Of Glass Hammers and Paper Tigers

I grew up watching baseball in the late 80’s and early 90’s.  It was the antecedent micro-era of hyper-inflated monsters roaming the field, destroying baseballs with mere flicks of their pharmaceutically-enhanced forearms.  What I mean to say is that I have a skewed perception of the home run.  It runs deep: Even after years of conditioning myself to not see the home-run number as a major thing, but rather a minor piece of a much larger whole, I still get impressed by big numbers.

In talking to a friend of mine, I was wondering who had the most home runs, but the smallest net benefit to a baseball team.  After all, my whole life I’ve been hearing about guys “doing damage,” and disregarding whatever other detriments they may have as long as they can sniff out them ribeyes.  I started pretty basically, searching for players who had hit 35 or more home runs and amassed 3 or less WAR, and how many seasons they had accomplished this Herculean feat.  This achievement has been completed 68 times in baseball history, so to do it multiple times is a thing in its own right.  The leaders are as follows:

Seasons Player

5

Adam Dunn

5

Dave Kingman

3

Sammy Sosa

2

Carlos Delgado

2

Cecil Fielder

2

David Ortiz

2

Manny Ramirez

Interesting!  A little unsurprising that Dunn is up there, given that he was one of the harbingers of the “Three True Outcome” player, and was never known as a defensive maven.  But he had some good seasons!  I remember them being good; surely he couldn’t be as bad defensively so as to totally wipe out his offensive contributions.  It turns out, that no, no he was not.  Of those five seasons, he had a collective WAR of 8.1, from .6 WAR to 2.9 WAR.  Not a world burner, by any means, but not terrible.  One season he barely qualified for this haphazard study!  Certainly a one-dimensional player, but the kind of guy you’d like to have if the price were right.

Let’s take a look at the other five-season player on the list.  Dave Kingman was known for one thing: hitting home runs.  His nickname was “Kong,” presumably because he…consumed baseballs like they were giant bananas?  Kidnapped and absconded with them to the tops of large buildings?  Or it was alliterative and evocative of power.  One of those, take your pick.  Of his five seasons on the list, two were completely decent: above-average wRC+, WAR above 2, traditional numbers of a kind that the writers would like.  His worst two seasons, however…man.  It’s some bad news on all fronts in 1986 and 1982: below-average wRC+ (86 and 97), negative WAR (-.8 and -.5), but still the writers would have been pleased with his performance.

The point of all this, I suppose, is not to say how bad Adam Dunn and Dave Kingman were at baseball.  Quite the opposite!  They were great, at a very specific thing, which was to beat the bejesus out of a baseball until nothing was left but its constituent atoms.  By traditional counting stats, Dunn is T35 and Kingman is solo 40 on the all-time HR leader board.  This is very good!  Collectively, they have hit as many as 904 home runs more than anyone reading or writing this article.

The point, as always, is to make observations about edge-case phenomena and give them a snarky name for future use.  To this end, I am proposing that a player hitting 35+ homers while accumulating 3 or less WAR be referred to as the “Dave Kingman Glass Hammer” award.  As an extension of the Glass Hammer, I am also proposing the “Ryan Howard Paper Tiger” award, for when a player completes a Glass Hammer, but finishes in the top five of the MVP voting (see Ryan Howard, 2008 for further data).

We hoped you liked reading Of Glass Hammers and Paper Tigers by Peter Heinz!

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