One of the great things about the advent of Sabermetrics over the past several decades is the focus on developing “pure” statistics that seek to remove biases like ballpark factors and era handicaps from player evaluation.
You know, stats like Wins Above Replacement, or WAR — the ones that let you compare players across the epochs.
And these stats are a gateway into the wild, beautiful world of baseball’s past, no matter what the topic at hand is.
For instance, Milwaukee Brewers reliever Jeremy Jeffress came off the injured list this week, and the move was greeted as a legitimate boost to the Crew’s bullpen.
I knew Jeffress had a great run last year, but I had forgotten the extent of his gawd — 8-1, 1.29 ERA, 89 strikeouts in 76.2 innings, a 0.991 WHIP, and 3.4 WHIP. Those are some impressive squiggles, and they got me wondering — surprise! — which pitchers from my youth compared favorably to Jeffress.
A quick trip to Baseball Reference satisfied that itch, thanks to their Similarity Scores, which told me that Frank Williams is the most similar pitcher to Jeffress through age 30.
I remember two things about Frank Williams …
First, I remember that he played for my Cincinnati Reds in the late 1980s.
And second, I remember his baseball card looking like this …
… no matter WHAT other teams he played for (the Reds and the Detroit Tigers). That’s what happens when you have a 1985 rookie card, right smack dab in the middle of the mania — you get frozen in time with your rookie team.
It’s not all that unreasonable to remember Williams for his time with the Giants, either, considering he went 14-9, 3.22 ERA, 109 ERA+ in 146 appearances over three seasons, encompassing a 231 2/3 innings.
That run included a 1.20 ERA in 1986, the same year he allowed a 0.006 isolated power mark to opposing batters. That’s a record for hurlers pitching at least 50 innings.
That winter, the Giants traded Williams, Mike Villa, and Timber Mead (that name!) to the Reds in exchange for Riverfront favorite Eddie Milner.
In Cincy, Williams racked up 145 innings for the 1987-88 Reds clubs that contended for a division title, contributing 2.9 WAR to those efforts.
The Reds released him in December 1988, though, and he eventually signed a free agent deal for 1989 with the Tigers. After 42 appearances for Detroit that summer, Williams was done at age 31.
According to his Wikipedia page, Williams suffered calamity after tragedy once his diamond career was over, and he died of pneumonia in January 2009 when he was just 50 years old.
Like all of our other Wax Pack Gods, though, Frank Williams lives on in eternal youth on our baseball cards, just waiting for someone to remind us of his glory.
And for that, in this moment, we can thank Jeremy Jeffress.
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