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.