December 23, 2009
Prospectus Hit and Run
Hall of Fame Cases at Third and Short
Having kicked off this year's JAWS series and addressed the Hall of Fame candidates on the right side of the infield on Monday, we can now turn our attention to the left side today. It's a pretty fair crop, to say the least.
Player H HR RBI AVG OBP SLG AS MVP GG HoFS HoFM Bal 2009% Barry Larkin 2340 198 960 .295 .371 .444 12 1 3 47.0 118.0 0 N/A Alan Trammell 2365 185 1003 .285 .352 .415 6 0 4 40.4 119.0 8 17.4% Player EqA RARP RAP FRAA Career Peak JAWS Larkin .291 707 443 60 86.2 53.6 69.9 Trammell .273 584 301 108 78.1 52.8 65.5 AVG HoF SS .274 477 204 105 70.0 47.9 59.0
Cincinnati native Barry Larkin graduated from Moeller High School, the same private Catholic school that produced Buddy Bell, David Bell, and Ken Griffey Jr., among other major leaguers, and he spent his entire 19-season major-league career with the hometown team. The Reds drafted him in the second round in 1982, then came back three years later to make him the fourth pick overall after he detoured to the University of Michigan. By August of the following year, he was the Reds' starting shortstop, mentored by none other than Davey Concepcion, the defensive linchpin of the Big Red Machine. Though both shortstops would surrender their titles as the starter to lesser lights late in their careers, the two provided the Reds with a remarkable amount of continuity in the middle infield from 1970 to 2004, a quarter of a century.
Larkin's first big year came in 1988, when he hit .296/.347/.429 and stole 40 bases, good for 7.2 WARP as well as his first All-Star appearance. He jumped out to a tremendous start the following year, carrying a .340/.368/.444 line into the All-Star break, but suffered a torn medial collateral ligament in a skills competition the day before the game, and missed nearly two months, the first major injury in a career that would be dogged by them. He rebounded the following year, batting .301/.358/.396 for a Reds team that led the NL West virtually wire-to-wire under new manager Lou Piniella, and wound up sweeping the A's in the 1990 World Series. Larkin hit .353/.421/.529 in the series, but was overshadowed by a Reds staff that held the A's to just seven runs in the four games, with Jose Rijo's two wins and the "Nasty Boys" shutdown relief work drawing most of the attention.
Larkin totaled 8.6 WARP in 1990, and topped that with a career-high 8.7 the following year while hitting .302/.378/.506 with 20 homers, at one point becoming the first shortstop ever to homer in five straight games. Even so, he played in just 123 games that year due to further elbow woes as the team slumped to fifth place. He wound up averaging just 121 games a year across the 1991-1995 stretch, serving DL stints in three of those seasons; the 1994-1995 strike was a factor in depressing that total as well. Larkin did put together a fantastic season in 1995, batting .319/.394/.492 with 15 homers and for a team that won the NL Central under Davey Johnson, then swept the Dodgers in the Divisional Series before being swept by the Braves in the NLCS. He was voted the league's MVP, beating out Greg Maddux, Mike Piazza, and Dante Bichette (no, really). He followed that up with a monster campaign in which he avoided the DL and hit .298/.410/.567, setting career-highs in OBP and slugging percentage and homers (33) and walks (96) and becoming the first shortstop ever to reach the 30-30 club (homers and stolen bases). For the remainder of his career, the returns diminished; Larkin continued to hit when available, but missed more than half of the 1997, 2001 and 2003 seasons, and averaged just 106 games over that eight-year stretch. His last big year came in 1999, a 6.7 WARP season in which he batted .293/.390/.420 for a team that lost a Game 163 wild-card play-in.
Even as injuries sapped his availability, Larkin remained in high regard. No less an authority than Bill James ranked him as the sixth-best shortstop in his New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract in 2001, writing that Larkin "is one of the ten most complete players in baseball history. He's a .300 hitter, has power, has speed, excellent defense, and is a good percentage player. He ranks with DiMaggio, Mays and a few others as the most well-rounded stars in baseball history."
Indeed, on a certain level, Larkin is a nearly flawless candidate for the Hall of Fame. He measures up very well on the JAWS scale, surpassing the standards on both the career and peak fronts by comfortable margins and covering all the bases as far as his traditional credentials go. A dozen All-Star appearances, a few Gold Gloves, an MVP award, a ring... the only area he ever fell short is that he never led the league in a statistical category. Small beer. He's worthy of a vote.
He's certainly worthy of a better fate on the ballot than Trammell, who has yet to break even 20 percent among BBWAA voters. Like Larkin, Trammell is inextricably linked with a single team, having spent 20 seasons as a Tiger, 15 of them as their regular shortstop. He arrived in late 1977 along with Lance Parrish and Jack Morris, and debuted in the same game as Lou Whitaker, his regular middle-infield partner through 1994. Excelling both at the plate and in the field, he led the World Champion 1984 Tigers in WARP (8.4) and won the World Series MVP by hitting .450/.500/.800. He should have been the AL MVP in 1987, when he went .343/.402/.551 with 28 HR and 105 RBI for the AL East-winning Tigers. He lost a very close vote to 47-homer outfielder George Bell in a year dominated by home runs. According to WARP, he was 4.6 wins better than Bell (10.0 to 5.4), and 2.4 better than Wade Boggs (7.6, off of a .363/.461/.588 year with 24 HR and 108 RBI), though previous iterations of WARP put Boggs ahead.
Trammell not only clears the JAWS standards by a wide margin, his score is better than all but five of the 20 shortstops in the Hall of Fame: Honus Wagner (111.6), Cal Ripken (83.4), Arky Vaughan (78.8), Ozzie Smith (70.6), and Lou Boudreau (68.4). Ripken and Smith were contemporaries, as was Robin Yount (57.4, after outranking Trammell in previous iterations). While Trammell is a step below Ripken and Smith in WARP, that's mostly a function of late-career playing time. He holds his own as far as EqA and fielding within that group, though Larkin fares even better:
Player EqA RARP RAP FRAA Career Peak JAWS Ripken .275 758 369 173 104.3 62.4 83.4 Smith .261 554 219 255 90.9 50.2 70.6 Larkin .291 707 443 60 86.2 53.6 69.9 Trammell .273 584 301 108 78.1 52.8 65.5 Yount .277 696 323 -89 68.5 46.2 57.4
Given the minimal traction Trammell's candidacy has gotten, there's reason to be concerned that voters' expectations for what constitute a great shortstop have been altered by Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter of the last decade and a half. That shouldn't detract from Trammell's case. Overall, his career, peak, and JAWS scores all rank eighth among all shortstops. That's a Hall of Famer.
Player H HR RBI AVG OBP SLG AS MVP GG HoFS HoFM Bal 2009% Edgar Martinez 2247 309 1261 .312 .418 .515 7 0 0 50.0 132.0 0 N/A Robin Ventura 1885 294 1182 .267 .362 .444 2 0 6 30.0 32.0 0 N/A Todd Zeile 2004 253 1110 .265 .346 .423 0 0 0 27.0 14.0 0 N/A Player EqA RARP RAP FRAA Career Peak JAWS Martinez .317 649 417 -34 68.9 46.4 57.7 Ventura .280 406 164 173 66.4 46.5 56.5 Zeile .269 289 29 -77 24.7 21.0 22.9 AVG HoF 3B .290 545 266 81 71.8 47.1 59.5 AVG HoF CornerInf .300 543 279 22 66.9 44.6 55.7 AVG HoF Hitter .295 540 278 46 69.5 45.4 57.5
Edgar Martinez is lumped in with the third basemen here because he played 562 games at the hot corner, though for the larger portion of his career, he was solely a designated hitter, with the emphasis on hitter, because Edgar could flat-out rake. He was a high-average, high-OBP machine with plenty of power, a key component of the squads that put a Mariners franchise that had known little success for its first decade and a half on the map as an AL West powerhouse. To a fan base that watched Ken Griffey Jr., Randy Johnson, and Alex Rodriguez force their ways out of town over contract issues, he was viewed a folk hero.
Born in New York City but raised in Puerto Rico, Martinez was signed by the Mariners as a non-drafted free agent in 1982. After receiving cups of coffee in 1987 and 1988, he was the team's Opening Day third baseman in 1989, but his poor performance (.240/.314/.304) couldn't keep him in the lineup or the majors for the entire season. Things came together in 1990-his age-27 season-when he hit .302/.397/.433. A year later, he was part of the first Mariners team to break .500 since its 1977 inception. In 1992 he won his first batting title, hitting .343/.404/.544, leading the league with 46 doubles, and finishing with 7.6 WARP, a total surpassed by only three AL hitters (Frank Thomas, Robin Ventura, and Mark McGwire).
Alas, Martinez was limited to 42 games the following year due to a left hamstring torn in an exhibition game, and 89 in the strike-scuttled 1994 season due to a bruised wrist. After that season, the Mariners decided they were better off relieving Martinez of his defensive responsibilities; he wasn't horrendous (93 Rate2, seven runs below average per 100 games), but his bat was far more important than his glove.
The decision paid off in spades in 1995, as Martinez tallied a career-high 8.6 WARP, hitting .356/.479/.628, leading the league in batting average, OBP, and doubles (52), and helping the Mariners to their first playoff berth in franchise history. No double was bigger than the one he hit off the Yankees' Jack McDowell in the 11th inning of the decisive Game Five of the Division Series. Down 5-4, with Joey Cora on second base, Griffey on first and nobody out, he pasted a pitch to left field that brought both runners around, ending the series in a dogpile at home plate. Martinez was a one-man wrecking crew in that series, batting .571/.667/1.000 with four-three hit efforts, reaching base safely 18 times in five games. The night before his double he'd belted two homers and driven in a postseason record seven runs, the last four of them on an eighth-inning grand slam that broke a 6-6 tie.
That 1995 season was the start of a seven-year stretch in which Martinez hit a combined .329/.446/.574 while averaging 42 doubles, 28 homers, 107 walks, and 6.2 WARP per year-even while contributing virtually zero defensive value (he played 33 games at third and first in that span). The Mariners reached the playoffs three more times on his watch, the last of them during their record-setting 116-win 2001 campaign. Martinez was hardly a window dresser for that team; he hit .306/.423/.543 with 40 doubles and 23 homers. He played three more seasons, hitting well for two of them, before retiring.
While Martinez isn't the first Hall of Fame candidate to have benefited from spending his twilight years as a designated hitter-Paul Molitor made the Hall largely on what he did there-his is an interesting test case for the voters because he played so few games elsewhere. I've lumped him in with the third basemen here to show how he measures up even with his meager defensive value. When considering total value (offense and defense), he falls short in a direct comparison to the Hall third basemen, but above the bar when compared to corner infielders, or to all Hall of Fame position players-useful aggregations when considering multi-position players or, inevitably, DHs. One doesn't even have to give him any extra credit for the late-career start, though we could note that Martinez ranks 26th among hitters in base hits from his age027 season onward, with only Pete Rose, Craig Biggio, Rafael Palmeiro, and Steve Finley not in the Hall yet from among that group.
If we leave the leather behind and simply compare him with the lumber, there's no doubt that Martinez ranks among the top 50 or so hitters of all time. He's 22nd all-time in OBP (3000 plate appearance minimum), and 30th in EqA (5000 PA minimum). Of the 29 players above him in the latter category, 19 are in the Hall, seven aren't yet eligible, one (Shoeless Joe Jackson) has been declared ineligible, and the other two are Dick Allen and Mark McGwire. The next 10 guys below him are Ralph Kiner, Willie Stargell, Elmer Flick, Joe Morgan, Alex Rodriguez, Mike Schmidt, Mike Piazza, Gary Sheffield, Arky Vaughan, and Jim Thome-very possibly all Hall of Famers some day. Furthermore, Martinez ranks 42nd all time in Runs Above Position, with a total bested by only 27 Hall of Famers.
His isn't a slam-dunk case, even by JAWS standards, and I don't expect Martinez to come anywhere close to making it in on the first ballot. Let's face it, hitters who derive a good portion of their value from OBP have been particularly ill-served by the voters-take Tim Raines, Ron Santo, or Bobby Grich, please. I do think Martinez belongs in Cooperstown, and that the voters who were snowed by the allegations of fear struck in the hearts of pitchers over Jim Rice (262nd all-time in EqA, ahem) ought to ask pitchers about the night sweats they experienced when facing Edgar.
Robin Ventura reached the major leagues having already put together one of the greatest careers in the history of college baseball. The only position player ever to be a three-time first-team All-American, he won Baseball America's Freshman of the Year Award in 1986 and their College Player of the Year award in 1987-the year he set an NCAA record with a 58-game hitting streak-before taking the Golden Spikes Award in 1988. Oh, and that year he helped the United States win an Olympic gold medal in baseball. He was inducted into the College Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006.
The White Sox made Ventura the 10th pick of the 1988 draft, and within two years, he was their starting third baseman. He didn't make much impact during his rookie season, at one point enduring an 0-for-41 slump, but in 1991, his second, he hit .284/.367/.442, bopped 23 homers, won a well-deserved Gold Glove (+21 FRAA), and finished with 7.5 WARP, second only to Frank Thomas in a lineup that also included Carlton Fisk, Tim Raines, Sammy Sosa, and Ozzie Guillen. He topped that the next year, setting career highs with a .302 EqA and 8.6 WARP-second only to Thomas among AL hitters-thanks to +27 defense, another Gold Glove, and his first All-Star appearance.
Ventura averaged 5.4 WARP per year over the next four years, helping the Sox to a division flag in 1993 and taking part in one of baseball's most memorable one-sided brawls. When Nolan Ryan hit him with a pitch, Ventura made the mistake of charging the mound, where the 46-year-old pitcher got him in a headlock and opened up a Texas-sized can of Whoop-Ass, punching him six times in the head and stomach. "Going after Nolan is like going after the Lincoln Memorial," said Indians manager Mike Hargrove. Laughing about the fight later, Ventura admitted that he was rethinking his decision halfway to the mound.
In 1995, Ventura became the eighth player ever to hit two grand slams in one game. Batting with the bases loaded was one of Ventura's specialties. He hit .340/.370/.676 in his career with the bags filled, clubbing 18 grand slams, good for fifth on the all-time list.
Ventura's career took a detour in 1997, when he broke and dislocated his right ankle sliding during a spring training game. Initially thought to be out for the season, he did return in time to play 54 games. The injury cost him what little speed he had, and given that fill-in third baseman Chris Snopek was 1.5 games below replacement level on a team that finished 80-81, six games behind the Indians, basically cost the White Sox a shot at the AL Central title. Ventura left the South Side as a free agent after the 1998 season, signing a three-year, $23 million deal with the Mets. He had an immediate impact, tallying 7.8 WARP via a .301/.379/.529 season with 32 homers and 120 RBI for a team that won the National League Wild Card and advanced to the NLCS. There he produced yet another memorable moment. With the Mets facing elimination in Game Five, down three games to one and tied 3-3 in the bottom of the 15th inning, Ventura knocked a Kevin McGlinchy pitch over the wall in right-center, an apparent grand slam. However, in the ensuing celebration, his teammates, led by Pratt, mobbed him near second base. Since he never completed his trip around the basepaths, the hit was ruled a single-the "Grand Slam Single."
Ventura slumped the following year (.232/.338/.439), and he would never again finish with a .250 batting average, but he still helped the Mets reach the 2000 World Series against the Yankees. He was traded across town after the following season and earned All-Star honors for just the second time in his career, batting .247/.368/.458 with 27 homers and +10 defense, good for 4.6 WARP. His hitting continued to decline, however, and on July 31, 2003, he was traded to the Dodgers for Bubba Crosby and Scott Proctor, with the Yankees trading for Aaron Boone to man the hot corner; that turned out pretty well. Meanwhile, Ventura was reduced to being a bench bat on the Dodgers, who won the NL West in 2004. He received just 175 plate appearances during his final season.
Ventura's JAWS case is surprisingly robust thanks to the WARP system's high opinion of his defensive work. He certainly was well-regarded in his time, winning six Gold Gloves, but it comes as a surprise to find that his 172 Fielding Runs Above Average at third base ranks fourth all-time behind Brooks Robinson (+262), Scott Rolen (+184), and Clete Boyer (+175), edging out Jimmy Collins (+170) and Tim Wallach (+164). While Clay Davenport is working to develop a play-by-play-based defensive system that goes back further than what's currently in our annual books, the only play-by-play based system which covers his career is Sean Smith's Total Zone Rating, which values his defense at a robust 154 runs, still behind Robinson (268) but ahead of Boyer (146), Rolen (141), and Wallach (68). In other words, while there's some consistency across metrics, there are nonetheless wide discrepancies for seemingly comparable defenders, on the order of multiple wins.
Beyond what may be an inflated opinion of his D, Ventura's Cooperstown case isn't all that convincing. Judged simply as a hitter, he's about 100 runs behind the average Hall of Fame third baseman in Runs Above Position. Looking beyond our metrics, he received MVP votes in just two seasons, never finishing higher than sixth, made just two All-Star teams, never led the league in any important categories, and was finished as a regular at 35. Despite the Grand Single, his postseason line stands at a woeful .177/.307/.306. As close as he comes on the JAWS scale, he gets no extra credit for the things the system can't capture. We can allow that further investigation into his fielding work, both here and abroad, might bolster his claim of defensive excellence, but until then-and despite the esteem I hold him in as a personal favorite-I'm not yet convinced he merits a space on the ballot.
Todd Zeile moved around over the course of his career, both around the diamond and around the majors. A catcher taken in the second round of the 1986 draft by the Cardinals, he spent just one full season behind the plate before moving to third base and then to first-a decision spurred by manager Joe Torre, who wanted to accommodate another Cards' catching prospect, Tom Pagnozzi, and who obviously saw a bit of himself in Zeile, believing his protegé would have a more productive major-league career if he put aside the tools of ignorance. Torre may have been right, for Zeile lasted 16 years in the majors, though he never attained stardom. After seven seasons with the Cardinals, he embarked upon one of the most thorough tours of any major-league player in history, making stops with 10 other teams: the Cubs, Phillies, Orioles, Dodgers, Marlins, Rangers, Mets, Rockies, Yankees, and Expos. Only Mike Morgan and Deacon McGuire, both of whom played with 12 teams, wore more uniforms. Zeile holds the distinction of being the only player to homer for 11 different teams.
He was not, however, a tremendously valuable player over the course of his career. A subpar third baseman, he was 77 runs below average at the hot corner, or five below average per 100 games, and just nine runs above average at first. He had some power, and he could take a walk, but he only totaled two seasons where he was worth more than 4.0 WARP, first in 1991 (4.4 WARP on a .280/.353/.412 line in his first year as St. Louis' starting third baseman) and then in 1997, his lone year with the Dodgers (4.4 WARP on a .268/.365/.459 line with a career-high 31 homers). He never even made an All-Star team.
Nonetheless, Zeile was a highly-sought supporting cast member for several contenders. Acquired just prior to the waiver deadline by the Orioles in 1996, he spent the final month of the season starting at third base, with B.J. Surhoff (who'd similarly migrated from behind the plate earlier in his career) moving from third to left field. Zeile bopped three homers against the Yankees in that year's ALCS, none of them aided by Jeffrey Maier. Facing Torre's Yankees in the postseason was a recurrent theme, as he also saw time in October as a member of the 1998 and 1999 Rangers, and went all the way to the World Series with the 2000 Mets. He came up big in that year's NLCS (.368/.409/.684 with a team-high eight RBI) and hit .400/.429/.500 in defeat in the Subway Series. Ironically, he served one more stint under Torre with the 2003 Yankees, and while he didn't make it through the season, he did surpass Gus Zernial for the all-time home-run lead among hitters whose surnames begin with the letter Z. That'll have to do, as he's not Cooperstown-bound.
So, after evaluating the infielders on the 2010 Hall of Fame ballot, we're left with Mark McGwire, Roberto Alomar, Barry Larkin, Alan Trammell, and Edgar Martinez all as worthy of spots in Cooperstown according to JAWS. On to the outfielders... I'm not sure exactly when, as I'm traveling, so here's wishing you readers a happy and safe holiday season.