Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Leo Cardenas, 1972 California Angels

While I’m sure they seemed wildly different at the time (one’s from Matanzas, Cuba while the other’s from the heart of America, Granite City, Illinois, dammit), Leo “Chico” Cardenas and Dal Maxvill seem remarkably similar in context. They were about the same size (Leo was reportedly one inch shorter, three pounds heavier), both received some MVP love (Dal finished 20th in 1968, Leo finished 21st twice and 12th once), both won Gold Gloves (as if I cared), and both were ludicrously bad hitters. Cardenas, a five-time All-Star who played the majority of his career in Cincinnati and Minnesota, was nicknamed “Mr. Automatic,” presumably based on the type of out he represented. To be fair to Mr. Cardenas, he did finish with an OPS+ of 100 or higher four times and, in 1971, the year before he set a largely unwanted offensive record, he swatted the ball at a 107 OPS+ for the Twinkies. This occasional offensive production is surely why Cardenas’s similarity scores show him to be a comparable player to occasionally-decent hitters like Greg Gagne and Mike Bordick, whereas Dal Maxvill – Leo’s natural foil in many ways – is most comparable to the likes of Hal Lanier (who possesses his own entry on this very blog), Dick Schoefield, and Rafael Belliard. But, I should note, that Chico’s occasionally decent offence was just that – occasional. In 1972, his offence went AWOL, never to return. Luckily, things got bad enough that Cardenas actually set a record that year, too. Getting a full season of playing time, presumably based on the strength of his 1971 season, Cardenas became the first player to appear in 150 games but score fewer than 30 runs. He collected 602 plate appearances but only crossed the plate 25 times. Such is the fate for players with .223/.272/.283 slash lines, though Leo’s 70 OPS+ still didn’t quite enter Maxvillian territory. Following his record-setting affair, Cardenas moved on to Cleveland (1973) and Texas (1974/5) before retiring and collecting 1 Hall of Fame vote in 1981, placing him exactly one spot ahead of – you guessed it – Dal Maxvill.

Note: Leo Cardenas – he of the 88 career OPS+ - is 74th all-time in intentional walks, having finished first in 1965 and 1966. This may be the most amazing fact about professional baseball you will ever read.

150+ G, 30- R

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