December 20, 2007
The Class of 2008
The Hitters, Part Two
Picking up where we left off last week, we turn JAWS loose on the outfielders of the 2008 ballot, a mercifully smaller crop than last year's 13 outfielders, but one about which we have much to discuss.
Last H HR RBI AVG OBP SLG AS MVP GG HOFS HOFM Bal 2007% Raines 2605 170 980 .294 .385 .425 7 0 0 46.8 90.0 --- Rice 2452 382 1451 .298 .352 .502 7 1 0 42.9 147.0 13 63.5 EqA BRAR BRAA FRAA WARP3 Peak JAWS Raines .307 882 585 -21 123.7 68.4 96.1 Rice .294 634 366 -57 83.3 55.5 69.4 Avg HoF LF .306 806 531 -2 116.8 65.8 91.3
It's no secret I've been itching to get to Tim Raines' JAWS case; I've already broken the ice not once but thrice. Though he lacks the round-number milestones and major-category rankings that generate buzz come ballot time, Raines' Hall campaign is one that's been widely anticipated. From the electricity that his dazzling speed and all-around athleticism generated in his prime to the charisma he showed in his later years, he was a joy to watch, and though underappreciated within mainstream circles during his career, he's always fared well by sabermetric measures. You didn't have to know a damn thing about Bill James in the mid-'80s to appreciate Raines, but if you were a James reader, you likely came to appreciate Raines' key virtues--his ability to reach base and his efficiency once he got there--all the more. Let's Rock on...
Raines was chosen in the fifth round of the 1977 draft, a 5'8", 17-year-old switch-hitting shortstop out of a Florida high school. From the get-go, he showed the ability to get on base and to motor once he got there; his .386 OBP in the Gulf Coast League was the lowest of his minor league career, and after he stole 59 bases in 71 attempts at Double-A Memphis in 1979, he was called up to the majors to provide hot wheels during the Expos' futile chase of the Pirates for the 1979 NL East title. He debuted by pinch-running for future Hall of Famer Gary Carter. In 1980, prior to reprising his September cameo, he tore up the Triple-A American Association, winning the league batting title while hitting .354/.439/.501, tying for the league lead in triples, and setting a circuit record with 77 steals. His performance won him The Sporting News' Minor League Player of the Year award, and his club, the Denver Bears, was later ranked by historians as the 37th-best minor league team of all time.
To that point, Raines had played primarily as a second baseman, but the Expos made him their Opening Day left fielder in 1981--a fortuitous move, given the potential hazards the pint-sized Raines would have faced at the keystone over the course of his career. The 21-year-old Raines hit .304/.391/.438 in that strike-torn year, stealing a league-leading 71 bases in just 88 games, earning All-Star honors, and finishing second to Fernando Valenzuela in the Rookie of the Year voting. The Expos made the playoffs for the only time in their history by winning the post-strike leg of the NL East race, but Raines was reduced to a pinch-running role after breaking a bone in his hand while sliding on September 13. He missed the team's Division Series win over the Phillies, but returned in time for the NLCS against the Dodgers, who nonetheless prevailed in five games on the strength of Rick Monday's two-out, ninth-inning home run, a.k.a. Blue Monday.
Though Raines again led the league in steals in 1982 with 78, his performance (.277/.353/.369, 5.5 WARP) was a mild disappointment. It was during this season that he admitted to using cocaine, infamously sliding headfirst to avoid breaking the vials in his back pocket. After the season, he checked into a rehab facility, and by all accounts successfully kicked his habit. Free of that burden, he broke out the next year, the beginning of a five-year plateau in which he hit a cumulative .318/.406/.467, averaging 114 runs scored, 11 homers, 71 steals, and 10.0 WARP, never falling below 9.0. In that time period, Mike Schmidt was the only NL player to accumulate more WARP (51.5 to Raines' 50.1). By Nate Silver's multi-year Best Player in Baseball methodology, Raines ranked as the NL's top player in 1985 and 1986, breaking Schmidt's eight-year hold on the title. Raines' 1985 season, in which he hit .320/.405/.475, ranks as his most valuable, worth 11.8 WARP (second only to Dwight Gooden's amazing 14.2 that year). Ironically that was the first year he didn't lead the league in steals, though his 70-for-79 performance looks plenty impressive next to league leader Vince Coleman's 110-for-135.
Raines won the NL batting title in 1986, hitting .334. Just 27 by the end of the season, he reached free agency that winter, but suspiciously received no contract offers; baseball was in the midst of its collusion era. Forced to return to the Expos, he was ineligible to play until May. Without benefit of spring training or a minor league stint, he stepped into the lineup on May 2, and indelibly turned a Saturday afternoon NBC Game of the Week against the Mets at Shea Stadium into The Tim Raines Comeback Extravaganza. Raines put up a 5 3 4 4 boxscore line, bookended by a first inning triple off of David Cone and a 10th-inning, game-winning grand slam off of Jesse Orosco. In between, he walked and stole a base on Gary Carter, coming around to score on a single, then hit two more singles, the second an infield hit, after which he went first to third on another single, and then scored on a force out. I think he also performed requests while sitting in with the surviving Beatles between innings, such was the complete spectrum of his much-missed skills on display. Later in the summer, he would put on a late-inning tour de force at the All-Star Game, winning MVP honors.
Raines set career bests for on-base and slugging percentages in 1987, hitting .330/.429/.526 with a career-high 18 homers and 50 steals, but the real eye-popping stat from that season is his 26 intentional walks. As dangerous as he was on the basepaths, opposing pitchers practically conceded second base to him in favor of facing cleanup hitter Tim Wallach (Raines spent about half of the year hitting third, replacing the departed Andre Dawson) or #2 hitter Mitch Webster (hmm, good point). Even missing a month, he led the league in runs scored with 123. His 10.3 WARP ranked sixth in the league, but the MVP award notoriously went to Dawson (about whom more momentarily), who had a paltry 7.3. Raines only finished seventh in the award voting, part of a long-standing pattern of neglect by the BBWAA voters; he never finished higher than fifth.
Beyond that 1983-1987 peak, injuries began to get the better of Raines. He averaged just 133 games over his next six seasons, and was traded in December 1990 to the White Sox in a five-player deal centered around Ivan Calderon. He spent five years on the South Side, the most valuable of which was a 1992 campaign in which he put up 10.2 WARP on .294/.380/.405 hitting. He actually hit better in 1993 (.306/.401/.480 with 16 homers), helping the Sox win the AL West but missing a month and a half due to torn ligaments in his thumb. A free agent that winter, he re-signed with the Sox, but after two relatively disappointing years was traded to the Yankees for a player to be named later, the immortal Blaise Kozeniewski. (How could we forget?) In the Bronx, hamstring woes cost the 36-year-old Raines over three months in 1996. They would continue to dog him, forcing him into a part-time role for the first time. He hit a cumulative .299/.395/.429 in his three years in pinstripes, earning two World Series rings while playing the role of fourth outfielder/engaging elder statesman in Joe Torre's clubhouse.
Raines departed the Yankees for a dismal stint in Oakland. There, he struggled to recover from off-season knee surgery, and then left the team in July to battle lupus, an illness that cost him all of 2000. Recovered, he returned to the majors in 2001, spending most of the season in a pinch-hitting cameo with the Expos before being traded to the Orioles in October so that he could briefly join son Tim Raines Jr. in the lineup (that stint included Cal Ripken's final game, which I was lucky enough to attend). Raines wrapped up his career with a final year with the Marlins.
According to JAWS, Raines compares quite favorably to the average Hall of Fame left fielder, breezing past both career and peak benchmarks. By this measure he ranks as the ninth-best left fielder of all time, behind Barry Bonds, Stan Musial, Rickey Henderson, Ted Williams, Pete Rose, Jim O'Rourke, Ed Delahanty, and Carl Yastrzemski--some pretty fair ballplayers. If that sounds crazy, consider that the New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract ranked Raines eighth back in 2001, calling him the second-most valuable leadoff hitter in history, behind only Henderson. If you weren't around for it, he was that good. Raines' overall WARP score ranks 81st all-time, 62nd among hitters. His peak score ranks 122nd all-time, 91st among hitters, and his JAWS is 88th all-time, 67th among hitters. If those numbers sound low, consider that the Hall of Fame contains 198 players whose major league careers we can measure via this method (i.e., non Negro-Leaguers or late-career crossovers like Satchel Paige and Monte Irvin), and historical estimates suggest we're witnessing another 30 or so Hall of Famers currently active.
Raines is often slighted because he doesn't measure up to his direct contemporary, Henderson (187.8 career WARP/83.4 peak/135.6 JAWS). He doesn't have 3,000 hits, and his 808 stolen bases rank "only" fifth all time, and while his 84.7 percent success rate is the best among thieves with more than 300 attempts, that skill doesn't really register in today's power-saturated age, limiting the impression of his all-around ability. But Raines does more than measure up to another Hall of Fame contemporary, 2007 inductee Tony Gwynn. Their JAWS totals are virtually identical (124.4/68.4/96.4 for Gwynn, within one win in each category), but Raines outdistances the left field benchmark by 4.8 JAWS points, while Gwynn rates a hair below that in right field (125.0/68.7/96.8). Gwynn gets the glory because of his 3,141 hits, five 200-hit seasons, and eight batting titles. Raines won only one batting title, but while he never reached 200 hits due to his ability to generate so many walks, he compares very favorably to Gwynn in many key statistical categories:
AVG OBP SLG ISO EqA HR SB TOB TB BG R RBI Gwynn .338 .388 .459 .121 .305 135 319 3955 4259 5267 1383 1138 Raines .294 .385 .425 .131 .307 170 838 3977 3771 5805 1517 980
TOB is times on base (H + BB + HBP), BG is bases gained, the numerator of Tom Boswell's briefly chic mid-'80s Total Average stat (TB + BB + HBP + SB - CS), which is presented here to show that Raines' edge on the basepaths made up for Gwynn's ability to crank out the hits. The point is better served via the comprehensive Equivalent Average and WARP valuations, but it's nonetheless a worthwhile comparison for those wishing to stick to traditional counting stats. The conclusion is the same: Tony Gwynn and Tim Raines were two fantastic ballplayers who had slightly different skills. One was disproportionately heralded in his time thanks to his extreme success by the traditional measures of batting average and hits, while the other was under-appreciated in a career that included a more concentrated early peak and a lot more ups and downs. The two were equally valuable on both career and peak levels, and there is absolutely no reason why one should be in the Hall of Fame on the first ballot while the other should languish outside for more than five seconds. If the voters don't see it that way--and the early line is that they won't, at least initially--it will be a gross injustice.
Moving on... Jim Rice is the top returning vote-getter among the hitters. He's polled over 50 percent for eight years running, though his support last year dipped slightly, from 64.8 percent in 2006 to 63.5 percent in 2007. Considered the premier slugger in the AL from the late '70s into the mid-'80s, Rice put up some monster seasons for the Red Sox. Besides winning the MVP award in 1978, he placed in the top five in balloting six times. He racked up 406 total bases in '78, the most in a 50-year span from 1949-1998. But his career fell off the table in his early 30s--Rice was a shadow of himself once he turned 34, and was done at 36, having slugged a feeble .395 over his final three seasons.
Rice's reputation and raw stat line were helped tremendously by playing in Fenway Park. According to Retrosheet, he hit .320/.374/.546 with 208 homers at home, .277/.330/.459 with 174 HR on the road. Taking advantage of one's home park is no crime; quite the contrary, most great sluggers get such a boost. But once properly adjusted for, a good deal of the air is let out of Rice's tires. He doesn't have a single 10.0 WARP season on his resume--his high is 9.8. That alone is somewhat damning; of the 198 Hall of Famers JAWS can assess, only 36 have a lower WARP in their single best season. Furthermore, Rice has just one more season above 8.0 WARP, and three more above 7.0 WARP. His Peak score is low relative to the JAWS left fielder benchmark, but it's even lower relative to the overall Hall hitter benchmark (68.3), by more than 1.8 wins per year. Couple that low peak with his short career, and he's no Hall of Famer, not by any stretch of the imagination.
Last H HR RBI AVG OBP SLG AS MVP GG HOFS HOFM Bal 2007% Anderson 1661 210 761 .256 .362 .425 3 0 0 26.1 38.0 --- Dawson 2774 438 1591 .279 .323 .482 8 1 8 43.7 117.5 6 56.7 Murphy 2111 398 1266 .265 .346 .469 7 2 5 34.3 115.5 9 9.2 EqA BRAR BRAA FRAA WARP3 Peak JAWS Anderson .286 467 237 0 77.2 56.5 66.9 Dawson .285 662 325 -26 105.0 57.5 81.3 Murphy .287 557 285 -61 85.5 61.2 73.4 Avg HoF CF .310 774 525 3 113.4 66.9 90.1
Brady Anderson is mostly remembered for a single memorable performance spike, when in fact, he had two. A 10th-round pick by the Red Sox in 1985, Anderson got just a brief trial in Boston before he and minor league pitcher Curt Schilling were traded to the Orioles for Mike Boddicker. Despite being touted by Baseball America as a top prospect, he was pretty awful during his first four major-league seasons, hitting a combined .216/.305/.301 with eight homers in 825 at-bats and accumulating just 8.3 WARP, mainly attributable to defense. But at age 28, freed from the Orioles' desire to make him shorten his swing and helped by their brand new ballpark, Camden Yards, he broke out. Anderson hit .271/.373/.449 with 21 homers and 53 steals--good for 11.3 WARP--for a team that jumped from 67 wins to 89 under manager Johnny Oates. He couldn't match that success over the next three seasons, but he did average 14 homers, 27 steals, and 6.4 WARP from 1993-1995.
What happened next has since become the subject of much debate. Anderson hit .297/.396/.637 with 50 homers--including a record-tying 35 as a leadoff hitter--in 1996, good for 10.0 WARP as the Orioles won the AL wild card. Anderson's 34-homer jump was the second-largest single-season increase in history; ironically, Orioles manager Davey Johnson held the record by jumping from five to 43 in 1973. Years later, Orioles Hall of Famer Jim Palmer openly accused Anderson of using steroids to boost his homer output. Anderson denied the charge, calling his season "an aberration," and distinguishing it from a fluke: "Nothing can be considered a fluke that takes six months to accomplish. Rather it was a culmination of all my athleticism and baseball skills and years of training peaking simultaneously." He attributed his total to hitting in front of Roberto Alomar, Rafael Palmeiro, Bobby Bonilla, and Cal Ripken, and to the combination of vigorous training and use of the legal supplement Creatine. Since then, while the steroid suspicions have remained, no one has come forward to offer a shred of proof that he took steroids (and no, he was not mentioned in the Mitchell Report, though he was on the notoriously erroneous WNBC list circulated a few hours before the report's release).
In any event, Anderson never did approach those heights again. He declined to 18 homers and 7.2 WARP in 1997, but he helped the O's win the AL East crown and enjoy their last winning season before a ten-year (and counting) streak of futility. He had one more big season in 1999, hitting .282/.404/.477 with 24 homers, his second-highest total, but just two years later was on the skids, hitting .202/.311/.300 in his final year in Baltimore. He spent the first couple months of the 2002 season with the Indians, but hit just .163 and drew his release in late May. He doesn't have a real case according to JAWS, but it's worth noting he's among the players on the ballot whose peaks surpass that of Rice.
Like Rice, Andre Dawson has garnered significant support from the BBWAA voters, though he saw his percentage drop from 61.0 percent to 56.7 percent last year--not terribly surprising given the presence of first-ballot Hall of Famers Ripken and Gwynn. In his heyday, Dawson brought to the table an exceptional combination of power and speed. As an Expo, he was a Gold Glove center fielder who shifted to right after the Olympic Stadium turf took its toll on his knees. He left as a free agent following the 1986 season, and made a huge splash in his first year with the Cubs, hitting 49 homers, driving in 137 runs, and winning dubious MVP honors--he had just 7.3 WARP, which ranked 24th in the league and was only his sixth-best season--while playing for a last-place club, the first player to win the MVP from the basement. His stats that year were grossly inflated by Wrigley Field (.332/.373/.668 at home vs. .246/.288/.480 away), but for his career, the park effects were more even: .281/.330/.481 with 207 HR at home, .278/.316/.483 with 231 HR on the road. His Gold Gloves are somewhat overstated; the FRAA numbers show him a combined 15 runs below average in two of those seasons, but that's about par for the course. The biggest problem with Dawson's case is his lifetime .323 OBP, nine points below the park-adjusted league average for his career; he topped .350 just three times, while scraping the .300 range for too many years. That particularly depresses the value of his peak, which is tied for a rather unimpressive 250th all-time, though seven Hall of Famers--Dave Bancroft, Willie Stargell, Earl Averill, Hugh Duffy, Pie Traynor, Orlando Cepeda, and Luis Aparicio--are within half a win of his total. He's a better choice than Rice, but he still comes up short.
Dale Murphy was a converted catcher who became a Gold Glove center fielder and two-time MVP. At his peak he was considerably more valuable than Dawson thanks to better plate discipline, but he was also helped by his home park more than Dawson over the course of his career: .281/.368/.499 with 217 HR at home, .250/.324/.440 with 181 HR on the road. Like Dawson again, his defensive reputation was considerably overstated; he won Gold Gloves in 1985 and '86 while being a combined 40 runs below average according to FRAA. His career fell off the table after he turned 32; he had only one more season above 2.8 WARP, and was cooked at 37, a mere two homers from reaching 400. He hasn't pulled above 15 percent of the vote since 2001, and while he's rallied from a low of 8.5 percent in 2004, his candidacy is wheeling around its own oxygen tank.
Last H HR RBI AVG OBP SLG AS MVP GG HOFS HOFM Bal 2007% Baines 2866 384 1628 .289 .356 .465 6 0 0 43.5 66.5 1 5.3 Justice 1571 305 1017 .279 .378 .500 3 0 0 28.7 43.5 --- Parker 2712 339 1493 .290 .339 .471 7 1 3 41.1 125.5 11 11.4 EqA BRAR BRAA FRAA WARP3 Peak JAWS Baines .291 734 407 5 96.2 47.5 71.9 Justice .299 492 303 24 73.6 50.6 62.1 Parker .285 613 302 -42 84.9 54.0 69.5 Avg HoF RF .309 843 566 32 125.0 68.7 96.8
David Justice joined the Braves for two brief stints in 1989, four years after being drafted in the fourth round. He won Rookie of the Year honors the following season, hitting .282/.373/.535 with 28 homers for a 65-win Braves team that made a crucial mid-season move, as GM Bobby Cox moved back into the dugout to take over for manager Russ Nixon. That winter, the Braves hired former Royals GM John Schuerholz and embarked on a dynasty that would include 14 NL East titles (consecutive except for the 1994 strike year), four pennants, and the 1995 World Championship. Justice hit .275/.377/.503 with 21 homers in 1991, helping the Braves to their first pennant since 1958, and he homered twice in a losing cause in the World Series. He was a part of Atlanta's run through 1996, but a spate of injuries usually kept him from playing more than 120 games in a season for them, except in 1992 and 1993. He was worth 8.0 and 8.5 WARP in those two years--the only times he would reach that plateau. In the latter, he hit 40 homers and drove in 120 runs, totals that ran second in the league to Barry Bonds. After the team's World Series win in 1995 (a down year in which he hit .253/.365/.479), he injured his shoulder and missed all but 40 games in 1996, and was traded to Cleveland that winter along with Marquis Grissom in a deal for Kenny Lofton and Alan Embree.
In Cleveland, Justice joined another team in the midst of its own renaissance. He was an integral part of three consecutive playoff teams, hitting .329/.418/.596 with 33 homers (good for 7.6 WARP) for the Tribe's 1997 pennant winners. His contributions tailed off in 1998 and 1999 (4.8 WARP apiece), and when he rebounded in 2000 by hitting 21 homers in his first 68 games--matching his previous season's total--he was traded on June 29 to the Yankees for Jake Westbrook, Ricky Ledee, and Zach Day. Justice bopped 20 more homers for the Yanks, thereby setting a career high with 41, and finished with a combined line of .286/.377/.584 and 7.6 WARP. On the Yankees' way to their third straight World Championship, he blasted a critical three-run homer off Arthur Rhodes in the seventh inning of the decisive Game Six of the ALCS, giving his team a lead that it would not relinquish. It was the biggest of 14 post-season homers Justice hit in his career, and it helped him win the series MVP award, though he was generally not a great post-season performer (.224/.335/.382 lifetime). Justice lasted just two more years in the majors--an injury-marred one with the Yankees and then a final go-round with the A's--and was traded twice in a seven-day span in December 2001, first to the Mets for Robin Ventura, and then to Oakland for Mark Guthrie. He walked away from the game at 36 and went into television, working to less-than-stellar reviews for ESPN and YES. The injuries and early end to his career give Justice no real case for Cooperstown, but they do color his being among the 86 players named in the Mitchell Report just a week ago (ballot mate Chuck Knoblauch was also named). Since he's not close, and since this piece is long enough already, we'll forgo dwelling on such matters here.
Harold Baines was saddled with ridiculously high expectations upon his arrival in the major leagues. According to legend, once and future White Sox owner Bill Veeck spotted him playing little league in Maryland at age 12, then made him the #1 pick overall of the 1977 draft after regaining control of the team. At the time, GM Paul Richards proclaimed, Baines "was on his way to the Hall of Fame. He just stopped by Comiskey Park for 20 years or so." Though his numbers fall well short of Cooperstown worthiness, he was an upstanding member of the professional hitter class, and even after being passed by Chipper Jones last year, ranks as the fourth-best #1 pick of all time.
After struggling as a rookie in 1980, Baines evolved into a solid 6-7 WARP player, with a high of 8.9 in 1984. A serious knee injury in September 1986 marked a turning point for him; following off-season surgery, he would make just 81 appearances as an outfielder over the next 15 years. His value dropped considerably with the shift to DH, and the Sox traded him to Texas (in a deal involving Sammy Sosa) in mid-1989; the team took the unusual step of retiring his number when he first returned as a Ranger. Thereafter, he bounced around considerably, becoming a much more productive hitter. After just one .300 EqA in his first nine seasons, he reached that plateau seven times in the next 11 years, finishing at .296 and .293 in two others. Simply by sticking around for so long, he made a decent run at the 3,000 Hit Club, raising the question of whether that milestone still rated automatic entry into the Hall. He hit .312/.387/.533 at the age of 40, leaving him just 217 hits shy--about a season and a half, at that rate. But he fell off quickly, and wound up with more hits than any Hall-eligible but not-elected hitter. His long-term possession of that distinction will hinge on the voters' treatment of Rafael Palmeiro and Barry Bonds.
Finally, to Dave Parker. "The Cobra"--was there a cooler nickname at the time?--was a Gold Glove right fielder who for a time was thought of as the best player in the game. Powerful at the plate and possessing a cannon for an arm, he was in the spotlight often in the late '70s and early '80s via All-Star Game heroics and a World Series title. Cocaine problems cost him some productive seasons in the middle of his career, but he rebounded with a couple of solid years in Cincinnati and then a few OK seasons as a DH, serving as something of a slugger emeritus on the '88 and '89 A's. His defensive prowess was overstated; he was well below average in the field, helped by one fluky 26-assist season that gave him his reputation. Voting-wise, Parker is moving in the same direction as Murphy, with a base of support that's enough to keep him on the ballot but nowhere nearly big enough to give him a legitimate shot. His JAWS score indicates that's the right call.
So at the end of our tour through the hitters on the 2008 Hall of Fame ballot, the JAWS system has recognized Tim Raines and Alan Trammell as surpassing the career and peak benchmarks for Hall of Famers at their position--unqualified yes votes, in other words--and Mark McGwire as surpassing the peak benchmark but not the career one, a split decision not helped by widespread allegations from a variety of sources, but no conclusive proof, that he used performance enhancing drugs.
I'll be back to fill out the pitchers' portion of the ballot in the new year--try as I might, I can never get through the entire batch before the holidays due to my penchant to prattle on amidst my numerous November and December deadlines. In the meantime, you can listen to a lengthy multi-part podcast of an interview I did regarding this year's ballot with Alasdair Wilkins of WHRB, Harvard's student radio station. This is the last of 44 articles that I've filed for Baseball Prospectus this year (not including Unfiltereds), by far a personal high score. From the bottom of my heart, I wish to thank my readers and occasional listeners, my colleagues at BP, and particularly my exceedingly patient editors, Christina Kahrl on the web side (and also the annual) and Steven Goldman on the book side, for their support and encouragement of my work this past year. You make this a rewarding task, and I'm honored that you take the time to read and to respond. Happy holidays to you all.