JAWS and the 2019 Hall of Fame Ballot: One-and-Dones, Part 3

The following article is part of Jay Jaffe’s ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2019 Hall of Fame ballot. For a detailed introduction to this year’s ballot, and other candidates in the series, use the tool above; an introduction to JAWS can be found here. For a tentative schedule and a chance to fill out a Hall of Fame ballot for our crowdsourcing project, see here. All WAR figures refer to the Baseball-Reference version unless otherwise indicated.

Yet another installment of our quick look at the 14 players on this year’s Hall of Fame ballot who are certain to fall below the 5% threshold — with most of them being shut out entirely — but are worth remembering just the same.

Kevin Youkilis

At the major league level, Youkilis’ reputation — “Euclis: the Greek god of walks,” as nicknamed by Michael Lewis in the 2003 bestseller, Moneyball — preceded his arrival by over a year. First a source of friction between the A’s analytically-minded front office and their scouts ahead of the 2001 draft, and later a player they coveted as a potential acquisition, Youkilis was Billy Beane’s white whale, forever eluding Oakland’s general manager. Though he lasted just 10 years in the majors, he hit .281/.382/.478 (123 OPS+) while making three All-Star teams, and winning a Gold Glove and two championship rings, one as the Red Sox’s starting first baseman.

Born in Cincinnati on March 15, 1979, Youkilis did not have any actual Greek ancestry. Via Sports Illustrated’s Mark Bechtel in 2007:

Youk’s family history reads like a Michael Chabon novel: Back in the 19th century in Romania, males were conscripted at the age of 16. The Cossacks in the region weren’t known for their tolerance, so many Jews tried to avoid enlisting in the army. Youk’s great-great-great-grandfather—no one is sure what his first name was, but the family name was Weiner (it’s actually pronounced WINE-er)—moved to Greece, where the family had friends. After a year or two he got homesick and returned to Romania, but he assumed a Greek name so he could avoid the army and jail. And with that, the Youkilis family was born.

At 6-foot-1, 227 pounds, Youkilis was not known for his sculpted physique coming out of high school (Red Sox manager Terry Francona would later say, “I’ve seen him in the shower, and I wouldn’t call him the Greek god of anything”). He took his unorthodox stance, with its elevated hands and extreme crouch, to the University of Cincinnati, and landed on some scouts’ radar thanks to a pair of All-American honors and strong performances in the summer Cape Cod League. “He wasn’t athletic, a tools guy. He was a grinder, a gritty guy,” said Cincinnati coach Brian Cleary in 2009. “He had a sick determination that most guys don’t have. He was told so many times, in so many places, that he wasn’t good enough, and he took it very personally… Every at-bat was life and death.”

While Beane hoped to draft Youkilis, the Red Sox beat him to it, choosing him in the eighth round. In his first year of pro ball, split between two A-ball levels, he hit .308/.504/.446 with 73 walks (and just 31 strikeouts) in 276 PA, making him, in Lewis’ words, “a fat third baseman who couldn’t run, throw, or field [but had] the second highest on-base percentage in all of baseball, after Barry Bonds.”

Though he didn’t hit more than eight homers in any minor league season, Youkilis reached the majors on May 15, 2004, two months past his 25th birthday; he homered off the Blue Jays’ Pat Hentgen in his second plate appearance. He played 72 games as a rookie, hitting .260/.367/.413, but couldn’t unseat Bill Mueller as the starting third baseman, and made just one postseason appearance (Division Series Game 2) during the Red Sox’s drought-busting championship run. He didn’t get much of a shot the following year, either, totaling just 44 games and 95 PA off the bench, with another 43 games and 194 PA at Triple-A Pawtucket.

With the post-2005 free agency departures of Mueller and first baseman Kevin Millar, plus the arrival of third baseman Mike Lowell via trade, Youkilis became Boston’s starting first baseman in 2006. The results were unspectacular (.279/.381/.429, 13 HR, 106 OPS+, 2.7 WAR), but he took to the new position defensively (+10 DRS) while failing spectacularly in a brief foray in left field (-6 DRS in 18 games). He won a Gold Glove at first in 2007 while improving to .288/.390/.453 (117 OPS+) with 4.7 WAR, and hit .388/.475/.755 with four homers and 10 RBI in the postseason, with a 14-for-28, three-homer showing in the ALCS against the Indians that somehow failed to garner him MVP honors (Josh Beckett won). While he had to sit in order for David Ortiz to play first base when the World Series shifted to Colorado, he got his ring just the same.

At 29, Youkilis enjoyed a breakout season in 2008 (29 homers, 144 OPS+, 6.3 WAR), beginning a four-year stretch during which he hit .296/.397/.536 (142 OPS+) while averaging 23 homers and 5.5 WAR and making three All-Star teams. He did that all while playing in just 503 games, with a variety of injuries — most notably a torn adductor tendon in his right thumb in 2010, which cost him two months and ended his season — limiting his time; he maintained his versatility, ably shifting back to third base when the Red Sox needed him there. While he helped the Red Sox to the playoffs in 2008 and ’09, his absence during the second half of September due to a sports hernia loomed large, as the team went 4-10 without him, coughing up a playoff spot on the final night of the season.

Age (he was 33) and a lower back strain caught up to Youkilis in 2012, the final year of a four-year, $41.25 million extension he signed in January 2009. He hit just .235/.336/.409 (101 OPS+) with 19 homers, and on June 24 was traded to the White Sox for Brent Lillibridge and Zach Stewart. A free agent for the first time that winter, he signed a one-year, $12 million deal with the Yankees, but a bulging disc limited him to just 28 games. In December 2013, he agreed to go to Japan to join the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles but played just 21 games before being sidelined by an inflamed tendon in his left heel, and basically, that was all she wrote.

Michael Young

The face of the Rangers’ franchise through thick and thin, Young took advantage of his hitter-friendly environment to crank out .300 batting averages on a routine basis, and even claimed the 2005 AL batting title. Such consistency helped him make seven All-star teams, but may have caused him to be overrated, particularly by a media that looked more closely at his batting averages and Gold Glove win (2008) than his on-base percentages (.346 career) or defensive metrics (-152 runs for his career), but he always drew high marks from teammates and opponents. It’s noteworthy that from among the 153 ballots published thus far, there have been four token votes given to the 14 players featured in this One-and-Done series, with three of them going to Young.

Born on October 19, 1976 in Covina, California, Young was originally drafted by the Orioles in the 25th round after his senior year of high school (1994), but chose instead to go to UC-Santa Barbara; he was drafted again after his junior year (1997) in the fifth round by the Blue Jays. On July 19, 2000, he and pitcher Darwin Cubillan were traded to the Rangers in exchange for pitcher Esteban Loaiza, and on September 29 of that year, he debuted, pinch running for Pedro Valdes; the next day, he went 0-for-2. After spending the first eight weeks of 2001 at Triple-A Oklahoma City, he took over the Rangers’ starting second base job when Randy Velarde strained a hamstring. He didn’t hit much that year (.249/.298/.402, 80 OPS+) or the next, but his defense at the keystone improved enough for him to be worth 2.0 WAR.

Young collected 204 hits in 2003 (his first of six times reaching the plateau) and topped a .300 batting average for the first of seven times (.306/.339/.446). Though he still finished with a subpar OPS+ (97), he did enough on the bases and in the field to be worth a respectable 2.8 WAR. The next year, after Alex Rodriguez was traded to the Yankees, Young shifted to shortstop, a position he hadn’t played regularly since 2000. He was rough, to say the least (-27 DRS), but his bat (.313/.353/.483, 22 HR, 109 OPS+) helped the team to 89 wins, after four straight seasons in the low 70s.

From 2004-2011, Young hit a combined .312/.360/.463 (113 OPS+) while averaging 17 homers and eight steals per year. He set career highs in hits (221), OPS+ (131) and all three slash stats (.331/.385/.513) in 2005 while becoming just the second Ranger to win a batting title (after Julio Franco in 1991). Defensively, Young was 115 runs below average during that stretch, limiting his impact to an average of 2.8 WAR, and a high of 3.8 (2006). When he won his Gold Glove, he was four runs below average, and amid his worst year with the bat over that span (95 OPS+); after that season, he moved to third base — a move he initially resisted to the point of requesting a trade — to accommodate the arrival of 20-year-old shortstop Elvis Andrus.

Young made the All-Star every year but one (2010) during that stretch, but that year, the Rangers won 90 games and their first AL West title since 1999. Though he hit only .254/.275/.343 during the postseason, he did have big hits here and there and helped the Rangers to their first World Series in franchise history; they lost to the Giants in five games.

In 2011, Adrian Beltre arrived in free agency, taking up a residence at third base that will likely be commemorated on a Hall of Fame plaque. Young, still with three years and $48 million remaining on a five-year, $80 million extension he signed in March 2007, requested a trade yet again before settling into a part DH, part-infield role that saw him backing up all three bags, and making an extended stay at third when Beltre got hurt. He led the AL in hits (213) for the second time while batting .338/.380/.474 as the Rangers made their second straight World Series, which they lost to the Cardinals. He hit just .229/.257/.414 in the postseason, but drove in five runs in the ALCS clincher against the Tigers.

Young reprised his DH-plus-infield role in 2012, but with so much less success (80 OPS+, -1.7 WAR) that he may have been the difference between the Rangers winning the AL West title and finishing a game behind the A’s; they lost to the Orioles in the first AL Wild Card Game, though Young went 2-for-4. In December, he agreed to waive his 10-and-5 rights to be traded to the Phillies. Playing third base regularly until being dealt to the Dodgers on August 31, he turned in another sub-replacement level season (-1.3 WAR). and soon afterwards retired at the age of 37. He holds several Rangers franchise records, including those for games played (1,823) and hits (2,230), but his -152 fielding runs is the fourth-lowest total of all time, and his 24.6 career WAR is the lowest of any post-World War II player with a .300 career batting average in over 7,000 PA.

Freddy Garcia

The well-traveled Freddy Garcia spent 15 years in the majors pitching for seven different teams, surviving major shoulder injuries to serve as a key rotation cog for four clubs that went to the postseason and making two All-Star teams. Most notably, he started and won Game 4 of the 2005 World Series for the White Sox, a victory that ended the team’s 88-year championship drought. Had things unfolded differently, he might well have been on the other side, an Astro, for that was the team that signed him out of Venezuela in 1993 and traded him to the Mariners in the 1998 Randy Johnson blockbuster.

Born on October 6, 1976 in Caracas, Garcia was signed by legendary Hungarian-born scout Andres Reimer, who spearheaded the creation of the Astros’ Venezuelan academy in Valencia, which opened in 1989. In the 1990s, Reimer signed numerous future major leaguers for the Astros, including Bobby Abreu, Raul Chavez, Carlos Guillen, Richard Hidalgo, Melvin Mora, Roberto Petagine, and Johan Santana. Garcia had just made the jump from Double-A to Triple-A when he, Guillen, and a player to be named later (John Halama) were sent to Seattle on July 31, 1998, as the Mariners reluctantly parted ways with their 6-foot-10 ace.

Garcia placed 61st on Baseball America’s Top 100 prospects list the following spring and broke camp with the Mariners, throwing 5.2 innings and getting the win against the White Sox in his major league debut on April 7. He went 17-9 with a 4.07 ERA (122 ERA+) and 5.4 WAR that year, good for fourth in the league; he finished a distant second behind the Royals’ Carlos Beltran in the AL Rookie of the Year voting, and got down-ballot Cy Young support as well. A stress fracture in his right tibia cost him 2 1/2 months in 2000, but he helped the Mariners claim the AL Wild Card spot, and after getting roughed up by the White Sox in his lone Division Series start, he held the Yankees to two runs in 11.2 innings in a pair of victories, Seattle’s only ones in their six-game ALCS loss.

Relying on a four-seam fastball that could go as high as 96 mph, a power sinker, and a changeup that drew comparisons to that of Pedro Martinez, Garcia peaked in 2001 as the staff ace on a record-setting 116-win team. He posted AL bests in both ERA (3.05) and innings (238.2), while ranking fourth in wins (18, against six losses). He garnered four first place votes in the AL Cy Young race, finishing third behind Roger Clemens. He had two good starts out of three in the postseason, though again the Mariners could advance no further than the ALCS.

Though he made the All-Star team again in 2002, a 5.66 ERA in the second half suggested the mileage had caught up to Garcia. Indeed, he would rarely post an ERA below 4.00 again, and his average fastball velocity dipped from 92.1 mph in 2002 to 89.5 in 2003. After a strong start to the 2004 season, his final one before free agency, he was dealt to the White Sox on June 27 as part of a five-player deal that sent Mike Morse, Miguel Olivo, and highly-touted prospect Jeremy Reed (25th on BA’s list that spring) to Seattle. He signed a three-year, $27 million extension soon afterwards, and under the tutelage of pitching coach Don Cooper, his fastball velocity rebounded. In 2005 he went 14-8 with a 3.87 EA and 3.6 WAR (his highest total since 2001) in 228 innings while helping the White Sox win 99 games and go 11-1 in the postseason; Garcia allowed just five runs in 21 innings over his three starts.

Despite a strong finish to 2006 that lowered his ERA to 4.53, Garcia had reached the end of his workhorse days. Traded to the Phillies that winter for Gavin Floyd and Gio Gonzalez, he made just 11 starts in 2007 due to biceps tendinitis and then surgery to repair fraying in his labrum and rotator cuff. Thus began his wilderness years; he totaled a mere 23 starts from 2007-2009 for the Phillies, Tigers, and White Sox before re-emerging with a 28-start, 4.64 ERA, 2.1-WAR campaign for Chicago in 2010. Like Bartolo Colon, he enjoyed an unlikely renaissance with the Yankees in 2011 (3.62 ERA and 2.9 WAR in 146.2 innings) but struggled to repeat that success the next year, and split 2013 between the Orioles and Braves. His final appearance in a big league game was a strong six-inning, two-run, six-strike out Division Series Game 4 start with the Braves against the Dodgers (a.k.a. the game in which Craig Kimbrel never pitched).

His career numbers (154-101, 4.15 ERA, 1,621 strikeouts, 34.6 WAR) aren’t close to Cooperstown caliber, and yet Sweaty Freddy abides. After detouring to the Chinese Professional Baseball League in Taiwan in 2014, a brief foray with the Dodgers’ Triple-A team in 2015 went nowhere. He’s been pitching in Mexico and the Venezuela Winter League since then; at 41 years old, he’s made four starts for the Tigres de Aragua this winter, most recently on December 29; he hasn’t walked a batter in 14.2 innings while carrying a 3.07 ERA. I don’t know about you, but I take comfort in that. It’s good knowin’ he’s out there.

Part 4 to follow.

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Brooklyn-based Jay Jaffe is a senior writer for FanGraphs, the author of The Cooperstown Casebook (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017) and the creator of the JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) metric for Hall of Fame analysis. He founded the Futility Infielder website (2001), was a columnist for Baseball Prospectus (2005-2012) and a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated (2012-2018). He has been a recurring guest on MLB Network and a member of the BBWAA since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe.

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The Kudzu Kid
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Today I learned Pat Hentgen was still playing as late as 2004.