I was born in 1986. You’ll see a lot of writers writing about their "favorite player from the 1980s" this week, since the fine people at Topps have been cool enough to release an Archive set with cars from ’82, ’83 and ’85. I wasn’t born when any of these cards came out.
I was born into quite a baseball card collection, so I have much respect for the finer, bubble-gum-included packs of the decade that also brought us Wayne Gretzky, Mr. Perfect and Bon Jovi.
If you’re at all curious, my favorite player as a kid was Rey Ordonez. Yeah, don’t ask.
Anyway, since I can’t really talk about a favorite player of the 80’s per say, I can use our saber-slant (patent pending on that term) to instead highlight five of the most underappreciated players of the 1980s based on statistics that have become more prevalent since the halcyon days of Avg, HR and RBI.
Mike "Not Giancarlo" Stantion, Mr. FIP
In the 80s, Stanton struggled to a middling a 4.49 ERA but was actually far better, posting an FIP of 3.47 in his 367 innings, almost all of them out of the bullpen. Splitting his years between Houston, Cleveland, Seattle and the Chicago White Sox, Stanton posted strong strikeout rates (18%) and suffered from some poor BABIP (.315) and strand rate (67.3%). Perhaps Stanton was bad out of the stretch and his inability to keep the walks down (10.1%), but even then he had the single largest ERA-FIP gap of the decade.
Ken Howell "At the Moon"
Howell was a strikeout artist before it was cool to be a strikeout artist, ranking sixth in the 80s in strikeout rate at 22.6%. He’s another sufferer of the ERA-FIP gap, posting a 3.12 FIP behind his 3.80 ERA, again thanks to some free pass and strand issues. After moving from the Dodgers to the Phillies and the bullpen to the rotation in ’89, Howell had a sterling year (204 innings, 3.44 ERA). Unfortunately, his 1990 sucked and he never pitched again.
"Halloween" Mike Moore
The Original Mooregasm threw just shy of 1700 innings in the ‘80s but is fairly unremembered for his unremarkable career. Sure, he had a league-average-ish 4.13 ERA over that time and didn’t strike out a ton of batters. He did, however, have a 3.83 FIP lying underneath, indicating a potentially above-average arm. But the real knock is that Moore won fewer games than any other pitcher in the top-30 for innings pitched in the ‘80s, checking in with an 85-107 record. We know now that wins are a bad way to measure pitchers, but Moore was probably a victim of "not being a winner" in his day.
No nickname needed for Mr. Boggs, who is the most well-known name on this list but whose legacy has grown as advanced stats have grown in recognition. You see, Boggs hit just 64 home runs in 1182 games for the Red Sox that decade, with just 14 stolen bases and barely 50 RBI a year. Sure, Boggs hit .352 and people appreciated that at the time, but he also had a .443 On-Base Percentage, something people weren’t as quick to acknowledge. He was also a great fielder, though he had a reputation as such. Yes, Boggs was well respected. But I doubt many people at the time would have called him the second best position player of the decade, which fWAR does (60.1 wins, behind Rickey Henderson’s 67.9).
Would any "underrated" list be complete without Jonah Keri’s Quest? Consider that Raines hit just 87 home runs for the Expos in the ‘80s and his .303 average wasn’t astonishing with guys like Boggs and George Brett and Tony Gwynn around. Raines could take a walk, though, posting a .391 OBP to help pump up his offensive value. He also stole 582 bases in the decade, an incredible amount but one that pales next to Henderson’ 838. Raines was worth 80 runs on the basepaths though (Henderson was worth 91), thanks in part to the fact that he was only caught 90 times (86.6% success, compared to Henderson’s 81.5%). While Boggs was considered great and was really excellent, Raines was considered good but was really great, which is probably a bigger shame.
Topps Archives Baseball is a celebration of the 70s, 80s and 90s, what many consider to be the glory years of card collecting. If you collected Topps Baseball Cards during these years then you will love Topps Archives Baseball. Look for autographs and memorabilia cards from today’s stars and your favorite retired players on classic Topps card designs.