Wednesday, February 13, 2013

#310 Greg Luzinski - Chicago White Sox

Greg Luzinski looks like maybe he's admiring one of his moon shot home runs to left field here on his 13th Topps card.  His cameo picture is not the most flattering. 
Player: Greg Luzinski was drafted in the first round with the 11th overall pick in the 1968 draft.  Still just 19 years old when he debuted in September of 1970, he went two for twelve in eight games.  After mashing AAA pitchers for a .940 OPS in '71 he was called up and started the last 27 games at first base.  Luzinski offered Phillie fans a glimpse of a his offensive prowess by batting .300/.386/.470 with three home runs, including a 480 foot blast which at the time was the longest homer to leftfield at Vets Stadium. 
With veteran first baseman Deron Johnson coming off a 34 home run season the Phillies moved the burly Luzinski to leftfield in '72.  Johnson and most of the Philly bats stunk in '72 leading to a last place finish.  Luzinski was a bright spot with the bat leading the team with 18 HR and 68 RBI, and although he wasn't graceful in leftfield (11 errors) nor agile (1.86 chances/9), the Phillies left him there the rest of the decade.
Luzinski continued to improve knocking 29 home runs and driving in 97 both team highs while batting .285.  A right knee injury and subsequent surgery cost him 74 games and sapped his power in '74 limiting him to just seven homers.  He broke out in '75 with 34 HR, a league best 120 RBI, and a .300/.394/.540 stat line.  Luzinski's monster season led to a 2nd place finish in the MVP race. 
While the knee surgery had repaired his knee but cost Luzinski even more range in leftfield.  His power waned in '76 but he was consistent, hitting .280 or better each month and ending the year at .304.  He hit just 21 HR but still posted a 134 OPS+ and teamed with Mike Schmidt to form a fearsome tandem in the middle of the Philly lineup. 
The Phillies won the first of three consecutive NL East crowns in '76 and Luzinski excelled in the postseason.  He got a hit in all 11 NLCS games with a home run each year, but despite this Phils were unable to capture the pennant.
The '77 season would be Luzinski's finest with career highs in traditional stats like 39 HR, 130 RBI, .309 BA as well as a 156 OPS+.  His batting heroics and gaudy stats led to a runner-up finish behind George Foster in NL MVP voting.  Luzinski followed with another fine year, mashing 35 homers in '78.
Luzinski began to decline and hit .252 with just 18 homers in '79.  He was set back by a injury in 1980 and further slumped to .228/.342/.440 while playing just 106 games.  The year ended on a high note as the Phillies won the World Series over the Royals in six games.  He only started six of the Phillies eleven games that postseason. After getting hits in games one and two of the NLCS, Luzinski had now hit safely in a record 13 straight NLCS games. He had the eventual game winning hit in game four with a pinch hit double that drove in Pete Rose in the tenth inning.   
Over the past two years his lack of mobility in left was becoming more apparent.  His range factor was around 1.5 and with the league average around two, it meant that Luzinski was not getting to a ball an average fielder would reach about every other game.  As spring training was ending in 1981 the Phillies sold the "Bull" to the White Sox where he could assume the DH position.  He stayed relatively healthy for his hometown team and hit 18 HR in the strike year.  With Pale Hose batting instructor Charlie Lau tinkering with Luzinski's swing, his average rose to .292 in '82 but cost him some power as he hit 18 HR.  He did hit to the gaps more often as evidenced by a career best 37 doubles. The Bull also knocked in 100 runs for the fourth time in his career with 102. 
Luzinski was a big part of the White Sox offense as they won the AL West in 1983. He hit 32 homers and drove in 95 runs but was just 2 for 15 in the ALCS.  Luzinski played one more year batting .238 with just 13 homers in 1984 and retired after the season.  
Flipside:  The Luzinski I remember was the cartoonish hefty-slow-footed slugger with the White Sox but he really was a force with the Phillies.  From '75 - '78 he batted .295/.386/.535 with 446 RBI.  He was an All-Star and finished top eight in MVP each year.
Oddball: In low-A level ball in 1968 the Phillies tried the 17 year-old Luzinski at third base. They soon found out it wasn't for him as he made six putouts, six assists, and six errors in five games.
History:  Luzinski was a ferocious slugger who had a great offensive peak.  However his defense limited his value as metrics such as Total Zone show that by the mid-70s he was about 10-20 runs below average in the field per season.  The Bull would have been much better off had he been in the American League sooner.  Luzinski retired with 307 career home runs and a .276/.363/.478 stat line.

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