average, for instance), only to come back to it later, albeit in a different manner.

(To wit: This year, we've started to gain a renewed appreciation for batting average as a certain kind of indicator, though one which still remains far beneath OBP or even wOBA.)

We've always understood that with this new sense of the game, our views on our past heroes would be open for examination given a second look through their numbers. And in general, we've hesitated to even really begin this parsing process, in part so that we could leave our nostalgic view of the Jays' glory years intact.

(Though if there is an argument for going back through those memories, it is that in recent months, we've found that the sepia-toned memories of the World Series winners has clouded the judgment of the fanbase as they continue to cultivate an impatient anger towards the lack of progress in the development of Alex Antopoulos' plan.)

Still, if we're going to do this, we'd probably choose Joe Carter as a jumping off point because of the extent to which he helped to tarnish his legacy in his later years with the club. So it hurts us a lot less than, say, a look at Tony Fernandez. (Also, when we jokingly floated this topic on Twitter, we were surprised at just how outsized the love for Carter remains to this day.)

So lets pile up on some high quality glucosomine tablets and work our finger joints until they hurt. So here's why Joe Carter was not the player you may have thought.

1) Joe Carter was never the best player on his team: Carter's best season with the Jays was likely 1991, when he posted at 4.1 WAR (using Baseball Reference's version of the stat.) That's the 39th best season in the history of the franchise, tied with Marco Scutaro's 2008 campaign. (Which isn't terrible, of course. But we're not exactly looking to get Scoots on the Level of Excellence either.)

His career rWAR as a Jay is a 5.7, dragged down by negative numbers posted in his final three seasons with the club. All-time, Carter ranks tied for 35th amongst Jays in the category, tied with Tony Batista and Manny Lee. Let that roll around your head for a moment. Then add in that Pretty Alex Gonzalez, Frank Catalanotto, Eric Hinske, Orlando Hudson and Otto Velez all rank ahead of Carter.

And even if you want to strip out the defensive metrics and look just at offensive WAR, Carter still only manages to land 22nd on the All-Time list, behind Hinske, Alex Rios, Kelly Gruber, and José Cruz.

In Carter's 1992 season (in which he chafed at not winning the AL MVP), he posted a 2.4 rWAR, which was the sixth best amongst Blue Jays position players (behind Manny Lee! Just .1 higher than Candy Maldonado!) Yes, Carter hit a bunch of homers and drove in a lot of runs in the middle of a go-go offense, but he posted an .808 OPS for the season, including a .309 OBP. His third place finish in the MVP voting that year was a gift from the writers, still too focused on the RBI as the measure of a productive hitter.

2) Joe Carter made a lot of outs: In his seven years with Toronto, Joe Carter made 3205 outs in 4494 plate appearances. His OBP over that period? .308, a number which would engender much scorn these days. Carter never posted an OBP higher than .330 with the Jays, which he managed in 1991. Beyond that, he scraped barely above .300 until 1997, when he managed to snag his requisite 100 RBI season with an OBP of .283 and a SLG of .399.

3) Joe Carter was The Manager's type of guy: If there is one thing that buoyed Carter's status in Toronto for many of the years that he played here, it was the insistence of The Manager that he hit cleanup, and that he hit like a cleanup hitter. Go up there and drive in runs. Swing the bat, hard and often. And you'll be rewarded by keeping the fourth spot in the lineup for as long as you keep hacking away.

Once the bottom fell out, and good players started to leave Toronto, The Manager stubbornly left Carter where he wished to stay while better hitters were shunted out of the lineup or out of town. Keep piling up those counting stats, and we'll keep giving you the opportunity to do so.

(And if you don't remember how ugly Carter looked in desperately trying to attain the 100 RBI plateau in 1997, trust us when we tell you that it was awful to see.)

Cito loved Carter, and couldn't wait to mould John Olerud into a hack and slash hitter like Joe. And when Olerud couldn't suck like that, they shipped him out of town.

4) Joe Carter couldn't carry Fred McGriff's jock: Sure, Carter got to hit the big home run, and we suppose that makes him a winner. But you know what sort of numbers Fred McGriff posted in the seven years that Carter was in Toronto? A .376 OPS, .517 SLG, for an OPS of .893 while Carter managed the aforementioned .308 to go with a .473 SLG, for an OPS of .781. The mythology states that the Jays couldn't win until Carter came to town, but we'd hazard a guess that the change had more to do with Roberto Alomar's inclusion in that deal.

None of this is to say that Carter was a terrible player. In fact, if you were to swap out his name for another, one might be able to make the case that he was kind of a greatish Jay. But strip away some of the importance placed upon counting stats like homers and RBI, and Joe Carter's place in the pantheon of Jays greats looks considerably shakier.

26 comments:

The Ack said...

Oh boy.

This is great, but I miiiight run the risk of getting blog-fired with a respectful "counterpoint"-type post on the weekend.....

James said...

I never held much love for Joe. I loved the moment he provided of course. It would be interesting to see a breakdown of who loved Joe based upon how old they are. My guess is those under 25 or so don't remember much about his regular season production but love him for the moment that will live in every Toronto sports highlight package. Robbie, on the other hand, was nails.

voodoo_matt said...

This is all lies. Joe retired after 1993. He never played again and you can't ruin my memories like that.

Tao of Stieb said...

I welcome your attempts to get fired, Ack. Your insolence fuels me.

Graeme said...

This confirms my suspicions - that Carter was a good player but not great and had one outstanding at-bat. Sort of the Paul Henderson of the 90's.

Ian - BJH said...

Say it' ain't so, Tao! I'm afraid that now makes two Joe Carter takedown posts from this year.

He's going to be pissed if he ever finds out!

Tao of Stieb said...

Two posts? Did you do one as well?

STEDRON said...

:*(

Ian - BJH said...

Yessir!

http://www.bluejayhunter.com/2011/05/is-legacy-of-joe-carter-overrated.html

I think I had a moment of clarity about JC just as you did. My childhood self hates my adult self for it, though.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, but he hit a home run while behind to win a World Series, so who cares?

Someday, though. Someday. Given enough years, we will see game seven of the World Series. Tie game. Bottom of the ninth. Bases loaded.

And the pitcher will walk a guy in.

And Sabermetricians will finally feel alive again. I don't know if Joe Carter has any kids, but I hope it's Joe Carter Jr. who fouls off ball after ball to win it.

Scrappy said...

I really hope The Ack starts his post off with "Tao you ignorant slut".

Actually, who would you say was the most underrated Jay? Or has that been covered?

Shortwaveboy said...

Cito has a respectable career as a player, influential batting coach on playoff teams, helms one of the best turnaround seasons in franchise history, wins two rings and a random blogger can still call him an idiot without any irony. I expect better than that Tao.

Mark said...

Why are you using the inferior Baseball reference WAR? The defensive #'s aren't nearly as accurate as Fangraphs. I'm not trying to defend Carter, but with FG his WAR as a Jay is 9.4. And the 1992 season makes more sense, as Carter has the edge over Lee. We're talking about a 40 point wOBA difference, and that kind of offensive gap is enough to overtake pretty much any position eligibility or defensive value.

You're right, in that Carter was and still is extremely overrated. But I felt it was important to point out that the only reason to ever use rWAR is if Fangraphs is down.

Anonymous said...

I understand that Joe Carter doesn't have very good advanced metrics, but isn't it possible that exactly what the Blue Jays NEEDED at that time was a free swinger who tried to get home runs and drive in runners? When you have lots of other good players getting on base, perhaps you can afford the luxury of having an "all-or-nothing" type player in the lineup. I know that the current thinking is tilted towards value that can be measured objectively, but there is something to be said for the composition of a team, and the fact that certain players have strengths that allow some teams to win but wouldn't work as well on other teams (to take an example from another sport, consider JJ Barea in the NBA Finals). I appreciate that when compared to his peers according to the stats that we have now he didn't contribute as much to victories, but I feel that we shouldn't overlook the most salient fact - he was a cornerstone of two championship teams, and that is all that matters.

Greg W @coolhead2010 said...

Joe Carter is what is wrong with the RBI stat. Or maybe RBIs are what's wrong with Joe Carter. I'm not sure.

I was 15 in 1991, and just really starting to understand baseball on my first try, the old school way. Joe was the man. He had the ultimate moment in Jays history, but part of the reason that moment gets revisited so much is because he really only had that moment, not years of real contribution.

I like Joe, I'm surprised he never ended up in tv or radio, but he doesn't make my list of top 10 Jays position players.

And I feel bad for anybody who thinks that having a big out making hole in the #4 slot, instead of one of your best 3 hitters 'moving the line' in a big inning, is some kind of actual argument against sabermetrics.

Jason Frasor's Cock Cheese said...

What's next? Why Santa Claus is an asshole? Why Freddy Mercury was a dirty cocksucker?

Seriously? The best you have to offer is a takedown of a guy who hit a home run to win the World Series for the Jays?

What's the point? Life sucks once you hit 13. Why Columbine our childhood heroes?

King_Cats said...

* .376 OBP

Drew said...

Not that I disgree with anything said here, but raw OPS/OBP numbers certainly treat Joe Carter much worse when looked in the present day.

Curing his heyday with the Jays he posted OPS+ of 124, 119, 112, 113 before slipping below averge in 1995.

His wRC+ is similar, 123, 129, 109, 108.

He was what he was: an above average player who hit a very important home run.

Anonymous said...

In 1992 as a child I wend to Seattle to watch my families annual Jays / M's Series. I would have been 12 years old - remember it clearly. Remember how Jack Morris was a dick pushing through the crowd, how Dave Winfield wouldnt sign anything but shook everyones hand - and he had huge hands.

After the first game Johnny O was kind enough to sign my baseball after we jumped the players @ the team bus. After the next game I passed the same ball back through the crowd and Joe Carter was signing it! (Joe Carter AND John Olerud on the same ball YESS!) , but then when passing the ball back, it got knocked out of his hands and a no-goodnik picked it up , looked at it, looked at me, and took off... I was crestfallen, looked back at Joe C and his response was "Them's the breaks kid"...

MRB said...

That's just the Tao trying to be provocative. I'm with Shortwaveboy, I expect better!

Anonymous said...

What makes baseball truly great is he fact that even in such a stats happy game, what defines greatness are the moments between the stats. The diving catches, the hustle on the base paths, the unbelievably turned double plays.

None of these things will make the box scores but they make the game worth watching.

Jason Frasor's Cock Cheese said...

People who are skeptical about baseball stats will only be more skeptical when told that Manuel Lee had a higher WAR than Joe Carter in 1992.

Alex said...

I think he is tied for 1st in all major league history in world series winning home runs though. That is pretty good.

donny said...

I guess enough time has passed. Imagine how difficult it was back in usenet days to convince the bluejays group that Carter was over rated, and that Pretty Alex Gonzalez had a better year than Carter. I tried anyway. Happy to see this post.

Mike D said...

this post has made me all misconfused

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