(Click to enlarge)
I’m still playing around with Baseball Projection.com’s Historical WAR Database, and it got me to thinking: What happened to Willie McCovey in 1964? In the graph above, you can see that McCovey’s age 26 season in ’64 was quite the drop off from his previous years when he really started to enter his peak years.
In 1963 McCovey hit: .280/.350/.566 with 44 HRs. His bat alone that year was worth 42 runs above average, or about 4 wins. But, in 1964 McCovey hit just: .220/.336/.412 with only 18 HRs. His bat plummeted to just 4 runs above average and his fielding, by TotalZone, went from average-ish in previous years, to -12 runs below average*. In ’64, McCovey played in 130 games but only racked up 364 at-bats. Was he hurt? A preliminary (and very quick) Google search doesn’t turn up much about any injury he sustained during the season.
*An interesting side-note that I missed the first go around. I had forgotten that McCovey saw some brief playing time in the OF during 1962-64. Over this period, he played 275 games in the outfield — mostly in left field. From 62-63 he was respectable in the OF, rating as an average fielder. In ’64 that shifted and he went from average to liability. Not surprising, after ’64 he never played in the OF again.
Turning our eyes back to the WAR graph again, we can see that post-1964 McCovey got back on track towards a very nice career that he was trending towards before his age 26 season. From 27-years-old to 32-years-old McCovey had win totals of: 6.2, 6.1, 5.3, 7.1, 9.0, and 6.5 wins per season. A WAR of +4 wins or greater is usually a legitimate All-Star campaign. McCovey’s peak season came in 1969 with the Giants when he hit: .320/.453/.656 with 45 HRs. Not bad at all for the big man. As the graph indicates, the final years of McCovey’s career (38-years-old and beyond) weren’t pretty.
But, back to my question: What happened to McCovey? I’d love to get some reader responses on this one. I’m certain he was injured because he just didn’t get many at-bats that year, but what kind of injury did he suffer? He obviously recovered but I’d like to know more.