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Why Bernie Williams Does Not Belong in the Hall of Fame

Bernie Williams at the plate, His Birthday, Se...

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I really hate to do this to Bernie Williams. Although I’m not a Yankee fan, I did happen to like and respect Williams during his tenure with the Yanks.  He always seemed to me to be a man of dignity and  self-respect.  There really wasn’t any reason not to like Bernie Williams.

As a player, along with Mariano Rivera, Derek Jeter, and Jorge Posada, Williams was an important part of the Yankee Championship teams during his era.  A five-time All Star, Williams was a player that any manager would love to have on his team.

Having said all that, Bernie Williams does not belong in the Hall of Fame.

Recently, I read an essay by Jim Caple of ESPN arguing that Williams should be elected into The Hall.  I further indulged myself by skimming through the reader responses to Caple’s analysis.  The majority of readers responded in the negative as far as Williams’ Hall worthiness was concerned, but there were several responses  to the effect that Williams is an obvious, slam-dunk Hall of Famer.

I decided to analyze their primary arguments as to why they believe Williams should be elected into the Hall of Fame.  It appears to me that Bernie’s advocates supply three major reasons why they think Williams belongs in The Hall.  Let’s take each reason, one at a time, and examine them more closely.

1)  Bernie Williams compiled excellent career play-off numbers: 

It is certainly true that Williams is among the all-time play-off leaders in games played, plate appearances, at bats, hits, runs scored, doubles, walks, home runs, and RBI.  But the primary reason why Williams is generally in the top three in each of these categories is because he played on a lot of excellent Yankee teams, and because there are simply more playoff series now than there were in prior generations.

Bernie Williams was fortunate to play on teams that allowed him to receive 545 plate appearances in playoff games.  That is essentially one regular season’s worth of plate appearances.  Williams triple slash line during the regular season in his career was ..297 / .381 / .477.  His playoff game triple slash line was .275 / .371 / .480.  Overall, not a lot of difference, other than a drop in batting average.

These numbers are about what one would expect considering a generally higher level of competition in playoff games.  Still, is there anything outstanding about that playoff triple slash line?  Williams was the 1996 A.L. ALCS MVP.  Per at bat, Williams numbers are good, but they are not outstanding.

2)  Bernie Williams was a great defensive center fielder:

Bernie Williams won four Gold Gloves, from 1997-2000, during which he accumulated a WAR of -4.1.  Yes folks, that’s a negative sign in front of the 4.  Very early on his Williams career as a full-time center fielder, beginning in 1993, Williams was a half-way decent outfielder.  He was young and quick, and he even accumulated a couple of seasons of positive WAR.

But the fact remains that Williams, who finished his career with a defensive WAR of -12.0, was, by any objective standard of measurement, a below average center fielder who happened to somehow impress Gold Glove voters into making them believe that he was, in fact, a very good outfielder.

It happens.  There are some Gold Glove winners (Keith Hernandez, Brooks Robinson, Ozzie Smith) who really do deserve the award virtually every season they earn it.  There are others, like Andruw Jones, Ken Griffey, Jr., and Rafael Palmiero, who earn them despite the fact that their skills eroded more quickly than people noticed.

My theory about this is that fans, managers, baseball announcers, and other  judge a player’s defense by entirely subjective criteria, like how graceful a player looks while playing his position.  Or how dirty his shirt is at the end of a game.  Yet, looks can be deceiving.  Sometimes a player has a dirty shirt because he is slow-footed and often out of position.  Or perhaps he looks as graceful as Nureyev  running across the wide expanse of the outfield, yet a disproportionate number of balls land just out of reach for inning-extending base hits.

Regardless of how well Williams appeared to play the outfield, the fact of the matter is, relatively speaking, he just wasn’t very good at it.

3)  Bernie Williams was an excellent switch-hitter who won a batting title and accumulated impressive career numbers.

Williams did win the A.L. batting title by hitting .339 in 1998.  Perhaps as a result, he also led the A.L. in intentional walks received in 1999, with 17.

Other than that, in Williams entire 16-year career, he never led the A.L. in any other category even once.  Not in at bats, hits, runs scored, doubles, home runs, RBI, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS, OPS+, or WAR.

Williams finished his career with 2,336 hits, 1,366 runs scored (95th all-time), 449 doubles (96th all-time), 287 home runs, 1,257 RBI, 147 stolen bases, just over 1,000 walks, and the aforementioned triple slash line of .297 / .381 / .477.  His OPS was .858, and his OPS+ was 125.  His career WAR was 47.3.

There is nothing wrong with any of those numbers.  They are very solid, respectable numbers.  But here’s the problem with these numbers.  If you induct Williams into The Hall with those numbers, then you better be ready to punch the ticket for Reggie Smith, Dwight Evans, Will Clark, Ted Simmons, Bobby Grich, Keith Hernandez, Dave Parker, and a cast of dozens of other players whose career numbers are right there with Williams.

Finally, it is also reasonable to expect that a Hall of Fame caliber player should have dominated the game to the extent that his dominance was rewarded with an MVP award or a Cy Young award or, at the very least, multiple finishes in the top five or top ten in voting for those awards.

Williams best finish in MVP voting was just 7th place in 1998.  He also finished in 10th place in 2002.

Bernie Williams was an excellent baseball player and a class Yankee who deserves to be recognized for his accomplishments in Monument Park in Yankee Stadium.

But Bernie Williams does not deserve to be elected into the baseball Hall of Fame.

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Under the Radar: Part 2

This is the second installment of  a series of blog posts called “Under the Radar.”   This series is a periodic examination of the careers of currently active players who have achieved success in their major league careers, but who are certainly not household names.

In the first part of this series, I took a look at the careers of Roy Oswalt and Carlos Beltran.  Both have the numbers to be considered Hall of Fame candidates, depending on how they perform over the next half a dozen years or so.  But as I write this, news has just come in that Beltran is expected to miss the first month or two of the 2010 season due to on-going knee problems.

In this blog post, we will take a look at two highly productive players who have been overshadowed at their respective positions by higher profile players such as Chipper Jones and Mariano Rivera.  Specifically, we will take a look today at the careers of Joe Nathan, relief pitcher for the Twins, and Aramis Ramirez, the Chicago Cubs third baseman.

Let’s begin with Joe Nathan.  If you have played Fantasy Baseball over the past several years, you are part of a sub-culture that has come to greatly appreciate Joe Nathan’s contributions to baseball.  Outside of Fantasy Baseball and Minnesota, however, not a lot of people have any idea who Joe Nathan is.

This is unfortunate, because for the past half dozen years or so, Joe Nathan has been one of the most dominant PITCHERS (not just closers) in baseball history.  How can I make such a bold statement?  Let’s take a look at the statistics:

Since taking over as the Twins closer in 2004, Nathan has saved 246 games, an average of 41 per season, the most over that time span.  His career save percentage is just a bit under 90%, the same as Mariano Rivera who is universally considered the best closer of all-time.

Nathan has averaged well over a strikeout per inning in his career (9.4 K’s per nine innings.)  His career ERA is 2.75, and he has logged four seasons with an ERA under 2.00 over the past six seasons.

Nathan has been named to four All-Star teams, and he has finished in the top five in Cy Young voting twice.

But perhaps the most amazing statistic about Joe Nathan is that he has allowed an average of only 6.5 hits per nine innings throughout his nine year career during which he has logged 685 innings pitched.  How phenomenal is that statistic?

It ties Nathan with Nolan Ryan for the fewest hits per nine innings in major league baseball history.  That’s pretty amazing.

So why is it that Mariano Rivera garners all of the accolades, while Joe Nathan just pitches outstanding baseball?  Well, for one reason, Rivera pitches in the media capital of the world.  Nathan pitches in a place that usually leads the nation in lowest temperatures recorded in the continental United States.

Actually, the biggest difference between these two great pitchers is post-season performance.  Rivera is simply the greatest post-season closer of all-time, having logged 39 saves while posting an 8-1 record, an ERA of 0.74, and a ridiculous WHIP of .0773.

Joe Nathan has pitched eight innings in the post-season, giving up seven earned runs for an ERA of 7.88.

Still, over the past several seasons, if you had picked Joe Nathan over Mariano Rivera for your Fantasy Baseball team, you would not have noticed any significant difference between the two.

And since Joe Nathan appears to be a healthy 35 years old, he should have a few more dominating years ahead of him.

The other player that I think is a good addition to my squadron of under-appreciated players is Cubs third-sacker Aramis Ramirez.

Ramirez will be 32 years old this June, and has been in the majors for twelve seasons.  Few third basemen have ever been more consistent, especially with the bat.

Ramirez has hit 264 homers, and he has driven in 946 runs.  That means that this season, at age 32, he has a chance to surpass one thousand RBI’s, and perhaps hit his 300th home run.  He has also scored 732 runs, has hit 317 doubles, and has over 1,500 hits to his credit.

He is also capable of hitting for a respectable batting average, as his .286 career mark reveals.  His career slugging percentage of .503 is better than Hall-of-Fame third basemen Wade Boggs, George Brett, Pie Traynor, Brooks Robinson and Ken Boyer.

Aramis Ramirez has played in two All-Star games, and he has finished in the top ten in MVP voting twice in his career.

His most impressive statistic, however, is his six 100+ RBI seasons over the past nine years.  He already has more 100 RBI seasons than Eddie Matthews, and as many as Ron Santo and Brooks Robinson combined.  Also, Ramirez’s .847 career OPS is higher than HOF’er Pie Traynor, and nearly as high as HOF’ers George Brett and Wade Boggs.

In fact, there are only about four or five third basemen in history who clearly have better numbers:  Mike Schmidt, Chipper Jones, Eddie Matthews (many more homers) George Brett and Wade Boggs.  Ramirez is closing in on the next tier of third basemen that includes Ken Boyer, Stan Hack, Ron Santo and Darrell Evans.

The third base position has always been historically weaker than most people imagine.  One would think that, just like first base and outfield, there would be numerous players who accumulated impressive statistics over the years.  But, in reality, it has been one of the weakest hitting positions on the diamond, more comparable to shortstop than to first base.

For this reason alone, we might find ourselves one day taking a second look at his career totals to decide whether or not a serious argument can be made that Aramis Ramirez belongs in the Hall of Fame.

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