The On Deck Circle

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Archive for the tag “Hall of Fame”

Who Is the Average Hall of Fame Player?

Virtually every conversation about the Baseball Hall of Fame includes some version of the following argument:

“We shouldn’t water down the Hall of Fame.  It should only be reserved for the best of the best.”

The implication being, of course, that every pitcher on the ballot needs to compare favorably to Tom Seaver, Walter Johnson, and Sandy Koufax.  The same, of course, is true of every position player on the ballot.  Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, and Ted Williams are the immortals that some fans believe our most recent ballot hopefuls need to measure up to in order to merit serious consideration for being inducted into the Hall of Fame.

But how realistic and accurate is that assessment?  What is a “real” Hall of Fame-caliber player?  When we’re discussing the careers of Biggio, Bagwell, Thomas, Piazza, Walker, etc., (among the position players on the ballot), what is a fair and honest standard to hold them to in order to reward them with a plaque in Cooperstown?

Fortunately, Baseball-Reference has a page that actually sheds some light on these questions.  Here are the statistics for a typical, average position player already in the Hall of Fame:

Games:  2,134, Plate Appearances:  8,996, At Bats:  7,917, Hits:  2,397, Doubles:  409, Triples:  110

Home Runs:  209, Runs Scored:  1,321, RBI:  1,212, Stolen Bases:  228, Walks:  889, Strikeouts:  728

Triple Slash Line:  .303 / .376 / .462,  OPS:  .837  WAR:  69

I did a little research to see if I could find one player in baseball history who came closest to approximating those stats over the course of his career.  While there was no one player that matched perfectly, of course, there were a few who came relatively close.  For example, here’s Player A:

Games:  2,076, Plate Appearances:  9,053, At Bats:  7,869, Hits:  2,336, Doubles:  449, Triples:  55

Home Runs:  287, Runs Scored:  1,366, RBI:  1,257, Stolen Bases:  147, Walks:  1,069, Strikeouts:  1,212

Triple Slash Line:  .297 / .381 / .477,   OPS:  .858  WAR:  49.5 (But Offensive WAR:  62.7).

As you can see, Player A had a little more power, and a little less speed than your “average” HOF player.  But overall, this player is a pretty good comp.  Let’s try another.  Here’s Player B:

Games:  1,976, Plate Appearances:  8,283, At Bats:  7,173, Hits:  2,176, Doubles:  440, Triples:  47

Home Runs:  284, Runs Scored:  1,186, RBI:  1,205, Stolen Bases:  67, Walks:  937, Strikeouts:  1,190

Triple Slash Line:  .303 / .384 / .497,  OPS:  .880  WAR:  56.2

Player B’s batting average is right on the money, and his on-base percentage is close.  Again, a little more power and less speed than the average HOF’er.   One last comp:  Player C 

Games:  2,380, Plate Appearances:  9,086, At Bats:  7,946, Hits:  2,383, Doubles:  413, Triples:  148

Home Runs:  169, Runs Scored:  1,247, RBI:  1,304, Stolen Bases:  71, Walks:  1,018, Strikeouts:  538

Triple Slash Line:  .300 / .382 / .453,  OPS:  .834  WAR:  55.1

Player C’s Triple Slash Line is very close to the average HOF’er, as are his hits, doubles and triples.  The WAR is a little low, but the rest of the profile matches up pretty well with our hypothetically average Hall of Famer.

Which of the three do you like best?

O.K., I wasn’t being completely fair.  Of the three players I analyzed, only Player C is actually in the Hall of Fame. Player C is Enos Slaughter, inducted into The Hall in 1985.

Working backward, Player B is Will Clark, and Player A is Bernie Williams.  In other words, a typical Hall of Fame-caliber player isn’t necessarily even in the Hall of Fame.

As you can see, then, although many baseball fans feel protective of the Hall of Fame, and don’t want it to be “watered down” by inducting “unworthy” players, the truth is, the Hall of Fame doesn’t require protection from any of us.

There is little danger that any of the players on the current ballot who might conceivably be inducted would, in any objective way, lower the standards of the Hall of Fame as it actually exists.  If anything, the majority of the players on this year’s Hall of Fame ballot are, by historical standards, overqualified.*

Simply put, this is not just Hank Aaron’s Hall of Fame.  It is Enos Slaughter’s Hall of Fame as well.**

And there’s nothing wrong with that.

*You will find that this is true, even if you decide to break the list down position by position.

**It may also some day be Carlos Beltran’s Hall of Fame.  Though his stats are also pretty close to the historical averages, I didn’t include him because he is still currently active.

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Is This a Hall of Fame Pitcher?

How many outstanding seasons must a pitcher accumulate to become a legitimate Hall of Fame candidate?  This question is more important than ever because, now that the 300-game winner is likely to become all but extinct, it will become  increasingly necessary over the next several years to develop a set of objective criteria which might enable a  broad consensus to form regarding what exactly constitutes a Hall of Fame pitching career.

When we look back over the history of baseball regarding what it has meant to be a Hall of Fame-worthy pitcher, the 300-win threshold was not always considered a prerequisite to HOF induction.  Certainly, plenty of exceptions to this relatively modern de facto standard have been  made over the years to recognize the excellence of pitchers such as Dizzy Dean (150 wins), Jack Chesbro (198 wins), Rube Waddell (193 wins), Ed Walsh (195 wins), Addie Joss (160 wins), Dazzy Vance (197 wins), and, of course, Sandy Koufax (165 wins.)

In none of their respective cases did winning fewer than 200 games, let alone 300,  prevent their eventual enshrinement.  Fans and sportswriters alike were apparently of the opinion that greatness did not necessarily equal longevity, or that “only” a few outstanding seasons simply weren’t enough to merit Hall induction.

Yet by the 1970’s — certainly by the 1980’s — it had become de rigour for fans and pundits alike to trumpet the 300-win standard (or something damned close to it) for a pitcher to obtain even a passing glance at Hall immortality.  The irony is that at precisely about the time Hall voters had appeared to come to expect this arbitrary standard of would-be HOF pitchers, the game itself was evolving in ways (increased reliance on team’s bullpens, for example) that would make it less likely that modern pitchers would ever likely become 300-game winners.

There is always a lag time between what is true and what we believe to be true.  That is called learning from experience.  The history of America is the history of what we once believed to be true (slavery was justifiable, women could not compete in the workplace with men, etc.) versus where we are (however imperfectly realized) today.  HOF voters and fans are no different, and represent, perhaps, an even more conservative subculture of the general population.  Once an idea takes root, it is nearly impossible to shake.  Thus the continual, disproportionate attention paid to statistics such as batting average (for hitters) and wins (for pitchers.)

So, keeping in mind actual Hall of Fame history, please allow me to provide you with a series of statistics, and you tell me, (keeping in mind that only about one-third of Hall of Fame pitchers have actually won over 300 games) did this particular pitcher enjoy a HOF-worthy career or not?

Let’s begin with this pitcher’s three best consecutive peak seasons:

58 wins, 19 losses, completed 35 of 99 starts, 13 shutouts, 745 innings, 744 strikeouts, 1.04 WHIP, .187 batting average against, 2.28 ERA, 22.0 WAR, won a Cy Young award, and finished 2nd and 7th in the voting the other two years.  Incidentally, this is not a 19th-century, or early 20th-century dead-ball era pitcher.

At this point, would you agree or disagree that those are Hall of Fame-caliber numbers?

Lest you might think that those three seasons represent the entirety of this pitcher’s productive career, here are his statistics for his seven best consecutive years (he missed about half of one of these seasons):

119 wins, 46 losses, a .721 win-loss percentage, 209 starts, 55 complete games, 20 shutouts, 1,522 innings, 1,391 strikeouts, 1.14 WHIP (the same as Greg Maddux’s career WHIP), .207 batting average against, a 2.83 ERA, and 36 WAR (which includes his very respectable contributions with the bat.)

There was another 4th place as well as a 5th place finish in Cy Young voting during those additional four seasons.  In four of those seven years, he struck out over 200 batters, and he never lost more than nine games in any one of those campaigns.  That 36 WAR, by the way, is about the same as or higher than a few starting pitchers in the Hall of Fame, and we’re not quite done with this pitcher yet.

So, how about now?  Does this seven-year run of success merit HOF attention?  Does he at least belong in the conversation?  Are his numbers, at least at this point, not on a par with the other pitchers I mentioned in an earlier paragraph who won fewer than 200 games, but are in the Hall anyway?

To be eligible to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, a ballplayer needs to have accumulated at least ten seasons of service time at the Major League level.  So let’s look at this pitcher’s best ten-year period, and we’ll evaluate his HOF-worthiness:

154 wins-81 losses, .655 win-loss percentage, 296 starts, 67 complete games, 23 shutouts, 2,128 innings, 1,852 hits, 1,835 strikeouts, 3.03 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, .212 batting average against (he batted .200 over those ten seasons), and 47.0 WAR.

Admittedly, those are just about the only productive seasons he enjoyed during his career, but they certainly were a productive ten years.  The 154 wins are not that different from the number Koufax, Vance, Dean, and the others won during their entire careers.  And this pitcher’s final career WAR, 53.2, is higher than Hall of Famers Elmer Flick, Burleigh Grimes, Sam Rice, Mickey Cochrane, Bobby Doerr, Kirby Puckett, Orlando Cepeda, Tony Lazzeri, Chief Bender, Bob Lemon, Nellie Fox…and Sandy Koufax.

Mind you, no one’s arguing that this pitcher was necessarily better than any of those players.  But if his career WAR is at least on a  par with those Hall of Famers, would it be ridiculous to ask if he should at least be in the conversation regarding the Hall of Fame?

His final career totals:

194-112, .634 win-loss percentage, 2,800 innings, 2,564 hits, 2,293 strikeouts, a .226 career batting average against, 1.25 WHIP, 3.51 ERA (though just 3.11 over his 12 years in the N.L.) a no-hitter, the aforementioned Cy Young award, a Rookie of the Year award, four trips to the All Star game, a Silver Slugger, and a World Championship ring.

So what’s your final decision as far as the Hall of Fame is concerned?  Thumbs up or thumbs down?

Either way, you’ve just taken a long, hard look at the career of Dwight Gooden.

Gooden spent just one year on the HOF ballot, drew just 3% of the vote, and that was the end of that.

It may very well be that every single member of the BBWAA took the time to seriously consider Gooden’s record before they cast their ballot, but I doubt it.  Players are preceded, smothered and sometimes buried by the narrative that has attached itself to their names, like barnacles under an old ship.  Gooden’s narrative is complex and tragic.

Now, I realize Gooden is far from the only potentially deserving HOF candidate to have been virtually ignored by HOF voters.  But I chose him precisely because so few fans and writers have ever appeared to take his overall career as seriously as his accomplishments suggest that they should.

Not every pitcher who finds success in the Majors is going to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame.  I get that.  But the current process does beg the question, short of 300 victories, just what exactly is it that voters want?

Author’s note:  I had written this post in its entirety before learning of the retirement of the great Roy Halladay late yesterday afternoon.  I could just as easily have made my key point about Halladay as about Gooden.  Will Halladay, with just 203 career wins, end up one and done on the Hall ballot like Gooden, or will the BBWAA recall all the great years Halladay enjoyed in his career, and reward him accordingly?  Most importantly, by what objective criteria will they decide?

My Hall of Fame Ballot, and a Cautionary Tale

Are you familiar with the Hall of Fame for Great Americans, located on the campus of Bronx Community College in New York City?  Not many people are.  It was formally dedicated in May, 1901, as place to honor prominent Americans who had a significant impact on U.S. history and culture.  Modeled on the Pantheon in Rome, its 630 foot open-air colonnade was conceived as a place where marble busts of America’s most significant writers, presidents, inventors, and the like would be commemorated for all time.  A very serious blue ribbon panel of 100 men was cobbled together to make initial nominations, and for several decades, the landmark was taken quite seriously.

As you have probably guessed by now, the existence of this Hall of Fame put the seed of an idea into the head of Ford Frick, who passed this idea along to Stephen Clark (of the Cooperstown Clarks), whose very wealthy local family connections paved the way for this unlikely caper to come to fruition.  Stephen saw this as an idea to bring business to Cooperstown, suffering from the ravages of the Great Depression, and nearly overnight, this quaint little village was  dedicated as hallowed ground where the Abner Doubleday legend also conveniently took root.  That there was no easy way to transport people to Cooperstown to visit the proposed new shrine doesn’t seem to have fazed Clark.

Meanwhile, while the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown was just getting off the ground, the more established, high-brow Hall down in the Bronx (on what was then the campus of New York University) was in its heyday.  The New York Bar Association went so far as advocating for certain of its members, and newspapers breathlessly covered the annual inductions.

In a fantastic little article I recently discovered, Baltimore Sun columnist Joe Mathews (August 1, 1997), wrote, in a sentence that could serve as a cautionary tale for the institution up in Cooperstown, “The 97-year old monument is a shrine not only to [them], but to an ideal of fame that, like the hall itself, is dusty and decaying.”

Apropos to nothing, my favorite sentence in the article is, “The first hall of fame was the brainchild of a Presbyterian minister who was influenced by his concern for prostitution, democracy, and the Roman Empire.”  (emphasis added.) Mets brass, take note.  Want to put asses in the seats at Citi Field next season?  Why not go with  “Prostitution, Democracy and the Roman Empire” as next season’s slogan?  It’s certainly much more compelling than “Show up at Shea” (1998), or “Experience It” (2003).

Now, back to our story.

Hardly anyone ever visits The Hall of Fame for Great Americans these days anymore, even though it sits on an easily accessible college campus.  Its committee of electors made its final official inductions in 1976.  Among the four final inductees were a horticulturist and a judge.  None of the final four have yet had a bronze bust built in their honor.  Its Board of Trustees formally dissolved in 1979.  Since then, the colonnade has been far more popular with pigeons than with people.  You may still visit the 98 bronze busts in existence.  Self-guided tours are available daily from 10:00-5:00, with a suggested donation of $2.00 per person.

Attendance to the Baseball Hall of Fame has steadily declined over the past twenty years, from a high of over 400,000 in the early 1990’s to around 260,000 last year.  Although the Hall of Fame is a non-profit institution, and is, in effect, a ward of the State of New York, it appears that its operating budget was over two million dollars in the red in its last fiscal year.  Over the past decade, the HOF has more often than not lost money.

Outwardly, the Baseball Hall of Fame appears to be a healthy, thriving entity.  It has a modern website, a Board of Directors featuring such luminaries as Tom Seaver and Joe Morgan, and disproportionate influence on how the game itself is remembered from one generation to the next.  Its solid brick exterior and its pastoral location connote classical American values such as fortitude, temperance and diligence.  And it contains part of the original facade of Ebbet’s Field.  What can go wrong?

By all means, consider the official Hall of Fame ballot a sacred totem of a mystical shrine, if you will, but consider this:  Will our choices result in a stronger institution, more relevant to modern American sensibilities of entertainment and utility, or will they further contribute to the atrophy that apparently is slowly setting in?

Having said that, and while chafing at the ten-player limit arbitrarily imposed on actual BBWAA voters, here are my choices, in no particular order,  for induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame:

1)  Greg Maddux

2)  Mike Piazza

3)  Craig Biggio

4)  Jeff Bagwell

5)  Tim Raines

6)  Tom Glavine

7)  Mike Mussina

8)  Alan Trammell

9)  Frank Thomas

10)  Don Mattingly

I’m sure the most controversial pick on this list will be Don Mattingly.  Fine.  Up until I set about typing this post, I would not have included him among this group, either.  But in light of all the previous paragraphs I’ve written about The Hall in this article, the relevant question is, would the enshrinement of Donnie Baseball be a good thing for the future viability of The Hall, or would it somehow be a “bad” thing.

Three questions:

1)  Was Don Mattingly ever the best player in the game during his career?

2)  Did Don Mattingly represent the game, his team, and himself with nothing but respect both on the field and off?

3)  Did he meet the 10-year minimum length career criteria for Hall eligibility?

The answer to each of these questions is yes.  From 1984-87, there was no better player in the American League than Don Mattingly.  He was always nothing but professional.  He played for 14 seasons.  At various times in his career, he led his league in hits, doubles, RBI, batting average, slugging percentage, OPS, OPS+, and total bases.  From 1984-89, he averaged 330 total bases per season.  Perhaps most impressively, however, he never struck out more than 43 times in any single full season in his career.

In his only playoff appearance, in 1995, vs. Seattle, he batted .417 in 25 plate appearances.  He was a six time All Star, won three Silver Sluggers, nine Gold Gloves, and his .996 Fielding Percentage is among the ten best all-time at his position.  He won an MVP award, and finished runner-up once as well.  If he picked up a bat today, at age 52, he would probably still outhit Ike Davis.

Perhaps more to the point, Mattingly has legions of loyal fans who might just possibly trek all the way up to Cooperstown to see their hero enshrined, and to listen to his acceptance speech.  Years from now, dads might still be taking their kids to see Mattingly’s plaque at The Hall.  How many parents do you think bring their kids all the way up to Cooperstown each year to stand in awe of the plaques of HOF “immortals” such as Herb Pennock, Rick Ferrell, Lloyd Waner, or Dave Bancroft?

Explain to me, then, how inducting Don Mattingly into the Baseball Hall of Fame would be bad for baseball, or for The Hall itself?

In the final analysis, the Hall of Fame is an idea as much as it is a place.  All baseball fans, in their heart of hearts, have their own idea as to what constitutes fame in this context.  When the chasm between what fans believe in their hearts is legitimate fame relative to the actual composition of the institution itself  grows too wide, then the fans, faced with an untenable choice, will always follow one and ignore the other.   Should that happen, The Baseball Hall of Fame may one day bear an uncanny resemblance to that other unfortunately failed Hall of Fame further downstate on a bluff overlooking the indifferent Harlem River.

Lesson’s Learned: Sleep With One Eye Open

Honestly, I was not going to comment on yesterday’s Hall of Fame voting results.

Too many keyboards have suffered enough over that topic the past couple of days.  But I read a comment by a member of the BBWAA today that I have to admit irked me a great deal  (I won’t name him; there’s no reason to give him greater exposure.)

This writer said (and I’m paraphrasing) that he was very glad that no one was elected in this year’s HOF voting because it teaches our children a lesson that cheaters and cheating will not be tolerated.  Otherwise, he claimed, our children would come away with the opposite lesson, that cheating can and will be rewarded.

Fine, but here are some other lessons our children can take away from yesterday’s HOF voting:

1)  In our culture, you are now guilty until proven innocent.  Moreover, the court of public opinion (where Bonds and Clemens were convicted) is more important than a court of law (where neither of them were convicted of using steroids.)

2)  Guilt by association is not only to be tolerated, but encouraged.  Were you successful at the same time or place that some alleged cheaters were also successful?  By extension, then, perhaps you were guilty as well, even if no credible witness has ever come forward to accuse you of wrong-doing.

3)  The innocent may be punished as well as the guilty.  Call this the Rule of Collateral Damage.  Yes, it’s true that Craig Biggio was apparently as clean as a player can be, but he was on the wrong ballot at the wrong time.  Yes, we presume he is innocent, (so the argument may go), but don’t you see that a greater good was served here today by excluding every player, even if for just one year?

4)  Future generations are to be held to a higher standard of ethics and behavior than previous ones.  If you cheat, lie, or otherwise finesse the rules in the future, you can bet that your punishment will be swift, severe, and final, unlike past generations of scoundrels who we have arbitrarily declared off-limits to meaningful moral judgment.  Too much of our sepia-toned childhood nostalgia rests in the mythology we have created for ourselves regarding the so-called Golden Age of baseball.  To objectively re-analyze all of that risks fatally puncturing the baseball dreams dancing around in our collective psyches.  Screw that!

Thus, HOF’er Goose Gossage declared today that if Jeff Bagwell or Mike Piazza do make it into The Hall in the next couple of years, and if they did actually use steroids, and should that info come out after they’ve been inducted, then it would be justifiable to remove their plaques from Cooperstown.  He suggested that if they know in their hearts that they are guilty, they should sleep with one eye open.

Yet at no time has anyone ever suggested before that someone who is already in The Hall of Fame should perhaps have their plaque removed if it is found that they cheated their way into The Hall.  And, yes, we know of previous cheaters, some of whom I’m sure even Goose Gossage has heard of.

5)  Compassion and forgiveness are dead.  Christian believers though some of these writers may claim to be (at least in private), they appear to have forgotten Christ’s #1 message: Judge not lest ye be judged.  There is to be no forgiveness, no compassion, no humble awareness of our own fallibility. As long as we have fingers to point at someone else, we will keep those fingers busy.

6)  When the system is done with you, it will chew you up and spit you out.  For many years, team owners, managers, trainers, journalists and fans looked the other way while happily cheering the heroes they made for themselves.  Fame, fortune, and everything else that comes with celebrity in our culture was there for the taking.  The athletes were encouraged to partake as much of and for as long as possible.  Meanwhile, the baseball machine hummed along, making record profits.  The machine was fat and happy, and life went on.  But once the machine was threatened, it jettisoned any and all the human ballast it could as fast and as ruthlessly as it could.  Because the machine was never about the players; it was always about the profit, and nothing else.

These are six more lessons that we should be sure to teach our children as a result of yesterday’s Hall of Fame voting, if we are being honest with ourselves.

Five Best Pitchers Not in the Hall of Fame – The Pai Mei Edition

This post is basically a sequel to my prior post, “Best Position Players Not in the Hall of Fame.”  This time, we’ll be taking a look at five pitchers I’ve chosen as the best pitchers not in the Hall of Fame.

Let me say up front that this list was considerably more difficult to put together than the last one I wrote regarding position players.  Having to choose just one player for each position was actually a bit easier than narrowing down a list that could have included about 15-20 pitchers, and culling it to just five.  I freely admit up front that I fully expect my choices will cause some raised eyebrows,  awkwardly resulting in several of you uncomfortably resembling Pai Mei in the movie, “Kill Bill, Vol. 2.

As for the criteria I used to make this list, please go back and read the first paragraph of my previous post; they are unchanged for this post.  There is, however, one caveat.  I generally tend to prefer pitchers who have two or three great seasons and a few adequate ones over pitchers who are solid soldiers over long periods of time.

Here, then, is my five-man rotation.  They are not necessarily in the order I would choose them in terms of quality.  I simply chose to list them in alphabetical order.

1)  Kevin Brown:  The Kevin Brown fan-club just doesn’t seem to be one of the more effective lobbying groups in America these days.  Their candidate, Kevin Brown, is rated by Baseball-Reference.com (forward and henceforth, B-R), as the 45th best starting pitcher of all-time.  Virtually all the pitchers rated ahead of him are either already in The Hall, or soon will be.  Yet Kevin Brown, in his first, and last, year on the ballot last year received just 2.1% of the vote for the HOF from the BBWAA (the people who get to decide such things.)

Yet Kevin Brown was truly an outstanding pitcher.  His career record of 211-144, and an ERA of 3.28 are not unlike several other pitchers in The Hall, such as Catfish Hunter and Dazzy Vance.  Moreover, his career WAR of 64.5 is similar to the average WAR, 67.9, of the 58 starting pitchers already in The Hall.

At various times in his 19-year career, Brown led his league in WAR twice, wins once, ERA twice, WHIP twice, games started three times, innings pitched once, shutouts once, and ERA+ once.  He struck out at least 200 batters for four consecutive years, from 1997-2000.  His 2,397 career strikeouts are in the top 40 of all-time.

Over the course of his career, Brown never lost more than 12 games in a season, and he never lost more than nine games in any of his final six full years.

Perhaps most impressively, Brown’s ERA+ of 215, while pitching for the Marlins in 1996, is the 22nd best single season score in baseball history.  To provide some context, Justin Verlander’s score in 2011, his Triple Crown-winning Cy Young season, was 172, just the 142nd highest score ever recorded.

But Kevin Brown wasn’t well-liked by the press, he was too well-traveled (six different teams), and he never won a Cy Young award (though he deserved a couple of them.)  Therefore, Kevin Brown is one of my five choices for best pitchers not in The Hall, and probably will remain as such indefinitely.

2)  David Cone:  B-R ranks Cone 61st all-time, ahead of Hall of Fame pitchers Don Sutton, Early Wynn, and Dizzy Dean, among others.  As with Kevin Brown, Cone’s Hall chances were at least in part undermined by pitching for five different teams in 17 seasons.  The BBWAA is like your mother, suspicious of the girl who’s had several boyfriends before she met you.  There’s a word for girls like that, mister.  They are sometimes referred to derogatorily as “free agents.”  Well, that’s two words.

Cone, unlike Kevin Brown, actually did win a Cy Young award.  But as luck would have it, he won it during the decapitated 1994 season, and he won it out in K.C. where hardly anyone noticed anyway.  Cone also pitched well enough to have won the award in 1988, when he posted a 20-3 record with a 2.22 ERA for the Mets (he finished 3rd in the voting behind Orel Hershiser and — “gulp” — Danny Jackson.)

Cone did not often receive a lot of run support from his teammates, either.  For example, from 1989-92, he pitched well enough with the Mets to have won 17-19 games per year.  Yet, he never won more than 14 games for them in any one of those years.  Then, in 1993 with the Royals, despite posting an excellent ERA+ of 138 through 34 starts, his record for the year was just 11-14.

David Cone was a fantastic strikeout pitcher, recording at least 190 K’s in a season nine times, including over 200 six times.  He led the N.L. in strikeouts twice, and his 2,668 career K’s ranks an impressive 22nd on the all-time list.

In 1998, a full decade after he’d first won 20 games while pitching for the Mets, Cone posted a 20-7 record for the Yankees at age 35.  Lest you mistakenly believe that Cone was coasting on run support that year pitching for a great Yankee team, consider that he struck out 209 batters in 207 innings pitched, while posting an impressive 1.18 WHIP in the tough A.L. East.

On July 18th, 1999, Cone capped off his impressive career by tossing a perfect game against the Montreal Expos for the Yankees.  At the time, it was just the 16th perfect game in baseball history.

He finished his career with a record of 194-126, and an ERA of 3.46 (3.13 in the N.L.)

David Cone was an easy pick for this list.

English: 1933 Goudey baseball card of Wesley &...

English: 1933 Goudey baseball card of Wesley “Wes” Ferrell of the Cleveland Indians #218. PD-not-renewed. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

3)  Wes Ferrell:  Ranked 41st by B-R, Wes Ferrell is actually the highest rated pitcher on this list. Ferrell was perhaps the best hitting pitcher in baseball history.  More on that later.

Ferrell’s career ERA of 4.04 may strike you as surprisingly high for someone on a list like this, but Ferrell suffered the misfortune of pitching almost entirely in the A.L. during the 1920’s and ’30’s.  His career ERA+ (116), which attempts to adjust for time and place, was actually very decent. It is the same, by the way, as modern-day aces Chris Carpenter and Dan Haren.

Ferrell, like the two previously mentioned pitchers on this list, tended to move around a lot, pitching for six teams in 15 years.  He spent his best years pitching for first Cleveland, then the Red Sox.  Wes Ferrell won at least 20 games in a season six times, leading the league in wins with 25 (for the Red Sox) in 1935.  Yet because his career went downhill fast at around age 29, he finished his career with a record of 193-128 (extremely similar to David Cone, as you might have noticed.)

Ferrell led the A.L. in WAR in 1935, but finished second in the MVP voting to Hank Greenberg.  He finished second in WAR for pitchers four times in his career, and finished third in another season.

He led his league in games started twice, in complete games four times, and in innings pitched three times.

Now a word regarding his hitting.  Not many pitchers can boast that they were regularly used as a pinch-hitter throughout their career.  Ferrell can.  In 1,345 plate appearances, Ferrell batted .280 while sporting a .351 on-base percentage.  He slugged 38 homers and drove in 208 runs.  In 1935, he led the Red Sox with a .347 batting average, accumulating 52 hits in 150 at bats.  He also hit seven home runs that year; only three of his teammates hit more.

Taking both his fine pitching and his extraordinary hitting into consideration, Wes Ferrell deserves his place on this list.

4)  Bret Saberhagen:  I’m sure this choice will raise some eyebrows, a la Pai Mei.  The argument against Saberhagen usually revolves around the specious observation that, other than his two Cy Young award seasons, he didn’t have much else to show for his career.  I beg to differ.  Here’s why.

While it is true that his two Cy Young award seasons were fantastic, he had three other seasons that were very nearly as good.  But let’s start with his Cy Young years.

In 1985, Saberhagen was a 21-year old pitching in his second season.  Aside from compiling a record of 20-6, he posted a 2.87 ERA in 235 innings pitched.  He was second in the league in wins, and third in ERA.  His ERA+ was an excellent 143.

He led A.L. pitchers in WHIP (1.o58) and WAR (6.9).  Demonstrating the pinpoint control that would mark his career, he also walked just 38 batters, highly unusual for such a young pitcher.

In 1989, he was a 25-year old veteran of six MLB seasons.  It was his finest year.  He led the league in wins, accumulating a record of 23-6.  He led the league in ERA (2.16), in ERA+ (a remarkable 180), in WHIP (0.961), in WAR (9.2) in complete games (12), and in innings pitched (262.1).

He also struck out a career high 193 batters while walking just 43.  His 4.49 strikeout to walk ratio that season was one of three times that he led his league in that category during his career.

So what about his other, nearly equally fine seasons?

In 1987, though his record was “only” 18-10, his ERA+ of 136 was actually fourth best in the league. His WAR was 7.7, good for 3rd best in the league, and actually better than his first Cy Young award season.  His 1.16 WHIP was also 3rd best in the A.L.  Remarkably, despite being arguably the 3rd best pitcher in the A.L. that year, he received NO votes of any kind whatsoever for the Cy Young award.  Nine pitchers received votes, including Jeff Reardon, Doyle Alexander and Teddy Higuera.  But Sabes was, inexplicably, completely shut out.

Even in 1988, perhaps his worst full season while pitching for the Royals, Saberhagen allowed three runs or fewer in 22 of his 35 starts, meaning, of course, that he pitched well enough to win 22 ball games.  In six other starts, he allowed exactly four earned runs each.  That means that in only seven starts he pitched poorly, just about one start per month.  Clearly, he was not at this best that year, but he certainly pitched better than his final 14-16 record would indicate.

In 1991, his final year in K.C., despite missing about a half-dozen starts due to injury, Sabes posted a 3.07 ERA and an ERA+ of 135 (each in the top 10 in the A.L.) through 196 innings.  His 4.9 WAR was 7th best in the A.L.  Yet, due to his truncated 13-8 record, this is considered by many to have been another “off-year” for him.

Sidelined for the most part by injuries in 1992-93, his first two seasons with the Mets, really undercut Saberhagen’s chances for eventual enshrinement in Cooperstown.  But in 1994, he did all he could to try to turn his legacy around.  To me, in some ways, 1994 was his most remarkable year.

That year, Saberhagen opened the season as the Mets #5 starting pitcher.  His health was still in question from the previous two years.  In his second start that year, he walked two batters.  That would be his wildest start of the season.   In only one other start that year did he walk as many batters in a game.  In his final 19 starts of that season, he walked fewer than two batters per game.

In 22 of his 28 starts in ’94, he walked either one batter, or no batters at all.  The most jaw-dropping stat of the season?  Sabes faced 696 batters that year, and only six of them reached a count of 3-0 against Saberhagen!  And of those lucky six batters sitting pretty at 3-0 against Sabes, just one of them ended up with a base-hit.  Another one drew a very rare walk.  So, in the best hitter’s count there is, four of the six hitters made outs.

Finally, only three pitchers in history have ever enjoyed a season in which they averaged 10.0 strikeouts per walk:  Jim Whitney in 1884, Cliff Lee in 2010, and Bret Saberhagen in 1994.  And of the three, Bret Saberhagen claims the best single-season strikeout to walk ratio in history, 11.0.  In 177 inning pitched (until the season ended prematurely in August), he struck out 143 batters, and walked just 13.  In fact, the thirteen home runs he surrendered that year match his total of walks for the season.

Saberhagen was defeated just four times in 24 starts that year, while winning 14 games.  If the season had been allowed to continue, he might have had a chance to win 20 games.  He finished 3rd in the N.L. Cy Young voting that year, behind Greg Maddux (who deserved the award) and Ken Hill (whose WAR was about half as good as Sabes.)

Though Saberhagen never enjoyed another season quite that stunning ever again, he did post a cumulative record of 25-14 in 1998-99 while pitching for the Red Sox in the always tough A.L. East. Those were his age 34 and 35 seasons.

For his career, Saberhagen compiled a record of 167-117, not vastly different from Koufax’s record of 165-87, and Koufax generally pitched for better teams.  While we’re on the subject, Koufax’s career ERA+ was 131; Sabes was 126.

Through 2,324 innings pitched, Koufax accumulated a WAR of 50.3.  In 2,562 innings, (a difference of about one season’s worth of innings between the two), Sabes accumulated a WAR of 56.0.  Each experienced a career marred by injury.

Koufax won three Cy Young awards, and finished third once.  Saberhagen won two Cy Young awards and finished third once.  Koufax had five excellent seasons, one of which was shortened by injury.  Saberhagen had five excellent seasons, one of which was shortened by injury, another by a work-stoppage.

I’m not saying that Saberhagen was Koufax’s equal, but to be able to make a reasonable comparison between the two without embarrassing Saberhagen indicates that Saberhagen belongs on the list of five best pitchers not in the Hall of Fame.

5)  Dave Stieb:  Jack Morris was not the best pitcher of the 1980’s, but Dave Stieb might have been.  Unfortunately for Stieb, he pitched the first few years of his career for some very bad Blue Jays’ teams.  From when he began his career in 1979 through 1983, the Jays never finished higher than 4th place in their division, and usually finished much lower.  As the Jays gradually improved, Stieb remained their ace through 1990.

In the decade of the 1980’s, Stieb posted a record of 158-115, with ERA’s generally below 3.35 in all but three seasons.  Stieb led the A.L. in ERA with a 2.48 mark in 1985, and he led the league in ERA+ in both 1984-85.  His WAR for the years 1980-90, inclusive, was 51.7.  For those same years, Jack Morris accumulated just 28.1 WAR.  In fact, if you throw in Morris’ two best years outside of that decade, 1979 and 1991, his WAR still rises to just 37.8 over 13 seasons.

Though neither pitcher ever won a Cy Young award, Stieb posted the best pitching WAR in his league three times.  Jack Morris’ best showing in WAR for any season was just fifth best.  In other words, Stieb pitched well enough to have deserved three Cy Young awards.  Morris never pitched well enough to win even one.

B-R ranks Stieb as the 64th best starting pitcher ever.  Considering that MLB is now in its 15th decade of existence, that’s a pretty strong showing.  Stieb’s career Win Probability Added Score of +22.26 wins ranks 50th best all-time among pitchers.  That score indicates, given an average team, the probable number of wins a given player is “worth,”  or can be said to have influenced (either positively or negatively.)

Due to the nine seasons during which Stieb pitched well over 200 innings, he was essentially out of gas by his age 33 season.  A seven-time All Star, his career record of 176-137 certainly does not reflect his true excellence as a pitcher for a solid decade.  Still, there are more than enough impressive statistics on his resume to easily consider him to be one of the top five pitchers not in the Hall of Fame.

Honorable Mention –  Here are some other pitchers I seriously considered for this list:

Rick Reuschel, Luis Tiant, Orel Hershiser, Tommy John, Jim Kaat, and Ron Guidry, among others.  Who would you have added or subtracted?  Let me know what you think.

Best Position Players Not In the Hall of Fame: All-Time Team

“Tis the season, for Hall of Fame voting.

That means, of course, that today must be Cyber-Monday, the day in which I spend around six hours in my sweat-pants — pot of coffee at-the-ready — poring over statistics, analyzing the career records of various retired players…oh, wait, I do this all the time anyway.

Here are the ground-rules for my list of Best Retired Players Not Already in the Hall of Fame:

1)  No 19th century players.  In my opinion, the baseball writers / bloggers / historians, etc., have spent more than enough time picking over the skeletal remains of that century, regarding baseball.  As it says in a pretty famous book, “Let the dead bury the dead.”

2)  The player not only has to be retired; he also has to have appeared on the BBWAA HOF ballot at least once since he’s been retired.

3)  The player has to meet basic Hall of Fame requirements, such as having played at least ten seasons in the Majors, can’t have been deemed ineligible due to “legal” issues (do you hear me, Pete Rose?), etc.

And that’s basically it.  So let’s get started.

Jeff Bagwell

Jeff Bagwell (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1B  Jeff Bagwell:  (1991-2005)  A no-brainer.  Baseball-Reference.com (I’ll  constantly be referring to this invaluable website throughout) has Bagwell listed as the sixth greatest first baseman of all-time.  Thirty-eight players have reached the 30 (homers) – 30 (steals) club in baseball history.  You know how many of them have been first basemen?  Just one.  Jeff Bagwell.  And he did it twice.

Bagwell’s career OPS+ of 149 is tied for 36th best in baseball history, at any position.  He was an outstanding base-runner, a very good fielder, could hit for both power and average, and was durable, leading the league in games played four times.

His 1,788 runs created is tied with HOF’er Al Simmons for 39th all-time, ahead of such immortals as Mike Schmidt, Cal Ripkin, Jr., Reggie Jackson and Eddie Mathews.

Bagwell was the N.L. Rookie of the Year in 1991, and the league’s MVP in 1994.

Last year, Bagwell was named on 56% of the ballots cast by members of the BBWAA.  Apparently, the other 44% were a bit scared off by “rumors” that Bagwell might somehow have been associated with the steroids scandal.

Yet the fact remains that no evidence has surfaced that Bagwell had anything to do with steroids at all.  Hopefully, another 20% of the BBWAA will come to their senses this year and vote Bagwell into The Hall where he clearly belongs.

2B  Bobby Grich:  (1970-86)  Baseball-Reference (from here on out, B-R), ranks Grich as the 8th best second baseman of all-time.  The seven listed immediately ahead of him, and three of the four directly behind him, are all in the Hall of Fame.  Grich’s 67.3 WAR is higher than the average of the 19 second basemen in The Hall.

A four-time Gold Glove winner, Grich was an excellent defensive second baseman.  He also had good power for a middle infielder, slugging 224 career homers, including a league-leading total of 22 in the strike year of 1981 (100 games played), and 30 homers in 1979.

Only six second basemen in history have a career OPS+ better than Grich’s mark of 125, and each of them is in the Hall of Fame.  Playing for both the Orioles and the Angels in his 17-year career (1970-86), Grich possessed one of the best combinations of offense and defense ever by a second baseman, and certainly belongs in the HOF.  (All apologies to Lou Whitaker, my second choice.)

SS Alan Trammell:  (1977-96)  Bill James ranked Trammell as the 9th best shortstop of all time.  B-R has him ranked in 11th place.  So let’s compromise and call him the 10th best shortstop ever.  Now, if you are among the top ten players in one of baseball’s most difficult defensive positions, it seems logical that you belong in The Hall, doesn’t it?

Alan Trammell’s career WAR of 67.1 is exactly the same as recent HOF inductee Barry Larkin.  It is also better than 13 other shortstops already in the HOF.  Trammell and his keystone mate Lou Whitaker were each always among the best defensive players at their respective positions in their era.

Trammell was the best player in the A.L. in 1987, batting .343, with 205 hits, 109 runs scored, 28 homers, 21 steals and 105 RBI (and his usual stellar defense), but finished second to George Bell in MVP voting due to Bell’s gaudier power numbers.

Trammell won several Gold Gloves, posted a solid .285 career batting average, slugged 185 homers and 412 doubles (shortstops were not yet necessarily expected to be dangerous hitters, as would become the norm a bit later), and played his entire 20-year career (1977-96) in Detroit.

This year will be Trammell’s 12th on the HOF ballot.  Last year, he was named on 36.8% of the ballots.  Perhaps the BBWAA will take a more serious look at Trammell’s career this time around and give him the boost he needs to make it into The Hall before his eligibility runs out in just a few more years.  He certainly belongs there.

English: St. Louis Cardinals third baseman Ken...

English: St. Louis Cardinals third baseman Ken Boyer in a 1955 issue of Baseball Digest. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

3B  Ken Boyer:  (1955-69)  As perhaps many of you already know, third base is the least represented position in the HOF.  Only eleven third basemen are in The Hall, and it took Ron Santo’s drawn-out induction last year to get the number that high.  Ken Boyer should be inducted to make it a dozen.

Boyer is rated by B-R as the 14th best third baseman of all time.  Of the 13 players listed ahead of Boyer, three are either currently active or have recently retired, one — Edgar Martinez — wasn’t really a third baseman at all, and all but one of the rest of them are already in The Hall.  Only Graig Nettles is as qualified as Boyer to stake a claim on this list.

Ultimately, I chose Boyer because I believe his overall game was a hair better than Nettles’ was, and because Boyer was selected to play in eleven All Star games in 15 years, while Nettles was chosen six times in 22 seasons.

For a solid decade, 1955-64, Boyer was always one of the best players in the N.L.  In 1964, the year in which the Cardinals defeated the Yankees in the World Series, Boyer led the league with 119 RBI and was named N.L. MVP that season.

A five-time Gold Glove winner, Boyer ranks 20th all-time in assists as a third baseman.  Boyer also hit for solid power (282 homers), had very decent speed (68 triples), and finished his career with a respectable .287 batting average.

Boyer was dropped off of the BBWAA’s HOF list after receiving just 11.8% of the vote in his final year of eligibility in 1994.  Yet, as of this writing, Boyer remains the best third baseman not in the Hall of Fame.  Perhaps some day, a future Veteran’s Committee will endorse his induction into the HOF.

C  Ted Simmons:  (1968-88)  Simmons HOF candidacy was always hurt by the fact that his career largely occurred during what can now be considered a Golden Age of catchers.  In the 1970’s and into the ’80’s, there was no shortage of World Class catchers:  Johnny Bench, Carlton Fisk, Thurman Munson, Gene Tenace, Bob Boone, Darrell Porter, Jim Sundberg and Gary Carter, among others, each donned the so-called tools of ignorance.  Ted Simmons had a fine career, but was overshadowed by some of these other catchers.

Still, B-R ranks Ted Simmons as the 10th best catcher of all-time.  Simmons was an underrated defensive catcher, though no match for several of the others I’ve listed above.  But more to the point, Simmons was a catcher who could really hit.  Here are his batting averages from 1971-80:  .304, .303, .310, .272, .332, .291, .318, .287, .283, and .303.

After switching leagues at age 31, leaving the Cardinals for the Brewers, Simmons caught fewer and fewer games every year, becoming increasingly a 1B / DH.

Despite the competition at his position and in his league, Simmons was named to eight All Star teams in his career.  Only one catcher, Pudge Rodriguez, has ever hit more career doubles than Simmons’ total of 483, and his 1,389 RBI is also the second highest total of all time by a player whose primary position was catcher, surpassed only by Yogi Berra.

Strangely, Ted Simmons was only on the BBWAA HOF ballot for just one year, 1994, in which he received just 3.7% of the vote.  Looking back nearly 20 years later, it’s difficult to understand how Simmons could garner such little support for such an excellent career.

Thus, Ted Simmons remains the best catcher not in the Hall of Fame.  (Apologies to Joe Torre, my second choice.)

LF  Tim Raines:  (1979-2002)  In my opinion, after Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines is the best player not in the Hall of Fame.  And other than Rickey Henderson, I believe that Tim Raines was the best top of the order, base-stealing, run-producing player of the past eighty years.

Tim “Rock” Raines stole 808 bases in his career, leading the league in steals four times.  He stole at least 70 bases in a season in each of his first six years in the Majors.  Significantly, he never led the league in times caught stealing.  By way of comparison, Lou Brock led the league in steals eight times, but also led in times caught stealing seven times.  Raines career stolen base success rate of nearly 85% is one of the best in MLB history.

But Raines was also an excellent all-around run producer.  He created exactly 1,636 runs in his career, the same total as Tony Gwynn, and more than Joe DiMaggio, Roberto Clemente, Willie Stargell, and former teammate Andre Dawson.

Of the seven left-fielders ranked ahead of Raines by B-R, five are in The Hall.  The other two are Barry Bonds and Pete Rose (see the link to an article about Pete Rose below.)  There are 13 left-fielders who rank behind Raines who are in The Hall. Clearly, Raines has more than a legitimate case to be enshrined in The Hall.  Until that day arrives, however, he will remain the best left-fielder not in the HOF.

CF  Jimmy Wynn:  (1963-77)  Frankly, although I’ve always been a fan of Jimmy Wynn, I didn’t expect him to be my center-fielder on this list.  But I am happy to say that he fits the bill.  B-R ranks Wynn as the 15th best center-fielder ever.  Each of the 14 listed ahead of him are either already in The Hall, are currently active, or have only recently retired.  Kenny Lofton (ranked 8th) appears on the HOF ballot for the first time this fall.

I’ve made this argument before, but let me briefly state it one more time.  If you took HOF’er Jim Rice and placed him in the Houston Astrodome for the majority of his home games, and you put Jimmy Wynn in Fenway Park for the majority of his, then Wynn would be in The Hall, and Rice would be remembered as a very solid player along the lines of say, Joe Carter.

In 1967, for example, the entire Astros team hit just 93 home runs.  Jimmy Wynn hit 37 of those homers, representing an astounding 40% of all of the Astros homers that season.  The aging Eddie Mathews and a very young Rusty Staub each hit 10 homers that year, good for second place on that team.

Meanwhile, flashing ahead ten years, Jim Rice led the A.L. with 39 home runs.  But among his teammates, George Scott hit 33, Butch Hobson hit 30, Yaz hit 28, Fisk hit 26, and Fred Lynn hit 18. The BoSox as a team that year hit 213 home runs in ’77.  Therefore, Rice’s 39 represented just 18% of the team total.  Obviously, then, time and place matter a great deal when attempting to judge a given player’s value.

Aside from Jimmy “Toy Cannon” Wynn’s enormous power, Wynn was an on-base machine, reaching at least 90 walks in a season nine times, including a league-leading 148 walks in 149 games in 1969.

Wynn’s career lasted from 1963-77, spent almost entirely in the N.L.  His career OPS+ of 129 is, perhaps a bit ironically, one point better than Rice’s career mark of 128.

If Kenny Lofton fails to be voted into The Hall this year, his first year on the ballot, then he will become the best center-fielder not in The Hall.  But unless that happens,  Jimmy Wynn will remain the best one not in the HOF.

RF  Larry Walker:  (1989-2005)  I know what you’re going to say.  Two Words:  Coors Effect.  I’ve already written one entire blog-post about why Larry Walker belongs in the HOF.  But briefly, both before and after he played his home games at Coors Field, he was always an outstanding baseball player.

B-R ranks Walker as the 9th best right-fielder ever.  His career WAR of 69.7 almost perfectly matches the 69.5 average of the 24 players in The Hall at his position.

As a fielder, Larry Walker was credited with 150 outfield assists, good for 12th place among all outfielders in baseball history.  He won seven Gold Gloves for his fielding.  He won those Gold Gloves as both a member of the Expos and the Rockies.

Walker was an excellent base-runner.  Among those who saw him play, it was rare that anyone ever saw Walker make a base-running mistake.  He slugged 471 doubles and 62 triples in his career, always ready to take the extra base on an unsuspecting outfielder.  He also stole 230 bases in his career, posting a respectable 75% success rate in that category.

Walker could hit for both average and power.  His career line of .313 / .400 / .565 places him among the greatest right-fielders in history, as does his career OPS+ of 141 (which takes into consideration a player’s time and place.)  Although Walker clearly hit better at Coors Field (and why, precisely, should that be held against him?) he also hit very well pretty much everywhere else.

In the final 144 games of Walker’s career, which he spent with the Cardinals after leaving Colorado, the 38-year-old Walker posted a batting line of .286 / .387 / .520 with an OPS+ of 134, fine numbers for a player on the verge of retirement.

In some cases, a player is almost completely a product of his environment.  Dante Bichette comes to mind.  In other cases, though, an already great player uses his environment to his advantage.  Larry Walker belongs in the latter category.  One other place Larry Walker belongs is in the HOF.  Until that happens (and Walker will be on the ballot for the third time this year), Walker will remain the best right-fielder not in the HOF.

DH  Edgar Martinez:  (1987-2004)  I’m not a big fan of the Designated Hitter rule, but I am a fan of Edgar Martinez.  Quite simply, Edgar Martinez is one of the greatest right-handed hitters in baseball history.  Edgar appeared in just 564 games as a third baseman out of 2,055 games played, so he can be said to have been a player without a legitimate defensive position.  There was a time I would have held this against him, as, apparently, many BBWAA voters still do.

The fact remains, however, that Edgar Martinez was simply the best pure D.H. in baseball history.  Martinez hit .312 for his career, winning two batting titles along the way.  He hit 514 doubles, 309 home runs and drove in over a hundred runs six times.  His career OPS+ of 147 is the same as HOF’ers Mike Schmidt, Sam Thompson, Willie McCovey, Willie Stargell and future HOF’er Jim Thome.

Martinez played his entire 18-year MLB career with the Seattle Mariners.  Given the evolving way in which the D.H. position is being used these days — some teams have begun rotating their regular players through the D.H. to give them more rest — it is possible that Edgar Martinez will go down in history as the best Designated Hitter of all-time, regardless of whether or not he eventually makes it into the Hall of Fame.

So those are my choices for the nine best players not in the Hall of Fame.  Do you agree or disagree with my choices?  I’ll be interested to find out.

Next time, I’ll examine the best pitchers who are not in the Hall of Fame.

Baseball’s Surprising Stats: Craig Biggio

It won’t be long before Craig Biggio comes up for Hall of Fame voting.  The former second baseman / outfielder (he caught a little, too) of the Houston Astros was one of the finest infielders of his era.  Though this post is not specifically meant to be an argument in favor of his HOF induction, the stats we will be looking at today certainly do nothing to diminish his case.

Acknowledging the appreciation of the fans aft...

Acknowledging the appreciation of the fans after a double against the Reds (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When it comes to middle infielders like Biggio (and he was primarily a second baseman), the usual expectation as far as offense is concerned is a player with around a .300 batting average, good bat control (meaning few strikeouts and a reasonable ability to bunt), and decent, if not spectacular, speed.  Durability and solid defense are obvious pluses as well.

What we don’t necessarily expect from a middle infielder, (though there have been some notable exceptions) is solid power.  Most middle infielders survive with the occasional homer, breaking into double digits in the odd season.  Some push a bit further than that, into the 10-20 home run range.

When I was first studying Craig Biggio’s stats, there were several that impressed me a great deal.  First of all, in his amazing 1997 season, he grounded into exactly zero double plays in 744 plate appearances.  That same year he led the N.L. by being hit by 34 pitches, one of five seasons in which he led the N.L. in that statistic.

I was also impressed that when he led the N.L. in stolen bases in the strike-shortened 1994 season with 39, he was also caught just four times.

Perhaps most impressively, Biggio’s 4,711 career total bases are just one short of Rogers Hornsby’s record of 4,712 among players who primarily played second base in their careers.

And how about those 668 doubles, fifth most in baseball history?

English: Jeff Bagwell (left) and Craig Biggio ...

English: Jeff Bagwell (left) and Craig Biggio (Right) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It occurred to me, then, almost as an afterthought to take a closer look at his home run numbers.

So here’s an exercise for you.  (In the spirit of the upcoming school year), take out a piece of paper and a #2 lead pencil.

Now write down the following players’ names in the order you believe they had the most to least 20 homer seasons.

Bobby Grich, Alan Trammell, Joe Morgan, Joe Gordon, Tony Lazzeri, Derek Jeter, Barry Larkin, Ryne Sandberg, Frankie Frisch, Bobby Doerr, Jeff Kent, Rogers Hornsby, Charlie Gehringer, Lou Whitaker, Roberto Alomar and Craig Biggio.

I know that you know where this is going, but hell, play along anyway.

Finished yet?

The now obvious question for this post is, then, “How Many 20+ Home Run Seasons Did Craig Biggio Accumulate in His Career?”

Here is the list of players in order from most 20+ homer seasons to fewest:

1)  Jeff Kent – 12

2)  Craig Biggio – 8

3)  Joe Gordon – 7

3)  Rogers Hornsby – 7

5)  Ryne Sandberg – 5

6)  Joe Morgan – 4

6)  Lou Whitaker – 4

8)  Roberto Alomar – 3

8)  Bobby Doerr – 3

8)) Derek Jeter – 3

11) Bobby Grich – 2

11) Barry Larkin – 2

11) Alan Trammell – 2

14) Charlie Gehringer – 1

15) Frankie Frisch – 0

15) Tony Lazzeri – 0

As you can see, few middle infielders in baseball history consistently hit as many home runs as Craig Biggio.  Yet ten of the players on this list are already in the HOF, and Derek Jeter will surely follow them in when the time comes.

Biggio retired after the 2007 season at age 41.  He hit 291 home runs in his career, the same number as “Toy Cannon” Jimmy Wynn, and just ten fewer than Rogers Hornsby.  He hit more homers than did first basemen Will Clark, Steve Garvey and Ted Kluszewski.

Craig Biggio’s eight 20+ home run seasons are also as many as Don Mattingly and Roberto Clemente  accomplished, if you put them together.

The point here is that if you are looking for a hole in Craig Biggio’s potential Hall of Fame resume, you’ll have to look elsewhere, for hitting for power was a relative strength of his.

All statistics, of course, are, to a certain extent, arbitrary.  I am not arguing that Craig Biggio was the best player on this list  (though few on this list were clearly better.)

There is no doubt, however, that Craig Biggio’s power was an underrated, and perhaps surprising, facet of his game.

My Inner-Circle Hall of Fame Choices

Over at Baseball Past and Present, Graham Womack is conducting a fun and interesting survey of who his readers believe are the best of the best, regarding baseball’s Hall of Fame.  He is calling it the Inner Circle project.  If you click on the link, you’ll find access to a ballot which includes players currently in the Hall of Fame.  Our challenge is to choose just 50 of them (and it has to be exactly 50) who theoretically make up the core of the Hall of Fame.

English: Original title: "Plenty of baseh...

English: Original title: “Plenty of basehits in these bats” Original description: Washington D.C., July 7. A million dollar base-ball flesh is represented in these sluggers of the two All- Star Teams which met in the 1937 game at Griffith Stadium today. Left to right: Lou Gehrig, Joe Cronin, Bill Dickey, Joe DiMaggio, Charlie Gehringer, Jimmie Foxx, and Hank Greenberg, 7/7/37 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I submitted my ballot a couple of days ago, and decided to share it with all of you today.  I have to admit that I found it very challenging to restrict my list to just 50 players.  In my initial run through of the ballot, I checked off 65 names, and it was very difficult to decide which 15 players to knock off my list.

I suspect that somewhere around 30-40 players will appear on just about everyone’s ballot, but I anticipate some disagreement, perhaps a great deal, regarding the final 10 or so choices.

I decided to just list my choices without explanation, but I will be interested to hear which players you would have included or rejected compared to my ballot.

So here’s my list, as they appeared on the ballot:

1)  Al Kaline

2)  Babe Ruth

3)  Bob Feller

4)  Cal Ripkin

5)  Carl Yastrzemski

6)  Carlton Fisk

7)  Charlie Gehringer

8)  Christy Mathewson

9)  Cy Young

10) Duke Snider

11) Eddie Collins

12) Eddie Mathews

13) Eddie Murray

14) Frank Robinson

15) Gary Carter

16) George Brett

17) Hank Aaron

18) Harmon Killebrew

19) Honus Wagner

20) Jackie Robinson

21) Jimmie Foxx

22) Joe DiMaggio

23) Joe Morgan

24) Johnny Bench

25) Lefty Grove

26) Lou Gehrig

27) Mel Ott

28) Mickey Mantle

29) Mike Schmidt

30) Nap Lajoie

31) Paul Waner

32) Pete Alexander

33) Reggie Jackson

34) Rickey Henderson

35) Rod Carew

36) Rogers Hornsby

37) Sandy Koufax

38) Stan Musial

39) Steve Carlton

40) Ted Williams

41) Tom Seaver

42) Tony Gwynn

43) Tris Speaker

44) Ty Cobb

45) Wade Boggs

46) Walter Johnson

47) Warren Spahn

48) Willie Mays

49) Willie McCovey

50) Yogi Berra

Position Players’ WAR Analysis: The First Five Years

A couple of months ago, I did a post on Pitching WAR Analysis:  The First Seven Years. I chose seven as the magic number because this often represents the entire first half of many pitchers’ careers, and because it sometimes takes pitchers several years to fully harness their talent.

Ty Cobb safe at third after making a triple, 8...

Ty Cobb safe at third after making a triple, 8/16/[19]24. 1 negative : glass ; 4 x 5 in. or smaller. This is a cropped version of File:Ty Cobb sliding2.jpg (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now we turn to Position Players’ War.  This time I chose to focus only on the first five years of various players’ careers.  I am of the opinion that although many hitters develop slowly, hitters often arrive a bit more fully formed than pitchers.

Also, with the recent call-up of Nationals outielder Bryce Harper, of whom many people are already predicting a Hall of Fame career, it is instructive to look at other players in their extreme youth to gauge whether or not it is useful to begin making those sorts of predictions so soon.

The list of 50 players that follows is not by any means meant to be some sort of comprehensive overview of baseball history.  It is merely a snapshot of 50 players who went on to have significant, if not necessarily Hall of Fame worthy, careers.

New York Yankees centerfielder and Hall of Famer .

New York Yankees centerfielder and Hall of Famer . (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I think you will be, as I was, surprised where some of these players rank in the early part of their respective careers.  I left out Babe Ruth, by the way, because he tends to skew all lists in a way that makes almost all other players appear to be irrelevant pretenders.

1)  Ted Williams – 43.3

2)  Eddie Collins – 42.7

3)  Ty Cobb – 42.2

4)  Mickey Mantle – 38.3

5)  Willie Mays – 38.1

6)  Alex Rodriguez – 37.4

7)  Tris Speaker – 37.0

8)  Lou Gehrig – 36.5

9)  Don Mattingly – 36.0

10) Stan Musial – 35.8

11) Albert Pujols – 35.0

11) Mike Schmidt – 35.0

13) Wade Boggs – 34.1

14) Cal Ripkin – 33.7

15) Rogers Hornsby – 33.6

16) Nomar Garciaparra – 33.2

17) Jimmie Foxx – 32.8

18) Joe Jackson – 32.7

18) Jackie Robinson – 32.7

20) Joe DiMaggio – 32.6

21) Johnny Bench – 31.0

21) Barry Bonds – 31.0

23) Dick Allen – 30.4

24) Bobby Bonds – 30.2

24) Frank Thomas – 30.2

26) Johnny Mize – 29.4

26) Dave Parker – 29.4

28) Ralph Kiner – 29.0

29) Andruw Jones – 28.8

30) Ken Griffey, Jr. – 28.7

31) Vada Pinson – 28.6

32) Hank Aaron – 28.3

33) Frank Robinson – 28.0

34) Sal Bando – 27.8

35) Reggie Jackson – 27.2

36) Duke Snider – 27.1

36) Honus Wagner – 27.1

38) Derek Jeter – 27.0

39) Jim Fregosi – 26.9

39) Al Kaline – 26.9

41) Cesar Cedeno – 26.6

42) George Brett – 26.3

43) Freddy Lynn – 25.1

44) Tony Oliva – 24.9

45) Bobby Murcer – 24.7

46) Chipper Jones – 24.6

47) Reggie Smith – 23.8

48) Jim Rice – 22.7

49) Robin Yount – 11.9

50) Roberto Clemente – 9.2

No real surprises among the top five, though a lot of people forget how good Eddie Collins was.  I like that Mantle and Mays are listed so closely together, since they’ve always been linked so closely in the imaginations of baseball fans.

[Eddie Collins, Philadelphia, AL (baseball)] (LOC)

[Eddie Collins, Philadelphia, AL (baseball)] (LOC) (Photo credit: The Library of Congress)

A-Rod’s listed WAR was compiled entirely in Seattle through his age 24 season.  It is highly unlikely he was using PED’s at that point.  Whether we like him or not, he has always been a legitimately great baseball player.

Clearly, Don Mattingly was on his way to being the next Lou Gehrig before his back problems struck.  Pujols sandwiched between Musial and Schmidt just feels right.  Who was the best Cardinals player ever?  I’ll take Musial by a hair over Pujols.

Look at the infielders listed 13-16.  Nomar was right there with Boggs, Ripkin and Hornsby through his age 28 season, then a wrist injury after his age 29 season reduced him to a shell of his former self.  After his age 28 season, he would accumulate just 9.0 additional WAR over the rest of his career.

Joe Jackson and Jackie Robinson, tied for 18th, are certainly two of the top five written about baseball players of the 20th century.  Robinson arrived, fully formed, in the Majors at age 28.  Therefore, it is highly likely that he would have accumulated significant additional WAR for his career had he broken in at a more typical 22 or 23 years of age.

Joe Jackson, on the other hand, certainly lost some additional career WAR at the end of his career.  Banned from baseball at age 32, his final season in 1920 (not 1919, as some people believe), was one of his finest.  There’s no reason to think  he wouldn’t have added significantly to his career WAR total had he played an additional 3-5 years.

Interesting how close Barry and his father, Bobby, were through their first five seasons.

Look at how close Dave Parker was to Johnny Mize.  Parker could have been great if he’d taken the game more seriously in the early ’80’s.

An image of Major League Baseball Hall of Fame...

An image of Major League Baseball Hall of Fame first baseman Johnny Mize. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you had to pick either Andruw Jones or Ken Griffey, Jr. through their first five seasons, as you can see, it would have been a legitimate toss-up.

If you had to pick between Vada Pinson, Hank Aaron or Frank Robinson after just five seasons of each of their careers, are you sure you would have picked Aaron?  Pinson was a special player through age 26, then merely a decent player after that.

Look at Sal Bando!  He comes in ahead of his flashier teammate Reggie Jackson, and also ahead of fellow third basemen George Brett and Chipper Jones over their five initial seasons.

Back in the 1950’s, it was common to hear people speak of Willie, Mickey and The Duke.  But as you can see through their first five seasons (and this holds true for the most part over the rest of their careers,) although Duke Snider was a very fine ballplayer, he was never really in the same class as his fellow New York center fielders.

Would you have guessed that, through their first five seasons, shortstops Honus Wagner, Derek Jeter and Jim Fregosi were just about equally valuable?

They were each highly productive players from the beginning of their careers.  Wagner is probably one of the top ten players of all-time.  Jeter, of course, has enjoyed a Hall of Fame caliber career.  Fregosi, on the other hand, was pretty much done as a useful player at age 28, after which, of course, the Mets decided to trade away Nolan Ryan to obtain him.  Nice job, guys.

Once upon a time, Cesar Cedeno was a very fine baseball player.

When I was a kid, I thought Freddy Lynn was the greatest thing since Shake a Pudd’n.

Before the Red Sox had Jim Rice, there was Reggie Smith.  I am convinced that if they had kept Smith, he would have gone on into the Hall of Fame.  He was a better all around player than Rice, and he hit into fewer double plays.

O.K., so what’s up with Robin Yount and Roberto Clemente?  Their combined WAR for their first five years each adds up to just barely over 20.0.  Were they overrated?  How did they each manage to recover from such inauspicious debuts to go on to Hall of Fame careers?

Yount broke into the Majors at age 18, clearly before he was ready.  He spent the better part of the 1970’s just learning his craft.  But for the next five seasons, beginning in 1980, he accumulated another 34.7 WAR and won an MVP award.  Those were his age 24-28 seasons.  He won another MVP award in 1989, and finished his career with a HOF worthy 72.0 WAR.

As for Clemente, he, too, just wasn’t quite ready when he was brought up at age 20.  By age 26, however, he was ready to dominate, and dominate he did, winning a Gold Glove each of the next dozen seasons, winning an MVP award (and a World Series ring in ’71), and he finished his career with an outstanding 91 WAR.  Clearly, he was a late bloomer.

So, will Bryce Harper, only 19-years old, follow the career path of a Yount or a Clemente, or will he, alternatively, be the next Ty Cobb or Mickey Mantle?  A third possibility, which none of us hope for, is the Cesar Cedeno / Vada Pinson / Nomar Garciaparra career path.

Generally speaking, if he can accumulate at least 35 WAR in his first five years, he is probably on his way to a HOF career.  So let’s check back in after the 2016 season, and we’ll see how Harper’s career is progressing.

I’ll be waiting here, so don’t be late.

The Baseball Hall of Fame: A Qualitative Analysis – Final Thoughts

By my count, there are just over 200 former Major League baseball players in the Hall of Fame.  This does not count players who were eventually elected to The Hall not for what they did on the field, but for what they later did as coaches, managers, or even team owners.

Satchel Paige

Image via Wikipedia

I also did not count former Negro League players like Satchel Paige who, though he did spend some time in The Majors, is actually in The Hall primarily for his vast accomplishments as a Negro League pitcher.

After having written well over 15,000 words on this subject, I have come to several conclusions.

First, there is broad consensus on the top 40-50 players of all-time.  I don’t mean that you and I would come up with exactly the same list of players on such a list, just that if you polled a room-full of those of us who spend an inordinate amount of time on this stuff, our lists would not vary greatly.

So far, so good.

There are 23 players who have a career WAR over 100.  These are the shoo-ins.  There are another ten players who accumulated WAR between 90-99 in their respective careers (interestingly, this is one of the smallest cohort groups in the HOF.)

Among the players in the 90+ range include Christy Mathewson, Jimmie Foxx, and Al Kaline, so I think it’s probably safe to assume that expanding the Hall to at least the top 33 players would be acceptable to a reasonable person.

Yet, if we limit Hall membership to this elite group of 33 players to ensure that only the “best of the best” are included, we have slammed the door shut on Cal Ripkin, Jr., Joe DiMaggio, Roberto Clemente, George Brett, Nolan Ryan, and a dozen other players who generated 80-89.9 WAR in their careers.  And I know you’re not up for that, are you?

Now that I have strong-armed you into accepting the top 50 players, (as measured by WAR), into The Hall, I’m sure you feel like you can rest on your laurels here.  Just keep these 50 plaques in The Plaque Room in the HOF, and eliminate all the others.  Then you’ll have a TRUE Hall of Fame where only the best of the best are honored.

But we still have a couple of problems here (three actually.)  The first thing you might be forgetting is that baseball is constantly generating new players, some of whom are pretty damned good.  Albert Pujols, for example, is already approaching 90 WAR.  What happens when he is elected into The Hall?  To keep Hall membership exclusive by limiting it to just the 50 top players, whom do you then kick out of The Hall?  Wade Boggs?  Steve Carlton?  Good luck on that.

And Pujols won’t be the last player to top 80 career WAR in his career.

You also have another problem.  You still don’t have a catcher in the HOF.

WAR is tough on catchers (see Adam Darowski’s Hall of wWAR for more on this topic,) in large part because they just don’t play as often as other position players, and because the nature of the position takes a bigger toll on the human body, which tends to wear out faster than someone playing, say, first base.

Also, though this may be of lesser concern to you, there also aren’t any relief pitchers over 80.0 WAR in The Hall.

We can go on and on like this, adding now all players between 70-79 WAR (including Bench, Carew, Reggie Jackson, Johnny Mize, Robin Yount, etc,) and even dropping into the 60’s WAR (including Ernie Banks, Duke Snider, Tony Gwynn, Carlton Fisk, and some guy named Jackie Robinson, to name a few.)

Pick a random WAR cohort to eliminate, and I’ll tell you why you have a problem.  No players in the 40-49 range should be allowed, you state firmly, because now you’re shoving in guys with less than half the career WAR as the top couple of dozen players in The Hall.

English: Baseball pitcher Rube Waddell in 1901

Image via Wikipedia

I’ve got two words for you:  Sandy Koufax.  Or, if you prefer, Dizzy Dean.  How about Rube Waddell?  He only led his league in strikeouts six straight season.  Sure there are players in the 40+ WAR cohort who don’t belong in The Hall, but where’s the cutoff, exactly?

Meanwhile, in the 20+ and 30+ career WAR groups of HOF players, you have some of the best relief pitchers of all time, including Goose Gossage, Bruce Sutter, and Rollie Fingers.  What should we do about them?

If we ignore WAR for these players, plus the players like Koufax and Dean who burned brightly for just a few short years, and players like Whitey Ford, Yogi Berra, Ryne Sandberg and Willie Stargell (each in the 50+ WAR cohort) whose reputations somehow don’t mesh with what we’d expect their WAR’s to be, we are left with a bit of a mess of a situation.

Sure, in general, the lower the WAR, the worse the player is, but there are enough exceptions to make us consider, perhaps, what this all means.

What exactly is it we’re trying to accomplish here?  When we say that we want only the best players in The Hall, do we mean that we simply want the players, regardless of our emotional connection to them, and despite what their historic legacy might be, who meet the standards of a mathematical formula (however well put together), or are we looking for something more here?

Catfish, Billy, and Brad Gulden

Image via Wikipedia

Catfish Hunter has one of the lowest career WAR of any starting pitcher in the HOF.  I concede, unconditionally, that he was an overrated pitcher who, if we wasn’t fortunate enough to have pitched for excellent A’s, then the Yankees teams in the ’70’s, he would have been more or less just another pitcher.

But I’m glad Catfish is in The Hall.  The fan in me just doesn’t give a rat’s ass what his WAR is (and I don’t consider myself a “traditionalist,” whatever the hell that means, when it comes to stats, either.)  I greatly respect modern statistical analysis, and I’m glad that I have a nice peg to hang my biases on when it suits me (WAR says Jack Morris doesn’t belong in The Hall, so screw him.)

Tommy McCarthy, Boston Reds, Albumen Print

Image via Wikipedia

None of this changes the fact, however, that there really are players in The Hall who don’t belong there.  We could probably even agree on several of them.  I would take out Lloyd Waner, Tommy McCarthy, Freddie Lindstrom, Herb Pennock, and Dave Bancroft before breakfast tomorrow morning.  But they’re there, and I guess they’re not going anywhere.

Meanwhile, short of taking the vote away from the BBWAA and from the Veteran’s Committee (which has largely stopped electing former players just about all together anyway), what is to be done about Hall voting now and on into the future?  How do we eliminate mistakes, and get back to the Golden Age of the Hall of Fame?

Here’s the good news.  If it is exclusivity you seek, we are already swiftly sauntering down that street.  Here’s the evidence.

In each decade since the 1970’s, inductions of former MLB players into The Hall has declined for four straight decades.  The number of players inducted into the HOF in each of the past four decades is as follows:

1970’s – 36  (one of the worst decades in terms of quality of players inducted in history.)

1980’s – 29

1990’s – 24

2000’s (including 2011 inductees) – 22

And this is without yet knowing how the steroids controversy will affect several (otherwise obvious) potential HOF’ers like Bonds, Clemens, etc.  Almost certainly, in the very near future, there will be a huge backlog of historically significant players not in The Hall that will rival the untapped talent available to the first HOF election committees back in the 1930’s.  Whether this is a good thing or a tragic situation depends on your point of view.

But one thing’s for sure.  No one will be able to argue that too many mediocre players are being elected into The Hall.

Although no group of humans, and no statistical formulas, will probably ever solve the puzzle of how to create a “perfect” Hall of Fame, I believe that if you are looking for a time when there was something resembling a Golden Age for the HOF, you can stop looking.

We may already be there.

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