With the 2004 STATLG-L Hall of Fame balloting now in the books, and the results of the BBWAA voting slated to be released this afternoon, few topics are more prominent in baseball fans’ minds than “Which players will make it to Cooperstown in 2004?”
And rightfully so. Enshrinement in the Baseball Hall of Fame is the highest honor a former-player can receive, and most fans are protective of that: a fact that has spurned countless heated debates over the years–rational, objective, and otherwise.
With that being said, I thought it would interesting to see what some of Baseball Prospectus’ newly updated measures of player evaluation had to say on the topic. For the uninitiated, BP’s Davenport Translated Player Cards measure a player’s value above replacement level for offense, defense, and pitching while adjusting for context–park effects, level of offense, era, length of season, and in Clay’s own words, “the distortions caused by not having to face your own team’s defense.” The Davenport Cards offer the most sophisticated statistical summaries available; if you can adjust for it, it’s in there. The basic currencies of the Davenport system, whether it’s offense, defense, or pitching, are runs and wins, more specifically, runs above replacement level and wins above replacement level.
The latest version of the Davenport Cards offers a substantial improvement of the defensive rating system. It’s a top-down process which starts with a team’s pitching/fielding breakdown, then breaks up the fielding into catching, infield, and outfield, before breaking each position down further and then comparing players at individual positions to their teammates. Players at each position are evaluated on the basis of range (plays made) rather than errors (plays not made), with adjustments (groundball/flyball, lefty/righty, number of baserunners) for team tendencies.
The changes resulting from this year’s defensive revision for the Davenport Cards are somewhat drastic, but in a good way. To use an example, last year when I put together my own Hall of Fame analysis, I was forced to consider the possibility that Brett Butler‘s defensive contributions made him a borderline Hall of Fame candidate, while Butler failed to garner the 5% of votes necessary to remain on the ballot. Examining his new figures, Butler loses about 10 Wins Above Replacement Player (WARP), returning him to the Hall of Very Good Players where he rightfully belongs.
That said, there are other ways of evaluating the worthiness of as-yet-enshrined players. One of Bill James’ landmark contributions to the sabermetric landscape was his Hall of Fame Standards system, which awards points based on career totals and rates in comparison to the “average” enshrinee. Not to be confused with the bearded one’s Hall of Fame Monitor system, which awards points for accomplishments which tend to attract voters (career milestones, awards, round-numbered seasonal achievements, etc.), the Standards system is a shorthand way of saying, “This player fits in the Hall of Fame.”
But the Standards system is more than 15 years old, and in addition to not taking into account the accomplishments of a significant number of its members, it pays no heed to defense other than a flat positional adjustment (20 points for a catcher, 16 points for a shortstop, 3 for a leftfielder, etc.). Nor does it account for the kinds of adjustments — mainly park, league and era — that we should be making when comparing the careers of these players. And because it’s based on career totals, the Standards system takes no account of a player’s peak value, when he tends to do the things which bring the Fame (rightly or wrongly) and etch him into the minds of voters.
In the end, I decided to take a lengthy winter stroll through the Davenport Cards in an effort to examine the levels of achievement of the current Hall of Famers and then use those standards as a means of measuring the current candidates. For each hitter, I gathered career figures for Batting Runs Above Replacement (BRAR) and Batting Runs Above Replacement Position (BRARP)–the latter important since our standards for a good-hitting shortstop, for example, differ from those of a left fielder. I gathered Fielding Runs Above Average data (FRAA), foregoing the Fielding Runs Above Replacment data since I felt it muddied the issue considerably. Batting Runs Above Replacment and Fielding Runs Above Replacement combine, along with Pitching Runs Above Replacement (more on that later), into a figure I’ve already mentioned, Wins Above Replacement Player. To facilitate cross-era comparisions I used WARP3 figures, which are adjusted for the quality of competition and length of schedule so as to level the playing field across history. To consider a player’s peak value, I debated a few different options but settled on a player’s five best consecutive seasons, compensating for war- or severe injury-related seasons by ignoring them completely or, in the case of Carlton Fisk, combining two half-seasons into a full one.
I then separated the players into groups based on their primary positions, as determined by the Hall of Fame’s classification–which places a player where he appeared in the most games. Fielding Run breakdowns for these players exist at each position, but I’ve chosen to express them as a single overall figure lest I complicate the issue even further. Thus, Rod Carew‘s career FRAAs as a second baseman and a first baseman have been used in establishing a “baseline” for the second basemen, a flaw which I hope does not compromise the study too severely.
By necessity I had to eliminate not only all Negro League-only electees, who have no major league stats, but also Satchel Paige and Monte Irvin, two great players whose presence in the Hall is largely based on their Negro League accomplishments. Other Negro Leaguers, such as Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, and Larry Doby, have been included, though their career totals are somewhat compromised by not having crossed the color line until they’d played several years. Still, these players’ peak values–especially Robinson’s–contribute positively to our understanding of the Hall’s standards.
I took averages by each position for use in comparing candidates to their Cooperstown cohorts; I also took averages based on aggregates, such as corner infielders, middle infielders, and all outfielders. Here is what I came up with for hitters:
POS # BRAR BRARP FRAA WARP3 PEAK WPW PKPCT 2 13 423 433 29 87.1 38.1 62.6 43.8 3 18 711 538 -15 98.0 43.5 70.7 44.4 4 16 584 565 85 116.5 49.1 82.8 42.1 5 9 570 500 51 96.6 41.7 69.2 43.2 6 20 438 463 64 98.9 43.0 70.9 43.5 7 18 766 633 -30 108.2 44.4 76.3 41.0 8 17 730 652 -18 112.7 47.9 80.3 42.5 9 22 787 649 -3 114.7 44.3 79.5 38.6 35 27 664 525 7 97.5 42.9 70.2 44.0 46 36 503 508 73 106.7 45.7 76.2 42.8 3456 63 572 515 45 102.8 44.5 73.6 43.3 789 57 763 645 -16 112.1 45.4 78.7 40.5 3579 67 732 595 -6 106.0 43.8 74.9 41.3 2468 66 546 530 41 104.4 44.8 74.6 42.9 All 133 639 563 17 105.2 44.3 74.7 42.1
For the abbreviations I haven’t already decoded: POS is the scorecard notation of a player’s primary position (2 = catcher, 3 = first base, etc.), and longer strings of numbers are combinations (3456 = infield, 789 = outfield, 2468 = up-the-middle players); # is the number of players in each group; PEAK is the five-consecutiive-season WARP3 peak. PKPCT is the percentage of a player’s career value resulting from his peak. WPW is an attempt to cobble together a simple, easy-referenced figure which considers both career and peak; it’s simply an average of the WARP3 and PEAK figures. Essentially, this means we’re double-crediting a player’s best seasons.
This admittedly arbitrary system of weighting career and peak has its ramifications. “Peak” can mean many things; I simply chose one which was relatively easy to calculate, and at five years, represented a minimum of half the career of a Hall of Famer. But that’s not to say that a consideration of three or seven consecutive seasons, or five best overall, or some other combination wouldn’t produce “better,” or at least different, results. In the end we could spend years arguing over which of a million permuations worked the best, with the answer being a matter of prejudice as to which players that system includes or excludes. This oversimplified combination of career and peak into One Great Number isn’t meant to obscure the components which go into that figure, nor should it be taken as the end-all rating system for these players. We’re looking for patterns here which can help us determine whether a player belongs in the Hall or doesn’t and roughly where he fits.
The sample sizes in some of the groupings above are small, but there are some generalizatons to be gleaned from the chart which are at least worth mentioning:
- The first basemen and outfielders in the Hall of Fame aren’t there based on their defensive prowess.
- The Hall’s outfielders have more career and peak value than the infielders. Second basemen appear to be aberrations, with the highest career and peak values of any position.
- The corner position players have considerably less value defensively than the up-the-middle players, but in terms of overall value they are surprisingly close, even with catchers included.
- Despite that, the up-the-middlemen’s peaks constitute larger portions of their career values, a product of shorter careers.
Further exploration of this data could constitute a whole separate article, as could the category-by-category ranks of various positions and overall. Some of these insights will be discussed in the context of my position-by-position breakdowns.
One thing, in looking over my spreadsheet and in considering the history of the Hall of Fame, is abundantly clear: the institution has been sullied by mediocre and inappropriate choices. Perhaps that’s simply a function of our vantage point, 67 years after the first election. Better equipment and better training have contributed to longer careers, a larger pool of players has elevated the caliber of play, and our ability to collect and process data about the game’s history and analyze it with sophistication has increased our knowledge and, hopefully, raised our expectations of what constitutes a Hall of Famer.
As such, we should not succumb to the easy trap of saying if Player A is better than Medocre Hall of Famer B, then Player A is plaque-worthy. Armed with better information, our mission should be to elevate the standards of the Hall. I don’t mean that we should discard the traditional measures of a player’s accomplishments, nor do I mean that every further electee needs to be clearly above average, just that we don’t need every Tony Perez elected to the Hall.
With all of the above in mind, we can begin our evaluation of the 2003 ballot. Conveniently, no catchers are on this year’s ballot, so we can move directly to first base.
There are four first basemen on the ballot; three holdovers from past ballots–Steve Garvey (27.8% last year), Keith Hernandez (6.0%), and Don Mattingly (13.7%)–and one newcomer, Cecil Fielder. The three holdovers are superficially attractive candidates; each was thought of as among the best in the game in his time and had defense going for him as well as offense.
H HR RBI AVG OPB SLG AS MVP GG HOFS HOFM Hernandez 2182 162 1071 .296 .384 .436 5 1 11 32.0 86.0 Mattingly 2153 222 1099 .307 .358 .471 6 1 9 34.1 134.0 Garvey 2599 272 1308 .294 .329 .446 10 1 4 31.5 131.0 Fielder 1313 319 1008 .255 .345 .482 3 0 0 21.6 75.0 EQA BRAR BRARP FRAA WARP3 PEAK WPWT PkPct Hernandez .300 635 447 116 101.6 42.1 71.9 41.4 Mattingly .298 577 403 110 91.6 48.6 70.1 53.1 Garvey .280 523 305 86 88.2 42.4 65.3 48.1 Fielder .290 383 244 0 51.2 34.4 42.8 67.2 AVG HOF 1B 711 538 -15 98.0 43.5 70.7 44.4
The matinee-idol star of my favorite team as a kid, Garvey put up some nice shiny numbers primarily in the context of a lousy hitters’ park, Dodger Stadium. Basically, he did the things that impress Hall of Fame voters, showing a clockwork ability to rap out 200 hits, hit .300 with 20 homers, drive in 100 runs, make the All-Star team, and have perfectly coiffed hair in doing so. He was great in the postseason (.338/.361/.550 with 11 HR and 31 RBI) in helping–no, leading his teams (he never hit less than .286 in an LCS or division series)–to five World Series, won a good share of hardware, played in 10 All-Star games and set the National League record for consecutive games played. His counting stats are certainly better than Mattingly or Hernandez. The big knock against him is that he didn’t get on base enough (only a .329 OBP despite a .294 AVG), or have enough power (.446 SLG, never topping .500). He’s not a popular candidate thanks in part to his post-retirement zipper problems.
Mattingly was the golden child of the Great Yankee Dark Age between the Billy Martin/Bob Lemon World Series teams and the Joe Torre ones. At his peak he was a fantastic hitter, an RBI machine, a slick fielding first baseman, and a perennial MVP candidate. But back woes sapped him of his power, making him a very ordinary player aside from his 1984-1987 run, and bringing his career to a premature end at age 34. He never reached the postseason until his final season; his .417/.440/.708 line in a losing cause in the 1995 AL Division Series against Seattle provided a bittersweet coda to his career, and the Yanks’ success after he left tends to diminish his stature.
Like Mattingly, Hernandez had a creepy moustache, leather, and New York City in his favor. He lacked Mattingly’s power, but made up for it with patience at the plate. As a St. Louis Cardinal, he won a batting title and shared the MVP with Willie Stargell in 1979, and over the course of his career, he racked up eleven straight Gold Gloves and set several fielding records for first basemen. He was a key player in turning the Mets around, and the starting first baseman on their 108-win team for the ages in 1986. His postseason line isn’t particularly impressive (.265/.370/.359 with two HR and 21 RBI). But the biggest black mark against his name from a Hall standpoint is his involvement in the cocaine scandal of the ’80s; suspicion of his usage compelled Whitey Herzog to trade him to the Mets, his name surfaced in the Pittsburgh trials a couple of years later, and rightly or wrongly, he ran with some high fliers in the Big Apple.
Fielder got a raw deal. Reaching the majors with the Toronto Blue Jays at age 21 in 1985, he found himself stuck behind light-hitting Willie Upshaw. Before the Jays let him establish himself, Fred McGriff, a similarly skilled bopper but with a left-handed swing and a better glove, came along. Over the course of four seasons, Fielder hit 31 homers in 558 major-league PA, but nobody in Toronto gave a damn, and Little Big Daddy headed for Japan. After tearing up the Japanese Central League, he returned to the States in 1990 in the uniform of the Detroit Tigers. Winning the first base job in spring training, he went on to wallop an astonishing 51 homers–the first time that any AL slugger had topped 50 since Maris and Mantle in ’61. He smacked 44 the next season, and maintained a spot as one of the AL’s premier sluggers for the next five seasons. But his less-than-statuesque physique got the better of him and he was gone from the big leagues at 35. Conservatively speaking, Fielder was deprived of about 75 homers on the front end of his career, and very possibly more. A bit more love might have gotten him an MVP award instead of two runners-up, and probably another couple of All-Star appearances as well. The back-end stuff was his own fault (literally), but he could have well ended up with over 400 homers, some hardware, and a legitimate argument for the Hall of Fame.
The Davenport system shows that the three holdovers are below-average hitters by Hall of Fame first basemen standards–better than some of the more dubious selections such as Frank Chance, Jim Bottomley, and George Kelly, but not enough to make them attractive candidates based on the wood alone. Where they get back into the race is with their glovework. Hernandez and Mattingly show strongly among first basemen in FRAA, and are on nearly equal footing in terms of career totals, and even Garvey has a higher FRAA than the enshrined 1Bs. Looking at the Fielding Rate2 stats on the DT cards shows Mattingly ahead by 1 run per 100 games over Hernandez and by 2 per 100 over Garvey, 107-106-105.
The downside is that the first basemen in the Hall clearly aren’t there for their glovework; the average first baseman has a negative FRAA. In fact, only one Gold Glove first baseman has been enshrined, and that was last year’s selection, Eddie Murray–a man whose resume of 3,000 hits and 500 homers did far more for his candidacy than any steenkin’ trophy. Hernandez’s low percentage of the vote–he’s been on the ballot since 1996, never topping 11%–is another indication of how little the voters value defense at first base.
Overall, Hernandez has the highest WARP3 total among the candidates by about 10 wins, while Mattingly clearly has the highest peak. My weighted career/peak system (WPWT) shows Hernandez (ranked 11th out of 22 at 71.9) slightly above the average Hall first baseman (70.7) and Mattingly a hair below (13th at 70.1). First basemen are a relatively weak crop with regards to this system, and in that group, Hernandez is a bit below average as a corner position player (74.9) and overall (74.7). But take a look at his surrounding company among first basemen:
WARP3 PEAK WPWT 9. Greenberg 94.2 57.1 75.7 10. Killebrew 107.8 41.2 74.5 XX. Hernandez 101.6 42.1 71.9 11. Cepeda 97.1 43.7 70.4 XX. Mattingly 91.6 48.6 70.1 12. Perez 96.1 39.3 67.1
Hernandez is clearly better than Perez by this method, and gets the edge on Cepeda, whose election didn’t produce riots in the streets (recall that Cepeda had post-career drug problems, and even served time). We could go either way here, but my inclination would be to split the difference, giving the nod to Hernandez but taking a pass on Mattingly as well as Garvey and Fielder. It’s doubtful that the writers will ever see it that way, so Hernandez may have to wait for the Veterans Committee to get his due.
Two second basemen are on this ballot, holdover Ryne Sandberg, who received 49.2% of the vote in his first year of eligibility last year, and newcomer Juan Samuel.
H HR RBI AVG OPB SLG AS MVP GG HOFS HOFM Sandberg 2386 282 1061 .285 .344 .452 10 1 9 42.7 157.0 Sammuel 1578 161 703 .259 .315 .420 3 0 0 18.7 26.0 EQA BRAR BRARP FRAA WARP3 PEAK WPWT PkPct Sandberg .283 536 525 109 112.7 51.1 81.9 45.3 Samuel .271 297 270 -66 53.9 31.5 42.7 58.4 AVG HOF 2B 584 565 85 116.5 49.1 82.8 42.1
If Juan Samuel‘s name is on any baseball fan’s lips these days, it’s as a cautionary–if somewhat inaccurate–comparison to the Yankees’ Alfonso Soriano. A free-swinging speedy second baseman who had some pop, Samuel put up some nice superficial numbers for the Phillies in his first four seasons as a regular (1984-1987), averaging about 20 homers and 100 runs and 80 RBI per year, and becoming the first player to post double digits in doubles, triples and homers in his first four seasons. The knocks against him were strikeouts (150+ per season), a lack of plate discipline (4.2 K/W ratio), a low OBP, and lousy defense. After a disappointing 1988, the Phils shifted him to centerfield, with lackluster results. Halfway through 1989, Samuel was traded to the Mets for Lenny Dykstra and Roger McDowell and began a long tour of the majors, playing with six other teams at a variety of positions. While his plate discipline improved slightly, his power waned, and he stopped playing regularly after 1991. He’s got no chance for the Hall of Fame, and isn’t long for the ballot.
Sandberg was an excellent all-around second baseman who combined power, speed (344 steals in his career), and glovework. He scored over 100 runs seven times, drove in 100 twice, and hit 25 or more homers six times, topped 30 steals five times (as high as 54) and 20 another four times, and won nine straight Gold Gloves. He keyed the Chicago Cubs to two NL East flags, and hit well in the postseason (.385/.457/.641) despite losing causes. In his New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract, James ranks him seventh all-time among second basemen, behind only Joe Morgan, Eddie Collins, Rogers Hornsby, Jackie Robinson, Craig Biggio (!), and Napolean Lajoie. Is there even an argument that he doesn’t belong in the Hall of Fame?
Actually, there is. The case against Sandberg starts with how inflated his stats were by Wrigley Field. Retrosheet’s home/road data, which covers the first 12 seasons of Sandberg’s career (80% of his total plate appearances), shows him with a .309 AVG/.370 OBP/.512 SLG at home, and only .270/.327/.410 away. We don’t have post-’92 data, and it’s worth noting that Wrigley became a less extreme hitters park in that timespan, judging by the Park Factor numbers, so it’s possible that split evened out a bit. Overall, he didn’t walk much, which kept his OBP down; five times in his 15 seasons it was below .330. He had a few monster years, which camouflage some mediocre ones, and he was done at 37 after coming back from a year-long retirement at 35. His Gold Gloves might be inflated as well; after two excellent seasons, he was only about nine runs a year better than average over the rest of his reign.
One of the weirder findings of my study is that the Hall’s second basemen ranked first in FRAA, career, peak and weighted WARP, and not by a litte. The top 20 in career, peak, and weighted WARP features four second-sackers–Eddie Collins, Joe Morgan, Nap Lajoie, and Rogers Hornsby–second only to the five right fielders in weighted, to the five center fielders in peak, and dead even with both in career. These men were offensive titans–over 900 BRARP apiece, a plateau reached by only 18 HOFers–but their defense was uneven, with Lajoie (186) and Collins (122) well above Morgan (22) and Hornsby (-164).
Seven other Hall of Fame second basemen top 100 FRAA, and three of the top four Hall of Famer scores at any position are second basemen (Bill Mazeroski, Bid McPhee and Lajoie all trail the Wizard of Oz). The question must be asked as to whether the Davenport system overrates second basemen, or whether other analyses undervalue it. In BP 2002, Clay discusses the need to consider second basemen in combination with their shortstops to account for optional plays which could be taken by either, and to not go overboard with regards to double-play related assists–a reasonable step to prevent overrating. But more insight into his system and further study on the matter is needed to discern more fully what’s going on around the second sack.
Sandberg comes out a bit below the averages of HOF second basemen as a hitter, a bit above as a fielder. His career, peak, and weighted WARPs follow a similar down-up-down within hailing distance of the average Hall second baseman, but rank-wise, he’s above the middle in all three–eighth in career, eighth in peak, seventh combined out of a field of 17 (the 16 Hall of Famers + Ryno). He’s also well above the averages for middle infield, up-the-middle, and all Hall of Famers as a group. Though not a slam-dunk, he’s a pretty reasonable “in” by this reckoning, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him actually get the vote this year.
Both shortstops on the ballot are holdovers who have received little support lately–Alan Trammell (14.1% in 2003) and Davey Concepcion (11.1% in 2003).
H HR RBI AVG OPB SLG AS MVP GG HOFS HOFM Trammell 2365 185 1003 .285 .352 .415 6 0 4 40.4 119.0 Concepcion 2326 101 950 .267 .322 .357 9 0 5 29.1 107.0 EQA BRAR BRARP FRAA WARP3 PEAK WPWT PkPct Trammell .280 500 545 68 106.3 44.4 75.4 41.8 Concepcion .257 266 320 158 94.0 41.5 67.8 44.1 AVG HOF SS 438 463 64 98.9 43.0 70.9 43.5
Trammell spent 15 of his 20 seasons as the Detroit Tigers’ regular shortstop. He was one of four prospects the Tigers came up with at the same time (debuting in 1977 and sticking in ’78) who went on to long, stellar careers that wind up on the fringe of the Hall of Fame: Trammell, his keystone partner Lou Whitaker, Jack Morris, and catcher Lance Parrish. They, along with Kirk Gibson, were the nucleus of the ’84 champs and their ’87 team, which had the best record in baseball but went to an early playoff grave at the hands of the 85-win Minnesota Twins. A second World Series would have helped the quartet’s candidacies, particularly Trammell’s, since he had his best season in ’87. Whitaker (119.1 WARP3, 40.3 PEAK, 79.7 WPWT) and Parrish (87.1, 35.3, 61.2) were bumped off the ballot in their first years by failing to garner the necessary 5% vote–both are perfectly legit candidates, if slightly below average by this method–and Trammell doesn’t seem to have enough traction to get anywhere.
But he should. Trammell was similar to Sandberg in that he was a very solid hitter who more than held his own in the field and on the bases. Though the Ryno had more power, Trammell was better at getting on base. Like Sandberg, he combined some monster seasons with some fairly middling ones, but those monster seasons really drove his ballclub. Many have argued that he should have been the MVP of the American League in 1987, when he went .343/.402/.551 with 28 HR and 105 RBI, yet barely lost the vote to 47-HR outfielder George Bell. He was 3.5 wins better than Bell (11.8 WARP3 to 8.3), but Wade Boggs (12.6, off of a .363/.461/.588 year with 24 HR and 108 RBI) topped them both. His four Gold Gloves may be overstated–he’s about seven runs above average per season in those years, and in the two seasons he beat out Cal Ripken Jr., the Davenport numbers show Ripken at least ten runs ahead.
Davey Concepcion was the shortstop for one of the greatest teams in history, the Big Red Machine, as they won five divisions, four pennants, and two World Series during the 1970s. He wasn’t much of a hitter (his career EQA of .257 is below average), although he wasn’t a total loss with the bat; at his best he put up a few .350 OBP/.410 SLG seasons. But he was a defensive marvel, a sheer pleasure to watch, whose sabermetric stats back his case–over a 10-year span (1974-1983), he was 17 runs above average per year, and his FRAA is better than all but Ozzie Smith when it comes to the Hall of Fame shortstops. But the flaw with Concepcion’s case is that his he’s about 100 runs behind the Wizard with both the bat and the glove, and that’s too much ground to make up. Concepcion was a key component of those Cincy teams, but he doesn’t belong in Cooperstown alongside the big Reds (Joe Morgan, Johnny Bench, Tony Perez, and the guy with the bad haircut who’s been in the newspaper lately).
The Davenport numbers show Trammell well above the standards for a Hall of Fame shortstop, and in some good company:
WARP3 WPC WPWT 8. Cronin 106.0 48.0 77.0 XX. Trammell 106.3 44.4 75.4 9. Reese 100.9 48.2 74.6 10. Boudreau 97.1 48.2 72.7
While Trammell is about 0.7 wins per year short of the other three at his peak, he’s got more career value than all of them. Even if we shift the career/peak balance to, say 60/40 in favor of peak, Trammell ends up in the same company of shortstops, trailing Cronin, in a dead heat with Pee Wee, and ahead of Boudreau. It’s difficult to escape the notion that he’s Hall-worthy by this method.
H HR RBI AVG OPB SLG AS MVP GG HOFS HOFM Molitor 3319 234 1307 .306 .369 .448 7 0 0 59.1 165.0 Pendleton 1897 140 946 .270 .316 .391 1 1 3 15.8 38.0 EQA BRAR BRARP FRAA WARP3 PEAK WPWT PkPct Molitor .297 888 721 26 123.9 41.0 82.5 33.1 Pendleton .257 216 161 132 62.5 33.2 47.9 53.1 AVG HOF 3B 570 500 51 96.6 41.7 69.2 43.2 AVG HOF IF 572 515 45 102.8 44.5 73.6 43.3
Pendleton was an excellent defensive third baseman who was, on a year-to-year basis, wildly inconsistent as a hitter. Already a veteran of two World Series Cardinal teams, he arrived in Atlanta in 1991 and put up his best season, helping to lead the Braves to the Series for the first time in 34 years. He won the NL MVP award that year, though some fellow named Bonds outdistanced him in WARP3 by a two win margin (12.1 to 10.1). Another fine season in 1992 helped the Braves back to the Series, but he was never on the winning side of the Fall Classic, going 0-5. His tendency to play through injuries dragged down his numbers considerably, especially at the plate; he’s got five seasons in which he’s at or below replacement level with the bat. He was a helpful player to have around, but he’s got no business being seriously considered for the Hall of Fame.
Molitor, on the other hand, is a lock by virtue of his membership in the 3,000 hit club–among that club, only The Gambler (no, not Kenny Rogers) sits outside the Hall, and with good cause. Those 3,000 hits (3,319 actually, good for ninth on the all-time list) aren’t the only reason Molly’s worthy, but they’re an amazing accomplishment in light of the injury woes which plagued his career and followed him around the diamond from shortstop to second base to centerfield to third base. Six times in his first 13 seasons, Molitor missed at least 50 games, and he averaged only 118 games a year in that span. The Brewers finally got wise and parked him at DH on a regular basis in 1991, and from there Molitor became one hell of a professional hitter. His OBP climbed from the .350s to the .400s, he added another 50 points or so of slugging percentage, and he stayed in the lineup enough to add 180 hits a year to his resume over his last eight years. The irony of it all is that he wasn’t a bad defensive player–a hair below average at SS and CF, where he combined to play only 100 games, but above average at 1B, 2B, and 3B.
Molitor’s most common position in the field was third base, where he played 794 games; that’s a good chunk less than his 1174 games as a DH. Third basemen are woefully underrepresented in the Hall; only nine major leaguers have been elected, and two of them–Fred Lindstrom and George Kell, are among the worst choices the Veteran’s Committee ever made. Hall hot-corner men are lower in average career and peak value than any other position besides catcher, and Molly’s about 27 wins better than that that average over the course of his career. But it really doesn’t make much difference where we place him. Considered simply as a position player, only 29 Hall of Famers can top Molitor’s career WARP3 total, and he’d be 29th in BRAR and 28th in BRARP among HOFers. About half of the hitters ahead of him are outfielders, so considered as an infielder, he’d among the best hitters in the Hall. He belongs there, and he’ll almost certainly be on the podium in Cooperstown next summer.
Seven outfielders are on the ballot this year, four holdovers and three newcomers. Two of the holdovers, Jim Rice and Andre Dawson, reached 50% in last year’s ballot, while the other two, Dale Murphy and Dave Parker, have fallen below 12%. Of the three newcomers, Joe Carter will likely be the only one to attract much attention, while
H HR RBI AVG OPB SLG AS MVP GG HOFS HOFM Dawson 2774 438 1591 .279 .323 .482 8 1 8 43.7 117.5 Parker 2712 339 1493 .290 .339 .471 7 1 3 41.1 125.5 Murphy 2111 398 1266 .265 .346 .469 7 2 5 34.3 115.5 Rice 2452 382 1451 .298 .352 .502 7 1 0 42.9 147.0 Mitchell 1173 234 760 .284 .360 .520 2 1 0 23.5 37.5 Carter 2184 396 1445 .259 .306 .464 5 0 0 31.2 88.5 Eisenreich 1160 52 477 .290 .341 .404 0 0 0 15.5 16.0 EQA BRAR BRARP FRAA WARP3 PEAK WPWT PkPct Dawson .284 658 511 -31 103.6 40.8 72.2 39.4 Murphy .287 566 457 -34 90.4 47.1 68.8 52.1 Parker .285 613 427 -6 88.3 43.9 66.1 49.7 Rice .293 620 469 -11 85.5 36.5 61.0 42.7 Carter .272 424 273 -44 67.0 32.4 49.7 48.4 Mitchell .309 423 361 5 59.2 37.0 48.1 62.5 Eisenreich .271 190 118 -1 33.0 18.7 25.9 56.7 AVG HOF LF 766 633 -30 108.2 44.4 76.3 41.0 AVG HOF CF 730 652 -18 112.7 47.9 80.3 42.5 AVG HOF RF 787 649 -3 114.7 44.3 79.5 38.6 AVG HOF OF 763 645 -16 112.1 45.4 78.7 40.5
Jim Eisenreich‘s career is afternoon movie-of-the-week material, and if there were a Hall of Fame for bringing Tourette’s Syndrome to the attention of the baseball-watching public, he’d be the first enshrinee. He was a handy role player who deserves respect for confronting his ailment and for not letting it derail his career, and he’s got a World Series ring to show for his trouble. While he’s out of his league in this Hall of Fame discussion, that doesn’t make him any less of a man.
Kevin Mitchell‘s strange career would make an interesting movie as well, though hardly a feel-good one. A versatile rookie on the World Champion Mets in ’86, he really took off in 1989 when, playing for the Giants, he became a full-time outfielder and began wearing contact lenses. A monster 47 HR, 125 RBI, .630 SLG season netted him the MVP award, and his follow-up was pretty decent as well. But injuries, attitude, and bad conditioning marked the rest of his career. When he played, the man could hit (how about 30 HR in 95 games for Cincy in 1994?), but he didn’t play all that much, and as his career went on, the stories just kept getting more bizarre (though the one about him chopping the head off of a cat dated from his rookie year). A solid selection in the Hall of What Ifs and the Hall of Weirdos, neither of which have real estate in Cooperstown.
Joe Carter is best remembered for his World Series ending homer for the Toronto Blue Jays in 1993. He put up some very solid HR and RBI numbers over the course of his career–15 consecutive seasons in double digits for homers and ten seasons with over 100 ribbies. He had good speed as well, enough to steal 231 bases in the majors, and to reach the 30-30 club in 1986. He’s held in high esteem by those easily impressed with such trappings. But from a Hall of Fame standpoint, the case against Carter is easy to summarize: he was an out-making machine. His lack of patience at the plate left him with a career .306 OBP, wretched for a supposedly fearsome slugger and 30 points below the league average for his career. In fact, only once did he have a better-than-average OBP. As such, his EQA dipped below the league-average .260 five times in his career, signifying that for all of his power, he was all too often a drag on the offense. No amount of sabermetric reckoning can cast him in a light favorable enough to merit serious consideraton for the Hall of Fame, but those 100 RBI seasons will no doubt keep him on the ballot for a few years.
The remaining four heavy hitters were almost exact contemporaries who at one point or another during their careers, looked like locks for the Hall of Fame. They won awards and honors by the truckload, and hit homers–lots and lots of homers.
Dawson had an exceptional combination of power and speed. As an Expo, he was a Gold Glove centerfielder who shifted to right after the Olympic Stadium turf took its toll on his knees. He left as a free agent following the 1986 season, and made a huge splash in his first year with the Cubs, hitting 49 homers, driving in 137 runs, and winning MVP honors while playing for a last-place club, the first player to do so. But that MVP was a pretty dubious one even ignoring the Cubs’ spot in the standings. Dawson wasn’t much for the walks, and his .328 OBP that season limited his value. The Davenport numbers for ’87 show him at 6.9 WARP3, well behind Tony Gwynn (11.6), Dale Murphy (11.4), Ozzie Smith (10.9), Eric Davis (10.8), former teammate Tim Raines (10.5), Mike Schmidt (10.0), Darryl Strawberry (9.8), Andy Van Slyke (8.5), Bill Doran (8.1), Pedro Guerrero (7.9), Will Clark (7.5), Tim Wallach (7.3)… and those are just the first dozen I could find. He got a lot of help from Wrigley Field that year: .332/.373/.668 with 27 HR at home, .246/.288/.480 with 22 HR on the road. But for his career, the park effects were more even; Retrosheet data from 1976-1992 (which includes all of his career as an Expo and a Cub) shows him at .280/.332/.483 with 189 HR at home, .283/.320/.492 with 210 HR on the road. His Gold Gloves are considerably overstated; he was 19 runs below average in CF for his career (only one double-digit positive season, 1981), and 11 below in RF.
Parker was a Gold Glove rightfielder who for a time was thought of as the best player in the game. Powerful and with a cannon for an arm, he was in the spotlight often in the late ’70s and early ’80s via All-Star Game heroics and a World Series title. Cocaine problems cost him some productive seasons in the middle of his career, but he rebounded with a couple of solid seasons in Cincinnati and then a few OK seasons as a DH. His defensive prowess was overstated; he’s three runs below average in RF for his career, helped by one fluky 26-assist season that gave him his reputation.
Murphy was a converted catcher who became a Gold Glove centerfielder and two-time MVP. At his peak he was considerably more valuable than Dawson thanks to his plate discipline, but he got lots of help from his home park. Retrosheet data for all but his disappointing coda in Colorado shows him at .282/.368/.501 with 217 HR at home, .250/.325/.441 with 181 HR on the road. Like Dawson again, his defensive reputation was considerably overstated, as he won those Gold Gloves with double-digit negative FRAAs in 1985 and ’86. His career fell off the table after he turned 32, and he was done at 37, a mere two homers from reaching 400.
Rice was thought of as the premier slugger in the AL from the late ’70s into the mid ’80s, putting up some monster seasons for the Red Sox. Besides winning the MVP award in 1978, he placed in the top five in balloting six times. That 1978 season, in which he racked up 406 total bases, was the most in a 50-season span from 1949-1998. Like Murphy, he got a big boost from his park; Retrosheet shows him hitting .320/.374/.546 with 208 HR in Fenway, .277/.330/.459 with 174 HR on the road. Again like Murphy, his career fell off the table in his early 30s–he was a shadow of himself once he turned 34, and was done at 36. Despite his outstanding 1978, his five-year peak was pretty low; he surrounded his 1977-79 seasons, in which he was 7.5-10 wins above replacement, with four ordinary ones, 3.8-5.0, such that it’s his mid-career resurgence (1982-1986) which scores better. Another surprise: while he was thought of as mediocre defensively, his FRAA numbers are right in line with his ballot cohorts.
Each of the candidates in this quartet have their merits when it comes to the Hall, and none would be anywhere near the worst at his position if he were elected. They were some of the brightest stars of their time, but their resumes are considerably inflated, and they all seem to be missing something. While writers might lament the passing of a time when 35-40 homers could lead the league, none of these four had the plate discipline of today’s best sluggers, they all had some help from their parks, and they had defensive reputations which may have been overstated. Rice, Parker, and Murphy have gaps in their resume that cost them a few years of their careers; Parker perhaps the most because those came mid-career rather than late. In one way or another, advanced metrics take the wind out of the sails of their candidacies. The Davenport numbers show that none of these four have the career value of the average Hall of Fame outfielder (off by nine to 27 career WARP3), and only Murphy has the peak value of one. In a charitable mood, one might justify a vote for Dawson, who’s at least around the median Hall of Fame centerfielder. But even that’s a stretch.
So at the conclusion of evaluating these hitters in the light of the Davenport Cards, we’re left with four men worthy of a spot on the Hall of Fame ballot, all of them infielders: Keith Hernandez, Ryne Sandberg, Alan Trammell, and Paul Molitor. Each of them has a stronger case than any of the popular outfield candidates, though it’s likely only Molitor and perhaps Sandberg will actually be elected this year.
The creator of the Futility Infielder web site, Jay Jaffe is a graphic designer and freelance writer living in New York City. He hasn’t been above replacement level since Little League, but he can be reached at email@example.com.