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July 23, 2010
Prospectus Hit and Run
If Hawk, Then Rock
On Sunday, Andre Dawson will be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Per the decision of Cooperstown's gatekeepers, his bronze plaque will feature the cap of the Montreal Expos, baseball's lost tribe, just like that of former teammate Gary Carter. Alas, the visage of one eminently deserving former Expo has yet to be cast in bronze, despite numbers showing he's a much stronger candidate than this year's honoree: Tim Raines.
Over the course of their fascinating and often dazzling careers, "The Hawk" notched more career hits, home runs, and RBI than "The Rock," and was awarded more hardware (whether he earned it is a different story):
As flashy as those credentials are, Raines trumps his former teammate not only in stolen bases (he's fifth all time, and his 84.7 percent success rate ranks third among players with at least 300 attempts), but in the categories which equate most directly to measurable value on the diamond: he reached base over 500 times more than Dawson while using nearly 900 fewer outs in a similar number of opportunities, advancing himself or his teammates further around the diamond, and creating more runs per plate appearance:
TOB is times on base (H + BB + HBP), BG is bases gained (TB + BB + HBP + SB - CS), presented here to show that Raines' edge on the basepaths made up for Dawson's edge in power. The comprehensive True Average metric boils all of that down, translating each player's runs created per plate appearance onto a batting average scale.
Furthermore Raines compares more favorably to the left fielders in the Hall of Fame than Dawson does to the center fielders. Not only was he better at the plate, he was better in the field, and worth more wins per year both at his peak and over the course of his career. That's the verdict according to both our Wins Above Replacement Player metric, as well as that of JAWS, my Hall of Fame monitor comparing candidates' career and peak (best seven seasons) values against those of the average enshrined player at his position:
Deciphering the abbreviations, TAv is True Average, RARP is Runs Above Replacement, Position-adjusted, and RAP is Runs Above Position; the latter duo provide good secondary measures of career and peak value. FRAA is Fielding Runs Above Average, generally more comprehensible than measuring fielding from replacement level. JAWS = (Career WARP + Peak WARP) / 2.
Along with a keen batting eye, dazzling speed, and all-around athleticism, Raines did offer a reasonable amount of pop. Like Dawson, he was at his most valuable during his time in Montreal (1979-1990) before injuries took their toll, and like Dawson, he was victimized by collusion, unable to cash in when his earning power was at its highest. He's is often slighted because he doesn't measure up to Rickey Henderson, his direct contemporary and a 2009 Hall of Fame inductee; unlike Henderson, he doesn't have 3,000 hits, the all-time runs and stolen base records, or a persona backed by a bevy of amusingly apocryphal anecdotes. But if Rickey was the best leadoff hitter of all time, Raines has a strong case as the second best, and he was no less cerebral. Those bemoaning today's increasingly power-oriented game take note: Raines was among the best ever at getting himself around the basepaths.
Raines' WARP and JAWS tallies rank fifth among left fielders, trailing only Barry Bonds, Stan Musial, Ted Williams, and Rickey Henderson; his peak value ranks sixth, with Ed Delahanty sneaking past him. In all, he winds up 12.9 wins ahead of the average Hall of Fame left fielder.
During his years in Montreal (1976-1986), Dawson offered a fine mix of speed and power while playing mostly center field; only in his last three years did knee problems force him into right field and leach much of his value. By the time he moved on to the Cubs (1987-1992), he was a lousy defender, and the hitter-friendly confines of Wrigley Field masked his decline as a hitter. His glaring weakness was a lack of plate discipline; his .323 OBP is nine points below the park-adjusted league average for his career, and ranks as the seventh-lowest among Hall hitters. The other six are infield wizards such as Brooks Robinson, Joe Tinker and Bill Mazeroski who rank among the best defenders ever. Furthermore, Dawson's ratio of strikeouts to unintentional walks (3.38) is by far the worst of any Hall hitter; Willie Stargell (2.73) is next, but with an OBP 41 points higher relative to the league. In 1987, Dawson drew just 25 unintentional walks to go with his career-high 49 homers; his 3.3 WARP tied for the 44th-highest total in the NL. Yet he won the MVP award, the first player ever to do so while playing for a last-place team.
Dawson's 59.6 career WARP ranks 12th among players whose primary position was center field. Seven—Willie Mays, Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker, Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, Billy Hamilton, and Richie Ashburn—are enshrined, the first five voted in by the writers, the latter two by the Veterans Committee. The other four ahead of Dawson are Cooperstown lock Ken Griffey Jr., Jim Edmonds, 19th-century standout George "Piano Legs" Gore, and Andruw Jones—not a bum in the lot, though the last three are hardly slam dunks. Nine other Hall center fielders, all VC choices except for Duke Snider and Kirby Puckett, have lower WARP totals.
As for Dawson's peak, 18 other center fielders were more valuable, with Carlos Beltran and Jimmy Wynn also surpassing him on the JAWS scale despite lower career values. In the end, Dawson finishes about nine wins short of the career standard, and four shy of the peak mark, leaving him 6.6 behind on the JAWS scale. He's a below-average Hall of Famer, one who doesn't advance the cause of recognizing the cream of the crop. If he's worth enshrining, so are dozens of others around the diamond.
Dawson needed nine years of ballot eligibility to reach the requisite 75 percent necessary for enshrinement; he broke 50 percent in his second year and inched forward in nearly every cycle. Raines hasn't gotten nearly that kind of love from the voters; he debuted at 24.6 percent, and just crossed 30 percent last year, his third year of eligibility. There's no reason he should be left out in the cold; Tim Raines quite certainly belongs in Cooperstown.
A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider .