Our tour through the ranks of the all-time Astros right fielders is coming to an end. Today, we'll look at the second-best right fielder, Mr. Kevin Bass. What's his resume look like?
- 724 games in right field
- 15.7 bbWAR and 18.2 fWAR in his Astros career
- 87 home runs, 194 doubles in 3,884 plate appearances over 10 seasons
- A .278/.330/.423 line with 468 strikeouts and an OPS+ of 111
- 7th place finish in 1986 MVP voting following a .311/.357/.486 year at the plate with 20 home runs and 20 steals
Bass was a bit before my time and had a pretty interesting career. In a way, he is similar to Richard Hidalgo in that injuries derailed Bass from having a better career. Still, Bass was arguably the most important player on that '86 Astros squad that just missed out on making its first World Series. Let's look at both his '86 season and the trade that brought Bass to Houston in the first place.
We've mentioned quite a few bad trades that the Astros have made in the past. Most recently, it was the fleecing the Astros took on the Rusty Staub deal, which clack explained in the comments of Staub's All-Time article. On the other side of that coin is the deal that brought Kevin Bass to Houston.
The Astros had signed Don Sutton away from the Dodgers before the 1981 season to a four year, 3.125 million dollar deal. Sutton was coming off a season when he led the National League with a 2.20 ERA but the 35-year old also had a career-low 128 strikeouts that season. The Astros were a season removed from pushing the Phillies in the 1980 National League Championship, and I'm sure this signing was meant to put them back into contention.
However, it had just a big an impact on that 1986 team but for different reasons. On the final day of August in '82, Astros general manager Al Rosen sent Sutton to the Milwaukee Brewers for three players to be named. Sutton had won 13 games in '82 for Houston at age 37. He also had his highest strikeout rate since the 1975 season, when he finished fifth in the Cy Young voting. In short, he was old but he was signed to a reasonable contract (about 8.2 million in 2011 dollars). He had a slight spike in his performance playing in the pitcher-friendly Astrodome. The Astros were 62-69 at the time of the deal on their way of finishing 77-85 and were 11 games out of first place.
So, it made sense for the Astros to get something for the aging pitcher. What did they get, after the players were named? Bass, 25-year old lefty reliever Frank DiPino and 25-year old Mike Madden. Bass was probably the jewel to the deal, since he was just 23 years old and had been drafted in the second round by the Brewers in 1977. He also had hit .315/.385/.528 in 102 games at Triple-A Vancouver in 1982 with 23 steals. Bass got caught quite a bit when he tried to steal, but he had that great combination of power and speed that must've made him intriguing.
Sutton was okay for the Brewers, helping them get to the World Series in '82 by winning his only start in the ALCS. But, he bombed in two WS appearances and his ERA rose by about a run in the next two seasons with Milwaukee. Bass took some time to win a starting job away from another player on this list, Terry Puhl.
The last thing I thought was pretty interesting about this trade was the talent in the Astros front office at the time. Rosen, the former power hitting third baseman for the Cleveland Indians, was the GM. Andy McPhail, who would go on to get his first GM job in 1985 with Minnesota. After overseeing a couple of World Series titles, he took over as the president and CEO of the Chicago Cubs in 1995, holding the position until 2006. He then left for the Baltimore Orioles, where he's been less successful, but seems to be slowly turning that team around. Bob Kennedy was a former GM who was working as the vice president for baseball operations for Rosen. Bill Wood was the farm director in the midst of a 17-year career with Houston that would see him serve as GM for the last six through 1993. Even the director of scouting Dave O'Brien, Jr. went on to be the GM for Cincinnati in 2004 and 2005. Basically, there was a ton of baseball talent in that office, which explains why this trade worked out pretty well. Even DiPino saved 43 games in five seasons with Houston.
The other thing to note about Bass is how good he was in 1986. In addition to those 20 home runs, Bass hit 33 doubles and five triples. He hit 15 of those 20 homers on the road, so the Astrodome probably suppressed those totals some. If he was able to hit 30 homers with 22 steals, Bass would have been a much better MVP candidate. As it is, he probably finished a little lower than he should've. According to FanGraphs, Bass had the fifth-best WAR in the National League, behind MVP winner Mike Schmidt, Tony Gwynn, Tim Raines and Keith Hernandez. Basically, it was good company to keep.
On the actual voting, Bass had a better WAR than second-place Glenn Davis, third-place Gary Carter and fifth-place Dave Parker. Everyone above him in the voting but Hernandez and Raines had more homers than Bass did, which suggests that Bass' sterling defense wasn't taken into account enough. Bass had the seventh-highest Fielding Runs total in the National League, thanks to FanGraphs, and none of the players who got more votes had more fielding runs.
There's some problems with that analysis, since both Baseball Reference and FanGraphs have to use Total Zone for their fielding calculations and we've talked before about how inaccurate that can be. Still, Bass had a sterling defensive reputation and by all accounts had his best year in the field in '86. Bass missed out on a Gold Glove that season to Tony Gwynn, Dale Murphy and Willie McGee, but probably deserved one.
In short, Bass was basically a force both in the field and at the plate. He may have gotten a bad rap that season because he struck out to end Game Six against the Mets, but there were not many right fielders better than Bass in Astros history.
Do you have any memories of Bass? Was his defense as good as it looks here? Should he be ranked this highly?