Top Ten Most Underrated Players of All-Time (Part VII)

#4: Minnie Minoso, LF, 1949-64, .298/.389/.459, 52.8 refWAR, 58.0 fWAR, 130 OPS+, .381 wOBA

By my thinking, Minnie Minoso is basically the Satchel Paige of position players. I do say that in part because he was a product of the Negro Leagues, but also because no one was ever quite sure when he was born (though, according to Rob Neyer, Minoso himself says 1925, while Christina Kahrl and his own website say 1922–I’ll going to lean toward the earlier date) and because, like Satchel, he made a few notable appearances at a much older age. In 1976 and 1980, at the ages of 50 and 54 (or, if a 1922 birthday is to be believed, at 53 and 57), he made 10 plate appearances, managing one single in 12 total at-bats. He also has a local connection to Minnesota, having appeared in games for the St. Paul Saints in 1993 and 2003, making him the only player in baseball history to appear for a team in seven different decades.

But like Paige, Minoso’s greatness was no stunt. He had a shorter career in the majors because he didn’t have a full season until 1951, when he was either 25 or 28, because of the color line. Assuming he got his start at 28, what he accomplished in his first decade as a full-time player was awfully impressive. Minoso was the first real Latin American star. Even getting a late start, he had a great 10-year peak. Between 1951-60, Minoso hit .307/.397/.476 with a 136 OPS+ and 52.6 refWAR–nearly all of his career value. He stuck around a little too long, hurting his career value in particular by his 1963 campaign with Washington. Nonetheless, that’s a amazing peak.

Peaks have been a recurring theme with these posts, but that is because as much as some “great peak” players get recognized (i.e., Sandy Koufax, Joe Medwick, Roy Campanella, Ralph Kiner), a lot of them tend to go unnoticed. That’s been the case with previous posts, like Gene Tenace and Alan Trammell. Without the lengthy career, a great player can get lost in the annals of baseball history. Minoso’s case for the Hall has been plead by many parties that recognize his greatness through the 1950s and his importance as the first Latin American star–considered by Hall of Famer Orlando Cepeda to be the “Jackie Robinson” of Latin American players. Just how great was he in the 1950s?

Well, as Christina Kahrl points out, by refWAR, between 1951 and 1960, the only better player in the AL was Mickey Mantle–though, in fairness, it’s not particularly close, as Mantle absolutely dominated the AL in that decade, hitting .307/.422/.568 (171 OPS+) with 78.8 refWAR. If we just go by offensive WAR, Minoso sits behind Mantle (76.6) and Ted Williams (47.9), who hit .336/.476/.622 (187 OPS+) and missed almost two years during the Korean War. But, hey, that’s Mantle and Williams were are talking about. Safely calling Minoso the third best player in the the AL during 1950s behind those two is an incredible and telling statement. As this article points, by several other measures–Bill James’ Win Shares, runs created, and Wins Probability–Minoso ranks not just as a top 3 position player in the 1950s, but a top 10 player in all of baseball. Every other dominant player of the era is in the Hall.

As I’ve done with other players, I’ll compare Minoso’s peak to a few Hall of Fame left-fielders. Minoso isn’t going to match Williams at his peak or some other great names ath the position –Barry Bonds, Rickey Henderson, Stan Musial, Carl Yastrzemski, Al Simmons.  But he doesn’t need to be that great to be underrated or to have a solid Hall of Fame case. Let’s take a look:

Player                       Peak OBP          Peak SLG             Peak OPS+           Peak WAR

Willie Stargell                .373                         .547                       158                           45.0

Joe Medwick                 .367                         .529                       139                           50.0

Lou Brock                      .350                         .430                       117                           33.8

Ralph Kiner                   .398                          .548                      149                           45.9

Jim Rice                         .360                          .526                      135                           37.2

Billy Williams                .366                          .519                       141                           48.0

Zack Wheat                   .383                           .477                      138                           39.9

Minoso                           .397                            .476                     136                           52.6

Minoso stacks up pretty well here. While Brock and Williams enjoyed long careers, players like Kiner, Rice, and Medwick were very much “peak” players. Kiner’s career last only 10 seasons, after all. And, yes, one of the reasons his WAR score during his peak is highest is his defense–he’s awarded 6.0 defensive wins. But that’s not just Baseball-Reference’s conclusion. Bill James has concluded that Minoso is the 10th best left fielder of all time, in front of these names. James suggested that Minoso, starting at 28, had a better career after that age than nearly any other Hall of Fame corner outfielder.

Baseball Prospectus’ standards reflect these conclusions as well. He has his highest WAR scored under WARP (62.6) with a excellent .307 Tav and 7.7 FRAA (Fielding Runs Above Average). During his 10-year peak, he scored 21.6 FRAA–as he lost value across the board after 1960. FRAA, Total Zone, and stats like range factor agree that Minoso was certainly an above-average defender. Additionally, by BP’s baserunning statistic, Base Running Runs (BRR), a overall baserunning measure that takes into account advances the bases on ground balls and fly balls, stolen bases and any other “advancement” running. By this, Minoso has a very good 48.4 score. For reference, that puts him about 10 runs below a baserunner like Joe Morgan and about the same distance ahead of a runner like Derek Jeter or Roberto Alomar. Very good company, indeed. So, despite his 61.2% success rate for stealing, Minoso is rated a good baserunner. Notably, his speed was also reflected in his defense and his ability to hit triples–leading the league three times.

He also led the league in WAR once for all players and twice for position players. He led the league infamously 10 times in hits by pitch. He led the league in stolen bases three times, caught stealing six times, total bases once, hits once, doubles once, and times on base once. He was frequently and not surprisingly in the Top 10 in all other notable categories throughout the 1950s–WAR, OBP, SLG, runs created, WPA, etc.

Minoso undoubtedly has a great Hall case and one can only hope he gets his due while he’s still alive. However, he has to stay at #4 on the list, despite his case, because he was not as underrated during his career. Minoso was a 8-time All Star, 3-time Gold Glove winner, and finished Top-4 in the MVP four times–and arguably could have won it in 1954. Really, his status as underrated is all about his lack of a Hall of Fame plaque and his stature among fans. By Baseball-Reference’s Elorater, Minoso sits behind all the left fielders I compared him to on the above chart, as well as the other player I strongly considered for the spot, Tim “Rock” Raines. Minoso deserves a little more love than that.

Runners Up: Tim Raines, Jose Cruz

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