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    Wednesday, December 9, 2020

    Retired Number Quiz Series: The National League West

    We finally made it to the sixth and final entry in the Retired Number Quiz Series, the NL West. As I mentioned last time, the Dodgers and Giants prevent this from being the youngest overall division, but it’s a close second behind the AL West, and two of their expansion teams only date back to the 1990s. And that has a notable effect on their results. For instance, only four teams have players on their top-six lists who failed to reach at least 20 WAR while with the team: the Marlins, and the three NL West expansion teams.

    Of course, as weak as some of those choices are, I think the quiz isn’t as hard as some of the others, since it’s still overwhelmingly modern (even the Giants and Dodgers skew relatively recent, for teams as old as they are); there aren’t any Tommy Bridges or Johnny Logans hanging around, like some other teams had. But if you’d like to catch up on any of the previous divisions before jumping in, you can read more:

    AL East (quiz, article)
    NL East (quiz, article)
    AL Central (quiz, article)
    NL Central (quiz, article)
    AL West (quiz, article)

    With those out of the way, you can try the new NL West quiz HERE, then come back here for a discussion of the answers. As per usual, players can come from any point in the franchise’s history, they just need to have worn a uniform number for three of their seasons on the team. There are only three bonus answers this time, one Dodger who didn’t reach the three-year minimum, another Dodger who came in seventh by 0.1 WAR, and one Giant to make up for a player from the New York days making the list.

    Good luck!


    Arizona Diamondbacks
    #44 Paul Goldschmidt (2011-2018, 40.7 WAR)
    #17 Brandon Webb (2003-2009, 31.1 WAR)
    #38 Curt Schilling (2000-2003, 25.3 WAR)
    #11 AJ Pollock (2012-2018, 19.0 WAR)
    #12 Steve Finley (1999-2004, 18.1 WAR)
    #21 Zack Greinke (2016-2019, 18.0 WAR)

    Paul Goldschmidt rebounded nicely after his rough 2019 debut as a Cardinal, which probably puts him back on a Hall of Fame pace. Granted, half of Arizona’s existing retired numbers belong to non-Hall of Famers, and Goldschmidt also made it to second in franchise history in WAR before being traded, so his chances were looking pretty good even before that. But it is still nice to see a great player like him rebound at a crucial point in his career.

    Brandon Webb’s career was probably just a tad too short to merit a retired number, unfortunately. I feel like there’s a compelling narrative there if the team really wanted to, as the team’s first homegrown ace, who had a remarkable run of dominance (including winning the 2006 Cy Young Award and finishing second the next two years) cruelly and suddenly taken away by injuries. But his career was even shorter than I remembered, just six seasons (plus 4 innings on Opening Day 2009 before the shoulder injury that ended his career). Man, is this a depressing what-if to think about. In any case, I thought for a minute the team might have pulled #17 out of rotation after seeing no player on the team has worn it since 2014, but it turns out that it’s just been used by coaches and manager Torey Lovullo since then, so yeah, there’s not really any smoke here.

    As for the rest of the list, the Diamondbacks are competing with the Padres for weakest overall set. The Padres edge comes from some weak players who spent longer tenures on the team (more on them later), whereas the Diamondbacks have really good players on short terms. Technically, Greinke and Schilling (each three full years and one partial) both almost failed on my “three-or-more-years” rule, which… really wasn’t how I intended that to be used, but okay. Half of the list didn’t make it to 20 WAR in uniform, and Greinke’s 18.0 is the lowest total to make any team’s list. If you’re looking for the most likely player to usurp his spot, it’s probably Ketel Marte, who should make it in the next year or two barring a trade.

    Colorado Rockies
    #2 Troy Tulowitzki (2006-2015, 39.5 WAR)
    #28 Nolan Arenado (2013-Present, 38.9 WAR)
    #5 Carlos Gonzalez (2009-2018, 23.7 WAR)
    #27 Trevor Story (2016-Present, 20.7 WAR)
    #5 Matt Holliday (2004-2008 & 2018, 18.5 WAR)
    #38 Ubaldo Jimenez (2006-2011, 18.3 WAR)

    Despite some recent struggles, this is a franchise with several interesting cases coming up in the next decade or so. The first is obviously towards the top of the list; Nolan Arenado looks to be on the fast track to Cooperstown, and is under contract through 2026 (unless he opts out after 2021, but that would leave a lot of money on the table). He should be a future lock as long as the franchise doesn’t so something stupid like trade him. Of course, even if they do that, he might still have a strong retired number case; the third baseman already has nearly 40 WAR in eight seasons, and is turning 30 next April. Even if he’s traded, it’s going to be difficult for him to match that kind of output on a new team.

    And of course, there’s his partner on the left side of the infield, Trevor Story. He’s not quite as far along in his career as Arenado, but it looks like he’s working at a similar pace, and with a 2021 even remotely close to his last few seasons, he should have moved behind Arenado into fifth-place in WAR in franchise history. He probably hasn’t moved into the “likely” category just yet like Arenado, but give him time.

    With the active players out of the way, we can move on to the players who are in the books. Troy Tulowitzki sits at the top of the list, and behind only Todd Helton and Larry Walker in Rockies Wins Above Replacement. He probably didn’t quite reach the standards for the Hall of Fame, but it actually might not matter. As it turns out, the Rockies have only issued #2 once since Tulowitzki left the team, back in 2017, and they have not issued it at all for the last three seasons. #2 is one of those numbers that generally doesn’t just disappear for extended periods; 28 teams either had it retired or in use in 2020, and the other exception was using it in 2019. Three years, though, seems to indicate they’re up to something. Watch this space.

    That doesn’t surprise me, ultimately. Even if he doesn’t wind up in the Hall, Tulo had the type of numbers and career that fit the profile of a retired number candidate, and he’s third in franchise WAR. The thing that surprised me, though, was that it doesn’t appear to be the only number no longer in use? When I was researching #5 for David Wright and Albert Pujols, I discovered that there was another team that has been avoiding using it: Colorado.

    Since Carlos Gonzalez left the team in 2019, no one has worn it. That can happen for one year, maybe if a team is unsure if a player will be returning and holds it only for them to leave, or if there aren’t any players on the roster who feel like switching. But at lower numbers (especially single digits), those gaps usually don’t last more than a year. Maybe they were holding it in case they signed him (he didn’t end up playing in 2020 after the Mariners cut him). Maybe they think there’s a chance he’ll come back, since he still hasn’t formally retired, and are just waiting until it’s sure that he’s done before re-issuing it. But that’s still pretty unusual, and considering that CarGo was fairly decorated, spent a decade in Colorado, is fifth in WAR in team history… I’m definitely going to be watching if it’s still not in use come 2021.

    What also makes this interesting is that #5 was also used for another notable Rockie, Matt Holliday. Their times in purple didn’t overlap for the most part (Gonzalez was one of the prospects Colorado received when Holliday was traded to Oakland, although Holliday’s 2018 return to Denver finally brought them together). It’s weird to have two fairly notable players with entwined histories like theirs on a number back-to-back like that, and I’m not sure what to make of it. Would they do something unusual, like retire it for both of them, since their individual cases are maybe a little short individually but linked? Is it just a random fluke like I mentioned earlier, where they’re waiting to see what CarGo does? Are they actually set on retiring it for CarGo, since Holliday ultimately probably became more known for #7 (after wearing it in St. Louis and then on his second term in Colorado)? Again, it’s something to keep an eye on.

    This feels like a let down after big blurbs for the other five, but I just don’t see a retired number ceremony in Ubaldo Jimenez’s future. It seems pretty straightforward and uninteresting, to me. Sorry.

    Los Angeles Dodgers
    #22 Clayton Kershaw (2008-Present, 69.6 WAR)
    #3 Willie Davis (1960-1973, 54.6 WAR)
    #10 Ron Cey (1971-1982, 47.7 WAR)
    #55 Orel Hershiser (1983-1994 & 2000, 44.4 WAR)
    #14 Gil Hodges (1943-1961, 43.3 WAR)
    #34 Fernando Valenzuela (1980-1990, 36.8 WAR)

    Clayton Kershaw is the free space for the Dodgers. As of this season, he officially moved into first place in Dodgers history by WAR, he now has a shiny World Series trophy, and any final concerns someone might have had are gone. Barring Kershaw pulling a Robinson Cano or something else stupid, look for this to happen sometime around 2030, depending on whether the team decides to wait for his Hall of Fame election.

    Because that actually does matter here. As I’ve said in the past, I’m against the practice, but it is something we need to consider until we hear otherwise. I think the other five players would all be fine choices for retired numbers if the team was open to doing so. Hodges probably has the advantage, since he’s long been viewed as a Cooperstown snub, and having over five decades of people advocating for you can’t hurt your chances with the Veterans Committee.

    The others have some issues holding their chances back. Personally, I think Davis, Cey, and Hershiser would actually be fine Hall of Fame picks, especially via the VC, but there’s some other issues there. Davis was legendarily underrated: a 60+-WAR player who was so overlooked, the Hall of Fame didn’t even add him to the ballot. To this day, he’s still the best eligible player who voters couldn’t even vote for. Of course, at least he’s still the #3 on the Dodgers.

    Cey made the ballot, but failed to reach a second one after polling under 2%. I’ve said before, including in this series, that third base has been overlooked in Hall voting, and I wouldn’t mind voters considering him. But in my rankings, he’s in the second, lower-priority tier with guys like Robin Ventura and Stan Hack, rather than the top, elite-four tier I mentioned last time of Sal Bando/Buddy Bell/Ken Boyer/Graig Nettles. And he has the added problem that his #10 has since been claimed by Lonely-Mountain-expat-turned-third-baseman Justin Turner, who now has nearly 30 WAR and a World Series title of his own in LA.

    Orel Hershiser has a similar issue. He at least stuck around for a second ballot. I don’t know that he’s the most overlooked pitcher, but I think he might be in that second tier with Cey. And if modern pitchers weren’t being crunched in the voting in a way similar to third basemen, he might have made it. But his number was later taken up by Russell Martin, who looks more and more like a borderline Hall of Famer as we learn more and more about how good he was behind the plate at pitch framing. Technically, if both make it in someday or the team changes its policy, there’s nothing stopping the team from just retiring #55 twice (which would be fun, because it’s a weird number that’s not always in use, and no team has retired it even once – how bizarre is it that two of the three best #55s in baseball history have played for the same team?), but we also don’t know that for certain since they haven’t done it before. Maybe they’ll have a weird hang-up about that, too.

    Fernando Valenzuela’s Hall case would probably rely heavily on his status as an icon and trailblazer for Mexican baseball fans. But it’s also worth noting that his number is actually already out of circulation; unlike with all of the other examples so far, no one has worn #34 since Fernando left the team thirty years ago. They don’t do that for everyone, and it’s a big part of my case for “just ignore the Hall of Fame and retire the numbers that you want!” You’ve waited thirty years already, just go the rest of the way.

    Also of note here is that Steve Garvey fell 0.1 WAR short of this list, which is basically tied. Also of note: he also had his number taken out of circulation, at least for a while. For twenty years after his departure, no one else wore #6 for the Dodgers. Then, starting in 2003, it was quietly returned to circulation. Maybe it was his failing Hall of Fame candidacy, which was at that point in its tenth year and going backwards despite looking once like a sure thing. Maybe it was because of his personal image, which was shattered by scandal after his playing days. More likely, it was a combination of the two. After all, Valenzuela’s number is still out of use despite him falling off the Hall ballot after two attempts. Either way, Garvey might have missed his best window of opportunity here.

    San Diego Padres
    #44 Jake Peavy (2002-2009, 26.8 WAR)
    #43 Andy Ashby (1993-1999 & 2004, 22.6 WAR)
    #23 Adrian Gonzalez (2006-2010, 20.4 WAR)
    #40 Andy Benes (1989-1995, 20.2 WAR)
    #16 Gene Tenace (1977-1982, 19.8 WAR)
    #17 Gene Richards (1977-1983, 19.0 WAR)

    The Padres’ list is probably the most boring one. The Marlins are the only other team where the player at the top of the list didn’t reach at least 40 WAR with the team, and Padres’ leader Jake Peavy is almost 10 full wins behind Giancarlo Stanton’s Miami output. And if you told me before I started compiling this list that one team would have two Andys on their list and one team would have two Genes, I probably wouldn’t have been able to even guess who you were referring to, let alone that they would be the same team.

    You could maybe make an argument for some of these players on the basis of total career value, but Ashby, Benes, and Richards probably don’t have the numbers for that. Gene Tenace tops the other three, with nearly 47 WAR in a short career (15 seasons, but only 1555 games). A little over 40% of that came in San Diego, but he’s still probably more closely associated with the A’s, where he played twice as many seasons and won three of his four World Series titles (including a World Series MVP in 1972). Of course, being more associated with an in-state rival didn’t stop them from retiring Steve Garvey’s number (although that’s probably more the exception than the rule).

    Gonzalez and Peavy both finished around 40 WAR and spent the plurality of their careers in San Diego, at least. But they also have ties to not only in-state but in-division rivals; Gonzalez wound up spending about half a season more as a Dodgers (although injuries meant he played fewer games in Dodger blue), while Peavy won his second of two consecutive World Series titles as a member of the 2014 Giants. Overall, neither of them quite has the resume for a retired number; the more interesting near-future shake-up will probably be watching Manny Machado and Fernando Tatis, Jr. climb the ranks, as even with their second seasons on the team being shortened this year, they’re both maybe two good seasons from cracking the franchise’s Top 20 in WAR. This list is only a short jump from that point, and both should be around for a while to come.

    San Francisco Giants
    #6/#5 Travis Jackson (1922-1936, 43.7 WAR)
    #28 Buster Posey (2009-Present, 41.8 WAR)
    #25 Bobby Bonds (1968-1974, 38.1 WAR)
    #40 Madison Bumgarner (2009-2019, 36.8 WAR)
    #9 Matt Williams (1987-1996, 34.1 WAR)
    #6 Robby Thompson (1986-1996, 33.9 WAR)

    With their last two retired numbers being Barry Bonds in 2018 and Will Clark in technically-2020-but-waiting-for-2021, it seems the Giants are now totally comfortable with retiring numbers for non-Hall of Famers. That was probably the last significant roadblock both Posey and Bumgarner could have faced on this matter. I think Posey is already in Hall territory for a catcher anyway, but a few good seasons to close it out should seal the deal. Bumgarner has looked a lot shakier as of late, looking just above average in 2019 and extremely mediocre in his abbreviated Arizona debut. Of course, maybe his postseason performances (2014 in particular) will be enough for Hall voters to drag a borderline case over the line even if he does fall short.

    Jumping back to the top of the list, we have Travis Jackson, who I can’t say makes for an especially likely candidate. As you probably guessed from the dates, he played his entire career for the New York iteration of the team. Which isn’t a deal breaker, necessarily, as the Giants have retired numbers for several players like that. Jackson only wore numbers for the last third of his career, spending multiple seasons on both #6 and #5; again, not a deal breaker, as the Giants are one of the few teams that has even added pre-numbers players to their retired numbers. It’s just that there are so many better options for both. Jackson was fine, and he’s in the Hall of Fame, but he was one of the weaker Veterans Committee picks, getting elected in 1982. And like I mentioned earlier, this was his entire career; being on a team with future VC chairman Frankie Frisch had its benefits. Even among early, pre-San Francisco stars, I feel like there are more likely options.

    Bobby Bonds sharing a number with his son feels like it makes things more likely. Like, they could just add a mention of his dad to Barry’s number, or they could invite him back to have a whole second ceremony for his late father. Maybe they do it if the Hall of Fame decides to reconsider the elder’s case, or maybe they just do it because they seem to be on decent terms with Barry and one of them asks about it. Who knows? But between those factors and their reconsideration of non-Hall members, it certainly seems more plausible right now than it has in a long time, at the very least.

    Honestly, that kind of applies to Matt Williams and Robby Thompson as well, although both weren’t quite as good. Like, they’d be fine choices if the team went that way, and now that the team is considering players like that, their chances look a lot better than they did, say, five years ago. But they’re both probably behind Bobby Bonds in terms of odds. I’d put Williams ahead of Thompson because he was definitely more decorated (also, I’d imagine Thompson not even being the most famous Giant with that name hurts his chances a bit; as someone who grew up after he retired, I thought people were just misspelling Bobby Thomson’s name the first few times I saw him referenced).

    Of course, the bonus answer here probably surpasses them all in terms of likeliness: seventh place, and the sixth one here since moving to the Bay Area, is Jeff Kent. His Hall of Fame case seems to have stalled, with only three more chances to go before he ages off; he really hit the ballot at the worst time. But like I’ve said before, I think the VC will be particularly amenable to his case when he comes up on the Modern Game ballot in a few years, and I would not be at all shocked if the Giants retired his number to commemorate the occasion.

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