Was My Favorite Player Any Good?

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

It’s no secret that younger baseball fans are less discriminating that older fans. You pretty much just pick a player you think is pretty good and that’s it. It’s a very simple and very elegant system. I’m not knocking it, merely pointing out that when we were kids, we didn’t think very deeply about these things.

So today, I thought I’d go back in time and see what the younger version of me was thinking. 16 or 17 years ago, I didn’t know anything about wOBA or FIP. They didn’t even exist. Baseball analysis has come a long way since then. I’m not even sure if my house had an internet connection when I first started watching baseball. I’m pretty sure we didn’t.

The other day I realized that I had never really gone back and evaluated the advanced stats on some of the players I watched growing up. I wouldn’t regret cheering for bad players. In fact, I openly cheer for below average players all the time. That’s not the point. The point is that I wanted to see if my favorite players back in the day when I though AVG, HR, and RBI were the only thing that mattered were any good.

My favorite player as a kid was Tigers OF Bobby Higginson. That’s a blast from the past, right? I modeled by little league number (and every one thereafter) after Higgy’s #4. I went with 44 as an homage. Heck, it’s still in my Twitter handle.

Higginson played from 1995-2005, right in the midst of the steroid era, but still caught on as my favorite player because he was one of very few Tigers who were any good. I remember loving his strong throwing arm from the corner, but he was also a middle of the order bat for my team.

Looking back I am actually a bit shocked to discover that Higginson was a pretty good player! Nice job, young Neil!

Higginson had a career walk rate of 11.5% and K rate of 14.1%, both were better than league average during his era. His approach was good  and his career wRC+ was 11% above league average at 111. Bobby Higginson was a solid hitter. His career slash line was .272/.358/.455 and he accumulated more than 17 wins above replacement (WAR) despite a negative defensive rating.

His best season by rate was his 1996 campaign when he posted a 141 wRC+ and he posted his highest WAR in 2000 at 4.3. During his career from 1995-2005 Higginson ranks as the 52nd best outfielder by WAR and 62nd by wRC+. Among Tigers, he was the best position player, leading Damion Easley by more than two wins and had far more games and plate appearances than anyone else in the organization.

So congratulations, young self, you picked a player whom you enjoyed watching and who was a pretty solid player. You didn’t know anything about plate discipline or linear weights, but you still managed to pick a player who was pretty well rated by both measures.

I’m not sure how informative this was, but it’s sometimes nice to look back and just reflect on what it’s like to be a baseball fan. Bobby Higginson was my favorite player growing up and now that I have much better tools to evaluate players, I can now see that he was much more than just a really strong arm. I’d encourage you to go back and check up on the guys you cheered for decades ago, it’s a pretty cool experience. I’ll save Tigers fans some time, though. Al Kaline was awesome, you don’t have to worry.

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