Cameron vs Puckett—*Wink Wink*

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Following his retirement, I saw it repeated ad nauseam that Mike Cameron has a higher career WAR (Wins Above Replacement) than Kirby Puckett.

What the implication of the “higher WAR” for Cameron suggests is anyone’s guess because they won’t come out and specifically say it.

I’m not grasping the random, silly comparison between two different players who have very little in common apart from both being center fielders.

But why pick on Puckett? Couldn’t they compare Cameron to a player with whom he has comparable stats according to Baseball-Reference’s comparison metric at the bottom of each player’s page?

Cameron’s comps are the likes of Jimmy Wynn (the Toy Cannon—great nickname), Tom Brunansky, Bobby Murcer, Chet Lemon, and Torii Hunter.

Puckett’s similar players are Don Mattingly, Cecil Cooper, Magglio Ordonez, Kiki Cuyler (the only Hall of Famer along with Puckett) and Tony Oliva.

The big problem that Puckett has is that he was elected to the Hall of Fame while probably being an “outside looking in” player had he retired of his own volition rather than because of glaucoma.

Was it sympathy? Was it a projection of what he “would” have done had he not had such a devastating career ending?

If they’re going down that road, the argument could be made that Mattingly should also be a Hall of Famer because of his injured back that robbed him of his power.

If Puckett is overrated, then so is Larry Walker who had similar home/road splits as Puckett did. And stat people push Walker for the Hall of Fame.

Walker hit .381 for his career at Coors Field. The next best number per ballpark was in Montreal’s Olympic Stadium where he had a slash line of .293/.373/.518.

After that was his other home park of Busch Stadium late in his career where he posted a .294/.391/.536.

Good but not all world or in the realm of ridiculous as his Coors Field numbers are.

The crux of the wink wink/nod nod argument is that Cameron’s career WAR was 46.7 and Puckett’s was 44.8.

Yes, I suppose technically Cameron had a “higher” WAR than Puckett, but since the people who reference WAR treat it as the end-all/be-all of analytical existence, wouldn’t it be prudent to mention that Cameron played in 5 more seasons than Puckett did to accumulate that total?

If you’d like to go by WAR, Cameron’s highest season WAR was 6.4 and his average, per season was 2.7.

Puckett’s highest WAR was 7.2 and his average was 3.7.

The aforementioned Walker had a career WAR of 67.3, but his numbers were severely bolstered by playing in the pinball machine of Coors Field in his prime. Plus there were suggestions that Walker’s power wasn’t all natural and, considering the era, everyone’s a suspect.

The only thing Puckett used in excess were cheeseburgers.

Here’s the reality, statistically and otherwise, with Cameron vs Puckett:

  • Cameron was an all-world defensive center fielder; Puckett won 6 Gold Gloves and his statistical defensive decline coincided with his burst of power in 1986. As a contemporary of Devon White and Gary Pettis, Puckett didn’t deserve the Gold Gloves.
  • Puckett batted .318 for his career with a .360 OBP and .477 slugging. Cameron’s slash line was .249/.338/.444.
  • Puckett hit 207 homers and stole 134 bases. Cameron had 278 homers and stole 297 bases.
  • Puckett averaged 88 strikeouts a season. Cameron averaged 158 strikeouts a season.
  • Puckett won 6 Silver Slugger Awards and batted above .314 eight times in his twelve year career. Cameron’s career high average was .273.
  • Puckett had a career OPS of .837. Cameron’s was .782. Puckett’s OPS+ (which accounts for ballpark factor) was 124. Cameron’s was 105.
  • In Game 6 of the 1991 World Series, Puckett made a great catch in center field to rob Ron Gant of an extra base hit, went 3 for 4 at the plate and hit a game-winning homer to send the series to a decisive Game 7, which the Twins won.
  • Puckett won two World Series with the Twins and batted .309 with 5 post-season homers. Cameron batted .174 in 112 post season plate appearances with 1 home run.

What’s the comparison here?

There is none.

Puckett and Cameron not only shouldn’t be compared, they shouldn’t even be mentioned in the same sentence.

So what’s the point?

I’m not sure because they won’t say it. All they’ll utter are interjections like “WOW!!!” followed by the indirect suggestion that Cameron was better than Puckett.

I think.

Are they saying that Cameron was better than Puckett? That Puckett was overrated and Cameron was underrated? And if they’re trying to say something to the tune of either argument, why not just come out and say it? Why does it have to be danced around like a clumsy, worn out ballerina with the kindasorta suggestion of what’s being said without it actually being said?

I don’t know.

This is why those who aren’t immersed in numbers can’t take seriously those who use statistics as the final arbiter of all discussions. They use them when they’re convenient to their argument, leave out context and then avoid saying what they’re trying to say to avoid the attacks of people like me who don’t want to hear such silliness.

But I said it anyway.

Puckett was better than Cameron. Period.

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