Before Cory Seager there was Billy Grabarkewitz

[update to reflect final season stats for Seager, found at bottom]

Cory Seager is getting all the attention these days, and the rookie SS deserves it. In 1970 Billy Grabarkewitz was making the same kind of impact for the LAD. Billy Grabarkewitz was not a rookie in 1970 but just like Corey Seager in 2016, 1970 was his first full year. Billy had only 70 plate appearances headed into 1970, Seager had 113 headed into 2016. Yet Seager is classified as a rookie and Billy was not. Time spent on Major League roster I guess.

Update August 27th[Found this exceptional mini biography of Grabarkewitz at the sabre.org/proj]

Billy had shown up in 1969 and produced like a banjo hitting infielder,  batting only .095 in 65 at bats in four different call ups. Yet his minor league pedigree suggested much more, so it was no surprise that he made the team out of spring training in 1970.

What was a big surprise was that Billy was one of the best hitters in baseball for the first few months of 1970.  He easily made the all-star team, and would even play a key role in one of the most famous all-star games in history. The 1970 All-Star game went into extra innings and is famous for Pete Rose bowling over Ray Fosse to win the game. It was Billy who singled  to move Pete Rose into scoring position for that eventual scamper home on a Jim Hickman (ex-Dodger) single.  Billy would end his all-star career batting 1.000 because that was his only all-star game appearance.

The Dodgers in 1970 had the misfortune of playing in the same division as the Big Red Machine. They started the season by being swept by the Reds in the first three games. Steve Garvey played 3rd base, and Maury Wills played SS.  1969 ROY Ted Sizemore was entrenched at 2nd base.  For Billy to find a place to play he would need to unseat a Dodger legend at SS, or beat out Steve Garvey at 3rd base. The Dodgers lost the first five games of 1970 with Garvey at 3rd base.  They turned to Grabarkewitz on April 12th, batting 8th he drove in two runs and the Dodgers had their first victory of 1970. And that was the start of an amazing season by Billy Grabarkewitz.

For context this is what Billy and Seager have done by June 21st, 1970.

Stats Grabarkewitz Seager
PA 253 308
Doubles 9 16
Triples 3 1
Home Runs 6 15
Runs 32 46
RBI 39 36
Walks 37 26
BA 0.330 0.283
OBP 0.434 0.344
Slug% 0.490 0.509

Cory Seager is having an epic first full season campaign but as you can see Billy  was also quite epic in his first full season. That OBP  wasn’t just fueled by his high BA, Billy was getting on base by hit or walk. And doing that while still posting a huge above average slug %.  Let’s take a look at NL 3rd baseman in 1970 for context:

The table below represents the 1970 3rd baseman with qualified for a batting title, sorted by OPS.  The full statistical list can be found here:

Player BA OBP SLG OPS R RBI
Tony Perez (HOF) 0.317 0.401 0.589 0.990 107 129
Billy Grabarkewitz 0.289 0.399 0.454 0.852 92 84
Ron Santo (HOF) 0.267 0.369 0.476 0.844 83 114
Don Money 0.295 0.361 0.463 0.824 66 66
Doug Rader 0.252 0.322 0.436 0.758 90 87
Clete Boyer 0.246 0.305 0.381 0.686 44 62

Up until June 21st, Billy was the full-time 3rd baseman. However on June 21st, Maury Wills would get hurt, and Billy would take over SS for the next month, starting at Shorstop from June 22nd to July 25th.

Billy blasted out of the gates in 1970 and did this month by month:

Month PA HR BA OBP Slug OPS
April 57 2 0.333 0.464 0.533 0.997
May 117 2 0.394 0.479 0.564 1.043
June 114 3 0.292 0.398 0.417 0.815
July 111 4 0.28 0.396 0.43 0.826
Aug 120 4 0.173 0.311 0.378 0.689
Sept 121 2 0.291 0.38 0.447 0.827

After that seminal first full season, Billy Grabarkewitz seemed destined for LAD greatness, but like many who came before, injuries would ruin his promising future.  Billy totaled 640 plate appearances in 1970, but could muster only 90 in 1971.  In the winter of  1973 he was traded along with half the team

and was never able to light the star that shined so bright in 1970.  By the age of 29 he was out of the major leagues having managed to amass only 1390 plate appearances after having 640 in 1970. I found this link that had this quote:

 “The injury-prone Grabarkewitz was in the minors when he said, ‘I was X-rayed so often I glow in the dark.’ “

Hardball times included the 1970 Grabarkewitz season as one of the all time fluke seasons, but I kind of disagree. 1970 was his first full season, and while he struggled in August he bounced back in Sept and did what he had done in June/July so I don’t think he was figured out.  To me a fluke season has to be preceded by some kind of baseline, and then have that baseline busted by the fluke season.  Gabby had no baseline entering 1970, and it was will established that he suffered numerous injuries after 1970. But I’m no math major, just an old Dodger fan.

On a personal note, Billy will always be one of my favorite Dodgers. The very first Dodger game I saw was on June 16th, 1970, and Billy homered to lead the Dodgers to a 1 – 0 victory over the Pirates. Just one of many 1 – 0 victories for Don Sutton.

Update with the final stats for Seager and Billy for 2016
With the 2016 season over, we can see that Seager ended up surpassing Billy on most counting stats, but the OPS+ came in 134 to 137 not too big a difference. Seager owned more power but with 95 walks Billy made it up in OBP.  Strangely Seager will get many MVP votes, Billy Grabarkewitz got zero.

Stats Grabarkewitz Seager
PA 640 687
Doubles 20 40
Triples 8 5
Home Runs 17 26
OPS+ 134 137
fWAR 6.1 7.5
Hits / Walks 153/95 193/54
BA 0.289 0.308
OBP 0.399 0.365
Slug% 0.454 0.512
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5 Comments

    Trackbacks

    1. Let’s play two – 1970 Dodger/Reds DH memories | Dodgers, Yesterday and Today
    2. Jim Frenchy Lefebvre – 1965 NL ROY | Dodgers, Yesterday and Today
    3. Historical LAD ROY voting for position players | Dodgers, Yesterday and Today
    4. LAD First half leaderboards – On Base Percentage | Dodgers, Yesterday and Today
    5. Historical list of LAD positional ROY vote | Dodgers, Yesterday and Today

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