December 31, 2009
Prospectus Hit and Run
Hall of Fame Cases for Outfielders
Player H HR RBI AVG OBP SLG AS MVP GG HoFS HoFM Bal 2009% Ray Lankford 1561 238 874 .272 .364 .477 1 0 0 26.0 22.0 0 N/A Tim Raines 2605 170 980 .294 .385 .425 7 0 0 46.8 90.0 2 22.6% Ellis Burks 2107 352 1206 .291 .363 .510 2 0 1 42.0 50.0 0 N/A Andre Dawson 2774 438 1591 .279 .323 .482 8 1 8 43.7 117.5 8 67.0% Dale Murphy 2111 398 1266 .265 .346 .469 7 2 5 34.3 115.5 11 11.5% Harold Baines 2866 384 1628 .289 .356 .465 6 0 0 43.5 66.5 3 5.9% Dave Parker 2712 339 1493 .290 .339 .471 7 1 3 41.1 125.5 13 15.0% Player EqA RARP RAP FRAA Career Peak JAWS Raines .306 708 411 16 81.7 51.4 66.6 AVG HoF LF .302 548 273 4 65.3 42.1 53.7 Dawson .285 527 190 -11 59.6 40.2 49.9 Murphy .287 459 186 -54 45.3 41.6 43.5 Lankford .291 382 184 -20 41.1 32.3 36.7 Burks .287 397 156 -40 40.2 29.9 35.1 AVG HoF CF .306 565 316 21 68.8 44.2 56.5 Baines .282 389 62 34 48.4 28.3 38.4 Parker .283 402 90 -40 40.2 35.9 38.1 AVG HoF RF .305 597 321 38 75.7 46.6 61.2 AVG HoF OF .304 572 303 22 70.3 44.4 57.4
For the purposes of space, the first order of business is to concede that the candidacies of contemporaries Dave Parker and Dale Murphy, as well as the more recent Harold Baines, are cold cases based on their BBWAA vote totals and their JAWS scores. I've dissected each of them multiple times during the seven ballots I've covered at Baseball Prospectus; indeed, Parker, Murphy, and Andre Dawson date back to my BP debut, as do Alan Trammell and Don Mattingly. The WARP revisions keep Parker and Murphy well out of range, so we'll save the space for the newcomers and the more serious candidates.
Tim Raines received a full-length treatment of his case last year, so I'll attempt to offer a slightly more concise version here. Chosen in the fifth round of the 1977 draft by the Expos as a 5'8", 17-year-old switch-hitting shortstop, Raines played primarily as a second baseman in the minors, earning September cameos as a pinch runner in 1979 and 1980 before becoming the Expos' Opening Day left fielder in 1981. 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, and while Raines broke a bone in his hand in mid-September, he 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, 3.1 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 (1983-1987) in which he hit a cumulative .318/.406/.467, averaging 114 runs scored, 11 homers, 71 steals, and 7.7 WARP, never falling below 6.4. According to the latest WARP revisions, he was the major's second-most valuable player over that span:
Rank Player WARP 1 Cal Ripken 41.8 2 Tim Raines 38.7 3 Alan Trammell 38.3 4 Mike Schmidt 36.6 5 Wade Boggs 35.9 6 Rickey Henderson 33.7 7 Ozzie Smith 32.5 8 Gary Carter 31.5 9 Tony Gwynn 30.9 10 Keith Hernandez 28.8
Raines' 1985 season, in which he hit .320/.405/.475, ranks as his most valuable, worth 9.5 WARP (third behind Dwight Gooden's amazing 11.7 and Pedro Guerrero's 9.7). He followed that up by winning the NL batting title in 1986, hitting .334. Just 27 at 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, turning a Saturday afternoon NBC Game of the Week against the Mets at Shea Stadium into The Tim Raines Comeback Extravaganza by bookending a first-inning triple off of David Cone and a 10th-inning, game-winning grand slam off of Jesse Orosco into a 5 3 4 4 boxscore line. 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. Even missing a month, he led the league in runs scored with 123. His 7.7 WARP ranked fifth in the league, but the MVP Award notoriously went to Dawson, whose paltry 3.3 WARP ranked 44th. Raines only finished seventh in the award voting, part of a long-standing pattern of neglect by the BBWAA voters; though he received MVP votes in seven separate seasons, he never finished higher than fifth.
Beyond that 1983-87 peak, injuries cut into Raines' playing time. 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 his 1992 campaign (6.8 WARP). 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. Traded to the Yankees in December 1995, he was forced into a fourth outfielder/elder statesman role due to hamstring woes, but earned two World Series rings while hitting a cumulative .299/.395/.429 in his three years in pinstripes. He made further stops in Oakland, Montreal, Baltimore, and Florida before retiring at the end of the 2001 season.
According to JAWS, Raines compares quite favorably to the average Hall of Fame left fielder, breezing past both career and peak benchmarks. Two years ago, 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 revisions have bumped him all the way to fifth, albeit substantially behind Bonds, Musial, Williams, and Henderson:
Rank Player Career Peak JAWS 1 Barry Bonds 186.2 83.1 134.7 2 Stan Musial 137.0 70.2 103.6* 3 Ted Williams 117.5 67.9 92.7* 4 Rickey Henderson 119.4 57.8 88.6* 5 Tim Raines 81.7 51.4 66.6 6 Ed Delahanty 73.2 54.1 63.7** 7 Manny Ramirez 73.1 40.1 56.6 8 Carl Yastrzemski 68.8 41.8 55.3* 9 Willie Stargell 66.0 42.6 54.3* 10 Fred Clarke 67.5 38.0 52.8** * BBWAA-elected Hall of Famer ** VC-elected Hall of Famer
Raines outdoes eight BBWAA-elected left fielders, as well as all nine VC-elected left fielders. If the rankings sounds crazy, consider that the New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract ranked Raines eighth among left fielders back in 2001-he was that good. As for 2009 inductee Jim Rice, he ranks 49th among left fielders on the JAWS scale. Via the revised replacement level, Raines' overall WARP score ranks 57th all-time among all players, and 38th among hitters. His peak score ranks 64th all-time, 45th among hitters, and his JAWS is 55th all-time, 37th among hitters.
Raines is often slighted because he doesn't measure up to Rickey Henderson, his direct contemporary and a 2009 Hall of Fame inductee. 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 (better even 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 (78.5/48.4/63.5 for Gwynn, who has fallen behind after holding a 1.9-point edge last year), and Raines outdistances the left field benchmark by 12.9 JAWS points, while Gwynn rates just 2.3 JAWS points above the right field benchmark. 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 .306 170 838 3977 3771 5805 1517 980
By way of explanation, 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 EqA and WARP valuations, but it's nonetheless a worthwhile comparison for those wishing to stick to traditional counting stats. The conclusion is the same: Gwynn and 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 two years. Raines' vote totals to date have been a gross injustice, and while it's possible the writers were dragging their heels to guarantee the superior Henderson be elected first, there's no question his name belongs on those ballots as well.
Instead, it's likely that former teammate Dawson will be the one whose name is on those ballots, particularly given that after garnering 67 percent of the vote last year, he's within range of election. Like Raines, I covered Dawson's case at length last year, so again I'll attempt a somewhat more concise route. Chosen by the Expos in the 11th round of the 1975 draft out of Florida A&M, Dawson reached Montreal at the tail end of 1976. "The Hawk" would remain on the scene for the next 20 years.
Dawson debuted with an Expos team that went 55-107, the second-worst showing in franchise history after their 1969 inaugural. His arrival bumped Ellis Valentine from center field to right, and thus pushed right fielder/catcher (and future Hall of Famer) Gary Carter behind the plate for good. Dawson won Rookie of the Year honors in 1977 on the strength of a .282/.326/.474 performance-a line that's almost a dead ringer for his career triple-slash rates-with 19 homers and 21 steals. He would bash 25 homers in each of the next two years, but plate discipline was a major problem; he struck out more than four times as often as he walked, and struggled to keep his OBP above .300. Nonetheless, his 35 steals and 12 triples in 1979 testified to the exceptional speed which went with his power.
Though he dipped to 17 homers in 1980, Dawson turned a corner by improving his plate discipline markedly and setting career highs in all three triple-slash categories with a .308/.358/.492 season, worth 6.7 WARP. Joined by the rookie Raines in 1981, he helped propel the Expos to their only postseason appearance with a .302/.365/.553 performance, crushing 24 homers and stealing 26 bases in the strike-shortened year, good for a career-best 9.3 WARP, the runner-up spot to Mike Schmidt in the MVP voting, and his first All-Star appearance. He would again finish as MVP runner-up in 1983 (this time to Dale Murphy) after a 32-homer season in which he led the league in both hits and total bases and finished second in slugging percentage (.539).
The 1980-83 span constituted the most valuable stretch of Dawson's career, worth 28.9 WARP over those four years. His value began eroding in 1984, as knee problems related to an old football injury and exacerbated by Olympic Stadium's artificial turf took their toll. Shifting to right field, he slumped to an abysmal .248/.301/.409 and failed to steal 20 bases for the first time in his career; he would never reach that plateau again. His entire 1984-1986 span was worth just 5.8 WARP due in part to a huge drop in defensive value; the Davenport system shows him at -10 runs in 1986-the sole year in the 1980-1988 stretch in which he failed to win a Gold Glove.
Dawson reached free agency after that season, but unfortunately, the baseball industry was amid collusion, and like Raines, Dawson was one of several high-profile free agents who were frozen out by owners. Aided by agent Dick Moss, Dawson campaigned to join the Cubs because he thought playing on Wrigley Field's grass would help his knees and because he'd hit .306 in the daytime for his career, .265 at night. Dawson and Moss famously gave Cubs GM Dallas Green a signed one-year contract with a blank for the salary, shaming the team into signing him.
Paying Dawson $500,000, or less than half his salary for the previous year, plus incentives, the Cubs got a bargain, as Dawson bashed a career-high 49 homers, leading the league in that category, RBI (137), and total bases (353). He did so by hitting .332/.373/.668 at the Friendly Confines but just .246/.288/.480 on the road, all for a team that went 76-85, tailing off dramatically after a 39-31 start. Dawson thus became the first player ever to win an MVP award while toiling for a last-place club-one of the more dubious awards in baseball history. Given his 287/.328/.568 in a year of inflated offense, his .290 Equivalent Average ranked 17th in the league, and his slightly subpar defense in right field (-3 FRAA, but deemed Gold Glove-worthy by voters) kept his value at just 3.3 WARP, which tied for the 44th-highest total in the NL.
Dawson never came close to hitting 49 homers again, topping 30 only once (31 in 1991), and topping 4.0 WARP just once more (4.1 in 1988). He played for the Cubs until 1992, reaching the playoffs as part of their NL East-winning club in 1989, a subpar year in which knee surgery led to just his second stint on the disabled list in his career. Trips to the DL became an annual occurrence after he departed the Cubs for the Red Sox and eventually his hometown Marlins. Even with the DH role to protect him in Boston, his playing time decreased each year; he drew just 613 plate appearances over his final three seasons (age 39 to 41 years), throttling his fading hopes of reaching 3,000 hits.
On the traditional merits, it's much easier to understand why Dawson's Hall of Fame case resonates with the majority of BBWAA voters than that of Rice. Compiled over a 21-year career, the Hawk's 2,774 hits (45th all time), 438 homers (36th), 4787 total bases (25th), 314 steals, eight All-Star appearances, eight Gold Gloves, and 1987 MVP Award are robust, and they gain even more traction given the mental math regarding his injuries; from 1977 to 1993, the heart of his career, he averaged just 141 games a year, losing about two full seasons, a key factor in his falling short of the 3,000 Hit and 500 Home Run clubs. His paleo-sabermetric credentials are sound as well: an above-average Hall of Fame Monitor score (118), a Similarity Score in which his top two comparables-Billy Williams and Tony Perez-are in Cooperstown, as are five of his top 10 (Al Kaline, Ernie Banks and Dave Winfield being the others), and the seventh-best Power-Speed number of all time.
Nonetheless, according to JAWS, Dawson comes up well short of the Hall of Fame standards for center fielders, falling about nine wins shy on the career level, and four wins shy on the peak level. Judging him as a right fielder-where he actually played more games (1,284 to 1,027) but accumulated fewer WARP-doesn't help, as the standards are even higher there, and putting him in the mix with all Hall of Fame outfielders, who average 70.3 career/44.4 peak/57.4 JAWS, doesn't enhance his case either. His seven-year peak score ranks only 243rd of all time, and 19th among center fielders, below non-HoFers like Jim Edmonds, Jimmy Wynn, Bernie Williams, and Brett Butler; it would rank 25th among right fielders.
The heart of the problem is Dawson's .323 career OBP, nine points below the park-adjusted league average for his time. Like Rice, his walk totals certainly don't support the notion that he was a feared hitter; his career high was just 44, and for unintentional walks, it was 39. In 1987, he drew just 25 unintentionals to go with his 49 homers. The result was a hitter who consumed outs like Babe Ruth ate hot dogs. Dawson ranks 20th all-time in outs (AB - H + CS + GIDP), and while he's in good company among Hall of Famers and would-be Hall of Famers there, he's got the lowest PA total of any of the top 30 in that category. An admirable player, but not one worthy of a Hall of Fame vote.
A third-round pick by the Cardinals in 1987, Ray Lankford was tasked with the responsibility of filling the big shoes of Willie McGee as the team's center fielder. Just eight days after his major-league debut, McGee-in the midst of a season in which he would win the NL batting title-was traded to the A's. Lankford brought a nice blend of speed and power to the job, emerging as a force during his second full season, when he hit .293/.371/.480 with 20 homers and 42 steals, good for a career-high 7.4 WARP. Though his batting averages and slugging percentages ebbed and flowed over the next eight seasons amid various injuries, Lankford's OBP never dipped below .359 during that span. He reached the 20-20 club four more times, setting a career high with 31 homers in 1997 and matching it in 1998 while hitting behind Mark McGwire as the latter shattered Roger Maris' single-season home run record.
A slightly subpar defender in center field (with a Rate2 of 98 for his career, two runs below average per 100 games), Lankford moved out of the middle pasture after the 1998 season, having undergone offseason knee surgery; rookie J.D. Drew took over in center. Lankford totaled less than 7.0 WARP over the next three years, putting up decent numbers at the plate when available but averaging just 127 games a year. He was traded to the Padres in August 2001 for Woody Williams. After missing much of the 2002 season due to a hamstring strain, he sat out all of 2003 before returning to the Cardinals for one final-and of course injury-marred-spin in 2004.
Having totaled just 554 games after his age-31 season, Lankford's numbers aren't anywhere close to Hall of Fame caliber, though he does have his advocates. Future BP colleague Marc Normandin named a whole theoretical wing of the Hall after him, dedicated to great players whose careers were too short to gain election. That'll have to do.
Like Lankford, Ellis Burks' career was dogged by injuries, though he battled them long enough to spend parts of 18 seasons in the majors. The 20th pick of the 1983 draft, he joined a Red Sox outfield that often saw him flanked by Jim Rice and Dwight Evans during his rookie season in 1987. Though he hit 20 homers and stole 27 bases that year, subpar defense (-7 FRAA) and a meager .272/.324/.441 line in a high-offense year limited him to just 0.7 WARP. Burks averaged just 120 games per year during his six seasons in Boston due to injuries, missing 65 games due to shoulder woes in 1989, and playing just 66 games in 1992 due to a back injury. Even beyond the injuries, it wasn't a particularly happy period; at times Burks was the only African-American player on a team-and representing a city-whose history of dealing with racial issues was none too impressive. Worse, manager Joe Morgan (no, the one who couldn't hit his hat size) questioned his conditioning and effort.
Burks moved onto the White Sox via free agency in 1993, the only time in a five-season span he would total more than 130 games, and to the Rockies in 1994, but it wasn't until 1996 that he really found a groove. Playing half his games in the thin air of Colorado, he hit .344/.408/.639, leading the league in slugging percentage, total bases (392), and runs (142) while joining Vinny Castilla and Andres Galarraga in becoming just the second trio of teammates to reach the 40-homer plateau. He also joined the 30-30 club by stealing 32 bases, the only time in his career after 1989 he would even reach double digits. He finished third in the NL MVP voting that year behind Ken Caminiti and Mike Piazza, though his 5.6 WARP-the second-highest total of his career-ranked just 16th in the league.
Burks couldn't come close to matching those numbers during his next season-and-change with the Rockies, but he did enjoy a late-career renaissance after being traded to the Giants in mid-1998. He hit a combined .301/.384/.562 from 1999-2002 with the Giants and Indians, reaching the 30-homer plateau twice despite averaging just 126 games per year. He set career highs with 5.7 WARP and a .340 EqA in 2000, batting .344/.419/.606 in 122 games. After wrist and elbow injuries marred his 2003, he came full circle by rejoining the Red Sox for 2004-by then a much more progressive franchise-but a pair of knee surgeries limited him to just 11 games, only two of them after April. All told, while he averaged 29 homers per 162 games, Burks only played in 140 or more games five times, and only topped 3.0 WARP five times, leaving him no real case for the Hall of Fame either on the traditional merits or the JAWS ones.
So, having analyzed the outfielders, Tim Raines joins Mark McGwire, Roberto Alomar, Barry Larkin, Alan Trammell, and Edgar Martinez as worthy of spots in Cooperstown according to JAWS. I'll squeeze in the pitchers sometime between New Year's Day and the announcement of the voting results on January 6. In the meantime, thanks to all of you readers for your support during a great 2009, and best wishes for a wonderful 2010.