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January 8, 2009
Prospectus Hit and Run
Andre and Onward
Having already analyzed the candidacies of Rickey Henderson, Tim Raines, and Jim Rice at length via the JAWS system, we're going to hop on the expressway to clear the other half-dozen outfielders on the BBWAA ballot. The cream of the remaining crop is Andre Dawson, who has received at least 50 percent of the vote in each of the past six years, with a high of 65.9 percent last year. He's just reaching the midpoint of his protracted candidacy, and Dawson, even moreso than Rice, is approaching near-inevitable status for election to the Hall of Fame. His case, however, is not without its holes.
If you're joining us late, please read this year's introduction to JAWS and the changes in the underlying WARP metric since last year's evaluation. The WARP totals you see here are not yet reflected in our player cards online; they measure from a higher replacement level than was previously used.
H HR RBI AVG OBP SLG AS MVP GG HOFS HOFM Bal 2008% Ron Gant 1651 321 1008 .256 .336 .468 2 0 0 26.0 41.5 0 --- Rickey Henderson 3055 297 1115 .279 .401 .419 10 1 1 52.6 183.5 0 --- Tim Raines 2605 170 980 .294 .385 .425 7 0 0 46.8 90.0 1 24.30 Jim Rice 2452 382 1451 .298 .352 .502 7 1 0 42.9 147.0 14 72.20 Greg Vaughn 1475 355 1072 .242 .337 .470 4 0 0 25.0 50.0 0 --- Andre Dawson 2774 438 1591 .279 .323 .482 8 1 8 43.7 117.5 7 65.90 Dale Murphy 2111 398 1266 .265 .346 .469 7 2 5 34.3 115.5 10 13.80 Harold Baines 2866 384 1628 .289 .356 .465 6 0 0 43.5 66.5 2 5.20 Dave Parker 2712 339 1493 .290 .339 .471 7 1 3 41.1 125.5 12 15.10 EqA BRAR BRAA FRAA Career Peak JAWS Gant .279 388 162 -50 34.4 27.0 30.7 Henderson .316 1285 906 194 155.7 74.9 115.3 Raines .309 905 608 8 94.3 54.9 74.6 Rice .293 627 359 -41 55.1 39.6 47.4 Vaughn .281 392 175 18 38.4 32.4 35.4 AVG HOF LF .303 743 473 2 76.8 48.2 62.5 Dawson .285 671 334 -66 66.3 45.6 56.0 Murphy .287 555 283 -98 50.0 41.1 45.6 AVG HOF CF .307 733 484 10 84.2 52.5 68.4 Baines .291 731 405 -24 63.3 32.3 47.8 Parker .285 614 303 31 58.4 46.0 52.2 AVG HOF RF .306 804 526 35 87.9 52.2 70.1
Chosen by the Expos in the 11th round of the 1975 draft out of Florida A&M, Dawson rocketed through the minors, reaching Montreal at the tail end of 1976 after hitting .352/.407/.658 with 28 home runs split between Double-A and Triple-A. "The Hawk" was in the majors for good at 22, and 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 carried major ramifications for the club's improvement, as he bumped Ellis Valentine from center field to right field 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 home runs in 1980, Dawson turned a corner by improving his plate discipline markedly, setting career highs in all three triple-slash categories as he hit .308/.358/.492, a season worth 7.3 WARP under Clay Davenport's revised WARP metric. Joined by the rookie Raines in 1981, he helped propel the Expos to their only post-season appearance with a .302/.365/.553 performance, crushing 24 homers and stealing 26 bases in the strike-shortened year, good for a career-best 9.1 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 (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 1980-1983 span constituted the most valuable stretch of Dawson's career, worth 31.9 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. Under the revised WARP totals, his entire 1984-1986 span was worth just 7.1 WARP, due in part to a huge drop in defensive value; the Davenport system shows him at -18 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, having enjoyed a slight rebound offensively (.284/.338/.478 with 20 home runs and 18 steals). Unfortunately, the baseball industry was amid its collusion phase, and Dawson was one of several high-profile free agents who were frozen out by the owners. Teammate Raines was another; he wound up returning to the Expos on May 1 of the 1987 season. Aided by agent Dick Moss, Dawson campaigned to join the Cubs; he thought that playing on Wrigley Field's grass would help his knees, and he had hit .306 in the daytime for his career there, .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.
The Cubs paid Dawson $500,000-less than half his salary for the previous year-plus incentives. For their money, they got a bargain, as Dawson bashed a career-high 49 homers, leading the league in that category, RBI (137), and total bases (353). The Cubs went 76-85 that year, tailing off dramatically after a 39-31 start that had them in contention, but it wasn't enough to prevent Dawson from becoming the first player ever to win an MVP award while toiling for a last-place club. A closer look suggests one of the more dubious awards in MVP history. Dawson hit .287/.328/.568 in a year of inflated offense; his .289 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 4.0 WARP, which tied for the 45th-highest total in the NL. Tony Gwynn and Bob Welch tied for the league lead at 9.4, while Rick Sutcliffe led the Cubs with 8.6, with Lee Smith finishing second at 4.9 WARP, and Dawson third. Dawson was the most valuable hitter on a last-place ballclub, taking such advantage of a hitter-friendly park that he hit .332/.373/.668 at home, but just .246/.288/.480 on the road-this is the basis of his MVP award.
Dawson never came close to hitting 49 home runs again, topping 30 only once (31 in 1991), and topping 4.0 WARP just once more (4.6 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 he hit just .252/.307/.476 and missed five week due to arthroscopic surgery in his right knee, just his second stint on the disabled list in his career. Alas, trips to the DL became an annual occurrence after he departed the Cubs, first spending two years with the Red Sox and then two years with 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 (at 39 to 41 years old), 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 Jim Rice. Compiled over a 21-year career, the Hawk's 2,774 hits (45th all-time), 438 homers (36th), 4,787 total bases (25th), 314 steals, eight All-Star appearances, eight Gold Gloves, and MVP award are robust enough when taken at face value. 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 per year, losing about two full seasons over that span, the 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 (117.5), 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 18 wins shy on the career level and seven wins shy (one per year) 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 83.4 career/51.0 peak/67.2 JAWS, doesn't enhance his case either. His seven-year peak score ranks only 253rd all-time, below even fellow candidate Dave Parker, and 23rd among center fielders, well below such obvious non-HOFers like Cesar Cedeno, Brett Butler, Kenny Lofton, Mike Cameron, and Devon White; it would rank 33rd among right fielders, between Parker and Brian Giles.
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 reflect 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 home runs. 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 27 in that category, and a lower OBP than all but Rabbit Maranville, Luis Aparicio, and Brooks Robinson, all of whom had far more defensive value to offset such a major shortcoming. An admirable player, but not one worthy of a Hall of Fame vote.
As for the other holdovers, the candidacies of contemporaries Parker and Murphy, as well as the more recent Harold Baines, are cold cases based on their BBWAA vote totals. The revised WARP system keeps all three far enough behind Dawson on the JAWS scale, though Parker closes the gap considerably relative to years past. In the interest of space, I'll simply refer you to last year's piece for the nuts and bolts of their cases. As for Ron Gant and Greg Vaughn, neither has anywhere near the credentials, traditional or sabermetric, to approach the Dawson-Murphy-Parker-Rice quartet, but they get their day for what's likely to be their only ballot appearance.
Gant brought power and speed to the beginning of the Braves' dynasty of the Nineties. A fourth-round pick in 1983, he reached the majors as a second baseman in 1987, finishing fourth in the Rookie of the Year voting the following year after hitting 19 homers and stealing 19 bases. He hit .259/.317/.439 that year, but horrible defense at the keystone (-27 FRAA) limited him to 1.4 WARP. He tried third base amid a miserable 1989 campaign in which he spent nearly half the year back in the minors because of his failure to cross the Mendoza Line (.177/.237/.335). His year wasn't a complete loss, however, as he learned to play the outfield while back in the minors. He spent the next two years as the Braves' regular center fielder and put up back-to-back 30-30 seasons, a feat which put him in the exclusive company of Willie Mays and Bobby Bonds. His .303/.357/.539 line in 1990 led to a career-high 5.4 WARP, while his .251/.338/.496 showing in 1991 helped the Braves capture their first NL pennant since 1958.
Shifting to left field the following year, Gant's performance dipped, but he rebounded to club a career-high 36 home runs in 1993, hitting .274/.345/.510 and finishing a career-best fifth in the MVP voting. A year shy of free agency at age 28, he signed a one-year, $5.5 million contract, the largest single-year pact in baseball history to that point. Alas, he fractured his tibia and fibula in an off-road dirt bike accident in February 1994, and surgery ended his season before it began. Furious, the Braves explored voiding his contract entirely before releasing him with 30 days termination pay (about $900,000). He signed with the Reds but didn't play until the following year, thus beginning the second phase of his career as a nomadic slugger for hire, first in Cincinnati, then in St. Louis, Philadelphia, Anaheim, Colorado, Oakland, San Diego, and back to Oakland. He helped the Reds win the NL Central with a 29-homer, 5.0-WARP showing that earned him NL Comeback Player of the Year honors in 1995, and helped the Cardinals win the Central the following year with a 30-homer, 3.8-WARP campaign, his last time topping 3.0 WARP. He's got no claim on a vote, and one can only wonder how much that broken leg really cost him.
As for Vaughn, he was a big, beefy slugger who gave the Brewers' fans something to cheer about during some relatively lean years. Drafted no less than five times (including the twice-annual secondary phases reserved for players who had already been drafted in the primary phase), he wound up signing with Milwaukee in 1986, two years after they'd chosen him for the first time. Vaughn bashed 115 home runs over four minor league seasons before reaching the majors for good in 1989. He topped 20 homers three times in his first five seasons, but only cleared a .250 batting average twice, which suppressed his on-base and slugging percentages considerably. The Brewers, with the peak years of Gorman Thomas and Rob Deer still fresh in memory, understood his value better than most, and strong defensive numbers (+39 FRAA from 1991 through 1993) helped him total 15.5 WARP over a three-year span, a better stretch than Gant ever enjoyed.
Oddly, Vaughn's fate in Milwaukee was sealed by his success. He bashed 31 homers in the Brewers' first 105 games in 1996. Already making $5.875 million-28.6 percent of the team's Opening Day payroll-on a .500-ish club that had faded from contention, and likely to depart as a free agent at season's end, he was a deadline deal waiting to happen. Sent to San Diego for three players (Bryce Florie, Marc Newfield, and Ron Villone)-a trade that was seen as lopsided in the Brewers' favor-he hit just .206 for the division-winning Padres, though his 10 post-trade home runs ranked third on the nearly powerless Pads. Still, -11 defense in left kept his value at 3.0 WARP for a 41-homer, 117-RBI season in which he hit .260/.365/.539. Thanks to some lobbying on his behalf by Tony Gwynn and Ken Caminiti, he re-signed with the Padres, and while he was terrible in 1997, he bashed 50 homers in 1998, third in the league behind the much more heralded Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, and accumulating a career-high 6.8 WARP. Even better, he helped the Pads win the NL pennant, but despite his two World Series home runs, the team was swept by the mighty Yankees.
Eager for his team to shed salary and become younger, Padres GM Kevin Towers traded Vaughn and Mark Sweeney to the Reds that winter in a deal for Damian Jackson, Reggie Sanders, and Josh Harris. Vaughn barely missed a beat, cracking 45 homers, again good for third in the league. He hit free agency again, signing a four-year, $34 million deal with the Devil Rays, an absurd move for a third-year expansion team that thought if it had a top ten payroll it might suddenly attain relevance. Vaughn wasn't horrible in the first two years of the deal, but the fading slugger did nothing to lift the Devil Rays to the elusive 70-win plateau. Everything went pear-shaped in 2002, when a shoulder injury limited him to just 69 games and a pathetic .163/.286/.315 showing, and the Devil Rays released him the following spring, eating more than $9 million in salary. A five-week stint with the Rockies that summer confirmed he was done, bringing the curtain down on an interesting but hardly Cooperstown-worthy career.
So we conclude the outfield portion of the 2009 ballot with votes for just two of the nine candidates, Rickey Henderson and Tim Raines. I'll be back to run through the remainder of the hitters later this week.