Ellis Valentine as Seen Through Player Won-Lost Records
I wrote the original version of this article on Valentine's Day 2014, mostly inspired by the idea of doing a "Valentine" themed article for Valentine's Day and partly inspired by a very interesting interview with Ellis Valentine by Jeff Pearlman that is well worth a read.
Five highlights of Ellis Valentine's career:
The first two tables below present Ellis Valentine's career as measured by Player won-lost records, in and out of context.
- Ellis Valentine was a second-round draft pick of the Montreal Expos in the 1972 draft.
- Valentine was an All-Star in 1977, the first season in which he played more than 100 games.
- Valentine won a Gold Glove in 1978 when he led all NL outfielders in assists.
- From 1975 - 1980, Valentine's first six major-league seasons, he had a batting line of .290/.332/.480 with 35 doubles, 25 home runs, 15 stolen bases, and 91 RBI per 162 games.
- Valentine had a cameo appearance as himself in an episode of Fantasy Island in the 1977-78 offseason.
Ellis Valentine's Peak
From 1977 through 1980, Ellis Valentine was a very good rightfielder for an up-and-coming Montreal Expos team that was on the cusp of entering probably the most successful period in its history. Unfortunately, Valentine never managed more than 350 plate appearances in a season after 1979 (his age-24 season) and played his final game at the age of 31.
The next table shows the 10 players most similar to Ellis Valentine through age 25 (1980 in Valentine's case), as measured by Player won-lost records, who debuted since 1932.
The most similar player to Ellis Valentine at these ages was a contemporary who ended his career with 12 All-Star appearances, 7 Gold Gloves, 3,110 hits, 465 home runs, and election to the Baseball Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility.
Through age 25, Valentine had more hits (660-615), home runs (92-76), and Gold Gloves (1-0) than Winfield. But Winfield finished fifth in MVP voting and won a Silver Slugger at the age of 40 and played until he was 43 years old. Valentine did not.
Of course, you can't expect anybody to play until they're 43 years old and Winfield is the only Hall-of-Famer in the above table. Most of the rest of Valentine's comps perhaps give a better sense of how good a career Valentine might have had if he had maintained his early level for longer: good to very good and mostly memorable players, most of whom ended their careers a clear level or two below Hall-of-Fame consideration.
Ellis Valentine's Fielding
Ellis Valentine was a brilliant defensive right fielder, blessed with one of the best throwing arms of his (or any other) generation.
The next table shows the top 10 players in net fielding wins in right field for whom I have calculated Player won-lost records.
As I noted above, Ellis Valentine had a very short career for a player as good as he was (only 6,453.0 career innings in RF, about 5 full seasons worth). This is evident here as Valentine had far fewer fielding decisions than anybody above him in the above table. And, in fact, Valentine has a higher winning percentage than all of the players above him in the previous table.
The next table ranks right fielders by career winning percentage for players with at least 10 fielding wins in right field.
Raise the cutoff to 15 fielding wins in the above table and Valentine would be #1.
As I said above, Valentine's strongest fielding tool was his throwing arm. Player won-lost records are calculated across nine Components. Throwing arm comes into play most strongly in the last two of these: Component 8 - Baserunner Outs - and Component 9 - Baserunner Advancements.
The next table shows the top 10 players in net Component 8 and Component 9 fielding wins among all players for whom I have calculated Player won-lost records. This table includes all positions. Fielding records are normalized at .500 for each component for each position, so that, for example, right fielders are compared relative to the average right fielder, while left fielders are compared to the average left fielder. Because of this, the table below may be somewhat biased against right fielders, in general, since right fielders tend to have stronger throwing arms, on average, than left or center fielders.
As with overall fielding record, Valentine's relatively short career hurts him here. In terms of winning percentage, Valentine's is higher than everybody else in the above table.
Ellis Valentine's Place in Expos History
The Montreal Expos came into being in 1969. Like most first-year expansion teams, they were pretty bad (52-110, same as the expansion San Diego Padres the same season). The Expos started to put together the nucleus for their first sustained run of excellence in the mid-to-late 1970s with the debuts of Hall-of-Famers Gary Carter (who became a regular in 1975) and Andre Dawson (1977 NL Rookie of the Year). The Expos first great pitcher (and arguably the greatest pitcher in their history), Steve Rogers, debuted around this same time (1973).
Ellis Valentine was also part of this generation of Expos players who produced the team's first success. Valentine was the starting right fielder for the first Montreal Expos team to post a winning record (95-65) in 1979. Unfortunately for him, Valentine was traded mid-season the year the Expos made the only playoff appearance in their history.
Certainly, Ellis Valentine does not have an argument for being the best, or even one of the best, players in Montreal Expos history. As short and ill-fated as the Expos' history was, it nevertheless includes four Hall-of Fame players. But Valentine was a key contributor to perhaps the best stretch of sustained success in Expos history.
Because of the shortness of his Expos career, Valentine looks better compared to average than compared to replacement level. For whatever reason, Valentine's career also looks somewhat better when controlling for context (eWins) than when not (pWins).
The next table shows the top 25 players in Montreal Expos history as measured by eWins over positional average (eWOPA).
Ellis Valentine would probably not make the starting outfield for an all-time Expos team: that would most likely be Raines, Dawson, and Guerrero, with Larry Walker and Rusty Staub also entering the conversation long before Valentine. But Ellis Valentine was arguably one of the 25 best players in Montreal Expos history, which is pretty damn good.
Article last updated: February 14, 2020
All articles are written so that they pull data directly from the most recent version of the Player won-lost database. Hence, any numbers cited within these articles should automatically incorporate the most recent update to Player won-lost records. In some cases, however, the accompanying text may have been written based on previous versions of Player won-lost records. I apologize if this results in non-sensical text in any cases.
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