by Phoenix Desertsong, Sports Nut
Relief pitchers are hardly a big deal in the baseball card hobby. Of course, guys like Dennis Eckersley and Lee Smith have their fans and collectors. But, a lot of the best relief pitchers out there, even the most consistent, don’t have much of a following. Still, when you’re building a dynasty baseball team out of cards from the Junk Wax era from 1987-1993, it’s good to find some diamonds in the rough, guys like Dale Mohorcic.
Who? Sure, Dale Mohorcic was never a household name. But in 1987, his efforts in relief for the Texas Rangers earned him 3.1 Wins Above Replacement for the Texas Rangers. That was a follow-up to a decent 1986 in which he earned 2.2 WAR. I’m sure you won’t hear people wax nostalgic about Dale, but he did have a couple of pretty good seasons as far as results are concerned.
Of course, with a strikeout rate of 4.3 K/9, that leaves a lot of your success up to the defense. Mohorcic’s FIP of 3.98 and FanGraphs WAR of 1.0 in 1987 (and 0.9 WAR in 1986) gives you more of an idea of the pitcher Mohorcic really was. Indeed, both his 1986 and 1987 seasons were fluky. He had a strand rate of 81.1% in 1986 and 80.1% in 1987, both of which are very high. He also had a BABIP of only .248, which is crazy low - although it was a more sustainable .295 in his good 1986 season.
So, who is Dale Mohorcic? Where did he come from, and what happened to him?
Dale Mohorcic the Journeyman
Mohorcic began his quest through the minor leagues began in the short-lived independent Northwest League with the Victoria Mussels. He was the ace of their staff in 1978 with a 2.02 ERA! Dale caught the attention of the Toronto Blue Jays, who purchased his contract. He was underwhelming in their farm system, though, and was released.
The Pirates were intrigued by Mohorcic, though, as a reliever. He actually enjoyed a fine season in 1980 mostly as a closer. The Pirates held onto him until after the 1984 season, trying him again as both a starter and a reliever, but he never really caught on. They let him go before the 1985 season.
He caught on again with the Texas Rangers and enjoyed a decent 1985 season in relief at AAA. He returned in 1986 and found his way to the majors.
After his strong 1987 season, he scuffled early on in the 1988 season. The Rangers decided to move on from him, deciding to try out Mitch Williams - who himself would struggle but become a pretty good pitcher soon after. Williams himself would be traded to the Cubs after the season in an otherwise underwhelming package for Jamie Moyer and Rafael Palmeiro, The Rangers won that trade. The Yankees picked up Mohorcic for Cecilio Guante, formerly a pretty strong reliever, but he only gave the Rangers 0.3 WAR for the rest of 1988 and 1989.
Mohorcic, on the other hand, actually pitched very well for New York, and gave the pinstripes 0.8 WAR in only 22 and two-thirds innings. He was dreadful in 1989 though, being “worth” -1.2 WAR. Mohorcic even spent time in the minors, where he actually pitched very well. Probably because of those good minor league innings, he did catch on in 1990 with the Montreal Expos, pitching well at AAA, and had OK results with 0.6 WAR in 53 innings with the big club. He hung up his cleats after that.
Dave Mohorcic as a Closer?
To be fair, Mohorcic isn’t really someone you’d consider a prototypical closer type pitcher. He walked guys liked a power pitcher, but struck out guys like a finesse pitcher. When he limited the walks, he was pretty successful. But, like a lot of relief guys that pitched to contact, you rely so much on the defense that it’s hard to stay consistent for long periods of time.
Mohorcic hearkens back to the old days of grinding out game after game. This is before bullpens became more specialized. You were either a mop-up guy or a back-end guy like a set-up man or a closer. Mohorcic gained a reputation in the minors as being a shutdown relief pitcher. While he didn’t blow anyone away with peripheral stats, it’s actually possible that Mohorcic could’ve kept pitching and ate some late innings for a few more years.
For my Junk Wax dynasty, I’d consider Mohorcic as a great candidate to serve as a middle reliever or a late inning guy strictly against right-handed batters in a 3+ run game. His platoon splits weren’t great (.247/.309/.364 against RHB and a whopping .305/.351/.446 against LHB). This was a guy who tied Mike Marshall for the major league record of pitching in 13 straight games. It’s hard not to want a guy like that on your team. He showed up and gave his best. In an age of bullpen specialization like today, he’d actually probably have fared a lot better.
In Junk Wax Dynasty, we look at players from the “Junk Wax” era of baseball cards and find the hidden gems from 1987 to 1993. For this installment, we take a look at the career year of a San Diego Padres utility player by the name of Randy Ready.
How many Randy Ready cards from 1987 were put into bicycle spokes? Probably a lot. Funny thing is, utility infielder Randy Ready actually had a career year in 1987. According to Baseball Reference, his performance that year netted the San Diego Padres 5.8 Wins Above Replacement. To put that in perspective, that’s the same number that a young Barry Bonds put up that year. Considering that the Padres acquired Ready in 1986 for a player to be named later that had a career War of -0.1 WAR, the Friars were quite pleased with his performance.
Before we get into that career year, though, it’s important to know what was going on in Randy’s life at the time. This dude dealt with tragedy the year before.. Check this out:
“On June 13, 1986, the day Ready played his first game as a Padre after having been acquired from the Milwaukee Brewers, [Randy’s wife] Dorene collapsed on the floor of their home in Tucson. She was unconscious for 7 to 10 minutes. During much of that time, her brain was deprived of oxygen.”
Oh, boy. That ended Ready’s season right there, so he could go be with his wife and three young sons. His wife had suffered a heart attack that left her with permanent brain damage, and she never recovered from it, So, Randy and his sister Cindy had to raise the children. Later, it would be found that some diet pills that his wife was prescribed were what gave her the heart attack. A few years later, a jury awarded the family more than $25 million in a settlement.
Of course, that eventual money couldn’t make up that loss. Baseball became Randy’s escape. So, it makes what happened that next season even more special.
Ready was a patient hitter who regularly walked more than he struck out. But in 1987, his bat exploded for a .309/.423/.520 batting line for a .943 OPS. That's a 153 OPS+ or 53 percent above league average. He hit a career high 12 home runs and batted in 54 runs. He added 7 steals but was caught three times, so he only added a bit of value there.
In 1987 he played second base, third base, left field, and right field. Ready was a steady average fielder at both second and third base and a bit below average in the outfield. But in 1997, Ready was worth 5 Total Zone runs above average in only 52 games at second base and 3 runs above average at third. He was even 3 runs above average in left field in only 16 games, partly thanks to an outfield assist. In all, he amassed 1.2 defensive WAR.
Unfortunately for Ready, a lot of this success was due to a .325 batting average on balls in play. His .211 ISO or isolated power was backed up by career highs in doubles with 26 and triples with 6. He'd never show that level of power again. So, with eventual career marks of .280 BABIP and .127 ISO, this was a major outlier.
Was Randy Ready in 1988?
Ready was not bad in 1988 but he would be traded to the Phillies along with John Kruk for outfielder Chris James. Obviously, Kruk would go on to be very good. But, it got worse for the Padres. James would be OK, but the Padres would trade James along with Sandy Alomar and Carlos Baerga for Joe Carter. Alomar and Baerga would go on to be very good for the Indians, and even Chris James had a strong year in 1990.
Of course, Joe Carter was a good player, but he went on to be terrible for the Padres. So, he was flipped along with Roberto Alomar (future hall of famer) for infielder Tony Fernandez and Fred McGriff. McGriff would be good, but Fernandez would be underwhelming offensively. Imagine if the Padres had Kruk, both Alomar, Baerga, and Ready still… Somewhat hilariously, Fernandez would be part of what could have been an unassisted triple play started by - you guessed it - Randy Ready!
Fernandez would actually never be the player he was in Toronto again (with 2.2 WAR in 1991 and 1.1 WAR in 1992), but he would end up having a late career resurgence, ironically with Toronto in 1993, with Cleveland in 1997, and again very ironically with TORONTO in 1998 and 1999. Of course, the Padres only got one good year out of Wally Whitehurst (2.7 WAR). Man, the Padres made a lot of bad moves…
Anyway, back to Randy...
Randy Ready and the Rest of His Career
Anyway, Ready was never quite as good again after 1987. It’s not hard to imagine why, though, especially with what he had to deal with in his home life. His last really good year was 1991, in which he posted a 1.3 WAR in only 76 games. In that year, he hit .249/.385/.322 for a roughly league average .707 OPS. That batting line included a dreadful .207/.294/.207 (.501 OPS) against right-handed pitching, but a .265/.418/.367 (.785 OPS) against lefties.
The rest of Ready’s career was plagued by some inconsistency with the glove - having some good defensive seasons and some bad - that overshadowed his strong plate discipline. The good news is, he stuck around in the majors until 1995 and played in Japan for a year in 1996. But looking back now, the real thing that held Ready back from being an above-average super utility player were his platoon splits.
Career vs RHP: .246/.341/.356 - .697 OPS in 1180 PA
Career vs LHP: .271/.375/.415 - .790 OPS in 1308 PA
In today’s analytically driven game, Ready would have been strictly a platoon bat that could play second base, third base, and the outfield corners. He would’ve probably been worth 1.0-1.5 WAR in part time duty and perhaps he would’ve settled in at one position, either at second or third base with occasional starts in Left Field or Right Field against a left-handed pitcher. He was also not utilized nearly as much as a pinch hitter as he likely should have, especially in the National League. Still, he cobbled together a decent career as a 25th man, which is hardly something to sneeze at. It’s just interesting that he wasn’t utilized better.
Randy Ready as a Coach and Manager
Randy never really left the game, either. He returned to the game as a minor league manager in 2002 and served as the Padres hitting coach for a bit. That stint as hitting coach proved disastrous as the Padres had one of the worst lineups in baseball. Was that his fault, though? Probably not. Anyway, he has continued in the game as a minor league coach and manager. In 2017, he became a minor league manager in the Marlins system.
Ready is definitely well-liked in the game. The teams he’s managed have often made the playoffs and he’s been an overall winning manager. It’s a shame that his playing career really only had a couple of bright spots (1987 and 1991), but he did have quite a ride.
So, the next time you come across a Randy Ready baseball card, especially from 1987 or 1991, don’t be so quick to dismiss them. In fact, he’s the top utility player in my Junk Wax Dynasty. He deserves to be remembered, even if it’s just for that amazing 5 WAR season in the wake of family tragedy.
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