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October 4, 2004
One Man is an Island
Barry Bonds and His TeammatesESPN analyst Tim Kurkjian dropped a surprising fact in a recent online chat: Barry Bonds has never had a Hall of Fame teammate. This is unique; no current Hall of Famer ever played his entire career without sharing a clubhouse with at least one other Cooperstown-bound player. Bonds, a lock for enshrinement as he scales the all-time home run list and continues to rack up eye-popping numbers, would be the first to do so.
There is less to this morsel of information than meets the eye. Bonds is near the end of his career, playing alongside teammates who are still in the early stages or primes of their own. By the looks of the current Giants roster not many of them are true Hall of Fame candidates, but isn't it a bit early to rule out Jason Schmidt? That's to say nothing of the possibility that a single acquisition by Brian Sabean might erase this morsel from the books in short order. What if the Giants, in need of a first baseman, trade for Rafael Palmeiro, or take a flier on Mike Piazza as the Mets hold a fire sale? What if he can manage to wrest Randy Johnson from the Diamondbacks? Any one of these moves would give Bonds a teammate with whom he'll eventually share a stage in the midsummer sun of upstate New York.
It's not that Bonds hasn't had quality teammates over the years; 2000 NL MVP Jeff Kent and one-time Maris-busting threat Matt Williams come to mind. Which of Bonds' teammates have the best cases for the Hall of Fame?
To answer this question, I drew upon a system I created to analyze the 2004 Hall of Fame ballot last winter. With Bill James' Hall of Fame Standards and Hall of Fame Monitor metrics looking quite long in the tooth, the idea was to come up with a new set of standards which could help separate the Cooperstown wheat from the chaff. By identifying those candidates who are as good or better than the average Hall of Famer at their position, we can avoid further diluting the quality of the Hall's membership. That isn't to say that non-statistical considerations--awards, championships, postseason performance--should be left by the wayside, just that we're not focusing on them here.
The foundation of the system is the Davenport Translations, Clay Davenport's method for normalizing all performance records in major-league history to the same scoring environment while adjusting for park effects, quality of competition and length of schedule. All pitchers, hitters and fielders are thus rated above or below one consistent replacement level.
I gathered career Wins Above Replacement (WARP3) data for all Hall of Famers who rated induction based on their performance in the established major leagues. (Unfortunately, we don't have the data to do justice to those who spent the bulk or entirety of their careers in the Negro Leagues.) Then I calculated a peak score based on the best five consecutive seasons of a player's career, compensating for seasons lost to war or major injury by ignoring them completely or, in the case of Carlton Fisk, combining two half-seasons into a full one. The career and peak totals were averaged for each player to come up with a score which, because it's a better acronym than the one I had before, I'm now very self-consciously calling JAWS (JAffe WARP3 Score). I then calculated positional JAWS averages and compared each candidate's JAWS to those enshrined.
Since those articles were published, Davenport has tweaked his system a bit, which necessitated a recomputation of each Hall of Famer's scores and thus the positional averages. They now look like this:
POS # WARP3 PEAK JAWS P 59 90.2 41.6 65.9 C 13 95.7 41.4 68.6 1B 18 96.6 42.6 69.6 2B 16 111.8 47.0 79.4 3B 10 105.7 43.8 74.7 SS 20 101.2 43.6 72.4 LF 19 107.2 44.1 75.6 CF 17 112.2 47.4 79.8 RF 22 115.4 44.7 80.0 CI 28 99.9 43.0 71.4 MI 36 105.9 45.1 75.5 INF 64 103.3 44.2 73.7 OF 58 111.8 45.3 78.6 Corners 69 106.8 43.9 75.3 Middle 66 105.6 45.0 75.3 Hitters 134 106.2 44.4 75.3There's plenty to pick apart in that data, but for now we'll concentrate on the matter at hand, which is Bonds' teammates. I combed through the rosters of his teams to select the most obvious and interesting candidates. Here is the top 20 overall (an asterisk denotes still-active players):
WARP3 PEAK JAWS Will Clark 94.4 44.8 69.6 Rick Reuschel 96.4 37.9 67.2 Kenny Lofton* 89.9 43.3 66.5 Jeff Kent* 84.0 46.2 64.7 Matt Williams 89.2 39.6 64.4 Orel Hershiser 84.8 41.1 63.0 Bobby Bonilla 82.7 41.4 62.1 Jay Bell 83.9 39.9 61.9 Andy Van Slyke 77.5 40.6 59.1 Ellis Burks* 84.8 32.4 58.6 Tony Pena 78.5 37.5 58.0 Eric Davis 72.0 39.6 55.8 Darryl Strawberry 71.7 38.8 55.3 Kirk Gibson 70.9 37.0 54.0 Marquis Grissom* 71.7 36.2 53.9 Benito Santiago* 76.3 30.9 53.6 Ray Durham* 62.9 37.3 50.2 Moises Alou* 67.3 32.0 49.5 Joe Carter 66.8 31.5 49.2 Willie McGee 64.9 31.0 48.0For anybody who had Kent pegged as the best Bonds teammate, those are some surprising names at the top in Will Clark, "Big Daddy" Rick Reuschel and Kenny Lofton. Most notably, this list is dotted with men from the Halls of Shoulda Woulda Coulda, with injury-prone Ellis Burks, Kirk Gibson and Eric Davis and troubled Darryl Strawberry. Andres Galarraga is further down the list.
Taking a closer look at some of these players...
Will Clark wouldn't seem to have a great Hall of Fame case on the surface--284 homers, 2,176 hits, six All-Star appearances, one Gold Glove--but he was one heck of a hitter, as his career .303/.384/.497 line attests. Had he not hung up his spikes at age 36 after a .319/.418/.546 season, Clark might have really built a strong case for himself; figure another 500 hits and 50 homers, perhaps.
As it is, Clark fares quite well when compared to the average Hall of Fame first baseman; his JAWS score of 69.6 is right on the money, and his five-year peak was higher than the average of the inducted 1Bs. His score is about the same as Harmon Killebrew's (69.4, and yes, he was a multi-position player, but first base is as good a place to put him as any), and ahead of Tony Perez (68.8), Hank Greenberg (68.5), Orlando Cepeda (65.8), Bill Terry (64.5) and five other Hall first basemen including George Sisler, who don't even come close to measuring up. Clark also rates higher than three perennials on the Hall ballot, Keith Hernandez, Don Mattingly (both at 66.0) and Steve Garvey (59.4). Again, if he'd continued to play, his case would have been quite strong; add another 10 WARP3, which would raise his JAWS by five, and he's basically even with Willie McCovey (74.7) and seventh among all first basemen. He may not get in, but he is certainly no slouch.
Rick Reuschel was a pear-shaped, innings-eating horse who won 214 games over a 19-year career. He wasn't overly heralded in his own time--three All-Star appearances, two third-place Cy Young finishes, two Gold Gloves--but he actually scores above the JAWS average for Hall of Fame pitchers. His score is the equal of Bob Lemon, and he rates higher than Ed Walsh (66.1), Jim Bunning (64.5), Dazzy Vance (62.3), Whitey Ford (60.6), and Sandy Koufax (58.5), Dizzy Dean (55.8) and Catfish Hunter (53.8), among others. While a skeptic might look at some of the names on that list as evidence that this system is bogus, note that, for example, Koufax's short career and Ford's low peak (only 33.0 WARP3 over his best five-year period) hold them back. Reuschel wasn't spectacular, but he was very good and quite consistent for a long time. Even pitching to age 42, he never was simply hanging on and getting battered around. That doesn't make him a Hall of Famer, but there's no shame in that.
An excellent leadoff hitter with a career .372 OBP and 545 steals, itinerant outfielder Kenny Lofton's motto these days seems to be "Have pennant race, will travel." That doesn't take away from his six All-Star appearances, four Gold Gloves, and knack for finding playing time in October. He's headed to his ninth postseason this fall with his fifth team, his fourth in four years. As for his Cooperstown case, he's well below the average Hall of Fame center fielder, though he would rate higher than a handful of them, including Max Carey (66.4), Earl Averill (62.1), Larry Doby (60.4 in a career abbreviated by the color line), Hack Wilson (52.5), Lloyd Waner (46.0) and Earle Combs (45.2).
Given that he's already put together a pretty good resumé and is still starring, Jeff Kent is the top candidate from this group to actually make the Hall of Fame. However, even with an MVP award under his belt and his 300th homer fresh in writers' minds, he has his work cut out for him. Second base is one of the strongest positions as far as JAWS is concerned, and in Ryne Sandberg, the Hall of Fame ballot already has an even better candidate (76.0, below the average second baseman score but above the average hitter). Kent has put up 8.1 Wins Above Replacement this season; he'll need three more years of that caliber to match the Ryno. With Mr. NASCAR Moustache making strange noises about retirement, that's no given. The second basemen in the Hall who don't score as well as he does--Nellie Fox (61.7), Red Schoendienst (61.3), Bill Mazeroski (60.8), Tony Lazzeri (57.1), and Johnny Evers (50.1)--are by and large either glove men or simply overrated based on the quality of their teammates.
The 1994 players' strike cost Matt Williams a shot at the single-season home run record, now owned by Bonds. A devastating power hitter with 378 career homers, Williams was too much of a free swinger (a .317 OBP, ick) to rate highly from a sabermetric standpoint. His JAWS score is better than half of the Hall's criminally underrepresented third baseman, but given one can easily come up with four more deserving outsiders--Ron Santo (88.4), Darrell Evans (78.3), Graig Nettles (76.4) and Ron Cey (70.1)--it's going to be a long and lonely wait for Williams. Incidentally, in addition to having the fourth-best score among all third baseman (only Mike Schmidt, Eddie Mathews and George Brett rank higher), Santo's five-year peak of 61.2 WARP3 is the highest among any Hall-eligible player who's not in, and is TENTH all-time among the guys not inducted (Wade Boggs and Alex Rodriguez are even higher, and they may well be in Cooperstown before Santo). It's a crime that Santo hasn't been elected. He's one player for whom the statheads can really make a case.
With 204 wins, a .576 winning percentage, a Cy Young, the record for consecutive scoreless innings, and one of the most amazing postseason runs in history, Orel Hershiser has a pretty impressive resumé, one many Hall of Famers can't match. But the pitchers right around him in JAWS--the same ones Reuschel tops--have nice resumés themselves. In the age of the closer, there are only going to be more quality starting pitchers whose Hall cases rest on similar victory totals and winning percentages; David Cone (68.0) comes to mind. "The Bulldog" may have to continue building his Hall case on the bench of some team; thus far he's off to a good start as the Rangers' pitching coach.
It's ironic that Eric Davis and Darryl Strawberry, two star-crossed ballplayers who were high-school friends in L.A., end up right next to each other on this list. Strawberry's litany of bad luck and worse trouble you know about. With 280 homers in his first nine seasons, he was well on his way to the Hall until drug, alcohol, injury, health and domestic problems (not necessarily in that order) got in his way. He had numerous opportunities to salvage his career, thanks to George Steinbrenner, but he never got the picture until it was too late.
It is absolutely no stretch to say that were it not for injuries, Davis might have become a Bonds-caliber player himself. We're not talking just run-of-the-mill knee, shoulder, back and wrist injuries, though he had more than his share of those. Davis sustained a lacerated kidney diving for a ball in the 1990 World Series, and was diagnosed with colon cancer in 1997. In between those two catastrophes, he played in more than 100 games just twice and sat out the entire 1995 season. As it was, he never played in more than 135 games in a year, and he played in a mere ten seasons' worth of games (1,626) over an 18-year span. He did pack some numbers into those abbreviated campaigns: 27 homers and 80 steals in 1986, 37 homers and 50 steals to go with a .293/.399/.593 line in '87, when he was 10.8 wins above replacement despite missing 33 games, and an inspring comeback from the cancer in 1998 with .327/.388/.582 and 28 homers. He finished with 282 homers and 349 steals along with a .269/.359/.482 line, but that's only part of the tale. There's hardly a baseball fan around doesn't get goosebumps at the recollection of seeing him in his all-too-brief prime.
There are plenty of other Hall of Very Good players on this list, but examining their cases brings diminishing returns. What of Bonds' current teammates? Here are the top-ranked ones:
AGE WARP3 PEAK JAWS Marquis Grissom 37 71.7 36.2 53.9 Ray Durham 32 62.9 37.3 50.2 Edgardo Alfonzo 30 54.7 36.2 45.6 Robb Nen 34 46.3 29.0 37.7 Jason Schmidt 31 35.6 28.3 32.1 J.T. Snow 36 39.2 21.1 30.1To quote the Sea Captain from "The Simpsons": "Arrrr, not a looker in the bunch." All of these players are on the wrong side of 30, and if you think Alfonso just got there, I've got some oceanfront property in Kansas to sell you. Robb Nen hasn't pitched since 2002 due to a torn labrum and other shoulder woes. Even if he's not cooked, he isn't going to threaten to join Hoyt Wilhelm, Rollie Fingers and Dennis Eckersley in the ultra-exclusive Cooperstown bullpen. Ray Durham might rise to the point where Lofton is now, but that won't make him a Hall of Famer. Schmidt is no youngster, but he might improve his standing considerably with a couple more good seasons that would enhance his peak. I discarded his 2000 season (11 starts, 63 innings, 5.40 ERA, 0.5 WARP3) when calculating his peak, leaving him with two years (1998-1999) totaling 8.4 wins on the front end. Two more years like he's just reeled off, about 7.5 WARP3 each, would raise his peak to about 35.0, meaning he'd still have to stick around for a long time. Given his history of arm problems, you shouldn't bet on it.
It's unlikely that any of Bonds' teammates to date will wind up with a bronze plaque across the street from Lake Glimmerglass, but these kinds of things are difficult to project. You might recall announcers saying something similar about the great 1998 New York Yankees, a team that rolled up 114 regular-season victories and a World Championship. "Not a Hall of Famer in the lot," was the consensus of many a talking head. Six seasons, four pennants, and three titles later, it's a good bet that skipper Joe Torre will go to Cooperstown. Derek Jeter and Bernie Williams are building good cases, and the oversight of Tim Raines at the time was just plain ignorant. Jeter is at 66.0 WARP3/40.9 PEAK/53.5 JAWS, having his best all-around season since that magical 1999 when he hit .349/.438/.552. Williams is at 102.4/47.8/75.1, a little low for a center fielder but within the realm of electability. Raines hung up his spikes at 126.5/50.6/88.6, which in a just world (yeah, ask an Expos fan about that) would be first-ballot territory; as it is he would rank fourth among Hall left fielders (behind Stan the Man, the Splended Splinter, and Yaz) until Bonds and Rickey Henderson (171.7/49.4/110.6) show up.
And as for the man himself, let's put him in the Top Five group photo:
WARP3 PEAK JAWS Babe Ruth 228.1 71.6 149.9 Barry Bonds 213.9 70.9 142.4 Willie Mays 214.7 65.8 140.3 Ty Cobb 209.2 60.4 134.8 Hank Aaron 206.3 60.0 133.2He's still chasing the Bambino, but another 15.0 WARP3 season (he's at 15.7 right now) will put him on top. Maybe he has never had a Hall of Fame-caliber teammate, but he'll be surrounded by more worthy company soon enough.
The creator of the Futility Infielder web site, Jay Jaffe is a graphic designer and freelance writer living in New York City. He hasn't been above replacement level since Little League, but he can be reached here.