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September 18, 2002

Swinging for the Hall, Part 2

A Non-HOF All-Star Team

by Michael Wolverton

In an article a couple of weeks ago, I ranked the best hitters outside the Hall of Fame, and concluded that Dick Allen deserves the top spot. Of course, hitting by itself doesn't determine Hall-worthiness; defense--the difficulty of the position and the quality of play--and baserunning are parts of the picture as well. So who are the best all-around position players not in the Hall?

I'll put in my two cents by naming my Non-HOF All-Star Team: the best player at each position who hasn't made it to Cooperstown (except pitcher, where I've already expressed my opinion). The selections aren't based on any one statistical system, but I did take a look at several statistical ratings when putting together the team, especially the Pennants Added method of rating hitters used in the previous article, and Clay Davenport's method of calculating fielding value. As before, only Hall-eligible post-1900 players are considered: no players active after 1996, no Pete Rose, no Joe Jackson. Players are listed at the position they played most often, but they're rated based on their entire careers at all positions they played.

First Base: Keith Hernandez
Hernandez wasn't quite the hitter Dick Allen was, but his fielding more than makes up the difference. He's the best-fielding first baseman of all time, by reputation and by numbers. Clay Davenport's fielding translations from Baseball Prospectus 2002 rates his work at first as worth 174 runs above average, 28 runs better than the next-best first baseman (Pete O'Brien), and 59 runs better than the next-best first baseman with any hope of making Cooperstown (John Olerud).

Oh, and he could hit a little bit as well. The method used in the previous article rated him the seventh best hitter outside the Hall, and the second best first baseman behind only Allen. With Allen a below-average fielder by almost anyone's assessment, Hernandez's glovework earns him a spot on the team.

Second Base: Bobby Grich
This spot is a close race between Grich and Lou Whitaker. While both were outstanding hitters, Whitaker was probably the more valuable offensively by virtue of having a much longer career--almost 2000 more plate appearances. But Grich has the edge just about everywhere else. He was the fifth best fielding second baseman of all time, by Clay's numbers. He even played a season's worth of games at short for good measure. And unlike Whitaker, he had several individual years worthy of MVP consideration. Pete Palmer's stats rate him as one of the five best players in the AL in seven of his thirteen seasons.
 
Shortstop: Alan Trammell
With twenty shortstops in the Hall already, there aren't a lot of overlooked players at that position to choose from. But Trammell stands out among a weak field. His credentials are essentially the same as his double play partner's: excellent hitter and a good-but-not-great fielder for a long time. In a Hall that has room for Pee Wee Reese, Luke Appling, Joe Sewell, Lou Boudreau, Luis Aparicio, Phil Rizzuto, Dave Bancroft, Travis Jackson, and Rabbit Maranville, it's tough to argue that Trammell doesn't belong.
 
Third Base: Darrell Evans
To many, it's blasphemy to name anyone other than Ron Santo here. Santo's great, and he clearly belongs in Cooperstown. But Evans was just as good--maybe even a little better--and he's received far less attention. The previous article rated Evans as a more productive hitter than Santo, even after the extra value of Santo's peak is taken into account. And Clay's fielding numbers suggest Evans was Santo's equal at third, and an outstanding fielder at first to boot. With third base the most underrepresented position in Cooperstown, there's room for both of them.
 
Left Field: Minnie Minoso
Bob Johnson had better major league hitting totals and fielding totals than Minoso, but neither players' numbers tell his whole story. The color line effectively kept Minoso out of the majors until age 28, while Johnson's stats are inflated by his playing in the war-diluted seasons of 1943-45. Minoso is better known these days for his gimmicky appearances in 1976 and 1980; the Veterans Committee should remember that he was far more than a publicity stunt.
 
Center Field: Jimmy Wynn
In our present era of inflated offense, claiming that a .250/.369/.436 career hitter deserves Hall of Fame consideration seems ludicrous. But Wynn put up those numbers in the 60's and early 70's, in the Astrodome and Dodger Stadium. After park-adjustments, Wynn's career OPS was 29% better than the leagues he played in. He finished just outside the list of the 20 best non-HOF hitters included in the last article, ranking number 21. Couple those hitting credentials with average-or-better glove work in center field, and the case for Wynn starts to look pretty good.
 
Right Field: Dwight Evans
Jim Rice gets plenty of consideration from BBWAA voters every year, but the better of the Boston corner outfielders from the 70's and 80's dropped off the ballot while no one was looking. Evans' credentials: great hitter, long career, several outstanding individual seasons, and a fine defensive reputation. What more could you want from a Hall of Famer? Except the votes.
 
Catcher: Gary Carter
Carter's going to get in, probably on the next ballot. Still, he's waited too long. His fine record as a hitter is widely recognized, but it was his work behind the plate where Carter really distinguished himself. He had a rifle arm in an era where that really mattered--where teams would routinely attempt 200 or 300 steals per year without paying much attention to who was catching. Carter turned a bunch of those steal attempts into outs, and as a result Clay's numbers rate him as the best fielding catcher of all time.

While I'm ignoring 19th century players in this article, I'm not ignoring players from the early part of the 20th century. The absence of players from 1900 to 1940 above is due simply to there being very few good candidates left from those years. The lesson here seems to be that while the machinery of the Hall works slowly, it does work. Most qualified candidates seem to have gotten in eventually. (A lot of questionable candidates got in too, but that's another article.)

And that's good news for Carter, Grich, and company. Because this is an All-Star team where no one would mind being kicked off.

Michael Wolverton is an author of Baseball Prospectus. You can contact him by clicking here.

Related Content:  Hall Of Fame

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