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December 16, 2008

Prospectus Hit and Run

A Rock-y Road

by Jay Jaffe

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Yesterday I began the JAWS evaluation of the 2009 Hall of Fame ballot with a lengthy look at Rickey Henderson, widely acknowledged as the greatest leadoff hitter in history. Today the attention turns to Tim Raines, quite possibly the game's second-greatest leadoff hitter. Had the two players not been direct contemporaries, the latter might have fared better than the piddling 24.3 percent he polled in his first year on the ballot last time around. Unlike Henderson, Raines lacks the round-number milestones and major-category rankings that generate buzz come ballot time, but while his career numbers don't measure up to Rickey's, they more than exceed the JAWS benchmarks for Hall of Fame left fielders, whether one's looking at the older Wins Above Replacement Player system or the revisions unveiled during this series.

From the electricity that his dazzling speed and all-around athleticism generated in his prime, to the charisma he showed in his later years, Raines was a joy to watch, and though underappreciated within mainstream circles during his career, he has always fared well by sabermetric measures. You didn't have to know a 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 on the bases once he got there-all the more.


              H    HR   RBI   AVG   OBP   SLG  AS  MVP GG   HOFS   HOFM  Bal  2008%
Henderson   3055  297  1115  .279  .401  .419  10   1   1   52.6  183.5   0   ---
Raines      2605  170   980  .294  .385  .425   7   0   0   46.8   90.0   1   24.3

             EqA   BRAR  BRAA  FRAA  Career  Peak   JAWS
Henderson   .316   1285   906   194  155.7   74.9  115.3
Raines      .309    905   608     8   94.3   54.9   74.6
AVG HoF LF  .303    743   473     2   76.8   48.2   62.5

HOFS & HOFM: Bill James' Hall of Fame Shares and Monitor.
Bal: How many years the player has appeared on the ballot.
2008%: The player's share of the vote in 2008.

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 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, 4.1 WARP) was a mild disappointment. During this season, 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 8.4 WARP, never falling below 7.2. In that time period, Mike Schmidt was the only NL player to accumulate more WARP, at least according to the older methodology; the new revisions give Raines a substantial edge, 41.9 to 36.5, though I suspect Schmidt will regain that ground when the play-by-play defensive system is unveiled. 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. For what it's worth, this is an area where he's got an advantage over Henderson, whose best seasons were so spread out that he never had any claim on the league's top spot via Nate's system.

Raines' 1985 season, in which he hit .320/.405/.475, ranks as his most valuable, worth 9.5 WARP (second only to Dwight Gooden's amazing 12.2 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. He followed that up by winning 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 box-score line, bookended by a first-inning triple off of David Cone and a 10th-inning, game-winning grand slam off of Jesse Orosco; ironically, both pitchers join him on this year's BBWAA ballot. 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 number two hitter Mitch Webster (hmm, good point). Even missing a month, he led the league in runs scored with 123. His 8.5 WARP ranked sixth in the league, but the MVP award notoriously went to Dawson, who had a paltry 4.0 WARP, 46th in the league. 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 where Ivan Calderon was the big (and I mean big literally) return to the Expos. Raines spent five years on the South Side, the most valuable of which was a 1992 campaign in which he put up 8.1 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. In the Bronx, hamstring woes cost the 36-year-old Raines over three months in 1996. The injury 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, where 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 his 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. At this time last year, the system had him ranked 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. The revised replacement level version of JAWS bumps him ahead of that latter trio:


Rk   Player            Career   Peak   JAWS 
 1   Barry Bonds        192.6   88.7  140.7
 2   Rickey Henderson   155.7   74.9  115.3
 3   Stan Musial        152.7   75.7  114.2*
 4   Ted Williams       128.2   74.2  101.2*
 5   Pete Rose          106.7   56.2   81.5
 6   Tim Raines          94.3   54.9   74.6
 7   Carl Yastrzemski    94.7   50.9   72.8*
 8   Ed Delahanty        84.7   59.6   72.2**
 9   Jim O'Rourke        94.3   46.5   70.4**
10   Willie Stargell     82.2   54.1   68.2*
11   Fred Clarke         81.1   43.9   62.5**
12   Jose Cruz Sr.       72.7   47.7   60.2
13   Jesse Burkett       72.1   47.5   59.8**
14   Al Simmons          71.6   47.0   59.3*
15   Tony Phillips       69.0   49.3   59.2
16   Albert Belle        61.9   53.2   57.6
17   Joe Medwick         67.1   46.5   56.8*
18   George Foster       62.7   50.8   56.8
19   Jimmy Sheckard      63.9   42.8   53.4
20   Bob Johnson         63.7   41.7   52.7
21   Goose Goslin        61.9   43.1   52.5**
22   Joe Kelley          59.9   44.9   52.4**
27   Zack Wheat          61.8   38.2   50.0**
29   Billy Williams      59.2   38.8   49.0*
35   Jim Rice            55.1   39.6   47.4
38   Ralph Kiner         47.9   43.4   45.7*
39   Lou Brock           54.6   36.0   45.3*
75   Chick Hafey         31.8   28.9   30.4**
81   Heinie Manush       31.3   27.1   29.2**
*: BBWAA-elected
**: VC-selected

Raines outdoes seven BBWAA-elected left fielders as well as every single Veterans Committee(s) selection from among the game's left fielders. If the rankings sounds crazy, consider that the New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract ranked Raines eighth back in 2001. Anyway, via the revised replacement level, Raines' overall WARP score ranks 63rd all-time, 46th among hitters. His peak score ranks 93rd all-time, 63rd among hitters, and his JAWS is 68th all-time, 47th among hitters. If those numbers sound low, consider that the Hall of Fame contains 200 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 ranks easily in the upper half or upper third of that august group, depending upon which measure you choose.

Raines is often slighted because he doesn't measure up to Henderson. 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 (and better than Henderson's 80.8 percent), that skill doesn't really register in today's power-saturated age, limiting the impression of his all-around ability. But Raines does measure up to another Hall of Fame contemporary, 2007 inductee Tony Gwynn. Their JAWS totals are very similar (97.5/55.5/76.5 for Gwynn, just 1.9 higher), and Raines outdistances the benchmark for left fielders by 12.1 JAWS points, while Gwynn rates just 6.4 JAWS points above the benchmark for right fielders. 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  .307  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 virtually equal in value 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 have languished outside for more than five seconds, let alone one year. Last year's vote total was a gross injustice, and while it's possible the writers are dragging their heels to guarantee the obviously superior Henderson is elected first, there's no question that Raines deserves induction as well.

Jay Jaffe is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jay's other articles. You can contact Jay by clicking here

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