So Bernie Williams has undertaken his version of Operation Shutdown, refusing the Yankees’ admittedly half-assed offer of a minor-league contract for a player who — no matter his long list of accomplishments or central place in building their recent dynasty — has no business being on their 2007 roster. Instead Williams plans to continue spurning guaranteed offers from other teams and wait for the Yankees to change their minds and offer him a guaranteed roster spot. In other words, he’s painting himself into a corner roughly the size of the spot on the Venn diagram where the keen strategy of a four-year-old’s hold-breath-until-blue temper tantrum meets a paraphrased Yogi Berra chestnut: if he doesn’t want to come to spring training, nobody’s going to stop him.
Even for a Yankee fan who enjoyed Bernie’s best years, I’m finding it harder to sympathize amid this sad final act than I usually do for a favored player whose career is clearly behind him. Williams’ combined offensive and defensive production has been inadequate for the past four years, and while the Yankees covered for him until 2005, they paid a price (count da rings… hmmm, that would be zero) for their latter-day delusions. As Williams’ talents have faded, he’s done little in the way of acquiring skills that might have allowed him to hang on in a reduced capacity, say by learning first base — a position the Yanks have struggled to fill during the period of his decline — or adapting to the admittedly difficult world of pinch-hitting. Bernie’s stats there, according to the fabulous new splits feature at Baseball-Reference.com show him at .205/.360/.282 in the pinch for his career, with about 2/3 of that experience coming in the last two years. Furthermore, Williams’ PECOTA projection (.258/.320/.388, for an MLVr of -.114) has fallen well below that of the man taking his fourth-outfielder job with the Yanks, Melky Cabrera (.282/.341/.408 , -.033). And that’s without even mentioning the defense and a throwing arm only slightly stronger than your average Thanksgiving turkey — on the plate.
Ok, enough piling on. I’m not trying to be harsh; I wish Bernie absolutely no ill and thank him for the fond memories, and hope that he simply takes the hint and bows out gracefully. The real purpose of this post is to get to reader Devin Lavelle’s emailed question:
I was just wondering if you could update us on Bernie Willams’ HOF status. I’ve always believed him to be likely the greatest unheralded players of this era. I think his HOF qualifications are fairly borderline — but I think he should be in.
According to the latest build of JAWS (which sometimes differs from what’s on our DT cards), which I presume is what Devin is asking about, Williams scores at 106.2 career WARP3, 63.6 peak and 84.9 overall. That’s the ninth-best score among all centerfielders:
Player Career Peak Overall
Willie Mays 206.1 91.9 149.0
Ty Cobb 190.0 81.8 135.9
Tris Speaker 173.2 77.8 125.5
Mickey Mantle 155.1 85.3 120.2
Ken Griffey Jr 130.9 79.4 105.2
Joe DiMaggio 120.2 77.3 98.8
Jim Edmonds 103.9 70.6 87.3
Richie Ashburn 105.0 66.1 85.6
Bernie Williams 106.2 63.6 84.9
Andre Dawson 109.5 58.4 84.0
AVG HOF CF 111.7 65.1 88.4
Good as it is, Williams’ score is 3.5 points below the average Hall centerfielder, though it is well about the median Hall centerfield score of 76.3. As an aside, I’ll note that I don’t think I’ve ever received an email critical of my decision to make JAWS such a mean bastard that wasn’t arguing in favor of a sentimental favorite’s JAWS score relative to the median rather than the average — which is actually not the average, because I drop the lowest at each position, so I call the positional scores “standards”. The point of JAWS, as I’ve always maintained, is to ever-so-slightly raise the bar of Hall selections by identifiying above-average candidates.
In any event, by the JAWS method, beloved Bernie falls shy, but JAWS knows nothing about Williams’ five All-Star appearances, four Fielding Grammies, 22 postseason homers or four World Series rings, the kind of stuff that can — and should — be factored into an informed voting decision. I suspect Williams will fall shy when his name comes up for a vote in six or seven years, but that he’ll creep in eventually, either because so many writer hold him in high esteem due to his key role within the Yankee dynasty (the Olney position) or because he’ll be at the upper end of a Veterans’ Committee ballot, with a candidacy significantly stronger than the Roger Maris types certain factions tend to wishcast into Cooperstown.