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Ricky Jordan: Was he actually good?

Re-evaluating the career of the Phillies’ former rookie sensation

1993 World Series - Philadelphia Phillies v Toronto Blue Jays
Jordan never lived up to the hype from his rookie year

With the modern statistics available today, player evaluation is much different than it was in years past. Some players who were maligned as underachievers in the past might be viewed as underrated in today’s game. Conversely, some “stars” of years past might not be held in the same regard today. I thought it would be interesting to take a look back at some names in Phillies history and see how they’d be viewed today.

Last year, I examined the Phillies career of Gregg Jefferies, and determined that he would indeed still be regarded as a disappointment. Today, I’ll look at another former Phillies first baseman: Ricky Jordan.

Jordan was the Phillies’ first round draft pick in the 1983 draft, and soon established himself as one of the organization’s top prospects. Back then, prospects were an unknown quantity for most fans. If they were told that a player was a top prospect, fans expected the player to become a star. (Although based on the success rate of Phillies prospects in the late ‘80s, this was not a realistic expectation.) Those expectations would only skyrocket when a player had the debut that Jordan did.

In July 1988, Jordan was called up to the big league team. After walking in his first plate appearance, he sent a jolt into the hearts of Phillies fans with his first official at bat:

He hit another home run the following night, and would finish with eleven in just 69 games that season. Combined with a .308 batting average, Phillies fans were convinced that the successor to Mike Schmidt as the team’s power-hitting superstar had arrived.

Early success can sometimes be detrimental to a player’s development. Fan expectations were now through the roof, and when Jordan was unable to build on that early success, the fans expressed their disappointment as Phillies fans often do. In 1989, he managed only one more home run than the previous season despite 278 more plate appearances. The following year, he slumped so badly, that the team sent him to the minor leagues and moved John Kruk to first base to replace him.

After returning, Jordan never reclaimed the starting job. He was basically the first baseman in Jim Fregosi’s infamous Sunday lineups, in which the manager would rest about half of the regulars. There weren’t many highlights from that stretch, however, he did hit a key home run in the infamous 4:40 AM game:

Jordan remained in a reserve role through 1994, and after a brief stint with the Mariners in 1996, his major league career was over.

Most Phillies fans from that era would consider Jordan to be a major disappointment. But is that a fair assessment? Would he have been viewed as more of a success had he played in a more modern era, with a more analytically-driven manager?

It’s hard to make much of a case for that. If you’re a right-handed hitting first baseman, you’d better be REALLY good with the bat. However, Jordan has an underwhelming career slash line of .281/.308/.424 with just 55 home runs spread across eight seasons. He didn’t make up for his offensive shortcomings with the glove either, as FanGraphs has him as a particularly bad fielder.

Since he spent most of his final four seasons as a reserve, I considered that Jordan might have been somewhat valuable in that role. However, he had 173 pinch hit opportunities in his career, and never once hit a home run. That’s not ideal for a supposed power threat off the bench.

Maybe things would have turned out differently had Jordan not started off so auspiciously. Regardless, it’s hard to consider Jordan’s career as anything but a disappointment.