Dynamic Diminutive Duo

HOF Joe Morgan passed away today joining Jimmy Wynn who passed away on March 26th, 2020. I wrote this story about the two of them way back in 2007 for TrueBlueLA.

Sometimes when you do research for a story you get thrown a curve, or find out things that pleasantly surprise. I knew going in that Jimmy Wynn and Joe Morgan were two of the best diminutive players in baseball and that both started out as Colt 45s. What I didn’t know was that Jimmy Wynn entered the major leagues as a shortstop. In July/1963 he started at shortstop for his 1st 13 games before being moved to CF. He played 8 more games at SS in 63 but all of them late in the game double switches. So after starting at SS for the 1st 13 games of his career, the Toy Cannon would never start another game at SS. Joe Morgan didn’t get the call until Sept, so they never were able to showcase what might have been an incredible keystone combo.

I haven’t purchased a baseball card for over 20 years, but when I collected cards, the back of the baseball card is what you read when you reviewed a players career. In 1968 that was about all you had unless you kept a copy of the baseball register. Those numbers were the reference points for discussions between impassioned kids and adults when determining who was the better player. Looking at Joe Morgan’s stats you would have been hard pressed to argue that he was the best middle infielder in the NL when this card was created. The biggest statistic of omission from the back of the card was of course walks, and walks is what these players did better then anyone else from the time they both became regulars in 1965. From 1965-1971 these two teammates walked 1173 times eclipsing any other teammate combination.

Thanks to Baseball Prospectus and their translated statistic EQA, we can go back and look at these players a little closer. From 1965-1967 Joe Morgan had the highest EQA for a middle infielder in baseball. His streak came to an end in 1968 when he missed most of the season. His teammate Jimmy Wynn, came in 2nd to Willie Mays in 1965, had a down year in 1966 and then bounced back to be the best CF in baseball in 1967. From 1965 to 1967 the Houston Astros had one of the best duos in baseball and they were only starting out as neither had turned 26 yet.

From 1965 – 1977, Joe Morgan and Jimmy Wynn walked their way to greatness. It is what separated them from their peers. Joe Morgan ranks 1st in this list and if you peruse the list, you won’t find another middle infielder until Rico Petrocelli at number 27, and he played ½ his games at 3rd base. Pete Rose is on this list but he stopped playing 2nd base by 1970. My 1st inclination was that because Morgan & Wynn were short, they parlayed the small strike zone into all those walks, however that list is full of big guys, not small guys. Morgan and Wynn were unique to baseball. This list explains how unique. For players with > then 200 stolen bases, with > 200 home runs, with > 1000 walks they are the only two players since integration who are 5’9 or smaller on this list. If you looked at the same list but only used the time period that Jimmy Wynn played baseball from 1965 – 1977, he would be the ONLY person on the list. He was the preeminent power, speed, and patient hitter in baseball during his tenure. Those are hard tools to find. That the two players who had these unique but valuable tools were both raised in the Astro farm system and became regulars in 1965 is what intrigued me about this duo.

Several months ago, someone over at Dodger Thoughts wondered what a team would look like that was 5’9 or under. I did some research and that will be a story for another day. But what I did find made me laugh. My favorite player, and the player who I hated and respected most, sat at the top of the leaderboard. Yup, since integration, based on OPS+, the Toy Cannon and Joe Morgan have been the two best players in baseball 5’9 or under.

Since he was the catalyst of the Big Red Machine I tried to hate Joe Morgan but I enjoyed his game to much. When he was traded from the Astro’s to the Reds I didn’t give it much thought. I had no idea at the time of the deal that he was already a special ballplayer. After his season ending injury in 1968, his EQA dropped below 300 for the next three years and I guess the Astro’s felt his best had already come. They were of course very wrong as he went on to become quite possibly the best 2nd baseman in history. Jimmy Wynn had alternated great seasons with bad seasons from 1970, so the Astro’s got tired of that and dealt him in 1973 after a down year. He of course responded to have one of the best Los Angeles Dodger seasons ever by a CF, and helped the young 1974 team into the World Series.

Joe Morgan is disliked by many for his work as an announcer. It is with the modern day use of baseball statistics that has shown how great a player he was. As a ballplayer he was the perfect sabermetric player. His combination of power, speed, patience, defense, base-running skills, may have been the best of his generation. Jimmy Wynn during his on years was every bit as good a player. They both posted 6 years with an OPS+ > 140. Morgan’s OPS+ reached higher and he had the longer career but from 1965 – 1977 these players were not only the best small players in the game, they were two of the best players in the game.

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