Guest Post: Fred Lynn

The guest post for today comes from Patrick Sullivan, who writes for Baseball Analysts. If you’ve never read Baseball Analysts or Patrick’s posts, you’re missing out. It’s easily one of the best easy-to-read stats sites on the web, and Patrick fits right in. He was also the first person to ask me to write a guest post last summer, so I’m pleased to have him return the favor. You can also find Patrick’s musings on Twitter at @PatrickSull.

Over July 4th weekend while visiting my family on Boston ’s South Shore, my father noticed me tooling around the computer on Baseball Reference.  He wondered about some of the stats listed on player pages, the ability to sort, the Play Index and I introduced him to the concept of WAR.  My father’s never been closed minded when it comes to the sort of baseball analysis that has interested me over the years, but I wouldn’t say he’s embraced it either.

For whatever reason, WAR clicked for him.  Win-loss records are predicated on a team’s ability to outscore its opponents.  Players create and give back runs relative to replacement level guys both at the plate and in the field.  You can assign win values to players with some degree of accuracy.  He got it.  So the first question he asked me once we established that WAR was a worthy statistic was this.

“In 1975, Jim Rice and Fred Lynn were neck and neck.  There was a lot of debate around Boston as to who the better player was.  What does WAR say?”

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As you might imagine, it wasn’t close.  Rice hit .309/.450/.491 and played mediocre left field defense.  Lynn hit .331/.401/.566 and played a very good center field.  Lynn had a 7.1 WAR season, Rice tied Bernie Carbo for 3rd among Red Sox OF with 3 Wins despite playing 37 more games than Carbo.  Lynn won Rookie of the Year and MVP.

A week later and coincidentally, Larry suggested that I write up Lynn on Wezen-Ball and then I read Lynn’s interview with Dave Brown of Big League Stew fame.  So I decided to dig a little deeper on Lynn .  I knew he had burst onto the scene in 1975, I knew that it was a widely held belief that his offensive numbers suffered dearly because he stopped playing home games at Fenway Park, but I didn’t know much else.  What I found out was that Fred Lynn was one of the great Red Sox of all time, and even with his injury-shortened career, a fringe Hall candidate.

Lynn is one of only 7 Red Sox position players to notch 2 7-WAR seasons.  The others? Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, Tris Speaker, Wade Boggs, Jimmie Foxx and NomarGarciaparra.  Anyone with a knack for baseball trivia could tell you about Lynn’s 1975, but did you realize he was much better in 1979?  He hit .333/.423/.637 while playing his customary excellent defense.  His 176 OPS+ that season tops any year fellow center fielders Ken Griffey Jr. or Duke Snider ever posted.  At the end of 1979, at 27, Lynn was a truly elite player.

His banner ’79 was followed by an injury-plagued 1980 and then a trade to his hometown California Angels in 1981.  It was an unfortunate career move for a player who hit .347/.420/.601 for his career at Fenway Park, including a .349 BABIP.  From there he would notch one solid injury-shortened season after another until retiring in 1990 with the San Diego Padres.  From 1980 through 1990, he averaged 113 games played. Basically, Lynn started out his career Grady Sizemore and finished it J.D. Drew if J.D. Drew was actually as injury-prone as many believe he is.

Lynn still ended up with a higher total lifetime WAR than Jim Rice, but then so will 150 other players who won’t ever see Cooperstown enshrinement.  Lynn began his career the perfect ballplayer performing home games in a park that was seemingly built for his swing.  Moving to ballparks with normal dimensions coupled with the nagging injuries conspired to derail a shoo-in Hall of Fame career.  But baseball’s about memories and showmanship and culture, and for those Red Sox fans that fell in love with the team in the late-70’s, Lynn’s legacy endures.

Larry Granillo

About Larry Granillo

Larry Granillo has been writing Wezen Ball since 2008 and has dealt with such touchy topics as Charlie Brown's baseball stats and Ferris Bueller's day off. In 2010, he got the bright idea to time every home run trot in baseball; he has been missing ever since.