The Pyramid Rating System’s All-Time Montreal Expos

Vladimir Guerrero is one of the best Expos’ hitters of all-time. (via Keith Allison)

Paul Moehringer’s Pyramid Rating System & All-Time Teams

Aug. 27, 2015: The Pyramid Rating System: JAWS on a Career Scale

March 15, 2016: The Pyramid Rating System: The Results

Aug. 12, 2016: All-Time League and Baltimore Orioles

Sept. 2, 2016: Boston Red Sox

Sept. 28, 2016: Texas Rangers

Oct. 19, 2016: Brooklyn Dodgers

Nov. 30, 2016: Cincinnati Reds

Dec. 15, 2016: 2016 Season Update

Dec. 20, 2016: Seattle Mariners

Jan. 25, 2017: Milwaukee Brewers/Braves

Feb. 2, 2017: Cleveland Indians

Mar. 15, 2017: Los Angeles Dodgers

May 15, 2017: Houston Astros

June 30, 2017: Philadelphia Phillies

Aug. 2, 2017: Kansas City Royals

Oct. 24, 2017: Pittsburgh Pirates

For the next installment in the Pyramid System’s All-Time team series we head to the NL East, to find the Montreal Expos, our second defunct team in this series, but one that could one day return to the field.

As this league sees it, the Expos are a separate franchise onto themselves and are not included as part of the Washington Nationals lineage. The Nationals will be featured later and will include Washington stars like Walter Johnson, Goose Goslin and Sam Rice in addition to modern day counterparts Max Scherzer and Bryce Harper, but not former Expos stars.

Historically the Expos were found near the bottom of the standings. They never won an outright division title  and seven times finished last in the NL East. Still, the Expos will still feature one of the best outfielders in either league, with two Hall of Famers and a possible soon-be-be third.

If a team were to ever return to Montreal, under this system it they would assume the Expos heritage and would be in pretty good shape to build upon a fairly solid foundation. As we will see, however, it lacks some major elements to be taken as a serious contender.

Franchises Included: Montreal Expos (1969-2004)

No. of Hall of Famers on 25-man roster: 3

Manager: Felipe Alou

Although Buck Rodgers and Hall of Fame manager Dick Williams enjoyed solid runs of success during their respective tenures as manager, picking  Felipe Alou was one of the easier managerial calls of this series. The all-time winningest manager in team history, as well as the skipper of the successful  ’94 squad, few managers  have been more universally respected by players, fans and the media.

The Expos hired Alou  in the middle of the 1992 season, the team was in disarray. Most of the players who had made Montreal one of the consistent powerhouses in baseball throughout the ’80s were gone, a promising farm system had yet to blossom and the team was in  revolt against manager Tom Runnels, all while the front office was being overhauled.

Alou’s arrival seemed to stabilize everything almost overnight. He quickly earned the rep as one of the most player-friendly managers in baseball, and his team responded by going 70-55 for the remainder of the ’92 season and followed that up with a 94-68 mark in ’93.

In ’94 the Expos seemed to be even better, led by a crop of young stars who seemed poised to rip the title of best team in the National League from the Atlanta Braves.

Then the rug got pulled. A player strike ended the ’94 season in mid-August just as the Expos were hitting their stride, having won 20 of their previous 23 games and making a strong argument for being the team to beat in October.

After that year, baseball was never the same in Montreal. Most key players were allowed to leave through free agency with little to no resistance, while others were simply traded for prospects that couldn’t possibly measure up to the players they were dealt for.

Alou did what he could to keep the team competitive and even got the Expos back in the playoff hunt in ’96, but the consistent loss of star players was too much to overcome. Following the ’96 season the Expos quickly slid down to the bottom of the standings, never to be serious playoff contenders again.

It’s next to impossible to make the case for Felipe Alou as a Hall of Famer, but if I had to pick any manager from the ’90s to manage a team, he would be my choice. Managing isn’t simply about on-field strategy. It’s also about dealing with players, the front office and the media. I don’t think any manager from that era did a better job of handling all four than Alou did.

Best Overall Player and Position Player: Gary Carter

With the increased understanding that has come through sabermetrics, it’s surprising how many people take it for granted that Johnny Bench was the hands-down greatest catcher over the last 50 years, especially when it comes to defense.

A few people may put Ivan Rodríguez on the same level as Bench, or close it, but you hardly hear any mention of Gary Carter as an all-time elite defender. It’s a shame, because by any measurable standard  Carter was exactly that.

Here’s a comparison of the two across a variety of key defensive metrics:

Gary Carter vs. Johnny Bench
Bench Carter
Category   Top 10s League Leader   Top 10s League Leader
Assists           9            1           9             5
Putouts           7            2          12             8
Fielding %          10            1          11             2
Caught Stealing %          11            3           8             3
Range Factor           3            0          12             4
Total Run Zones (Baseball-Reference)          10            6           9             5
Total Defensive value (FanGraphs) 161.4 Total 9.49 Average 222.1 Total 11.64 Average

None of this is meant to knock Johnny Bench. I listed him as an honorable mention for the best player in Reds history, he was a key component of one of the greatest dynasties in baseball history and for a number of years he was nothing less than the greatest catcher in the game. I wouldn’t even necessarily disagree with anyone who regards Bench as the greatest catcher both all-around and defensively.

What I take issue with is the notion that Carter doesn’t present a challenge to Bench in either category.  Under no statistical standard does Bench blow Carter out of the water, or even suggest that the difference between the two is anything greater than a pick ‘em.

In this league, I would assume Carter to present the biggest challenge to Bench for the Gold Glove, and along with Mike Piazza be a serious threat to be the NL’s starter in the All-Star Same. Of the few bright spots on this Expos team, his will probably shine the brightest.

Best Hitter: Tim Raines

Few players’ reputations have benefited more from an increased understanding of sabermetrics than Tim Raines. His Hall of Fames induction last year was spearheaded by sabermetricians who saw Raines’ all-around offensive game for what is was.

Raines wasn’t just a solid leadoff hitter; he was arguably the most versatile offensive threat in the National League at the peak of his career. He was a threat dangerous enough to finish second in the National League in OPS in 1986 despite hitting just nine home runs.

Raines was the rare player who could hit for average and work the count to draw a walk. Four times Raines finished in the top 10 in the NL in batting average, and six times finished in the top 10 in walks.

Much is made of Raines’ base-running ability, since he led the NL in stolen bases every year from 1981 through 1984, but the steals are only half the story. Unlike players like Steve Sax and Harold Reynolds who put up big stolen base numbers through sheer volume of attempts, Raines was as efficient as it got, consistently posting stolen base percentages in the high 80s.

In this league I would expect Raines to be candidate to make the All-Star team as a backup. He is the best of a fearsome outfield capable of giving any pitcher headaches.

Best Pitcher: Steve Rogers

Although often maligned for not being a “big game starter,” he was a five-time All-Star and an ERA champion, the greatest pitcher in Expos history. He is the team leader in multiple categories including wins, innings pitched, strikeouts and games started.

What would make Rogers especially valuable in this modern league is that he would be about the only Expos starter who could be relied on to be healthy and go out every five days for the full 162-game regular season.

How durable and dominant was Rogers? His 129 complete games for the Expos is more than the next three pitchers combined. Seven times he finished in the top 10 in innings pitched. Three times Rogers finished in the top five in Cy Young voting and between 1975 and 1983, only Nolan Ryan pitched more shutouts. Rogers had no fewer than three in any season in that time frame and twice led the league.

While far from being the most dominant No. 1 starter in our league, there’s hardly a rotation that Rogers wouldn’t fit as at least a No. 3 starter. He will give Montreal its most reliable starting pitching option.

Best Player Not on the Roster Due to the One-Team-Only Rule: Pedro Martínez

The loss of Larry Walker may have affected Expos fan more, since he was the greatest Canadian to  wear an Expos uniform. But the departure of Pedro Martínez was the death knell of any playoff aspirations the Expos may have had after 1994.

While getting Pedro for Delino DeShields would go down as one of the most lopsided trades in baseball history, the real difference between the two wouldn’t become apparent until years later.

There were questions about whether the 5-foot-11 Martínez could withstand the toll of a full  season as a full-time starter. And despite his electric stuff, there were questions about his control.

For his first three seasons in Montreal, Pedro settled into the role of a solid but somewhat inconsistent mid-rotation starter. One week he could pitch a shutout, the next he could give up five runs before getting out of the first inning, but more often than not it was the good Pedro who show up for Expos.

Then 1997 came around and Pedro Martínez would alter the course of his career from solid starting pitcher to one of the most dominating pitchers in baseball history. That year he went 17-8 with a 1.90 ERA, 13 complete games, four shutouts and 305 strikeouts en route to being the near unanimous choice for the Cy Young Award. He was the first and only winner of that award in Expos history.

Yet even as his great season unfolded it was a forgone conclusion that the ’97 season would be Martinez’s  last as an Expo. As was the case with Walker, Moises Alou and others, he was set to become a free agent and the Expos front office had no intention of offering him  anything close to what it would take to keep him.

Instead the Expos would trade him for what they could get, which was Tony Armas, who would go on to have a solid 10-year major league career. But even if the Expos had traded him for 10 Tony Armases, it still wouldn’t match what they gave up in Pedro Martínez, who would become the most dominating starter in the American League for the next half decade.

In terms of what he meant to the franchise, the loss of Pedro Martínez isn’t all that significant. He would be only the No. 4 starter on the team and his ’97 season is the only season worth mentioning when talking about his Expos legacy. But what he could have been with Montreal is so much more.

Montreal Expos Coaching Staff
Person Position
Manager Felipe Alou
Bench coach Dick Williams
First base coach Larry Lintz
Third base coach Rodney Scott
Hitting coach Mike Jorgensen
Pitching coach Carlos Pérez
Bullpen coach Joe Hesketh
Montreal Expos Starting Lineups
vs RHP vs LHP
Pos B T Name Pos B T Name
LF S R Tim Raines 2B R R Ron Hunt
RF R R Vladimir Guerrero RF R R Vladimir Guerrero
 C R R Gary Carter  C R R Gary Carter
2B S R José Vidro 1B R R Bob Bailey
CF R R Andre Dawson CF R R Andre Dawson
SS R R Hubie Brooks 3B R R Tim Wallach
1B R R Bob Bailey LF S R Tim Raines
3B R R Tim Wallach SS R R Hubie Brooks
 P R R Steve Rogers  P R R Steve Rogers
DH vs RHP DH vs LHP
Pos B T Name Pos B T Name
LF S R Tim Raines LF S R Tim Raines
DH L R Rusty Staub RF R R Vladimir Guerrero
 C R R Gary Carter  C R R Gary Carter
RF R R Vladimir Guerrero 1B R R Bob Bailey
CF R R Andre Dawson CF R R Andre Dawson
SS R R Hubie Brooks 3B R R Tim Wallach
2B S R José Vidro DH R R José Vidro
3B R R Tim Wallach SS R R Hubie Brooks
1B R R Bob Bailey 2B R R Ron Hunt
Montreal Expos Expanded Roster
Pos B T Name
    C L R Darin Fletcher
2B/3B R R Mike Lansing
   3B R R Larry Parrish
   SS R R Wil Cordero
CO/1B L L Warren Cromartie
   OF R R Marquis Grissom
   OF R R Ellis Valentine
   OF R R Rondell White
   SP R R Bill Gullickson
   SP R R Pascual Pérez
   SP R R Scott Sanderson
   SP R R Bill Stoneman
   RP L L Joey Eischen
   RP R R Andy McGaffigan

 

Strengths

What jumps out right away is the outfield. With Raines in left, Andre Dawson in center and Vladimir Guerrero in right, the Expos feature one of the best outfields in the National League. Add Rusty Staub, who can hold his own with any of the three regular starters against righties, and you have good depth as well.

With Staub being of little use against lefties and with his ability to play both corner outfield positions, expect to see a lot of different combinations being thrown out against right-handed pitchers. The lineup of Raines in left, Dawson in center and Guerrero in right will probably be seen less than 50 percent of the time against righties, but will be all but the exclusive lineup lefties will see.

Pitching-wise the Expos feature a below-average staff, but one of the better bullpens.

Some may have been surprised by the exclusion of Mike Marshall from our Los Angeles Dodgers all-time team, but Marshall had already established himself as a superstar with Montreal before putting on a Dodgers uniform, finishing in the top five in Cy Young voting in 1972 and 1973, leading the National League in games pitched in both seasons, and finishing in the top five in saves from 1971 through 1973. He had a league-leading 31 saves in ’73.

Unfortunately for Marshall, it’s only his years in Montreal that get credited in this league, which means that despite being one of the 15 greatest relievers of all time, he’ll be rated as being on par with lesser relievers such as Hugh Casey and Ken Sanders.

What makes the Expos bullpen so good is their depth. Tim Burke, Mel Rojas, John Wetteland and Jeff Reardon each posted more than 100 saves during their time in Montreal. Those four will make up one of the best middle relief units in this all-time league. Considering the talent of all four, it’s possible that one  could supplant Marshall for the closer’s role during the season.

The Expos also feature one of the most heavily Latin influenced teams in either league. Along with the Rangers and Dodgers, the Expos were at the forefront of investing heavily in Latin America. It shows on this team, with a third of the 25-man roster made up of players from countries outside the U.S., including three of the five starting pitchers.

Weaknesses

While the Expos’ outfield ranks among the best in the National League, the infield ranks as arguably the worst.

While Rusty Staub played 426 games in his career at first base, only 22 came with the Expos. Under the fielding rules qualifications of this league, that disqualifies him from playing first base for Montreal. This leaves the Expos with a choice between Bob Bailey and Ron Fairly at first. In a league where 80 percent of the starting first basemen are either in the Hall  of Fame or have been mentioned in Hall discussions, to say this is a less than desirable option would be putting things mildly.

The situation doesn’t improve much at the other three infield positions. The platoon combination of José Vidro and Ron Hunt at second is the only infield position where the Expos even come close to being average.

The left side of the infield features the all-bat, no-glove Hubie Brooks at short, and the all-glove, no-bat Tim Wallach at third. Combined these two would make a Hall of Fame player, but in this league, both are less than average options.

The bench provides little reprieve. Even with Hunt and Bailey able to play multiple positions, there’s  nothing that can be done to cover up weaknesses that glaring.

Conclusions

It’s no secret that this Expos team will not be good. If not for the inclusion of the Boston Braves, they would be my pick to finish last in the NL East. The lack of infield depth and talent combined with sub-par starting pitching would probably be enough to knock the Expos out of the playoff hunt by mid-May.

But unlike the three other defunct franchises in the division, I don’t think the ink in the history book of the Montreal Expos has completely dried. Rumors have been circling for years of a possible major league return to the City of Saints, with the lack of a suitable stadium being the major hold-up.

The team hasn’t been forgotten about, with yearly fan fests being held and Yuppi, their former mascot,  even being adopted by the Canadiens as their official mascot.

When and how major league baseball will return to Montreal is still a mystery, but I think it will happen sooner than later, most likely with the next round of expansion. The residual interest in the Expos is nearly as strong as it was when the team was active. My hope is that if and when they do return, they bring the pinwheel cap back with them.


Paul Moehringer is a data analyst, a SABR member and inventor of the Pyramid Rating System; originally from Mount Olive, NJ, now living in Westwood, MA. Follow him on Twitter @PMoehringer.
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Dennis Bedard
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Dennis Bedard

Why is Staub in as an Expo and not Detroit, Houston, or the Mets?

Paul G.
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Paul G.
Not to step on the toes of the author, but if you look at Staub’s WAR scores it becomes fairly obvious. This system loves the peak. In his three seasons with Montreal, his WAR was around 6 each year. He only had one other season close to that in the rest of his career. By bWAR, he was about as valuable in his last season with the Expos as he was for his entire four year first stint with the Mets. By the time he got to Detroit he basically could not play defense and was relegated to DH. The… Read more »
GoNYGoNYGoGo
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GoNYGoNYGoGo

Another great article in the series Paul.

Your “all-glove, no-bat Tim Wallach” does seem a bit harsh. While far from Schmidt and Brett, Wallach was a 4x All Star with the Expos, won 2 silver slugger awards (’85 and ’87); led the league in doubles in both 1987 and 1989; had 3 seasons (’82, ’87 and ’90) of 4+ baseball reference oWAR; and 3 other seasons (’83, ’87 and ’89) of 3+ oWAR.

Llewdor
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Llewdor

“Canadiens”

Paul G.
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Paul G.

“He would be only the No. starter on the team and his ’97 season…”

I think you are missing a number in the Pedro Martinez section.

RickA.
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RickA.

Hey Paul, Love the series.
I’ve been keeping track of the teams on a spreadsheet, and I notice that this Expos team is missing a pitcher on the expanded roster, compared to other teams in this series. The other teams have 7 pitchers on the expanded roster while the Expos only have 6. Who would be the 7th pitcher on the expanded roster?

Pennsy
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Pennsy

I’m sorry I lost it at “death nail” i mean lol

tramps like us
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tramps like us

yeah, me too. “Knell” not nail.

tramps like us
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tramps like us
OK I get that Staub only played 22 games at 1B as an Expo. So I was willing to go quietly about arguing for him. Problem for me is, other than 85 games in 1969, the most games Beetle Bailey played in a season at 1B for Montreal was 18, then 9. He played 115 games at first over his entire 7 years as an Expo, he was a 3rd baseman. I don’t recall the qualifications for a position, but in the face of Bailey really being a third baseman, I’d still prefer Staub there. Or Fairly. Or Andres Galarraga.
DSCeee
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DSCeee

Steve Rogers was as good as, heck better, than Jack Morris.

Psychic... Powerless...
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Psychic... Powerless...

This is a wonderful series.

M N
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M N

I’m loving this series, Paul–thanks!

Angels, soon? Happy Holidays!